theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

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I am light.

I will be completely honest.  When I woke up yesterday morning and confirmed the election results, I had a moment where I wished I could be my dog; blissfully ignorant and content with digging holes in the backyard and receiving the occasional belly rub. Like many parents, I struggled with how to tell my kids that our candidate had lost.  Like many of my friends, I was worried about what this election means for our country.  And like many people I have spoken to and read about, I have shed some tears.

I have stopped reading the articles that try to articulate how we got here because the fact of the matter is this is where we have landed.  We need to decide how we are going to move forward and in doing that, each of us has a decision to make about how we are going to put ourselves out into the world from here on out.  The great thing is, that with so much work to do, there are many roles to play.  So how I decide to put myself out there doesn’t have to look exactly how you decide to put yourself out there.  The important thing is, we have to put ourselves out there.

Yesterday, my daughter, who is an 8th grader, texted me a selfie of herself and her good friend Lubabah.  To see this beautiful picture of my Jewish daughter with her Muslim friend reminded me of why we must continue to do meaningful work to affect change and why we must refuse to be silenced.

I woke up this morning with great clarity of my purpose in this world. As I drove home after dropping my daughter off at school, these were the words that were streaming through my head:

I am light.

I am peace.

I am love.

I am calm.

I am listening.

I am a beacon in the storm.

I am a safe harbor.

I am gratitude.

I am powerful.

I am kindness.

I have clarity.

I  have purpose.

I have vision.

I have been practicing for this moment in time for my whole life.

I am a soul.

I AM LIGHT!

I am shining.

I am unafraid.

I am unstoppable.

 

This is how I am choosing to put myself out in the world.  Every day. I will make a difference by putting myself out into the world as the best version of me that I know how to be.  I am excited to see how all of you put yourselves out there too.  With every great challenge comes great opportunities.  Go be the best you.  Only you can make your contribution.

Does Nothing Last Forever?

Those folks who know me know what a great year my younger daughter had in kindergarten last year.  And, they know what a great year I had as a regular volunteer in my daughter’s kindergarten class.  As the year drew to a close I became increasingly sad.  I wasn’t ready for the year to end.  How was I going to say goodbye to kindergarten?

I asked my daughter’s teacher how he dealt with the end of each school year and he replied, “Nothing lasts forever.”

I get where he was coming from.  It’s true, kindergarten couldn’t last forever and time inevitably marches onward whether or not we are ready to fall in line.  Something fell flat with me about that response though.  It seemed so….permanent.  High School had ended, and college and graduate school after that.  But even though they ended they lived on- through memories and lessons learned, sure, but most importantly through the continued relationships with people who were and still are important to me.

Last year, I was privileged to spend time with 24 amazing kindergarten students who reminded me that that the world is a curious place that we should never stop exploring.  They reminded me too, that a little bit of kindness goes a long way.  Their smiles and hugs brightened my days.  That they wanted to share their stories, jokes, and secrets left my heart feeling like it could burst from all the love I felt for those children.  To just walk away from all of that with a “nothing lasts forever” seemed impossible.

It turns out I didn’t have to worry.  I am still a volunteer at my daughter’s school and I see the kids from her class last year all the time.  I still get hugs when I pass them in the hallway; they wave wildly at me from across the cafeteria; they still pull me aside to tell me a joke or a story or a secret.

When you think about it, it’s not necessarily the experiences that we have that are  important but the people that we share those experiences with.  Relationships based on shared experiences connect us on a human level and allow us to understand each other better.  These places where our lives intersect with one another’s- where our paths cross, whether for an hour, a day, a month, a year, or a lifetime, are opportunities to learn from each other, to accomplish together, to support one other, and to recognize that we are all greater than the sum of our parts.

I guess we could just have these experiences, form these connections, and then just part ways never to speak to each other again.  Sometimes, we don’t have a choice.  People pass away or for reasons we are never privy to just decide to not be part of our lives.  Even then I wouldn’t say that nothing lasts forever.  Once someone has found their way into my heart they stay there forever right along with the things I learned from them and the ways that I changed because of them.

