Friday, January 31, 2014

Kimani Lost a Tooth and I Lost my Baby

On January 4th Kimani lost her first baby tooth. It happened right before dinner. My husband was bringing her to her highchair when he mentioned that she had a tooth that was sticking up in an odd way, like maybe it was loose. I told him to hold her so I could have a look in there and just as I opened her mouth, a bottom front tooth fell out onto her lip. It is smaller and daintier than any of my other children’s, so reflective of her.

I wasn’t ready for this, not just because her teeth came in late and therefore in my mind would fall out late, but because she is still my baby. To me she is frozen in time, forever about 24 months old.

I know, Autumn is really the baby of the family... but she’s not. Autumn can talk, and count, and read Moo Baa La La La with me, and she can handle an iPad like nobody’s business. Autumn might still look like a baby, but she is actually an ordinary toddler with a rather deceptive baby face.

Kimani isn’t a baby anymore either, which this damn tooth on my desk proves.


So what now? It is hard to watch her body grow while the rest of her stays behind. It is hard to watch other children with her same extra chromosome move along intellectually while she still struggles with the basics of feeding herself with a fork.

She is this beautiful little girl with a whole lot on the inside that can’t make its way to the outside. And yet sometimes it seems as though there is nothing at all going on in there. It was easier when she was a baby because so much less was expected of her. Babies eat and poop and look cute, and she mastered that. Now, I feel like almost everyone who meets her and tries to interact with her ends up looking to me for answers, explanations, and excuses. I am the voice she doesn’t have.

When I plucked that tiny tooth off her lip, it struck me that she is growing up, without toothfairies or ABCs. Denial and I wanted to stuff that little thing back in her mouth but we couldn’t because in its spot was already the nub of an adult replacement.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Stomach Bug

They’re all sick. One by one my family dropped, face first into the puke bowl. Ok, yeah, that is not exactly how it happened for the little girls. As I sit here, waiting to succumb, let me tell you all about it.

In the morning our PCA called in sick. A few hours after she’d left our house on Thursday evening, she got sick and she stayed sick all night long. I was bummed for her (and selfishly for me because she would not be here to help with Kimani) but I didn’t think much of it because usually it is my kids getting people sick, not the other way around.

Around six in the evening, Masha starting hysterically crying on the living room couch. I yelled out to the boys, “What did you do to her?” and they said, “Nothing, she just started crying.” And then she threw up, for the first time ever. She was covered in slime with little brown balls of something stuck to her. My husband carried her to the tub and cleaned her up, and I cleaned up the spots that got on the couch.

“What the hell did she eat today?” he called out from the bathroom. “How would I know? I’ve never seen little brown balls like that,” I yelled back. While he continued working on her, I started the first of many loads of yucky laundry. In my cleaning, I lost track of who was where, so when I heard Masha puking again, this time off the top of her bunk bed, I totally freaked out.

“WHO THE FUCK PUTS A SICK KID TO BED ON THE TOP OF A TRIPLE BUNK BED?” I screamed it, probably 4 or 5 times, at everybody and nobody. My husband, that’s who. He retrieved her, covered once again in filth and headed to the tub, while I began the arduous task of cleaning up after her. I had to strip all three beds, and wipe each and every slat with Lysol. And I had to pick up so many little brown balls.

I called my boys in. “What was for lunch today at school?”
“Pizza.” they answered in unison.
“This is not pizza,” I screeched, holding up a little brown ball in my gloved hand.
“And hamburgers?” my oldest offered.
“Raisins,” said Jade excitedly, “They gave us raisin cups.”
“Raisins. They are RAISINS!” I yelled to my husband who was still shampooing Masha, and still complaining about how, “This shit won’t come off!”

We ended up putting Masha to bed on the kitchen table, with Autumn & Daddy on the floor nearby. We put Kimani in her bed after making it up “for quick clean up” just in case. Aside from Masha heaving on and off into a large stainless bowl, it was an uneventful but sleepless night.

Masha woke up feeling much better. I woke up with a cold, a backache, a migraine, and PMS. I took some meds, and things were looking up. We had planned a dinner with friends at our house which of course was now cancelled, but that did not stop my girlfriend from bringing over the 8 pound chicken she had brined. She left it with me and I roasted it up with potatoes and carrots. The house smelled wonderful all day. Five minutes before I served dinner, Autumn came to me and said, “Poo poo.” This is big news and I was thrilled to take her to the potty to see if she was for real. She sat there while my husband and other kids all started their dinner. After a bit, my sweet husband offered to switch places with me so I could eat while it was still warm. Two minutes after we traded spots, Autumn puked all over him, and thus Round 2 began.

I cleaned up dinner and we pulled out a pack-n-play to contain Autumn, who continued to go at it on and off for hours. We decided to put Kimani in a pack-n-play as well because we figured she was next, and at midnight she proved us right. My husband slept on the kitchen floor alternating cleaning up Autumn and Kimani and I slept on the couch nursing my cold and cramps.


