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    the one with the bright skin

    Welcome to the July 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning About Diversity

    This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how they teach their children to embrace and respect the variety of people and cultures that surround us. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


    Shortly after the Presidential election last November -- after we had, as a family, watched the debates, attended rallies and painted our windows on election night with Obama logos, then paraded outside with noisemakers as the results were announced and we breathed a collective sigh of relief -- we had friends over to play. George sat on the couch looking at a magazine with our neighbor's middle school-aged daughter, and they came to a picture of the newly reelected man we'd rooted for. 

    "Who's that?" our friend prompted.

    "Barack Obama," George replied. "But I don't like him. I like the man with the brighter skin." 

    Are you a racist, bro?I couldn't help myself. From across the room, I yelped, "WHAT?!" Do I need to put a disclaimer here, saying this is not the way I recommend you deal with the issue of racism with your kids?

    "Th-th-that's not true," I stammered. Our friend looked on in what I perceived to be sheer horror but what was probably actually bemusement. "You like Barack Obama! You LOVE Barack Obama!" I don't even love Barack Obama, but by golly I needed George to recant, but fast. Unsurprisingly, he didn't. Like most people who are confronted with their prejudice when someone insists that they've simply misspoken, he shrugged and carried on. 

    For awhile, I freaked out about it. Was George being cold to the biracial kid in his preschool class? Was there a reason he hadn't recently asked to play with Juanito from across the street? Has this affected any of the people of color in our lives? I didn't have to wonder for long if he realized they weren't white, because he began pointing out anybody whose skin color was darker than his. I countered with white people's hair color and eye color, trying to make it a zero sum game. But it didn't matter, and it didn't stop him commenting on even the subtlest tan. So I dialed back my anxiety that I was raising a racist, and remembered that, actually, I don't want to participate in color blind culture. I want my kids to see race, to value differences and, most importantly, to examine their feelings around it, not to mention their privilege. 

    So, we talked. I stopped trying to equalize George's every observation. I let him have the floor and when he asked me questions, his openness surprised me. Reframing his observations as...well, simple observations rather than the sinister, loaded comments I was inclined to bristle against has helped me to think more deeply about my own bias and privilege. And I began to understand, too (on another level, at least), how ingrained prejudice is in a culture when three year olds hear and take to heart the dog whistles sounding around them. Having a respectful, open dialogue about his ideas and challenging them, helping him to see the beauty in differences when his mind craves sameness, understanding what is developmentally appropriate instead of expecting him to have a nuanced understanding of race: these things have been imperative to our successful exploration of an admittedly uncomfortable topic.

    I look forward to the day when I can point out to George that the luxury of having this conversation at all is part of our privilege; that many, many people, some of whom we love dearly, experience racism, with no explanations, from the day they are born. With a foundation laid in honest, open dialogue, I'm hopeful that those discussions won't be far off, and their gravity won't be lost on him.  


    Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

    Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

    (This list will be updated by afternoon July 9 with all the carnival links.)

