Thursday, July 7, 2016

I don't know what it's like to be black

I posted this on Facebook earlier today, but I want to put it on my blog as well, so I have a more permanent record of it. These thoughts have been in my heart for a long time, and I finally had the courage to let them spill over. I'm tired of thinking that as a privileged white person I shouldn't weigh in on these issues. Because I should. Because I care. And because what keeps happening is not right. My speaking might not help anything, but my silence undoubtedly won't.

A few months ago in book club, we read a book written by a Nigerian author (Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). In the novel, a young woman from Nigeria moves to the United States. The conversation of the issues in the novel lead to mention of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US right now. 
One of the women in book club, who is black, mentioned wondering why her white friends have been so quiet about the movement.
There was silence, and then I decided to speak. 
I have decided to speak again now.
I am quiet about the movement, because I don't know what to say or what, as a white person, I am allowed to say.
I have no idea what it is like to be black. I don't know. I CAN'T know. But I DO care. But I'm afraid to speak, because I'm white.
But I'm going to. Maybe it will do nothing to stop the violence, but if it helps even one of my black or mixed friends feel more loved, then it will be worth it.
I don't know what it is like to be black in America.
I know what it is like to be a minority, but it is not the same. Even when I am the minority, I am still white.
I know what it is like to be a woman. I have felt fear walking home at night or walking into a store and realizing I am the only woman in the room. But even as a woman, I am still a white woman.
I know what it is like to be misunderstood or hated for my religion. I have had friends lovingly try to convince me to change religions. I have had people tell me they've been taught I was going to hell because I'm a Mormon. But even as a Mormon, I'm still a white Mormon.
I know what it is like to be an outsider, to walk around and have people come up and pet my hair because they've never seen hair like mine before, to hear people talking about me because my skin is so fair or my eyes so light and they don't know I speak their language. I know what it is like to never fit in and blend in with a crowd even though I desperately wish I could just not be noticed. I know what it is like to KNOW I am saying the right words but not be understood because it's assumed I wouldn't know how to say that or my accent is wrong. But even when I stick out, I'm still white.
I do not believe race is eternal. I don't think I was white before I was born, or American, or Mormon, or comfortably middle class. I think it was pure chance that I happened to be born in a Caucasian family. It wasn't that my soul was better or worse in some way. We were all spirits, and we were all the same. I could have been born into poverty or in a different country or into a different color body or into a body with disabilities or health issues.
So it would be impossible for me to treat you with less love because of your nationality or your skin color or your accent or your income level or your education level or your IQ or your gender or your sexual orientation or your religion or your illness. We were all spirits before, and we're going to be spirits after, and it will be equal. And when I see you, one thought I have is I could have been you—you could have been me.
So while we're here on this Earth, this tiny short time span in between eternity and eternity, can't we just stop killing each other? And hating each other? And making assumptions about each other?
I'm white. And black lives matter.
And while I'm on my soapbox and thinking of mass killings and bombings, I'm going to add that Muslim lives matter. And gay lives matter. A female lives matter.
And yes, ALL lives matter, but that is obvious and doesn't help stop the real violence that is occurring against blacks and Muslims and gays and women.
So the next time you start to make an assumption or speak without thinking, I hope you can remember: I could have been you, and you could have been me.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Where do they learn these things?

Daniel and I were driving in the car the other day, just the two of us. (I have no idea how that happened. I never just have one kid!) With no preamble, he announced "I want to be a soldier when I grow up." I asked him why and expected him to say something about guns being cool. He was quiet for a moment and then said, "So I can protect you, Mama, from the bad guys."

Why do we live in a world with so many bad guys?

On a different note, I turned 31 this weekend. This birthday will forever be remembered by me as the birthday of four cakes. I may be very far away from my parents, siblings, and home, but my friends really stepped up their game and made me feel very loved this birthday. I received four—FOUR—delicious birthday cakes from friends.

I had some interesting conversations with my kids on my birthday.

