“Wait, white people can be terrorists, too?”

This what my son asks, when I explain that the KKK is a white terrorist organization. As my previous post of explains, we try to not use the word “terrorist” in our home. http://brooklynbarangay.com/2012/09/12/september-11-and-why-we-dont-use-the-word-terrorist-in-our-home-2/. The basic reason is because terrorism is really just code – code for white supremacist logic about who is “civilized” and who is not, whose lives matters, whose does not.

We rarely watch mainstream news. But my kids were hearing about “terrorism” outside our house, in school, and in the headlines, and so I wanted to introduce a counter-narrative when I used terrorist to describe the KKK.

My son’s question, asked in innocence, casts a glaring spotlight on what terrorism means  in our world today. It means brown people, it means Muslim, it means foreign invaders come to take away civilization and replace it with savagery and barbarism. It is racist code, a way to be racist without using the typical slurs or epithets. It is shorthand to attach the weight of white supremacist logic without having to use all the words. It implies the “great clash of civilization” vs the “savages/heathens” narrative in one short word.

Another example of how the racist trope of terrorism has invaded mainstream culture is during the Lord of the Rings, when the “wild men” attack the “last stand of men” with their heads wrapped in scarfs and on elephants. An unmistakable reference to the brown people of India or the Middle East and again my kids recognized it right away – they said, “hey, look, terrorists”.

So I had to unpack it for them. I asked them why they thought this was true. They pointed to the scarfs and said they looked like the Taliban. I tried to explain racist stereotyping, and we talked about what it would mean to have your country invaded by another army. Should defending yourself be considered terrorism? We talked about US drone strikes that have killed children and civilians. Is this terrorism? We tried to talk about perspectives too, to explain that mainstream culture and media is not our perspective because they frame things from a deeply racist set of assumptions.

I posted earlier about talking about race with our children. And I think I will need to have several more posts on this subject. So it is not enough that we don’t use “terrorism” in our house, in fact, it is wrong to avoid the word. We need to talk about it because obviously our kids are immersed in it. I realize now that our children are growing up with different racist codes, different wars, different hatreds and we need to give the tools to unpack these words and understand what they mean.

Mike Brown and Talking to Our Children About Racism & Walking With Them To Fight It

Here’s the thing –IMG_1720 recently I have heard people talking about WHEN they should talk to their kids about race, as if our children will first hear about it from us – but our society and culture ALREADY teaches our kids about race. EVERY SINGLE DAY. The experience is different depending on the skin you walk around in, but the truth is – ALL our kids are learning their respective places in the racial caste system of the US.

Our children learn about race and White supremacy from an early age. When my daughter was just 3 or 4, she declared that White skinned girls were prettier and that she wished she didn’t have brown skin. Of course, this killed me. My daughter didn’t learn about our country’s racial caste system from me, she learned it from being a brown skin girl in America. White kids know it too, but they don’t have to grapple with it like our children. It is easy to bask in the beauty of whiteness when it is all around you. No need to look at your skin the mirror and wish/ache for something more. And of course, why question it? White children are so used to being the center of everything – movies, books, celebrities, political figures, historical accounts, that when a movie like Hunger Games dares to make a small Black girl an emotional center (not even the star), White children felt free to complain about via social media. And while all children of color experience racism – in this country, with it’s history of slavery and genocide of the First Nations – anti-Blackness and Anti-First Nations has it’s own particular virulence.

We talk about racism all the time in our home. We use it as frame and explanation for many of the questions that my kids feel free to ask. But with the recent murder of Mike Brown, I realized that talking about fighting racism, while essential, was not going to be enough to counter to the anti-Blackness that our kids are exposed to every day.

But actually being out there fighting for a Black life with Black people as the lead – well – that is the heart of it, right? Our children needed to see our anger and despair over the loss of a Black life at the hands of the State. Because in this society that our children live in – they learn that Black life is disposable, not to be celebrated, not to be cherished, or mourned when taken so brutally. They needed to see their non-Black parents watch the racist’s state announcement that essentially blamed Mike Brown for his own murder & they needed to hear us declare the prosecutor’s words to be racist lies. They needed to see us mourn a Black life. And then they needed to see us all march in the street together and take the streets and declare that yes #Black Lives Matter.

