I had been out of town for a short work trip when my daughter, Shaila, told me what was upsetting her. I could hear that something was bothering my seven year old as she told me the details of her school day. Yes, her teacher had liked her Christmas present. Yes, she was being a good girl. Yes, she was excited about Winter break.
It was only after a little more prodding and handing off the phone to my husband, who was also accompanying me on this trip, that we were able to get at what was really bothering her.
“Um, well, today at school? My friend, Kylie* told me she doesn’t like brown people.”
John looked up at me and I could hear him weighing his words as he chose carefully what to say to our daughter, next.
“Yeah. She said she doesn’t like brown people. And she especially doesn’t like Nico because he is REALLY dark.”
Shaila’s five year old younger brother, Nico, is certainly a darker shade of brown than my daughter, but I so rarely think about it that it made me catch my breath to hear of someone’s distaste for my sweet, little son.
Because he is too brown. Too dark. Not white enough.
My heart caught in my chest and shortened my breath. I am not an idiot. I knew this day was coming at some point. I knew that one day my kids would be told, however innocently, that they were not good enough or on the other side of right, because of their skin.
When I got back on the phone with Shaila, I said the first thing that came to mind.
“Honey, you know that no matter what color a person’s skin is, we are all equal.”
“I know that, Mommy,” she said.
“And no matter what someone might say to you, you can never judge anybody based on the color of their skin.” I said this absolutely, allowing no room for argument.
“I know that too, Mommy. I’m just really sad,” she said, despondently.
My heart broke for her as I thought about the weight of those words on her little shoulders. Words that made her feel inferior. Words about her brother that made her confused and hurt.
“No matter what anyone ever says to you, you have to know that the color of your skin doesn’t mean anything about what kind of person you are. And I want you to know that no matter what you might feel, and what Kylie’s words made you feel, she is the one with the problem. Not you. NOT you.”
I couldn’t see her over the phone but I imagined her resigned nod.
“When I get home, we’ll talk more about this, ok? I know that you know this, but you should never like someone or dislike someone because of what they look like or because they are different from you.”
“I know that, Mommy,” she sounded stronger when she said it this time.
I wanted to say more, but I could feel my voice cracking and my composure going a little. We hung up with me assuring her that I loved her. But I wished that I had been there on this day to help her through this experience alongside her.
My kids are five and seven years old. Sadly, this isn’t the first time they have even heard words of prejudice or intolerance. Less than two years ago, while they had been playing in our front yard, a group of young boys walked up to both of my children mocking them with the words in a mangled Indian accent, “Hurry, hurry – get your curry!” Both of my kids had just looked confused, but unbeknownst to the boys, I had heard their words and their laughter as they continued down the street.
At the time, my son was three and my daughter was five. The dagger in my heart didn’t draw blood, though it felt like it had.
I had to think carefully about the words my husband and I say to our daughter about this situation. The same way I am going to think carefully about how I might approach this with my daughter’s teacher, to make her aware of the words that were used in her classroom a few days ago and how they dampened my daughter’s spirit. I know the school already messages very strongly about inclusion and embracing differences, and I am certain she would want to know that this took place.
This wasn’t the first time and I am fairly certain this won’t be the last time that my children encounter words of intolerance and ignorance. At the same time though, the world can be a brutal place and I know I would have to teach them this lesson at some point. I just wish that Shaila could have worn her rose-tinted glasses for a little longer.
I try to explain to my kids how boring this world would be if we all were the same. I am happy to say that I think they get that. You don’t have to be brown to understand what I felt that day my daughter related what happened to her at school. All the unique things we love about our children can also be the target of someone else’s disdain.
It’s up to us to remember as parents that we have to make them love and embrace those very differences which make them stand out today. For those differences are exceptional and need to be accepted, explored and held up proudly by our children. While they hurt, these character building experiences have to be handled in a way which won’t cause shame to our children, but makes them proud. In a way that makes them hold their heads up a little higher and backs a little straighter.
