Where The R0ad Show Meets The G0ng Show

30 03 2012

Last Friday, I spent 12 straight hours in the car with the kids driving to the house I grew up in.  They did great.

However, on Tuesday it was time to get back in the car and start home and the return trip was destined to be much more of a G0ng Show.  My kids were exhausted from spending a long weekend at my parent’s house.   Less sleep than usual, no Daddy, a minor virus, and a highly charged, emotional environment left us all drained and now we would be flying down the highway, pulling a U-Haul Trailer, crammed into the small cab of a pick-up truck.

To get home we would first drive 6 hours west to spend a night at my sister’s, followed by driving 8 hours south the next day.  On Tuesday, I had my 11-year-old nephew to help me out, but he would then stay behind at his house.  So on Wednesday, I would be on my own again (and by “on my own” I mean in charge of driving, not running the U-Haul trailer into anything, refereeing the kids’ fights, changing the DVD player, dodging water bottles that would be thrown at my head, and not getting lost).

A few highlights of our adventure.

Highlight One:  When pulling a trailer (which I had no prior experience doing) it is important to only use wide-open parking lots that can be entered and exited without actually having to do any backing up.  At some point we had a “back-seat emergency” (I honestly can’t remember what the issue was – let’s just call it Back-Seat Emergency Number 327).  The first place to pull over with an appropriate parking lot was an “adults only” book, video and (I believe) live-performance arcade.  My daughter looked out the window and said, “Is this the dentist?”  My nephew could not stop laughing.  I am not going to ask how my nephew had such a clear understanding of what this place was – that is my sister’s problem to figure out.  But I appreciated that he was really giggling but also embarrassed as this was about the same reaction I had.

Highlight Two:  My son insisted on wearing a purple and black, shiny, ruffled, can-can skirt for all parts of the long drive.  In what I think was a nod to subtlety, he chose to wear it inside out so the violet lame’ wasn’t showing, only the purple ruffle.  Still, he was a young boy in a very fancy skirt.

Pulling into a truck-stop in rural Illinois I was keenly conscious of his outfit – as was everybody else.  I finally looked at one trucker who was staring, but half-smiling and said, “Hey, it is safer than him wearing a hoodie.”

Highlight Three:  We were in the car long enough for my son to conquer the chest clasp on the last remaining car seat which he had heretofore been unable to open.  Do you know that NO company makes a product for this particular type of genius?  Sure, when kids get older you can put something on the seatbelts to keep them from unbuckling.  But kids in true car-seats can’t possibly open the buckles – except Little Dude – so no product is actually made to prevent this occurence.  It has been suggested that I buy a model of car seat with tougher-to-open buckles.  Since none of my son’s grandparents can  release the buckle on his seat, and he has now succeeded at opening the buckles on three different models of car seat, I don’t think that is a realistic solution.

On day three of this road trip I was prepared with the only thing I could find at L0wes that I thought might keep him buckled in – a multitude of rainbow velcro straps.

Little Dude left his buckles alone for about four hours, then he planned his big escape.  I pulled over at the nearest exit and looked for a big parking lot where it would be easy to u-turn with the U-haul (see Highlight One).

So we were here – in the “Visitor’s Lot.”

I was a little nervous to be hanging out in this parking lot.  I was not afraid of a prison break, but was conscious of the fact that every move I made was being watched by guards who were thinking, “What the hell is that lady doing?”

As I tried to figure out how to best apply the velcro straps, Little Dude kicked off his shoe and it went under the truck, coming to rest equidistant between the front and rear tires and the left and right side.  Now that I had given the guards plenty of time to crowd around their cameras, I needed to get down on my hands and knees, stick my behind in the air and shimmy under the truck while trying not to scrape my knees on the blacktop.

In the meantime, PJ once again played, “guess what type of business we have pulled into.”

First she asked me what the business was.  I lied sue me and said, “I’m not sure.”  She looked around and concluded we were at a tennis facility.  I believe it was because of the high fences then she announced, “And I can see two guys walking around.”  I am pretty sure they didn’t have racquets, but I was too busy crawling around under the truck to take a good look.

Highlight Four:  With about two hours left to drive PJ asked, “What’s adopted mean?”  I quickly turned off the radio and prepared myself for an important talk.  Since Little Dude seems to avoid the topic, lately I have been hopeful that PJ’s probing will provide insight and context.  Plus, he was stuck in the truck with us (thanks to the velcro job), he couldn’t casually wander away as he seems to do at home whenever sensitive subjects come up.

I replied, “I think you know what adoption is.  Little Dude is adopted.”

She then said, “But what does it mean?  Am I adopted.”

