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Showing posts with label Essays. Show all posts

Thinking and talking about race with kids: Our Friends at We Stories

This post that is a bit off our normal programming, but seems especially appropriate this week. Unfortunately, the topics are evergreen. 

As our then-two-year-old became increasingly observant, we were suddenly no longer been able to hide in a world where we didn't have to talk about race or other obvious physical differences between people. Living in a diverse city, taking public transit, and seeing people with all sorts of appearance, abilities, and cultures made the issue quickly a topic of everyday conversation (and occasional embarrassment on the train).

Because our children are still very young, and because we have the privilege of being able to choose at times not think about race (i.e., we are white), this is an issue where we are very far from experts. Luckily though, I grew up with someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about these issues professionally. For that reason, I would like to take this post to highlight some of the great resources at We Stories.

Note: We Stories's primary activities are focused on a) the St. Louis area and b) figuring out how to make race something that white families think and talk about. That said, the resources, posts, and other materials linked to by them are appropriate across geographic areas and many are intended for audiences of any race or background. 

Consider this post mostly a round-up of links with commentary by me.

Why talk about race at all? Aren't kids color-blind? 

Post: It turns out they're not, even (in fact, especially) if we never talk about race. 

You can also read more about this in NurtureShock - a book we discussed in a post of our own: Some Stuff Science Says about Parenting.

Just thinking about how to do this is terrifying. 

Post: Where to Start: 12 Small Steps for White Families who Want to be a Positive Force for Change on Racism 

While I like all of their suggestions (really, go read that link), numbers 7-9 on their list about diversifying your bookshelf and mixing up your media really stuck with me as it’s something I’ve confronted over the last year. I know I was startled when I realized just how few black (and other) voices I was hearing - let alone my children - without ever having consciously chosen one way or the other.

Side note: Thanks to the past year’s changes at Comedy Central, we’ve all had the opportunity to experience some new perspectives about the news. Much as I loved Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the cast of the Daily and Nightly Shows have brought to the fore voices and experiences otherwise lacking in much mainstream media. (see Roy Wood Jr., especially at the 2:50 mark for a moving example).

This whole book thing seems doable. What should I get? 

Post: How to use Children's Books to Talk to Kids about Racism 

One day our daughter came home from school talking about pink and brown people. The next day, she assumed (loudly and in public) that a black man busking at Park Street was the same black man on our Green Line train. We knew books would be our first attempt at discussing the topic. From We Stories, we saw recommendations for The Skin you Live In and We're Different, We're the Same and our daughter has loved them both.

Side note: The latter book is a Sesame Street book from the 90s, which means it
  • a) has someone with a flattop, 
  • b) has characters that are no longer on the show (looking at you Barclay), 
  • c) does not have new characters (Abby), and 
  • d) is pretty awesome all around. 
One more aside: It's easy to think of Sesame Street as old, boring, and square, but they have consistently and justly discussed diversity, accepting all people (including yourself, see Segi's I Love my Hair for a powerful example), and living among density and occasional grime (bonus for our target audience).

Any other posts I should be sure to check out? 

Post: What they See. What we say, and don't

That post is a bit of a manifesto for We Stories and helps me understand their mission and how we’ll take their lessons and apply them at home. The stories we tell our children and the stories we tell ourselves matter. Many of us chose urban, vibrant environments for our families in order to engage with diversity. But that choice (or even frequent trips to the Korean grocery market) can't be the end of our story. For our family, it's something we spend a lot of time thinking about, and increasingly, it's something we're spending more time talking about. It is also one (of many) topics that came up in my appearance on the recent TransitMatters podcast.

These guys seem great! How can I find out more? How can I help them? 

For readers on the East Coast: St. Louis? Didn't they lose to the Sox a lot recently? 

Fear not, childhood friend and co-founder Laura Horwitz has spent significant time in Boston, NYC, and Philly.

For readers in St. Louis: Sounds like an Outsider... What High School did this person go to? 

Where was I during Jose Jimenez’s almost second no-hitter in 2 weeks against Randy Johnson? Laura’s basement, as the party drifted toward the TV and away from whatever else was going on. Also, the whole high school thing seems a lot less cute when you realize why it's such a useful statement about your childhood. Our city/county school systems are disturbingly tied to race, income, religion, and other factors that really homogenize childhoods, whatever part of town you are in. 

Totally nerdy policy wonk note 

I absolutely love that the site includes a section on the "Theory of Change." Program Evaluation for the win!


Dealing with the Mom Guilt

Mom guilt... It's a gift that keeps on giving, an internet meme, a stark reality that really only comes into focus with impending or ascended motherhood.  It seems to be a fact of life when living with children in 2015.  In fact, it's not even really just for moms! Jim Gaffigan devotes an entire chapter to feeling guilty about his "insufficient" dad skilzzz in his hilarious parenting memoir, Dad Is Fat!

It would probably be easier to write a list of things I haven't felt guilty about as a parent.  However, recently, the constant nagging feeling of not measuring up has gotten tired and so have I.  So, 3 years and 2 kids into this parenting gig, I've decided it's time to do something to fight back the niggling feelings of inadequacy.  They say identifying the problem is the first step to finding a solution.  So, here is by no means an exclusive list of thoughts that have passed through my addled sleep deprived brain at some point, often in rapid, contradicting succession.

Things I've felt guilty about


  • - OMG I'm not feeding my child sufficiently healthy food!
  • - OMG I'm depriving my child of a "childhood" because she doesn't know about cookies!


  • - OMG am I doing enough to foster a good relationship between my kids and their extended family?
  • - OMG I'm a horrible, neglectful mother for how much time my daughter spends with her grandparents, aren't I?