I suppose the ‘nothing lasts forever’ people have their reasons for being that way.  Maybe for some folks it’s just too hard to look forward and backwards at the same time.  Maybe it’s an ‘out of sight out of mind’ kind of thing.  Whatever their reasons I have no choice but to respect how they feel.

However, I am not a ‘nothing lasts forever’ person.  I am a ‘keep people forever’ person.  If you are someone I call a friend or someone with whom I have shared a meaningful experience or conversation; if you are someone who has showed me or members of my family kindness or have inspired me to be a better person then I’m going to keep you forever.  And if I can’t keep you as a fixture- as someone who wants to be an active part of my life in some way then I will keep you in my heart- forever.  That’s just who I am.

In my opinion, a more accurate statement would be that that nothing stays exactly the same forever.  Kids grow up, friends move away, jobs end, people die.  Things do change and we have no choice but to change with them.  But we do get to choose the people that we keep for as long as we want to keep them.  When we are especially lucky, those people choose to keep us too and those relationships are tremendously special.  It doesn’t matter if we see those people every day, once a year, or communicate with them only through letters, emails, or social media.  The important thing is that we find ways to stay connected and keep the conversations going.  The love and support that I feel from my friends who are hundreds or thousands of miles away is no less powerful than the love and support of my friends who live in my neighborhood- even if I haven’t physically laid eyes on them in years.

In the words of John Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”

Things may change but that does not mean they disappear.   The experiences we share, the connections we make, the conversations we have, the friendships we forge, the love we give and receive- all these things inspire and change us.  They shape who we are, who we become, they help to create the legacies we leave behind- forever.

They Have to Be Carefully Taught

A lot has been written and said in the days since George Zimmerman was acquitted of shooting and killing Trayvon Martin.  I have been reading and listening to a lot of it- voices from all sides weighing in on why the jury made the right or wrong decision; network analysis of the trial; interviews with a jury member; blog entries; the presidential address, etc.  I have heard people blame “bad” Florida laws and say that the killing of Trayvon Martin had nothing to do with race.  I have been listening, and reading, and thinking but have remained decidedly quiet on the topic.

Now, I’m ready to share what I’ve been thinking about.  I want to say too that what I am sharing is merely my opinion, my thoughts – not specifically about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, but about race in general and why so many people are so uncomfortable talking about it, especially in mixed company.  I want to raise the issue of how we talk (or don’t talk) to our children about race and how dangerous our silence is.  You are welcome to agree or respectfully disagree with me and maybe we can even have a productive, honest conversation about a very important subject matter that is not going away any time soon.

This past week I have been reading, Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, the 2009 non-fiction book written by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  Especially in light of everything that is being written and said about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman I found myself fascinated by Chapter three, “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race.”  The authors cite a 2007 study in the Journal of Marriage and Family which found, “that out of 17,000 families with kindergartners, 45% said they’d never, or almost never, discussed race issues with their children.”  However, when broken down by race, the number of white parents who said that they “never, or almost never” talked about race with their kids was 75%- almost three times the number of nonwhite parents who answered the question the same way (pgs.51-52).

The chapter also discusses another study, conducted in 2006 by a doctoral student named Birgitte Vittrup from the University of Texas who specifically recruited Caucasian families with children ages 5-7, to research whether or not watching children’s videos with multicultural story lines have any beneficial effect on children’s racial attitudes.  One group in the study was not given any videos to watch but was asked to raise the issue of “racial equality” with their children for five consecutive nights.  Five of the families in this group left the study altogether.  Two of the families told Vittrup that they did not want to point out skin color to their children (pages 48-49).  The reasons that the other families dropped out of the study were not provided but there is an underlying assumption that their reasons were similar to the other families who withdrew.

