Martin Luther King, Jr.

I just realized that Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the States.  I’d forgotten, given how I don’t live in the States.  My kids and I will be hitting homeschool hard on Monday, so I wanted to take this opportunity to talk to them more about Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a family, we don’t shy away from discussion of race.  Funny story, my kids and I were waiting for a flight in Atlanta not too long ago and we found ourselves talking about Laquan McDonald.  It was in that shitty terminal cafe that I introduced to my kids the words “institutionalized racism”.  They’re seven and eight.  They got it, and they wanted to talk more about it.  It isn’t too young to talk about this stuff.  If anything, it’s too old to suddenly understand that our lives are, by and large, easier than the lives of people of color.

So, knowing that every other homeschooling mom in the world is at the top of their game and has their shit planned out YEARS in advance, I took to Pinterest, assuming I could plug in a few words and find a lesson already planned for me.  Bam.  Because I’m late-planning like that.

I did, let the record state, find some materials that we will be using, but the other stuff I found was jaw dropping.

Let me preface these findings with telling you what Martin Luther King, Jr. means to me, so that you can kind of see where I’m coming from.  To me, the man represents change and bravery.  Balls.  Determination.  The willingness to stand up.  I recently quoted someone (without attribution) saying, “The Civil Rights Movement is now.”  It is.  It always has been.  In my younger mind, I liked to think of the Civil Rights Movement as a thing that I kind of missed.  I enjoyed telling myself that, hell yes, I’d have been sitting at those lunch counters, raising up those signs, getting angry and defending the rights of my fellow man.  But the truth is, if I’m not doing it now, I wouldn’t have done it then.  A lot has changed since the days of King, but not much has changed since the days of King, if you know what I mean.  If you are not being radical today, you would not have made center stage in the photos back then.

To me, King represents the responsibility we all have in rising up against what is wrong, in not being complacent, in fact, in being righteously angry.

So imagine my surprise when I see that Pinterest has completely white-washed the event. What I found, instead of careful, age-appropriate discussion on the importance and absolute necessity of change, was a bunch of word searches where kids are instructed to find words like ‘peace’ and ‘diversity’.  I Have a Dream speeches with fill-in-the-blanks, the examples given being things like, “I have a dream that one day my mom will let me play outside in the rain.”  And, my favorite of all, a ‘science’ experiment that encourages kids to crack open a brown egg and then crack open a white egg to see that, ta da!, inside we are all equal.  The comments on that one were priceless.  “So simple, but so powerful.”

Is it?  Is it really?  You know what I see when I see two eggs busted open?  I see two eggs busted open.  You know how I feel when you tell me that they are a metaphor for black lives and white lives?  I see that a white person almost definitely came up with that genius trick.

I don’t know how many different ways to phrase it, but when you tell a child that blacks and whites are the same on the inside, aren’t you doing an incredible disservice to black history?  Aren’t you kind of ignoring the reality of our current situation?  Aren’t you almost setting your kid up for racism?  If you tell me that blacks and whites are the same, I’m going to ask you why blacks go to bed hungrier than whites, why they earn less than whites, why they are incarcerated more than whites.  I’m going to ask you why they die earlier and more violently.  If you tell me they are the same, I’m going to assume they’re doing something wrong to muck the whole thing up, because the fact is, blacks are not faring as well as whites in this world.  Crack an egg all day long, but that’s just the truth.

I get wanting to tell your kids that we are the same, because it sounds a lot like we are equal, and I get that.  We should be equal.  We have equal desires and equal potential.  We just don’t have equal access.  I don’t think our kids are too stupid to understand a history and a current tradition of prejudice and racism.  I think they get it, and I think they’re confused when we don’t talk about it.  The Civil Rights Movement is now.  Martin Luther King, Jr. may be gone, but his dream is still waiting to be realized.  If you act like the problem of race has come and gone, you remove the responsibility to act.

We’re going to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. tomorrow, but we’re going to talk about his work in the present tense.  There will be no cutesy acrostic poems about how hard he fought to get the change we see today.  I will not allow my children to write a speech about how they dream of a world that better accommodates their desires.  We are going to talk about how it takes people with balls to stand up and rally for change.  We’re going to talk about why blacks fare worse than whites in America, in the world, still today.  We are going to sit down and take a hard look at ourselves, at our friendships, at our privilege.  We’re going to find ways to raise signs.

I have a friend who is deeply involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.  Through her, I’ve been educating myself and opening my eyes, gratefully, painfully.  One of the most powerful things I’ve read was the response a black person had to a white person asking how she could help the movement.  The black person replied with something along the lines of, “It’s not my job to tell you how to get involved.”  At first, I was taken aback by the words.  I thought, “Jesus Christ, cut us some slack over here.  We are trying.”  But I think I get it now.  You don’t ask the person who is choking how to do the Heimlich Manuever.  As whites, we have the privilege.  We have as many tools as there are.  Now it’s going to take determination and creativity.  We cannot ask other people to do the work for us.

My kids are smarter than a cracked egg lesson.  Yours are too.


