READING AND REFLECTING

In my workshops, participants often walk away with one clear action item: “Get Proximate.”

As Bryan Stevenson (author of Just Mercy and a lawyer who works closely with death row inmates) states, “There is power in proximity. When you get proximate, you learn things you cannot learn from a distance.”

People who participate in my workshops are often seeking the answer to this question: “How do I learn more about diversity and people from diverse backgrounds if my neighborhood, town, state, area, and social circles is glaringly not diverse?” One piece of that puzzle — one helpful tool — that people can implement immediately is to pick up books and start reading. This is only one piece of the larger puzzle, but it certainly is a start.

You can easily search for lists that focus on particular racial/ethnic groups, by racially diverse authors, or by issues. Given that it’s September, my mind is always focused on Latinx heritage, so here’s an example of a great list that includes authors from Latinx backgrounds.

If you are just getting started in all of this, I highly recommend picking up Young Adult fiction/non-fiction. I admit, this was not a category I had previously read. However, working in a PreK-8 school these past few years really opened my eyes up to a whole new space and conversation. I just finished reading the Jason Reynolds series of books. Jason Reynolds’ writing is a great example of how sophisticated, and yet simple and accessible, today’s young adult fiction/non-fiction is.

Other folks like picking up books by authors who, traditionally, have not focused their writing on race but who have courageously entered into that space. One popular one is by Jodi Picoult titled, Small Great Things.

And, coming up in November, I’ll be hosting a book discussion group of Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility. It’s non-fiction and addresses, head on, the issues of whiteness, white supremacy, and white fragility. RSVP is required and it is limited to 25 people. People take different approaches to this type of book — do you dive right into a book this direct OR do you ease into the conversation? I’ve taken both approaches in my own life. So, whatever your approach is, just do it.

Whether you are joining a formal discussion or you just want to process a topic, book, or issue by yourself, here are some helpful questions that I use during-and-after reading a book:

  • What did you notice about yourself and your reactions as you read this book? What parts of the book or situations did you most notice these reactions?

  • Why did you choose this book? What issue were you interested in getting more proximate to?

  • As you read the book, what took place when you had a “that can’t be true” reaction? What took place when you had a “yes, this is all so true” reaction? What would it mean for you to believe that the “can’t be true” is and can, in fact, “be true”?

  • As you read the book, who in your life came to mind in particular examples? Why?

  • What parts of the book felt very proximate to your own experiences? What parts of the book felt distant, separate, and far away from your own experiences?

  • Which characters, if any, in the book did you feel proximate to? Which characters, if any, did you feel furthest from?

  • What are you left wondering after you finished the book? How might you get closer to answering those questions or exploring those curiosities?

  • After reading this book, what you do you realize about yourself? About others? About your upbringing or socialization?

  • What parts of this book will stay with you long after you have read it? What does that mean for you?

I hope you find these reflection questions useful as you continue your journey to learning, planning and doing more to #makethingsbetter in our lives!


Peace and reading,

Liza

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RESOURCES

OLD POST cross-posted from an old blog

July 16, 2017

 

During the school year, we find ourselves in close proximity to one another — popping into each other’s classrooms to see an interesting lesson; walking by each other in the hallways to say “hello”; or waiting by the copy machine and discussing the latest news story we’ve heard on our drive into work.

But, during the summer, we find ourselves in this absence of community. And, yet, in times and days like these, community is precisely what we need. During this week, there were times when I was thankful for colleagues who checked in on me and who were interested in discussing violence in our communities. At other times, I was grateful for my morning run when I tuned out the world and simply listened to my heart and my own breath.

As educators, we have the privilege of engaging in dialogue around meaning and purpose. In many ways, we seek the comfort of our classrooms, hallways and offices where we can more easily find community. But, the summer time brings about new challenges — challenges to connecting, to seeking predictability, and to experiencing our comfort.

If you are a parent reading this list of resources, know that we, as teachers, struggle with how to have conversations with our students about the recent tragedies in our world. Children look for predictability. Children look for comforting responses from adults. Children look for cues that they are going to be alright. But, as adults, we have been forced to question these for ourselves. Know this this is difficult. Know that this is a struggle. Know that you are human and will experience conflicting feelings. And, know that these conversations with our children are important.

Over the past few weeks, I have heard from parents who are seeking resources about how to talk to their children about recent events in our country. I have provided resources for parents and caring adults; for children in our lower division ages (ages 4-8); for children in our middle division (ages 9-11); and for children in our upper division (ages 12-14). It is not an exhaustive list; rather, it is a simple list. I wanted to provide you with some activities or questions that you can “do now” rather than overwhelm you with feelings of “when do I have time to do this?” I have provided a few follow up discussion questions to each activity.

But, parents and families and caring adults, this list doesn’t do anything unless you have the conversation. I’m asking you to have these conversations. Note that the list below doesn’t explicitly prompt you to discuss mass shootings or racism in America or protocol for when you encounter law enforcement with your children. But, those are important, too. If you are just wading into these waters, I’m asking you to engage in conversations — early in the lives of children — where we normalize difference. I’m asking you to engage in conversations — early in the lives of children — where we highlight that people are treated differently and that we must work together to create equity (that people have access to resources and opportunities for success). I’m asking you to engage in conversations — early in the lives of children — where we co-create tools for ourselves to include the humanity of others in our own lives. 

Diversity is who we are. Equity is what we strive to provide. Inclusion is how we get there. 

The other day, I dropped off one of my children at a sleepover. I was talking to the host parent about the incidents in our communities, and she simply asked, “So, what do we do? Where do we start?” I looked over her shoulder at the small group of children who were gathered for the sleepover, giddy over the fact that they hadn’t seen each other since June 18th, our last day of school. They were hugging and smiling and making plans for how late they would stay up that night. Looking deeper, they were children from different racial backgrounds; children from different family structures; children of same-sex parents; children of parents from different racial identities; children from different socioeconomic backgrounds; children with different interests and likes; children from different towns and communities; children with different abilities and disabilities. And, they were all going to spend time together.

I’m not implying that simply bringing together diversity helps our world. Just having diverse groups doesn’t change our world. I am saying that these children — early in their lives — have developed close relationships across identities. They see each other as people. They see each other as humans. They see each other as friends. They see each other’s differences and have come together across, not despite of, these differences. They have parents who have invited children to their homes and who have welcomed them for who they are. They have parents who have committed to driving across three or four towns to encourage friendships. They have parents who are proud of their cultures, families, class, and abilities and who have invited these difference into their lives.

I turned to the host parent and said, “This is where we start.” I’m not sure if she saw the tear roll from my eye. In the midst of writing about so much hate and violence, I had forgotten that this, too — this joy of friendship — exists.

Where will you start? What are you willing to do to invite difference into your life? What must you do in order to create a welcoming and inclusive environment in which others want to join you? 

Below are some resources where you can begin. I hope that these resources springboard you into other areas of literature, social media, conversation, dialogue and experience.

I continue to keep all of the families and communities that are affected by tragedy in our hearts. I hope you will engage in conversations with your children, your family, and your loved ones. And, I hope we commit ourselves to building community, compassion, and connection to all.

With peace,

Liza Talusan, Ph.D., Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

For Parents and Caring Adults

  • An article about how to talk to your kids about race
  • An article of by a mother reflecting on the lessons she hopes to teach her sons about #BlackLivesMatter
  • A StoryCorps about a White mother and a Black son (graphic warning included)
  • A NYT article highlighting structural class inequity and health
  • An article about how we inadvertently send negative messages about race to our children
  • An article about why it is important to talk about Whiteness
  • A TED talk from Bryan Stevenson titled “We Need to Talk About an Injustice”
  • A list of ways that well-meaning allies are counterproductive
  • The manuscript on the impact of racial trauma
  • Video of sports announcer Dale Hansen of WFAA TV as part of Hansen Unplugged talking about the tragedy in Dallas

 

For Students in Lower Division

  • A YouTube version of The Sneetches (by Dr. Seuss)
    • How do you think the different characters felt in this video?
    • Have you ever felt left out? What does that feel like?
    • How did the Sneetches change from the beginning to the end?
    • Do you think characters were peacemakers or troublemakers? What would you have done?
    • What things can we do to promote fairness?
    • How can we include everyone?
  • Activity: Crack eggs together for scrambled eggs, cake or meatloaf. Use brown and white eggs and discuss how even though they are different colors on the outside they are the same on the inside.
    • What type of eggs do we tend to buy for our house? Do you think we can try other eggs? What difference would that make? What kind of lesson do you think that would teach us in this house?
    • How might this example of the eggs relate to our friends or classmates or family?
  • Reading Rainbow (Season 1, Episode 24, free with a Prime membership)
    • “A simple misunderstanding almost kept the boys from becoming friends.” What are some examples where this has happened to you?
    • When you met the two girls, one said, “I just got kind of nervous because I was wondering about all the kinds of things in her house.” How do you feel when you meet someone new? What types of cultural things do we have in our house? What are some examples of cultural items you have seen in other houses?

 

For Students in Middle Division

  • A YouTube version of The Sneetches (by Dr. Seuss)
    • How do you think the different characters felt in this video?
    • Have you ever felt left out? What does that feel like?
    • How did the Sneetches change from the beginning to the end?
    • Do you think characters were peacemakers or troublemakers? What would you have done?
    • What things can we do to promote fairness?
    • How can we include everyone?
  • Video featuring children ages 8-11 talking about their reactions to Dr. King’s speech
    • What is your dream for our country?
    • People in our country experience inequality. What are 3 ideas you have for making our country more equal?

 

For Students in Upper Division

  • Video of sports announcer Dale Hansen of WFAA TV as part of Hansen Unplugged talking about the tragedy in Dallas
    • What are your reactions to this?
    • What is something the announcer said that you have heard before? What was something new?
    • What do you have questions about?
  • A video called “Which games are culturally insensitive”
    • Do you play these games? Have you noticed this occurring?
    • What can we do as a family to help you understand stereotypes?
    • What should we do when we encounter racial stereotypes in things that we enjoy, like video games or comic books or movies?
    • What impact do you think this is having on you? What kind of impact is it having on your friends or peers?
  • A series called “Being 12” which has a few areas addressing race
    • As a family, do you think we talk about race? What kinds of things have you learned from our family about race?
    • What do your peers say about race? Are they aware of racism?
    • If there was one thing you would tell your peers about racism, what would it be?
  • Rising Grade VIII students have summer reading assignments that lean into issues of race. We invite you to ask your child about their reading and to engage in conversations that connect their books to our real-world experience.
    • How does the topic of your book relate to what’s happening on our world right now?
    • What types of solutions are offered in your books?
    • What types of challenges to the characters face that are similar to ones we have heard about in the news?

I don't have YOUR answer.....

I have the great privilege of facilitating workshops, offering keynote addresses, and working in small group discussions on issues such as race, identity, gender, sexuality, ability, education and activism. 