The world may not always give our children what we think they need, but we can always take what the world gives them and shape that experience for them so they can learn from it.
So bring it, world. We’re ready.
* Names have been changed to protect the young child that said this to my daughter.
I am going to be honest. I have not watched “12 Years a Slave.” I mean to. I really do. But every time it comes down to committing to watching it, I just can’t make myself do it.
I have also not watch “Django.” Or “The Kite Runner.” Or “Rabbit Wire Fence.” Really anything that will make me cry. Ugly, heaving cries.
By the way, did I ever tell you about the time I read “The Kite Runner”? I was on a plane from Washington Dulles to San Diego and I was almost 7 months pregnant. I add that last fact in only to make you think that my hormones might have lead to some of my response to that book. In truth, it probably would not have made much of a difference. I sobbed on the plane reading that book. Like, sobs that made the other passengers sitting next to me uncomfortable. I tried to muffle my sorrow, but the tears flowed like tiny rivers down my face, landing in smudgy little drops on the pages of the book as I read.
For months afterwards, my mind would replay certain scenes from that book and I would find myself fighting tears again. I would drift off to bed at night with the last thought being of the horrible child rape scene in the book.
That was just from reading a book.
I want to watch hard things. I really do. I want to watch movies that touch on the most horrible human brutality. I want to watch movies that show me the state of a world I don’t know, like “Hotel Rwanda.”
But then again. I don’t.
I am a very visual person. I don’t forget what I see. It’s why I can’t watch horror movies either. When I was 7, I saw the movie “Poltergeist.” To this day, I still can remember every graphic, twisted and disturbing scene from that movie. 7 was a long time ago. But my mind, and my heart, still hold on.
A few months ago, a good friend of mine posted something on Facebook about how important it is that people watch movies like “12 Years a Slave.” After all, we have a choice to watch a movie about it while fellow humans didn’t have a choice and had to actually live it. I understood exactly where she was coming from, but again, I knew that I wasn’t going to be sitting down any time soon with that movie.
I am a sensitive person. I do not think I am necessarily more sensitive than other people, the only thing I know how to explain is how I feel. When I watch a movie like that, it takes an emotional toll on me, one that I am not that quick to bounce back from. It weighs on me and exhausts me and pulls me down under the heavy weight of it. I feel helpless, I feel angry, I feel empathy, I feel pain. My heart wants to burst. And I sit there and my mind replays things. Again and again and again. The movie doesn’t end in my mind, even after the final credits have run.
I know that terrible atrocities occur every day in this world. But I can’t always watch and listen and read about them. I don’t want to go running towards the opposite end of the spectrum and sit with my feet up on the couch catching up on “The Kardashians” which munching on popcorn, but I do know that I have a threshold for how much human pain and suffering I can expose myself to before I start to become an emotional wreck who wants to be an activist for every social cause I feel any passion for.
When something like the horrible factory collapse happened in Bangladesh a year and a half ago happened, which left laborers basically dying in a massive coffin, people around the world were angry and sad. I was one of them. I cried and I imagined what it must have been like for the people in that building. I built stories in my mind about the children they undoubtedly left behind. I imagined “Slumdog Millionaire” type scenarios in my mind about what was to become of the orphaned children.
That’s how I process things. And in some ways, it is extreme.
You know, I know that in some ways I’m a coward. But I also think that I am very much a realist. I know how much I can emotionally take and process without putting myself in a state of paralysis.
Yesterday, the internet (ok, hardly) almost damn near broke because of Kim Kardashian’s ass being on display. And then it almost broke again (ok, not really) when photos of her entire naked body were revealed. And it’s kind of sad that there are so many things going on in this world that we should be talking about and addressing, but every person on the internet was most likely exposed to some aspect of Kimmy K.’s nudity yesterday.