Daniel: "Mama, I want to buy you something for your birthday."
Me: "Well, why don't you make me something? You could color a picture or make me a perler bead."
Daniel: "No. I want to buy you something. I want Dad to take me to the store, so I can buy you some makeup."
Me: "Oh. Well, sweetie, I don't really wear makeup that often. Wouldn't you rather make me something?"
Daniel: "No. I want to buy you makeup, so you can look pretty."
Me, laughing: "Well, I almost never wear makeup. Don't you think I look pretty?"
Daniel: "No, you need makeup to look pretty."

Why on earth would he think that??

Then there was this conversation with Jill. (For some background, I stopped shaving my legs maybe eight years ago, and I stopped shaving my armpits maybe two or three years ago, but then on Saturday, I felt like having shaved armpits again, so I shaved them. Jill noticed.)

Jill: "You shaved your arm pits!"
Me: "Yup. Remember how I told you that some women shave them and some women don't, and it just depends on what they feel like doing? Well, for some reason when I got in the shower today, I felt like shaving my arm pits."
Jill: "Are my arm pits going to get hairy?"
Me: "Yes. Remember? When you become a teenager? You'll grow more hair on your body, you'll start bleeding every month like Mommy because your eggs are getting ready, you'll get zits sometimes, and your breasts will grow."
Jill: "Well, when I'm a teenager, I'm going to shave, so I can still look young."

Why does she want to look young? I stopped shaving, in part, because of curiosity as to how long my arm pit hair would grow and what it would feel like. I had never let it grow and was curious what my own body would do. And I also stopped shaving, in part, because it felt like shaving was, in a way, almost trying to become less of a woman and more of a girl. And I know that's way over thinking it, but there it is. And now here was my daughter spouting kind of the same idea to me. She doesn't want to go through puberty and have a woman's body. She wants to remove signs of maturity, to shave, and thus still look like a girl. I know it's not actually a big deal, so I told her she certainly could shave if she wanted to. But I couldn't help but think of shaving later when we were touring the Archeology Museum here and saw a statue that showed the misshapen skulls of ancient, indigenous American peoples who wrapped their skulls with boards to intentionally change the skulls' shape. What will people hundreds of years from now think is silly about us?

When my parents visited, we took the kids miniature golfing. It was the first time that Jill and Daniel were really old enough to play. And, to everyone's surprise, Daniel made a hole in one!!

Jeffrey had surgery a week ago. I spent the night at the hospital with him after the surgery. It was the first night we've spent away from the kids, ever. We should do that again sometime, but actually go somewhere fun. He's recovering nicely. (His surgery was to fix two hernias.) He was really surprised by how painful it was when his body still had carbon dioxide trapped inside. Being told that it would be painful and actually feeling it were two very different things.

Gordon eats everything that we eat now. The other day that included chicken nuggets. He had to have three: one in each hand and one in his mouth.

Sweet, obstinate Alice graduated from two-year-old preschool. Next year she'll be in Danny's class at school. She's pretty proud of herself. She can pour from a pitcher, mop a floor, hand sew a straight line, cut paper, paint pictures, set the table correctly, fold cloths, and wash dishes, among other skills. She has loved being in Comunidad Infantil.

I don't know if it is having four kids or if it is living in Mexico (or a combination of both), but it feels like we have birthday parties almost every week. And the birthday parties very often have face painters, which my kids love.

On Friday, I'm going to sing the National Anthem at the Consulate Independence Day party. Somewhere between 300 and 400 people are going to be there. Wish me luck!

With June coming to an end, I'm going to close with this picture. With terrorist attacks, bombings, mass shootings, violence, and the bad guys that Danny wants to protect me from abounding all over this world, I hope that we can all agree that everyone deserves to live. This picture was taken after the Orlando shootings and specifically references LGBT issues. I wish, with all my heart, that someday the humans in this world will stop hating and killing over race and sexual orientation and religion and gender and nationality and economic status. Life is too precious for all this hate and too short for all these divisions we create.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Feed the Birds

Today I couldn't get Gordon to nap. I could think of so many things I needed to, and none of them involved having him be awake. I love him, LOVE him, so much, but I just really needed some time without him. He disagreed.