I have been thinking about these studies.  I was surprised by the statistics and the anecdotes in this chapter.  Could it be that parents are worried that talking to their kids openly and honestly about race, that by bringing up the subject of skin color, it could cause their children to become racist? To me, the idea that by not talking to our children about race they will not notice or think about race (whether positively or negatively) echoes the largely non-proven argument that by talking to kids about sex and birth control they will be more promiscuous.     As a Caucasian parent, I thought I was having the right kinds of conversations about race with my children.  We talk frequently about everyone being equal despite race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, etc.  I tell them to not judge a book by its cover, and that skin color should not be criteria used to choose friends.  We have talked about the Civil Rights movement and slavery and about brave people of all backgrounds who fight for equality.  All this is okay- I don’t think they are bad things to talk about.  But I am realizing that it is not enough.

I have believed for a long time that children have to be carefully taught to hate.  But it is not enough to simply refrain from using derogatory terms or sing the praises of Martin Luther King, Jr.  I think that for some Caucasians talking about race forces us to admit that we are not where we thought we were on this issue.  That we don’t know as much as we should know and that we are not doing as much as we should be doing to move our nation forward.  There is a discomfort in acknowledging that there is a disproportionate percentage of minorities who are socio-economically disadvantaged and that our criminal justice system works largely in favor of light skinned people with financial means.  Most people do not like to think of themselves as racist in anyway.  But I will be the first to admit that my being a progressive and open minded person does not mean that I do not have work to do.  I have been one of those Caucasian moms who sit around a table with other Caucasian moms and talks about how lovely it is that our children are “blind” to the skin color of their classmates.  As if “color blindness” is really the ideal or as if we actually have any idea as to what is actually going on inside our children’s heads.

I was reminded of this a few nights ago while reading to my daughter.  We were reading the story of a Jewish family many years ago living in a shtetl somewhere in Eastern Europe or Russia.  There is a picture in the book of a little boy entering his school house and the question posed to me by my five year old was not, “why aren’t there any girls?” but instead, “why is everybody white?”  (So much for color blind.)  I was surprised that she asked this question, but I was excited too because it gave me an opportunity to raise the issue of race in a different way than I had in the past.  I started out by talking about how some countries, some cities, some towns, are more diverse than others and that there are places in the world where the majority of the people have similar skin tones.  Then, I took it a step further.  We talked about how sometimes people don’t get to choose where they live.  For centuries, Jews were pushed into little geographic areas because the rest of the population didn’t want to live among them because they were different.  I told her that this still happens today with lots of groups of people, sometimes based on skin color, for the same reason.  We discussed how sometimes people are afraid or uncomfortable around people who look differently from themselves, or have different religious beliefs.  I asked her to share with me what she already knew about this kind of thing.  My five year old daughter told me that she knew that there was a time in our country that it was against the law for people of different skin colors to be friends or marry each other and that it wasn’t right.  Then she said that she knew there will still places around the world where people did not have equal rights and that this wasn’t right either.  She also told me that she was glad we lived in a town where everybody did not look the same.

This conversation still may not have been perfect but it was definitely a step in the right direction.  I learned that my child is thinking about these issues and that she is observing everything that is going on around her.  She is trying to make sense of the world and figure out how she fits in.  We have to do more than just not teach our children to hate.  We have to take advantage of teachable moments, we have to let our children hear us speaking out in the face of injustice, we need to answer their questions as honestly and thoughtfully as we can and we need to ask them how they feel about these issues.

We also have to ask ourselves why we do not want to talk about this.  What is making us uncomfortable?  What is holding us back?  We have to ask ourselves what our silence tells our children- what permission are we giving them to not care if we give the impression that we don’t care.

There’s more to be said- so I’m going to end this by saying, to be continued.  I need to regroup and think some more about all of it first.  In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts.  We need to be talking about this if we hope to make any progress at all.

