Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Parental Obsolescence

Last night was the first night in nearly seven years that I spent alone in my own home-not counting the dogs.

I was able to work as late as I wanted, eat what I wanted, watch what I wanted to watch on TV. It was great.

Of course, it didn't take me long to realize that I was getting a view of the coming attractions-more and more nights left to my own devices as my daughter spends more time with her friends and less with me.

Since I had some time, I began to to think about our role as parents. What is our primary job-keeping them safe, healthy and happy, educated and clothed and of course, loved. Surely those things are critical to raising a child, but I was groping for the "why" rather than the "how" of parenting.

Then it hit me-our primary job is to make ourselves obsolete-just like the manufacturer of that fancy laptop you bought two years ago planned its obsolenscence to get you back in the computer buying game!

Isn't our real job preparing our kids to grasp their futures? We are preparing them for the time when we won't be available to guide them. We are preparing them to take their place in the world-on their own and without us.

Of course, I don't want to make myself obsolete too soon, I do realize that the balance of power is slowly shifting as my daughter gets older. At the end of the day, she will have to make the call on how to act or react to any given situation.
The best I can do is give her the tools that will guide her over the course of her life and hope she uses them.

The ability to thrive in most situations with most people in a positive and non-judgemental way is one of the most powerful tools that we give our children. We need to remind our children-and ourselves-that we need to look beyond our differences and make judgements based on things other than color, race, culture, religion etc. When we get there our obsolescence will be survivable for our kids.

For this Thanksgiving, however, I am not quite ready to throw in the towel-I still have some tools to pass on to my daughter. And I am planning to enjoy doing just that-while I am still the #1 person in her life.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

With Respect

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Families are Forever. Period!

November is National Adoption Month. It is a time to celebrate and honor families formed via adoption and remember all of the children, both in the US and abroad, who need 'forever families'.

That's right-'forever families'.

Contrast the spirit of National Adoption Month to the headlines that have screamed that Angelina Jolie's daughter Zahara's adoption was anything other than legal, binding and forever and the ramifications that these kinds of accusations have, not only on Angelina Jolie's family, but on all families formed via adoption and all of the children who have yet to find their forever families.

Adoption is forever. Period. That is the bedrock promise that parents who expand their families via adoption make. It isn't temporary. Parents can't change their minds and 'return' a child and birthparents who legally terminate their parental rights can not decide at a later date that they want to raise the child.

The concept of forever family is critical to the health and well-being of the children that joined their families through adoption. Think about it for a minute and imagine the anguish the children feel if they think that their family-unlike families not formed by adoption-is temporary and could change at any minute. Talk about having a hard time attaching and forming lasting meaningful relationships.

So as the headlines scream that 'Zahara's parents want her back' remember that she is a real kid-who has already been through the trauma of losing her first family. She needs and deserves a family-as we all do. And what about the millions of kids that, like Zahara, have joined their families through adoption? How do you think they feel when they see the headlines or hear the "news"?

I can tell you how they feel. Scared. Afraid to make 'permanent' bonds with people because the risk of it being taken away is too great.

We need to hold the media accountable for their role in perpetuating the notion that adoption is anything other than permanent. The media can go after Angelina Jolie all they want-she's a grownup-but her children-and my child-have the right to grow up knowing that their family formed-by adoption-is as permanent and lasting as any other family.

And if that doesn't convince you, think of the kids in our foster care system and the kids in orphanages around the world. What does this kind of 'news' do to them?
It fuels the fears that many parents considering adoption have-that they will somehow lose their child to his/her birthparents after they have become a family.

Go ahead and buy magazines and newspaper with stories about Angelina and Brad-but don't buy the ones that exploit their children because it is not only their children that get hurt. All of our children get hurt.

By the way, all evidence points to Zahara's adoption as 'legal and irrevocable'. Do you think you will see that story on the cover of "People"?

With respect,

Monday, November 19, 2007

The lesson of the mandala....

Mandala is the Sanskrit word for completion or circle. Up until a few years ago, I had never heard the word or had any idea that a mandala was a 'thing'.

In 2004, Lama Tentzin came to my daughter's school to build a sand mandala. The Sand Mandala is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition which symbolises the transitory nature of things. As part of Buddhist canon, all things material are seen as transitory. A sand mandala is an example of this, being that once it has been built and its accompanying ceremonies and viewing are finished, it is systematically destroyed.