I finally left him screaming in his crib and shut the door. I collapsed on the floor next to his bedroom and put my head in my hands. I could hear his screams through the wall. Within seconds of sitting down, my arms were again full. Alice had been waiting for me to finish with Gordon, and she was ready for her turn. She climbed onto my lap, hugged me, and told me that Gordon was sad.

I squeezed her tight and agreed. I asked her what we should do about that, and she announced that we should go get him.

So we did.

I still had so much to do and was so tired, but now Gordon wouldn't even play by himself, because he was so upset about the ordeal of being left in his crib awake. So I got to still not accomplish my tasks. But I got to hold him.

And he hugs now. Instead of just being held, he now wraps his chubby little arms around your neck and he hugs tight. If he really loves you, he'll also slobber on your face in an attempt to kiss you.

So there's a mess in literally every room in my house.

And the sink is full of dirty dishes.

And there are mounds of clean laundry to fold.

And I have so many things to get done before this weekend.

But soon, Gordon's arms won't be little and chubby. And before I can even blink, he'll have mastered kissing my cheek without covering me in slobber.

Soon Alice won't care whether I'm with Gordon or not, because she'll be texting her friends or at soccer practice.

So for now, I'll remember to enjoy it. And perhaps not get very much sleep tonight. And maybe get a babysitter on Friday for a few hours, so I can accomplish something . . .

Later in the day, I woke up the computer, opened my web browser, and saw this video on my home page. I simultaneously love, relate, and am exhausted by this video, but all things considered it is pretty special and wonderful to be a mom.

And if you have thirty minutes, I enjoyed this BBC segment on the song "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins: BBC: Feed the Birds.

My two littles

And there's the doorbell. My two "bigs" are home now, too. Full house!

Monday, May 2, 2016

And it's already May

I've been asked a lot these past few months whether I'm excited about Gabon, whether I've started studying French, what schools the kids will go to, etc. And I keep thinking, yes, no, and I don't know! Gabon still feels so far away (and it is still over a year away), but while Gabon still feels far away, the end of Mexico is marching closer and closer. It's already May! I am determined to stay focused on Mexico until we are actually gone. I still go to Spanish class twice a week to improve my Spanish, and we're still fully engaged at church and school. I have six months in Virginia to think about Gabon, French, and schools. Speaking of Virginia, we think we will get placed near the Ballston area, but we won't know for sure until December.

Jill turned 7!

I am super happy about having a seven year old! Through the years, I've observed my friends and their kids, and I have been under the impression that the years seven through twelve are kind of this glorious time when your kids aren't so small and needy, but they still think you're cool and like to be with you, and now they are more reasonable and can talk to you. I've been looking forward to it, and now it's here for Jill, and it's fantastic! I love the girl she's grown into.

Mexico celebrated Children's Day on April 30. The school celebrated all week long. Monday was crazy clothes day (inside out or backwards), Tuesday was crazy hair day (as pictured below), and Wednesday was crazy face day (crazy makeup or face paint). Thursday was an all-out celebration: the kids could bring their bicycles, scooters, etc. to school, and they just played games all day. Friday there was no school. I said this last year, but I really like Children's Day. It's kind of like all of the children in the country are celebrating their birthday at the same time, in that it's a big party for all.

I walked into the living room the other day to find this. I said, "Alice, why did you do that?" Alice replied, "I not being a nice girl, Mommy." Well, at least she's honest!

This boy LOVES all things athletic. I don't know if he's just mimicking his older siblings, or if he really does love sports way more than any of my other kids did at his age, but it's very cute either way.  (Thanks for the photo, Christy.)

We celebrated ten years last week by going to UTEP to see "Fiddler on the Roof." The actor playing Tevye was amazing. The whole production was well done. As I watched the performance, I kept wondering whether Jewish people minded the play and how sad it was that the same story has been played out over and over and over again. In the play, the Jews are forced to leave their homes by the Russian police. Why is that storyline still being played out??

Ten Years!!

This was the face I got when I told Alice that there were no "galletas" in the house.

