Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: compassion

My Heart is Broken

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My heart is so completely broken today.

My heart is broken as a woman, who cringes at the words,

I moved on her like a bitch… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

As an academic, who values facts and information and evidence-based decision-making.

I just see how I’m feeling and go based on that.

As an educator, who values critical thinking and acknowledging the limits of my knowledge so I can learn more.

I know more than the generals. Believe me.

As an intercultural communication practitioner, who values the richness, complexity, and benefits of respectful communication between cultures.

(Mexicans) are bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

I propose a complete and total shutdown of all Muslims entering the U.S.

As a mother, who wants to support her nation’s leader as a role model.

(About his 1-year-old daughter, Tiffany): She’s got great legs.

If I weren’t her father, I’d be dating her. (his daughter, Ivanka)

 

But most of all…

 

My heart is broken as a fellow American

who now knows that there are enough angry and disillusioned people in this country who would rather upend the whole system than try to fix what’s broken.

(Not paying taxes) makes me smart.

We’re going to completely repeal Obamacare.

We’re going to tear up our trade deals.

We’re going to have a deportation force.

We’re going to build a wall. And Mexico is going to pay for it.

 

My heart is broken as a Christian

who values fighting for the poor and the marginalized

How smart can poor people be?

who values humility and forgiveness

Why should I ask God for forgiveness? I don’t make mistakes.

who values compassion

There are simply too many examples to list here. And they all break my heart.

***

I want to believe that I’m being overdramatic. That things won’t change that much. That our system of checks and balances works well enough to stop this ridiculous man-child from engaging in nuclear war when someone insults him.

But there are enough people in this country that have decided that this

racist

sexist

uneducated

narcissistic

6-time bankrupted businessman

buffoon of a human being

is more qualified to be president of this great country than someone who has spent her life serving the public.

***

I fell asleep at 11:30 last night and woke up at 2:40 a.m. with a pit in my stomach. The baby was going crazy, flipping and nudging and turning inside of me. I tried to go back to sleep.

I couldn’t.

I was so sick with worry.

So at 3:10 a.m., I looked at my phone. Hoping for a miracle.

Instead, I lay there in the darkness, overcome with anxiety, tears coming down my face. Deep denial coursing through me.

It’s impossible, I kept thinking. There aren’t enough people in this country that could possibly think he’s a better choice.

And then the fear.

Replaying all the hurtful, painful, idiotic things that he has said over the past year and a half.

And then imagining all the people in my life who voted in favor of those very words.

All the people who really thought that placing this man in the White House would actually result in benefits in their lives.

(For the love of God, I wouldn’t even let this man into my own house , not to mention in the same vicinity as me or my daughter.)

Listen, Americans who voted for Trump.

Donald Trump cares about no one but himself and his image.

He taught us that when he spent $20,000 on a painting of himself. Out of funds from his “charity.”

Write it down. Carve it in stone if you want.

Americans who voted for this man, he will break your heart.

Just as you have broken mine.

trump-photo

What I Will Tell My Kids About Race

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“I think your daughter and Ezra are the only two left in that room,” she said.

I was picking up my then 18-month-old daughter from daycare and I had just been chatting with one of the staff members. As I walked down the hall to my daughter’s room, I looked through the window and saw three kids.

“Which one is Ezra?” I asked, looking back down the hall to where she was standing.

She looked at me blankly.

“There are two other little boys,” I said.

She lowered her voice, put a hand up to her mouth, and whispered…

He’s the little black boy.

That. Right there.

That’s where it starts.

***

Why did she feel compelled to whisper, the little black boy?

My intuition tells me that she thought we shouldn’t acknowledge his race. (Because that would make us racist?)

But whispering words like this also sends an implicit message. One that could be internalized and filed away to young ears: That being black was something to be ashamed of.

It’s a common approach that American educators–many of whom are white women (me included)–use to show that they are being sensitive. It’s called colorblindness. And to some ears, it sounds okay.