I think our fascination with all the fluff is because we can’t, in my best Jack Nicholson voice, “handle the truth.” The truth is hard. The truth is scary. The truth is so much more painful to process sometimes then looking to see what the favorite reality star du jour is wearing (or not). Sometimes avoiding the truth is a result of pure apathy, but sometimes, it’s the exact opposite of apathy that makes people steer clear of it. Why should we talk about the impact of the Ebola scare on the rest of Africa when we can take about Blake Lively being pregnant? Why should we talk about the sex trade in Thailand when Rihanna is back on Instagram.
As I re-read this before I hit “publish” the thought that comes to me is that I really am going to make an effort to embrace watching emotionally challenging things, no matter how hard it might be. I think it’s okay to feel a little wounded and have your heart be more sore. It’s okay if you have to cry and push yourself a little harder to try to place yourself in someone’s very uncomfortable shoes. But…it’s also okay if you just can’t.
“Empathy is really the opposite of spiritual meanness. It’s the capacity to understand that every war is both won and lost. And that someone else’s pain is as meaningful as your own.” Barbara Kingsolver
I haven’t felt compelled to create anything in a while. This both saddens me and relieves me; in my past the pull to write or make music was so strong sometimes that I would find myself endlessly frustrated when I didn’t have the time to devote to crafting something. Lately, time is not on my side. I find myself so busy with work and family that I can hardly close my eyes fully at night for fear that I have forgotten just one more thing. When I do find those glimpses of free time between conference calls, getting deliverables done and running to the next meeting, I find myself sucked into nothing worthwhile. Mostly I troll Facebook. I refresh my feed a lot because I don’t have much time to spare and I want only the “newest” news.
Yes, I use the term news loosely.
The reality is that my schedule has caught up with me. I bring work to bed. I wake up early to jump on early transcontinental calls. I go to parent-teacher conferences and feel like a bad parent, because no, I missed the email about the age appropriate books the teacher is recommending the class reads. What email about the system where I can check up on her Science progress? Darn, I must have missed that one too.
No matter how much I run, whenever I feel like I catch up, I am still far off the mark. Because.
There is always one more thing.
These one more things add up quickly to become a whole shit load of things that I need to conquer in my life. When you are sitting with all of the one more things, they weigh on you and it’s hard to be creative. Your creativity feels like a luxury that you can no longer afford. The one more things cross your mind again and again. This things that are due tomorrow at one end of your brain and the unsettling call you had with your client occupying the other end. It’s damn near impossible to find the creative energy to then shift gears when the weight of one more things is weighing you down.
To take it a step further, it’s hard not to feel guilt when you do something that’s just for you. Sure, once the kids are in bed, go for it. If you aren’t already ready to crumble in a heap on the sofa or fall lifeless on your bed.
Where once there were ideas, there is now silence. Where once I could push myself creatively at a much more aggressive pace, I can no longer do that. I already feel like a wobbly and sloppily placed string of dominoes. I feel like adding more pressure to produce creatively right now will send those dominoes tumbling.
How do you pull yourself out of situations like this so that you can still create, write and find joy in the things you love that selfishly, are really only for you? How do you get beyond feeling suffocated by all the one more things without drugging yourself heavily and find the time to work on your craft?
I am not sure. My questions are not rhetorical. I genuinely want to feed my soul by writing and songwriting more and I truly don’t know how to work myself out of this space where I feel so confined and creatively ensnared.
How do you find the time around your responsibilities to still find time for creativity? What do you sacrifice as a result? If you’ve given up on your creative pursuits because of the weight of one more things, how do you feel about it?
There are times in life where I feel like it’s easier to be hard on ourselves than forgiving; when it’s easier to point out all our shortcomings than to accept that we are truly exceptional at some things. Lately, I have been finding myself going through this and I am having a hard time coming out on the other side of it.
A few years ago, I went through something that caused a great deal of emotional turmoil for me. It seems like it was so long ago in some ways, like yesterday in others, but let’s just say that I have never fully recovered from the emotional roller coaster ride I experienced over the next few years.