    • A gift for my daugther — Amanda, a special education teacher for students with multiple exceptionalities, discusses at My Life in a Nutshell how she will enrich her daughter's life by educating her the amazing gifts her students will bring to the world.
    • The Beauty in Our Differences — Meegs at A New Day writes about her discussions with her daughter about how accepting ourselves and those around us, with all our beautiful differences and similarities, makes the world a better place.
    • Accepting Acceptance and Tolerating Tolerance — Destany at They Are All of Me examines the origins of and reasons behind present day social conformity.
    • Differencessustainablemum discusses what she feels to be the important skills for embracing diversity in her family home.
    • Turning Japanese — Erin Yuki at And Now, for Something Completely Different shares how she teaches her kiddos about Japanese culture, and offers ideas about "semi immersion" language learning.
    • Celebrating Diversity at the International House Cottages — Mommy at Playing for Peace discovers the cultures of the world with her family at local cultural festivals
    • Learning About Diversity by Honoring Your Child’s Multiple Heritages — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at the importance of truly knowing your roots and heritage and how to help children honor their multiple heritages.
    • People. PEOPLE! — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is trying to teach her children to use language that reflects respect for others, even when their language doesn't seem to them to be disrespectful.
    • Call Me Clarice, I Don't Care - A True Message in Diversity — Lisa at The Squishable Baby knows that learning to understand others produces empathetic children and empathetic families.
    • Diversity of Families — Family can be much more then a blood relation. Jana at Jananas on why friends are so important for her little family of three.
    • Diverse Thoughts Tamed by Mutual Respect — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work thinks that diversity is indispensable to our vitality, but that all of our many differences require a different sort of perspective, one led by compassion and mutual respect.
    • Just Shut Up! — At Old New Legacy, Becky gives a few poignant examples in her life when listening, communication and friendship have helped her become more accepting of diversity.
    • The World is our Oyster — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot is thankful for the experiences that an expat lifestyle will provide for herself as well as for her children.
    • Children's black & white views (no pun intended … kind of) — Lauren at Hobo Mama wonders how to guide her kids past a childish me vs. them view of the world without shutting down useful conversation.
    • Raising White Kids in a Multicultural World — Leanna at All Done Monkey offers her two cents on how to raise white children to be self-confident, contributing members of a colorful world. Unity in diversity, anyone?
    • Ramadan Star and Moon Craft — Celebrate Ramadan with this star and moon craft from Stephanie at InCultureParent, made out of recycled materials, including your kid's art!
    • Race Matters: Discussing History, Discrimination, and Prejudice with Children — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy discusses how her family deals with the discrimination against others and how she and her husband are raising children who are making a difference.
    • The Difference is Me - Living as the Rainbow Generation — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, is used to being the odd-one-out, but walking an alternative path with children means digging deeper, answering lots of questions and opening to more love.
    • My daughter will only know same-sex marriage as normal — Doña at Nurtured Mama realizes that the recent Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage will change the way she talks to her daughter about her own past.
    • Montessori-Inspired Respect for Diversity — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about her multicultural family and shares Montessori-inspired ideas for encouraging respect for diversity.
    • EveryDay Diversity — Ana at Panda & Ananaso makes diversity a part of everyday living, focusing on raising of compassionate and respectful child.
    • Diversity as Part of Life — Even though Laura at Authentic Parenting thought she had diversity covered, she found out that some things are hard to control.
    • Inequity and Privilege — Jona is unpacking questions raised by a summit addressing inequity in breastfeeding support at Life, Intertwined.
    • 3 Ways to Teach Young Children About Diversity — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama recognizes her family's place of privilege and shares how she is teaching her little ones about diversity in their suburban community.
    • Teaching diversity: tales from public school — A former public high school teacher and current public school parent, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama values living in a diverse community.
    • 30 Ideas to Encourage Learning about Diversity While Traveling — Traveling with kids can bring any subject alive. Dionna at Code Name: Mama has come up with a variety of ways you can incorporate diversity education into your family travels (regardless of whether you homeschool). From couch surfing to transformative reading, celebrate diversity on your next trip!
    • Diversity, huh? — Jorje of Momma Jorje doesn't do anything BIG to teach about diversity; it's more about the little things.
    • Chosen and Loved — From Laura at Pug in the Kitchen: Color doesn't matter. Ethnicity doesn't matter. Love matters.
    • The One With The Bright Skin — Stefanie at Very Very Fine tries to recover from a graceless response to her son's apparent prejudice.

    ay papi(s)

    I belong to a few discussion circles and online groups that are either parenthood-focused or in which the conversation often turns to parenting and family life. Every once in awhile, the topic of labor division comes up, and I'm always surprised at the abundance of mothers who face the same problem: how to do all the housework, tend to the kid(s), and find an iota of personal fulfillment while not resenting the spouse that insists he's off the hook for the whole shebang because he brings home a paycheck. They all hedge their complaints with admissions that "he is tired when he gets home" or "that's just how he was raised." 