After creating space for dialogue, learning and talking, I always get this question: "So, Liza. All this talk is great, BUT, what am I supposed to do?"

My short answer, "Well, here's what works for ME. I ....."

(insert any and all of the following):

  • educate myself by reading blogs, essays, books and articles; 
  • engage online through Twitter or Facebook postings/groups;
  • follow and participate in #hastags to learn more through the voices of people;
  • research and watch documentaries, films, shorts, and specials;
  • talk with my partner, children, coworkers or family;
  • sign a petition for a cause that I have learned about;
  • support groups and organizations that are fighting for the cause I have researched or learned about;
  • make personal statements whenever I hear comments that are discriminatory, racist, homophobic, rude, or unfounded in data or experience;
  • influence policy and practices to disrupt heteronormative, cisnormative, White-lensed approaches;
  • go to conferences, workshops, presentations and lectures;
  • engage in conversations that are difficult and emotional;
  • listen to understand;
  • ask questions;
  • respond on social media in meaningful and appropriate and kind yet challenging ways
  • ..... on and on ....

I go through about 5-10 minutes with the things that work FOR ME. Some people nod. Some people jot down notes. Some people take out their phones and take screen shots of whatever it is I have posted on the projector. 

And, someone always then says, "But, what am I supposed to do?"

My answer: "You'll have to figure that out for yourself." The person then sits down, crosses their arms, and shuts down. That was not the (Droid) answer you were looking for. 

Friends, I don't have your answer. 

I can't tell you that any of my strategies will work for you. I can't tell you that your life will be turned around or that your world will be much larger or that your heart will be bigger if you do the things that I do.

Friends, I don't have your ANSWER.

You'll have to learn more. You'll have to talk more. And, once you think you've done those things. You'll have to learn about something different. You'll have to talk to someone different. And, once you've done those things, then you'll have to circle back and learn more about yourself. And, you'll have to get comfortable talking about yourself -- your strengths, your weaknesses, your life, and your challenges. 

THEN, the "do" ... the "DO" will be obvious. What you'll need to DO becomes obvious TO YOU.

Friends, I don't have YOUR answer.

Only you have YOUR answer. You're the only one who can decide whether or not you are ready to learn. You are the only one who can decide whether or not you are ready to talk. And, you are the only one who can decide whether or not you are ready to DO. That's your answer. That's how your "things I can do..." list gets created. You can listen to all of the things that work for me, but, those only work for ME because they are MY ANSWERS.

People often come to workshops on race or identity or diversity because they are looking for answers. They are looking for solutions. 

People get frustrated when they leave with more questions.

I get it. I really do. 

I get that you want to get started on eradicating racism. I get that you want to get started on dismantling homophobia. I get that you want to get started on decolonizing education. 

And, if you are learning about it and talking about it, then you are already starting. 

Find YOUR answer. Find YOUR to-do items. Find YOUR personal steps that are a result of having spent a considerable amount of time learning and talking and talking and learning.

I'm not implying that our world can simply wait idly by for you to read and talk. No. That's not it at all. 

I am inviting you to you take responsibility for the great burden of learning and talking so that you can start getting things done.

Peace, 

Liza

 

Talking about Class and Culture

In the landscape of identity issues such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, family structure, religion, and ability/disAbility, I often hear from colleagues, teachers, students and school leaders that there is one topic that seems almost too difficult and taboo to address: socioeconomic status.

The other day, a teacher emailed me to ask how to be proactive in setting up a classroom environment that honors and respects the diverse socioeconomic spectrum. Her concern, much like of other teachers, is that we are about to go on Spring Break. For some of our families, Spring Break is a time of travel and leisure. Some of our families will travel internationally to see family, friends, or to return to a favorite vacation spot or home. Some of our families will stay home, be cared for by family or extended family, or be engaged in a camp or day-care learning environment. And, some of our families will find creative ways to get through two full weeks of vacation by taking turns off from work, bringing children to their work place, finding sitters here and there, or setting up play dates during the work hours so their children will not be home alone. This range of experiences exists at Park School, and this also exists at many other schools in our country. 

This teacher was wondering: "How do I engage the students, in an age appropriate way, to be excited about the break from school while also acknowledging that this is a conversation about privilege and access?" 

Truth is, I stared at her email from about five minutes. I began to draft an email. Then I deleted it. I tried again. Then I highlighted whole sections and cut them out. Before I knew it, twenty minutes had passed and I was still down to "Dear ____, what a great question."

To buy myself some time allow myself the space to respond thoughtfully, I promised this teacher a blog post. 

Truth is, I have stared at this blank screen for about fifteen minutes. I began to draft a post. Then I deleted it. I tried again. Then I highlighted whole sections and ... well... 

You get the picture.

To me, just like race, ethnicity, religion, faith, sexual orientation -- class is an identity. Class isn't just about how much or how little we have; class is also about how we understand money, how we learn about money and wealth, what our relationship is to money and wealth, and what those factors mean to us. Class is about how we behave, how we relate to, and how we manage conversations about ourselves and our earliest messages about class and identity. Like other cultural identifiers, these conversations can be difficult for some, easy for others. But, once I began to understand class as a cultural experience, talking about it made much more sense to me. I became more open to learning about the experiences of people from socioeconomic backgrounds both of my own and outside of my own. I became more open to asking questions about what they learned, what they saw, what they shared and what they felt. And, I became more open about sharing my own, too. 

I can tell you how I deal with conversations about class in my own family. Not long after school started, my children began to tell me about the new friends they had met. They told me about how nice their peers were. They told me how a friend showed them around when they got lost. They told me how they learned the culture of the school -- where to put your backpacks, what to wear to a school dance, and what kind of activities people sign up for after school. They also told me about the ways in which their new friends spent their summer vacations: traveling around Europe; spending the summer in Hawai'i; upgrading to the new iPhone. 

I knew what I had walked into. My children were sharing aspects of class. Of culture. Of socioeconomics in a way they have not experienced themselves. I admit, the reaction in my heart was of sadness. Between the lines, I could hear the question, "Why don't we do those types of things?" in their voices. I could hear them teetering on adolescent jealousy. I wanted to say something that would help them feel better. I wanted to give them something that they could share when the topic of summer vacations or long weekends came up.

Instead, I did the opposite.

I told them that those experiences sounded really interesting. I asked them if they had good questions for their new friends -- what could they learn from their adventures. I asked them, "So, did they tell you what they saw in Europe or what they learned?" or "Did they feel any different being outside of the United States?" or "How did they describe the food in Hawai'i? Was it good? Ask them what they thought tasted the best!" or "Ask them what they enjoy most about the apps on their new iPhone or what kind of music they like to listen to in their playlists. Which songs on their playlist make them dance? Make them laugh? Make them cry? Make them sing out loud like no one is listening?"

I want to teach my children to develop a sense of wonder and of curiosity about other people. I want them to see that it wasn't about what their friends did or what we did, or what they had and what we had; rather, it was about what we could all learn from each other's experiences. How could we open our own hearts and minds to the experiences of others? How do we develop humility? How can we model asking about experiences and developing a real sense of curiosity for each other's lives?

When I travel to different schools and this topic of socioeconomics comes up, I often find that teachers turn to the "just don't talk about it" approach. They tell me that they never ask the students, "How was your weekend?" or "What did you do this weekend?" But, they then get caught in this bind of, "But am I teaching children to be ashamed of their experiences? How can I nurture this sharing without making people feel badly about themselves for having too much or not having as much as others?"

For our younger students (and, of course, all our students!), there are ways in which we can frame questions or prompts to guide their learning and sharing. Below are some prompts you might put up during your morning circle time or in your warm-up for the day. Do these questions and prompts solve our tension and apprehension about socioeconomic status? No. Of course not. Do they help us get closer to teaching and modeling curiosity, wonder and respect for each other's experiences? Possibly. Maybe. Do they help us start our journey towards finding what works for our classrooms, our age groups and our Selves? I hope so -- would love to hear how these worked out, if you try some of them!

"During this vacation/long weekend, ..."

  • I felt happy when __________.
  • I felt proud when ____________.
  • I noticed that ____________.
  • I learned that _______________.
  • I was interested in _____________.
  • I was curious about ____________.
  • I wondered why ______________.
  • I read ____________.
  • I heard __________.
  • I listened to _____________.
  • I shared _____________.

In our lower division, I have often snuck into morning circle and closing circle (it's my favorite time of day!). Brilliantly, teachers have set up structures for all students to feel heard and affirmed. I can imagine, after this activity, each student simply saying 'Thank you, Carly" or 'Thank you, Alan" after each statement. This acknowledges that the contribution of each student is important in our classrooms. 

Will this work on the playground or the lunch room or the free-period in between classes? Likely not. But, it does help equip our students will the skills to talk about their vacations or long weekends in a way that shifts from "what I have and where I went" to "what I experienced and what I can share."

I'd love to hear about the strategies and ideas you have used at home or at school, too! Feel free to send me an email and let me know!

Also, while this post was about personal and relational engagement about class, our friends over at Shady Hill School spent a whole year talking about institutional approaches to discussing socioeconomic issues. Check out this great article by Head of School, Mark Stanek about this issue. 

INCLUDING DIVERSITY

It's summer time, and hopefully that means there is a bit more time to make some intentional decisions around including diversity in your practice, interactions, experiences, and education. I'm actually writing this from the back row of my daughters' dance dress rehearsal, and thankful for the decision to choose a dance school that has incredible racial diversity. Back in August, when the two girls expressed interest in taking dance, we traveled to over a dozen dance schools. In all honesty, I was curious to find out the differences in prices -- with two girls and limited resources, I wanted to make sure they could both attend dance classes. However, as we visited schools, I glanced at all of the lovely, glossy photos on the walls. And, at each school, there were few-to-no children who looked like my own -- dark skin, curly hair, visible disability.

I was so committed to my children having diverse role models, classmates, and interactions that I was getting ready to close the door to dance classes.  As a feminist of color, I was also interested in how dance schools talked about body image, body-positive acceptance, and messaging around body size. So, despite my desire to give up, my older daughter pleaded, "Mom, just one more! Please let's look at one more!" I gave in, and we drove to the heart of our downtown city, and located a dance school. It was in a slightly run down building, and it was a very reasonable price for two kids. But, more importantly to me, the woman who ran the school is a dark skin, beautiful, plus size woman with a strong dancer's body.

As the year progressed, my daughters were exposed to a racially diverse group of girls, parents, families, and teacher. To them, their "first message" of who a dance teacher is will be their teacher -- their beautiful and strong teacher who looks like them; who looks like their aunts; who looks like their grandmother.

And, as I sit here blinded by the sequins and jazz hands from the back row, I am amazed at what a powerful message my girls received every week --- about themselves, about their bodies, about their teachers, and about their classmates.

One of my most linked blogs was the one on "what do to when there isn't diversity." Well, now that it's summer time, I thought it would be good to revisit some great tools for using this time to include diversity (now and always!). These are just beginning points, not end points. Let's get started!

