Friday, August 18, 2017

All sorts of stuff on my mind in the wake of Charlottesville

We were on our way home from vacation when I started getting tweets about the rallies and murder in Charlottesville.

Like so many others, I am saddened and disgusted and ashamed and worried.

I have been thinking a lot about my whiteness and racism and disadvantaged populations, and in thinking about these things I have been reading and viewing documentaries to try to parse out my own complicated feelings.

I have never subscribed to the idea that people can just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and succeed or attain the American Dream or whatever. I think this is generally the exception to the rule rather than the rule. I understand the appeal of the bootstrap mentality, though. It gives a person a sense of control over his or her life. If I work hard enough and long enough, I can get x, y and z. What is the point of trying if the odds are against your hard work making a difference?

The bootstrap mentality is akin to the praying mentality. I think prayer can do great things, but I also know from personal experience that you can try your damnedest to pray yourself out of a situation but prayer alone may not work. I spent my entire childhood trying to pray away the turmoil inside my head, and the only things that helped me "triumph over them" (however long that triumph may actually last is unclear) was medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.

I apply my mental health experience to the situation of disadvantaged people in whatever form I find them. Poor people might work their hardest, but the deck is stacked against them just like my genetics stacked the deck against me in dealing with my anxiety and OCD. Minorities might do everything "right" but their skin color may stack the deck against them in ways that white people do not have to contend. That doesn't mean that disadvantaged people or minorities cannot get ahead or see positive change, but it takes an awful lot of support (institutional support included)....just like my anxiety takes daily medication and checkups with my psychiatrist and blogging and a whole lot of self-talk to help me regulate myself.

Since my thoughts right now are all over the map (ya know, since race and racism and life is complicated....who knew?), I better do some bolding and caps and stuff.

I try to be aware of my whiteness and what that means, but I know I fail pretty miserably. I saw this on one of the links about educating oneself about race after Charlottesville, but I cannot identify myself, in large part because I do not want to. I know that I don't speak out about racism as much as I could or should. I know that I rely on my white privilege because it is safe and comfortable and the only existence I know. I am not a good judge of my white identity.

I am uncomfortable with the idea of attending rallies not because I fear acting in solidarity with others but because of sheer laziness, which is probably white privilege. I am afforded the privilege of feeling lazy about such things because they do not impact my life in a way that makes life difficult for me. A couple weeks ago when there was no bus stop for my kids at this end of the neighborhood, you better believe I was taking action and speaking out to remedy the situation. Until or unless you are actively made uncomfortable or life is made difficult/unbearable, you generally keep the status quo.

What I do try to do regularly and well is, through my teaching, play devil's advocate and bring things to the attention of students. I recently found a PBS documentary called Slavery By Another Name, which I will be sharing with students when they read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry this fall.  In discussions of race, I often hear White people say things like, "Slavery ended a long time ago," and while this is technically true, documentaries and a little understanding of history make it clear that Blacks spent well over a hundred years after slavery still being stifled by policies that acted in ways that, at best, disadvantaged them, and at worst enslaved them in different ways.

I also made an effort, when I was finding local women to feature in a magazine, to seek out women of color because I felt like every face I was seeing in the pages was white, and it bothered me. I did what I could to try to bring different faces to the forefront.

It's not much.

Whenever I hear people say things like, "I don't see color," my initial reaction is that they are full of shit. I think people like to think they do not see color, and they may not actively or consciously judge other people based on skin color (or any of the others things by which you shouldn't judge others), but they are very much aware of color. It really sounds ridiculous to me, to be perfectly honest.

I have moments when I need to describe someone who is of a different skin color, and I think really hard about how to describe that person, but I ultimately end up mentioning skin simply because this is a characteristic by which a person is identified. To say "I don't see color" is stripping a person of their identity. I think White people mean well (sometimes) when they say this, but I really struggle with it when I hear it.

I also cringe when I hear people say something about having a Black friend. I have found that if a White person talks about having a Black friend, you can check their social media "friends" and see pretty quickly that they really don't know any Black people. I actually just checked my own Facebook page for a cursory view of my own "friendships"--- I have about 8 Black friends who are former coworkers or classmates or parents of my children's friends. Between 2-5 of my White friends are in interracial relationships or marriages. Of course, having social media "friends" is not the same as having sustained relationships where you eat together and socialize together and shop together.