    If this is you, and you like doing all the chores while you also do all the childrearing, then cool, but over and over again I hear about feeling dismissed, unappreciated, like a maid (respectable job, but -- ahem -- traditionally a for pay position), and always exhausted. Falling short. Because, you know why? These things add up to more than one full-time job. 

    I was lucky enough to find a partner who believes in the importance of present parenting, who values happy kids over a clean house, who understands the exhaustion that comes with the "always on" state of nurturing small children. Someone who gets that, after cooking, loading plates, clearing plates, cleaning tables, wiping faces, stripping off dirty clothes and putting on clean ones several times a day, I don't want to do dishes or laundry at night. Someone who crams in every minute of quality time he can from the moment he walks in the door after work until bedtime, and double on the weekends. 

    I'm grateful that there are so many papas in my life that hold it down on the fatherhood front. I love that my partner can serve as an example for those tired, stressed mamas that not every dad is unwilling to pitch in and, in fact, some defy their upbringing to show the mothers of their children they know exactly how valuable an investment in their family can be.

    Happy Fathers' Day to the guy that does the wash, changes the litter, takes out the garbage, slings the babies to sleep, plays soccer, plays the guitar, cleans up the barf, tends to night cries, starts the morning coffee and so much more, without suggesting that any of it is a favor. Go forth and multiply. The women of the internet need you. 



    (don't) smile: not your holla back kid

    I used to walk, ride my bike, or take the bus almost everywhere.

    Hey, give me a smile!

    That was before I had kids -- before I traded in urban life for a garden, a library with a nice children’s section, and a marginally reliable car.

    Aw, come on. You’re hurting my feelings!

    Men would often try to pry my gaze from my book or the scenes of the blurry city as I waited for my stop. Their lines were always the same: didactic, packaged in a toothy grin, with palms upturned as if to ask if I was really gonna leave ‘em hangin’. And I was. I did, every time.

    You’re being rude. Why are you being rude? All I asked for was a smile.

    My interest (or lack thereof) and my feelings were irrelevant. I was shirking what they considered my responsibility to be hospitable, entertaining, approachable, when I should’ve been thanking them for noticing me, putting on my most winsome smile and sitting, rapt, until they were finished with me. Instead, I refused their demands that I pretend to be happy to see them, flattered at their attention. The receiving end of the frequently ensuing ire is not pleasant, as anyone who’s met “let’s have a smile” with a stone-faced, simple “no” can attest. And so, when someone first let fly the above statements not at me, but at one of my children, I could feel the fight or flight response begin to bubble up.

    The smile-demander got to their accusations of rudeness before I had fully processed what was happening. My toddler was being accosted, made to feel guilty for not performing as requested, in the exact same way I’d experienced. A recognizable, affronted tone was peeking out from the previously jokey demeanor. That bridge of sub-humanity was not a place where I wanted, or expected, to meet my children, but there we were. And I realized that, to many people, children and women are primarily for show.

    “He doesn’t have to smile,” I said. “If he wanted to smile, he’d be smiling.” The smile-demander insisted that they were just playing around. Ah, I’d heard that one before.

    This isn’t the only line that’s used on kids and women. You’re just tired is bandied about a crying child just as often as it is their stressed mother, with no further delving. No questioning. Are you tired? How can I help? What’s bothering you? Of course, those are questions reserved for people we hold in higher esteem. People whose ability to reason we value, whose feelings we consider valid, not overwrought and silly.

    The systematic devaluing of women’s feelings serves to infantilize, which wouldn’t be such a bad gig if said infants didn’t have it even worse. Made out to be a burden, held to impossibly high standards, required to self soothe and obey without question often for fear of physical punishment, kids’ humanity doesn’t seem to be fully legitimized until they reach the age of majority, with several caveats for gender, race and sexual orientation. They aren't allowed to feel things we find unpleasant, act in ways that make us uncomfortable, or express emotions in ways we find unpalatable, much like their mothers, who by most of society's estimation aren't allowed to look unpolished, unwilling, or uninterested. Don't believe me? Enter a debate about leggings as pants and you'll hear fifty different ways that women owe it to the world at large to be attractive in a particular way, to put in some effort, to not embarrass themselves, to not gross out onlookers. 