  • plan a field trip to a local (nearby?) historic site that teaches from a point of view you may not have been taught. For example, we live near Boston -- this year, we plan on visiting some of the early African American and Native American memorials and historic sites. Our kids spend a lot of time learning about the "settlers"; well, let's also expand their education into those who were here first and who came with a different story.
  • Read a book a week. Borrow books that have representation from different ethnic groups, cultures, family structures, etc.
  • As an adult, introduce a topic of conversation with your kids/younger ones. WE tend to need some sort of segue, context, etc., but I have found that the whole "wait until they bring it up" approach really doesn't work. Would you wait until they ASK to cross the street before WE bring up the topic, hold their hands, and show them how? No, of course not. So, let's not wait until they ASK about race, gender, stereotypes, bullying, love, etc.
  • Go play at a playground you don't usually visit --you might see more diversity of mobility, race, ethnicity, body types, parenting structures. I grew up in a small town, with very little diversity in our neighborhood. So, even when we went to the most local playground, it was made up of kids who I knew from school. Whenever we ventured into a new neighborhood, I had to learn how to play with kids I didn't know; who maybe didn't look like anyone I played with; and who I was not used to. Try this. See if it takes you outside of your own comfort zone as a parent/care taker/adult, too.
  • Finally reach out to that person you've wanted to talk to, but felt like you were too busy -- it's summer. People tend to be a bit more relaxed; a bit more interested in meeting up with others. That person you always "like" on Facebook but never make eye contact with when you see him/her? Set up a coffee date, a walk, or a real live chat.
  • Volunteer somewhere for so many obvious reasons that contribute to socially just reciprocity, good old fun, feel-good experiences, and also as an opportunity to get out of your own comfort zone. Is there a family friendly opportunity? Take your kids or young ones, too.
  • Try a new food from an ethnic/racial/cultural group and be open to the experience
  • Listen to a new album, type of music, genre, style. I don't tend to listen to traditional/folk music, so I never look up these types of bands. Recently, a friend of mine told me about Carolina Chocolate Drops -- a old time banjo, string, guitar band of African Americans. Their stuff is awesome. I've listened to their album every single day for a week now. It opened up doors to music, history, culture, and information that I had never accessed before!
  • Find a street festival, a celebration
  • Go seek out different cultural organizations that are hosting lectures, get-togethers, community socials, and find ways to contribute and to be open the knowledge of that community
  • Find a book club that focuses on diversity and participate

Though these tend to fall into the food/festival/fun experiences in diversity, they are a good way to get started. But, also use this time as an opportunity to expand your own knowledge and the education of your kids/young ones. Talk proactively about race, love, families, disability, body image, gender. Why wait?

Peace, love, and actively including,

Liza

**Please note: Any ads you see below this line are not placed there by me. Rather, they are randomly selected by Wordpress and not by Liza at all. Thank you.

Voices

We all hear voices. There are voices that encourage us, tear us down, remind us where we parked the car, and debate whether to eat that piece of late night chocolate cake or choose a tall glass of water instead. We all hear voices. But, how many of us listen to them? How many times to we need to hear them before we believe them? On Sunday, we had our first snow storm of the season. It wasn't a major storm, only left about 1/2 an inch on the ground. But, given the unpredictable weather here in the Northeast, there was snow, then rain, then snow. Outside was like a winter wonderland, if said wonderland was a thick sheet of oil on wax paper.

My husband was outside scraping the car windshields and pushing the shovel on the driveway to clear off the layer of snow. He and my girls were getting ready to go to the movies, so he was working quickly. He set his own car radio to his favorite hip-hop station and closed the door. The music was loud enough to hear it, but not quite loud enough drown out the sound of my old car engine humming and wheezing as if the cold triggered some sort of automobile asthma.

"Jorge. Jorge." Jorge looked up at our house and saw an empty window. He heard a woman's voice call his name, and figured if it was me, I'd just come outside to speak with him. "Jorge. Jorge." He looked towards my next door neighbor's house. Our neighbor is 9 months pregnant. He thought maybe something was wrong, but with the two cars in their driveway, he was confident no one was calling him from their house. Jorge returned to dragging the shovel along the ice covered driveway. Tsksaappshkkkksh. Scrreeeppphsskkkksh. Scraappshkkkk. He fell into a groove scraping the snow back and forth across the wide part of our driveway. Shovel hits the pavement, walk across the driveway, toss the little fold of snow onto the grass, turn around and repeat.

"Jorge. Jorge."

"Okay, I heard that," Jorge thinks to himself. He put down the shovel and walked around the side of our house. Maybe our neighbor who lives behind our house was calling him. Jorge looked over at their elevated back porch. No one there.

At this point, Jorge had been outside for more than 8 minutes, and it was time to get the girls and leave for the movies. He placed the shovel against the side of our house, turned off the cars, and stood up to admire his great driveway work. Hands on his hips, chest out, head held high -- Jorge had that  "I-Am-The-King-Of-My-Driveway" feeling.

"Jorge. Jorge."

Jorge walked to the end of our driveway, looking to the left and to the right. He had heard the voice this time, but now he was listening.

"Jorge. Help!"

Across the street, through the thick wooden slats of the newly constructed ramp, Jorge saw a pink long sleeve waving at him.

"Jorge. I can't get up. Please help me."

Jorge leaped across the street to find Margaret, an older woman in her 80s, who recently had surgery, lying flat on her back at the bottom of the slippery ramp. His heart began to beat frantically. "I came outside to place sand on the ramp, and I fell. I can't get up," Margaret said with both an urgency and relief.

After helping Margaret, offering to call an ambulance or a family member,  shoveling her driveway, defrosting her car, and sanding her ramp, Jorge came back into the house.

"Liza, I heard her," Jorge said visibly shaken as he re-told his story. "She had been lying like that in the cold for at least 5 minutes. I heard her. I know I heard her. But, I ignored her. I don't know if I ignored her or the voice, but I definitely heard my name called a few times. Imagine if I went inside and never came back out? Imagine if I never was outside to begin with, and no one helped her? I heard her voice, and I didn't listen to it."

****

I went to the grocery store this evening just to pick up a few quick items. Butter. Bread. Cheese. Nothing special. I fit these items in my arms, forgoing the gray plastic basket with the thick black handle. I find the grocery store experience to be hit-or-miss. Sometimes, the store is filled with friendly people -- people who make passing conversation while selecting fruit in the produce aisle, a kind person with a shopping cart full of groceries who lets you go ahead if you only have a small basket, or a cashier who smiles, looks you in the eye, and says, "Hello!" Then, there are the times when people aren't so friendly. Those are the times when people park their shopping carts in the middle of the already skinny aisle, or when you are coming out of an aisle and a person is steamrolling their cart perpendicular to you, or a cashier who can't muster out a "Do you have your Stop & Shop card" without attitude.

Today was one of the "unfriendly" days. Even in the 15 minutes I was in the store, I already felt anxious and annoyed. In the line, I placed my items on the belt but didn't bother to separate my items from the person in front of me with the plastic "don't-even-come-near-my-food" bar (despite the fact that you could have laid a small child end-to-end between her items and mine). I was annoyed. I wanted to get out of there. I already had my Stop & Shop card and my debit card ready to go.

I could feel someone enter into the line behind me. Since the grocery store rules of engagement were already set at "don't mess with me", I just kept looking straight ahead. "Miss?" Eyes focused, straight ahead, counting the items until it was my turn. "Excuse me." I didn't recognize the voice, so I kept looking ahead. Phew! Almost done with the woman in front of me.

"Ma'am, excuse me, could you please help me?"

I turned around quickly and glanced slightly above my own eye level. At 5'3", just about everyone is taller than I am, so I naturally look up whenever I anticipate eye contact. No one.

I quickly gazed down. Behind a gray basket piled high with food was a man with a black eye patch over his left eye. He appeared unsteady in his wheelchair as he balanced the overflowing food.

"Ma'am, I was wondering if you could help me unload the items onto the belt. It's too heavy and far for me to reach."

"Sir, yes. I'd be happy to help. Is there any particular order you want these in -- boxes first? Cans first? Produce?" Did I sound like I was overcompensating in an attempt to relieve my embarrassment?

"No, if you could help me get them on the belt I can ask the person bagging them to stack it evenly."

I began to unload boxes of stuffing, packages of ground beef, multiple cans of vegetables, and a rather heavy Jennie-O turkey onto the belt. "Looks like you're cooking up a feast!" I say with a smile. "It's like a Thanksgiving meal!"

"There's a lot to be thankful for, ma'am. There is no sense in realizing that only once a year!" he said with a smile. My eyes moved from his teeth to his brown eye, and then over to his eye patch - a familiar and comforting object in my world.

I looked at him, in his eye, and returned the smile. "You've got that right," I said.

"Thanks for your help, ma'am. God bless."

"You're welcome, Sir. Enjoy all that cooking!"

I finished paying, grabbed my bags, thanked the cashier and the young man who put the items into my reusable shopping bag, and left.

*** In 24 hours, situations could have turned out differently if we didn't listen to voices. We heard the voices. I know my husband and I can both admit to that. But, neither one of us listened to them. What was it like for Margaret to see my husband -- just barely across the street -- and have him ignore her cry for help? Had he gone inside, she would have been alone. Cold. Scared. Frustrated. What was it like for the man in line to try and get my attention at least 3 times? Did he feel angry? Upset? Invisible? I heard him. I certainly did. But, I didn't listen to him.

When do we ignore voices? Which voices do we choose to listen to? Which voices do we choose to hear? How many times have we left someone feeling alone, cold, scared and frustrated? How many times have we left someone feeling angry, upset and invisible simply because we chose not to hear or listen to them?

What do we risk by searching for those voices that we hear, by listening a bit closer to see if they are cries for help, assistance, or just connection? What do we gain?

Gifts

Yes, yes, I've been blog-slacking. Truth is, I have about a dozen "drafts" in the box that just haven't seen completion in the past few weeks. It's a combination of recovering from a nasty battle with bronchitis, some very charged race stuff going on at work, and the overall insanity of the holiday start up. So, here is a quick one from me -- timely, no less, given that it's the start of the traditions I abhor the most... GIFTS.

I've written about the following ad nauseum: I am a terrible gift giver. There is just something about the materialistic nature of "gift giving" that makes me crazy. I absolutely believe that Joli's illness was one of the best things that could have happened to our family. Prior to her illness, I was a shop-a-holic. I loved giving gifts, receiving gifts, buying things for absolutely no reason at all, and loved collecting items. Once Joli got sick, I felt such an aversion to "things." We didn't buy much of anything when she was in treatment (mostly because all of our money was going to medical related expenses). That Christmas, we were the recipients of one of those "giving trees" that people do at work. You know, the one where you get an anonymous tag that says "2-year old girl" and bring the gift into work? We had no idea, but our visiting nurse had put Joli's name on a number of different trees. Two days before Christmas, our tree had just a few presents underneath. On Christmas Eve, an ambulance pulled into our driveway, and a few EMTs came to our door and delivered about two dozen gift boxes for Joli!! I began sobbing at the sight of all the presents.