I already put this on facebook, but I really, really love it when all of my kids play together happily. In this particular instance, Daniel had Batman, Gordon had Captain America, Jill had Barbie and Queen Elinor, and Alice had Ariel. All of the dolls and superheroes were very busy saving the world and having crushes on each other. It was very fun.

The other day in the car, Jill and I were talking about death. She suddenly said, "Mom, when you die, I hope you have your phone in your hand." My thought raced to "does she think I'm going to die texting while driving??" So I said, "Why do you say that, sweetie?" Jill replied, "Because if you have your phone, you can text me from heaven." Awww. I thought that was sweet. Too bad it doesn't work that way!!

A few days ago, I was doing laundry. I returned to the laundry room and found Daniel inside the dryer. He saw me and said, "Mom, I can't get it to spin!" My response, "Have you gotten it to spin before?!" He said, "Yeah. Hmm. Oh! Maybe it only works when the door is shut!" Apparently he and Jill have put each other in the dryer before, and then they walk like hamsters in a ball and make the inside spin. That can't be good for the dryer. Surely they are too heavy or something.

That's life for me right now. Mimi, out! (I love that President Obama dropped the mic at his speech during the White House Correspondents' Dinner.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Oh, April

April is quite the month. I've kind of been a jumble inside. On March 31, my grandma Boling turned 96. Her health declined sharply in December, and it caused me to reflect on how deeply I will miss her when she does depart from her earthly frame and simultaneously how deeply happy I am to have been a part of her incredibly full life.

My kids and I with my grandma November 2015

Then the next day, on April 1, my baby turned one. He also started walking, so he is completely a toddler now, toddling around. Not a baby. And he's my last. Unless Jeff and I receive a surprise, there will be no more babies. And that is so wonderful and sad at the same time. I'm pretty up and down and emotional about this right now. His infant year was so different than those of my other babies. I taught English at school, and while it wasn't many hours, it still added up into more separation from him than any of my others. So, he has eaten more baby food than they did and has two other care givers who watch him while I'm teaching and running around with the other kids, and he loves them both so much. And I have to try not to be jealous of sharing him. And I try not to feel guilty about making him the youngest. Someone has to be the youngest.

Gordito eating a gordita

A week and a half later was the anniversary of the birthday of my deceased niece, Tabitha. She was the cousin closest in age to Daniel, so she should have been turning five. But she never got to turn five, or four, or have any birthday at all. And thinking of all the birthdays she never had on earth made me feel like I really needed to get over feeling sad about Gordon's first birthday, because while I won't ever have another baby of my own, I do have a toddler, and that is wonderful and amazing.

We miss the baby you were and the girl you would have been, Tafla.

Now on Monday, we will celebrate Jill's birthday. Somehow she is already turning seven. The Montessori system makes a big deal about celebrating birthdays and going back over the years and sharing with the class. So I have been going through pictures and thinking about Jill's life, and it seems like the one constant we have given her (other than love, of course) is change. She was born in Utah. Then she lived in Ohio. Then she lived in Virginia. Then she lived for a short bit in Brazil. Now she lives in Mexico, and next year she'll live in a different part of Virginia and then Gabon. She's never been homesick, because other than home-as-a-family, I've never given her a home-as-a-place to be sick for. I hope she doesn't hate me for that some day. She's so amazing. She's sensitive and caring and funny and smart and brave. It is so fun to have a child old enough to talk to.

A few days later will be my tenth wedding anniversary. Tenth. How did that happen? I remember being a young married couple and sitting in church, listening to people give talks who had been married for three years and thinking what a long time that was and how I couldn't wait until we had been married that long and had probably worked out all of our problems. (Ha.) Well, it's been ten years. We still have problems. I still don't always get Jeff's sarcasm. He still finds himself lost (and amazed, of course) by the trains of thought that I follow. We disagree. And we always get past it. And we have a lot of fun all of the rest of the time. It's amazing to look back at what we've built together. Four kids. Three states. Three countries. Five jobs. Dozens of fights. Some tears. One slap (whoops!). Millions of kisses. Ten beautiful years.

I love you, honey. And I really love us.