I don’t see colors in my classroom. I treat everyone the same.

I teach the kids that we’re all the same. That it doesn’t matter what skin color we have.

That might be okay to teach kids–if it were true.

But it’s not true. Race does matter.

When we create these completely alternate universes in schools where we pretend that we don’t see the shades of our own children’s skins–and acknowledge how that affects their experience in our society–we create a generation of Americans who assume that everyone has the same experiences.

We create situations like this.

In the Storycorps podcast, “Traffic Stop,” a white mother and her adopted black son share the story of the night when he was brutally attacked by police officers during a traffic stop.

What struck me most about this podcast was the mother’s words of colorblindness:

“I thought love would conquer all and that skin color didn’t really matter.”

She speaks with a mother’s love. You love your child unconditionally. No matter what. But in projecting her own unconditional love for her son onto the cultural lens that American society uses to see her son, she blinds herself to the simple fact that…

Not everyone shares her love.

Not everyone believes that race doesn’t matter.

I dare say, she thinks as many white people do–that we have reached a point in our society when racism is not tolerated anymore. We may not believe that racism is completely dead, but it certainly doesn’t reside where we live and work and play. Racism is for the uneducated and the unemployed who need a scapegoat.

And if it dares happens, people say something.

But what about the covert racism that still exists? What about our own implicit biases that shape our split-second reactions?

As Hillary Clinton pointed out in the September 24th debate, implicit bias is not just a police problem. It’s a problem for everyone.

<whisper, whisper>

He’s the little black boy.

<whisper, whisper>

I don’t want to admit that I know he’s black, but he is. It’s the easiest way for you to tell him apart from the crowd of white kids.

I don’t want to admit that I have no idea what he’s wearing or how tall he is or the shape of his eyes or what his hair looks like or what he might be playing with. All I can tell you is that he’s black.

I don’t want to admit that he’s only one of six to eight black kids that we have in this school.

<whisper, whisper>

I don’t feel comfortable saying these thoughts, so I have to whisper them.

Just in case someone overhears us talking about race… let’s use whispers.

Because race doesn’t matter.

And because it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t exist.

Right?

***

When I was in kindergarten and first grade, I went to a predominantly black school.

You read that right.

My family moved to Dayton, Ohio in 1984, well before the Internet and its amazing capability of scoping out a location before moving. We moved into a neighborhood known as Five Oaks. It had a nice ring to it, but the real draw was the fact that the rent was well within our means. For $500 a month, we could live in half of a giant duplex with four bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a basement, and an attic spread across four floors.

Once upon a time, Five Oaks was a prestigious neighborhood for the wealthy. Which is why there were so many spacious houses available for dirt cheap rent.

Here’s a “tour” around the community, done in 2008 by a community activist.

 Because of our new home’s location, I attended Jefferson Primary School, where 80-90% of the students were black.

My best friend’s name was Princess. Like most of the kids in my class, she was black. I loved her intricately braided hair, like a curtain of beads that softly clinked against each other when she walked. She convinced her friends to include me in their games of Double Dutch jump rope. And when it was clear that 1) I really sucked at it and 2) her friends had no patience for me learning how to do it well, Princess sat with me at recess and clapped her hands against mine, clumsily at first, to “Miss Mary Mack.”

Princess was the only one who came to my sixth birthday party at my house. Even though I invited most of the girls in my thirty-person class.

My other best friend was Colleen. She carried a denim purse with a sticker of a man in a black hat. When I confessed that I didn’t know who he was, she looked at me in shock. You don’t know who Michael Jackson is? Then she showed me her moonwalk, her Rapunzel-like curly hair billowing in the wind. She was unlike anyone else that I had ever seen. Who else in the world had hair like hers?

I didn’t realize until much, much later that she was biracial.

 I knew that my skin was lighter than the skin of most of my classmates. But I had to learn that this difference had value attached to it.