Gender Roles

I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.  Honestly, until my ovaries demanded children, I never thought of myself as being a mom at all.  Or a wife.  I wanted to be a physician.  There are days when I long to go back and kick 20-year-old Lisa in the freaking teeth for making the choices she made, but oh well.

I don’t regret my husband or children at all.  At.  All.  I don’t.  I only wish I’d realized, when I opted the three of them into my life, that I was simultaneously saying ‘no’ to a lot of other things.  I foolishly bought the shit we tell our kids, even more forcefully, today, “Honey, you CAN do WHATEVER you put your mind to.”

Actually, you can’t.  You need to make choices along the way, and each choice has a trickle-down effect, making other choices obsolete.

I’m big into feminism.  I’m also big into parenting, as a concept.  Although it is undoubtedly the right choice for gads of other people, I could not imagine putting my kids in day care or hiring a nanny.  To me, each tiny choice I make for my kid comes from a lot of research, a lot of soul searching, and a heavy perusal of our values.  The very language I use when I speak to my kids is laden with values and deliberate decisions.  I can’t imagine farming it out.  (This post is not about daycare vs. stay at home parenting.  We are both right.)

So I expected that either I or my husband would stay home with the kids.  He had a good job when the kids came along.  I didn’t.  He won the right to work, and I won the right to stay home.  This post will not be a discussion about who does more work, because anyone who has ever stayed home with two kids, 18 months apart, will tell you who does more work.  Come Sunday night, a little light comes back into his eyes, as he imagines dealing only with 30 kids in a classroom instead of two kids in a shower.

Anyway.

I have tried, desperately (and, I now believe, in vain) to instil in my family the idea that having a vagina doesn’t mean you do laundry and having a penis does not mean you do the grilling.  Every chance I get, I flip that shit.  I’m all, “Hey, looks like we need to start a load of whites.”  And then I hold my breath, because he doesn’t know how to do a load of whites.

Yesterday I drew up a big list of chores that needed doing, divided them in half and assigned each kid a list.  They then randomly chose a parent to team up with.  It so happened the girls were on one team and the boys on the other.  The tasks were, purposefully, mixed.  The boys cleaned out the fridge; the girls cleaned the air conditioner filters.  Etc.

This morning, I went to use up the leftover pumpkin to make pumpkin muffins and, to my absolute horror, there’s no freaking pumpkin in the fridge.  I storm into our room, wake up my still-sleeping husband, and bark, “Where’s the FUCKING PUMPKIN?  WE LIVE IN HONG KONG–THERE IS ALMOST NEVER PUMPKIN.  YOU CANNOT HAVE THROWN OUT THE PUMPKIN.”  He did.  He thought it was soup.  Side note: he also threw out the double batch of cauliflower chowder that I made the day before.

My point is–he threw it out because he doesn’t really know enough about it to give a shit about it.  He doesn’t know what it looks like, what one does with it, how long it lasts in the fridge, how hard it is to buy in the store. The reality is that he is at work for 12 hours a day, 5 days a week.  When he’s home, he’s fully present, but I can’t honestly expect him to have an equal interest in pumpkin, the same as he can’t expect me to really care about whatever he does all day.

I can’t hold him accountable for the pumpkin.

Or the whites.  Or the grocery shopping.  Or the homeschooling.

And I can’t keep getting angry because he doesn’t know these things.  The same as I made choices that made other choices obsolete, so did he.  When he chose to take on an administrative role at his school, he unwittingly also chose to not ever give a shit about canned pumpkin.  Because that’s how this thing works.

As we get older, I find myself doing more and more of the ‘female’ tasks at home, just to keep the freaking circus running.

Boom.  I’ve fallen into a gender stereotype, despite all of my hard work in avoiding it.  I made that choice nine years ago, without realizing that I’d made that choice.

The truth is: you can’t have it all.  It seems we need to find a new way of embracing that.  My challenge now is to teach my kids that having a vagina doesn’t mean you have to learn about pumpkin, but that somebody probably should.


It Ain’t All Bad

This homeschooling shit is starting to sort itself out and be less of a jerk, which goes to prove what I always think (but never say)–that when things seem like they just cannot continue, it’s because you’re on the cusp of something.  If you stick with it without changing a damn thing, something different is about to happen.

What’s happened is that we’ve fallen into an easy, lovely routine.  Nobody cries anymore.  And my kids are learning like crazy.  Homeschooling is back to feeling like a privilege and not a chore.  Thank gods.

In the morning, they’re free to do whatever they want, so long as it doesn’t involve a screen.  They know they have to be fed, dressed, brushed, with beds made and room tidied by 9.  This gives them about 2 hours of free time in the morning, and honestly, it’s probably where most of our learning happens.  My son usually gets dressed as soon as humanly possible and heads outside.  Sometimes he goes to the sea and goes fishing.  Sometimes he finds a tree to climb.  If he’s inside, it means he’s got a good book.  My daughter likes to keep things fresh–playing with the pets, drawing, reading, baking, building Legos.  I get housework done and answer emails.