I get a pretty clear sense of how a White person feels about race (even if they aren't aware of how they actually feel about race) when a discussion of Black literature comes up. When teachers, especially Black teachers, make a concerted effort to educate students about Black writers in any month other than February, I have heardWhite people say something about these teachers' "agenda."

That sounds if the Black teachers are trying to warp the minds of innocent young White kids by showcasing the value of Black literature and the contributions of Black writers. White students need to know this, and Black students need to be inspired by this.

When I first began teaching, there was a team of three teachers (2 Black teachers and 1 White teacher) that I thought were really cool. If memory serves, they were a strictly "neighborhood" team, which means they did not have any AP kids (upper middle class, predominantly White children from the other side of the county).

I felt both honored and scared when I was able to work on a team with the two Black teachers. I had observed how they interacted with students, and I was regularly inspired by them. They were great teachers, but their experience as Black women played a role in their ability to relate to their students, and I feared that my Whiteness would hinder my ability to be effective. Would I be so "White" that I couldn't reach students?  Would I be so unaware of their culture that I couldn't make a difference?

It was a profound learning experience for me, and one that I loved. I didn't pay attention to their race as a negative but as a positive that I could learn from. To say that race doesn't matter to students and teachers is not true, in my humble opinion. It can be intimidating or inspiring. In my case, it began as intimidating and ended up inspiring. I think I became a better teacher because I was not on a team of all-White teachers.

There are euphemisms about race that I sometimes hear.

Recently, a family member mentioned that they no longer shop at a nearby Kroger because it is "dirty." That person now shops at the Kroger down the road, which is right across the street from a big, upper middle class housing community.

When they said "dirty," I knew what they meant. They meant that an increasing number of Blacks and immigrants shop there. I know they don't mean dirty as in dirt, filth, disrepair because that Kroger is undergoing a renovation. I shop in both Kroger stores and neither one is disgusting.

These are the same people who don't want their children or grandchildren attending the school district because of Blacks and immigrants.  They like the idea of them going to districts outside this county, where the children are predominantly White.

I might come across as Judgy Mcjudgerson about other people's race comments, but I cannot pretend as if I don't have my own internal prejudiced notions that flit across my mind. I wasn't raised in a vacuum.

Growing up in a virtually all-White community until high school, and hearing comments from people within that community, impacted me. I try to be aware of some of my reactionary go-to thoughts that I know are prejudiced and without merit. I strive to recognize them and be critical with them.

Not really. It isn't over, and my thoughts about race and my own relation to it are not quiet, but I need to stop writing and give myself time to continue to think.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Blog and university

A college friend of mine who teaches at a local university asked me if I would speak to her classes about blogging and share my experience as someone who is a "professional" writer (my quotes, not hers).

I realize that I get paid for writing, but in my own head, I think I'd have to make an actual sustainable living from writing to consider myself a professional. Of course, I suspect that many, many writers who get paid for their work do not rely on that as their sole breadwinning activity.


Her students will have a long-term blogging assignment and must consider the following essential questions:
1. How does writing act as a way of knowing?
2. How can I use digital technologies to reach an authentic audience?
3. What do I have to contribute to the conversation?

It is interesting for me to think about these essential questions in light of my own blog, which is in its 11th year of existence.

My purpose in writing has changed over the years to some extent.

My mood disorder is way better managed now than it was then. Time and age have mellowed me a bit. Children have mellowed me a bit.

My blog remains a place where I come to work through my life and doing it publicly forces me to be analytical instead of going off the rails emotionally, which is what I did in my handwritten journaling for years and years. Having an audience forces me to deeply explore my feelings through the lenses of the intellect and fact and rationality.

There has been a movement toward advocacy in this blog for the people who do read it. In sharing my mood disorder, G's mood disorder, and my own parenting challenges, I have been told I have helped others manage their own issues or, at the very least, feel less alone.

Blogging has helped me know more about myself, both positive and negative. It has helped me find more balance between emotion and intellect. Finally, it has allowed me to know others who have reached out to me with questions or comments after reading the blog.