***

It all started with a rock.

Thrown in my face.

My two older brothers and I were playing on the playground at Five Oaks park. A group of four to six black kids approached us and started telling us that we needed to go home.

This was their playground.

They threw rocks at us.

We cowered in front of them.

“That’s right. Get down on your knees and beg!” one of them yelled.

We ran home, rocks still pelting us from behind.

I didn’t understand why.

Why did they hate us? They didn’t even know who we were.

Did we do something wrong?

I could hold on to this memory as proof that racism goes both ways. That black people can be just as racist as white people. That I shouldn’t care about racism–whether it’s overt or covert–against black people because I “got over” the racism that was expressed toward me.

But such conclusions would disregard the larger truth that white spheres of influence are far, far more numerous and powerful. That these children could have been acting out of frustration with one of the many systems that they were just now learning were rigged against them (education, justice, economics–take your pick). Or perhaps they were giddy with the sheer novelty of exerting power over a group of white kids. I mean, really, how often did that opportunity arise in Five Oaks?

The truth is, I could leave the playground. 

I could “get over” this racist incident because I could move to a place where my race would no longer be a reason to torment me.

We could leave Five Oaks. We could move to many other communities where we would have more social capital. More power. More voice. More influence. More advantages. Maybe we wouldn’t be rich by moving, but we could at least move underneath the protection of an umbrella that would look out for “our best interests.”

In fact, we did.

Within three years, we moved to a white working class neighborhood. My new friends were named Amanda and Kristen and Jennifer. I saw new standards of beauty. No more beautifully braided hair. Instead, beautiful was straight, long hair that lay still as sticks across your shoulders and back. I admired their clothes, their shoes, their embroidered backpacks and lunchboxes.

Racism is, at the least, the inability to leave behind your low social capital.

But racism is also knowing that no matter how far you rise, there will always be someone who skews your worth because of your skin color. It may not be everyone. It probably won’t be those who are closest to you. But there will always be someone who will only see your race.

It’s knowing that your race will be used to explain any moments when you behave badly.

It’s knowing that your race will be cited to explain why you struggle in your life.

And if you dare achieve, your race will be referenced as a facet of your identity that you overcame.

Whether you struggle or achieve, you will always wonder–even if only in your own mind–if the person across from you sees your real worth. Your real self.

Racism is knowing that you will never fit into the label of “normal” since society feels the need to add “black” to identify every black person in the news, but never feels compelled to identify when a person is “white.” (Instead, white people just get to be “man” or “woman” or “boy” or “girl.”)

White people would like to believe that race doesn’t matter anymore. In our spheres of whiteness, it is easy to come to that conclusion.

But if you’ve ever stepped outside of that sphere, you know differently.

You know that Princess can never leave.

As long as we keep our circles separate.

***

When I think about what I will teach my children about race, I think most of it will not be in words.

Certainly, some of it will.

But you learn more about race by working alongside someone who is different from you.

Or playing a game together. Or singing a song. Or reading a story.

You learn more about race by sharing a meal with someone.

You learn more by engaging in a common humanity.

Racism becomes more personal and hurtful to you when you hear a white girl call the same kind of hair that you thought was so beautiful and magical–just a year earlier–“nappy” and “dirty.” You take personal offense when the white girl asks the black girl if she ever even washed her hair.

You start to take racism to heart when they hurt your friends.

And so that is one of my biggest jobs as a parent–to expand the sphere of interaction that my daughter has. Beyond white suburbia. And into spheres where she is the outsider. Where she is different. Where she needs someone to include her in a game that she doesn’t know. Where she can make friends with children who are different than her. Not just different in skin color. But different in religion. In social class. In language.

By becoming the other, we learn a lesson in humility and compassion. We learn how to redefine and question the word normal. We begin to recognize the invisible walls that we’ve built around ourselves. We begin to see who they keep out and how they do it.