The kids were able to watch Lama Tentzin slowly and methodically build the beautiful mandala over the five day school week, while talking with him about peace, harmony and love. They meditated with him in the morning and listened to his prayers before he began work on the mandala each day. At the end of the week, they watched him dismantle the mandala and accompanied Lama Tentzin and the mandala to the beach where the sand was returned to nature.

My daughter talked about-and still talks about-Lama Tentzin. She was as fascinated by his mandala building skills as she was by being able to talk to him-about anything. It was a great experience for her.

Lama Tentzin was able to return in 2005 and 2006 and once again, the kids watched and listened in wonder as he built the mandala and talked with the them about peace and compassion. As he prayed in his native tounge, the kids were mesmerized-and so were the adults.

As it turned out, not all of the parents were as thrilled with this experience as I was. They felt that the school was supporting a religious agenda that was not to their liking. I don't know if Lama Tentzin will return this year.

I was angry when I found out about this-really angry. I wondered how people could NOT want to expose their kids to other ways of thinking and doing things. In a world that revolves around material things and a 'keep up with the Jones's' mentality, wouldn't the gentle message that 'things' aren't as important as respect and compassion for our fellow man be universal?

There have been other similar incidents that have occurred and, frankly, surprised me. But I have stopped being angry. That never has done me any good.

I am trying to live the message of compassion that Lama Tentzin was intent on teaching us. Compassion for the people who are so wrapped up in their own agendas taht they can't see the universality of messages unless they are delivered in a certain way. I have compassion for the children who are missing out on a very special experience. I have compassion for my child who has to live in a world where the sheer beauty of something like a mandala can get lost in people's fear.

I am also trying to be compassionate with myself-which is the hardest lesson of all.

So as Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful for the message of the mandala.

With respect,

Thursday, November 15, 2007

All Chinese people live in Chinatown.....right?

I don't always like to admit that my seven year-old teaches me important lessons on a regular basis. After all, I am the parent-shouldn't I be omnipotent?

Apparently, not.

The other day, my gal was standing with three boys watching an adult take a tennis lesson. The boys began speculating about the man's ethnicity. After testing out several theories, one boy said, "he must be Chinese." His buddy replied, "nah, it can't be all Chinese people live in Chinatown."

I was about to come unglued when my daughter calmly said, "That is not true. All Chinese people don't live in Chinatown." The other boys looked at her, like she had given them winning lottery numbers and said to their friend, "she's right, that doesn't make any sense. People can live anywhere."

We talked about the exchange in the car on the way home. Showing my anger at the entire situation, I asked her why she didn't tell the boy that his comment was just plain stupid. "Mom, calling him stupid isn't the right thing to do. Stupid is a bad word and he wouldn't listen after that."


I actually learned two important lessons from her yesterday:
1: A simple factual, calm response to ridiculous statements can be more powerful than an angry, 'in your face' response (which unfortunately is my style.
2: As much as we want to make folks understand that bias and bullying are learned behaviors, our responsibility as parents means that we have to equip our kids with the tools to handle things on their own. At the end of the day, our job is to make ourselves obsolete.

Sometimes, it takes our children to remind us and/or teach us the very lessons that we are trying to teach them.

What did you learn from your kids today?
With Respect,

Monday, November 12, 2007

Is global climate change the cataylst for global respect?

It seems that more and more people are 'going green'. CNN traded in the red in its logo for green and NBC turned its multi-colored peacock into shades of green. Julia Roberts' new house is green, too.

Could global warming (or global climate change, if you perfer) be our world's common enemy? Can a cohesive fight against this phenomenon be the catalyst needed to get people focused on things other than racial, religious, cultural etc differences that are the cause of so many conflicts. Could fighting a real enemy be the ticket to both saving the planet and humanity?

There's nothing like a common enemy to join people from disparate points of view together. For centuries, unlikely allies have been able to cast aside their differences to combat a mutual enemy. Can we do it again?

Selfishly, I hope the world will rally and rise to fight global warming-the real impact won't likely effect me dramatically. Frankly, even if global warming is a bunch of b.s., the potential for all people in the world to join together is something that I would look forward too.

How can we engage our kids in this global fight? Like everything, it starts at home. What you do to be 'green' will be your kids' role model. You can expand from there.

For us, we are working on reducing our carbon footprint. Thankfully, my daughter attends a school that is very committed to environmental responsibility, so she is getting information and examples from school and from home.