    Thankfully, purposefully, I have surrounded my family with people who don’t participate in this craziness, which makes contrasts all the more stark when they happen. The odd sing-songy directive What do we say?, for example, is jarring, confusing to my children, and is met with my curt reply: “we” don’t encourage forced gratitude. I'm proud to say that I kept my wits about me when that smile demander accosted my kid. Though, as their joviality gave way to impatience, I could almost feel the stickiness of the old bus seat naugahyde against the backs of my knees, remembering the times I quickly stood to relocate as someone spat insults or insisted that I come back. I stood up for him the way I wish someone would have stood up for me, and I can rest a little easier in the knowledge that, on my watch, he won't be a smile demander, a you're-just-tired-er, a dismisser of women and children and people his culture deems dismissable.  



    An education

    Taking a childbirth educator training is not something I would have done of my own volition anytime soon (and perhaps this is my mothers' day post, since we both know I won't get around to writing again before Sunday), priorities being what they are; self worth (frankly) being what it is. My interests and value, monetarily speaking at least, have been on the back burner which, on our 30 year old stove, means the non-functioning burner where we keep the compost bowl (true story). My value lies in being home both because I have few marketable skills and because I am an educated and intentional mother. So, to be a nice guy, Nathan signed me up for a class. It was not a cheap class, nor was it, in actuality, the workshoppy pastime for idle stay at home moms I envisioned (because, real talk, I have devalued my own interests and motherhood-related intellectual pursuits as passing, hormone-driven whims. Do you do that too? Because stop; it is total bullshit!).

    It was rigorous and in-depth and involved many, many, many hours of online coursework before the three in-person days spent at Bastyr University's Simkin Center in a classroom just like real people learning things in an official capacity (read: students). It was facilitated and taught by people who, had they looked hard enough, might've seen the cartoon hearts dotting the path straight toward them from my eyeballs. It was unadulterated birth junkie heaven, yes, but it was also intellectual. Scholarly. It was revitalizing and legitimizing to be in a roomful of current and future professional women all interested in the empowerment of pregnant people, and the healthy growth of new families. I sat next to midwives and naturopathic doctors and doulas and other mothers and did the same assignments, dove head first through the same hoops, and I can say without hesitation something I never would've guessed before arriving in that classroom: the floor beneath those hoops was the same distance away for all of us.

    Prior to the in-person portion of the class, I fretted pretty much constantly about everyone else's expertise as it related to my own (or lack thereof). Reading their forum responses to our readings, I was drawn to the credentials that I don't doubt were dropped on purpose to assuage their own self-doubt, because, as I learned, our guts were all teeming with butterflies. But in discussion I quickly realized that the field was level: future midwives who had not, themselves, yet given birth worried about their lack of experience. Women who'd had one baby pointed out that they hadn't had two. Older women had trouble with technology and pregnant ones lamented the fog that settled in their minds, making them lose their train of thought. Most everyone dreaded the practice teaching we obviously had to do. When I worried about how I'd be received, as I now know others did too, I neglected (as did everyone else) to remember that we were all taking a class whose main purpose was to imbue us with the ability to be unconditionally supportive. Predictably (in retrospect), there was no (or very little) competition; there was only admiration, constructive feedback, and a lot of over-sharing.

    I thought I would leave the training further determined to teach natural-focused childbirth classes to those who are traditionally excluded from participation in them. Teenagers, poor families, those whose cultures hold the medical model of care and allopathic physicians as superior, godlike. My vision of that was flawed in many ways but the most flagrant flaw was that I would have presented my own steep bias. During my own childbirth class I closed my ears to the information on cesarean birth because I thought doing so would ensure my "perfect" outcome. Willfull ignorance is never okay, and is not a state I prefer. Still, unchecked, I may have imposed that on others, which would've been a disservice of such ridiculous proportion I can hardly stand to think about it.

