“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.

What Happens When Your Kids Are Raised In “Foodie” Culture

1. They Invent dishes. Like the one below. My son calls it Pastrami Sushi.

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2. They think about presentation when they make their snacks. When creating said dishes, my son declares – “I need a condiment on it. I ask, “what did you choose?” He answers: “I put a drop of soy sauce on each one for decoration and a touch of olive oil.”  After invention of snack, my kids say, “cheers” before eating it.

3. They think that food needs a name. Actually decides to rename his dish “snackers delight” and declares it should be surrounded by kale chips.

4. They ask about the “origin” of their food and have favorites. My daughter declares that she loves her Mast Chocolate from Belize. Well, I guess a kid liking any chocolate from Mast Chocolate is already a tad on the foodie side. My only defense is Free samples and 3 blocks away from home!

5. They have very pronounced opinions about food. We walk past the Mast Chocolate Brew Bar and my daughter says, “remember when we tried that Chocolate water? There was not even a touch of sugar in it! I mean, I want to taste the chocolate but c’mon! It needs some sugar!”

6. They pick sushi over all other food options and the local sushi chef is impressed by your kids’ palate and has memories of them double-fisting pieces of sashimi at age 2.

Summer Days, Parenting in the Time-Space Continuum

ImageAfter months of anticipation, the last day of school finally arrived! My twins are now rising 4th graders, which seems impossible. All parents will tell you that your child will grow up in a blink of an eye which turns out to be true and not true. Children seem to bend time and space, when they are small – each day goes by excruciatingly slow. For example- It takes 30 minutes to set up the baby’s first finger-painting experience, 10 minutes later the baby is done and bored with it, it takes one hour to clean up, and many years later you are likely to find some far-flung vestige of finger-paint under the sofa. THAT day goes by very slow! Those years of diapers and strollers and mid-day naps felt like forever traps, strange worm-holes that we fell into on our way to our previously child-less brunch appointments with friends. Suddenly we could never leave the house without a car-full of gear, 2 hours of prep time, and our our own-selves covered in baby spit, a lingering smell of baby poop we tried to mask with baby powder. We seriously felt like this was our new sleep deprived lives.

But while it seemed to last forever at the time, now suddenly we are on the other side and sliding fast towards teenager,tween land. Emerging from the interminable stage of total dependence to the next stage of them exerting their independence through obnoxious ways. So now, every time they ask us to sleep with them at night, or scratch their backs, or snuggle close, I try to take the memory and save it to sustain me through the possible future of teenager who would like to claim they were raised by wolves rather than living parents. I want to slow time down, but I figure we have only a year or two left and then in another blink of an eye they will be graduating from highschool and I will be in my 50’s and wondering what happened to the time.

Sheltering in Place school drills, DARE dogs, Fallout Shelters and the Monsters under our Beds

My children are learning how to “shelter in place” in school. In Kid’s words, “If someone with a gun comes into the school, they will say a code word on the intercom and we all go into a corner of the classroom, after my teacher locks the door.” At first, I had this moment of mourning for their loss of childhood, etc, but then I stepped back and remembered that kids throughout US history have been practicing drills for different monsters under our collective beds.

In my childhood, it was the War on Drugs and DARE (Drug Abuse and Resistance Education). I still remember the movies – kids on PCP who thought they could fly, kids high on weed who let their baby brother drown, all the while laughing hysterically.  And who can forget the commercial – “This is your brain on drugs” – a sizzling fried egg!~ One of my earliest memories of school is of the DARE bear, or was it a dog? I looked it up, turns out it was a lion?? A policeman and his DARE bear met with us every few months to tell us the dangers of drugs and urge us to turn in our parents if we caught THEM doing drugs. “Just Say No kids!” My kids have heard very little about the dangers of drugs and certainly have never seen a DARE bear. They HAVE learned about the dangers of obesity and Kid #2 always asks, “Am I burning calories? or Is this calories? as she takes a bite of food.” (This DOES NOT come from us, we don’t believe in the body shaming/dieting fad of our culture).

During WWII kids in schools practiced diving under tables in case the Axis powers conducted an air raid. In the 60’s – 80’s the cold war with Russia had us all looking for fallout shelters or building them in our back yard.

I guess my point is that in the moment our fears and anxieties seem very real and terrifying. After Sandy Hook, our schools appear to be nightmares of possible gunmen and murder. According to media, our children all more obese than ever so we should teach our kids about calories. Gunmen in schools, childhood obesity  – these are our children’s monsters under the bed. But in other generations, their monsters also seemed very real and terrifying – drugs, nuclear warfare, German airraids. Today, the monsters of the past look small, even quaint. Or they, themselves, were the actual things we should have feared. The WAR on drugs has arguably done more damage than drugs – the mass incarceration of a whole generation have destroyed families and communities. It also distracted us from what we really should have been fighting – the growing inequality, the failure of trickle down economics, for instance.

