Tag Archives: children

my racism story, part 2 (more background)

The part of my racism story I want to share now is from 2007, though it includes a reference to the experiences I shared in my racism story, part 1 (or, “will you be my black friend?”). It’s my hope that my friends and peers who are white might read my stories and consider their own experiences as people in America who identify as white; who, therefore, benefit from the racist structures of our society. I have found it helpful over the years to get honest with myself about the flickering but problematic background thought processes that have blocked me from authentic relationships with people of color:

“she’s Black, she’s Black, she’s BLAAAAACK!”

“She’s Black, she’s Black, she’s BLAAAAACK!” was just about all my brain could handle. Maintaining a simple and polite conversation was barely possible. No matter how much we had in common, no matter how likely a future friendship, I could think of nothing but that amazing dark skin, the transcendent hair texture, and my entire personal history of race relationships. Oh, how I wanted to prove to this woman that I was not like just any white woman! I knew, of course, it was just this level of self-consciousness that would make me utterly annoying to her. But, I just couldn’t help myself.

Helping myself, though, is really what race relations is about for me these days. I do care about the greater socio-political issues (shocking disregard for people’s lives all across the continent of Africa, overt brutality in our country, job discrimination, and of course the list goes on). However, my personal journey with racism now centers around me, my husband, and most of all, my daughter…

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walking the walk, social justice through parenting

Reading a “facts of life” book last night with my almost-7 year old daughter, she stopped me after I read about what makes boys boys and what makes girls girls. She said, “That’s in the brain. It’s not there [pointing to the genital areas].” She was talking about the fact that there are people whose bodies are biologically one sex, but their identities are another gender. I’ll admit I felt a little proud of myself that I’ve been mothering my daughters to understand that gender is much more complex than biology alone.

A couple years ago, my older daughter called out, distressed, when she realized — admittedly after years of playing with them — her playmobil figures had only one person of color among nearly fifty people. We searched the website and found one brown skinned figure with what looked like a Native American set among hundreds and hundreds of characters. Looking at the site this morning, I see they have new figures that look like people of color in the top banner. Scrolling through the characters, I don’t see that much else has changed. The point I’m making here is that I felt glad when my daughters noticed the playmobil set was made with a foundation of racism. We talked about not playing with the set, what is our responsibility? How can we help? We talked about different things we could do (color with markers?) to make the set have a wider range of people figures. We ended up writing a letter to the company complaining about the issue. That’s not nothing.

There will be people who think these kinds of smaller exchanges are not as important or valid as participating in a drastic overhaul of our entire system. And, indeed, we need to change our whole system. We need to do more than have conversations in our own families. Personally, I am doing more. But there are times when “all I’m doing is parenting.” During those times I’m not missing my opportunity to help my children know more than I did about injustice. I want them to notice problems and think critically about solutions. I want them to practice responding to injustice with action. I believe these smaller steps count. They matter. They are more than “better than nothing.” My children and many like them are people who know that just thinking about and talking about changing the world is not enough; they want to walk the walk and, as my daughter said (she’s sitting on my lap and I asked her how I should finish this), “make the world a better place than we found it.”

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lost in the possibilities, or, when my daughters went to school

My older daughter is 11; my younger is 5. For the last 11 years I have, for the most part, been at home with one or both of them. This summer, both girls went to two weeks of full day camp. It was the first time in 11 years that I had such an expansive amount of childcare. I was giddy and elated and I painted furniture and went to Goodwill a lot. It was summer. Most of my clients were quiet and there were very few pressing deadlines. I played a bit, though I never lost the sensation of being in a huge hurry — the kiddos will be back any minute! gotta get this done!

Today, they both went to full-day school. As I drove away after dropping them off, I laughed and I cried.

I laughed because I was filled with joy. The school aligns with our values in some of the most vital ways. It will challenge them. And, it’s safe. They feel at home.

I cried because, as the girls’ father said, “It’s a big deal moment. Out of the first nest.”

I also cried with relief. It’s been a difficult journey over the last several years. Their father provides substantial support, far above the legal requirements. But, it’s still been difficult and part of that is because being at home with our daughters has been a priority for us. Time is always scarce; I always feel in a hurry. With so much to do and so little time, I have to go-go-go or I might collapse.