At 9, we start.  I’m still pretty didactic.  I do honestly believe that kids learn just as well in a more relaxed atmosphere, but I know I’m not going to sleep at night unless I’ve ticked the old-school, probably unnecessary boxes.  We do grammar, handwriting, spelling and math daily.  We do science and history three times a week.  We do art, formally, at least once a week.

I took them out of Chinese, because I hated it.  I realized that I don’t have to be a martyr and that I get a vote too.  Chinese?  Gone.  Ask me if any of us miss it.  We don’t.  I sure as hell don’t.  Nothing like trying to teach a kid a language you don’t freaking know.

I keep saying we are adding Latin and Spanish, but it hasn’t happened yet.  My son, however, honestly wants to learn Spanish, so that’ll have to happen soon.  I’m okay with Spanish.  Latin may well wait an entire year, I don’t know.

We are done with homeschooling by noon every day.  There are no more days when it drags on to the afternoon.  We eat lunch and then we are all free to move about the cabin.  The kids can have an hour of screens, if they want, but because we finish homeschooling at noon, it’s pretty outside and they typically just want OUT.  We do the beach, hike a bit, hang out at the playground.  As they get more independent, I’m able to leave them alone for longer periods.  I often drop them at the playground and run errands.  It’s so nice, for all of us, to have this independence from each other.

 

Sprinkled throughout our entire day is reading.  Independently, together, quietly, aloud.  We read so damn much.  I think the part that feels like it’s really working is that all of us are now really eager to learn.  It’s weird.  I see everything as a chance to learn or to teach, and that’s definitely new.  And kind of exciting.

How do I know this is working?  Because last night both of my kids were curled up, for hours, with chapter books in their dirty little paws.  Because they make casual references to Sargon.  Because they correct each other’s grammar.  Because the other day, when Dylan announced that he was no longer going to play with so-and-so, my six-year-old daughter said, “Uh oh.  Dylan’s about to cross the rubicon.”

I’m cranking out total geeks, y’all.

I love it.


ADHD

I go back and forth about the ADHD thing.  I’ll tell you why, and you can tell me why I’m wrong.  Because that’s how the internet works.

When I worked in New Orleans as a social worker, every child I saw (and I only saw children) had a diagnosis of ADHD.  Every single one.  And it wasn’t like you looked at the kids and saw this common thread running through them and nodded your head and said, “Yes.  I saw a lot of children with ADHD.”  It was more like every single child was so completely different, in behavior and circumstance and everything else, from each other that you thought, “There’s no way these two kids have anything in common.  But supposedly they have the same thing.”

I came away from it fairly sure that ADHD was a diagnosis handed to kids who had been improperly parented.  Seriously.

When I had my own kid assessed, he was given a diagnosis of ADHD.  When I told people, namely his grandparents and close relatives, this, they almost all responded the same way.  “Oh lord.  They give that to EVERYONE these days.  Why can’t we just let kids be kids?  So sad.  So fat.”

And I agreed with them, because my other option was to believe that there was something wrong with my kid.

But there are days, and lately we’re having a lot of them, when I am far less than sure about any of that.

Because although all kids are fidgety and restless and talkative, not all of them lose the shoes that they’re wearing.  Twice in a week.  Lose them so irretrievably that they have to take buses back home barefoot.  Not all of them, when they are told to go wash their hands, wind up in the shower instead, because they’re on autopilot and don’t think.  Not all of them, I presume, go outside wearing nothing but a towel just because they managed, on their way to getting dressed, to veer close enough to the front door that their little systems were completely overridden and they just did what they usually do when they get close to the front door: go outside.

My child is good.  And sweet.  And smart.  And funny.  He’s amazing.  But his level of distraction, I think, is beyond typical for a kid his age.

When he went to ‘regular’ school, I got a lot of emails, and I bought an insane amount of water bottles, backpacks, socks, caps.  His school supplies were basically disposable, because they never made it through a week before being lost.  Part of why he’s homeschooled is so that he doesn’t have to feel like a jackass for losing shit over and over and over and over.  Because lemme tell you this–he is a GOOD child.  I think I can count on two fingers the number of times he’s deliberately disobeyed me.  He just doesn’t.  He doesn’t want to lose shit.  It’s important to him to please us and to respect us, and he’s devastated when he loses shit.

And part of why he’s homeschooled is because in a sea of 30 kids, he’s very, very likely to walk out the door in his towel.

I was, at first, fine with it.  He’ll learn.  Maybe a little humiliation and natural consequence is JUST what he needs.  But let me tell you something else: it’s not.  Because it doesn’t work.  You cannot humiliate this child into being able to follow a sequence of directions, because it will never, ever work.  Nor can you encourage him with money or discourage him with losing money or privileges or gold or fast cars.

If it were in his control, he’d be controlling it.

It was easier, much, much easier, to believe what I told everyone before.

I think he’ll grow into himself.  I do.  Or else I think he’s so freaking smart, he’ll just work around it.  He already does.  I don’t think he needs medication, because it’s not at a level that disrupts his functioning too much.  Plus, he’s homeschooled.  He’s got his MOM as a teacher.  And I’ve got all the time in the world, yo.

 


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