Brookyn Barangay Joins The People’s Climate March!

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Getting ready to make some art with DAMAYAN, Filipino Domestic Workers group!

This Sunday, September 21, Brooklyn Barangay will be joining the 100,000’s of people expected to march in NYC to show the world that we DEMAND our world leaders to act now on climate change.

We March because Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm to ever make landfall – in the history of the PLANET.

From pics taken in our province of Aklan, Madalag, Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan.

From pics taken in our province of Aklan, Madalag, Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan.

We March because the Philippines, our home, suffers from energy poverty, has contributed a tiny % of the green house gases that causes climate catastrophe and YET is one of the countries most at risk for the havoc caused by climate change.

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DAMAYAN’s Banner Clean up! FIGHT Corporate Plunder.

But Marching is not enough. We need to start to act like we are in a climate catastrophe – because we are.

We Need to Fight For Community and Worker Control of our Energy Systems. We must understand that the companies who are the worst polluters : oil and coal will literally let this planet burn for profit. They have manipulated science, public discourse, laws, in order to make a buck KNOWING that they are destroying the world. The very definition of Psychopaths.

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We Need to Fight For a Different, Sustainable Economic System Because: CAPITALISM Is UNSUSTAINABLE. 

527639_10150918412181178_1664081966_nSee You on the Streets!

Nervous about Being Happy, Our Impending Death & Our Mutant Brains

IMG_1588I have this nagging twinge of nervousness. It stays with me, this little nervous voice drives me to spend hours contemplating applying for a job I don’t want or spending hours re-working my resume. I am home, full time with the kids, and I absolutely love it. And I am grateful that money isn’t so tight that for now we can afford losing almost half of our household income. (We knew my lay-off was coming and saved up). Yet, I am nervous, I think, “I am only 40, I have 25 years at least before I can stop working.” I worry I am wasting my law degree, even though I loved going to law school (yeah, who loves law school? I am one of those geeks who did, plus it was CUNY Law = amazing activist professors and students). Oh, do I worry. And yet –

A few months ago, I participated in a workshop, where we first identified the three things most important to us. Then we closed our eyes and imagined ourselves as recently deceased. We had to then visualize the funeral, listen to hypothetical speeches, imagine who would attend, feel any regrets. Human existence is such a complex bundle of contradictions! We are so self-aware, it’s almost embarrassing! We are unable to just soar on clouds like birds or glide through water like fish – if we are did equally amazing feats like that, we would have to blog, document, and worry weather we are doing it right. Rarely, can we just experience. Kurt Vonnegut, in one of his novels, likened our huge, self-aware brains to a dangerous mutation. I see what he means, because our big brains have managed to build this brutal, global system of over-consumption and inequality to the point where we could destroy the whole planet. On the other hand, our brains have enabled us to accomplish, great, small, and large acts of beauty – music that shakes our insides, visual art that stops time, acts of compassion and love that transcend the brutality of capitalism.

But back to my impending death. Impending? Yep, all our deaths are impending. As much as we cling to out big brains and big thoughts and big plans, we are all a moment from death. Our lives are that fragile. It is hard for our self-aware selves to really live with that, with death as our constant companion, so we put false walls and barriers between us and death. And we tend to live like we have our time given to us as a right of birth. I worry about the next 20 years as if they are bricks, already laid down in front of me.

So anyway, I was sitting there thinking of my life right now – parent of two beautiful, healthy children, loving, supporting partner, great family that I live with, and excellent chosen family and friends, a home that we can afford to (and do) open up to any friends and family in need – and it all looked very good. No regrets, except of course not being alive for my kids. Not once, during my visualization did I feel regretful that I am home full time with my kids. I identified family as being the most important thing in my life so my choice, right now, reflects that value. I DID identify my work as 2nd most important, but what I defined as work was not my wage labor. Rather, it was the work of resisting capitalism, no matter how small of a resistance. For me, that means sharing of resources, fighting white supremacy, building democracy at work so we can resist as workers, fighting for our planet, building compassionate thoughtful, freedom fighters in our children. Actually there is so many ways to “do the work” but of it doesn’t involve a high powered career!