Oh, another thing blogging has done is force me to do research to support whatever belief or feeling I have. Even if it is just a Shakespearean quote from a play to tie into something I'm experiencing, because it is public I want it to be as accurate as possible.

I never really considered this blogging thing a means of reaching an authentic audience, but I guess it is. It is as valid a writing piece as a letter to the editor of a newspaper or a feature article or any of the other pieces of writing I have done (or taught students to do).

I'm very excited to speak to the college students, sharing what I know and probably more importantly, learning from them. That experience is one way in which my blog is helping me contribute to the conversation of writing, purpose, and authenticity.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Cool as a cucumber EXCEPT when it comes to back-to-school shopping

People with OCD are often accused of being particular, but I have found that they often aren't any more particular than regular people. They have their oddities, for sure, but these are generally not of the "shallow stuff variety" like M&M colors or which way the danged toilet paper roll goes on the holder, which is what regular people often get their panties in a twist about.

I mean, there are freaking memes about that junk.

I do not have to have M&Ms sorted, and I am just glad someone other than me PUT the toilet paper ON the holder so I have never understood how these things are attributed to OCD-ness.

I'm sure having children has led me to become more relaxed about things.  I don't care what my kids' hair looks like provided it is trimmed and clean (and clean is a relative term). I don't especially care what they wear provided they and their clothes are clean (or relatively clean).

Twice this past year, I have had two people refer to me as being "cool as a cucumber," which I think is both HILARIOUS and appropriate.

I have never thought of myself as a cool as a cucumber-type person because I tend to be pretty excitable, but it is over weird stuff.

One time I was referred to in this way related to how I am as a substitute teacher, and this is probably true. I try very hard to stay completely unflustered by students because that is exactly (especially if they are of the middle-school persuasion) what they want. It is better for me to look bored and ask, "Are you done?" than to get myself all in a kerfluffle. Whispering in their ear, I've found, is far more effective than making a scene which gives them no choice but to make a scene back.

The other was in reference to VBS. My motto is, "Unless I'm getting paid for something, I am not going to worry about it too much." It will all work out, so I'm not going to sweat it much.....or at all.

When it comes to school supplies, however, I am fairly laid back and always have been. I never cared (and still don't) what colors and kinds of notebooks or folders or pencils my students use...whether they are my actual students or my children who are students and for whom I purchase the supplies.

Perhaps in some parallel universe and in some naturally highly organized Earth children, they say, "Oh, blue folder goes with blue notebook," but my experience is that kids are generally idiots who have to be savagely beaten into noticing stuff like this. Any old pencil, notebook, and folder will do when they are asked to get out a pencil, notebook, and folder. I wanted to utilize every second of classroom time and not waste it dicking about with colors of notebooks or whether someone had a pencil.  Find a friend or write with a crayon, but let's go--we got shit to learn.

I have learned to not buy N anything until after the first day of school. When she began 6th grade, I purchased from the "general supply list" and then had to go back out again and purchase plastic folders instead of paper ones since her teacher didn't like that the paper ones fall apart.

Where I am not as cool as a cucumber is on the purchasing end of the school supply thing. I get immensely aggravated at other people's persnicketiness that I have to deal with in a store. I find myself wandering around Staples mumbling things like, "Why don't they just ask for chartreuse notebooks?  How impossible are those to find?  And what is wrong with BLACK notebooks? Is everyone prejudiced against BLACK notebooks?"

I CANNOT HARDLY WAIT for N to start high school so that she can wear regular clothes and I no longer have to drive to every store in town to find uniform pants that fit her in the legs, are not so low-waisted that they ride up her nether regions, that are also the "right" shade of khaki that do not look like jeans, and do not cost $40.

Of course, just as she is getting out of uniforms, G will soon be moving into them which will be an entire blogging thread of disgust and non-cucumber-like behavior. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

The story I've already told my children about risking alcohol

I am not a teetotaler. I enjoy an occasional glass of wine or a beer, but I know my absolute limit is two drinks (and that is two little drinks....not two full glasses of anything like what I might be served at a restaurant).
It takes many months for me and D to go through our alcohol stash. We often just split a beer when we do drink. 
For us, it is a very short drive between relaxed and ready to fall asleep.

At the ripe old age of 21, I stopped drinking more than two drinks and also stopped drinking hard liquor when I got tossed out of a stadium for public intoxication and had a 5-day hangover. How I didn't die of alcohol poisoning remains a mystery to me. 

