Monthly Archives: March 2014
This one still resonates..
I am the often proud, sometimes unhappy, but full of joy mother of two boys; 17 and almost 21 years of age…. Like most parents, raising them were at times hairy; nights were spent filled with worry when a fever spiked, an infection got worse or they struggled to learn something new and my heart broke from wanting to help, all while recognizing they had to do some things on their own. The oldest is very quiet and reserved. As a baby, strangers would stop us in the store and tell us he had such an old soul. He followed most rules, went to pre-school at 3 and is now a rising Senior in college.
When his brother was born 8 weeks premature at 3 pounds, he stepped in at four, to try and help by washing the baby bottles ( Had to redo them but it was the thought that counted) and…
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One of the things my mother would say to me consistently as a teen and more vociferously when I became an adult was this; I PRAY that you are ‘blessed’ with a child who behaves JUST LIKE you!
I used to grin and say to myself ” how bad can it be? I was pretty awesome as a kid.” I was soon to find out just what my mother meant and no matter how many times I apologized to her and God, it seems I had no choice but to re-live my childhood through this second child of mine.
It all began when he was about 81/2 months old… He started learning how to walk after being born premature at 32 weeks and 3lbs. He should have been behind his peers right? Wrong. He would make his way to the refrigerator, open the door, open the egg carton, squeeze the eggs until they crushed in his fingers, close the carton and close the door.
His brother who was 4 years old, got in so much trouble because never could we have imagined it was the baby! Until one day when I turned the corner to the kitchen and caught him in the act..
I called my mother horrified and she cackled, thanked God for small mercies and hung up on me..
It only got better.. He would swing fearlessly from all kinds of things and people would marvel at his tenacity and strength. He would stubbornly tackle the toughest projects even when warned not to, so as a direct result, he and I would constantly butt heads at home.
We live in a community where our ethnicity makes up less than 25% of the population but my kid was not deterred and made friends with everyone. Many of his current friends are of Jewish descent and their parents love him dearly. He has been to more Bat mitzvahs than a few and I consistently hear how delightful and well behaved he is.
So a few years ago when he was around thirteen, he was on punishment at home and instead of allowing him to place the dishes in the dishwasher, I made him hand wash, dry and put them away.
As the tears were quietly rolling down his cheeks and I’m moving around him, he lost his composure and blurted ” I wish I was born Jewish! Those parents are so much nicer than black ones!”
I turned, looked at him and said ” well guess what buddy, you were assigned to be black and more specifically, to be MY child. Suck it up and finish those dishes!”
I went to my bedroom, closed the door and laughed until I cried…all I could think was ” help him lord and me while you are at it so he can grow up unscathed.”
He will be 18 in a few short weeks and heading off to college. We are both still in one piece but I’m going to give him the gift my mama gave me all those years ago; I wish for him, a child JUST like him when the time comes and that I am alive and well
To enjoy what I know for SURE will be his phone calls of apologies..
Writing this article was not an easy feat like the all others have been- in part, because against my better judgement, I allowed myself to be surprised yet again, by the level of entitlements we carry around as humans with very little regard for others..
In my work, I hear and see all kinds of things; some are awful while many others are heartwarming in ways that makes me want to see it replicated everywhere. I am always amazed by the capacity we have as humans to see beyond all the ‘isms’ and show compassion for those in need.
Natural disasters and cruelty to animals are two of many areas where we see this level of empathy.
I had to stop someone recently, who just had nothing nice to say about folks of Jewish descent and let them know, that kind of behavior will never be tolerated in my presence even if, especially if, it’s said as a joke.
So in a recent conversation with a group of friends around sensitivity to each other’s cultures and background, I was given an example of one educator feeling alone in a building of her peers.
She tried making friends, tried having lunch, tried developing working relationships but beyond the surface hello, she was never invited to lunch, parties etc. she spoke of what a lonely place that was to be in and just as she sat down, one of her peers stood up and said forcefully, “People speak to me all the time, I have no trouble making friends and I always feel welcome in the building. Life is good here and I think we are making more of this than need be.”
The other Educator stood up and quietly said ” you are aware that you are heard in the adjoining room with our peers discussing other cultures in a less than kind way right? We hear when you say you will not be inviting certain races and cultures to lunch for whatever reason. We hear the whispers and the giggles when we walk by. You should feel welcome and invited because most of the people here look like you. Schools are having a hard time getting minorities to be a part of their culture because it is infested with people who are making assumptions daily about who we are, whether we deserve to be here and the climate is not conducive for building relationships. So tell me, if the tables were turned, how would you feel?”
At this point, the other Educator is feeling targeted and put upon for the very words she spoke in a matter-of-fact tone Not five minutes before.
As I listened in fascination about this scenario, it lends itself
to another issue; if the adults are this judgmental and unkind to each other, is it any wonder that the children feel it too?
Time and again, children who do not fit a “majority” category, feels the brunt of insensitive behavior. They are targeted for being poor, having a disability, or being a minority to name a few.
Children already have so much on their plates; having to constantly deal with The brunt and sting of feeling like a consistent outsider, affects attitudes, grades and whether they participate in clubs and other school activities.
This kind of behavior has never been acceptable but is becoming more prevalent over time.
A 13 year old teen said in a detached manner that she sees all kinds of unfair behaviors with her teachers and even had one teacher call her stupid on a regular basis. She has learned at this tender age to numb herself to the behavior and had not spoken to her parents because she felt there was nothing they could do to help her.
I was stunned… Where do we draw the line of outrageousness?
It is with this and many other examples in mind that I decided to offer some advice for educators working with minority children in the hopes that we can change some of the stereotypical assumptions that are often made.
1). It hurts me to have to say this but minority children are capable of excelling and being labeled as gifted.
2). Their parents do care what happens to them. Take the time to get to know the families of all your students.
3). Do not make negative assumptions about what happens in their homes. Low income does not equate to being unable to learn. Middle and high income families of color are often treated with the same disdain because the assumptions remain tightly in place.
4). Watch your facial expressions when teaching children. They see your expression harden when speaking to them but soften as you speak to their peers.
The bottom line is this; if you treat all children the way you treat your own, we would have less of these discussions and more success stories to report.