Monday, March 6, 2017

3 Things I Suck at Mom-ing.

Now don't get me wrong, I think I'm a pretty good mom. My kids are both healthy and like to read and reasonably well adjusted. But I will not, as my friend and I joke often, be winning "Mom of the Year"...

There's always Next Year LOL!!!

So there here at least 3 things that I'm really bad at. (If you asked my 10 going-on-13 year old tween, I'm sure he would add another 100 thing, but then he can start his own blog can't he!)

I suck at:

1. Playing with toys. I can't even feign interest in their constantly evolving passions.  Once Daniel tried to teach me how to "play" Pokemon. (Are there rules? Does it EVER make any sense?! Whhaaaaaat?) I lasted about 3 minutes before I faked that dinner was burning or something and fled. My kids have learned that I don't like playing with toys. The occasional board game or cards, sure. Barbies? Superheros? Cars? No thank you. I may sit down for a minute, but then I see something that needs folding, cleaning or organizing and my kids roll their eyes at my furious muttering "Why are there Legos in the Barbie bin! Why are their Barbie shoes in the train set?!" and carry on on their own.

2. Keeping my cool. Maybe because I am paid to be patient all day, and I use up my reserves by the time I get home. Maybe it's because I'm 40 and humans were just not evolved to rear young at this age. (I should be a grandma by now, relaxing in the cave!) Whatever the reason, I'm not good at keeping my cool.  After the 2nd or 3rd time I've asked my kids to put their shoes on/brush their teeth/stop fighting/turn off the TV/etc my voice is at full throttle and my kids have donned their spittle guards.

3.  Not swearing.  Both my kids can swear like sailors, and it's not because they've been hanging out at the docks. Theoretically, I don't swear in front of my kids. But (see above) when I lose my cool because we're 10 minutes late getting out the door and they are fighting over a toy instead of putting their @#$% ing shoes on... well... Sorry, other, better moms. Yes, it was my kid who taught your precious snowflake the s/f/a whatever word. My bad.
Love you kids!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

the news.

When I first started studying in Durban, South Africa in 1997, our professor gave us an assignment: watch the news. And not just the English news, but also the news in languages we couldn't understand, Afrikaans and Zulu. (Durban is in Zulu province, and some of white population speaks Afrikaans as well as English. Yes, Zulu is the one with the clicks, but Xhosa has more. If you need to more, ask Trevor Noah...)

During Apartheid the news media was completely controlled by the government, and it was used as way to control the population.  News about the resistance to the racist minority rule was so strictly controlled that publishing an image of Nelson Mandela was harshly punished. Imprisoned for most of his adult life- for decades no one knew what the future President looked like, as the last photo of him was as a young man on trial. (I once was 3 feet from Madiba, God bless his memory forever.)

In 1997 there was freedom of the press and the country was actively working to re-dress the wrongs of its recent past.  However,  it wasn't always so clear cut.

Watch the news, our professor said, and see if you notice any differences. 

Which stories lead the hour? How much time is spent on each one? Which graphics, images or music are used, and what is the newscaster's emotional response or body language? Even without understand the words, you will learn a lot about how different groups of South Africans view their country. 

There are many versions of "the truth".

Yesterday I took my daughter shopping and out to eat in a more conservative, white, Republican part of our city. We sat in a crowded diner for her usual "chicken fingers and fries" and my bad coffee and worse salad. I noticed immediately that 1/2 the TVs were tuned to FoxNews. (Why oh why do we need to have TV's everywhere!?!)

Then I overheard the conversation between the two women in the booth behind us, which went something like:

"Well, I don't think Trump is polite or nice, but he is at least finally doing something about all this crime!"

I've been occasionally looking at the Fox News website to try and live outside my "bubble". (I think that whole concept of "liberal bubbles" is bull@#$% but that is another post that I haven't yet figured out how to write without cursing too much.)

Anyway, every few days I take a deep breath and I scroll through their top stories. And here is what I notice:

Polical stories are always first, and they are usually opinion pieces, not factual. As in, "Watch O'Reilly's take on how the liberal newsmedia is biased!"

The point of the view of the Administration is favored, pretty obviously. As in "The Trump team says...(and we agree!)"

Any articles about the Democratic Party (DNC) are usually about how they made a huge error or are in disagreement about something. As in "The DNC is again in a shambles over their future leadership!"

All the other top news is about an America (usually a white person) being hurt, injured, killed, maimed, lost or jailed (usually a black or brown person).