While we were so thankful for all the gifts we received from anonymous donors, I still felt an aversion to spending money on anything superficial. Despite our forced frugal living, I still chose to live with very little luxury during Joli's treatment. And, truth is, we have still kept it up. I rarely shop for anything that we don't need, and have only recently begun to allow myself a rare treat (hello, new iPhone -- though, I was using a phone with no "7" button!)

What I find most difficult, though, is buying "stuff". Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day, Weddings.... people rarely get gifts from me. (feel free to gasp here) Now, my siblings give me plenty of crap for it, don't worry. They shake their heads, call me "cheap", and are embarrassed by my non-gift-giving policy. But, I just can't bring myself to buy things for people who already have basements, attics and bedrooms full of "stuff." I think of all the people who have nothing -- whether by choice or by circumstance -- and it pains me to buy yet another toy for a kid who already has bins of toys.

My exception to the rule? Buying a thank you gift. If someone has done something so amazing that words cannot even express my gratitude, I truly enjoy surprising them with a little thank you gift. Honestly, that's quite possibly my only exception. I find such joy in buying a thank you gift for someone!

My gift aversion has also helped me to discover more environmentally friendly ways to give. I love using Freecycle. If you haven't gotten into Freecycle yet, I encourage you to find the one in your local town/city. Unlike Craigslist, people who join Freecycle agree that they will not charge (nor re-sell) for any items. It's a way to keep waste out of our landfills and to be a resource for your local community. I've Freecycled clothes, books, baby gear, etc., and it has felt so good knowing that I'm a) not contributing to landfill waste, b) helping out someone directly in my town, and c) giving of what I already have as opposed to spending money on more junk.

So, how does this all fit in with this upcoming season of gift gluttony? Find ways to give to a friend/kid that limit the amount of waste in our landfills and in people's homes. For kids, help teach them that time and love are much more valuable than plastic and wrapping. Here are some ideas of things to give:

1. A "day out" with you where you treat for lunch and a movie

2. A membership to a local museum

3. A book that you've found on Freecycle or at a book exchange

4. something homemade that uses existing materials in your house (a friend had her 6-year old son make me an awesome sea shell magnet for my birthday! it's one of my favorite gifts so far!)

On the receiving end? See beyond a "new" gift. Help kids to redefine what it means to feel loved and to be shown love. More presents does not equal more love.

My family is far from perfect. We, too, have a basement full of toys  -- many of which have not been played with since they were opened. We have toy boxes overflowing with dolls, stuffed animals, and books. We have a doll house (the combined gift for my 2 girls last year) which was played with for about a month and then retired to the cold basement. Every time I go downstairs to do laundry, I feel embarrassed by how much my children have, and am reminded of how little others have. I mentally add up all the money (spent on toys) that is sitting in that basement and can't help but think of how many trips to the hospital that could pay for, how many nights in the parking garage, how many bottles of Pediasure, and how many co-payments that could have covered for any of our cancer families. I think of all the fundraisers we have done this past year to help ease the financial burden of some of our cancer friends, and think that there is at least that amount of money in just ONE of the toy boxes.

My kids like toys. I like a nice treat. We all deserve something that makes us feel good. And, in this spirit of the season, I encourage you to find ways to share love, time, interest, and hope in ways that transcend plastic, wrapping, and those damn twistie ties that hold the toys to the cardboard.

If we can teach our children that what's on the inside is more valuable than what's on the outside, we give them some of the greatest gifts: the gift of believing they are worth our time and our love.

What gifts will you give your children? Your friends? Your family this year?

On Growing Up

Who the heck is that girl? Who IS that?? photo(4)

First off, I can't tell you how many imaginary vodka tonics I had to down before building up the courage to post my high school senior picture. Yeah, I thought I was the shit back then. And, oddly enough, my hair actually does still look kind of the same (sans the spiral perm, of course). Major differences? Well, gee, let's see. I suppose we can start with the couple of tens of pounds I've gained since I was 17 years old. (side note freak out: I am just realizing that was 17 years ago!!) Someone, pass another bottle of Sky, please?

Why imaginary vodka tonics? Well, as such things have evolved, and thanks to a pretty immature and early tango with alcohol, I no longer choose to drink much anymore. Could be all the alcohol I dumped into my body in a brief amount of years -- back when I definitely wasn't mature enough to handle it -- and a few too many alcohol related regrets. Drinks, now, pretty much consist of a sip from Jorge's glass of wine a few times a month or an occasional drink at a reception.

But, I digress....

Coming up soon, I'm going to be reliving a major part of my high school experience. Think, "Glee" but with sparkly magenta dresses, Aqua Net hair styles, blue eyeshadow, and more jazz hands. Where the brown kids (the 3 of us in the entire choir) had to endure wearing "nude colored uniform nylons" which made the white girls look cute but made dark girls look like chocolate lollipops on little white sticks. Yes, fans, I was in Show Choir. And, I loved it. Like crack, if we had crack in the suburbs. I loved performing, dancing, singing, and warming up as if we were running the NYC marathon. I recall hitting the track - on my own time - so that I could build my stamina for a brief 15 minutes of singing and dancing. Uh-huh.

While there are key things I loved about high school -- orchestra, show choir, some of my classes, music competitions -- I don't often look back fondly on those years. Now, as a 34 year old, mother of 3, survivor of a billion medical obstacles, and educator, I sometimes feel embarrassed for my 17 year old self. I was immature, annoying, and insecure. And, like any kid struggling with those issues, I was often mean, petty, catty, gossipy, controlling, and obnoxious. I didn't know how to be comfortable in my own skin, and so I didn't know how to connect with people who did. In an effort not to show anyone that I felt like I was worthless, I tried to over compensate by putting other people down and not giving room for other kids to thrive. In the kindest terms, I was 'not nice.'

College didn't get much better for me. On one hand, I knew I wasn't mature enough to be on my own and ended up commuting to a local college my first year. That was definitely a good idea as it forced me to be somewhat a college student, but still enabled allowed me to live in this high school/dependent world. But, seeing all of my friends leave our hometown and have amazing stories to tell about their college experiences only made me feel more insecure. I turned to alcohol. I was desperate to find ways to connect to people. I took a lot of the anxiety out on myself and made far too many unhealthy choices. When sophomore year rolled around, I did feel ready to leave the nest (from a safe distance of only 1 hour and 15 minutes away). I felt myself growing up a little bit more, but still made lots of bad choices.

As a college administrator now, I am always so in awe of my students who really put themselves out there and who demonstrate such maturity. I look at some of them and can't see myself in them at all. I have students who have studied abroad, who spend more time volunteering in the community than sitting in classes each week, and who know exactly what they want to do with their lives. I work with students who are in college for the sole purpose of creating a better life for their families. I meet with students who possess such a deep level of maturity, of sense-of-self, and of purpose.

Yet, it's the student who isn't quite sure what to do, or who is struggling, or who is socially awkward that I'm drawn to the most. I see myself in them. I see the same panic in their eyes that I had. I see the same tenseness in their bodies, the same timidness about their futures. But, this time, I hear the comments that others make about them. I hear the subtle groans that others make when these kids talk or act. And, I can't help but accept that others had noticed my own awkwardness when I was in college.

Honestly, I can point to the exact time in my life when I finally let go of my insecurities, my awkwardness, and my self-doubt. I was 29. I had just been told that my daughter had cancer. People sometimes look at me funny when I say that "I'm thankful for Joli's illness" but, it's so true. It forced me to be genuine. I grew up. From that point on, I never tried to be anything other than what I could be. I gave up my obsession with being the most "perfect" person -- popular, thin, brilliant, a size 6, wildly charismatic, effortlessly funny, etc. I finally accepted being just me. And, Me was the only thing I could offer my child. ME was the only thing I could offer myself. I gave up wanting to try so hard to be the best mother, sister, daughter, wife, worker, and just allowed myself to accept the kind of ME that I am. Heh, the funny thing is, that once I gave up trying to be all those things, I started on the path towards being all of those things.

Sound like complacency? I guess it is, sort of. But, I have found great peace in not wanting to "keep up with the Joneses" anymore. I have no desire to out-do anyone, to belittle anyone to lift myself up, nor to be anything but the authentic me. I stopped trying to have the best clothes, the best car, and all that goes with upward status mobility. Yes, that authentic me is way fatter than my 17-year old self. But, the authentic me is also a hell of a lot happier.

I've been through hell and back. And, I'm pretty sure I'm gonna get sent back-and-forth a few more times. That's okay with me.

So, why the anxiety about going back to high school this weekend? First, I don't think I've ever made peace with my 17-year old self. I think I'm still angry at her. Angry that, when I was 17, I didn't think enough of myself to just love who I was. Angry that I relied on other people and other means to define who I was. Angry that I likely made some people feel horrible so that I could feel better about myself.

I think I need to take some cues from my high school, though. I'm going back to that school for the first time in 17 years. And, I hear it's gone under lots of renovation and rebuilding. In a notice I received about the weekend, one of the organizers wrote, "Wait until you see the new auditorium!" Healthy dose of symbolism, anyone?

I'm a different person from the girl I was 17 years ago. Half my lifetime ago. Here's hoping that I can come to peace with who I was, where I have traveled, and who I am today. I'm sure I'll have to take a deep breath, sit in my car a minute, and brace myself for the insecurity that's gonna overtake me when I walk into that gym. And, in those moments, I hope to put my arms around those 17-year old thoughts and say, "You did your best. It's who you were. It's who you had to be." Then, I plan on walking into that gym, dancing my much softer/wider/jiggly body that was home to 3 absolutely beautiful babies, singing with happiness, and give thanks for all that my 17-year old self had to overcome in order for me to be who I am today.

To loosen that...

Creating a Welcoming Environment

Creating and Sustaining a Welcoming EnvironmentSo, this is a more work-related type of post, but I thought it was important to put up on To Loosen. Since many folks are struggling with the idea of "creating a welcoming environment", I thought some To Loosen readers might find it interesting. Cross posted at Intercultural Happenings. What is a “welcoming environment”? What does it look like? What does it feel like? Who is a part of this environment? Who shapes it? Who is affected by it? These are all questions that need to be explored in order to best create and sustain an environment that respects the diverse experiences within our community.

I’ve often been asked, “I’d like to make a welcoming environment; I just don’t know how”. Or, I’m sometimes challenged by people who say, “But, I do have a welcoming environment. I welcome all people.”

To the latter, my challenge back is to say, “Tell me how. Tell me what you do that makes your environment welcoming to all people.” Answers such as, “Well, anyone can come in” or “anyone can use this space” or “I never turn anyone away” often come up. But, unfortunately, those aren’t aspects that necessarily create a welcoming environment.

