Guest Post: Getting To Know Each Other. A Conversation on Race

Over the couple of years I have been blogging, I have had the honor to become acquainted with and learn much from Lisa Owen. She blogs beautifully and bravely at My So Called Glamorous Life: The Adventures of a Domestic Engineer. I have enjoyed her posts on everything from the delicious food she cooks, the books she reads, to her adventures raising kids.

But I especially love it when Lisa writes about race. For she gives me a glimpse into what it is like to be a black woman living in the south.

Before I read Lisa’s blog and twitter feeds I had no idea people got profiled and followed by security guards in stores. Or how much time and effort it took to keep up her daughter’s hair (Yes Lisa, white people are fascinated with black hair. Not only because it is so different, but because it can do so many things white hair cannot. Coming from one who has had basically the same haircut since she was 16, I guess I’m a little jealous!)

When I decided to do a series on race in February, I knew I wanted Lisa’s voice in the conversation (BTW, she is having her own Black History month conversation over at her own site. Check it out!)

So without further ado, I give you Lisa:

********

Race and ethnicity are hard subjects to talk about and contrary to popular belief, they are not the same thing. Race generally refers to genetics, while ethnicity is cultural. Race is determined by if you are or are not a descendant of Africa. Ethnicity relates to what area in the world you and your ancestors come from. While both of these things affect physical appearance, neither of these things is inherently negative. Since this is the case, why then is it so difficult to discuss? At the very mention of the word or concept of race/ethnicity there’s tension, defensiveness, accusations and bitterness. It’s a hard discussion to have and I applaud anyone, like Dena, who dares to have a meaningful conversation. Thank you, Dena, for letting me chime in.

In light of recent events (like Ferguson) I think that we can all agree that Americans need to continue the conversation about race.

As an African-American parent I can’t avoid it. Starting with the talks years ago that I had to have with my now adult sons about how to respond if you’re ever stopped by the police; to the increasing questions put to my 7 and 8 year-old-girls about their hair, their freckles, their hair, do they tan and more about their hair. I have to discuss race and ethnicity to help them understand some of the pervasive attitudes that come their way.

It gets heavy.

race and ethnicity

 

My girls have a face full of freckles, much like me and my mother and my grandfather and so on. They are completely adorable (I’m not being biased, they really are)! Recently, my 8 – year – old told me that one of her friends commented that some other girls at school said that she (my daughter) must have drawn those dots on her face because “Black people don’t have freckles.” I could tell you many, many stories about things that Black people allegedly do and don’t have. They are all, without exception, wrong and illustrate the dangers of stereotyping. My daughter was confused and somewhat hurt (“Why would I draw those on my face, mom?”) and I said to her:

Sweetheart, look at my face. What do you see?”

Freckles.”

Look at your sister and brother? What do you see?”

Freckles”

And Grandma, your aunt and uncles?”

Freckles.”

So what does that tell you?”

That African-Americans do have freckles, but why would they say that?”

Because she really doesn’t know any better. Next time, you’ll have to educate her.”

Such a seemingly innocent and simple thing as freckles, but the unilateral exclusion made her feel like “other”. Something used to make her feel isolated, like “You cannot be like me.”

Do I think it was intentional? No, but it really doesn’t matter because the damage is the same. Not to mention, that it is not only damaging to the recipient, but it’s also damaging for anyone to live in ignorance. Yes, we must talk, but we must also do more.

We must venture outside of our own neighborhoods and broaden our social circles. We must purposely seek knowledge about people and cultures outside of our own. Why is it in a country that is so big and so diverse, we only seek out those that look like us? And for goodness sakes, if what you think you know about other cultures comes predominantly from television or social media, TURN IT OFF! Nothing is better than face to face, personal interaction. Be curious, but seek answers. Don’t make assumptions. Be bold enough to stop negative comments and conversations even if it’s from people that you love. Be steadfast and unmovable in your commitment to find peace and racial harmony.