The World According to Rachel, Part 2: Hide and Seek

The following is a reprint from a short-lived blog I started when my youngest daughter was about 18 months old.  It is written from what I imagined her point of view would be.  If you missed Part 1, you can check it out at: http://wp.me/p1ZHOE-8W

Hide and Seek is a very fun game. The best part is you can hide anything! Last week, I decided to play Hide and Seek with my shoes. My timing was perfect! Right after I hid them, mommy came into the living room and said, “Rachel, let’s find your shoes- it is time to go in the car to get your sister from after school art class.” I thought, “yay, mommy is IT- she has to find my shoes all by herself.”

Mommy said, “Where are your shoes, they were just here ten minutes ago?”

I said, “I don’t know.” (When you are playing hide and seek you are not supposed to tell the seeker where the hider is.)

First mommy looked under the couch (lots of stuff likes to hide under the couch). Then, mommy looked under the TV cabinet. Then she started walking around the house very fast looking everywhere for my shoes. I am SO good at Hide and Seek. Then mommy said that we were going to be late so I would have to wear different shoes and she brought over some strappy sandals that give my feet ouchies. I was very mad because I wanted to keep playing Hide and Seek so I laid down on the floor and started screaming. Then, while I was laying there, my sneaky mommy stuck those ouchy sandals on my feet and picked me up right off the floor. Next time, I have to remember to hide those ouchy sandals.

When we got to the school we had to sit in the car for a little while because there were no more parking spaces. I thought mommy might want to talk to pass the time so I kept shouting things like- “NO CAR,” “OUT, OUT, OUT,” and “ALL DONE..” Mommy didn’t listen. She just said something I didn’t understand about how I should quiet down because there were faraway kids in refugee camps that would trade places with me in a second. Finally, we picked up my sister and went back home but mommy did not want to play hide and seek anymore.

You will be happy to know that mommy did find my shoes two days later by accident when she opened up a cabinet while looking for her keys (please don’t tell mommy that it was me playing hide and seek with her keys). And now, I think my toys are playing Hide and Seek with me. I can’t find that Play Doh anywhere!!! I’ll have to remember to ask mommy about that tonight in the middle of the night when I wake her up. Then, I’ll write again and tell you all about it.

The ‘Sanctity’ of Marriage

Lately, we have been hearing a lot about ‘the sanctity of marriage.’ In particular, there seems to be grave concern that if same sex couples are allowed full marriage rights it will result in the complete desecration of the institution of marriage. But while people banter about the phrase ‘the sanctity of marriage,’ I’m not sure that many people have actually sat down and thought about what it means to them and their own marriage or partnership.

When I looked up the definition of “sanctity” on dictionary.com, I found the following definition: “condition of being inviolable.” Just to be sure, I looked up the definition of “inviolable.” It reads “secure from destruction, violence, infringement, or desecration; incorruptible.”

Considering the divorce rate in this country, it is funny to me that the words sanctity and marriage go together at all. (Not to mention the number of people to choose to remain in an unhappy marriage.) The act of getting married in no way guarantees a happy, successful partnership. It’s not even a guarantee of love. There are too many people who get married for the wrong reasons, and so many factors that can cause a marriage to be unhappy- infidelity, abuse, jealousy, resentment, disagreements about money or child rearing, lack of affection, dishonesty, miscommunication, etc. – that it seems to me instead of talking about the sanctity of marriage, we should be talking about the vulnerability of it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know of too many marriages that are completely ‘inviolable.’ Marriages are made up of imperfect people, and like life itself, marriages are fragile. It takes a tremendous amount of bolstering and nurturing by both partners to have any chance of a marriage both being happy and having longevity.

Instead of spreading nonsense about how allowing everyone equal access to marriage will result in the legal union of a man and his toaster, perhaps people should be sitting down with their own spouses and partners and focusing on what they are going to do to strengthen their own relationships. As far as I am concerned, the act of simply being married (whether or not the wedding takes place in a house of God) is not enough to make a union sacred.  If it turns out your marriage is one of the 50% or more in this country lacking in “sanctity”, you can be certain it has nothing to do with whether or not Greg and Gary or Lisa and Lucy can legally tie the knot.