Now, some have not been bold enough to say it, but I imagine this conversation occurring, “Well, I don’t call anyone any racist names when they walk through the door” or “I don’t assume they don’t speak English” or “I don’t assume that students of color are here on affirmative action.” That’s great. Keep it up. But that still does not create a welcome environment.

So, what does?

I can speak from my own experiences as well as relay some of the stories from our students on campus.

STEPS THAT COST NOTHING: 1. See me. When I walk by you, do you say “hello”? When we see each other, do you shake my hand? Do you look me in the eye? Or, do you treat me like I am invisible to you? People of color on a predominantly white campus experience this incredible irony each day – we stick out like a sore thumb; yet, we are treated like we are invisible. If you want to create a welcoming environment, begin by actually recognizing that people of color exist.

2. Make a connection with me. No, I don’t mean take me out to lunch or even ask me about my family when we should be talking about business. I mean, participate in what is meaningful for me and my community. If I am a speaker somewhere on campus, come to the program. If there is a program/panel/lecture/film where you know people of color are going to be in attendance, go to the program. Get some face time. Because, if we see you there, we might make the actual assumption that you care about what is meaningful for us. Or, if you just aren’t able to attend any of the 75+ things that I host all year, then send me an email to say you wish you could go but just can’t make it.

3. Speak to me with respect. If you think I am intelligent, talk to me like I’m intelligent. Assume that I am smart, talented, and here because I worked hard to be here. See that I am capable of achieving above and beyond your own expectations of me. Please avoid talking to me in a way that you think I should stereotypically sound like.

4. Engage me in conversation. The best way to learn about me is to talk to me. Ask me if I’m comfortable sharing my history, my experiences, and my goals for the future; and, in most cases, I will respond positively. If you are genuinely curious about me, I am more likely to share my story with you and connect with you.

5. Understand that I might be outside my comfort zone. For our students of color who were raised in their cultural majority, they say one of the reasons they chose Stonehill is the opportunity to be in the minority. They also say that one of the biggest challenges is to be in the minority for 4 years. For our first generation college students, they might not possess the same familiarity with college lingo, procedures, and processes that their college legacy peers do. So, create an environment that allows them to experience this newness with ease.

6. Show non-judgmental sensitivity. “Unlike other students here, I don’t have the same economic privilege.” For students who are major financial contributors to their own education or to their family, they are not as easily able to accept unpaid internships, volunteer work, or opportunities that do not help support their financial situation. Some have avoided this conversation with professionals because they do not want to have to admit their situations publicly. Showing non-judgmental sensitivity, combined with problem solving to help them achieve their goals, is important to creating a trustful relationship with you.

7. Find where they are most comfortable, and go there. Many people in marginalized groups have found their “comfort spot”. Rather than wonder why they are not coming to you, go to them. Ask to attend a meeting of a group you are interested in connecting with on a more meaningful basis. Look for where they hang out, eat, do homework, meet, and find a way to non-invasively engage in discussion.

8. Hear me. Know that it's hard for me to come to you with a complaint or a suggestion. Too many people have said that people of color "play the race card", so in an effort to NOT do that, I most likely will say nothing. But, if I know that you will hear me without making judgments about me based on my identity, I am more likely to trust you and what you do.

9. Recognize that I experience this world as a person of color. I don't want you to "judge me by my skin", but I do want you to recognize that other people sometimes do. And, I've spent a lot of years working to prove that I am MORE than just skin color. However, my skin color does "tint" (pun totally intended!) how I experience the world.

STEPS THAT REQUIRE SUPPORT: 1. Provide opportunities for me to see myself reflected in what you do. Do you include people of color on panels that you host? Do you bring in guest speakers that have diverse backgrounds? Do you implement a component of cultural awareness and education into your courses, lectures, or discussions? A great way to create an environment that welcomes all people is to include all people.

2. Build your base of contacts who are from diverse backgrounds. The truth is, good mentors are good mentors for all. And yet, students of color often look for mentors of color because there is information that is shared about their backgrounds that is relevant and important to their experiences. One black, male student shared “I never go to certain programs because I know they aren’t going to say anything relevant about me and my experiences.” To create a welcoming environment, individuals need to see that your initiatives include their voices, too.

3. Add culturally relevant visual representation to your office or space. This is not permission to now go and buy up all the Malcolm X, Vincent Chin, and George Lopez posters online. However, it might mean adding a multicultural calendar to your space or an “Ally” sticker to your door (if you are one). It means subscribing to diverse publications, magazines, or resources that can be placed in your waiting room or in your office (and, hopefully, you will have read those, too!).

4. If you are not seeing a particular group using your services or participating in your programs, ask them why. It’s not enough to just blame them for not being interested or apathetic. People may be actively choosing not to go to you or use your services for particular reasons. First, assess your data. What are the ratios in relation to the population? What is your baseline? What is your goal? What informs that goal? Then, as the group what they would like to see and/or what they need.

5. Know that it takes time. Building relationships and trust take time. If you haven’t been actively working on creating a culture of inclusion (as opposed to just saying “sure, I’m welcoming!”), then the work has just started. It can take months, sometimes years, to see progress. But, if you give up, that word spreads fast, too. Stick with your initiatives and, if your goals and steps are right, you’ll see progress soon enough!

What's So Hard About Teaching Truth?

Wow, sometimes post topics just fall into my lap -- or, fall into my Facebook, to be more accurate. Seriously, what did we all socially write about before people's Facebook comments, status updates, and links? Picture 2This one comes courtesy of a simple comment about "Columbus" (this being, ya know, Columbus's big DAY and all....)

A friend status-ed about loving Columbus. So, I bit, and commented that I hope my friend loves the day off and not actually what Columbus did.  That led to the response that the teacher does teach a socially responsible unit on Columbus (yay!! Give it up for one more teacher who teaches the truth!). Another person then asked what Columbus did. I, unable to resist, simply stated that "Columbus gets credit for discovering a place that already had people, language, culture, traditions, etc. That would be like me walking into your apartment, saying that I founded it, and then making you go get me a drink."

A response came along -- the kind you hope for when you're in a blogging rut -- with something like this: "Yeah, but how much violent-invading history are we really gonna teach 3rd graders, or their parents, who want everything to be sugary and nice?" I actually agreed here because I thought the commenter was heading in the "yes, and therefore we shouldn't teach Columbus=Discoverer". But, alas, the commenter wasn't making that point. The commenter then proceeded to say that the "(n)ative (p)eople in Plimouth were rude and off-putting with their political agendas worn like a giant chip on their shoulders." I swear, I can't make this stuff up....

Giant.Chip. On.Their.Shoulders? Yeah, there sure is a chip; and that chip is called "we were having a grand old time, then random people came, stole our land, killed our people, and then told stories about how we shared some turkey, jokes, and smiles." I'd be rude, too, if kids dressed up like my people, athletic teams mock my elders, and people took tours of my land every November to see a rock.

But, really, my question goes back to this statement: "How much violent-invading history are we going to teach 3rd graders?" Right, exactly. So, let's not teach it. If you don't want to teach the true history of the First People, then at least let's not teach Columbus=Savior. Okay, if you don't want to teach the atrocities of the Pilgrim/Native times, at least let's stop teaching that the Pilgrims saved the Native people.

You can teach the truth in age appropriate ways. After all, those populations and peoples are/were MORE than the events that happened to them. Picture 3Teach the cultures as they existed before colonization. Do work beyond what is given in just the most basic (and empty) of textbooks. If you teach 3rd grade, then make sure you do your own age appropriate (adult) homework. Pick up Howard Zinn's book. Read Ronald Takaki's work. If you teach, read James Loewen. Challenge the education that we received growing up. Teach that Columbus didn't end up where he thought he was, and that's why he landed where he did, calling Native people "Indians." (Heck, I'm pissed that the nickname my sister gave me when I was 7 years old has still stuck with me; Imagine being stuck with the same nickname for, oh, 500+years!) Teach that Europeans did not discover the world; that people existed long before colonization; that colonization, itself, relates to a lot of the playground antics that exist outside during elementary school recess.

So, what's so hard about teaching the truth? These days, teaching the truth takes some effort. While many textbooks are finally telling stories other than just European history, many still do not. And, for most teachers in my generation and older, we grew up on a very different telling of history. We were educated during  a time when social perspective was rarely challenged. But, today, now, there is an emphasis on teaching the truth. And, indeed, as most historical truths are a result of "violent-invading-forces", we need to teach that there exists different truths. Don't we always tell our kids there are "always two sides to every story?" Playground rules, right?

Teaching the truth also teaches our children to think critically. They learn that there is a perspective other than their own. They learn to think bigger than a situation. They learn to seek the truth rather than just accept the truth. By learning both/all sides, they learn to engage in conflict resolution and mediation.

My kids are little. At least few times a day, they grab from one another, they tease one another, they take credit (or blame) from one another. They trick one another into doing their chores. If someone gets a treat, a sibling will almost predictably try to distract then steal a piece of that treat. And, at least once a week, one of my girls will kick the other girl out of their shared room. Sound historically familiar?

We end up having talks about these actions. And, I know they won't end anytime soon (after all, puberty and teenage years are still a bit away...). The lessons learned don't involve violence. Rather, we talk about respect. We talk about fairness. Justice. Equality. Kindness. Why can't these truths be taught in terms of history?

They can.

They should.

They must.

So, let's realize that teaching the truth is possible. Let's realize that we can teach a sugary version of the truth that is also historically responsible. Let's realize that the "chip-on-the-shoulder" is usually a result of the truth being withheld. If people were spreading lies about you, about your friends, about your family, you would be pretty pissed off, too. When you hear that a people/person is pissed off about something that historically has been misrepresented about them, ask why. Listen to the answer, and you likely will be listening to their truth.

(hat tip to my friend Jenn who teaches with this book to help her students understand the different stories surrounding Columbus)

What are some age appropriate specific resources that other anti-racist parents and/or responsible educators are using in their homes or classrooms? Please share! Make teaching the truth a whole lot easier!

Teaching About Those in Need

A few Sundays a month, my family and I drive into the Boston area for some dim sum. Even though we live in one of the largest cities in our state, we rarely encounter homeless people and/or families in our immediate area. Yet, whenever we drive into the city, there are two places where we are sure to see someone -- often the same people -- on the street asking for some assistance. Because we have to drive into the city frequently (doctor's appointments, mostly), my children have grown up with these familiar faces. Though, the closest they have really come to them is through our car window.

In my younger years living in the lower east side of New York City, I worked with a young man named Peter who was very active in advocacy work for the homeless in lower Manhattan. As you might imagine, homelessness is a huge issue in New York City. My co-worker not only volunteered in homeless shelters, he was frequently found sitting next to people just talking over a cups of coffee he had purchased for the two (or more) of them. Peter worked in social policy change to gain rights for the homeless. He focused on both the large scale systemic issues as well as the more intimate and personal issues.

