“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.

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.

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.

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.

If measured by how we treat the most vulnerable of us – charter schools would not do so well..

Amazing things happen in our public school all the time. Teachers who call me at night to discuss a wonderful thing my daughter accomplished, text messages of my children enjoying a group art project, a classroom project about Odetta – the voice of the Civil Rights movement. But there are tough times too, kids who act out or are disruptive in class.

Pic from NYC schools website

There is a recent NYTimes Op-Ed about stats that show children with special needs don’t do well in charter schools like Success Academy. In fact, statistics show that much of the “success” of charter schools is based on the fact that they push out children who can’t survive their “no-excuses” regimes, something that public schools can’t do. And should not do! Read the Op-ed here, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/05/opinion/charter-school-refugees.html?hp&rref=opinion&_r=1

And read a great blog post about it here: https://teacherbiz.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/quick-send-your-kids-to-charters-lest-they-be-tossed-in-the-lions-den-with-the-special-needs-student/

It has made me think of a child in particular that our public school has worked with this year and the impact on our children. First, to preface, my girl, is very sensitive and a tad on the anxious side, and other children’s emotional distress has a big impact on her. In the beginning of the year, there was a child who the school was trying to mainstream into our class. I, of course, don’t know all the details of her, or her IEP, but I knew enough to see that she was struggling. Her behavior was disruptive, she was angry in class. The teacher tried hard to work with the child, she also asked the class to try and work with the child. “Let’s all try and help X with his feelings and respect when he is feeling upset and give him space.” I think this was a good thing for my Girl to see, to see grown-ups give attention and caring to another human being who was hard to deal with & to NOT see a child thrown away or discarded.

Unfortunately, in the end, the child was unable to be mainstreamed and was removed from our class and placed in a different class. My children observed this transition, my girl was relieved, because the constant disruptions were hard for her. BUT what was outstanding/miraculous even was that they never learned to stigmatize or blame the child. My children used language that they obviously learned from the school, like “well he needs to learn to deal with his anger more” or “he was moved to a class where there is more support for him.” They learned to have compassion, love, and patience for someone struggling.

Again and again, I see my school treat struggling children with love and compassion. What do children in schools like Success Academy feel learn when their classmates get kicked out of school because they couldn’t follow the strict letter of the law?

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.