As ugly as things have gotten on the streets of our towns and cities, I remain hopeful. I am encouraged by people like Dena who speak up. I am encouraged by people who take to the streets to protest injustice and seek change. I am encouraged by the generation of children like mine who have kind hearts and no preconceived notion that they are supposed to mistrust and dislike one another because they don’t know that skin color matters.

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters, and make change.

 

conversations on raceLisa Owen is a writer and blogger at My So Called Glamorous Life: The Adventures of a Domestic Engineer (www.mysocalledglamlife.com) and she has been a featured blogger on Blogher.com, Project Underblog, and in the supplemental materials for The Princess Problem (available at Rebecca Hains.com). She is a mother/step-mother in a blended family with five children ages 6 to 23. Lisa has a B.S. in Journalism from Southern Illinois University and spent 15 years working as a corporate/transactional paralegal for law firms and corporations before becoming a SAHM and pursuing her passion for writing.

 

 

 

 

 

Parenting with an Anxiety Disorder

Parenting with an Anxiety Disorder

Parenting children while dealing with an anxiety disorder can be a very tricky dance.

If you are like me, of all the things you worry about

Messing up your kids is probably your number one worry.

They come into the world so sweet and perfect, that it is almost overwhelming to imagine how you will get them to adulthood healthy and whole.

In terms of parenting with an anxiety disorder, there are two main ways that I struggle.

 

One struggle is dealing with the limits that my anxiety places on my parenting.

It hurts my heart to think of the number of times that I have told my children

Mommy can’t

play,

help you with homework,

take you to soccer today,

because she

has a migraine,

doesn’t feel well,

is worried about flaring up her allergies.”

 

Add to that all the extra things my kids have had to do because of my anxiety-induced limits. Just in the past month they have taken on laundry duty, carried items and pushed the cart at the grocery store, and generally been my arms and back around the house while I sort out this stress-related neck and shoulder pain.

I try to tell myself that my kids are resilient. That learning to help others in their family/community is an important lesson. That if I didn’t struggle with this, there would be some other limitation that would affect my relationship with my kids.

But at the end of the day I still worry that I am shortchanging my kids.

 

The other big issue I face in parenting with an anxiety disorder is trying not to pass on the habits of worry and fear to my kids.

This may be the bigger factor of the two for me. I pray that one day my children will forgive me my faults and brokenness, like all children eventually have to do with all parents.

But Dear God in Heaven, let them not inherit my anxiety.

This is doubly tricky because I believe propensity towards anxiety can actually be inherited as in written into our DNA. But I also know that anxiety can be learned.

We have two children, one that was born from me and one that is adopted. Of the two kids, I actually notice our adopted child mirroring my anxiety more than the one that shares my DNA. Now is this because she came with her own anxiety, having been abandoned at birth, moved from foster home to orphanage and then finally across the world until she settled in her forever home? Or is this because she is modeling her same-sex parent who has taught her to be anxious?

Since anxiety is a complicated beast, we may never know.

So mainly I focus on damage control.

1) Sometimes I am honest with them about the fact that I am anxious.

And I tell them I am probably more anxious than I need to be because worry is something I struggle with. We think we can hide these kind of things from our kids, but young ones are uncannily sensitive and smart. I figure if I don’t put it out there and explain what is going on, they will still feel my fear and come to their own conclusions on why I am afraid.

 

2) When possible I defer to the braver, calmer parent. 

I am lucky in that my husband does not suffer from anxiety. To me he is a fearless rock. When we get in a situation where I know I am more anxious about something than I need to be, and he is just fine, he takes the reigns. This is why Daddy takes our kids zip-lining while Mommy tours a winery. The kids learn to be brave and I soothe myself until I can greet them at the end of their adventure with a smile and pretend it is fun to hear how they flew down a mountain.

 

3) I teach them how to soothe their own anxiety.

Since I’ve taught my daughter to be anxious, I figured it was only fair that I also teach her deep-breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, and how to recognize and switch her anxious thoughts. Since my son tends more towards irritability, we work on breathing and easy meditation.

 

4) I try to be brave.

