Monday, March 06, 2006

I am in a state of avoidance. Not denial, avoidance.

I get tired just getting up in the morning and looking at my place, at all the unpacking I have yet to do. I hear my son stirring in the next room ready for another rambunctious day - or maybe he got up when Dan left for work at 6 AM and is already wired for sound and action. It's so much easier to get some breakfast, to take the dog out to the park with the little guy in tow, to get the heck out of the house and leave the boxes for later...and later...and later...

Then, on leaving the house, the avoidance thing gets tricky.

I'm able to deal with our neighborhood, more or less. There are some blue roofs around, the apartment house across the street is going through major renovations, which are nearing completion (and which are a joy to behold for a three-year-old in love with Bob the Builder cartoons), some piles of debris in front of other houses in the throes of renovations and repairs, and fewer trees in the park we frequent to let my dog do her thing and play with other neighborhood pooches. It helps that I love our house and that we have good neighbors, with whom we shared some crawfish pies and the recipe for them last night, after they offered us the extra crawfish they had leftover from a boil they had the night before that. I am thankful for those things, and for the efforts people are making in the immediate vicinity.

However, three streets over are burned houses, casualties of the storm's aftermath, that have still not been cleared away. I have to make sure to avoid traveling down that street with my son in tow.

We went to the school where my friend Edie had to clear her things from the office, for moral support. There is no easy route there - houses in the poorer sections of town, which are not far from where I live, sport major amounts of storm and flood damage. One collapsed house evinced some comment from my son, who observed that the house had fallen down. Passing the old courthouse and central lockup on Broad Street and Tulane Avenue was passing a once busy place that had become silent, in a neighborhood that shared its silence. The water line still existed on streetlights lining the main drag. Cutting through the Mid-City area provided some semblance of what there had always been - tree-lined streets, pretty houses amidst all the green. A deceptive picture, since this area had flooded, too. City Park was a changed landscape, though - fewer and fewer trees, revealing somewhat barren grasslands. Some derelict cars lined Wisner Boulevard, one proclaiming "BUSH LIES" on its side.

Oh, this place is hard now. It has always been a place that people either love or hate, and I am glad we are part of the former. But I see the landscape now and see a city reaping a whirlwind of racial strife, of political corruption, of little attention to things that would raise the standards of living for everyone. I find it hard to try seeing all this through my son's eyes. Heck, I find it hard to reconcile the city as I once knew it with the city here and now.

My son, however, is having trouble letting go of New York, and understandably so. He has been on so many trips with us, I can't help but think he feels that we are on one of those vacations only with all our stuff here, too. It doesn't help that I haven't been able to get him into a preschool here, but I have established a membership for us at the Parenting Center and have been trying to take him over there on a regular basis. There isn't a structured program over there, just loads of play time with a plethora of indoor and outdoor toys, and a chance to network with other moms. I can also take a route there that avoids a lot of the physical damages to structures and landscapes. The focus is all on getting us out of the house and getting him and me involved with kids and parents. Truthfully, I wish there had been something like this in New York - the only thing was a few hours a week at a local synagogue or Y up there, not five days a week, 20-some-odd hours in that week. I would have been a bit saner had the Parenting Center existed up north, certainly.

On occasion, my little guy will walk up to me with his Clifford books in a small suitcase and announce he is going to the airport, to New York. Out of the blue, he will ask about a preschool friend up north and I have to explain that this is our home now and that his friend is back up in New York. He asked repeatedly one week why he wasn't going to his old preschool, and I had to tell him each week that we had moved here. He would dejectedly ask if the school was closed, and I would have to explain it was too far away for him to attend, and that he had his going-away presents from his friends to consult. He was a part of a great preschool group, despite his delayed entry into the terrible twos. I guess they should be called the Tumultuous Threes, in his case.

He's being a kid, and having some regular routines, such as taking the dog out and going to the playgroup are helping. Having all the devastation around, though...I dread trying to answer the questions that will come up. I hesitated at resubscribing to the Times-Picayune because Katrina news is understandably a large part of the local paper's content. Letting go of basic cable will be a good thing, because there are at least four channels that, when they are not showing essential information and phone numbers for storm victims, are showing endless pictures of Katrina's aftermath. Even flipping the channels on the tube is an exercise in avoidance. I need to block those channels with the V-chip if they don't disappear along with the basic cable.

A children's author, Kate DiCamillo, said recently in an interview that being human comes with a full scope of tragedy and joy: "if you open your heart to the love then you open your heart to the tragedy." She also said a few choice things about the impossibility of trying to spare one's children from suffering, things that made me realize that if I had wanted to keep my son completely safe, I had moved to the wrong place!

My husband and I opened our hearts to this place, and it cut us to the quick when we saw the storm's effects. I like to think that I am passing this kind of love on to my son, but oh, it is hard...

Then again, maybe it isn't. He is disappointed now when something comes up and we can't go to the playgroup. He got so comfortable at Edie's house last night, when we made the crawfish pies, that he took off his pants and ran around her house with her dogs in just his shirt and diapers, a sure sign he was making himself at home. He loves visiting the park everyday with our dog, not only because of the novelty of frolicking around in the trees and grass, but also of the joy of encountering other neighbors and their dogs. He even likes the synagogue we now attend, not least because of the company and the food after services, but he has actually sat through some of the services there.

It doesn't mean that I won't still avoid certain neighborhoods when my son is in the car. But I will work towards explaining things to him about what has happened here, and about why we decided to return, after all that has happened. I will hope that he will have developed a connection of his own with this place and its people, and will want to give back a little himself.

And as for the boxes, I unpacked some more of them today. Maybe I'll do some more later...

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