I have yet to tell my children that story but I will as a warning to them. 

The story I do tell them is the one from when I was 16. 
I got remarkably dumb between 16 and 21, which will be more clear momentarily.

When I was 16, a friend and some of her friends were going to pick me up to go dancing at a local club for teens.  

They arrived, and I got into the car.
I noticed the empty alcohol bottles on the floor.  
I don't recall now whether they were cans or bottles, but I seem to remember glass.
It doesn't matter. What mattered is that I knew the driver, who was my friend's friend, had been drinking.
From the moment I sat down and noticed the booze, I was terrified. 
And angry.

I was scared that we would have an accident, and more importantly, I was fucking pissed off that my "friend" would put my life in potential jeopardy. 

Initially, I was more scared than angry but as we drove away from my house, my fear lessened as my anger increased. 

These were the days long before cell phones.
I kept thinking to myself, "How can I get out of this?"
And that is when I saw a convenience store near my dad's work, which was on the way to the teen club.
I asked them to stop at the convenience store so I could run in and get something.
I ran in, got on the phone, and called my mom.
I told her the driver had been drinking, and I was scared.
I asked her to come pick me up and take me to the teen club (I was meeting my boyfriend at the time). 

Honestly, I don't remember much after that point.
My mom came to me and drove me to the club. 
I seem to recall my friend talking to me both at the convenience store and at the teen club. I'm sure she apologized, but I don't think I accepted.
It took me a long, long time to forgive her for that. 
That event basically destroyed what had been a close friendship. It was never the same between us again.
I could forgive her for putting me in that situation, but I could no longer trust her.
We could be friendly but we could never be friends again. 

Now clearly, this event didn't sour me from alcohol overuse because of the stadium event at age 21. What soured me from alcohol overuse was the 5-day hangover. 
Who wants to feel like shit after drinking?

Plus, I knew of my dad's 2-drink limit. His own father was an alcoholic who drank away the family's income and beat the shit out of my grandmother.
My dad's youngest brother died of liver disease in his 40s due to alcohol abuse. 
Dad learned all too well that he had to be very strict about his own alcohol use to ensure he didn't go down that path. 

A couple years ago, I interviewed two addiction specialists for an article I was writing because many people....myself included at times....make light of drinking alcohol.  You see things about "Mommy's sippy cup" and other funny memes about drinking, and it makes alcohol use seem not as dangerous as it can be. 

I try to reserve judgment about alcohol use, and drug use for that matter. Addiction is a tricky thing.  People don't try to become addicted to anything. There are an awful lot of people who have untreated mental health issues (anxiety, ADD, depression, bipolar, etc) who self-medicate as a way to cool down those parts of their brains they just can't quiet without alcohol or drugs. There is usually an awful lot of pain and general dissatisfaction in life behind the booze or the drugs. 

And, honestly, what people do in their own homes with their own money is none of my business. 

But should it potentially threaten me or my kids.....then it becomes my business.
It was hard to remove myself from the aforementioned sticky situation when I was 16, but at nearly 44 and with three children I need to protect, I have no qualms about making my feelings known now. 

During summer, I remember how hard it was to be with my children 24/7

The novelty of free time in June has become the endless cycle of free time in July.

I enjoyed summer break throughout June, but now that we are in July, I am getting tired of my children, especially the middle one.

This is less about him and more about my reaction to him. I allow him to get under my skin in a way that I do not allow other people, and I do not understand why.  I guess part of it is that he is compulsive and obsessive (hence his darn OCD diagnosis), so he just doesn't give me a moment's peace.  And I am susceptible to compulsions and obsessions (hence my darn OCD diagnosis), which makes me less tolerant of hearing the same request over and over and over.

He keeps bugging me to go on a date with D so that I can hire his camp counselor from Girl Scout Camp to come babysit him and M. He's 9 so he doesn't understand that going on a date requires money for the date and for the sitter and requires that I figure out dinner for him and his siblings, so it's not like "date night" keeps me from thinking about food planning. It's not like D can just come home from work and I say, "Let's go out. Goodbye children" and leave.

I suspect that time will come, but it ain't here yet.