Let's fight the common enemy, save the planet and save ourselves-one step at a time. Will you take that step today?

With Respect,

Thursday, November 8, 2007

If you don't know Jaiya John-you should!

Jaiya John is simply incredible.

If you haven't read"Black Baby;White Hands-a view from the crib"-run, don't walk to your nearest bookseller! The book is a poignant autobiography exploring adoption, racism and racial identity that everyone-connected to adoption or not-can relate to in some way.

John's latest book,"Reflection Pond" is now available and is also a 'must read' for anyone interested in the welfare of children-all children.

In a world where millions of children-for various reasons-are separated from their original family (and maybe culture)we are all forced to consider how we can empower children to heal. The book challenges adults to serve children and get involved in their healing.

In addition, John announced the 2nd Annual Foster Youth Poetry Contest. Open to children from 14-24 it is an opportunity for children who have come through 'the system' to share their experiences with all of us. Contest deadline is JANUARY 22, 2008.

For more contest details and entry guidelines, check out Soul Water Rising.
With respect,

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It it looks like a bully, acts like a bully and sounds like a bully-its a bully!

I was recently involved-peripherally-in a conversation about bullying. The conversation started when a parent asked if a particular incident-related to her kindergarten age daughter- was bullying, a big deal and if it should be brought up with the teachers.

Several things come to mind when reflecting on bits and pieces of the conversation:

1. Bullying is all about POWER-the power hurt-either by words or actions
another person.
2. No one should ever have to put up with bullying of any kind-EVER.
3. Bullying behavior has to be stopped IMMEDIATELY.
4. Never hesitate to bring in your child’s school and/or teachers.
5. Bullying behavior HAS to be addressed when kids are young-by the
Time they get to third grade, much of the bullying behavior is already
6. If you want you child to “tell” on someone who is a bully, is being bullied or if your child is the victim-you need to model that behavior and TELL someone in a position to help you sort it out.

The other thing that jumped out was the parents’ concern that they would be making an ‘issue’ out of nothing and that maybe the incidents weren’t serious enough. Of course, we all should look before we leap to conclusions, but generally if it looks, sounds, and smells like bullying it probably is-and it won’t go away by itself. Noone, ever, should have to be bullied-and even if it seems "minor" to you it has to be stopped.

As a parent there is plenty you can do to help your kids:

Make sure they are exposed to as many different cultures, races, traditions etc as you can manage. If your social group or community is homogeneous, then you will have to make an extra effort-but books, games and crafts do the trick-especially for young kids. You can also debunk stereotypes in the media with your child. The other day, a commercial for a remote-control helicopter flashed on the TV screen. The only kids playing with it were boys. Of course, many girls would also like that toy, but by only using boys the advertiser reinforces the notion that girls wouldn’t like ‘boy’ toys. When you see things like that-point them out to your child. We know that there are plenty of opportunities to evaluate the media.

Start early-the bullies do. In fact, the earlier that kids learn to appreciate and accept others for who they are, the less likely they will exhibit bullying behavior-as a bully, a victim or a witness. Unfortunately, it is difficult to believe or understand that bullying starts when kids are young-around kindergarten.

Do something. Say something. Teach your children to stand up for themselves and for others. Remind them that ‘telling’ isn’t tattling. You need to make it ok for kids to tell you what’s up. Then you need to take action.

Most importantly, don’t second guess your instincts and remember that prevention is a whole lot easier than dealing with a full-blown problem.

With Respect-and hope for a bully-free future,

Monday, November 5, 2007

Why is that auction "Chinese?"

That was the first question my daughter asked yesterday as we were wound our way through our church's "Chinese" auction.

"Do they auction Chinese people or Chinese things?" she asked.

The origins of the "Chinese auction" aren't clear, but I am willing to bet the rent that the origins aren't in China. Conventional wisdom cites a a wealthy American socialite from the early 1900's believed to reside in NY as the creator. According to legend, she was looking for a new and unique idea for charity fundraisers. After struggling to find a new concept she hit on a "Chinese auction". What is the Chinese part you might ask? Well, apparently this wealthy woman believed that making the auction "Chinese" added intrigue, mysticism and mystery to an ordinary event-reflecting the way that many Americans viewed Chinese people at the time.

Fast-forward 100+ years.