I found myself doubting myself in ways that I had never doubted myself before. I lost my voice. Instead of the loud, commanding one I used to confidently wield, I found myself retreating, uncomfortable with the sound of my voice or my words. I had become a timid shell of myself. In an effort to anesthetize, I drank too much and made bad hair decisions, none of which helped elevate my confidence.
That doubt made its way into the many corners of my life, working its way into all of the areas I felt encompassed me as a person. It permeated through what I thought I knew about myself and made me question everything.
Where was I in my life? What had I really accomplished? Was I successful? Was I doing something that I thought was valuable? Hell, was I valuable?
The thing with doubt is that it’s a powerful thing. It worms its way into your head and can make you think the darnedest things about yourself. You start to stumble in areas where you once sailed by. People who once thought your capabilities were limitless start to doubt you too, for doubt can be contagious. After all, if it’s obvious you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?
A few weeks ago, I had my twentieth High School Reunion. I think that having this coincide with a time in my life where I didn’t feel like my feet were grounded firmly in the ground was not the easiest thing, but life is not perfect and I understand that most of my fellow classmates must have their own crap that they have to navigate. I felt like I was really, really hard on myself on the weeks leading up to the event.
Nothing was right.
I didn’t feel or look my best.
I was not altogether satisfied with where I am in my career.
I questioned whether I was a good mother.
Everything was under a microscope – not by anybody else, but by me.
I used to be in Project Management and one of the things you always have to manage towards on projects is scope creep. Making sure that the client doesn’t try to expand the breadth of the project beyond what is committed in the contract. Scope creep always happens. It’s human nature to want to push the boundaries to see how much more you can get out of something. But I was starting to realize that the expectations I placed against myself were seriously verging on a different kind of scope creep, because nobody had ever defined the scope of what I was supposed to be.
I think the standards that I started to set for myself were unrealistic and overwhelming. I was setting myself up for failure and disappointment. Making mental comparisons with others where it was inevitable that I would fall short, forever focusing on what I lacked versus what I had.
When I take a step back and regain perspective, I always come back with the same conclusion.
You’re so goddamn hard on yourself.
And it’s not doing anybody any favors. Particularly myself.
I think that it comes down to this. It’s one thing to set a bar for yourself on standards you wish to maintain in your life, but it’s another to set the bar so high that you can never enjoy what you have. The journey to getting what we want in life can be a rich one, but it starts to lose it’s luster when all you see is the ever changing destination and you don’t allow yourself to enjoy the fact that you may have already arrived.
So I’m working on that. Working on cutting myself the same slack that I cut for others who touch my life. Perfection is overrated and the quest to achieve it is exhausting, frustrating and ultimately, unattainable.
Sometimes, the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is acknowledge, that we are, in fact, enough. So much more than enough.
Photography by Tell Chronicles – http://www.tellchronicles.com/caption
I don’t really like reading parenting books. Hate ‘em. I do. As a matter of fact, I would say I still have parenting book “burn out” several years after I tried unsuccessfully to do any of the following:
a. Have a panic free pregnancy after reading enough pregnancy books to know how large my unborn child was relative to fruit on any day of my pregnancy (i.e. your child is now the size of a baby kumquat).
b. Breast feed any of my children for more than four weeks after reading every single book I could find on stress-free breastfeeding. All of which stressed me out more and inversely reduced my milk supply.
c. Get my kids to sleep. I tried every strategy that The Baby Whisperer had to offer me and I tried so hard to have The Happiest Baby on the Block but the results were temporary at best and the ever present circles underneath my eyes indicated just how successful I was at employing the tactics. Although I was an awesome swaddler. I could swaddle a baby like nobody’s business.
Unfortunately, my kids are seven and five now and while I would love to still swaddle them, I think that this might be considered child abuse. Though I think that would be really cute. And handy, too, especially when they are out of line.
The thing is, if you have a friend who is an award winning parenting expert, chances are, another parenting book is going to find its way into your hands. Even if those hands are a little scared. And not ready to clutch another book full of parenting wisdom close to your already bruised parenting ego.