  • - OMG I just accidentally let my baby cry himself to sleep because I dared to use the bathroom for literately a minute... and he was crying... and then he fell asleep!
  • - OMG I'm not fostering good sleep habits because my baby is still not sleeping consistently...


  • - OMG I'm an ungrateful parent because instead of getting on the floor and playing with my daughter I'm tooling around the internet while she plays by herself!
  • - OMG I'm failing at teaching my child persistence by not making her play by herself more!

Body Image

  • - OMG I need to lose this baby weight or my kids will never learn to respect their own bodies and value their health!
  • - OMG what if my calorie counting leads my daughter to have an eating disorder!

"Having it all"

  • - OMG What if my children won't know how much I love them because I am always rushing them out the door in the morning so I can get to work at a reasonable hour?!
  • - OMG But if I don't work I'll be a terrible role model for my daughter (also we'll get evicted)!

The best part of course is that often these opposing thoughts on a given topic enter my head within seconds of each other... all... the... time!

Ok crazy lady... so what's your plan?

Returning to the basics

We all know that many of life's problems can be solved with the obvious trifecta of sleep, therapy, and wine.  Sure the former is illusive with a toddler and a 5 month old, but even prioritizing just 10 minutes of "me" quiet time a day can do wonders for the psyche.  Making time for therapy can be hard too but worth the effort when necessary.  At least, wine is easier to schedule and always takes a rain check.

Finding my peeps!

Some people find their tribe in fellow parents at the playground, some strengthen their bond with their own parents once they are humbled by their own offspring.  These are all great, but ever since I was a nerdy little teenager, I have found solace in reading essays by people who've been there and done that.  For this reason I love, and often reread, the wonderful essay of how no one is failing at motherhood from Pregnant Chicken.  Likewise, the collection of essays in The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality is a fantastic solace.  This book normalized so many of the feelings I've outlined above, and others I hadn't even verbalized to myself yet.

Treating myself like I would a friend, or better yet my child...

Finally, it occurred to me recently, that if a friend of mine said any of the guilty thoughts I outlined above out loud to me,  I would instantly reassure her that she was a fine parent and silly to worry. But, I never extend that kind of charitable thinking to myself.  Better yet, when dealing with my children, I know that I need to parent to their strengths.  I would never advocate teaching a cautious child to swim by throwing them in the deep end (metaphorically speaking).  I know better than to try and talk or cajole my stubborn daughter into a new food, because I know that unless she thinks it's her idea, it's a lost cause.  Parenting to the child you have is a Parenting 101 move.  However, for some reason, I never use this most basic of techniques to reassure myself.  Instead, I feel guilty for not being crafty mom, a bento box ninja mom, a super involved school mom, etc.  

So here goes.  I am not, nor will I ever be, doing Pinterest worthy art projects with my kids.  It's not my thing and that's ok.  I have nothing but adoration and respect for parents who can entertain their kids at home with projects. I bow down to your patience and creativity... but that's not me.  My mom super power (and we all have a couple, if we're honest with ourselves) is getting everyone bundled out the door for an outing, in all kinds of weather.  I take my kids outside to play every day.  It's my thing... often we are one of only a few families out there in the Boston cold.  So if you pass me and my kids and think to yourself "I wish I could do that," know that I will never be making use of the puppetry kit you're taking home to your children. It's not my strength and I'm not that mom (though you should totally invite my kids over sometime... I'll bring snacks!).

So from now on, I resolve to focus on my super powers and appreciate yours, without guilt, as best I can.  And if that fails... there's always the wine.

Photo credit: Working from home - babywearing style! under Creative Commons License.

Labor Day - Proceed with caution!!

When you're pregnant with your first baby, it's impossible not to wonder how your own labor is going to go.  Different people respond to this wondering in different ways.  Some don't want to hear anything about anyone else's story because they don't want to psych themselves out.  Others yearn to read/hear every story they can possibly get their hands on to prepare themselves for any eventuality.  Both of these are completely valid approaches.  Eventually your baby will come out of you and you will have your own birth story to share/terrify/encourage/regale others with. (It's generally considered polite to only share these stories when asked, btw.  It's also considered polite not to terrify first time mothers - just sayin'.)

In case it hasn't been obvious from spending 30 seconds on this blog, I was definitely in the "tell me all the things" camp when it came to preparing for my own labor.  The problem with this, of course, is that most sources of labor stories are friends (I have a limited number), websites like Baby Center (where most of the stories lack coherence or punctuation), your birth class (which has the agenda of not wanting to scare you).  For this reason I absolutely loved the well written, well curated, beautiful and brutally honest stories in the anthology Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today's Best Women Writers.  To be honest, none of the writers's names jumped out at me as ones I recognized.  But also to be honest, I cannot say that paid all that much attention to their names - so engrossed was I in their stories.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I read this book in between my 2 pregnancies (perhaps had I read it while pregnant with my first, I may have had a different response).  My first labor was difficult and had some unexpected twists and turns (everyone came out healthy, see the many pictures of my daughter on this very blog).  I cannot say that I entered my second pregnancy relishing to give it another go.  Perhaps for this reason I found reading these stories so cathartic.  Some experiences described here were like my own, some were not.  Some choices were not ones I would make or have had to make.  Some of the stories in the book were quite tragic (the table of contents does tell you which stories to avoid if you are pregnant and want to avoid the tragic ones). However, the great take away I got from reading this book is that birth, no matter the trajectory or outcome, is so deeply and profoundly transformative for all women that it occupies our thoughts even decades after the fact.  In this I found my solace and my community.

If you're reading this review while pregnant with your first (or contemplating this path), proceed with caution to this book.  Know thyself.  Regardless, if you are pregnant, soon you will have your own story to carry with you.