By Sunday morning it was all over (we thought). The girls were bathed, the pack-n-plays were scrubbed and put away, and multiple loads of nasty laundry was done. Everyone was tired. My boys spent the day again quarantined in their room playing computer so that they would not get sick. That night, after all the kids were in bed and all the backpacks were packed, my husband and I sat down to enjoy the ProBowl. Afterward we went to bed, congratulating ourselves on handling the 2014 stomach bug like true pro-bowlers ourselves.

At 3 a.m. (which in my mind is still Sunday night) I got up to go pee. My oldest son heard me and called out, “Mom, we have a problem. Jade puked all over himself.”

I really wanted to cry.

But instead I woke up my husband and we got to work. He cleaned up Jade while I cleaned up the bed. Jade and my husband slept in the living room and by now you know how that went. At 7 a.m., I got Masha and Autumn up and off to school. Gecko was fine, but I was worried he wouldn’t stay that way, and sure enough around 9 a.m., he started vomiting. My husband decided that he too was sick and fake slept the entire day on the couch, although he has not actually gotten sick yet. Maybe he had just had enough. So I spent the whole day swapping out puke bowls, bringing sips of water, and scrubbing.

As I wrote this, Gecko was still having at it. My nerves are shot wondering if I am going to get it. I have eaten almost nothing but Oscillococcinum, Elderberry syrup, probiotics, and garlic. Alright, I did have that sliced garlic on a delicious sandwich made with left-over chicken. I have also downed a 2 liter of Mountain Dew, not because I think it will help but because I need to stay awake.

The stomach bug is probably the worst part of parenting. I’m crossing my fingers (and scrubbing my hands) that it doesn’t get me too.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Why TUC, Why?

Why did you have to go and write about White Privilege?

"Now we know you are a closet racist."

"You don’t have the right to talk about racism. You are white. You can’t understand."

"People like you are the reason why inequality continues in this country."

I’ll tell you why I am writing about it. It’s because I am thinking about it. It’s because I have two sons born with the original sin of White Privilege upon them.

A while ago I read a blog post, When You Carry Your Difference on Your Skin, that included a story about how the author had to explain to her non-white son that he could not take toy guns to the local park,
"There was a day when I had to talk to him about how it wasn't okay to play with realistic looking guns at the park, and had to tell him why the white boys he was playing with likely didn't have to worry about that kind of thing."

The post was good and worth a read. But, while reading that post, it dawned on me for the first time that people proactively teach their children that their experiences in identical situations will be different than my children’s because of their skin color. She was teaching them that my sons have White Privilege.

Ok, so I am going to be real honest here... my first thought was, "OMG, her children are going to grow up resenting my children. She is implanting a chip on the shoulder."

I understand why she needs to educate her children about the discrimination they might face and the risks it imposes on them. (Read that sentence again before leaving me a comment ripping me on this.) But I am pretty confident that telling your kids negative stuff about whole other groups of people can lead to their mistrust and even hatred of that group.

The author and I had a, tenuous at best, FB relationship based on us both being the mother of a child with Down syndrome. I could have kept my mouth shut, but people who do that never learn anything. So I asked about it. Lots of people answered, and I learned that raising my kids to be color-blind is not the right way to work toward racial harmony. I also learned that trying to talk about difficult stuff with people who barely know you ends budding friendships and cultivates silence.

But I am not going to be silent. I am going to talk about race, and say that I do not know the right way to talk to my children if teaching them to see people as individuals & colorless is wrong. I do know that my children were born innocent blank slates, and regardless of the systems they were born into, they are still as yet, innocent. And they are still very much blank slates. I not only have a right to talk about race, it would seem that I also have an obligation to do so with them.

And now this has become a very sticky thing because I am not clear on or convinced about White Privilege and how just my existing within our current systems is somehow perpetuating racial inequality. And I am not going to tell my sons that they are, because of their original sin, privileged oppressors. I am guessing I am not alone in this. That said, I am in search of the right words, the right narrative... one that will grow them into caring people guided by a belief in truth, equal opportunity, and justice for all people, regardless of gender, physical ability, skin color, nationality, sexual orientation, weight, attractiveness, or intellectual ability.

My next step is reading Chip Smith’s The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism.Perhaps he will explain to me what my role as an individual and a parent is if I want to be a part of ensuring that all Americans have the baseline existence that I have.

I’ll let you know what I learn.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dumped from Hippotherapy

Two letters came in the mail, one for Masha and one for Kimani. Masha’s letter welcomed her back to the spring session of hippotherapy and invited us to set up her riding day/time...