ALL THE OTHER STORIES are about crime. Scary, bloody, terrible crimes. No matter that they happened to that one lady that one time, they are TOP STORIES.  Sports, international affairs, science, the arts? ... nope, nope, nope. Just death and mayhem.

Cue the woman in the diner who says that despite his flaws at least the President is doing something about all this crime...

Even though the crime rate is the lowest in a generation or more. If you've been watching or reading Fox News, you would think that our country is overrun by brown-skinned criminals intent upon doing horrible, scary things to you and your family.

Yesterday the White House kept several reputatable news organizations out of a meeting with the press secretary. That has never happened before. Even under Nixon.

Yup, I just wrote a whole blog post comparing our news media to South African Apartheid and the Nixon Administration. I did not think I would be doing that a year ago.

Why are there TV's everywhere?!- To keep us distracted.
Why does Fox News highlight so much crime? - To keep us scared.
Why is the White House demonizing and locking out the press? - To keep us from hearing things from other points of view but theirs.

This is what I take away today:

Don't be distracted.
Don't be afraid.
Stay informed, and watch the news in other languages besides the one you know. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

you're nice.

This afternoon the kids had an argument over their rooms- Lily's bedroom is much smaller than her brother's, so the deal is that when he goes to college, she'll move into the bigger room (and re-paint it! she declares.) To which Daniel answered, "Then I'm NOT going to college!" Because: logic. Also: siblings.

So we ended up having a long discussion about how living at your college is really fun and cool and you get to practice being a grown-up, yadda, yadda, yadda. (I didn't mention the drinking.) We don't have him convinced, yet. But we do have at least 8 years.

The truth is that going away to college is a big goal of ours for our children. We don't wish for them to be academic super stars or attend the BEST colleges. We want them to explore the world. We want for them the amazing privilege we received by studying away, and studying abroad.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a little bit about my experience studying in South Africa.  I spent 4 months living and studying in Durban, then I flew home, watched 18 solid hours of X-FILES on VHS tapes (thanks for recording every Sunday sis!) and then boarded a plane for South Dakota.

Cultural whiplash much? Yup. And Mulder and Scully didn't help. I was kind of a mess when I arrived in the tiny town of S_____, South Dakota.  Pop. 1000.

It's only been recently that I've realized the extraordinary privilege I had to spend the summer in South Dakota. It was a challenging summer for me because it was SO BORING for a 21 year old fresh off an African adventure. But, as the art teacher in the town Boys and Girls club, I did get to work and live and hang out with Lakota people for 2 months.

Most Americans have had limited contact with Indians/Native Americans/First Peoples. Our collective cultural knowledge is as deep as the Disney movies and "crying Indian" Facebook memes. I am certainly no expert and I am very aware of my ignorance. One summer mixing paint and playing pool with 15 Lakota kids makes me an expert in pretty much nothing re: Indian Country. But I do know that it is another world, those reservation/nations. A beautiful, hard, and isolated one which sadly, not enough Americans ever see.

Here was the weird thing about this little town (maybe it's changed since then?). There were 1000 people living in a town with ONE streetlight and there was TWO of everything. Two small town newspapers, two bakeries, two bars, two groceries, two churches, two general stores, two local radio stations. Why? Because half the town was Lakota, and the other half was white. The tiny town was segregated, right down the middle. My 21-year-old self could not fathom this. WHY!? I mean, Indians are the good guys who remind us not to litter! duh!? Isn't racism, like, for African-Americans and Latinos? 

21 year olds are sooooo dumb, and they think they are soooo smart.

I worked at the Boys and Girls Club, which was managed by the Lakota community. All the kids were Lakota.  We spent our days eating donated Christmas themed peanut butter cups and commodity food, doing art projects, playing pool and just hanging out.

One afternoon I took a group of kids to the local playground. The younger ones ran around while the older ones sat on a picnic table with me and chatted. After a while another camp van pulled up and a group of blond strapping kids piled out. They were obviously from the white Vacation Bible Camp. All the little Lakota kids came running over to my picnic table and said, let's go! The older kids started to stand up and walk towards our van. I laughed and said, "Where are you going? We don't have to leave!" One of the older girls said, "but the wasicu  (Lakota slang for white people) are here!".

"So what!" I laughed. Then I saw their faces, how scared they were.

"Guys, it's okay. We can still play here."

Rolled eyes. More movement towards the van.

"You guys?! Don't you know I'm wasicu too right?!"

"No you're not!" They all said in unison. "You're nice!"

I don't think I spoke a word after that. I just got up and opened up the van, and drove us all back to the cozy safety of the Club. My white privilege, previously invisible to me, had just been dumped like cold water all over my head.

you're nice.

