Degrees of Blog Separation

I love blogging. I’m a Facebook addict. I love connections. So, imagine my giggles of delight when I find a new and interesting blog that is connected by a few other blogs to me. Thanks to some of my readers, I caught on to an interesting blog called “Resist Racism”. Clicked on it and and managed to ignore my fighting children long enough to read some good stuff.

I especially liked two of their pages: Racism 101 and We Heard it Before

Here is a sample of the Racism 101 part that I really liked:

  1. White privilege exists.
  2. Sanctuary is not segregation.
  3. Flipping the actors does not lend clarity to an issue, nor does it mean that you have created equivalent analogies. See entry under Fallacious Flip.
  4. People must own their feelings and expressions. Ventriloquy is not helpful in discussions of racism.
  5. Seeking the empowerment of people of color is not the same as disenfranchising white people.
  6. Racism is more than individual acts of meanness.

Looking forward to reading more of their posts – catch some of their stuff when you can!

Embracing New Languages

Just wanted to track back to a fantastic post over at Anti-Racist Parent about learning new languages.

For years now, I’ve been telling myself that I’d brush up on my Spanish and actually learn enough Tagalog (not just the swear words that I know!), but just haven’t done it. Well, it’s at the point where my older child can out-Tagalog me, and my younger one is catching up to my Spanish quickly!

It’s an interesting perspective to embrace learning a new language as a way to work towards anti-racism. If we learn other languages, does it give us a new appreciation for how difficult it is to learn English? For the beauty and sounds of cultures other than our own?

My older child is just learning to read. And, on a long car ride the other day, she passed the time by reading a Grade 1 Reader out loud. As she sounded out words, I tried to tell her some of the “rules” of the English language — like what certain letters sounded like when put together, etc. But, no sooner did she just understand what those combinations were, a new word that completely didn’t follow those rules came up. I saw my child getting very frustrated, and I found myself getting impatient, too.

How the heck is someone supposed to learn this stuff??? I know we all did – eventually. But, for goodness sake! Imagine having to learn English, work full time, take care of children, have people get impatient with you when you are actually trying to practice, and worry about getting it all wrong?

As an anti-racist and a child of immigrants, I’ve never uttered the words, “You’re in America.. speak English!” But, how often do we English speakers ever learn another language? Geographically, we sort of don’t need to. I can drive thousands of miles and still expect that everyone will speak the same language as I do. And, if they don’t, I can expect to be “right” … because… I’m… in… America. But, is that right? In a country built upon the backs of immigrants, how can we continue to exist as an English-only hierarchy – especially when so few people actually use proper English?

I grew up in a multilingual house (yes, somehow I still only picked up the swear words), and so the beauty of languages have always felt like home to me. I rarely have trouble understanding even the thickest of accents — be they Asian, Nigerian, Spanish, or even Southern. My ears pick up the subtle lack of “F” sounds in Pilipino. I can easily distinguish a Nigerian accent from an accent spoken by someone from Ghana. Yet, I can barely utter any of their native tongues.


So, my question really goes back to: Do we have to learn the languages or simply expose ourselves to the beauty of other languages?

Handpicking Religion

crossOver my lifetime, religion and faith have taken on a few different incarnations, if you will. When I was younger, like many in the suburban Boston area, I went to church with my family – every Sunday, we all piled into the family van, and depending on the time of the Mass we wore either a nice skirt/shirt (10am Mass) or a pair of jeans/sweater (Noon Mass). In the early years, Church was a great time for families to get together. Our church used to host a “coffee and donuts” gathering after Mass, and I vividly remember running around with my brothers, donating $.25 for a chocolate frosted donut with sprinkles, and hearing my parents laugh and tell stories with others from Church. They would wait down in the gathering hall while the children made their way over to Sunday School classes in the upstairs classrooms.

Soon, the coffee and donuts routine ended, and I got to the age when I would drive myself to religious education classes.

When I got to college, I no longer went to Church. After Saturday nights and early mornings recovering from hangovers of the college-variety, the last thing I wanted to do was go to Church. Scrambled eggs, hash browns, orange juice, coffee and bagels with my also hungover friends soon replaced singing, Communion, and gospels.

