The Race Around The World

I am launching an interactive series on race and identity, a mosaic of cultural autobiographies. It was inspired by the exchange over my posts on slavery and on black Santa. Race Around The World will offer a glimpse of our diverse stories so that we can achieve a panorama of our racial topography around the globe. Slavery lingers in the human heart in the form of racism and bigotry. With the differences between living in a community and living in community, I’d like to examine how community is possible as people engage one another across racial lines. I am most fascinated with the tension we internalize that makes us conscious of our color and ethnicity. These are two things that give us a sense of belonging, and it will be interesting to look together at the circumstances that make us feel displaced and impel us to locate our roots.

GUIDELINES FOR PARTICIPATION POSTED 2014

Though race refers to biological attributes like color, and ethnicity to sociological factors such as culture and beliefs, feel free to use the terms as they are meaningful to you.

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

3) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

4) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. It could be a scene with strangers, the park, school, work. Could have been subtle feelings you recognized or a blatant attack of bigotry. If it was a season or chapter in your life, tell us the impact it had on your sense of self, confidence, or emotional development. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

5) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

6) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

7) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

8) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

9) Optional. Children seem color-blind. How have you explained color and culture to your children or grandchildren as they got older? Did you ever have to handle a situation where they were a victim of racial slight or slur?

10) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

11) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

12) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

What If You Weren’t Afraid?

Fear dictates a lot of what we do, say, and don’t. Over the years, my husband and I have peeled back the face of harsh words, avoidance, and everything in between to lay bare this tyrant in the heart. The things I want from him will often lead back to my fear of finding myself out in the cold with hat in hand. In those moments I’m the little girl her parents let down, even while I now understand that they had done their best. Holistic Husband will hesitate to share with me what he really thinks, afraid of rejection. I am short with my boy for shedding clothes outside because I am afraid he will get sick. Not a 100 pounds, I could not relate to anyone with eating disorders. Until a few years ago when I showed myself I could overeat. I knew better. I was the health and nutrition consultant among moms, with over a decade of study under her belt. The worst thing you can do with your food is do too much of it. I realized something wild. Though my husband spared no expensive to meet our needs, the compulsive eating started from fear of going hungry.

There are many things we hold back from trying, scared to fail. We worry about what others will think and end up spouting dumb words or holding back when we should speak up. The wind of peer pressure blows on our kids everyday, right through the morning window when they decide what to wear before pushing them toward and away from other kids.

How would these things look different in your life, if you were not afraid?

Your relationship with your sweetheart
How you parent
The people you tend to befriend
The relational boundaries you draw
How passive or aggressive you are in conflict
How often you say no
How and why you study
What you would say in a job interview
Where you work
How you work, the hours you put in
Your relationship with your self, in exercise or ways you nurture your body and spirit
Your eating
Your career
Your blogging
Your art
Your dance
How and what you write
What you buy
The goals you set
Add your own.

Feel free to think before getting back to me.

If I Were a Man

Hey Guys,

While I’m airing out old posts on HarsH ReaLiTy, I’m having myself some fun. Actually, a lot of it. The readers there have been getting a kick, and I didn’t want you missing out if you were interested. It turned out to be a weekend on men and women. Check out

OM’s If I Were a Woman and
my response If I Were a Man

http://aopinionatedman.com/2014/02/22/if-i-were-a-man-by-hw/

Yesterday I put out Men and Women: Another Difference,
his repartee Dear HW – The Reason Men Nap

Just backscroll on his home page. You’ll catch the party.

I’m enjoying touching base with many of you. Have a wonderful weekend.

Love,
HW

My Pen and I: In Sickness and In Health, ‘Til Death Do Us Part

BlogBkSo I had told myself I wouldn’t post personal updates. I want to give my readers more. But I hope you get something out of these stories. This post is about my blogging journey. How I’ve been on my face in the dirt this month, knocked over by hail and tree. How those nearest and dearest to me sat me up to the sun.