Do we still need to put the word "Chinese" in a description? Isn't defining a person or event with this label reinforcing the stereotype of anything Chinese being a little bit odd or off kilter? What is the first thing you think of when you hear the term "Chinese" auction-confusion and chaos or a unique fund-raising event?

This type of racism is not limited to Chinese-consider the "Mexican" standoff-a gunfight where no shots were fired - a Mexican standoff - was inferior and thereby "Mexican." Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins), New York, 1977.

What about "Dutch treat?" Isn't this a stab at the stereotype that the Dutch are cheap-and would make you spring for your own meal rather than pay for your dinner?

Don't these kinds of phrases-no matter who they are directed at-put the speaker 'above' others making the others inherently inferior?

Some argue that if we have to look up the origins of these kinds of racist terms, then the racism is gone. Do you believe that?

I sure don't and neither did my seven-year old-who likened the Chinese 'auction' to the enslavement of African-Americans in the 19th century.

We often scratch our heads about what we can do about racism. Well, here's something you can do right now-rename your 'Chinese' auction-or don't patronize one that won't change the name. Don't tell your kids that you are 'going Dutch'. Don't use any of the 'common' ethnic phrases-ever.

Take action-you're kids will see that you mean business and it will make a difference.

With Respect,

Friday, November 2, 2007

Olympic Torch Bearers-almost 100% right! Congratulations to Jenny Bowen!

I am sufficiently recovered from my Halloween hangover to resume normal activities....but this year it was just too much Halloween. I am glad that is over and I am not yet ready to face the holiday madness during this brief reprieve.

As I 'came to' this morning I saw that American Jenny Bowen the Executive Director of the Half the Sky Foundation (dedicated to the children in China's orphanages)will be carrying the Olympic torch for 200 meters in Beijing at the start of the Olympic Games this summer. It is not certain, yet, whether the children will be allowed to run with her, but stay tuned. Jenny has proven that NOTHING is impossible.

What could be better than Jenny running? The composition of the rest of the runners, that's what.

Joining Jenny are fellow expats: Marcos Torres of the Philippines, Werner Ebel of Germany, Meena Barot of India, Yoshitoshi Mizuya of Japan, Luis Hong-Sanchez of Colombia, Yury Ilyakhin of Russia and British-Venezuelan Deirdre Smyth.

The eight submitted essay about why they loved China and then the international public went to work and voted for their favorite. American Jenny Bowen recieved the most votes.

While the selection does foster the sense of international community and the Olympic spirit, there is one glaring omission in the runners-where are the black people-African or otherwise?

One has to wonder at such an obvious omission. Maybe there aren't many/any African expats living in China, or maybe they didn't garner enough votes. Or maybe the Chinese didn't believe that they could represent 'the real China' to the rest of the world.

Whatever the reason, I wish that all people could be represented. The global 'we' got 90% right....maybe next time we can reach 100%.

Have a great weekend. Don't forget to send those PJ's to San Diego!
With Respect,

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What's wrong with this costume?

A lot! According to wrong "the "Indian" get-up prevails each year as culture-turned-costume. But did you know few Native Americans wore buckskin and headbands and even fewer wore them together? Did you know "war paint" and feathers carry religious meaning and were never worn by Native American children?"

Wow! Who knew?

My daughter left the house the other night in high spirits dressed as Hannah Montana...and she looked great and she thought so, too. By the time she came home, however, she wasn't so thrilled to be Hannah Montana. Someone at the party told her she didn't look like Hannah Montana (like anyone but Hannah Montana would look like Hannah Montana).

She asked if she could have another costume for her school "Halloween Runway" and I agreed. Then we sat down and looked at costumes online. As we were looking, I would make suggestions-and she would say, "no, I don't think so." It finally dawned on me that the models in the costumes were mostly BLONDE-like Hannah Montana-and my daughter knew she 'didn't look like that'.

She would stop and consider costumes modeled by brunettes-"Indian Princesses" were consistently dark haired-but she knows that Native Americans rarely if ever dressed like the costumes displayed and she thought that was "making fun" of Native Americans (YEAH!).

At the end of the day, she settled on a Renaissance period costume (modeled by a dark-haired girl, of course).

The entire episode made me realize that something a 'simple' and fun-spirited thing like a Halloween costume can send messages we aren't even aware that we send. And unfortunately, the messages aren't always positive.