I replied, “No, because you grew in my tummy.  But Little Dude grew in his Ethiopian Mommy’s tummy.  But he was supposed to be part of our family, so he came to live with us.”

She replied, “Can we adopt a puppy?”

He was happy with the additions to his car seat.

I am happy to be home.

    

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Thoughts On Trayvon Martin… Mostly Incoherent

22 03 2012

Thought One:  I am saddened by the fact that when I see pictures of people protesting Trayvon’s murder, they are all black.

Thought Two:  Why do people start confusing the issue?  “Let’s talk about black on black crime.”  “What about the death rates of white teenagers versus black teenagers in American?”  STOP.  Let’s just focus.  If you want to get people involved who are not normally concerned about these issues, keep it simple.  Then build alliances.  Then move forward.  But do not give the average (white, privileged, and super busy) American a reason to say, “This is too complicated.”  Don’t dilute the issue.  People are talking about Trayvon.  There are plenty of issues to discuss and explore; our own prejudice, systematic injustice, how to keep kids safe, gun laws, what to do when the police do the wrong thing.  These are all directly related and should be focused on.

Thought Three:  What can I do in small town Missouri?  How can I best use social media to make a difference in this situation?  Does raising awareness matter?  Is there a way to do it best?

Thought Four:  I was probably much slower to come to judgement on this than many of you.  While I absolutely belief racism is a driving force in this country, I also usually give people the benefit of the doubt – and this extended to Zimmerman.  ALL media is a filter and I am cautious about the filters put on the information I receive.  Plus, I really wanted Trayvon to be doing something wrong.  I don’t think I ever would have thought he should be shot for it, but I wanted there to be another layer for a number of reasons –  the primary reason being if Trayvon is doing absolutely nothing wrong, then I am once again smacked with the reality that I have no way to protect my son.  It is a reality that I hate.

Thought Five:  As more facts emerged the story became more and more disturbing.  The part that I believe should be a rallying cry for ALL PARENTS – the phone call to his girlfriend.  Imagine YOUR CHILD on the phone with a friend saying, “I think some weird guy is following me.”    Your kid is a teenager.  He believes he is old enough to take care of himself.  He is close to home.  He has his cell phone in hand.  He is doing nothing wrong.  And yet he is scared.

You have taught him about strangers.  You have taught him how to be safe.  You have taught him that if he is confronted and can’t get away he should fight for his life.  (We all do know that you never, ever go with a stranger – even if they point a gun at you.  It is safer to fight where you are then ever let a stranger get you in a car or take you somewhere.)

Do I teach my son and daughter distinctly different rules when it comes to Stranger Danger?

Thought Six:  It is sick that I find some level of comfort in the fact that my son will likely be on the smaller side of adult males.  Up until two weeks ago I worried about this.  I hoped he would end up tall.  Statistics show tall men to be more successful.  I want Little Dude to be able to play any sport, hold any job, be looked up to metaphorically and literally.  Now, I am breathing a stupid sigh of relief… maybe as a smaller black man he won’t be seen as threatening.  Grasping for straws here, and, yes, I know, Trayvon weighed in at 140 pounds.  That is a very small man (maybe because he wasn’t yet a man – he was just an innocent kid).

Finally:  I have changed my profile picture on FB.  Originally I was going to just post a picture of a lit candle and photoshop in Trayvon’s name.  I have also seen people who have changed their own profile pic to that of Trayvon.  I decided to go a different way.  This morning I made my family pose for a hoodie picture.

It was hard to get my kids not to smile.  My kids are not normally very obedient.  But I love to take pictures.  And I will take a bazillion if I don’t think I got one I will like.  My kids know this and have picked up on their father’s attitude of “just cooperate with her or we will be taking pictures all day.”  So they try to give me their best smiles EVERY TIME.

First attempt.

So I told them to make mad faces.

In the end, I had to go with this one.

I do find it a bit ironic that my black son is wearing the “least intimidating” hoodie and that he refused to stop smiling.

So, tell me, what are you doing about the Trayvon Martin murder?

Are you bringing it up with your circle of friends?

Have you used social media in anyway to acknowledge this tragedy?  And to indicate your solidarity with his family?

Do you secretly hold a tiny bit of concern that if you bring this up on FB you will end up in weird situations with some of your ignorant friends and family?

Have you personally prayed about the situation?

Have you asked any of the prayer groups you are involved in to pray about it?  (I am really out of my comfort zone here – but I assume group intentions are discussed.)

Would you consider changing your FB picture for a few days to one of you or your children wearing a hoodie?

What should I actually be doing that could make a difference?





Book Burning

21 03 2012

Today, at the library in the CHILDREN’S SECTION,  I picked up this book.

