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Entries in parenting (20)

Tuesday
Aug072012

Take My Sibling... Please.

This is not embarrassing AT ALL.My seven year old daughter informed me today that her younger brother embarrasses her. This information has left me conflicted. On the one hand, I am sympathetic. I had a younger brother and he embarrassed me. On the other hand, "Hey, you little Wednesday Addams wannabe, that's my SON you're talking about!"

Y. is a beautiful boy, both inside and out. At the age of three, he uses words like microscope and esophagus. He helps me mop the floor and puts his clothes in the laundry hamper without being asked. He's vibrant and talkative.

And my daughter is embarrassed by him.

This, I think, is one of those territories where one has to sit back and let the kids figure it out. I can't force her not to cringe when her brother starts chattering about how he'll be thirty two on his birthday when he'll actually be three. It terrifies me that one day, I will replace her brother. It's inevitable, I think. No matter how cool I am, I will embarrass her if I step outside of "normal" parenthood. Which I will because as my mother and mother in law have often said on different occasions, "you have strange ideas about parenting. 

It's taken me a long time to like me, and I don't know if I'm prepared to tolerate the girl's dislike for me. Can you force someone to love you? No? What if they're your child? Then?

I remember when Y. was born and how excited N. was about it. There's a beautiful photo of her holding him as she gazed at his little face with love and wonder. One might call the look "motherly." If I had been asked at that moment if N. would every be embarrassed by her brother, I would've scoffed. Grown ups aren't the only ones that change how they feel. Children tend to do it, too, if not more often.

I want to tell her that she, too, was once three years old.

I want to remind her how she used to run circles around her portable, little potty rhythmically chanting, "I need a diaper, I need a diaper, I need a diaper." 

Or about how one time we were lunching at the club at the  golf course near our home and she loudly proclaimed in a packed room where I was the only woman, "This chair hurts my vagina."

Or how about when she threw up on me without any warning once on the way to Saudi and I had to walk around the plane with a blanket full of vomit?

There was also the time she cried and cried and CRIED at preschool and I had no option other than removing her from the class.  I want to tell her how embarrassed I felt when the teacher of the class looked at me in a way that I was absolutely sure was full of blame.

I was embarrassed every single one of those times, but I loved her, you know? The love was more important than my feeling cool. Or even being cool.

I hope she gets that. 

Because, like I said, Wednesday Addams, that's my SON

Monday
May212012

Undefined: Working Outside of the Box with Parental Identities

Faiqa's Notes: Often I blog about identity on here as it relates to race or religion. Today, in this guest post, we'll learn about liminal identities that exist outside the boundaries to which we're accustomed. Thanks for taking the time to read and thank you, Rachel Reynolds, for the openness and compassion with which you share your experience.

***

 

 Our identity is the way in which we meet the world.  We present ourselves to the public in ways that are obvious and unchangeable (our gender and race) as well as in ways that require slightly more preamble. Sometimes we give outward hints to our identity through our clothing (an executive power suit, mom jeans), our leisure activities (fishing enthusiast, crafty crafter, football fan), our behavior, and our relationships (divorced, married, "just friends").

Sometimes those outward signs of an identity may mask a true reality. How many Lifetime movies are built around the premise of the woman who shows the world she has it "all together" but hides her destructive behavior/addiction/illegal act/mental illness from the outside world until it all comes crashing down?  These movies may be fiction but chances are good that someone in your neighborhood is living that life right now.

In the last two years, I have struggled with my identity.  While I am reasonably sure I know who I am, I am challenged by how I now present myself to the world.  

In January 2010, I faced the death of my only child.  

People who knew me before that date would probably tell you that my identity is fairly clear and relatively unchanged.  I am, among other things, mom to Charlotte Jennie. When I make new acquaintances, though, the line gets kind of blurry.  

A conversational topic seems banal until it strikes a nerve.  It's amazing how often the subject of your children (or lack thereof) will come up in casual conversation.  In college, the go-to personal questions were, "Where are you from?” or "What's your major?"  As adults, our small-talk shifts to "What do you do for a living?" "Are you married" and "Do you have children?"

How do I answer that last question?  In the past, the answer was the same no matter who was making the query.  Now the answer I give is dependent on multiple factors.  How well do I know this person?  How much will I interact with them after this conversation?  How do I think they may react to my answer?  Is this a business situation, a social situation, or just a casual conversation?  How vulnerable am I feeling today?  Answers to those questions usually determine how I respond.