Honestly, having kids has brought out the brave in me more than anything ever could. So when they want to ride the chair lift at the fair or watch the tightrope act at the circus, I summon up my courage and go along for the ride. Sometimes they are sweet enough to encourage me, “Come on Mom, you can do it!”

And when they want to ride around the block by themselves or go to the middle school dance, I take a deep breath and say okay. I may be breathing the worry away until I see their beautiful faces again, but I know it is important to believe in them enough to let them go.

 

In the end I guess we all just do the best we can with what we have.

And learn to say I’m Sorry.

And I Love You.

And hope we’re not hugging them too much because we’re worried about how badly we’re messing them up.

 

Making the Most of Time

It is writing prompt day with my blogging group and today’s prompt from Lisa at My So Called Glamorous Life is “If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?”

This one came pretty quick for me. I have never been super strong, super fast, or athletic in any way, so I have pretty much given up on wanting those things. My one freakish quality has been super-flexibility, but more times than not that has led to injury as much as anything good so I don’t desire more of that.

What I have been thinking about a lot recently is time. I know this is mostly because we are coming to the end of another school year and a big one at that (to me). My daughter is graduating from 5th grade and her elementary school tomorrow night. I know this is not as significant as my friends’ kids who are graduating from high school or college, but it has hit me still.

making the most of time

big girl dress all ready to wear on graduation night

Once my daughter graduates from elementary school I can no longer pretend that she is a little girl anymore. Even though she is still small in stature, her maturity tells me otherwise. She doesn’t need me as much anymore. She has stopped holding my hand and begun putting a healthy buffer zone between herself and me in public. She is practicing her huffs and eyerolls.

 

I have found myself wishing of late that I could just freeze time and keep my children exactly like they are.

Big enough to sleep through the night but young enough to want to cuddle on the sofa and watch silly movies together. Capable of handling all bathroom tasks by themselves, but still willing to come to us with all their day’s problems and joys.

But even as I want to freeze time, there are moments in the past that I would like to revisit. This has got me longing a big for the ability to time travel. I got the idea while watching the movie About Time recently. Honestly, the movie had me wanting to join in on the jaunts to the past when I witnessed how useful having a Do-Over for some of life’s awkward moments would be.  But I was truly sold on time travel when I saw the possibility of going back and re-living some of my favorite moments with my children in their younger years. I would love to experience my son falling asleep in my arms while nursing one more time. To hear his gentle breathing as his eyes flutter soft and tiny hand grasps mine would be heaven on earth. I’d also go back to the first time I pushed my daughter on a swingset. To see her wide smile of surprise, to hear her giggles keeping time with the sway of the swing.

making the most of time

 

 

making the most of time

I’d re-live seeing the sweet smiles she gave that day

However, if I had the superpower of time-travel I would go ahead and extend it into the future. For I can’t help wondering how these half grown children of mine will turn out. What will they be like when they do get ready to fly the nest?  What will they look like on their wedding day? Or when I see them holding my grandchildren for the first time (they are giving me grandchildren, right?)

But unfortunately, I’ve watched enough Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking to know that my wish for time travel will likely never come true. But the mysteries of the cosmos have given me another hope. While exploring our local museum’s exhibit on black holes I was intrigued to learn how relative time really is; for time slows down the closer one gets to any object of great gravity. Theoretically, while entering a black hole, an object of utmost immense gravity, it would almost be as if time stood still. It fascinated me to think about how eternity could be experienced in this moment.

That got me to thinking about how time really is experienced in relative ways in our lives. We’ve all had those moments when time has flown and those when for good or for bad when time has almost stood still. The moments of greatest gravity, when a loved one is born or when they take their last breath, can almost seem eternal.

So maybe if I can’t have the power to time travel, I can at least give a little more gravity to the moments of my life. By being aware of their true weight, maybe I can slow them down a bit. Maybe even some of these moments will begin to take on the quality of the eternal.

For no moment can last forever. But if I am fully invested and engaged in each moment I am given and value its weight to the fullest, in a sense it can become its own eternity. 

There is no going back and re-living the past. But I can live my present one eternity at the time. Even when the eternity involves tissues and a big girl dress.