He also keeps asking me to plan playdates and sleepovers for him and every person he has ever known in his entire 9-year-old life.

The other day, G insisted we exchange phone numbers with some kid at the pool he had just met. His name is Caleb, and I have his mom's phone number, but that is the extent of our knowledge of this child.
Where he lives?  Don't know.
Last name? Don't know.
How old he is? Don't know.
Spawn of serial killers? Don't know.

G is very much like me in that his mind needs to be actively occupied to keep from getting stuck in the OCD groove. I didn't get better at doing that until I became an adult and had all the crap of adulthood to keep my mind occupied--like bill-paying and cleaning and responsibility.

Anyway, by the time July came, I was starting to remember just how hard it is to be with my children 24/7.
Even though they can occupy themselves much better than when they were little and can mostly get their own snacks, they still require me for a lot of stuff.

It made me think about how unhappy and cranky I was at times when I was a full-time SAHM and how much I relished the times when I could get the heck away from my children.

Of course, there were many things about when they were little that were much easier. They were happy to go outside and play anytime. They weren't interested in technology and devices. They had opinions but I was bigger and stronger and could just plop them in their carseats and take them where I wanted.

I guess it is good for me to remember what was difficult about then to appreciate what is easier now. There is no perfect time.
Sometimes I forget that.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Giving them opportunities to use their judgment

I have two basic rules that I would like for my children to live by:
1. Do not kill anyone.
2. Do not do drugs.

Beyond this, I don't care who they marry (gay or straight), what job they have, whether they go to college, whether they get tattoos or piercings, whether they have a child out of wedlock, or whether they are Republican or Democrat or Independent. Whatever it is that I suspect other parents might make a big deal out of, I intend to not make a big deal of.

I just feel that a person can come back from most anything else but killing someone or doing drugs has the potential to completely ruin your life without any chance of returning to the life you had before.

We are pretty open with our children and try to discuss with them what is appropriate and not and when and why.

I do not monitor them every second on their electronic devices, but I find they regularly tell on themselves by letting it be known what they are doing. I don't think they think they need to be sneaky.

A part of me wonders if this is the right parenting tract, but I tell myself that I am giving them opportunities to use their judgment. I cannot parent the entire Internet.

As much as I would like to toss every device we own out a window after bashing them with mallets first and all of us learn the dulcimer, that is not likely to happen.

When I was 13 and younger, I was sleeping over at friend's houses and sneaking out to meet boys. I was too busy doing whatever it was I knew would drive my parents insane and get me into a world of trouble. I knew what was taboo, and I made a beeline for it.

Of course, there is a limit to what I will tolerate.  I would never (and will never) be a parent who buys my kids drugs or booze or or smokes or allows them to have boyfriends/girlfriends sleep over when they are of a certain age and in a romantic relationship with said boyfriend/girlfriend.

But I feel like I could actually drive myself insane if I try to police the wide web of the electronic world.

Chances are good I won't get into heaven

I don't actually believe in heaven and hell, but if there is a heaven, I feel pretty certain I won't go there.
I don't expect I'll end up in hell, either.
A nice uncomfortable seat in purgatory will be mine.

Of course, I'm already in purgatory.


Today, as the kids and I were walking back to our car downtown, a man right outside of a Subway asked for money so he could get something to eat.

I shook my head no, and as I walked along I was reminded by my conscience that when I do (or not do) unto others, I do unto Jesus. I told D and the kids to go ahead, and I returned to the man.

I asked him, "Do you want me to buy you something to eat?"
He replied, "I need money for the bus to get home."
I then noticed that he had a beverage cup in his hand with a beverage still in it.
I turned around and caught up with my children because his story had changed.

Just as in good conscience I could not not buy him food if he was hungry, I could also not give him money because it didn't sit right with me. That was not what he had asked for to begin with.

I told the kids about it and about my uncomfortable feelings about maybe what this guy's story was and about my own uncomfortable feelings about not just giving him money.....yes because he might buy drugs or cigarettes or booze with it. I can't in good conscience give people cash that might be spent on drugs or booze or cigarettes.

There is judgment there, but I can't help it, and it bothers me immensely that there is judgment and that I can't help it.

As we continued our drive home, G said, "Life is difficult," and I couldn't help but agree.