Big Time Rush = Big Time Trip Down Memory lane

My older daughter turned 9 last week and as her birthday present I took her last night to see her favorite band, Big Time Rush, in concert. In case you do not have a child in the tween to teen age range, to understand Big Time Rush, imagine ‘The Monkees’ for today’s teeny bopper generation. The band was formed as part of the Nickelodeon show of the same name, a show about 4 friends from Michigan who form a band and move to L.A. They sing all original songs which apparently gained enough popularity to release an album, and send the band out on tour.

The band is made up of James, Logan, Carlos, and Kendall (in that order in the below picture taken from the Nickelodeon website).

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Each guy has been assigned their own personality trait so there’s someone for everyone to crush on. James is the “hot” one (note the totally amazing hair), Logan is the “smart” one, Carlos is the “funny” one, and Kendall is the “boy next door” type. Since I have always been a sucker for a guy who can make me laugh, I have to say Carlos is my favorite. If I were 20 years younger his goofy smile would be plastered all over my bedroom walls.

The last time I went to a concert filled with screaming teenagers, I was one of those screaming teenagers. So I was curious to see if anything had changed in the world of ‘boy bands that make teen-aged girls swoon.’ Little has changed. From the over priced merchandise, enthusiastic shouts of “Marry me, James!” and the intricately decorated “BTR Rules!” posters (complete with blinking LED lights) to the many slightly amused yet slightly terrified parental chaperones, it could have just as easily been a NKOTB concert from my teeny bopper glory days. The only difference I noted was the use of social media in getting the concert goers pumped up before the show. The kids could tweet from their cell phones and their messages would then appear on the jumbo vision screen, and the Big Time Rush website.

Luckily, my own daughter has not quite reached the celebrity crush phase- she was actually there because she likes the music (and the TV show) but there was plenty of hormone induced screaming to go around. I have never been so happy to have ear plugs, and I made a few friends by handing out extra pairs of ear plugs to extremely grateful parents.

The four guys pulled off the show with a fearless adrenaline fueled energy that would make even the most seasoned parent cringe. The set was built of scaffolding, steep ramps, firefighter style sliding poles, and of course, had a trampoline at center stage. Every time they bounced, flipped, or somersaulted from one side of the stage to the other, I said a silent prayer for their safety.

There were the prerequisite fireworks and other pyrotechnics, several costume changes, and tons of cheesy boy band choreography. But my favorite part of the concert by far, was when the band pulled two girls from the audience on stage and serenaded them.

The girls looked like they were about fourteen, give or take a year, and they had two totally different reactions. One girl looked as if she had been transported to her own personal fantasyland. She had a dreamy look in her eyes and leaned her head on Kendall’s shoulder for the entire time five minutes she was up there. This was her moment, and she was milking it for all it was worth. When Kendall asked her how she was feeling, she blurted out a gushy, “I love you!!” I could almost feel her trying to memorize what every second felt like so she could visit her new happy place whenever she chose.

The other girl could not stop shaking with nervous excitement. Her legs were perpetually bouncing and she alternated between hysterical crying and hysterical laughter. Half the time she was biting her nails and when Logan took her hand in his, I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head. I am honestly surprised that she maintained consciousness through the entire experience.

I cannot imagine either of these girls having a more exciting moment in their young lives. Which begs the question, what do you do when your life peaks at 14? They are now the envy of their peers, and everything they experience from here on out will be compared to that moment. Those are hard expectations to meet going forward.

All in all, the whole concert experience was a little surreal. I was instantly transported back to my fourteen year old self. My celebrity crush was Kirk Cameron- I had 174 posters of him on my bedroom walls, ceiling, and furniture. He didn’t sing or dance, but I thought he was totally dreamy. What I would have done to have had five minutes to lean my head on Kirk Cameron’s shoulder. What can I say, you dream the dream.