In my senior year, I remember going to Church just prior to the Easter break. I’m not sure why I went – likely peer pressure of some sort (or Catholic guilt). I ran into a friend of mine at the back of the college chapel and said, “Hi, Lina! Gotta love church, huh?” in my sarcastic “oh-you-gotta-be-here-too?” tone of voice. Lina caught me off guard and said, “I am filled with love and joy today! I’m fantastic! Jesus Christ has Risen! It’s an awesome day!” The childlike excitement in her eyes, from a woman who I considered academically brilliant, surprised me.

Huh? What the hell was that?, I thought. Seriously? Is she serious? That much joy over a story in the Bible?

pewI proceeded to an empty space in a pew, went through the Catholic Calesthenics of up-down-kneel-sit-stand-sit-kneel, and quietly listened to the readings and homily. But Lina’s excitement was stuck in my brain. How could someone be this excited about religion? About the day before Easter??

Graduate school wasn’t much different. I went to school in New York City where it was easy to be both surrounded by vibrant religious communities and disheartened by the poverty, cruelty, and human violence. I had gone to a religious service at a charismatic Christian church one Sunday with a friend of mine, and we spent well over 2 hours enveloped by singing, worship and praise, joyous and fervent prayer, Amens and Yes Jesus shouts. At the end of the service, we walked out the door and watched church members embracing wishing others to “Have a Blessed Day.” But, not more than a few feet from the church, we then saw two individuals cursing up a storm as they fought for a parking spot. A few feet from them was a homeless woman — who I would see there for the next 2 years. Not far from her, a group of young boys exchanged a verbal tennis match of profanity and insults about someone’s Mama.

Needless to say, my Amen feeling left my body pretty quickly, and reality set in.

Throughout the next few years, as a result of living in NYC and working in a number of diverse colleges, I struggled with my Catholic upbringing of how my faith viewed gay relationships and marriages. I believe that love is love. That families are families. During this time in my life, my close circle of friends were majority gay couples, and I listened to their life pasts, presents and futures. I listened to their stories of faith, families, acceptance and denial. I struggled with understanding how my own faith discriminated against their lives, against them.

After leaving NYC, I began working at a Quaker school. And, while very few people there were actually Quakers, the philosophy drove everything we did there. Each week, I participated in Meeting for Worship and that was completely different from anything I had ever known. Silence. We entered in silence. Sat in silence. Listened in silence. And, the elders ended with a handshake. There was no priest guiding the service. No reader telling me about the Bible. No holy hands delivering Communion. It was me and God.

People often ask me what impact faith had on me when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer.

My daughter was 2-years old, and I had just started working at a Catholic college. While my practice of faith was pretty sporadic, I still believed in a Greater power (be it She or He). But, when she was diagnosed, I struggled. I was mad. Pissed! What kind of God would do this to a child? What kind of God brings an innocent child so close to death?

When others found out about my daughter, I received hugs/cards/emails all with the phrases “We’re praying for you” or “Trust that God will guide you” or “God will be with you.” Really?, I thought. Because this feels awfully f-in lonely. My family members wanted to pray over me for strength, invoke God during church, or offer up community prayer circles for my daughter. I found this just pissed me off. But, I never said anything because I knew the religious piece served a different purpose: it helped to comfort those people. Heck, if praying makes it easier for YOU, then go for it. If praying makes you feel like you’re doing something, then go for it. But, for me – nope. Not here. Not now. Not while my child is wearing a paper thin gown with an IV hooked up to poisonous chemicals being delivered by a nurse who is in a full body armor to protect herself.

I didn’t pray to God. But, I did wish for hope.

But, of course, years of Sunday school weren’t lost on me. In the quietest hours of the morning, when I would sneak into my daughter’s room — just to make sure she was still alive — I would kneel by her bedside and pray. I prayed that God wouldn’t take her from me. I prayed that God wouldn’t let her suffer more than she had to. I prayed that God would give me strength to both protect her and to let the baby growing inside of me be cancer free.

But, most of all, I prayed that God would let me switch places. I prayed that God would put the cancer into my body and spare hers. I prayed that God would just give her a break, let me wake up from this nightmare, and that all would be just a bad dream.

Then, morning would break and we’d be back into our routine. Daily shots for my daughter. Anti-nausea medication just after breakfast. Nurses visits to flush her port-a-cath where she received chemotherapy. And, religion and God would be forgotten until the next wee hours of the morning.

A few years have passed since our daily cancer trips, and now our lives resume normalcy for a few months at a time. And, religion has found its way back.