The happy part first: The friend who taught me to pilot this blog sent me a birthday ecard this week. I had to share it with you. No bolt of revelation, no profundity to shake anyone. But it’s been a hard month and it felt good to smile:

A little girl, dressed in her Sunday best, was running as fast as she could, trying not to be late for Bible class. As she ran she prayed, ‘Dear Lord, please don’t let me be late! Dear Lord, please don’t let me be late!’

While she was running and praying, she tripped on a curb and fell, getting her clothes dirty and tearing her dress. She got up, brushed herself off, and started running again!

As she ran she once again began to pray, ‘Dear Lord, please don’t let me be late…But please don’t shove me either!’

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Gift Number Two, this one from a fellow poet. It was perfect. Yes, the picture on top. All last year I wanted to get myself a nice blank notebook for the on-the-go writing. You should see the piles of haphazard blog notes in my office. I’ve started filling in my precious blog book with future posts, my heart to yours.

Gift Number Three, a card printed just for me. My husband hit bull’s-eye. It was the most thoughtful card he’s ever picked out. Many of you have read of my daily struggle to keep up the writing while homeschooling and dreaming about vanquishing the dishes.

BdayCard41InsideCard
These gestures of love sweetened the bitterness of February. I can share only a glimpse of what it’s been like but the flu got me good this time. I could count on one hand the number of decent night’s rest I got all month, barking my lungs out ’round the clock for a brief reprieve at three in the morning. There’s a lot more I could regale you with. So why did I continue writing? Because I couldn’t talk, teach, read to my son for all the coughing, but I could talk to you. At least after someone stopped hammering my head and rubbing jalapeño all over my skull. Why am I talking to you?

My brain kept writing.

Through the tears and the hopeless madness, my brain went off on a life of its own. I’ve experienced in a fresh way how powerless artists are against our calling. It is the sunflower that knows to follow the light, the monarch butterfly that migrates to the same place every year refusing to be deterred by 2000 miles of wind and elements. Life tries to get in the way but nothing can bridle a writer’s reflex. Clutching my ribs, I hacked away and reached for my pen like the half-conscious addict who gets his hand around the bottle. I was rehearsing what I realized I will be doing on my deathbed. Raise a stick of a finger to entreat pen and paper so I could share what it was like, night’s closing in on me. I haven’t stopped writing because that’s what we freaks called writers do.

The Power of Unstoppable Love

I’ve condensed the radio interview that featured on This American Life, Love is a Battlefield. What do you make of this woman?

For seven-and-a-half years, Daniel was confined to a crib. He ate in it, stared out the window during the day and slept upright in the space he shared with another boy in the orphanage. He had no idea that across the Atlantic, a woman named Heidi had picked him out of a magazine from an adoptive agency. She would fly to Romania with her husband Rick to take Daniel to his new home in Ohio.

The adjustment for everyone was relatively smooth the first six months. Until Daniel’s eighth birthday rolled around. He had never contemplated what a birthday meant and started wrestling with the realization that he had parents who could have chosen not to leave him in an orphanage. Anger overwhelmed him and “he needed to hate someone. Heidi and Rick were the people closest at hand. And so his tantrums became tornadoes of rage. Seven, eight hour marathons where he would throw literally, anything he could get his hands on. He put more than a thousand holes in the walls of his room. They had to move everything out of his bedroom except a mattress.

Social workers and specialists left their home bleeding, needing medical attention. But Daniel’s greatest pleasure was in hurting Mom. She shared, “One time he gave me a black eye when I was trying to help him and he smiled like he was so happy.”

And what did you think when you saw your son smiling?

Observe her unemotional response.

I thought he really needs serious help.

Rick had to hire a bodyguard for Heidi and they called the police regularly. Rick could take only so much and threatened to leave. When Heidi was asked point blank if she would’ve sacrificed her marriage, her voice trailed off, “I didn’t want to…”

I was so exasperated. She obviously had been willing.

Then one day when Heidi was preparing Daniel a snack, he grabbed a knife from the counter and held it to her throat.