They ask you to consider the difference between 'scary' costumes and violent ones. They ask you to consider whether or not your 'historical' costume, like the "Indian Princess" furthers mis-information about historical figures. They ask you to consider if the costume furthers the notion in our culture that 'blonde is beautiful', which makes a statement about who/what is beautiful and what isn't. It was not a coincidence that the majority of costume models we looked at were blonde.

These things may seem a bit silly or overly politically correct-but unless you have experienced bias, racism (or any other ism)it really isn't our call.

So when you are out trick-or-treating, take a look at the costumes and judge for yourself. Then, when things settle down talk to your kids about what you observed and ask them how they would feel is they were Native American and no one understood their culture or traditions. Ask them about the "Mental Patient" or Hannibal Lecter costume effect on reinforcing our fears of people who struggle with mental illness.

By asking them about how they would feel in another person's place, you open the door to conversations and actions that show how you are combating 'isms' one at a time. As always, you are the best example.

Happy Halloween,
With Respect,

Monday, October 29, 2007

Help kids in San Diego

Please donate on pair of new pajamas to the kids in the San Diego area who have lost so much.

Send on pair of NEW pjs to:

SCRIPPS Hospital
Attn: Pajama Drive
9888 Genesee Ave
Mailstop LJ36
La Jolla, CA 92037

Please include a short note and a picture of your child.

Please do it today!

With Respect

Fear of MRAS or Each Other!

Yesterday was one of the first crisp fall days in New York and so we headed to the Bronx Zoo's annual "BOO at the Zoo" event.

We had a blast-as we always do at the Zoo. Magic shows, story-telling, sing-a-longs, hay rides and trick-or-treating were just some of the activities.

As the day drew to a close, we wandered in to a tent where John Farrell was hosting a sing-a-long. Towards the end of his performance, he invited all the kids to come up to the front of the room and join hands-which they did. When he invited the adults in the audience to do the same thing-we couldn't/wouldn't/didn't join hands.

We kind of looked at the person who was sitting next to us and quickly turned away, putting our hands in our laps. There was no hand-holding on our end.

The kids, on the other hand, were having a ball-clasping the hand of the kid next to them without a second thought.

The difference was remarkable.

Now, the adults may have been fearful of germs-after all MRAS is making headlines. And it is scary stuff! Maybe we were uncomfortable with sharing ourselves with a stranger. But maybe we were somehow afraid of each other. This was a very mixed crowd-highly diverse as you would expect in a borough of New York City. Maybe we were afraid-not consciously-that someone elses ethnicity or race would rub off on us.

Whatever the reason, while kids joyfully and without hesitation grabbed anothers hand, the adults were uncomfortable and suspicious.

I wish that the kids' lack of bias would rub off on us so that we might truly be able to embrace others-without hesitation or judgement. But I do have faith in our kids ability to look past differences and thrive in a multi-cultural world-if we don't screw it up.

With respect,

Friday, October 26, 2007

Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton go to school!

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, there was an article on the front page of the Personal Journal about the relationship between fashion labels and bullying.

Not only do the kids need to have designer clothes to be safe from teasing from other girls-they have to be the right designers! I guess I wasn't surprised that designer clothes were important statements for kids-I caved in and bought my daughter a pair of UGG boots when the knock off pair didn't make the grade. What surprised me is the hierarchy of designer duds.

Of course, this in not being helped by the fact that more and more designers are -targeting young girls and girl-to-girl bullying is growing at an alarmingly fast rate. One-third of middle school girls surveyed answered "yes" when they were asked if they had been bullied due to the clothes that they wear.

Many of us use our clothing to reflect how we see ourselves, but as adults we are much less affected (hopefully) by the criticism of others. Many of us have been able to find our sense of style-eclectic, traditional, hip or whatever and live with it.

Our daughters don't have the luxury of the same point of view. What they wear matters-even in elementary school and becomes a point of differentiation and potential ridicule.

While the brain pool contemplates why fashion is so important to girls' identities parents are faced with the consequences of fashion bullying.

Beyond lobbying your school for a uniform (a parents dream and a fashionista girl's nightmare) there are some things you can do:
1. acknowledge that fashion bullying exists-especially for girls

2. Look at the images of fashion in the media-from Angelina's mom and daughter
matching Chanel bags to Lourdes' (Madonna's girl) Juicy Couture sweatsuit.
See what happens to the children who aren't dressed in designer duds-what
is their race, socio-economic background, etc. Do you and your daughter see any patterns?