The other letter informed us that "it has been determined that your child could benefit from a break at this time due to safety issues. You may reenroll at a later date if it is determined that Kimani is able to demonstrate safety necessary to be in the arena and on the horses."

I am crushed. This is a program designed for kids with special needs. Aside from pool therapy which ended with pre-K, this is the only therapy that Kimani has shown interest in and even clearly enjoyed. And she benefited greatly from it. We saw her begin to use her right hand, as well as begin talking again. She would get so excited when horse day arrived. She’d bring me her horseback-riding PECs card and her shoes. She would vocalize all the way to the barn and back.

I am angry. How dare they dump her because she requires more support, more effort on their part. This is not about safety but rather about her being a lot of work. She never did anything wrong toward the horses (other than try to eat their after-ride snacks). She never ran off in the arena. And though she sometimes leans to one side while on the horse, she never jumped off or threw herself off the horse. And how the heck are we supposed to “demonstrate safety necessary” if she has no horse to practice with?

Yes I am going to try to change their minds. Yes I am going to try to find another program. But damn, I am tired of fighting the “normal” system and now I have to fight for her in the “special needs” system too? And the reality is that she probably will not be able to get back into this program or any other hippotherapy program any time soon.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What Is Privilege?

Most theoretical discussions become entangled in semantics, either deliberately because it is a way to push a narrative, or by default because often times the proper words don’t exist to describe a situation or phenomenon. In my mind this is what is happening when we discuss privilege.

Privilege is:
a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most:
Beyond is the key word. If you are fully enjoying the rights, immunities, and benefits provided under our constitution and sets of laws, then you are not privileged but rather “baseline”. Privilege comes when you, for any reason, have extra rights, immunities, or benefits.

If you are for any reason being kept from fully enjoying those rights, immunities, and benefits, then you are the opposite of privileged, operating under the baseline. The word most often used to describe this situation is under-privileged but I would argue that in this case disenfranchised makes more sense. Why? Because it is assumed that if you are not under-privileged, you are “privileged” and that is not necessarily the case. All of us who exist at the baseline are also under-privileged in the sense that we do not enjoy any rights, immunities, or benefits beyond the basics afforded to us by our laws.

Continuing on, if you are being denied a basic right and I am not, that makes you disenfranchised but it does not elevate me to a status of privileged. This is where I see the arguments for privilege in general breaking down. For example, if you are not cisgendered and are harassed for using a public restroom that does not match your physical makeup, that does not make me automatically privileged because I am cisgendered and do not suffer said harassment for using a bathroom that does line up with my physical makeup.

In other words privilege, baseline, and disenfranchisement are not necessarily a zero sum game. You experiencing discrimination does not make me privileged for not. If I was sexually abused and you were not, that does not make you privileged. If I got accepted only into a state university but you, with similar grades, had your dad call his friend, the president of Harvard, to get you accepted there, then you are privileged.

There is another definition of privilege that pertains to this discussion:
any of the rights common to all citizens under a modern constitutional government.
When using this definition it is much easier to ascribe the status of privileged to anyone in this country who is able to partake of the rights, immunities, and benefits afforded to us all in our constitution. This status of privileged is citizen specific, not skin color related.

However, because the set of rights, immunities, and benefits that exists in the USA was not completely equal for all people from the get-go (and still is not), systems and cultural attitudes (stereotypes) arose that disenfranchised various groups of people. For example, there was a time when women and African Americans did not have the privilege of voting. In order to justify this, narratives concerning intelligence and emotional stability were created. While we now have the right to vote, the stereotypes that were created to support disenfranchising these two groups of people have not dissipated. For example, think back to when Hillary Clinton was running in the presidential primaries. Messaging was developed based on the “emotionally unstable” stereotype. For a couple hundred years, the systems in place have neglected to include non-white examples (and where applicable, female, GLBT, non-ablebodied, etc) in an equal way. This is slowly being rejected and fixed.

And when it is finally fixed, we will all be baseline under the first definition of privileged and equally accessing our privileges under the second. And yes, there will still be those who truly are privileged by their wealth, fame, or position.

Responses to some of the thoughts raised in the comments on my last post:
To some degree I think our differences have to do with how we define privilege. I do not agree that if I am able to participate in the set of rights, immunities, and benefits afforded to all US citizens that I am privileged. In my mind, that makes me baseline. Having the “rules work for me” doesn’t make me privileged. Having the “rules not work” for someone non-white does make them disenfranchised and we all need to be cognizant of that and working to change it. To insist that my white skin has brought me benefits beyond the basic rights and opportunities that I was born into, assumes that there have been racists in my life who have promoted me above someone non-white who was better suited or more qualified than I. (Jisun, that is where I thought you were going with your first comment but I saw in your follow up that you did not mean that.)