When Deborah’s book, “Get the Behavior You Want, Without Being the Parent You Hate” came in the mail, I admired the cover and thought to myself, “Wow, look at how great her arms look on the cover!” I smiled back at her beautiful face and oohed and aahed over the reviews on the back cover.
But it took me a few days to open it. Not because I don’t need it. I do. In our household we very consistently don’t get the behavior we want and we totally loathe ourselves as parents on some days. No, we most certainly needed it.
I wasn’t ready to take on another failure. I wasn’t ready to read another book which I would get so excited about, only to learn that while these strategies could work, they would just not work for me.
Here’s why parenting books generally don’t work for me:
a. I have no follow through.
b. No matter what I do or how I say it, the recommended advice does not get the results I want with my kids and I just end up yelling and screaming like a banshee. (Don’t do that, it never works).
c. They don’t have the same evocative plot twists as say Breaking Bad on Netflix. Because Breaking Bad will win. (Even re-runs).
So, here’s the good news about Deborah’s book. Unlike so many other parenting books, it is not overwhelming and it’s not some insurmountable tome that is painful to get through. The best way to describe reading this book? It’s like your practical older sister looking you in the eye and giving you advice about all the daunting things we face as parents. While having tea. Or maybe a glass of wine.
She’s funny and pragmatic. I think being a family physician for many years has given her a great perspective on understanding the challenges of parenting. Of course, having four boys of her own might help a little bit with her credibility too.
The book also doesn’t have to be read in one long sitting. It’s meant to be more of a roadmap for when you are navigating some difficult situations. Which is helpful, because who has time for that, yo?
I especially love the emphasis on respect throughout the book. Having respect for your children, but also teaching children self-respect by being someone who walks the walk and talks the talk. Without developing that core balance of respect between children and parents, it becomes really hard to move forward and see progress in correcting behaviors if the fundamental core of respect is not stable.
I ultimately want to raise socially conscious, respectful, smart, self-motivated children. I think this book is one of the few that touches on how to do this in a practical and attainable manner.
I now keep this book by my bedside table every night and I read a chapter or two, that pertains to what we are going through as a family and I usually glean some great advice and insight every time I do that. And by reading in small sections, I am more likely to put the lessons into action.
I wholeheartedly agree with Jill Smokler, aka Scary Mommy, who said, “Thank you, Dr. G, for giving me the only book on parenting that I don’t want to chuck out the window!”
I totally agree with Jill. Despite my parenting book burn out, this book is here to stay and I will be buying several copies for friends too. Who will probably give me dirty looks because they will assume I think they are a bad parent. But then they will read the book and forget they were ever upset with me, so it will all work out in the end.
Read more about Deborah Gilboa, MD, aka Dr. G at AskDoctorG.
My daughter lost her first tooth the other day. It was a really momentous occasion, because you only lose your first tooth once and you’ll always remember the day you got your first memento from the Tooth Fairy.
Seeing her lose her tooth made me nostalgic for my own first lost tooth. I remember that the Tooth Fairy gave me four dollars. That was a lot of freaking money for a tooth when I was 7 years old. But then after that, she really didn’t deliver, often forgetting my next few lost teeth or sometimes downgrading me to a quarter or two.
Bitch set me up for disappointment.
John wasn’t home yesterday to see Shaila’s excitement over losing her teeth and I felt sad for him because if you don’t know already, John loves teeth. His own glimmery, pearly white teeth always stand out in his smiles. He smiles all the freaking time, which I think is directly related to the fact that he is a show off and he wants people to see his teeth.
It is no coincidence that John is a model for our Dentist’s office. His face lines the walls of the office, the brochures and even the website. I guess my teeth didn’t make the grade, because I don’t remember them asking me to join John on this modeling venture.
That’s ok, when I go to the Dentist’s office, I try to do inappropriate things in front of or to his picture. In the picture below, I appear to be mounting the shot of him in the reception hall. The Doctor’s staff understands because they know he travels a lot.
1 2 3 … 32 Next