On my way into CVS last night to get some sorbet I overhead a frustrated dad saying to his daughter, “next time we go travelling it can be on your own bloody dime”. He sounded fed up. The daughter quite literally looked like she could not give a shit. They were both standing there in front of the doors to CVS, Dad was biting aggressively into an ice-cream. I felt like saying to him, “god I know how you feel buddy”. The way he was attacking that ice-cream gave me the impression that the ice-cream was integral to every fibre of his being. It is the same way I feel about sorbet. The actual reason I was going into CVS was because I was doing a sorbet run. I like adding ‘run’ to everything at the moment, like visa ‘run’ to Cambodia. I love feeling all outlawish and Lara Croftish. Though I doubt Lara Croft would ever consume as much sorbet as I do. She just does not strike me as that sort of Lara.
Back to my disgruntled father and daughter. Dad was consuming his ice-cream rapidly, I hoped he had a few more dimes to get another one if he needed it. The ‘could not give a shit’ daughter was naturally not looking at dad, but rather scrolling through the screen on her phone. If that was my daughter I would have slapped it out of her hands and put it down the toilet and pissed on it just to get a response from her, but it wasn’t my daughter, so instead I wandered if it would be appropriate to hang out by the front of the store so I could see how it played out. I decided my desire for sorbet was too great to do this and left the disgruntled duo in peace. I could go on about how much I loathe phones and people’s seeming inability to be able to disconnect or communicate without a piece of technology attached to their extremities but I think I might save that little piece of convoluted rambling for another time. It made me think though that everyone is ultimately the same. As parents we all get frustrated, as kids we all get pissed off at our parents. As kids we all think we know better and as parents we all know that kids know nothing.
It is funny even at eight, Archie and Rissie can roll their eyes at me and dismiss something I might say. It actually completely does my head in. They are eight and they make me see red sometimes. Right now I think I am very lucky as they are at a great age – my favourite age thus far. The first two years I did not really like them very much – too busy eating, crapping and crying for me to really see them as anything but the most soul destroyingly exhausting creatures I had ever met in my life. From the moment they were inside my belly, they were parasites. Sapping me of everything that I needed to feel like a normal person. Those first two years were tough. Turning three they turned into little people but with their unnatural love of toilets, hand basins and hand driers in toilets they were not really normal. From the moment they turned 6 they became much more my cup of tea. You could see senses of humour develop, different little personality quirks and sometimes they much me laugh out loud in pure bloody delight. This older age though also brings with it the ability to make you so fucking angry you can’t see straight. Despite the frustrations though they are at an age when they still think you are a rock star for doing simple things like buying Ritz Crackers and tubs of sorbet for dinner and eating in bed whilst watching TV. A 17-year-old would roll their eyes, before posting something scathing on social media about being adopted because their mum was a sad sorbet obsessed loser.
At this age too they are like little sponges, absorbing anything and everything around them. It is amazing what they both pick up on one hand and then also have no idea about on the other because it has not yet become an issue in their little world. I had the name of a Catholic Church in the Martin Luther King historical district that was renowned for its singing and music. Going to a gospel service has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember and in terms of Atlanta, attending a mass and visiting Martin Luther King were only things that I wanted to do. If I had more time, there would be more things on my list but I was keeping it simple. When I told the kids that we were going to go to mass Archie asked me why. I told him it was because I wanted to see some beautiful singing. He asked me why again. Just bloody because is what I felt like saying. When he asked me again I asked him why he kept asking me. His reply was “Because you hate religion mummy.” I was suitably put in a corner. My feelings towards churches and religion are not something I thought I had ever really discussed. Admittedly when one of the kids’ teachers told me that if they were to do choir they would miss out on Religious Education, I had replied as instinctively as breathing, “Not a problem, I would rather they sing than pray” but apart from that I had not thought I had really mentioned it and here was my 8-year-old son reminding me that I hated religion and as a result churches.