My question is  – if this is true, the monsters of the past were just distractions or worse- then maybe our monsters of today aren’t the ACTUAL monsters. Yes, a lone gunman did enter a elementary school and committed a terrifying act and thereby entered all parents’ nightmares. But he was also a child himself, who had long suffered from mental illness and his parents’ hadn’t been able to find him help. Maybe the real monster is the failure of our mental health system. Maybe it is an society that glamorizes violence, guns, and a mean-spiritness that makes it ok for politicians to attack teachers, firefighters, and other public workers as the drains on society.  Yes, obesity and diabetes is on the rise among children. But Maybe the REAL monster is that parents are both working full time (which are 50-60hours a week), jobs don’t give us any time to take care of family, including cooking of healthy meals, parents increasingly rely on empty calories of McD’s dollar menus. Maybe it is the privatizing of our schools and the resulting pressure to produce high testing children and so they don’t have time for physical exercise, art, music, or other creative work.

As a parent, it feels like an exceptionally scary time to be raising children, there is a myth that times were simpler and the monsters tamer in the past. But in truth, children in our society have always been in danger, in capitalism, it’s the most vulnerable that are the least likely to survive. From Black children throughout the US history, to child workers in the factories, and even now children working in our fields, children dying at our borders, it is only the death of certain children that become a national tragedy. Our children are at risk differently, based on race, class, and gender, gender identity, sexual orientation – the fact that we help some children thrive while letting others die – that is the real monster under our collective beds. As poet Audre Lorde said:
“So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive”

But those are not the monsters that our children are being prepared for when they learn to shelter in place. 

THE new “Talk” with our Kids – Climate crisis

We were talking about the impending typhoon Haiyan. We were talking in tones of awe, fear, rage. The largest storm to hit the planet, the satellite pictures of a storm that covered the whole country. Our family in harm’s way. The fact that climate change is happening, that global warming threatens to destroy our planet.

My son, “what is global warming?” And so I began to explain how our species’ burning of fossil fuels at unprecedented rates is putting too much carbon into the atmosphere and how this has caused a chain reaction of terrible consequences for our planet. Our planet is warming, our oceans our warming, the ice sheets in the arctic is melting, our oceans are becoming more acidic. And as I spoke, I realized the magnitude of our talk. I mean, we are talking about the end of our planet as we know it, the loss of countless species of animals, the loss of islands and coastlines, the squandering of their inheritance.

My son. He is so intent, so serious for a soon-to-be 9 year old. “So we need to switch to wind and solar.” “What are grown-ups doing about this?”

How do you tell your children than we grown-ups haven’t done nearly enough? That although I believe in science and climate change, I was overwhelmed by the challenge. That I didn’t do much about it all? That WE, as a generation, brought you I-phones, but not climate justice. That we are burning more carbon than ever before?

I didn’t say all of that. But, also we didn’t talk about taking quicker showers and changing light bulbs. I heard that when I was my kids’ in the 70’s! It is too little, too late. We have to transform our entire system. An economic system based on relentless consumption just doesn’t work, relying on the private markets to make the switch has failed.

What I said

I admitted that we didn’t do enough. I said we have to try harder. I explained that we needed to join rallies and protests to fight any new expansion into fossil fuels, like the Keystone pipeline. We talked about democratizing our energy systems and  community control.

For now, we start with acknowledging the problem. Next, I want our children to meet up with other youth so they can begin organizing together. I encourage them to grow up and find solutions, not become rich, or famous.  We talk about limiting our consumption, about the trickery of advertising that makes us think we need things. We talked about the short lived nature of the happy feeling we get when we buy something new thing. We are reading about climate change. We hope to go to some protests. They learned about the Filipino’s own environmental hero – Yeb Sano – chief climate talks negotiator and held up signs to support him during the UN climate talks.

Small conversations, small steps, that will hopefully lead to something bigger.

The “Talk” changed me as much as my children.

I couldn’t look them in them in the eye and tell them about climate change without recommitting myself to do everything I can to work for climate justice. I had always felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of global warming and underwhelmed by US environmental movement which always seemed overwhelmingly white and middle class. Class based struggles and racial justice was where I had decided to fight. But without a planet? And what about my children, what about their future and their children’s future? The science tells us that we are reaching tipping points, points of no return. We owe our children to turn around now. At least I want to be able to look them in the eye, and say that I did the best I could.

To quote this often quoted Chief Seattle, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children.”

 

 

Ghosts of Halloween Past plus the perils of small town “fame”

Dear readers, Alas, I have been remiss. This post is long overdue. But my confession is the that the last post went “viral.” Well, at least in my small Williamsburg, Brooklyn community, which surprisingly is a lot like a small town or a high school with cliques. I was surprised. Until now, I had you – fellow bloggers, family, and friends who read my blog. Suddenly, people I didn’t know were approaching me or introducing me as “she is the one who wrote that thing.” I received mostly positive feedback and I am happy that teachers and parents of color mostly saw my post as positive and supportive. Pretty cool. But for an new-time blogger, also a bit intimidating! So this blog will mostly just be fun walk down memory lane.

I love Halloween! Here are the best costumes that we made for our kids over the years….

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This was 4 years old, tinman and lion! or robot….

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oompa loopas!

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Zombie and Ninja, age 6

As the got older, they stopped letting us put them in homemade costumes anymore. Which is way less fun. I used to really get into dressing up to, but ever since become a parent, I have the same costume – “Tired Parent With a Camera”

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.