I had the opportunity to talk with Peter about the best ways to help those who are homeless. I shared that I often wrestled with the practice of just "dropping coins in a cup" versus buying food and/or giving a blanket or a coat to someone in need. Peter told me that the best use of my money was in the homeless shelters, and the best things I could do for a person were a) treat the person as a person, and not just as a poor person; b) purchase a meal; and c) share a meal. Peter's words stuck with me.

A few years later, my sister told me about a friend she had met in her PhD program in California. This woman was single, but had recently been divorced and relocated to California from Georgia. As my sister and this woman grew closer, the woman disclosed that she had lived on the streets for a few months. My sister, her classmate in a prestigious PhD program, was shocked. Across from her was a brilliant musician, a promising academic scholar, and a put-together woman. She had a hard time believing this woman had been homeless. Because, as with many of us who have not had to experience homelessness, she thought that the a homeless person was  "dirty, down-and-out, alcoholics or drug users, products of bad decisions, unmotivated, etc....". Homeless people were not supposed to be PhD students, right?

My sister's friend went on to tell her story. She had been happily married. She participated in neighborhood block parties where people raved about her macaroni and cheese. She was a musician who practiced hours a day. Over the course of her marriage, she noticed changes in her husband. He began to disappear for long periods of time. She had not been very interested in their shared bank account but began to take notice when checks were coming back with insufficient funds. Before she knew it, her husband had gambled away their savings, was thousands upon thousands of dollars in debt, and then, he was gone. She had nothing left. There was not enough money to go anywhere, so she packed up a few things and began to sleep in the car. She would move the car every so often, but eventually realized that moving the car took gas -- and she didn't have money to fill the tank.

My sister's friend resorted to asking for help on the streets. While money was helpful, she would tell us, she really needed food. She needed water. She needed warmth, safety, and security. As an attractive woman on the streets, her environment was rarely safe, and she lived for months in constant fear.

Meeting her and hearing her story completely changed my views of "who is homeless." Especially in our recent economy, homelessness has many different faces. Different ages, different races, different family structures. The local hotel near our house is now full -- not from tourists, but rather with families who have lost their homes. Friends who are college graduates are unemployed and living on public assistance; the very assistance they once proudly and ignorantly criticized as "for people who are too lazy to work." They now have changed views as to who needs public assistance.

Yesterday, my daughter lost her tooth. And, under the pillow, she received a small sum of money. Her request was to go to the store and pick out a gift. After she had paid for her gift, she got her change and put it in her pocket. After dinner, my daughter turned to me and said, "Mommy, I have extra money here. Can we give it to the man-with-no-home next time we go to the city?" When I was her age, the heavy clicking sound of the lock button would ring in my dad's car whenever we approached a person on the corner. I was taught to be afraid. I was taught to look away. I was taught to ignore the stranger who needed assistance.

I am so glad that my child refuses to learn the lessons of my past. Rather, she looks for people in need and calls me to action.

"Mom, it's starting to get colder. Can you remember to put the box of granola bars in our car tomorrow? I don't want to forget to give it to anyone who is hungry," she said as she was getting ready for bed. "Oh, and maybe some blankets, warm things, and some towels."

She gets it. She gets that life is bigger than our own. She understands that people have needs greater than ours. She knows that she has a responsibility to care for her fellow people on this planet. She is not afraid to look; she is not afraid to feel; she is not afraid to care.

I truly think that having a physical disability has been a gift to our family. My daughter knew, from a very early age, what it felt like to have people stare at her. She has also experienced something worse -- the feeling of people treating her like she's invisible because they aren't sure what to make of her. Because my children have met people who look very different from the mainstream norm, they gravitate towards people who don't quite fit in. They are learning how to genuinely acknowledge that people are people; and that we must treat people above the labels we give them.

As we come upon the most ironic of seasons -- the Season of Giving and the "Season of Excessive Spending", what gifts will you give your children? What gifts will last beyond batteries and attention spans? What ways have you examined the lessons you were taught, and the lessons you will choose to pass on to your own children?

POST SCRIPT: Please check out this beautifully written entry with connections to the responsibility we have as Christians in the aide of the homeless.

OKAY, ANOTHER POST SCRIPT: I'm so appalled. In my desperate search to find some poignant pictures of people who are homeless, I found far too many photos of people making fun of the homeless. Seriously, we live in a twisted world...

Health, Pandemics and Paranoia

crossposted at Herspective: Current Events from a Mom's Point of View Common sense. It all seems to go out the window when someone is sick.

I was never really one for anti-bacterial sanitizers. I currently let my kids abide by the 30-second rule (after all, it was at my alma mater where students debunked the 5-second rule myth! Go, Camels!). I've even caught my middle child picking popcorn off of the floor and eating it. My sisters were horrified. I, on the other hand, take the approach of "Well, my kids will build a better immune system."

The only time I was truly obsessed with cleanliness and anti-bacterial supplements was when my oldest child was diagnosed with cancer. She had just turned 2-years old when we had to go into emergency surgery to save her life. During her 6 months of chemotherapy, I didn't even let anyone in my house if they so much as had a cold-weather induced runny nose. We had a Purell station by the door long before those wall-mounted gadgets were popular. We disinfected everything, sterilized anything that went into her mouth, and carried alcohol swabs like they were pennies in a purse. But, in all fairness, my daughter spent most of her days with a terribly low white blood count due to chemotherapy; and the common sniffle to you would be debilitating for her.

Yet, fast forward to this past summer. We attended a camp for children with life threatening illnesses. And, while none of the children were on active treatment, they were all somewhat immuno-affected. Camp was cold, rainy, and unseasonably miserable for a late June week. On the way home from Camp, a number of families reported being very, very sick. Word quickly spread that H1N1 had found it's way to the Camp and that, unfortunately, people were not adequately notified.

Some of the parents were pissed upset. "How could they allow people with H1N1 symptoms continue on at Camp?" Out of all the people in the world, one of the groups you hope to not be exposed to H1N1 is a whole bunch of kids who recently fought cancer. And, while some parents were appalled at the lack of notification, others (like myself) thought, "Okay, so, let's take care of our kids and move on." In addition to having my cancer survivor there, I was also there with my 2 year old and my 2 month old - so I certainly had plenty to worry about.

Camp is a lot of closed and confined spaces (especially when it rains 5 out of the 6 days). But, working at a college puts a new spin on it, too. Already, students live in such close quarters, share dining hall utensils, desks, door knobs, kitchen faucet handles, computer lab keyboards, etc. And, college students are notorious for not taking care of themselves -- operating on just a few hours of sleep, staying up late, using their "leisure" time making unhealthy choices.

As with most colleges, the place I work recently created a pandemic plan for if there is an outbreak of H1N1. There is encouraged "self-isolation", faculty have been asked to adjust their absentee policy, and the IT staff have vamped up there remote access capabilities. While the students will likely not change their behaviors (they seem to think they are invincible to anything, including H1N1!), it has been important for us to have a plan to protect our community.

While I admit to not being overly paranoid about the flu, I am in favor of the government mandating that a plan be in place for a few reasons. First, it does send a sense of urgency and importance. That, while most of our college students won't really care a heck of a lot, those who work with them do care. Second, it forces us to plan better. The government is asking people to plan. Planning, in the end, also saves money on health costs due to preventable spread of germs. And, given the enormous debt our country is in, a little cost saving is just what we need these days.

For those who are taking steps to plan and who are taking responsibility for the safety of their communities, the government's mandate doesn't affect them -- they were already doing it. As a parent, I would expect that my child's school/organization/activity should also have a plan for vaccination and quarantine. Just as we expect them to have a fire escape plan, an emergency outage plan, and a lost child plan, I expect them to have  pandemic plan. If my child's school did not have these plans, I would consider them negligent.

I almost my oldest child once due to an unplanned illness; I expect to keep her safe with well planned steps.

At the same time, I believe that widespread paranoia can be just as detrimental to our health (stressor) and to our planning. The flu is the flu. Yes, this is a Super Flu; but, we should all still be using common sense. I'm proud to know that our government is going to hold those who do not use common sense accountable for safety.

A Battle Won

"He lost his battle to cancer." Anyone who has ever held the hand of a person receiving chemotherapy knows the type of fight that it takes to have cancer.

I remember the first time my child received chemotherapy. Just after having her port-a-cath surgically inserted into her tiny chest, we were upstairs in her hospital room preparing ourselves for the procedure that would change her life. In just a few moments, my 2-year old daughter would be a cancer patient. Though her retinoblastoma diagnosis did, indeed, make her a cancer patient, it was the chemotherapy that really drove it home for us.

Nurse Lori walked into the room. "So, are you ready?" she said to me, trying to be both cheery and serious. Nurse Lori snapped on her thick rubber gloves, pulled on a protective apron, covered her mouth with a paper mask, and then put down her plastic shield drawn over her eyes. "What is that for?" I asked.

"Yeah, uh, it's to protect me. From the chemo agents. In case they spill," says Nurse Lori tentatively. She knows how ridiculous that sounds.

"So, I know this sounds stupid, Lori. But, what is going to protect Joli from this chemo? The very thing you are protecting yourself from is going to be poured into my kid's veins?" I said sarcastically annoyed, as if I was going to prove a point that she had never heard in her 20+ years of oncology nursing.

I'm mad. I'm confused. I'm scared.

Unfortunately, the routine got easier each time. Each time, I got used to the dance of protection and poison. Each time, I held my daughter close to me, while the nurses warned that I could be harmed if chemo spilled on me. Even when I changed Jo's diaper, I had to wear protective gloves due to the concentration of chemotherapy in her urine.

Each day -- even now, 4 years post-diagnosis -- we still fight the fight. We are no longer in active chemotherapy, but cancer and its residual effects haunt us each day. Personally, we worry about her prosthesis, her implant, and hearing loss that resulted from chemotherapy. We hear from her friends about tears in the tissue that holds the implant. We are devastated by news that a retinoblastoma survivor has a recurrance or a secondary cancer. And, each time we hear that a life has moved on because of cancer, we know that we are not immune.

In the past few months, a number of celebrities have been featured because of their cancer battles. And, without hesitation, the headlines and announcements all begin with "... has lost the battle with cancer."

Every day, every morning, every hour is a battle won over cancer. Certainly, moments and opportunities are lost. We lost the opportunity to send my daughter to pre-school at age 3. We lost the opportunity to just be a kid; while other kids were saying their A-B-C's, Joli's most often used words were "chemo, prosthesis, and cancer."  We lost the experience of seeing a 3-D movie because, after all, you need 2 eyes to see in 3-D.

Each day is a battle won over cancer.

Our cancer book will never be closed. In fact, each day, a new sentence is written. Each month, a new page. Each year, a new chapter. And, when the time comes to close the book of Life, it won't end with "a battle lost to cancer", it will end with "the story was over; a battle was won."

Our heartfelt condolences to the many people and families who bear the scars of cancer. Your battle was won. Your loved one's battle was won. The day you were diagnosed, you won. Each day you walked into chemotherapy or radiation with your head held high, you won. Each day you decided to fight, you won. And, if that day has come when you didn't want to fight anymore, it's not because you lost. It's simply because you have decided that your story was told; your impact was made; your gift was given.