    My vision has changed, obviously, partly because my belief in "the facts" has solidified (for a good read on this, see Dr. Claire Wendland's article called The Vanishing Mother which totally blew my mind). I don't need to dance around the reasons for, for example, elective induction because I believe in the data that says it's a bad practice; I believe in people's concern for their babies, and in their ability to understand the data. And, as I realized while listening to Kim James, doula, educator, and fancy lady, I believe so strongly in these things that it doesn't matter if pregnant people make a different choice than I would. As long as I'm giving them all the facts I can move on with confidence that I haven't shortchanged them with a lie of omission, or myself by letting my belief in nature, support, knowledge and women waver by failing to present every side.

    I don't know how long it'll take me to collect the baby dolls and pelvises and posters I need or to develop a curriculum, but I'm excited. As one of my classmates and fellow at-home mamas said in our closing circle (because it is hippie Bastyr in the hippie PNW), it was nice to realize that I still have valuable skills. I'm in a nice position, since you can't make less than nothing, and that is what I earn right now. I could, theoretically, offer workshops for free or very cheap. I can, in the immortal words, go my own way, easily and without much risk. I can, and plan to, take my time gathering resources, observing others, and continuing my education, because even though I feel fairly good about the content, my delivery needs quite a bit of practice and refinement.

    Finally, I'm glad that my kids saw me doing something that had nothing to do with them, and in which I was clearly emotionally and intellectually invested. I have no problem with motherhood as an occupation, and the fight over its legitimacy and importance is a hill I would more than willingly die on, but until the kids stop needing me so much, I'll think of this as my night job. My other night job, I guess. I hope that's your takeaway from this long story of my long weekend: motherhood is fucking legitimate, whether you're doing it, and only it, full time, or teaching others how to follow the path of their intuition and bodies to the moment it becomes manifest in their arms. Neither is frivolous, neither is easy, and for some reason I am still learning that. Happy Mothers' Day, mamas. 


    like rain on your (neighbors') wedding day

    Spring around here is a funny thing. It rains; it pours; your carport floods. And then, for one day, it is 62 degrees, bright and warm from the time the sun shows his unfamiliar face until he lays it down in the Sound. And those twelve hours are enough to make you optimistic about the possibility of enjoying outdoor life again, in a sincere way, not a ha-ha, good thing I'm wearing galoshes kind of way.  

    We actually had, like, THREE of those in a row, a week or two ago. And then my poor neighbors who had waited TWENTY FIVE YEARS to get legally married found themselves putting up clear flashing around their gorgeous deck in preparation for a torrential downpour that waterlogged their wedding day. PNW, we can't quit you, but you sure are a jerk sometimes. 

    To console ourselves after we put some measly starts into the garden only to have it frost overnight at 37 degrees and kill our broccoli, George and I decided our raised beds could use some flags to jazz them up a little. Zelda had never potato printed, so we got out some muslin, cookie cutters, a potato, some paint and a paring knife.

    If you don't know how to print with potatoes, there is no shortage of tutorials online that probably give all the details you need, but all I do is press a cookie cutter deep into the freshly-cut side of a potato, then slice into the side of the potato with my paring knife and cut away the excess potato. Not exactly rocket science.

    George and Zelda chose an arrow, a heart, a star and a leaf. One arrow attempt failed, and turned into a bunny. Zelda kind of just tried to eat the potatoes, but George had a good time stamping the strips of muslin I had torn. Speaking of which, I didn't bother hemming these; I just snipped the selvedge edge of the muslin and tore it along the entire width of the fabric, leaving me with strips. 


    I gave George dishes of the paint that came with a paint-your-own wooden car kit. I have no idea what kind of paint it is, but it's labeled non-toxic, and it hasn't yet run. Do I need to tell you how many times it's rained? When the kids were satisfied that they'd eaten enough raw potato and sufficiently stamped the soon-to-be flags, we cleaned up, and let everything dry while we ate lunch.

    While George napped that afternoon, I cut the strips into smaller pieces and sewed a ribbon across the top, bunting-style. We stuck bamboo poles into the ground on each end of the garden and tied on the flags. I love that it helps give the kids some ownership of our garden in these early, boring days of germination and perseverence.