***

**Thanks to John Greene for his  inspiring concept of “little infinities” in his fabulous novel The Fault in Our Stars. If have haven’t read it yet, you are missing a real treat.

For more thoughts on superpowers, click here to read My So Called Glamorous Life and find the links to my fellow bloggers posts.

Middle School in Hindsight

It is link-up day with my blogging group and today’s prompt provided by Karen at Dogs Don’t Eat Pizza is “If I knew then what I know now. . .”

When I read this prompt I immediately thought of all the conversations I’ve been having with my daughter recently. She is in the last few months of 5th grade and her thoughts have drifted ahead to middle school. As you can imagine this is a subject that has prompted some fear and trepidation (for both of us!). She knows enough to realize that middle school can be rough sometimes, but doesn’t understand yet how she will navigate these tricky waters.

I have a lot of compassion for my daughter when she gets nervous and asks me repeated questions about the middle school years. I remember dreading that time myself in all its awkward drama myself. But the big advantage that I have over my daughter is that I know without a doubt that middle school can be survived.  So, if I could go back and comfort my younger self as well as my daughter, this is what I would say:

 

Believe it or not, yes, you will eventually have a boyfriend.

I know your shy, quiet self wonders if any boy, let alone the one you are interested in will ever notice you. You watch your friends pair up and then listen to them giggle about getting their first kiss. You feel hopelessly geeky and alone. But one day, soon enough you will have a boyfriend. Several in fact. And then you will meet a boy so wonderful that you have to marry him. It all work out just fine. So relax a little about the boy thing, huh? There is plenty of time to worry about that. For now enjoy the friend friends you have all around you. Someday you will miss staying up all night and sharing your deepest secrets with good friends.

 

Speaking of boys, never dumb yourself down to win a boy’s affection.  

I see you over there pretending like you don’t know the answer again when you are called on in math class. You worry that boys only like girls with boobs not brains. Since you have very little of the former you try to minimize the latter as much as you can. You hide your test grades under your folder as soon as the teacher passes them out not because you are ashamed your grades are too low, but because you are embarrassed they are so high. For everyone knows boys don’t like girls who ruin the class curve. Go ahead and pretend like you don’t know how to play pool so that cute boy will teach you how if you want to, but someday you will find a boy that loves you precisely because you can outsmart him. It is really the only kind of boy worth having anyway.

 

 

middle school hindsight

the brown mop being tamed by barrettes the year before junior high.

You will always have bad hair days, but eventually you get used to it.

I know you look at that wavy mop of brown mess on the top of your head and have no idea what to do with it. You experiment with mouse, curling irons, perms, no perms, and God forbid, hot rollers. Thankfully you chickened out on the sun-in fad. Even if you had tried that beloved 80s spray-in, you still would never have had the long, golden silky locks you wish for. My advice? Get over it. Embrace the brown wavy mop. You will still have plenty of days where your mess of hair makes you huff in frustration. But in college you discover pony tail holders (well scrunchies actually) and realize how little it matters. And the ironic thing is the girl with long, silken blonde locks probably sometimes wishes she had darker or curlier hair. If we can all just learn to love what we have we will be a lot happier. As Malcom X said, “Give your brain as much attention as you do your hair and you’ll be a thousand times better off.”

 

Learn now to stand up to a bully, for they never go away.

Teenagers say really mean things to each other during middle school. Things that make you want to go home, cry your eyes out, and hide until you are thirty. The best thing you can do is to learn now to look the bully in the eyes and make them blink. For the sad truth is that bullies last a lot longer than the years you are in school. You will find them at work, at church, and someday at your own kid’s school. Never try and pick a fight with a bully, but if a bully continues to lay into you, you must learn to stand so tall and strong that they back away.

 

So to my younger self and my growing daughter, the best advice I have on middle school in hindsight is that though sometimes it will be awkward and confusing and just hard, it will end. And you will move on. And you will be just find. So relax and be yourself as much as you can. Most people will see how wonderful that person really is. And the rest? They’ll someday be just a picture in a yearbook you try to remember.