I told Archie that he was right, but this was a church that might make me change my mind because I thought it would be a celebration so we were going to go to mass and I left it at that. Church and religion, a bit like veganism are things that they are going to have to make their own mind about one day and I am not going to persuade them either way. If they don’t choose themselves, it means nothing, so a lot of conversations remain unsaid until they are older and when they genuinely want to know, I will tell them. I have my own beliefs but I don’t think I will ever support churches or any sort of organised religion. Nowadays they seem so removed from any sort of love of mankind that I am not interested. Whilst planes are flown into buildings, or trucks driven into crowds, whilst young children are molested by priests and it is covered up by the greater church, whilst inquisitions are held, whilst Islamic jihadists strap on suicide vests, whilst the female sex is treated in ways that defy human belief, whilst people are judged and ostracised all in the name of religion I want no part of it. I will continue to believe what I believe, in that ultimately we have such an amazing potential for good and for doing extraordinary things and that the world is truly a wonderful place but I can’t believe that and believe in religion at the same time.
Anyway we went to mass and it was so beautiful. Amazing Grace left me undone. On the 15th anniversary of 9/11 the rendition of the simple words “Heal the world” over and over again left me rendered useless and I could do nothing to attempt to record it but remember every single nuance in my brain. When we were leaving Rissie said to me, “you know Momma, you do believe in religion.” I believe in my religion, I think she got that, the possibility of something beautiful. That’s all.
Afterwards we went and visited the Martin Luther King Historical centre. There were three things that struck me – firstly that as a Historical Centre it was so humble and so opposite of something grand that I almost did not think it was enough. Secondly, apart from one man we were the only ones there. Thirdly, my kids have no idea of race or how much people may have had to struggle because of it.
I realised after a few minutes that humble was good and it was what Martin Luther King would have wanted. You can walk the Freedom Walkway, you can drape your hands in the reflection pool, you can hear his immortal words from a little tinny speaker in the garden and if you are that way inclined you could wade across the pool and drape yourself over the tomb of Martin Luther & Coretta Scott King before anyone stopped you. As of today I have been away now for 7 weeks and I have been truly blessed by what I have seen and I think that what I saw along Auburn Avenue in the Martin Luther King Historical area affected me more than anything else I have seen thus far. This world is truly blessed by many angels who went before us. I could have gotten upset by the fact of this amazing place being inhabited by so few. I have been jostled, pushed and hit by fucking selfie sticks in so many other places. I got all momentarily irate that all those people should be clamouring to take photos of this place too and to stand silently for a moment and whisper the words ‘thank you’. But I chose to pull my big woolly head in and enjoy the moments of solitude and the rarity of having a beautiful place all to myself.
Archie and Rissie asked me so many questions that I realised that they had no concept of race or the negative implications that the colour of someone’s skin can have. Archie looked puzzled when I tried to explain that Martin Luther King sometimes got arrested for the colour of his skin alone and for fighting for civil rights, ie the fact that all people are equal and should be treated as such. Rissie simply could not understand why Rosa Parks got in trouble for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man and was eventually hailed as a civil rights hero. It was a humbling experience for me to try to explain so many things to them, that for them were just bloody wrong. Archie summed it up for me, “It is stupid mummy, you don’t judge people by their skin, you judge them how they act. If they act like an idiot, they are a stupid idiot, doesn’t matter what colour they are.” It is because of men like Martin Luther King that for a little while my child can believe that that is how all people think. And hopefully when he finds out that that is not the case for some, he will fight to keep his beliefs intact. That is what I hope for anyway.
Then we spent some time wandering around Auburn Avenue and to think that once upon a time this was one of the only areas in Atlanta that black people could feel safe before segregation was even tackled made me feel so small when I thought of the magnitude of the obstacles that so many have faced. My time in Atlanta was so moving and I will be forever grateful for many things. Those few hours will be etched on my soul forever.
Our time in the USA for Summer and Autumn is now at an end. I am so excited that we will return for Christmas and winter that I could wet my pants. Now it is time for Costa Rica. Time for beaches, sloths and howler monkeys. Time for jungles, beaches and volcanoes. Time for rice and beans and endless fruit. I think the whole thing is so fucking foreign for me that I actually think I am making the whole thing up.
I suspect that I am refusing to acknowledge any of it as I remain, for me, mysteriously calm. I suspect my evening might involve a few outlaw sorbet runs whilst I keep telling myself how calm I am.
Until we speak again – Pura Vida!