The back cover said the author won an award in 2009 for a children’s book he illustrated previously.  It also said the simple art showed interesting connections.  I was excited.

I randomly opened it.

This was the first page I saw.

Huh?

Seems really weird, right?

Of course I am one of those mothers who won’t read old school fairy tales to my kids because I find them too disturbing.

Maybe I was being too sensitive.

I decided to randomly flip to another page.

Keep in mind the book cover claimed that there are interesting connections for the reader to discover.  Maybe this one teaches that amputees are mythical monsters.

This one is awesome.  Not only do you get to explain the word Corpse to your child, but you also get to explore how a corpse relates to a retiree.

This one is a particular favorite.  Let’s pretend this is the SATs…. Sad is to Orphan as Happy is to_____.  Correct answer – TWINS!!  (Not sure what would happen if twins were orphaned.)

Maybe I am just being too sensitive.

Other types of people featured included “Homeless” across the page from “Campers” – the obvious connection is they both drink cheap beer sleep outside.  You can also find “Odd Balls.”  Judging by the illustration, we hang out with lots of Odd Balls.  I appreciated the “Teenager” who was wearing a half-shirt.  The one I couldn’t bring myself to even photograph – “Fugitive” – a black man sporting broken shackles running through a jungle.

Did you know your library has a complaint form you can fill out about a book?  Either did I, but I do now.

*I have heard some people are having trouble leaving comments on my page.  If you are experiencing this problem can you email me semiferalmama at yahoo dot com.  I have asked WordPress to look into it, but have not heard back from them yet.





Pin This, Baby

18 03 2012

I am not much of a cook.

If you invite me to a pot luck you can expect either a great salad or vegetarian chili.

Apparently the exception to this rule is St. Patrick’s Day.  Just the thought of what I could do with green food coloring had my head spinning.  In the end I brought a toddler-with-allergies-friendly “appetizer”, a main course and a desert.

What, you say it isn’t appetizing?

The Pirate’s B00ty didn’t even require additional food coloring.

The kids helped me make the R1ce Cr1spie Treats.

The twice-baked potatoes are from “Sundays at Moosewood” – the best vegetarian cookbook ever written.

I consider it a Pot-Luck hat-trick.

It helped that the weather was beautiful.

The company was delightful.

And, EVERYONE is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.





Books To The Rescue… Or Not

16 03 2012

Yesterday afternoon, I had the perfect opportunity to revisit what happened in the park the day before.  PJ and I were alone, getting in the car.  We were both calm and happy.  The stage was set for a triumphant, teaching moment.

As I buckled my daughter in, I reminded her of what happened the day before.  I asked how she thought Little Dude would feel if someone said they didn’t want to play with him because he was brown.

Using “Shades of People” as a base, we talked about skin color.  Comparing our own hands we noted how we aren’t really the exact same shade either.

Then I reached for another literary reference, “How Full Is Your Bucket?” by Rath, Reckmeyer and Manning.

I explained that saying you didn’t want to play with someone because of their color was bucket dipping.

PJ said, “But Little Dude dips in my bucket.”

I said, “We all do, but we should try not to.  Sometimes I dip in your bucket and I am sorry.”

She said, “When do you dip in my bucket?”  (The fun never ends with this one.)

I came up with, “Like when I am dealing with Little Dude and you try to talk to me and I tell you you can’t talk to me right now.”

And she replied, “Yeah.  And when you tell me we can’t eat out at Olive Garden.”

Yep, just like that.

Note:  we took the child to Olive Garden ONE TIME.  We waited more than 45 minutes for our food.  It was a bit of a nightmare.  But, the girl loves Parmesan cheese and they used their little grater to put it on her noodles.  She has never gotten over it.  If we drive in the vicinity of Olive Garden she points it out.  If we talk about going out to eat, she asks to go there.  And clearly she knows that I am ruining her self-esteem by not taking her back there.





Blame the Parents

15 03 2012

On Sunday morning, we sat down at a restaurant for breakfast.

PJ and I were on one side of the table.  SAG and Little Dude sat facing us.  PJ looked beyond her father’s and brother’s shoulders at the family that sat behind them and announced, “Look, Mom, that is a table of ALL brown people.”

The mother looked up at me, caught my eye and smiled.

I simply said, “Yes, yes it is.”

I was thankful for the fact that Little Dude was with us.  Because that could have been much more awkward then it already was.

My children, of both shades, happily played with the darling brown children until it was time for us to leave.

My daughter is at that age where she is constantly noticing similarities and differences.

I can accept this.  We are okay.