We thank you for the gifts you leave behind for all of your loved ones. And, that gift is the story of your courage, your fight, and your love. For because of your battle with cancer, you've helped us to write our own sentences, our own pages, our own chapters. And, in the end, it wasn't because you "lost a battle", it was because you "won our hearts."

While the recent celebrity news has sparked this entry, I am dedicating this to my college friend, Becky, whose mother in law is writing the next chapter. You are in my thoughts in a very special way. May you always keep singing.

Never Too Early

The other day, my 3-year old niece, completely unprovoked, said to me, "Tia Lizwhitecrayona, I'm white. You are not white." This was the first time she had ever brought this to my attention. "Yeah, sorry" says my Puerto Rican brother-in-law, "this whole skin color thing started since her first day in pre-school."

"It's okay," I added. "She's right. Good observation.  Though I'd prefer to be considered 'brown' and not  'not-white', this is probably the first time she's really talking about it."

I returned my attention to my niece, "Yes, you're right. My skin color is brown. Your skin color is white," I replied.

Technically, yes, my niece's skin color is white (or beige/off white - I'm leaving that one to the art majors in the crowd). Ethnically, however, she is Puerto Rican. She calls me "Tia", she was raised on beans and rice. She is also ethnically Greek - her mother had her baptized in a Greek Orthodox church, she celebrates Greek holidays, and her extended family lives in Greece. But, her skin - the color is white. Her hair is light brown -- though, curly like my own daughter's hair. Her eyes are blue. She looks nothing like my Puerto Rican/Filipino children. You would never even think they were related.

In my circle of parent-friends, I'm rare. I'm still trying to get my friends to consider the effects of raising their children in a colorblind manner. Many of them still believe that it's too early  -- at ages 2, 3, 4 -- to talk about race in a meaningful way. My husband and I both believe that it's never too early.

In a recent Newsweek article, the authors of the new book Nurture Shock, draw from their research to discuss the problems of being colorblind and of not talking about race at a very early age. So many people want to a) wait until it comes up, b) wait until there is an issue with race, c) wait until they, as parent, feel comfortable talking about it. But, when is that?

The point Katz emphasizes is that this period of our children's lives, when we imagine it's most important to not talk about race, is the very developmental period when children's minds are forming their first conclusions about race.

Are "colorblind" parents really raising colorblind children? Or, rather, are they raising children who are afraid to talk about color? Why is it so easy for us to correct a young child who says, "Only boys can be firefighters!" with "Both boys and girls can grow up to be firefighters!" but we are afraid to address when children bring up race? Rather, we shush them or tell them they cannot say things like that.

My role as a college diversity educator is to engage students in conversations about race/ethnicity/privilege/etc. I'm finding more and more, however, that college is the first time many of these students are talking about it. Only a year into President Obama's election, I find it hard to believe they are already so "post- racial"; and, I do know that they aren't really learning about race relations in school.

But, what about at home? Are parents afraid to talk to their kids about race? Are they more comfortable talking about sex? Or, does race follow the sex-assumption? That is, as parents, we kind of assume that our kids already know about sex. So, are we assuming that our kids also know about race?

For my husband and me, we talk about race all the time. We talk about skin color, about hair color, hair texture, why one child in our family needs the deep conditioner and the other child only needs a comb-through. We talk about the blond hair of my sister-in-law, the brown skin of my brother-in-law, and the almond eye shape of my own. My children have never been "shuushed" about race or color. Talking about race is as normal as talking about the cereal they had for breakfast. It's just natural.

Nurture Shock. It isn't without it's critics of course. But, for the most part, I'm on board with the notion that kids learn about race at a much earlier time that most people admitted.

And, therefore, it's never too early.

Birthing a Political Mommy

I admit. Prior to this year's election cycle, I was never really a politics buff. I rarely paid attention to domestic nor international issues. I sort of knew what was going on  - at least, as much as the daily talk shows would give me. I never took an active role. Never picked up The New York Times to answer my questions. And, I never really engaged in any political activity. Sure, I voted. But, admittedly, I voted just down my party line and never paid much attention to the issues.  

However, like most Americans, this time around was different. For me, as a woman of color, as a mom to biracial children, as the head of a cancer family, and as a person who works with underprivileged students, this election was different. I was obsessed with all things politics. CNN and NPR replaced reality shows (my guilty pleasure). Political documentaries - both Republican and Democrat - replaced comedies and action movies.  Autobiographies of political candidates replaced mindless, romantic cheesy short stories.

 

Growing up, my parents never really talked politics. As immigrants, I think they were more concerned with the day-to-day living as opposed to larger government issues. They voted Republican, I know that. I recall the names of the Republican candidates for whom they voted, but we never really talked about why. When friends came over, they talked longingly of the coryshirtPhilippines and of Filipino politics. I knew more about President Aquino (both of them) than I knew of any American President. As a kid in the 1980s, I regularly wore my bright yellow "People Power" shirt. But, U.S. politics -- not so much. I kept up with Title IX stuff in college, had a basic understanding of legal ramifications of affirmative action in the Michigan case -- all things that affected my life as a college student. However, larger issues didn't get much attention from me.

 

Becoming a mother thrusted me into the importance of engaging in politics. Selfishly, I wanted to make our country a better place for my own children. However, soon after my daughter was diagnosed with cancer and we were faced with dire health care coverage challenges, I woke up to the fact that the issues that make our country a better place for my own children are the issues that have left others silenced. Painfully, I opened my eyes to the ways in which health care (or, rather, lack of) can destroy families.

 

From my friends, I saw how the war was tearing some of their families apart as men and women were called to serve our country again and again. I witnessed how the ongoing war was keeping mothers and fathers from their children, and how husbands and wives were growing further apart. In my own neighborhood, I saw how predatory lending has destroyed families, property, futures, hopes, and dreams. I see close friends drowning in credit card debt because of unemployment and high percentage rates. Each morning, I drive by the homeless parents and children who just can't make ends meet. I hear the pain in my friends' voices who have family members in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. "My children" are no longer just my own. Motherhood has forced me to see politics as a social justice.

 

While my responsibility as a citizen drove my voting interest in the past, my responsibility as a mother has driven my voting in the present. I want my children to see that I take my right and responsiblity very seriously. Because we have family and friends living in places where voting is not a right, I need  my children to see the importance of actively partcipating in the process. Even in our own country, we stand on the shoulders of those who did not have the right to vote, and that is why it is a right I take seriously.

 

This particular election gave me some of the most important teaching moments as a parent. One of the most important lessons we discussed in our home is respect. Respect. During the campaign period, the outwardly displayed and displaced hatred and attacking of character, race, religion, position, ethnicity, and ideas during this election was just horrifying. I was appalled at the imagery people chose to use to ignite terror and fear. I was saddened to see attack of character when people should have been attacking issues. Yet, it provided a basis for my husband and me to talk with our children about respect for people.  It was an opportunity to teach our children that a) not every one has to agree, but b) everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. At the same time, we also teach our children to stand up for what they believe in - no matter who is going to criticize you or judge you. We teach them that, while we must sometimes compromise agreeing to disagree,  no one should compromise their humanity, their dignity, nor the dignity of others in this world.

 

Just after the election, I wrote on my Facebook status that I was "proud to be an American." I received lots of "likes" and "comments" that supported my status. And, I found plenty of my friends who wrote that "it is a sad day for the U.S."  Fine, I respect that. Yet, a comment by a Friend started a 35+ comment thread on my own page. This Friend challenged that I should have always been proud to be an American. We then went back and forth about how I haven't always been proud of our how country, as a whole, treated people both in our history and in our present. But, regardless of our very different views, this Friend and I still treated one another with respect. It is possible. You can disagree and still commit to treating others with dignity.

 

My children are now 6 years old, 3 years old, and 6 months old.  And, unlike some, our children aren't just repeating the political views of my husband and me. We've been very aware of asking them their opinions and requiring them to provide reasons for why they think what they think/ feel what they feel. We challenge them on their assumptions. We push them to think of the person vs the problem. We ask them about intent vs effect.

 

It's not too early. It's not too early to teach children respect, dignity, and appreciation of diverse viewpoints. It has taken the birth of my children  -- my role as a Mommy -- to open my eyes to politics, and my hope is that they will continue a life of social responsibility and justice in their own.

The Unexpected

I'm back, all! I know it's been a while since I've done any serious blogging. Thanks to all the people who I "borrowed" from and those who entertained me by reading older posts. I'm balancing lots of different duties, and in the past few months, other priorities forced their way into my life :) But, I'm back! Back to writing, back to blogging, and back to exploring ways that race, health, parenting, and living collide.

So, a theme that I've been noticing these past few days is "the unexpected." It's "the unexpected" type of moments when you realize that something you said or did had an effect on someone above-and-beyond what you could have imagined.

The past Saturday, I spoke at an event to raise money for Camp Sunshine - an amazing healing camp that my family has attended in the past. Last year, I spoke about the importance of feeling normal when you have cancer.  I spoke about how my life was filled with materialistic wants, shy needs, and a superficial sense of importance. When my child was diagnosed with cancer, all of those characteristics and qualities flew out the door -- instantly. When I held her in bed, with her chemotherapy dripping into her tiny 30 lb body, I couldn't help but see flashes of what life might be without her. In the wee hours, when the hospital floor was quiet, I morbidly imagined what I would say at her funeral. I pictured her little coffin, a receiving line of relatives dressed in black, and me - crumbled on the ground - wishing I could just tell her, one more time, "I love you."

It's moments like those -- an unexpected diagnosis, an unexpected bad dream, an unexpected taste of vomit in the back of my throat -- that spin me into appreciating what I have; and feeling bad for people who yearn for materialistic belongings. For, if they had to come close to what I felt (what I feel) for my child, they would realize that the new car/the largest television/the cutest handbag, isn't worth shit.

At the event last year, I remember saying the line, "If you have your health, you have everything. Because if you don't have your health, you don't have your finances. You don't have your sanity. You don't have your tomorrow. You only have your today."

Just before I went on stage to deliver my speech,  a woman approached me in tears. She told me that my speech changed her life. This past year, her husband lost his job, and the family was stressed over their finances. They kept reflecting on what I had said about "having your family and your health", and that's what got them through their tough time.

Joey's Special Eye

When my daughter was diagnosed, I found out I was pregnant with our 2nd child. I jse1jwasn't sure how I was going to explain this to our new baby. How do you explain "your sister has a hole in her head, and it's because of cancer"? I talked with my sister -- writer, Grace Talusan -- and she came up with a fantastic coloring book for children that described, from a sibling's viewpoint, the cancer and prosthetic. While it was published by the Eye Care Foundation, I think we always imagined the coloring book to be something that we just use in our home. A few years went by, and we embraced our own personal copy of the coloring book. I contacted the Foundation a few years later and asked if they were going to reproduce it. There wasn't quite a demand, but I was able to purchase 100 copies to send to other Rb families.