Option 1
Question: "Do you have children?"
Answer: "No."
Pros: It's easy and deflects the conversation immediately away from a difficult subject. 
Cons: It's not really true.  I'm a mom and always will be.  

Option 2
Question: "Do you have children?"
Answer: "Not right now."
Pros: A more honest answer and relatively deflectable.  If someone's not paying attention, they usually don't catch the subtlety of my answer and move on.
Cons: If they are paying attention, follow up questions usually ensue.  

This leads us to...

Option 3
Question: "Do you have children?"
Answer: "I had a daughter and she died two years ago."
Pros: The most honest answer I can give.
Cons: The conversation gets awkward.  

A frequent reaction is, "I'm so sorry."  This is totally appropriate.  Sometimes people will ask follow up questions (“What happened?”).  Usually this is ok because I love talking about my daughter and I don't mind sharing our story.  Sometimes people are clearly unsure of how to respond and I look for ways to change the subject in an effort to deflect further awkwardness.  I have relative degrees of success with this.  More interesting reactions include immediate change of subject (as if I never said anything at all) or reactions like, "That's just terrible.  That's the worst thing I've ever heard."  I'm not sure if someone thinks they are being comforting when they say that, but they're not.  I think I know just how terrible it is.  I don't need reassurance or confirmation.    

Follow up questions are ok and usually lead to conversations around our foundation, treatment of brain tumors or other cancers, or questions about Charlotte herself.  I don't usually feel people have crossed the line until they ask the inevitable and most awkward question possible, "Will you ever have more children?"  

I don't have an easy answer to this question and it's rather painful to discuss so let's just say this is where I look to end the conversation as quickly as possible.  

I wish there was a word for who I am right now.  A widow is a woman whose spouse has died. The word is most immediately derived from the Sanskrit word widnewa, meaning "to be empty" or "to be separated".  An orphan is a child who has lost both parents, derived from the Greek word orbhmeaning "to change allegiance or status".  There is no word for a parent who has lost a child.  I think I need a word.  

When a lexical gap like this one occurs, sometimes society fills the void with new vocabulary.  The English language is composed of many words that have their derivation in Greek, Latin, or Germanic/Slavic languages. Words that have been in our vocabulary for centuries are often synergistic creations formed from the roots of these langaugesarthritis: joint inflammation, kindergarten: child's garden.  Frequent use makes it a "real" and recognized word.  

Likewise, most modern novel vocabulary seems to be made of word "mashupsSpork, frenemy, ringtone, brunch...these are all words that have filled lexical gaps as the need evolves.    

I have thought of a few options.  Childless doesn't seem right as that implies that parentage was never established to begin with.  We could create words like apedia, literally meaning "child loss" in Latin, or kindertodwhich translates as "child death" but these are more descriptions of what happened, not a description of the grieving person's identity.  Clearly, I'm not the first grieving parent to address this challenge but my research hasn't yielded any success in this endeavor.  

At the very least, it is an interesting statement on our society that this lexical gap even exists.  Losing a child is wrong, unnatural, and unfair. I continue to grieve.  I continue to heal.  I continue to allow my identity to evolve.  

 

Rachel Reynolds is a special educator and freelance writer. She writes for a variety of online publications, including her personal blog,See What You MemeShe is also the co-founder and executive director of CJ's Thumbs Up Foundation (CJSTUF)Rachel lives in Ashland, Virginia with her husband and two incredibly annoying (but completely adorable) cats. In her spare time, she obsesses over Don Draper, dark chocolate, and public radio personalities (not necessarily in that order). Four Seasons for Charlotte is her first book. 

 

If you would like to win an autographed copy of Rachel's new book, Four Seasons for Charlotte: A Parent’s Year With Pediatric Cancer, you can enter the giveaway on her author page on FacebookThe giveaway will be open until June 1st.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday
May042012

Oh, but Parenting is, in fact, "a Job" @betadad

In addition to being timely, dependable, a great dad and a rakishly handsome dead ringer for Sting, my friend Betadad is an excellent writer.

All that complimenting, of course, means I'm going to disagree with him. I was going to e-mail him, but then I thought, you know, why waste five hundred words on a one person audience when I can publicly disagree with him in front of tens of people by writing a whole post.

Okay, it's hundreds. Not tens. I do have my pride. 