20 years later, and I wonder what that little town is like. I wonder if it's still segregated. I wonder if  brown and blond kids play together in the park. I wonder if any of the little boys and girls I played pool with that summer, who are now young men and women, spent part of this year at Standing Rock.

Today the Standing Rock Water Protectors were removed from the protest site they had held for months. The construction crews will move in, and the oil pipeline with be laid down across their land.

you're nice.

There is so much news in the world. In our hyper-connected, 24 hours news cycle world we hear about everything, but are deeply connected to so little. It is like sipping from a firehouse. There is water aplenty, but you cannot quench your thirst. It is rare that a news story from far away, that is happening to a people you don't know and will never meet, can pierce through that and still you. Which leads to our newsfeeds filling with ever more fervent headlines and frantic "SHARE THIS" "WATCH THIS!" THIS THIS THIS!.

How can we feel anything in this din? How can we connect to the world?

I wish for my children, and all children, to travel the world, study with people different from themselves, and see just how beautiful and how diverse we humans are. As Ethiopian adoptees, they've already had their world turned upside down. They know deeply how fragile and terrible the world can be. What I wish for them is to see the strength of the people around the globe. The strength of Africans, who survived and thrived in their forced diaspora around the world. The strength of my European immigrant ancestors, who braved hardships and deprivation to build a new life in America.  The strength of Native peoples, which was finally visible to millions of people because of the brave warriors at Standing Rock.

I was very, very lucky to travel and study abroad as a young woman.  If only more Americans, especially white Americans, could have the experience of having their world turned upside down and their identity shaken, because then, THEN, we might be better citizens of the planet. We white folks could certainly use a dousing of cold water to wake us from the stupor of our invisible privilege.

Then we might know that being nice is not enough.

My world was turned upside down 20 years ago and it's still turning back around. For which, today, I am especially grateful.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

We need Faith now, more than ever

I'm rushing to write this so I can get to church on time. 'Cause I NEED my congregation right now, more than I ever have. And so do you, I bet.

The Sunday after the 2016 election, our service was standing room only. We ran out of orders of service (programs), and we ran out of pew space. Nobody seemed to mind. Nobody minded when the service went long either. Many people cried openly. Everyone seemed to want to stay all day. I joked to our minister, can we have church tomorrow too?

We need faith right now, more than ever.  We need liberal, free thinking, life affirming faiths. We need synagogues that have potlucks with mosques and Christian congregations that host refugees and temples that affirm gay rights and sacred spaces that welcome all.  We need, in this turbulent, scary and constantly shifting world, safe spaces to sit and cry openly. The ground is moving under our feet. We need someplace firm to stand.

My congregation is a liberal leaning, gay affirming, diversity seeking, science loving Unitarian-Universalist church. I was very lucky to have been raised a UU, but many if not most of our congregants come to us after being rejected or shut out from their faith of origin.  How their former temples or churches didn't want these beautiful people I cannot understand. Unfortunately, the story of conservative faith in our country is written with exclusion; a long list of can'ts and don'ts.  Unfortunately many leaders in our government belong to a Christian faith that seems to have gone astray from the teachings of Jesus as I understand them. They are leaving far too many lovely people behind.

Do you need a place to sit and cry openly? Do you need opportunities to have your lifestyle, your love, your dreams and your identity affirmed and loved without question? Do you need to find people to march with and pray with and sing with and write postcards to your representatives with?

Find your church. Find a sacred place to call home. They want you, and you need them.

Here are some tips on finding a spiritual home in this time of crisis: Go on Facebook and look for congregations in your area that have photos from the Women's March. Walk past the synagogue, see if they have a rainbow flag somewhere. Look at the upcoming sermon titles: do they invite you to join with your brothers and sisters in faith?

If you can't find a local place to worship, look online! Our congregation, and many others, livestream their services on Facebook or on other platforms. Get a couple of friends together, light a candle, and join in!

If your sacred space is a under a tree in the forest, awesome. Trying bringing a couple of friends with you and reading aloud from something that moves you. Sing a song together. See how you feel afterwards.  If you feel like your feet are more firmly planted and your breath is deeper, then invite a few more friends next time.

We need Faith now, more than ever. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A tale from the resistance.

South Africa 1997.

At the tender age of 20 I had the extraordinary privilege of studying in Durban, South Africa for 4 months. Each day of that study abroad created a memory that is still shaping my life. South Africa is an amazing, beautiful, challenging country with a fascinating history.  In 1997, 20 years ago, it was just emerging from its brutal apartheid era. The yellow tanks that had previously terrorized black and brown citizens were still parked in government lots, weeds growing around their giant metal frames.

