Today’s featured contributor is Michele Corkery, who lives in Boston with her visual artist husband and their daughter Isabel who attends school in Chinatown. Michele has an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, and her writing has appeared in literary journals and local newspapers. A while back, she interviewed me for MotherVerse, where one of her essays previously appeared. In “Multicultural Lessons,” her contribution to Call Me Okaasan, she writes about her mixed feelings regarding her daughter’s appropriation of African-American culture. Here, she shares a typical day with us:
5:35 a.m. – I awaken before the voices of National Public Radio whisper from my alarm clock and dress quickly since today Isabel and I have to arrive at school by 7:30 a.m. for a meeting. I am a member of the school’s Site Council, a governing body that is made up of parents, teachers and the principal and reflects the ethnic make up of the school. The Site Council is responsible for school-based decisions including things like school rules, budget approval and teacher hiring.
5:45 a.m. — I throw on some sweatpants and a fleece jacket and go into Isabel’s room where she is sprawled out on her stomach, her hair tangled and stuck to the side of her face. Clover, our 1-year-old Cockapoo puppy, is thumping his tail against his metal crate, eager to greet me. Clover and I take the elevator down from the seventh to the first floor and walk towards the park along the Channel. The homeless man who sleeps in front of Dunkin’ Donuts is packing up his bed and duffle bag. He smiles at Clover, reaching out his hand for the dog to take a sniff. Clover wiggles his whole body and wags his tail faster. I smile at the man and am grateful that the weather is warmer now, especially for the sake of this man who I have seen sleeping on the sidewalk in the bitter cold.
6:40 a.m. – Clover jumps on Isabel’s twin bed and licks her face to awaken her. She groans and I stroke her hair, reminding her that we need to leave the house quickly to get to school for the meeting. I help her dress in bed, a luxury I reserve for only these early-morning, once-a-month days.
7:10 a.m. – We walk hand in hand through the heart of Chinatown on our way to Isabel’s school. Store owners are already hosing down the sidewalks and the airs smells salty. The live chickens haven’t yet been delivered to the poultry shop so this morning Isabel doesn’t resist when we walk by the store. She says she feels badly for the chickens, crammed in their plastic cages and stacked on top of on another, their feathers littering the sidewalk.
7:30 a.m. – The school principal begins the Site Council meeting. Isabel is in one of the classrooms with one of the teachers and some of the other children whose parents have also brought them this morning. We talk about budgets; how money from the stimulus package is going to wealthy towns, rather than Boston; and about the inequalities of the Superintendent’s proposal to increase the number of school Zones in Boston. I volunteer to help write a Science and Technology grant for the school.
9:00 a.m. – The meeting ends and I leave the school, noticing that although the life-size cardboard photograph of Barack Obama has been put away, signs with the words “Yes we can!” still decorate the concrete walls of the school. I am off to work where I spend the next 5 ½ hours working at an in-house communications agency of a financial services company. I am glad that I was not laid off earlier this year, like many of my colleagues, but still I do a quick search online to see how feasible it would be to start my own business as a grant writer. In between client calls and team meetings, I dream of working at home, doing some grant writing, teaching a creative writing class at a nearby college, and starting my novel. Soon it is 3:00 – time to leave work to pick up Isabel at school.
3:15 p.m. – I cross the city quickly and arrive at the school with mostly Chinese grandparents gathering their grandchildren. I am still not used to how many of the Asian grandparents push their way past me through the heavy glass doors, not bothering to hold the door for those behind them. My friend, whose daughter attends the same school and who has lived in China, tells me it is from years of living in the crowded Chinese cities.
3:25 p.m. – Isabel and I walk more slowly home, stopping on the way for a lemon slush at the candy store. Isabel chats about her day. The question that always elicits the most response is, “Who got in trouble today?” She rattles off the names and their offenses, and then tells me about her Mandarin class, laughing at my pronunciation when I try to repeat the Chinese numbers one to ten.
6:07 p.m. – We have dinner on our building’s roof deck, grilled vegetables and tofu over rice. The vegetables are from an organic farm that delivers fresh produce each week to the café in our building. Even though the vegetables are slightly more expensive than we can buy at the local grocery store, my husband and I take pride in the fact that we are helping a local farmer support his farm. I am once again grateful that it is finally warm enough to be outside in Boston. I close my eyes, face to the sun.
8:49 p.m. – We’ve read two chapters of the American Girl book about Addy, a story about a black girl growing up during the Civil War. Slavery causes her family to be separated. I choke back the tears as a read about how Addy and her mother escape from slavery but have to leave the baby in the family behind, afraid the baby’s crying will give them away when they are on the run.
10:35 p.m. – With Isabel in bed and the dog settled, I climb up the stairs to bed and curl next to my husband, only our feet touching in our king-sized bed.