We may not be able to tear the walls down with only our own two hands.

But we can help others to see the wall.

And maybe together, we can start taking the bricks apart.

Gorillas and Refugees

Now that social media has started to calm down on the great debate of whether a human being or a gorilla is more valuable and of whether your child entering a zoo enclosure means you’re a negligent parent, maybe we can step back and get some perspective on what we pay attention to on social media. All week long, social media users have been sharing post after post about the killing of Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo.

It’s the mother’s fault. Get control of your child! 

Or Did they really have to kill Harambe?

Or Leave the mother alone! You can’t always be in control of them! 

Fine. Everyone feel better now?

Good.

While we’ve been distracted by the death of an endangered gorilla and our unspoken love of shaming other parents, 880 migrants died last week as they tried to cross the Mediterranean on smuggler’s ships.

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Photo credit: CNN.com

2,500 people have died in this manner since the beginning of the year.

***

It doesn’t bother me that people feel the need to talk about the Harambe story.

I get it.

I think most Americans can more easily identify with this story, and thus feel like they have something to say about it. Most of us can imagine being the parent that takes our child to the zoo and then being forced to watch your child being handled by a 400-pound gorilla. Some of us can even find the compassion in our hearts to mourn the death of an endangered gorilla, who spent his life under the constant parading gaze of humans.

Our imaginations can take us this far.

But our imagination stumbles when it comes to the refugee crisis.

We probably don’t know any refugees. In fact, given how long the U.S. refugee settlement process takes, it will probably be years before we have any refugees living in our communities. In the meantime, this whole refugee crisis thing seems like some horrific story happening in some other world.

Quite simply, there’s no fertile soil in our hearts for these seeds of compassion to grow.

It’s hard to imagine being forced out of our homes because our city is now rubble.

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Aleppo, Syria: FoxNews.com

It’s hard to imagine walking six hundred miles with our children.

It’s hard to imagine strapping life vests to our loved ones, telling them It’s going to be okay.

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Photo credit: CNN.com

It’s hard to imagine sleeping in the hallway of a train, like this.

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But that, my friends, is exactly what we need to do.

Imagine.

Practice compassion.

And direct our attention toward something more worthy of our energy and angst.

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5/31/2016

The Things You Can’t Leave Behind

I’ve spent most of my life counting.

Adding.

Subtracting.

For most of my life, everything has been numbers. Everything has had a price.

When I started to work at 16 years old, I learned that even my time had a price: $7.14 per hour. Eight hours of cashiering, standing on my feet, and pushing Target credit cards on customers–that was worth $57.12.

Minus taxes.

Plus the ten percent discount on anything I bought there.

Minus the cost of uniforms.

Minus the cost of gas and car insurance.

Plus a hot dog if I got to work the food court—and if there were any left at the end of my shift.

***

When I started college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I was surrounded by new rules that I didn’t understand.

Why didn’t she finish her fries? Is she just going to throw them away?

Where did this “North Face” brand come from? Everyone here is wearing it.

Am I going to what? Rush? Rush what? What are you talking about?

At some point in my freshman year, I learned that thirty percent of my classmates were coming from families with an average income over $200,000. Over $200,000.

Oh.

I couldn’t even imagine it. $200,000. It was an astronomical figure. It was fourteen full-time Target cashiering jobs. Fourteen!

I was fairly certain that my parents may have managed to pull in about $75,000 together, at the height of both of their careers (but then downsizing and disability stepped in.)

Although I moved solidly into the upper middle class when I married my husband (yes, I’m one of those kind of women), I still don’t feel like I belong. For me, this new social class is a coat that I’ve been trying to zip up for the past ten years. I can’t ever get the zipper to the top to keep everything in place because it keeps getting stuck on past assumptions and expectations.