I laughed at those girls last night, but only because I remember feeling and acting the exact way they were feeling and acting. I was excited for them, knowing that they were creating memories that they will relive twenty years from now when they take their daughters to see whoever the teen heart throbs are in 2032.

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Dream a Little Dream, then Wonder What it Means…

A couple of nights ago I dreamed of chocolate.  Chocolate brownies, chocolate syrup, chocolate truffles, everything chocolate.  When I woke up and went into the kitchen the dream made sense.  On the counter were the nine boxes of Girl Scout cookies we had ordered, and two boxes of chocolate cake mix and containers of frosting for my daughter’s birthday cake.  Couple that with my decision to give up chocolate and the dream is not so strange.

Other dreams that I have had are not so easy to explain.  I have one recurring dream that seems easy enough to interpret on the surface.  I am back in college and it is the end of the semester.  There is a literature class I have never attended, but I never got around to dropping.  Now, I have 24 hours to read four William Faulkner novels to prepare for the final.  To make matters worse, I have no idea where the final is taking place and I don’t know how to find out.

Classic anxiety dream, right?  But it’s an anxiety dream that I should not be having.  I spent from 1996 to 2006 studying and working in the area of higher education, six of those years I spent as an academic adviser where part of my job was advising students on university policy pertaining to adding and dropping classes.  If there is anyone who knows how to appeal to the Dean of a college for an exception to policy (i.e. drop a class past the due date) it is me.  No matter how many times I have this dream, it never occurs to me to go to my adviser for help.  I find this fascinating.  The other part that makes little sense is this.  In all my years attending and working at schools, I have never seen an undergraduate professor count a final for more than 40% of the final grade.  If I had not attended class or turned in an assignment all semester, even getting an ‘A’ on this dream induced final exam will not let me pass the class.  So why am I even trying to prepare?

There is one dream from my childhood, though, that to this day I cannot explain but I remember it clear as day.  My family is dressed in bathing suits and we are all in a large hot tub inside our house.  We are making small talk when all of a sudden out the window we see King Kong making his way down our street.  King Kong is looking to eat anyone not eating a bathrobe, so we jump out of the hot tub throw on our robes and run up and down the streets warning our neighbors with shouts of “Don your bathrobes!!”  At the same time there is a cable car suspended from our telephone wires making its way down the street.  Those folks cannot get to a bathrobe in time, so King Kong eats them.

This banana is fine but what I'm really craving is a person not wearing a bathrobe.

Back off ape face! I have a hair dryer and I'm not afraid to use it!!

Anyone care to take a crack at that one??  What’s the strangest dream you’ve ever had?

Welcome to The Orange Inkblot!

Sometimes, when we get too focused on how life is hard and times are tough, we forget that life is also quite funny. This is important because it is the laughter that gets us through the dark times and brings light back into our lives. When I plunged into stay at home parenting six years ago, I quickly realized that finding the humor in situations that were otherwise exhausting, frustrating, or outright disgusting, was a definite prerequisite for the job.

Earlier this year, I had to have knee surgery due to a tear in the meniscus. According to the surgeon, it was a simple procedure and I would walk out of the recovery room with no required assistance. It turned out to be a little more complicated than that, and the first words I remember hearing while coming out of the anesthesia were, “she is not allowed to put any weight on her right foot for 30 days.” Decidedly not funny.

Being on a short leash gave me a chance to sit and write- a luxury these days. I began writing down funny memories from my childhood (stories that were not all so funny while they were happening, but looking back I can appreciate the humor in them); funny conversations that took place between myself and my husband; or interesting ideas for books or blog entries. Now, six months following surgery, physical therapy, and recovery, I am finally ready to share some of these tidbits with the world.

I can’t promise how regularly I will be posting. After all, I have otherwise exhausting, frustrating, and outright disgusting things to deal with.

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