Every Sunday, the girls and I go to Church. Catholic Church. It gives me peace. I leave Church each Sunday and am happier. I’m renewed. I feel closer to my children when we are there, and I feel even closer after we leave. I find joy when I see them make the sign of the Cross on their chests — sometimes they get it right, usually they get it wrong and poke themselves in the ears and belly buttons. During the car ride, they complain that Church is going to be boring and they don’t like having to be so quiet. Then, we arrive and sneak into a pew behind their friends, and they are all smiles again.

This year, my husband and I decided not to buy the children more than 2 presents. He’s doing it because buying so much stuff is wasteful and materialistic. I’m doing it because I want the girls to know the meaning of Christmas.

But, what is the meaning?

hpdjesusDo I believe the meaning is the Birth of Jesus Christ? Do I believe the meaning is family, friends and giving thanks? Is the meaning chocolate waffles, candy canes, and wishes? Is the meaning that we give more than we receive on this day?

When I read the story of the Nativity to my children, I tend to emphasize the “Look what nice people did to help out a family”  — just like nice people helped our family when you were sick — than the “Jesus Christ was born today” story. Will this change? Develop? Will the kids want more from the story? Less?

All of this has been coming to mind in the recent news about Rick Warren giving the opening prayer at Obama’s Inauguration. I find so much of the commentary – from both sides of the “wings” — fascinating. Will our view of religion and the religious change? Is the goal to change the minds of religious conservatives or just to get the conversation going?

Is there a difference between “I disagree with you” and “I disagree with your life and identity?”

Can religion be fluid? Is it wrong to handpick religion?

Happy Merry Solstice/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/Dec 25th. Work is slow right now, so hopefully I can catch up on some blog posts!

Some great adoption resources

Just caught on to a brilliant blog by a white woman who has three children of color. She shares her list of adoption books on her site! Thanks “Mama D”!

While the books address adoption, a number of the stories have central themes of transracial and multicultural/multinational families.

Excerpt from “Mama D’s” blog:

books about adoption, parenting, family, and belonging … and one on race
(find them at, or order them from, your local bookstore)
Parenting the Hurt Child : Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory Keck, Regina M. Kupecky
Toddler Adoption: The Weaver’s Craft by Mary Hopkins-Best
Let’s Talk About It: Adoption by Fred Rogers
I Love You Rituals by Rebecca Anne Bailey, Sarah Whalen, Jeff Jones
Attaching in Adoption by Deborah D. Gray
Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections by Jean MacLeod and Sheena Macrae
Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child by  Robert J. MacKenzie
I Don’t Have Your Eyes by Carrie Kitzke
Three Names of Me by Mary Cummings
We See The Moon by Carrie Kitze
When Sophie Get’s Angry – Really, Really Angry by Ann Caron
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox and Leslie Staub
Yell-Oh Girls!: Emerging Voices Explore Culture, Identity, and Growing Up Asian American by Vickie Nam
It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr (we love most books by Todd Parr)
I Love You, Little One by Nancy Tafuri

Feeling Triggered

“To Loosen The Mind” has been my outlet to discuss issues of race, and lately it has included my insight into issues of cancer. And, like any major event or experience, there are ebbs and flows.

I never anticipated that I’d sit down to watch TV for one of my favorite shows “Jon and Kate Plus 8” and feel so triggered. Naturally, this episode was all about kids with cancer. Trigger? oh yeah!

This time, just a few years ago, my daughter was experiencing one of the worst reactions to her chemotherapy. We were in the hospital just prior to Christmas, and all we wanted good old Santa Claus to bring was the ability to come home from the hospital. If I remember correctly, we came home on December 23rd late at night.

One part of the episode tonight was when Kate finished giving out presents at the big Holiday party, then she had to go to individual rooms to deliver gifts to children who weren’t well enough to be around others. Mine was one of those kids. We even ended up having to change rooms during her chemotherapy treatment that December because she got so sick that the doctors worried any new germs would absolutely just destroy her already shattered immune system.

As I watched the episode, I heard my own voice (and that of many of our cancer friends) repeated on the show. “We are so thankful for this diagnosis because it has given a new meaning to our lives” or “Each day is a new blessing” or “We just learned not to take anything for granted.”