Today, I am caught between collapsing—something I do a bit of each time the girls go to their father’s house—and getting things done. I’m in shock, truly in disbelief, at the amount of time I now have available to me. Not only will I be able to grow my business, but I will be able to… fold the laundry, cook meals, pay bills, complete paperwork, make and keep appointments, go for walks, grocery shop, sleep, and be emotionally and physically available to my daughters when they get home from school.

As my business grows, of course, I will have less personal time. Everything’s relative, though. Going from just two mornings and a day each week to five days a week is the lottery of time, and I’ve won it. For now, I need to learn how to breathe and believe it’s really true.

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Valentine’s Day traditions

Being single on Valentine’s Day is meh. As any of my exes will attest, I’ve never been sentimental about the holiday. Despite the long, interesting, and muddled history of it, I have always associated Valentine’s Day with “just another excuse cooked up by mega-corporations for people to feel like they should be consumers of stuff they don’t actually need.” Still, as I said, being single on this day is meh. Not awful, but not wonderful.

In the last few days, I found myself looking forward to the day. I decided I’d make a special breakfast, do some fun stuff with the girls during the day, and we were supposed to go see the movie Babe at the Friends School of Portland (but the snow cancelled that). Planning with my younger daughter, we decided on heart shaped pigs in a blanket for breakfast, and chocolate dipped strawberries during the day.IMG_0083IMG_0082

As I set out the plates last night, knowing I’d be dragging myself out of bed a lot earlier than I’d prefer (my children have not mastered the concept of sleeping “late”), I started enjoying myself. I’ve decided to throw myself into the holiday, doing some things that will hopefully become traditions. I love the idea that my daughters can associate Valentine’s Day with not-romantic love memories. Then, when they are adults, if they find themselves without a love interest on Valentine’s Day, they may not feel the day is “meh.” Maybe they’ll start their own Valentine’s Day not-romantic love traditions. And maybe they’ll give their dear old mum a call because it’s a day we always celebrated together when they were little.

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what I rarely admit about how I parent

When my children have a lot of screen time, we all feel cluttered and cranky. I can’t talk about this much, though, because it’s a loaded topic. In the past, I’ve brought up my preference that our children don’t spend much time in front of screens (television, computer, other) and I’ve found people defensive. More than defensive, I find people want to tell me I “shouldn’t feel so bad about it” if I let the girls have screen time so I can take a break for myself.

People really want me to feel less bad about it. That probably comes from good intentions. But, it misses the point. I feel gross when they have a lot of screen time because we all feel gross. I feel bad about it because the effects are heavy. I don’t feel bad because I’m some kind of monster as a parent. I simply feel bad that I’ve come to a point where the easier answer is screen time, knowing the consequences will be more hyper-stress energy than if I wait it out and we stay screen time free.

What “a lot of screen time” means for me is more than an hour and/or two days or more in a row. When we have the screen going for more than an hour or two, our home feels crowded, tired, and too busy and loud. When that happens for a couple days in a row, we might as well’ve had no sleep the night before. It’s a mess.

All that said, tonight the girls watched Frosty the Snowman, and Curious George’s Very Monkey Christmas. (More than two hours.) And, we had screen time last night (the 2nd half of Rudolph and, for the older one, the American Girl holiday movie (Samantha?)). It’s fine, yes, yes, I know it’s fine. But, it also leaves me feeling like we’ve got a layer of sediment coating our lives that won’t clear way until we’ve had several days in a row where they don’t zone out in front of the screen.

When our older daughter was little, she had zero screen time. We used to leave restaurants if there were televisions being forced on us. I appreciate our zealous commitment to the value of simplicity through limited screen time. When we started adding screen time into her life, it was limited almost exclusively to nature programs and some preschool programming (Franklin the Turtle, Little Bear) even though she was four and five years old. Life is different now. The electronic childcare option is a reality for me. Plus, my daughters aren’t always with me (so their time in front of screens isn’t up to me).

It’s difficult talking about not using much screen time in our lives. It’s telling to me that the topic is so fraught with judgments and misunderstandings. It would be nice if I felt I could say “I feel gross and awful when I let the girls watch show after show…” without people trying to tell me to relax about it. We seem to be in such a minority that my distaste for screen time feels more comfortable as a secret than as something I would discuss freely in a casual social context.

Y’know, except for writing about it on the Internet.

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