3. If it is feasible, get a few designer pieces and help your child
accessorize the pieces she has. It is said that the women in France-arguably among the chicest in the world have a few fabulous outfits and know how to tie a scarf 100 ways.

4. help your child develop her own sense of fashion-what looks good on her
how does she feel when she wears certain clothes, capitalize on what
she thinks she looks good in.

5. Set an example by showing your daughter that you are comfortable with
your style-whatever it is. If you "need" designer clothes just because
they are designer clothes, then this might be a good time to look at that.

And always talk and listen to your kids-ask them how they feel and be supportive. A statement like "I am sorry that you feel that way" goes a lot farther than advice to ignore feelings. "Don't worry about that" or "You shouldn't feel that way" are some of the most self-esteem deflating statements in the world.

Remember, fashion bullying is alive and well-just like all other types of bullying and its consequences are just as real, too.

Have a great weekend.

With respect,

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thursday is book day!

This one is an oldie but a goodie. In fact, after a recent teasing incident this book was read to all the kids in my daughter's school-followed by a discussion. This book does double duty-it is fun, has beautiful illustrations and packs a powerful message without hitting you over the head.

Take a look at
Giraffes Can't Dance
and share it with your kids, your kids' schools and anyone who will listen.!

With respect

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mom, are you gay?

Remember the days when we used the word 'gay' we meant happy? My friend Gay does!

But when my daughter asked, "What is gay", I had to think for a minute about the answer. My daughter tends to ask me these types of profound questions when we are in the car, so thankfully, I could buy a little time while I 'concentrated' on driving.

Having gotten over my urge to jump right in, I asked her what she thought it meant.
She replied when two women love each other like they were married. Pretty smart, I thought.

"Can boys be gay," she asked? That was an easy one-I just repeated her answer.

Things got a bit trickier quickly. She wanted to know if she was gay because she like the girls in her class (she likes the boys, too but she seemed to have forgotten that). to explain that one. We talked about what married people share-homes, family-building, committment and love and why that was different than having friends whom you love in a different way. Then I added that if she is gay then as she gets older she will have feelings-like marriage-to other girls.

I was really congratulating myself for some of these answers. It seemed to me that I was answering the questions she was asking, not giving her more information than she wanted and using her own knowledge as a jumping off point. Not to mention the lack of emotion in the discussion-it was clearly a 'different strokes, for differnt folks' kind of conversation.

Until we got to her final question-"Mom, are you gay"? I nearly drove off the side of the road when she asked that question and really had to stop myself from shouting, "NO I AM NOT GAY". Thankfully, I managed to answer her calmly with a simple 'no, I am not".

As I thought about this it started to bother me. I have many, many gay friends in my life-and I am glad that I do. It never has mattered to me who they slept with. I am supportive of their lifestyles and choices and don't think twice about what being gay might actually mean to them. How shallow is that?

And what about my horror about being pegged as gay? What is that about? I have to admit that I am not too thrilled with my reaction, but I am pleased that we were able to have a calm conversation that presented my daughter with the facts-as I know them to be-and that I was able to reign in my emotional response to her final question.

I truly believe that being gay is totally ok. Now I know that for whatever reason it is only ok for other people. That realization is definately the stuff that bias is made of and is MUCH harder to keep from passing on to our kids because it can be hidden deep within ourselves.

So remember, when your kids ask about something as innocent as 'what is gay' take a deep breathe and see how you feel-really feel-and act accordingly. At that point the choice is yours.

With Respect:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who is Piyush?

Piyush Jindal was just elected Governor of Louisiana. Educated at Brown University, he is a Rhodes Scholar and the winner of many prestigious awards. When he was elected to Congress he was in his early thirties and may have been one of the youngest people ever elected to Congress.

Do you know who Piyush is? You may know him better as Bobby Jindal.

Ok, strike one..

When Piyush was a youngster-pre-school age-his classmates renamed him Bobby-and the nickname stuck. While we can be grateful on his behalf that the nickname wasn't derogatory in and of itself, it may reveal the desire that he may have had to be more "American" and his contemporaries desire to-at best, make their lives easier by giving him a common name, or-at worst, consciously or subconsciously showing their biases and bigotry for people of color.

You might think that this arbitrary re-naming is something that has gone the way of the horse and buggy-but you'd be wrong. Just recently a Yahoo group that I peruse spent time and energy discussing a situation where a teacher had requested that a child "Americanize" his name because it was just "too difficult to pronounce." Yikes!