Certainly, my family learned all of those things as well. One of the most important lessons for me personally, though, was the lesson of friendship. During this time in our lives, some friendships were strengthened, some were discovered, and some were lost. Rather, some were disposed of quickly!

Given that each day was considered “lucky”, I found myself not being able to waste time on anyone who just sucked the life out of me. I had put up with a few casual friends for a long time, but when TIME was my own enemy, I realized that I didn’t need other people stealing what I needed most. I no longer had time to soothe egos, to be angry for the sake of being angry, nor entertain folks who couldn’t operate the same moral compass I needed. Gone were friends who embraced materialism over good ole’ fashioned love. Gone were friends who were egotistic, self-centered, and who needed constant affirmation. I began to finally see the importance of time and examine what I was doing with the little time I had.

Watching the episode tonight reminded me of the “time factor.” I felt like turning it off, thinking “Why am I watching this 30 minute show? Could I be doing something else with my time? After all, any good home video of mine from that experience would be much more interesting!” But, I’ve avoided home videos of those years of turmoil, prayers, anxiety, and hope.

And, on the eve of the day when a good friend of mine begins his own course of chemotherapy (after already watching his own 2 year old battle cancer), I am reminded once again of not only the importance of love, life and family, but also of the importance of surrounding yourself with what makes you happy.

During this holiday season, some of us will find this time of year difficult, some of us find it joyous. Let’s keep in mind that blessings and challenges take shape in lots of ways. From the To Loosen family to yours, may you choose that which makes you happy.

Dolls – and the Office to prove it

the-officeI love the show “The Office.” Love it. Live for it. It’s the 30 minutes in the week when I know, for sure, that I’m gonna hurt from laughing.

When I bring up that my favorite show is “The Office,” I get two reactions: 1) “I LOVE THAT SHOW, TOO!” or 2) “Oh, god, that show makes me so uncomfortable. I can’t watch it!” I think that the characters are so real to life that it’s just hysterical. And, unfortunately, I can match up every single Office character with someone I have worked with in my professional career. Maybe that’s why it’s so funny — because it wasn’t funny when they were real people in my life.

The show this week was no exception to the uncomfortably hilarious diversity conversation. This week, Dwight had the brilliant forsight to purchase all of the “Unicorn Princess” dolls in the local stores and charge “those lazy parents” upwards of $200 for the dolls. As with just about every new kid craze, these dolls were ridiculous. They were pretty princesses, dressed in shimmery pink dresses, with a long white horn coming out of the forehead. I joke not.

Throughout the show, anxious white fathers come in, give the secret nod,princess-unicorn-300x192 and get their dolls after exchanging a wad of cash. Toby, the poor fool of an HR guy, goes to buy the last doll from Dwight. He ends up paying $400 for the doll, the camera pans to his delighted face as he holds the precious box in his hands, and then his expression quickly turns sour as he discovers he has just bought the Black Unicorn Princess. Yes, folks, the Black Unicorn Princess.

I get asked a lot about dolls, given that I have two little girls. My husband and I have a practice of only buying dolls with brown skin (and, ideally, ones with a waist larger than my ring-size). Everywhere my kids go, they are surrounded by white dolls. They see white characters — whom they idolize — on television. They listen to young white girls singing on Radio Disney. And, conversely, they see far too many shows with young brown girls as the “mean kids” or the “dumb girls” or the “bratty teens.”

Purchasing power is on my side. The brown dolls … they always seem to be on clearance. That helps me out. But, in the neighborhood and city in which I live, whites are the minority. Yet, the brown dolls are always the one on clearance. White dolls dominate the shelves on the toy racks. On a recent trip to North Carolina for a speaking engagement, I nearly lost my mind when I walked into a store and found shelves and shelves of beautiful Black dolls — angels, princesses, books with Black characters, and a Black Nativity scene. My host had accompanied me into the store and couldn’t believe my shock.

“You don’t understand,” I said. “I never see Black dolls — in so many numbers — in a store. The multicultural dolls are usually hidden in a corner with red tags on their boxes.”

“Honey, this is North Carolina. There are plenty of Black dolls down here. I think it’s time for you to relocate!” said my host.

Thankful for the luxury of internet shopping, I avoid most of the big toy and book stores these days and give my money to smaller companies who have made multicultural options their business plan. I know this makes my white relatives uncomfortable – we’ve had some great discussions about how my actions aren’t to exclude white merchandise. After all, my kids are surrounded by it. Their dolls at school, their books at their library, their favorite characters on television, and the stars of their favorite movies are all white. They have plenty of exposure to white culture. Believe me.