The interviewer asked, “How do you love somebody who is homicidal?

And I was disarmed: “Well, because he was my son. I mean, you have to love him or else there’s no way out of it. It’s like, if you’re lost, you want to keep moving forward to get to the end place. I don’t think I ever questioned my love.”

She was his mother. As simple and as definitive as that.

What Heidi feared was that Daniel would end up seriously hurting someone else. After consulting a string of psychiatrists, she settled on a highly intensive program related to attachment therapy under the guidance of Dr. Ronald Federici in Virginia. She and Daniel were required to spend eight weeks side by side, literally no farther than three feet apart.

The goal of his plan is to try to recreate the bond that never occurred because I wasn’t with him when he was born. But it’d be very natural for a newborn baby to spend an extensive amount of time just next to the mom.”

Daniel reported: “I didn’t go to school. She stopped her job. When she would go to the bathroom I would be right outside the door. When I went to the bathroom, she’d be right outside. The only time she was not next to me was when I was sleeping. And like literally, that was it.”

Like mothers and their babies, Heidi and her son also had to spend time looking at each other. Daniel was required to look into Heidi’s eyes in every interaction. Every time he resisted, he was subjected to greater gestures of intimacy. They would sit on the couch and she would punish him by hugging him. Initially, Daniel’s behavior deteriorated.

But then he gave in.

He actually came to understand, likely for the first time, that his mother loved him. The transformation came slowly, and when stealing replaced the violence the therapy changed. Rick and Heidi cradled him 20 minutes like a baby every night. At 13, Daniel was bigger than Mom but complied for the ice cream they spooned into his mouth to keep him still. He started opening up, talked about what it had been like in the orphanage. Slowly helped around the house, made friends.

Then he won the Brickner Award from synagogue, given to the valedictorian of the confirmation class. Though Mom had taken Daniel to synagogue hoping it would help develop morals, he was kicked out many times over the years with the help of the police. The distinction he earned was a miracle. Sharing the troubles of his early life in his acceptance speech, Daniel kept his composure – until the end. He shook:

Before I finish, I’d like to thank two people, my mom and dad. The reason that I’m here today and the kind of person I am today is because of you. Dad, you’re one heck of a guy to put up with a crazy family like this. And you guys are both amazing. I love you very much.”

Heidi said it was “without doubt, the most spectacular moment of her life.”

And this moment made for an exultant redemption of an arduous journey. But the closing footnote was what I found most interesting.

Heidi and Rick were able to take a seven-year-old with no direct experience of adult affection, and with a certain amount of pain and suffering, turn him into a loving son. The only problem is that the actual participants in this story see things differently.”

Heidi said she doesn’t feel one can teach love.

Heidi: I don’t think the goal was ever love. The goal was attachment.

She seems utterly practical about the whole thing, even about whether or not her son now loves her.

Heidi: Yeah, I feel loved by Daniel. I don’t think he wants to hurt me. I don’t worry about that at all.

It’s a very unsentimental view of her relationship with her child. But that is probably exactly what had made Heidi so successful. She is an unusually pragmatic person. She’s not a flowering earth mother with a wealth of love to give. She is fundamentally realistic, tough-minded. And these are precisely the characteristics that are needed in this situation. If you’re the kind of person who actually needs love, really needs love, chances are you’re not the kind of person who’s going to have the wherewithal to create it. Creating love is not for the soft and sentimental among us. Love is a tough business.

What do you think of Heidi’s missionary zeal, her unflinching devotion to her son even against the threat to her life? And the closing commentary? A lot of women – a lot of people – would’ve wrung their hands and most understandably taken it personally to have a knife put to their throat in this context. I was fascinated by the thought that anyone more emotionally needy than Heidi would not have been able to pull off the change of heart in her son. Parents who are abusive are in fact often acting out the disappointment of not receiving the love they demand from their child. You also wonder how much grief biological parents would take from their kid. But Heidi’s parenting reveals that to her, Daniel was her blood. Any thoughts on this woman’s bottomless reserve of patience and determination?