Monday, April 05, 2004

So ... watched "60 Minutes" in vain ...

Not at all sure whether the piece I'm waiting for is being shown on "60 Minutes" or "60 Minutes II." Not even sure which nights they're shown, but will watch the TV logs for more information. I am aware that the program is divided into thirds, and that those thirds are subject to change -- depending upon what is deemed more relevant by the producers on any given day.

But, back to the past:

Life does have a way of rolling out time in its own fashion. And Central Casting couldn't have done a better job of programming it. Simultaneously with the disintegration of my marriage came an elevation of my role in community life. It was the summer of the Democratic Convention at Miami and -- after all those years of climbing out of the depths of racism -- this same community chose me along with others to represent our congressional district as their McGovern delegates. Over the years, combatting racism had given me a pretty high profile and made me something of a leader among liberals. It would have been pretty hard to not choose one of the very few people of color in the entire eastern part of the county. So I saw it as a mixed blessing and less related to who I was than what I was.

What a tribute it was to receive enough funds from friends (with loving notes tucked in) to not only pay my own costs for travel, but enough to take care of other delegates who didn't have that strong base of support.

So there I was at the Doral Country Club in Miami with the largest delegation in the nation -- right along with delegates Shirley MacLaine, Dolores Huerta of the Farm Workers Union, Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek - just another delegate, though; and Marlo Thomas who was star of "That Girl" at the time. What a time!

It would be wonderful to take the time to describe that experience, but may be too much of a diversion at this point in the narrative. Maybe later. What I really want to say is that I'd left home a modest mommy and I arrived back home from that heady experience a few days later with such a strong sense of self that the great university and its offer of a position seemed quite appropriate. Just a few weeks before that great whirlwind of political activity I was a little suburban homemaker without a lot of confidence in moving about in the larger world. I was a youthful late forty-something with little meaningful job experience. But now I was someone who'd been captured on national television in my red/white/and/blue splendor, had been photographed with the President of Togo (had never even heard of that country at the time), and the Prime Minister of Australia! I'd shared a sandwich with Senator Alan Cranston and had the head of the State Department's San Francisco Reception Center as my seat mate on the flight south. Had pictures taken with presidential hopeful Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska, and another done for the home newspapers presenting a bouquet of roses to candidate George McGovern.

And, it was fresh out of this larger than life experience that I returned to Walnut Creek and an job interview with the director of Project Community. It had been scheduled before I left for Miami. I must have been emitting a glow because Dr. Soskin came into the room during the interview and stayed. At the end (it had gone on much too long), my friend, Stanley (director), asked if I thought I would like to join their staff. My very naive response was, "...I don't know if I can really do this work -- being relatively inexperienced in the world of work -- but I'll tell you what -- I'll work for two weeks -- you won't have to pay me -- and then we'll talk about whether this is something that I can manage to your satisfaction." Bill was listening. This was silly, I suppose, but really truthful, and he was obviously intrigued by this quirky, pretty, obviously bright woman. I suspect that my excitement was contagious.

At the end of the interview he asked if I would like to go out for a bite. "Would love to hear more about your Miami adventure, Ms. Reid." We did. I bubbled uncontrollably for another hour. I was still in my paper hat; irrepressible! He was delighted. A week later -- on my birthday -- I drove home to Walnut Creek to find two dozen red roses on my front porch with a card from Dr. William Soskin.

Reported on campus to the personnel department for my formal interview at the end of two weeks. After all, I wouldn't be working for Dr. Soskin, but for the university. The interviewer had me fill out a battery of documents that included one of those identification sheets (that "wasn't for i.d. purposes") with all the little boxes. Still riding on my newfound confidence and buoyed by knowing that I was being sought after by this brilliant, tall, sophisticated, world-traveled, UC professor -- I flippantly marked every box, including "other." The interviewer laughed saying, "no one has ever done that." A practice that would surely grow in the years to come. I must been outrageous -- expressing this newfound confidence of a newly-released mother of four because when the interviewer looked at the starting salary on the yellow sheet, she asked if that was satisfactory -- and if I was being stolen from some other university program! Must have been that glow.

There was one small hitch.

Youngest son, David, was living in town and attending Berkeley high school. As it happened, Project Community was using Berkeley High as one of its experimental sites. David was one of the students in Bill's program and David's mother was not only here at the university, but was involved with the head of the research project. More than a minor complication.

David had been to Europe that very summer. Two years before he'd spent the summer in a work study program with a foreign student from Denmark. They'd worked together in a Swiss hotel and then traveled to his friend's home for the rest of the summer. This summer he and Nina (a little Jewish girl from Southern California) traveled together to Paris, England, Switzerland, Spain, and all the way down to Morocco. in Preparation, Nina's parents had flown up to Berkeley, visited with us for dinner where we became acquainted and discussed ground rules. We presented our two 16 year-olds with EuroRail passes and new sleeping bags and delivered them to the airport the next day. The two kids were in the same class at Berkeley High, and it seemed not nearly as risky as it might be today. It felt right.

Having allowed that kind of freedom for David (and Bob), it may not be terribly strange to learn that they extended to their mother the same kind of trust, with accountability. We'd talked a lot about that kind of stuff, informally, over time. Though out of character, I experienced no objections from the boys. By now Rick had declared his independence. Mel was off on his own (without a formal separation, but living in town, that is), Bob was experiencing his 18 year-old version of emancipation, and Mom was in love! It all sounds a lot more disjointed than it lived out, I think.

Life simply seemed to moved us on that great chess board in ways that reconfigured our relationships, totally. I marvel at the realization that we lived through those fault lines without more trauma, at least than was apparent at the time.

It's only now -- in looking back -- that I wonder whether I was so absorbed in my own experience of emancipation that I may have missed some epochal happenings in the lives of my kids? I'll probably never know the answer to that one. It's probably just as well. Being the bow from which those arrows are launched into space may be all any mother can be. I wonder if we ever really know when the letting go can happen without incident? We've all come back to the source over time, but the ending of our lives as an intact family ended over that fateful summer, and what followed seems unrelated to anything that had gone before.