And, if you haven’t seen this experiment re-done, check out the impact of racial preferencing and messaging in young kids:

What I do is actively look to INCLUDE multicultural images in their lives. It’s so easy to exclude these for many reasons; in my area, the most powerful reason is that multicultural resources are not readily accessible.

What am I looking for next? Waiting for the Ken, Ben and Baby doll sets to hit the shelves, though sadly even in Massachusetts, I’m sure this will be a while before this happens.

Inexpensive Multicultural Gifts

If you’re anything like me right now, you’re budget is feelin’ it.

books
I haven’t bought traditional toys for Christmas in a really long time — years, I would say. I’ve mostly been buying books as gifts for people. And, even then, we’re moving into much more environmental consciousness and moving away from print books. So, while I now buy less books for adults, I do still tend to buy books for the children on my holiday shopping list. I think that kids still really like the tactile feel of books, enjoy looking at the pictures on paper (rather than on the computer screen or downloaded copies on an iPod), and caretakers can easily pack them for a car ride.

If you’re looking for some great gifts for kids, and want to do some educational exposure on the side, here are some of my favorite books to give and to read.

Note: While I could certainly use the kick-back income, I get nothing from these folks in terms of financial compensation, so this is truly a financially unbiased list (but, hey, if any of you are the authors of this book, a comment or shout-out would be well appreciated!).

Hyperion and Jump At the Sun (JATS) books

Good for ages 2-6. I bought nearly every one of the “classic fairytale” books. My family already owned the ones with all white characters and I was thrilled to know the same stories were being told with Black characters, too. I love them because we can mix up the same stories with different racial characters being shown. My kids have visions of princes and princesses being BOTH Black and White. The books are inexpensive – $3.50 for most of the paperback JATS classic fairy tale books.

Hyperion’s Motown Series (use the same link as above)

Adorable. Simply put. These are good board books as gifts for infants/parents. They just take the words from popular Motown songs but show a range of diversity in the pictures of the babies that are being shown. It’s rare to find a board book that features a range of skin colors, and this is one of those rare gems. These are about $7 each.

Teaching For Change books (www.teachingforchange.org)

Just note: the website is http://www.teachingforchange.org but my hotlink goes to their webstore.


Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight is what you expect. This probably would have been a good 39 page read for Palin…. good purchase for 2+ years old.

Amazing Grace and Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman is read in my house at least 1x a week at the request of my kids. It’s a cute story of Grace, a go-gettin’ little gal, who follows her dreams. She’s raised by her Mom and Grandmother in the first book but then travels to Africa in the second book to be with her dad.

I Love My Hair by Natasha Tarplay is one that I like to pick at least once every few weeks. I have stick straight hair. My 5 year old daughter has curly, curly, curly hair. So, it’s hard for her to relate to me when it comes time to brush, condition, braid, re-condition, etc. hair. She loves this book, though, because she “has hair like the girl.” One of my favorites.

Keep Your Ear on the Ball by Genevive Petrillo and Lea Lyon is another one of my favorites. And, in a list that’s dominated here by topics mostly related to girl characters, this is a boy-centered one. My daughter, who is partially blind, loves this because she likes that the boy does everything the other kids do. Seriously great book.

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell is a book we haven’t purchased yet but I’ve read it in the store. It’s a beautiful story about 2 male penguins who take care of an abandoned egg and raise the chick. For people who aren’t quite comfortable yet discussing gay families, this is a nice introduction to the idea that “parents” aren’t just opposite sex parents.

Grace for President by Kelly Dipuccio is a great book that really focuses on the gender piece of politics. And, Grace is Black. But, what people (and I) love about the book is that Grace-being-Black is never addressed. She’s just Grace. A girl. Who wants to run for President. My girls love this book.

Lola in the Library by Anne Mcquinn is another great book that just simply is about a little girl in a library. Lola is Black. But, the story is about her experience in the library. Another favorite one in my house.

Those are just a few suggestions from my own library (okay, and one that I just read in the store!). I know there are adoptive parents who read this blog, single parents, same sex parents, etc. PLEASE leave a comment about other resources, books, toys, etc. that you have given/will give/received that were both wallet-friendly as well as diversity/education focused!