So I struggle to remind myself that I am happy. That right now, today, we are lucky to be living our life. And who knows whether I have 20 plus years at all, much less wage labor.

If I died today, I would die with very few regrets, but rather with a life fully lived. I am grateful and today, it is enough.

My Self-rationing of “Alone” Time

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I find myself self-rationing personal/alone time. In so many ways – as a parent, as a parent that works outside the home, as an activist – my time is always on demand and my supply seems constantly low. In the end, it feels like I have very little to give myself.

It is like a self-imposed self-deprivation. If I go to yoga or see a “grown-up movie” at a movie theatre or meet a friend for dinner, I feel like I have used my allotted time for the week. I don’t allow myself another personal time event until the next week. It’s pretty messed up, I know!

I don’t know where I came up with this unfair system. I am guessing that I have internalized the gender bias that places the primary responsibility of childcare on mothers, and condemns women who assert their own needs over their children.

In law school, we read a case from the 60’s where a judge took custody from the mother because she was in law school and was seen reading her law school book during her children’s recital. That was totally me in law school, reading my law books while my kids were taking trapeze class. I had to use every “extra” moment to get through law school. And that was ok, despite what that asshole judge ruled. Law school was one of the most fulfilling projects I ever completed. I felt like a superhero, making Halloween costumes while acing my Contracts exams. It was good I did it, I kicked ass! And I still derive satisfaction from that fact, even if now I am not so sure I want to practice and work the grindstone of a law job (assuming I could even get a legal job in the worst legal job market in history).

It is the balancing act that I find unbearable. Work, children, self, these categories are simultaneously distinct and intertwined. My level of happiness in one activity directly connected to my satisfaction in the other activity. For instance, having my own work outside my children makes me appreciate being home even more.

The famous quote from Khalil Gibran reminds us that our children cannot be OUR project/work.

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

This rings true for me. It is our obligation and sometimes our joy to raise them, but their lives are their own and not ours to lay claim to.

Conversely we, as mothers, do not belong solely to our childen. Adrienne Rich writes beautifully in “Of Woman Born” about the creation of “Motherhood” under patriarchy. This social creation of a “mother” that is created to fulfill a “need vaster than any single human being could satisfy, except by loving continuously, unconditionally, from dawn to dark, and often in the middle of the night.” She writes about our loss of self, our anger, and fear of never finding our way back to our selves again.

When I left for law school and felt racked by guilt, my husband said – Our children need to learn to share their mother with the world.

So, as I begin a new year (it is the Jewish new year), maybe I can do the opposite of rationing and assign myself personal time instead. I am thinking a sticker chart to reward myself.

Just me, two kids, and one week – will we survive?

I have a one week work retreat

this could me!

this could me!

in upstate Michigan. Recklessly, I decided to take our two kids with me. 1 week and no relief pitcher/husband to get my back or at least to get me a drink. It is beautiful in this retreat center. There is a pool, a lake, trails, cafeteria food. But just the long stretch of 7 days and the unrelenting demands of two children & work- well it is daunting, frightening, actually.

When the twins were two, I stayed home (alone) full time with them. My husband traveled for work. Those 3 days alone used to feel like an eternity. Many nights, (right before bed of course) they would seem to go completely feral. They screamed, laughed, ran in circles, literally bounced off the walls, AND completely ignored my sad and desperate attempts to put them to bed. After begging, screaming, and jumping up and down, with no effect, I used to just close their bedroom door and call my husband. I warned him that his children were wilding, there was nothing I could about it, and if he didn’t get home soon, he would find me curled up in a fetal position and the children drinking out of the toilet bowl. Don’t worry, he never found me like that and the children never drank out of the toilet (well mostly never or at least never at my direction).

I’m sure that this week along with them will be different, I mean they are 8 now. right? right?