I've been thinking a lot about my time in South Africa, now that we are beginning our own terrifying racist and isolationist government era.  One moment in particular keeps coming to mind, and perhaps it will offer you a portion of the solace and hope that it is giving to me.

Early in our stay we (the 15 other young college students I was traveling with)  visited a women's help center to learn about the challenges facing families in South Africa.  The center was located in a beautiful (formally all-white) sunny suburb, with lush tall trees and small houses set back from wide avenues.  We sat in a small gray conference room and listened to statistics about the HIV/AIDS epidemic (at its height in the 90's), maternal health, rape, child neglect and homelessness, and violence in families. There was no good news. There was bad news, and there was worse news.

Much like the news this week.

After hours of hearing all of this heartbreaking information, our group stumbled back into the sunshine for our lunch break. The glare of the blue sky hurt our eyes, so newly red from crying over numbers of women raped each year.  We stood on the sidewalk, hardly able to walk in one direction, let alone decide something so meaningless as what to have for lunch.  What should we do? Go home? Barricade ourselves into our dorm rooms?  We thought that coming to South Africa was the stupidest thing we had ever done. We were terrified and horrified, and astonished that the sun could still be shining.

Then from across the street a group of Black women greeted us. From their uniforms (everyone in South Africa wore a uniform), we guessed they were maids, on their own lunch break or running an errand together. They guessed from our sloppy jeans and sneakers and bewildered expressions that we were American students. The women came up to us, smiling wide as the sun and holding their arms out to us, laughing joyfully.

"Welcome to South Africa! Welcome to South Africa! The beautiful country!"

They seemed to think that coming to South Africa was the smartest, best thing we could do. They embraced us with their smiles and then moved on down the street. 

I remember staring after then, wondering... How? How could they love their country so? I'm sure they also knew the rape statistics and the rate of AIDS all too well. They had just voted for the first time just a few years before.  How are they smiling?

It took me many more weeks to understand what I had glimpsed that day. These women loved their country. They knew its flaws and its hardships very well, and they CHOOSE to smile in the face of them.

You can join the terror and succumb to the horror, or you can shine the sun out of your face and say, I LOVE my country.

I love my country, and all the people in it. I will smile like the sun in the face of the terrible things our government is doing to us, because we are worth fighting for.

Welcome to America! A beautiful, complicated country.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A New Year, full of uncertainty

Uncertainty is the worst. I firmly believe that not knowing what will happen is far, far worse than knowing - even if the knowledge is terrible. Perhaps you are more comfortable with uncertainty that I... (Perhaps you even LIKE surprise parties! For the record: NO.)

I've had this non-knowing is worse than being sure confirmed for me many times, mostly notably during our journey to becoming parents.

Should I take the pregnancy test now, or should I wait? Waiting lengthens the amount of time "pregnant" is still a possibility...

It was never positive. Which was, strangely, sometimes a relief, because at least I was sure.

Facts, even when they are the cold hard sharp steel of a negative pregnancy test, are at least something to lean on. They are solid, they hold you.

Thankfully those anxious months are behind me. Thankfully our adoption process, although it certainly had its ups and downs, ended up with a certain outcome. Our children know where they come from, we know their first family and we can communicate with them, see them.  We have the truth of their history to lean on.

So here we are, about to inaugurate a new President.  And there are so many unknowns swirling around us I'm dizzy. My news feed reads "Bad" "Worse", "Unbelievable".  Reports are unsubstantiated, truth is fought over, facts are hidden under layers of excuses or opinions.

What do we hold on to?

This past year, this election, has been so unprecedented, so unpredictable that it's hard to imagine how it will continue... where is the end of this crazy story? The plot is so convoluted and the characters are such cartoons. Our reality would be a failing first draft of a would-be crime novelist.

The uncertainty of this moment is driving me to distraction. I can see others reveling in it: "What will happen next!?!"

But I don't like surprise parties.

So here we are. 2017. A year that could bring... anything. The possibilities are endless, but they all seem to be scary. I am enough of an optimist that there is still a part of me that believes this has a happy ending. (Elizabeth Warren is declared President!)

I'm trying to hold on to something. I'm trying to find some slim hard truths to grasp, even if they are sharp and cold.

I know that next Saturday I'm traveling with a group of amazing women from my congregation to Washington DC.

I know we are not alone. Far from it.

And that, for now, will have to be enough.