I feel this tension at odd moments—when I’m talking with another mother who is pushing to get her 2-year-old in the next class, because he can already count to twenty. Or when I overheard a group of college girls talking about when their flights leave for home. Or how about when I was sitting with other members of my church, and they were talking about just how many activities their kids have to do to get into college. Orchestra, soccer, show choir, it’s outrageous!

I find myself nodding politely in these situations, fake smile across my face, Oh yes, that’s a tough spot.

I feel like a liar.

I feel like an impostor.

I feel like at any moment, someone is going to figure out that I don’t belong here and call me out on it.

***

It wasn’t until I got married and we joined our bank accounts that I felt like I could really breathe. I had about $50,000 of student debt from my undergraduate degree (working while going to college didn’t make that much of a dent). Thankfully, my graduate degree came for “free.” All that was required of me was two years of my youth and my commitment to teach and grade stacks of essays for first-year composition courses.

Although my husband got a job as an electrical engineer as soon as he got out of college, I stumbled around academia and the world of on-line education for five years until I couldn’t stand making $18,000 per year anymore. During those five years, my time was segmented and measured unevenly. $11.00 per hour for the on-line tutoring job. $18.00 per hour for grading standardized tests on-line. $1200 for teaching a three credit hour course for ten weeks. Multiplied by three courses. Minus any benefits. Divided by the uncertainty of knowing if I had a job in another ten weeks. No one could decide how much I was worth and so *I* couldn’t decide how much I was worth.

From my first year of teaching at a university, 2006. Making maybe $17,000 per year for teaching a full-time course load.

From my first year of teaching at a university, 2006. Making maybe $17,000 per year for teaching a full-time course load.

When will we have full-time jobs? Well… we want to stay small. And your pay is similar to what others are being paid for the same work elsewhere, sooo…

Although everyone wanted a piece of me, no one wanted to take a big enough piece that they would have to insure me. And they certainly wouldn’t take a big enough piece of me that would require them to accept any criticism or–as I call it–“guff.”

Do your job, keep your opinions to yourself, and we’ll all get along fine.

As fortune would have it, when I finally decided that I had had enough of academia, the floodgates of international students opened and ESL teaching jobs became abundant where I lived. Full-time jobs for everyone!

Benefits? Yes! Full benefits! Can you start tomorrow? Do you have friends we can hire?

Ah, life.

***

It wasn’t easy for me to make the mental shift into the middle class.

I remember a few weeks after we got married in 2005, my husband and I were shopping for a Christmas gift for my parents. We decided to buy them new sheets and a new comforter set. We stood in Target and all I could do was look at the price tags: $69.99… $89.99… Oh, here’s one that’s only $49.99! I picked up the cheapest set of sheets and handed them to my husband.

He turned the package over in his hands and then gave it back to me.

“Sweets, we should get them nice sheets.”

I looked back at the price tags. Is he really okay with spending $69.99 on sheets? I reluctantly picked up the more expensive set.

He shook his head and picked up the $89.99 set.

I was dumbfounded. That set hadn’t even been a possibility in my mind.

“You don’t think that’s too much?” I asked.

“No. They’re your parents.”

I bit my lip.

“What about the comforter set?” I asked.

“Okay,” he turned to look at the options on the shelves. “Which one do you like?” he asked.

“We’re still getting a comforter?”

“Yeah, that’s what we came for, right?”

“I just didn’t know we were spending so much money.”

“It’s Christmas. It’s your parents. How much money did you think we’d be spending?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know… maybe $50?”

***

We had a lot of these conversations early in our marriage. Me, constantly dumbstruck that we had enough money to go out to eat several times on the weekend; constantly amazed that my husband never, ever looked at the prices of food when he bought them; constantly waiting for a bill to come in the mail that we couldn’t handle.

That moment never came.

Maybe I was so surprised by his somewhat cavalier attitude toward spending money because he also came from a working class family. He was the youngest of six kids. A Catholic family. His father was a carpenter, his mother a stay-at-home mom. Money was always tight—but somehow they made it work.