In a post on Dadcentric that critiques what I agree is a stupid commercial aimed at getting people to purchase soap by propagating an idea of parenting and motherhood that would seem more at home in a Greek tragedy, Betadad dismisses the idea that parenting is a job, at all:

We could have a very long and pointless discussion about what makes a job "hard" or "dirty" or "bad" or even "rewarding," but that would be beside the point.  The thing is, parenting is not a job.  It has some things in common with a job, sure, but it's a whole different animal.  We don't get paid to parent.  We can't quit if we get pissed off.  We can't look around for better parenting gigs.  We can't sue our employer.  We don't have an employer.  We don't have the option of not taking our work home with us.  We generally don't receive any training, on-the-job or otherwise. 

Well. I don't know.

If we're talking about job in the sense of being paid, then, yes, unless hugs, smiles and poopy diapers count, we are not, in fact, paid. But the word "job" doesn't just include work that is paid. While this is certainly the primary definition, my dear friend the former English teacher and Sting look alike, I believe the informal usage of "job" can refer to general tasks, paid or not.

Being the parent of small children can make you either want to tear your hair out or it can make you think you got this parenting thing in the bag. Truth is, that give or take ten years, you've got another forty or so years before you're not that child's parent any more due to the whole heart not beating any more thing.  If your kids aren't teenagers yet, you're about one thirtieth of the way through.

Saying parenting is not a job when you're three years in feels premature.

And when it's stated that one cannot be fired from this job? Having fired a parent myself, I know this to be completely false. The parent I've fired is still and always will be my biological parent, but they will never, ever hold the trust that a parent deserves. My spiritual and cultural beliefs dictate that they are treated with courtesy and respect. But my heart fired them a long time ago.

They were fired because they quit. They were fired because they tried to find a better gig. They were fired because they went to far away places and never bothered to take their work with them.

So, Betadad, it's easy to say that this isn't a job when you didn't have someone quit on you.

Furthermore, I say, yes, this is a job. I work hard every day not to be the kind of parent that will be fired. I worry every day about dropping that ball, about unconsciously quitting, about slipping into a better gig without realizing it until its too late and I'm left wondering why those damned kids never call me. We don't get paid, that's true, but we can get fired. To me, that's enough to make me want to work very hard and do a good job of it.

Furthermore, I hold the people who do this job well in high regard and esteem because I know, from experience, that they absolutely have a choice even if they think they don't.

Now, is parenting the hardest job? I don't know about that. My understanding is that dumpsters have to be cleaned and scraped on a bi-annual basis. My vote is with the dumpster cleaners.

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Monday
Feb272012

Spanking Kids and Bombing Countries (Or the lack thereof)

An interesting article posted by my friend Fatima on Facebook:

"Spanking Kids Can Cause Long Term Harm: Canada Study"

TORONTO (Reuters) - Spanking children can cause long-term developmental damage and may even lower a child's IQ, according to a new Canadian analysis that seeks to shift the ethical debate over corporal punishment into the medical sphere.

The study, published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, reached its conclusion after examining 20 years of published research on the issue. The authors say the medical finding have been largely overlooked and overshadowed by concerns that parents should have the right to determine how their children are disciplined.

The initial reaction to this post on my part was, well, duh because it's a conscious parenting choice on my part not to spank.  I feel a strong need, because I realize this is a sensitive topic, to strongly emphasize that my choice doesn't make me a better parent. Simply put, though, I believe that emphasizing that you're stronger or taller or older than someone is not the best tool to teach them what's right or wrong. One day, we will not be stronger and bigger and taller. Principled living results from a person intellectually accepting something because they believe it to be right.  There's a line in the Quran (this is probably going to surprise our friends who believe in a vast conspiracy to force Islam on everyone) : "There is no compulsion in religion." Put another way, you can't *make* someone believe something is right.

I don't think you can force someone to believe something, and I believe that physical punishments are an act of force.

I hear this a lot: some kids need to be spanked. I disagree.  I just disagree. A child is a person.  A total and complete person that just knows a little less about the world than I do. To drill down to the simplest explanation: I don't spank children because I don't spank adults. Shut up. Perverts.

I also don't spank because I remember what it felt like to be spanked, both in an educational environment and at home. It was ineffective, shaming and made me resentful of the people who used those methods to assert authority over me. To this day, the adult in my life who has the most impact on me is the one who never laid a hand on me: my mother. All my mother had to do was tell me she was disappointed in me and I would straighten up.  I cannot recall a single second of my life where I did not respect my mother.  Not even when I was extremely young.  And I'll tell you this, kids aren't born respecting their parents, their parents earn that respect.  My mother earned her respect from me somehow without every laying a hand on me.