There is a camp that starts on Monday for the staff’s kids to attend while we work. It should be fun for them – swimming and bowling and movies. But my daughter who is a tiny worrier, is, well… worried. She peppers me questions at mind-blowing pace – “who are the teachers? Where will you pick me up? What kind of food? Do I have to go? Can I go with you to work? Will we be near Canada? What kind of fish are in the lake? What is the food like? Is this going to be in your blog?” whew. I have to limit the number of questions she can ask in an hour.

We are all packed. I am proud of myself – I managed to fit clothes for 3 human beings in one large, needs to be checked bag. The kids will each have backpacks with books, mad libs, cards, and snacks. I don’t want us each to our own have rolling bags, it’s just two much to keep up with.

The retreat center is beautiful and historical. But more about that in the next blog.

Flight tomorrow, it should be a great adventure. I will keep you posted.

The Tsunami of Parenthood & Turning 40

Tray taOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbles up, seats in their upright position, we are fast approaching – 40!! Yes, I turned 40, which has driven me into the rabbit hole of looking into journals from 20 + years ago. It is so strange, I recognize the handwriting as my own, but much of the details I can’t remember recall. On the other hand, there are entries that I can remember exactly where I was. I can see my 18 year-old-self sitting at the Village Café in Richmond, Virginia on Grace Street scribbling away in my journal, with my straight-edge boyfriend sitting across from me. I can still remember how cool I felt to be in the big “city” of Richmond and not out in the suburban mall where most of my classmates spent their days. Being a tiny, mestiza Filipina, teenager in Richmond, Virginia was hard. My journal entries were mostly about overcoming, or resilience, with a lot phoenix references.

But looking back on these last 10 years, the most important event in my life was becoming a mom. To my surprise, and all my friends, I got married at 27 and we tried for years to get pregnant. So those lost years were hard as anyone who has gone through the trials of infertility can tell you. I won’t go into it here, except to say that my heart broke after several failed IVF attempts, and my arms had tracks on them after so many blood draws, and my ass hurt after so many huge, progesterone shots. Anyway, it all turned out OK because we became parents to our beautiful twins and then my life shifted and the landscape change like a tsunami had swept through it. Washing away all the unimportant things, like brushing my teeth before I leave in the morning, and revealing the truly important things – like today, I mostly succeeded in feeding and clothing my children and they are still alive.

It’s funny, some people tell you it is hard to have children, but you don’t listen, you think well it can’t be that hard! Or some people lie and tell you it isn’t hard at all and that they can parent without even breaking a sweat. Well, I can say that more than marriage, more than losing my virginity, by far, parenting was the biggest thing to hit my life this decade. In fact, there were moments when I really, truly wondered – how did the human race continue and not sink into extinction?

I also started to hate my friends without children – I hated when they called me to tell me that they were doing nothing, just laying around doing nothing while I had two screaming toddlers wrapped around my ankles. I hated when they told me having a dog was like having a child, while I had to spend an hour dressing, and taking two toddlers outside and into car seats just to move my car to other side of the street, because unlike dogs, I can’t leave them in the house while I do a quick errand.

My other mom friend in law school and I used to laugh about our parenting struggles until we cried. One day, an innocent, fellow student without children, said in a tiny, scared voice, “guys you are making me not want to have kids.”  That’s when I realized that non-parents aren’t supposed to hear these stories, they are stories only to be told and shared with other parents, preferably over whiskey.

But of course there are the other moments – the exquisite ones, the achingly, satisfying moments, the ones where our children smell like sunshine and rich soil and fresh breezes and wild ocean all rolled up into one. When they hold our hand in such a way that we are finally and totally quiet and time stands still. When we roll in the grass together and laugh until our stomachs hurt and we thank the universe or god or whomever we believe in that we were placed on this earth to share it with this little creature, this burning star that chose US to be their parents. There are those moments too. And since it such an all-encompassing experience, only a poem will suffice. Here is a draft…

Becoming

a mother

is an unfurling –

a position you grow in

to.

 

Having children

or they having you?

their always physical presence –

a light, always touch, like air

or

heavy like 1000 leagues underwater

where it is dark and still and full.

 

my children

stretch out like giant sequoias over the landscape

of my life

creating primordial darkness where shadows and sun

intersect

and small creatures live and make their homes.