And that was how I remember my childhood. My father was a baker (and later a bakery specialist).

Dad in his element, 1990

My father in his element, circa 1990.

My mother was a cake decorator. Our family of six moved from rural Minnesota when I was four to a rough part of Dayton, Ohio. We adopted my youngest sister (my biological cousin—a long story) and became a family of seven.

In urban Dayton, I learned the difference between poverty and working class.

Poverty was the children at my school who descended hungrily on their hot school lunch trays,  ripping the plastic film that sealed them, scraping the sides of each compartment clean. Not one carton of chocolate milk went into the trash.

Poverty was a friend’s house that I visited when I was six—its carpet spotted with dog shit.

Poverty was that friend’s refrigerator, warm to the touch, holding ketchup and orange soda.

I was not in poverty.

***

When I was seven, we moved away from the urban Dayton to a working class suburb, Huber Heights, Ohio. There, we rented a three-bedroom ranch house for the seven of us. My parents got a room. My two brothers got a room. My sisters and I got a room. It was 1,080 square feet of close quarters. We furnished it with a living room set from Rent-A-Center and my parents even splurged on a Nintendo (five years after its original release date).

But it was home.

Sadly, one of the best kid pictures we ever took. I was especially proud of my pink sweatsuit. (circa 1989)

Sadly, one of the best kid pictures we ever took. I was especially proud of my pink sweatsuit. (circa 1989)

***

For me, I still see the world through working class eyes. I feel deep compassion for issues like increasing the minimum wage, providing universal, affordable health care, and fighting food insecurity. I’ve seen the difference that an extra $100 can make. It means a week of groceries from Aldi. It means you can afford to stay home from work while you’re sick.

Seeing the world through upper-middle class eyes feels like an exercise in putting on someone else’s glasses. Everything is distorted. Prices seem too expensive. I underestimate how much my time is worth. But it’s more than money. I also do this with possibilities and opportunities. The world is not my oyster–at least this is my default mode. I have to jazz myself up with positive self-talk and assurances that things can change. My life can be different. I can reach the goals that I have set for myself. If I lose that rational, optimistic side of my brain, I become a prisoner to my own self-doubt.

***

Growing up as a child of a working class family shaped my core identity. It set limitations and boundaries on my dreams. (Maybe I could be one of those typists in a courtroom!)

It taught me that my chief value as a human being was determined by what I could do for others, especially when I could be used to help someone else make a profit. In those situations, I had the most value. I wasn’t explicitly taught these lessons. Instead, I learned them by observing my father put up with a stressful job his whole life, rather than looking for another job somewhere else. I saw his fear of the uncertain–the fear of redefining himself. He was a bakery specialist. That was who he was, damn it. How could he be anything else?

***

I’m keenly aware of my own struggle to define and redefine myself.

Fat girl, thin girl. Poor girl, rich girl. Retail girl, academic girl. Single girl, married mother. All of these boundaries I’ve crossed and all of those that still remain ahead of me.

And yet…

…it’s not like crossing over, as if you leave those things behind.

I’m still overweight and poor, a retail worker and a single girl.

It may have been years since others have seen these facets of my identity, but they are still there, buried beneath the others layers of self that I’ve put on over the years.

I still have all of those identities. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to leave them behind because they are too much a part of who I am.

Who I am is… every version of myself that I have ever been.

These are the things I can’t leave behind.

***

This might be the biggest weight upon my shoulders as I consider parenthood–knowing that the life that I build around my daughter is creating its own set of assumptions, limitations, and boundaries. This life that we are creating for her is also creating things that she won’t be able to leave behind.

This cannot be avoided–it is a part of socialization.

But I feel that one of my greatest responsibilities (perhaps even greatest “calling”?) as a parent is to create opportunities for my daughter to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

Because this fosters compassion.

And compassion, I believe, is the only thing that has ever changed the world for the better.

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