As for judging books by their covers, I would agree that happens due to the stereotypes I talked about in this post. Is that wrong? Yes, and each one of us needs to continue working to change it. Does it automatically make me white privileged? The answer to that is situational. Sometimes stereotypes work for you and sometimes against you. Take this scenario: there are 4 people in a corporate technology office, a male African American, me, a female Asian, and a male Indian, and a new boss, who knows none of us personally, walks in looking to make a snap judgement on who is the hardest working, smartest person to do a special project. I likely would not be the one chosen.

Friday, January 10, 2014

White, Thus Privileged?

I have read that because I am white, I am privileged. This idea was just beginning to percolate in higher education when I was doing my Masters in Critical Theory, but it wasn’t yet clearly articulated and thus I didn’t get brainwashed into believing that being white was a privilege I was born with.

I loved the work I did in my Masters program. We focused on the “Other” and how the other was, and is, marginalized in various cultures, particularly in relation to conquest. We studied the power structures of ideology, and narrative control. By the end though, I was frustrated. I felt like all we did was read and deconstruct stories and ideas, but nothing we talked about changed anything in the world outside the university walls. Finally I asked one of my professors how any of this elitist work would effect change. She basically answered that it rolls down eventually.

Now more than twenty years later I see that she was right. All those philosophers, whose works are impenetrable to those with average vocabularies, have been crafted into narratives that can be spoon-fed to the masses. A lot of good has come from that; Fair Trade products, GBLT freedoms and rights, the end of Apartheid, and an overall understanding that human rights matter, just to name a few.

But with this explosion of important ideas has come a progressive message that includes the narrative that whites (in the USA at least) are privileged. In the past year or so I have been inundated with this idea in FB comment threads, blog posts, and cable news. Friends of mine throw it around apologetically, treating it like an ugly family secret that is finally out. And honestly, I just can’t buy into it.

Cue the eye rolls, disgusted sighs, and angry huffing... but I have never experienced privilege for being white. I may have gotten a few perks (or out of a few tickets) for being young, female, and beautiful (and part time rich —explained below) but that is about it. I grew up with a working poor mom and was treated like white trash all through school. I got into college on my grades, awards, and scholarships. I failed out for not trying hard enough, then went back and got good grades based on my work, not my skin color. I took a third-shift, entry level job at a bank just to get health insurance. I worked my way up on skills and effort, not skin color. When I moved to my first really good job, my hiring manager was African American. I don’t think she hired me because I am white. I worked hard for her and she threw opportunities my way. I married an average white boy who wasn’t very privileged either. Together we built a life with enough kids to force me into the role of SAHM thus cementing our place as part of the Working Poor.

What I learned throughout my life about privilege is that it comes with lots of money, fame or position, no matter what your skin color is. Ask Jay-Z & Beyoncé, or Oprah, or President Obama’s kids. Or ask me when I was visiting my Dad’s house as a teenager. My dad came from immigrants, struggled through college, worked his butt off, and built a company. Compared to the neighbors in his town, he was the rich guy and so I was the rich kid. And all the people there treated the pretty little rich girl like she was privileged. Imagine that: white trash in one world, rich girl in another... same white skin.

I am not saying that there are no situations where a person who was white was treated better or different than a person who was not, and our justice system is a good reflection of that. But I do maintain that I don’t owe anything to being white, and I am not going to accept some sort of shame or debt for it either. As a human, my moral and civic duty is to treat all people (regardless of skin color) with respect and an initial assumption of individuality & inherent goodness, and to raise my children to do likewise.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Red Container

About a week before Christmas my son Gecko and I made chocolate fudge, the same chocolate fudge I used to make with my first stepmom when I was a little girl. It came out just as delicious as the fudge in my memory. But what’s a girl to do with 5 pounds of fudge? You know it, I packaged some up in a red plastic Christmas container and sent it off to my dad in Tennessee.

When he called on Christmas Eve to thank me for it, I could barely understand him for his mouth was full of melting chocolate fudge. I was pleased that he was so happy about the homemade treat delivery. And that was the end of it... until today when a package from my dad came for me in the mail.

Right away I knew it was the red container finding its way home. My husband asked, “Why would he spend $2.89 to send that back to you?” I laughed, and before even reading the note tucked inside it, I replied, “So I can refill it.”

The typed note folded inside the red container was so adorable that I have to share it with you.

The Red Container
I am just a small, lonely, empty red container.
Once I was filled with sweetness that brought joy and love.
Little by little my contents faded away into the belly of a whale.
The whale was very happy but I, I grew empty.
At last there was nothing in me anymore and I languished quietly,
hoping I could go back home to be filled with love again.
The whale grew restless and put me in a big dark envelope and told me,
“Go forth and be filled by your young mistress far away.”
What will happen to me when I get home to my lovely mistress?
Will she fill me with love and send me out again?
Ah, the heavy questions in the life of an empty red container.

Am I making fudge for St. Valentine’s Day or what?