(Okay, there was this one time that she slapped me when I was sixteen, but I totally deserved that.  And, also, she apologized for losing her temper. It's just that she thought I was lying dead in a ditch because she didn't know where I was for eight hours and I was supposed to be at school).

People who disagree about this seldom change their minds or find compromises they can agree on as evidenced by a discussion I had on the show CYR (episode 20) a few years ago.

All of that up there was my initial reaction to the Canadian study. My second reaction was far more philosophically based than controversially based, and I'm hoping you latch on to this part instead of the first. How can we as a society, dare I say, species consider eliminating the use of physical discipline when it permeates the highest levels of our society? I feel like that's pretty hypocritical.

Spanking your kids is supposedly bad according to this latest research, but dropping bombs on country because you suspect that they have nuclear capabilities is okay? See, if we accept that spanking kids is definitely, absolutely not okay... well, we'd have to reassess paradigms that allow us to push the boundaries of what we believe are appropriate responses to international situations where we feel a particular nation or people need to be "taught a lesson" for a perceived or real threat.

You know what I mean?

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Tuesday
Jan172012

The Dr. King & I: Intentions and Realities. # HappyMLKDay

MLK Day History: You cannot know where you are going unless you know where you have been.

I woke with the intention of making today meaningful.

When we first decided to move to Memphis, the first thought that came to me was "That's where they shot Dr. King." Yes, I called him Dr. King because in my family, you always put Dr. in front of someone's name if they're a doctor. And, yes, I thought the words exactly like that ... "they shot him." Like an army of people fired shots at the Lorraine. Aside from proving that I'm careless when I'm thinking to myself, this is illustrative of how many view race, if not life itself.

The National Civil Rights Museum rests quietly beneath a vintage green sign with red letters proclaiming the words "Lorraine Motel" on it.   It happens to be two trolley stops away from our apartment. To give you an idea of how much I wanted today to mean something, Tariq commuted 45 minutes to join us for our very own Family Civil Rights Remembrance Lunch today.

Because this is Memphis.

This is where Dr. King died, you know.

In the morning, I explained slavery to my daughter.

She was horrified, as she should be.

Then I explained segregation.

That seemed to confuse her, as it should.

I repeated the "content of his character" line like you do when you're trying to be inspirational about race. I explained non-violent resistance. I'm not sure what stuck, but it felt significant at the time.

We stepped off the trolley towards the museum, and there were so many people. I realized going into the actual museum was a bust.  I've been there once already, so that wasn't too big of a deal. There was music playing, food cooking, laughter... people, there were funnel cakes!

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis Memphians come out to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday



Funnel cakes!

At the place where "they" shot Dr. King!

This was not a place for martyrs.

This was a party. The smell of funnel cakes summarily decimated my romantic notions surrounding today and drove home an obvious reality.

Today is the birthday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Of course, there are funnel cakes.

I know the readership of this blog enough to know that most of the people reading right now are not exactly like me.  I write for people who want to learn about difference or diversity, so it follows that most people reading here are not "like me".  The funny thing about being "brown like me" is that you're not "black" or "white".

Bask in the brilliance of that little gem.

When you're "brown" (I'm totally doing air quotes), you don't carry a lot of American baggage.  Hold your envy, my friends, I have baggage of a different type. Slavery, separate water fountains, back of the bus and such, though?  Not so much. I own this history, but I do not live it the way someone who is "black" or "white" would.  (Again, with the air quotes).

From my position, I see shame, guilt, anger, finger pointing and even justification when it comes to these topics. Some decry this nation's racial past as shameful , others justify it as natural, many are somewhere in between. Some rant about how nothing has changed and others talk of how there's nothing left to do. Some people get angry if race is brought up at all while still others seem to make everything about race.

What I seldom see is what I saw today: celebrating.

I was not here when you were here, but I know we have come a long way. Today, my brown kid sat in a sub shop just around the corner from the Lorraine with black kids and white kids and all the kids ate the same food and nobody told them they couldn't sit wherever they wanted, and God love 'em every one, they all drank from the same soda fountain. As we walked home, we passed the site of the first schoolhouse for "colored" children and I had no idea how to even begin defining "colored" to my daughter.

That is something.

We can remember and we can be vigilant and we can be happy.  These things aren't mutually exclusive.

I woke with the intent to make today mean something by going to the place where Dr. King died.  I intended to honor his memory and legacy.  I realize now that it's not how or why he died that should be the focus, but what he did while he was alive that is most significant.

We live his dream.

Today, I woke with the intent of making this day meaningful.

So, it was.