Yesterday, at the park, a young girl came over to share our sand toys.  Viola was brown, like Little Dude.  Her mother was peachy/pale/white-ish, like me.  At some point PJ was playing next to Viola.  Her mother had been encouraging Viola to join in the games PJ was playing with another little girl.  But Viola wasn’t interested.  Now that PJ’s friend had left, I hoped to encourage PJ to play with Viola.  I said, “PJ,  that new friend is named Viola.  Why don’t you play with her?”

And my daughter answered, “But she is brown.”

My shock came out in a half-laugh, half scoff.  I replied, “Yeah, and so is your brother.”

Viola’s mother looked at me and giggled.  We were both at a loss.

I think PJ and Viola then did some interacting.  Honestly, I can’t remember.

I was stupefied.  I was horrified.  I was mortified.  I was trying to figure out what just happened.

I wanted to talk to PJ about it.  But I didn’t want to do it in front of Little Dude.  I was praying there had been a misunderstanding.

Viola and her mother eventually left and PJ joined Little Dude and me where we were playing.  I couldn’t wait any longer.  I asked PJ, “Did you think I said that Viola’s name was violet?”  Please, say yes.  Please, PLEASE, say yes.  Then this is just a conversation about the difference between violet and brown.  Ha, ha, ha.

PJ looked sheepish.  I am not sure she has ever looked quite that way before.  She mumbled yes.  But I didn’t quite believe her.

I asked a few more questions and PJ confessed that she had not misunderstood me.

The conversation went on and PJ said that Little Dude should have played with Viola because they were the same color.

Another little girl arrived where we were playing  and PJ announced she wanted to play with her because, “She looks like me.”

Crap.

I can not accept THIS.  I don’t feel like we are okay.

I know noticing color is not the same as racism.  But deciding who should play with whom based on color – that feels completely different.

I know PJ felt bad at the park when I talked to her.  On some level she understood we were in murky water and it wasn’t good.  I didn’t lecture or call her naughty.    I did point out that her brother and she were different shades and played together all the time.  Maybe in my effort not to over-react, I under reacted.  But I needed time to think.

My mind is spinning and I am coming up with lots of theories.

First theory; she is getting this from school.  The school we picked out primarily for its diversity.  She is certainly getting other things at school, like the sentence, “If you don’t come here right now I am going to smack you.”  I promise this is nothing she has ever heard at home.

Second theory;  it is just an adaptation of other categorizations.  Noticing similarities and differences is big at age four.  Frankly, grouping things and people in categories is something we never outgrow.  Last week, while at playgroup, another mother commented how Little Dude must have been happy to have Charlie there since everyone else was a girl.  It struck me as a little strange and made me think about how even the most educated of us often defer to simple classification by gender.  If this woman who I respect and love simplifies in this way, is it that strange that my daughter would be trying out other simplifications?

At bedtime the kids each get to pick out one book to read.  Last night I added a “Mother’s Choice Bonus Book.”  I, of course, picked, “Shades of People.”   I tried to let what is a favorite book for all of us drive home the message of equality, while I resisted the urge to pontificate.

When we read the book, the book I love and naively thought of as a vaccine against skin color becoming an issue, I didn’t try to make her uncomfortable. I was hoping that light bulb would go off in her head all by itself.

If my child, being raised in our multi-cultural household, where we take very conscious steps to honor diversity, can say something so potentially hurtful in front of another kid, what about children growing up in racist households?  Or households that are neutral?

How about the reverse scenario that so many of my liberal, white friends learned to embrace; raising your kids to be color-blind.  Would this event have occurred if we were “color-blind”?  If I taught my kids to never mention color and that it was wrong to even notice it, could I ensure this will never happen again?

I am taking some solace in the fact that her issue was strictly based on color and not at all based on race.  At this point, I don’t think my kids know anything about the concept of race.  And I am comfortable with that.  I don’t think there is an age appropriate way to randomly bring up “race” with pre-schoolers.  Diversity, yes; race, not yet.

Of course, after yesterday’s debacle, the only thing I know is I don’t know a thing.

I scheduled an appointment to meet with her teacher just to make sure those lines of communication are open and she is listening for the same sentiments being expressed on the playground – by the other children and (it kills me to type this) my child.

And you can bet that we will ramp up reading of all our favorite diversity books.  Unfortunately,  there is an obvious gap between what we are reading and what we are living.

My reality… yesterday, at the park, I overheard a white girl tell her mother she didn’t want to play with another child because the child was brown.  In this case, I was the mother of the white child.  Next week, it is just as likely that I will be the mother of the brown child.  I’ve worked hard to prepare for the situation where it is my brown child being excluded.  I was completely unprepared to be the parent of the white child doing the excluding.





Wordless Wednesday

14 03 2012