Even thinking of that makes my blood boil. Who can't take a few minutes to learn the correct pronunciation of someones name.

Unfortunately, in most of the coverage I have heard or read about Bobby Jindal, the lead is always that he has 'broken the color barrier', or that he is a first generation Indian-American who's parents came to the US from the Punjab region of India.

Strike two!

Bobby Jindal is truly a remarkable man-educated at Brown University, he is a Rhodes Scholar and has won several prestigious awards. When he was elected in Louisiana, he was already quite accomplished. He helped the University of Louisiana expand the number of endowed chairs and his policies were key in increasing the University's retention and graduation rates. And that is just the beginning.

While his politics are a little (ok, a lot) more conservative than my own, I can't help but be impressed by his accomplishments-none of which have anything to do with the color of his skin, his heritage, or where his parents were born.

Now, Bobby aka Piyush, may not be upset or offended by his renaming and the focus on his race and background, it would be nice if we could evolve to a place where the focus was on the man and his accomplishments. All of our accomplishments-Bobby Jindal's included-represent our 'whole person' and surely race, ethnicity, heritage form a part of who we are. But it isn't all that we are.

Like Dumbledore who was a kind, intelligent etc, etc who happened to be gay, shouldn't we talk about Bobby Jindal in the same way-a young, up-and-coming, newly elected Governor of Louisiana who is of Indian descent?

Wouldn't you want that for your kids?

So let's be careful with our own 'leads'-especially around our kids. By leading with a person physical, racial or ethnic background we send the subtle (or not too subtle) message that these things are the most important factors about a person.

I don't know about you, but I want my kids judged by her abilities and her soul FIRST. Her heritage is a wonderful part of that, but it isn't the only part. If we want our kids to be able to live and work with people of all shapes, colors, sizes etc, then we need to model that behavior-every day.

I almost forgot-congratulations Piyush Jindal!

With respect,

Monday, October 22, 2007

We've made a breakthrough-thanks, Albus!

Well, who woulda thunk it?

JK Rowlings recently revealed that the beloved headmaster of Harry Potter's Hogwarts, the late Albus Dumbledore, was gay! According to Rowlings, the signs were there all along-if one read between the lines. The object of Dumbledore's affections-his boyhood friend and rival wizard Gellert Grindelwald.

According to Rowling, the reaction has been mostly supportive, leading many to believe that we have turned the corner on our ability to accept a person's sexual orientation-and not let it get in the way of his/her other qualities. Is it possible that the smoke has cleared and we are able to see the real person-who happens to be gay?


We are certainly a long way from the fury over the sexual orientation of one of the Teletubbies and from 2005 when PBS decided not to distribute an episode of "Postcards From Buster" that had been criticized by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings for including lesbian characters.

No matter what your sexual orientation, the acceptance of Dumbledore as a kind, caring, dedicated and talented person-who happens to be gay-is a major step forward in respecting and celebrating all cultures, choices and 'abilities'. All of our children will be the beneficiaries as this new-and hopefully-lasting attitude removes one spoke in the wheel of bias.

Let's try not to screw it up with our own biases.

With respect,

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"I went to a Chinese restaurant...."

That harmless phrase was the beginning of one of those common school-yard clapping songs-the 21st century version of "Miss Mary Mack"-that my Asian-born daughter came home singing the other day. I didn't think too much about it until I realized that the song came complete with gestures-one of which involved pulling the sides of the eyes into a long slit (aka Chinese eyes).

I hemmed and hawed about what to do. I felt that this gesture was disrespectful and could lead to other stereotyping and teasing, but since I sometimes go off half-baked I decided to cool my jets for a bit.

The results of yesterday's poll swayed me. All of the voters indicated that they would take some action-evenly split between intervening immediately if their child was bullied or helping the child deal with the situation and then intervening if the child needed further assistance.

I opted for contacting the school and the teacher. Thankfully, their take on the incident was similar to mine-not appropriate, disrespectful and must end-and the teacher took immediate action in the classroom and the school principal readily acknowledged that the problem was not likely isolated to the third-grade and they would be taking action school-wide.

Later in the day, I got an email from the teacher. She had spoken to some of the kids involved-none of them had really listened to the words or understood the implications of the gestures. Her comment-when do we learn what the words mean?