The following year, I returned to Camp Sunshine with additional copies. As I began to hand them out, some families were so surprised to see a coloring book - just what they were looking for! But, then one family came to me and said, "Oh, no thank you. We already have one." I admit, I looked at them like they were crazy. "Well, if you don't want one, that's fine," I said somewhat insulted. "No, really. We have one. Our doctor's office gives one to every Rb kid." I immediately called Grace to tell her that her book was being distributed in a hospital 3,000 miles away!

I checked Grace's site on the day of my daughter's cancer anniversary, and realized that she had posted pictures of kids around the world holding the Joey's Special Eye book! The kids pictured were in Mexico!

We never thought the book would have this kind of reach -- completely unexpected. And, yet, it's so rewarding to know that Grace's book -- Joli's story -- is being told around the world.

Richard

photoOur friend, Richard, has been having a hell of a year. His son had been diagnosed with the same cancer as my daughter. His son's cancer was very aggressive, and he, too, ended up losing his eye after over a year of awful treatment. Once they came to peace with their son's eye, Richard was diagnosed with a very rare cancer. He's been fighting for his life for over a year now. We've been raising money for him through Facebook, and using our "status updates" to promote our cause.

In the midst of our status updates, an artist friend, Jeff McComsey, felt compelled to draw Richard. He doesn't know Richard, never met him, and other than living in the same state, has nothing in common with Richard. Yet, he began drawing. He drew Richard as "Superman." Jeff's drawing arrived in the mail on Richard's first day home from the hospital, and this brought him such strength. I know Richard didn't expect this, and I'm quite sure that Jeff has no idea how meaningful his drawing is to Richard, his family, and friends. Yet, it's this unexpected gift of kindness during an expected battle with cancer that completes this circle.

What have you done that was unexpected today? What unexpected impact will you make on someone's life?

Revisiting

This past week, I had to take my infant over to the hospital for his routine exam under anesthesia, a process we have to follow because of my oldest child's cancer. I've taken my children through this process more than two dozen times, and while it's traumatic, it's routine. What I didn't expect was for me to experience anxiety this time around. Usually, we do our EUA's on the "surgery center waiting room" - it's a room the size of my kitchen, very informal, very friendly. The recovery room is tiny, and it's very easy to go in-and-out to each part of the operating room/recovery/waiting room. That is the "S" floor. Well, that morning, I went to the "S" floor to check in -- like I've done all of the dozen or so times -- and was told that I had to take Evan to the "10th floor." Really? I've never been to the 10th floor. Why would we need to go there?

I went into the elevator, pushed "10" and waited, expecting a new adventure. The doors opened, and I nearly passed out..... this was the floor where we brought my oldest child to have her enucleation - the removal of her eye due to a rare and destructive cancer. I had not been back to that floor since August 18, 2005.

I waited by the front desk as other patients were checking in. I saw the same woman -- who had a prosthetic eye -- take insurance cards and check ID's. I looked to my left and saw the room that my entire family waited in while J was in surgery. I had to tell myself to 'breathe.' Once I checked in, I walked the long hallway - to the room where my family destracted ourselves by silently eating bagels and drinking coffee. I stood in the corner of the hallway where I called friends in Long Island, whispering the words, "J has cancer. She is in surgery now."

I've dealt with J's journey through speaking engagements, fundraising, and class lectures, yet I never realized how the emotions would come flooding back when I entered the 10th floor.

My infant's name was called to go to the OR, and I carried him - like I carried J - down the elevator. The same elevator closed behind me, the same doors that closed when my husband fainted and fell into his father's arms. I went downstairs to the operating room, sat in the same chair I rocked J in just after her enucleation. Thankfully, it didn't last long. My son and I were at the hospital by 6:00am and out by 9:15am. I think it was good to go down that road again, since being on that floor was such a blur on August 18, 2005. But, I'd be just fine not going back there again...!

Changing the Complexion

A little too mad to even respond to this one, so I'll just do blips. I think it's one thing to do racist stuff to adults, it's another thing to make kids the subject of one's racism and stupidity. This story is going viral, so if you haven't checked it out, here it is.

More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason.

See, white kids never have to wonder if a negative behavior is attached to their race. It's called white privilege....

"When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool," Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. "The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately."

Except for the fact that the day camp PAID to use the facility for the summer, was accepted to do so, and entered into a contract with the Valley Club. So, yes, they were allowed to use the pool. And, if the white kids didn't want to swim with them, that was THEIR CHOICE. But, instead of stating it was a choice, the white parents/children instead decided to remove themselves from an uncomfortable situation and just deprive another EQUAL paying customer the right to a service.

After being told the Club would refund their money...

"I said, 'The parents don't want the refund. They want a place for their children to swim,'" camp director Aetha Wright said.

They just want a place to swim. Jeez, really, people? Are the club members working on old school racism that the black kids might a) pass on cooties, or b) steal something from kids in the pool (perhaps their shorts? I dunno?), c) act like... kids?

While the parents await an apology, the camp is scrambling to find a new place for the kids to beat the summer heat.

And, that's what white privilege does. It puts white people ahead and POC behind. So, while the white kids get to just sit back, relax, and enjoy their summer, the black kids have to scramble and find something to do. Next thing you know, you'll hear from white people saying "I can't believe all these Black kids are out on the streets. Don't they have anything better to do?"

YES. THEY COULD BE SWIMMING.

Following the Lead

The other day, I took my children to a birthday party for their friend, Lucas, who was turning 3 years old. Lucas's mom is Korean and his dad is Japanese. While spending some quality time with my potty-learning daughter in the bathroom, she and I got into a conversation about "eyes."

Daughter: "I like Lucas's mommy. She's the one with the different eyes."

Me: "What do you mean 'different eyes'?''as I glanced over at the bathroom mirror and saw my own Asian reflection.

Daughter: "You know, the same eyes like Luke's Daddy."

Me: "Oh, you mean the same eyes like ME, too?"

Daughter: "No, Mommy. You don't have the same eyes."

Me: "Yes, I do! We are Asian. I am Asian, Lucas's dad is Asian, and Lucas's mom is Asian. We have the same eyes."

Daughter: "Nooo. No you don't. His dad's eyes are like this (she pulls upward at the corner of her eyes), and his mom's eyes are like this (she pulls straight outward at the corner of her eyes), and your eyes are like this (she pulls just a little tiny tug at the corner). See, you don't have the same eyes!" Now, I wasn't sure if it was the scent of being in the bathroom too long or if it was all of my childhood fears coming at me, but I felt sick. Uh uh! Did my kid just do the eye-pull thing?? Did she just spark my worst memories of playground children taunting me by imitating my eyes? Did she just throw me back to when I was 6 years old in church and had to endure a little girl staring at me and copying my eyes -- in the same way my own daughter was doing?

Or, was she just doing what 3-year olds do -- observing and copying? Truth is, she was right. She didn't obnoxiously pull at her eyes, she quite accurately did copy the eye slants of the Korean mother, the Japanese father, and me.  She didn't all of a sudden bust into ching-chong calls or a monologue about the coolness of karate or an interview of whether or not I liked math/science/or the violin (insert your own commentary about how childhood taunts stay with you well into your 30s).

Needless to say, my biracial children did not inherit my Asian eyes. They have large brown eyes that are wide and round like saucers. When we are out, most people are surprised to know they are my biological children -- they have curly/wavy hair and dark skin like my Puerto Rican husband. I have straight hair and light brown skin.

I didn't really get into the eye-thing with her. I mean, truth be told, I would typically ask an older child to "use your words instead of your hands" to describe a physical characteristic or go into an age appropriate lesson about what imitating means. But, what do you do with a 3-year old who's world IS about communicating with gestures. The easiest way for her to get her point across was with her hands.

My 3-year old's tendency to describe everything isn't bound solely to race. While on vacation in Maine, where I was already feeling so self-conscious being the only family of color that we had seen all day, the same daughter was talking to an couple of older women. When the older women left, my daughter ran up to me and yelled, "Mommy! Those really old ladies are nice. And old. Like, really old!" Yes, they heard her. I froze. And, then I emphasized the "nice" part with "They seemed like really nice ladies. That's so nice that they were talking to you! Wow, aren't they so NICE?" all the while waving at the ladies as they got into their car. I know - overkill.

I think one of the biggest challenges as a parent is walking that fine line between going with a child's observation and correcting racial/social mis-steps. It's kind of like the situation I've written about before when she decided to name everything on the street -- that car is red, that bird is small, that dog is big, etc. When we passed a man on the street, she said, "That man is Black." My response was "Yes, he is."

I'm sure we'll get into the eye-thing a bit later with my kids. For the most part, they won't be subjected to it as a personal observation of their own physical features. But, it'll surface somewhere in a picture, on the internet, or as a misstep from one of their favorite stars (again....). They'll need to know what it means, how it affects their Mom's side of the family, and how it can be hurtful.

For now, we're walking the line of observation as we prepare to cross the line of education.

The Anxiety of Violence

I never really did like violent movies, especially as a child. I was the kid who watched viewed most violent movies through the lens of the spread fingers of my hands. Later in adulthood, I still didn't develop the stomach for them. I would feel my heart race and my face swell with tears. Now, as a mother, I have extended the category of "violent movies" to anything scary. I rarely watch gangster type movies, certainly no horror movies, and no movies that talk about violence against women or children. Given the work I do, I feel a responsibility to watch movies that have addressed cultural exploitation and violence. While I know movies like "Hotel Rwanda" and "Blood Diamond" are Hollywood versions of the atrocities that are occuring, I have completely avoided them. And, I haven't read books related to those issues, either. I know (as much as any average American knows) what's going on over there. Yet, I can't bear to watch it.

But why? Am I avoiding just the sheer violence of it, or am I avoiding these stories -- likely worse than what is portrayed in the movies -- because I know I'll feel guilty turning off the TV and walking away from them? Isn't the discomfort and challenge the exact thing that I tell others they need to experience in order to move forward in the conversation about race? If so, what is it that I can "more forward" in here? How does watching these movies help me move forward?

A close friend of ours filmed a documentary called "War/Dance" which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. I probably wouldn't have chosen to watch it, except for the fact that I wanted to honor the work he did. In the end, Sean created a beautiful film about the ways a few children in a refugee village -- though they had lived such tragedy -- found joy through music. I was glad I watched it, and it pained me to know that these stories were all too real.

A few years ago, my college invited an author and former child soldier. I went to his lecture, but couldn't bring myself to read his book.

Am I avoiding engaging in the conversation about violence because it brings me such anxiety? Isn't this exactly the discomfort I should be feeling in order to do good in the world?

Note: I'm posting because I'm avoiding watching one of those movies ... it's "date night" with the hubby and we chose this movie. Guess my laptop has become the new "spread fingers lens!"