The answer, I think, is "when we teach them what it means". My daughter was furious that I went to her teacher-she said she wasn't upset by the song or the gesture. I had to explain to her that both were disrespectful and inappropriate and that I was standing up for what I felt was right-and the school was supportive.

My daughter learned two valuable lessons-1) The importance of standing up for what you believe-even if it doesn't effect you directly and 2)why that particular song and gesture were inappropriate. With luck she will begin to evaluate other things with a more critical eye-asking herself and her peers to be more considerate of others and figuring out that is never ok to make fun of the way anyone looks-ever.

These are lessons that need to be taught. They don't happen automatically. So, if you are parenting on autopilot-as we all do-take a minute and listen to what your kids are singing, what they are saying to their friends and others-and make sure that you like what you hear-or do something about it.

With respect,

Monday, October 15, 2007

Run, Jenny, Run!

Jenny Bowen got the most amount of votes in the race to carry the Olympic torch in Beijing in 2008.

Of course, the final decision will be made by a committee in China but it is pretty amazing that Jenny and her organization, Half the Sky, have made such an impression. If, in fact, that Jenny and eight kids from the orphanages that Half the Sky supports gets to run, the impact for the kids in orphanages in China will be enormous.

While many people in and around adoption from China continue to fret over the length of the wait for their children and the implications of the new requirements for parents, the Half the Sky Foundation is focused on the children who remain in China's orphanages. They supply much needed support to the children and the facilities who are waiting for their 'forever families' including 'Granny's' to love and hold them, schools, and playgrounds.

Jenny Bowen and her team have done a remarkable job at working with the government in China to take care of the kids in China.

Maybe if Jenny and the kids do run, it will not only raise awareness for the children in China, but for kids in need all over the world.

Whatever happens, my hat's off to Jenny and the people that have made this happen. I am proud to be a part of it.

With Respect,

Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday Fun! Will the real Hannah Montana please stand up!

Halloween has become a BIG holiday. The Wall Street Journal reported that Americans will spend over $3 Billion (yes, billion) on Halloween costumes, decorations and other Halloween paraphernalia.

And if my unscientific survey of elementary school girls is any indication it seems that a significant portion of that money will be used to procure Hannah Montana costumes.

I got a chuckle the other day, when my daughter and her friends (all of Asian decent) discovered they were all going to be Hannah for Halloween. The girls starting laughing as the each modeled Hannah's signature long blonde wig and 'became' Hannah. One girl said, "a Chinese Hannah Montana?" They'll never believe this."

I am hoping that we will be able to get a photo of the Hannah's at the annual Halloween party...I am sure Hannah would be proud.

Have a great weekend.

With Respect,

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thursday is book day!

October 11, 1492 is the actual day that Columbus landed in the New World and this book is a great choice for young readers who are interested in history (or readers you want to get interested in history!)

Rather than the usual pandering to the Columbus myth, this book puts kids right in the story asking them to imagine the excitement and pitfalls of sailing with Columbus. The first line of the book immediately draws the reader in with a description of Columbus's life as a ten-year old dreamer. From there, each chapter asks the reader to consider some of the least 'romantic' aspect of exploration, like, 'how would you pay for it', 'how would you prepare your fleet', 'how would you steer', 'what would you do if you lose hope', 'could you survive on shore' and 'could you get home safely'.

This book will make would-be explorers stop and think about the realities of exploration as well as let them gain insight into some of the challenges that Columbus faced.

With Respect,

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What Columbus can teach us about updating our thinking.

On Monday, people in 33 of our 50 United States celebrated Columbus Day. Of course, this immediately begs the question "what happened to the other 17 states?" Do they know something we don't? Or is it purely a bureaucratic oversight?

Not knowing the real answer, I started to look into Christopher Columbus's story. I had grown up singing "Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety-two, thinking that Columbus had, in fact, discovered American.

As it turns out, Columbus 'discovered' land that was inhabited by hundreds of thousands of native people that had arrived in what is now the Americas, around 800 BCE via the Bering Strait. Not only that, but Columbus made four trips to the New World,was arrested in his own colony and sent back to Spain in disgrace.

His fourth and final trip brought him within 9 miles of his goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean to get to China and India, but his stubbornness and arrogance caused him to turn around. He didn't believe the native people knew an overland route to the Pacific.

Columbus was greedy and an incredibly bad leader-his own men and the indigenous people couldn't stand him. He died broke and forgotten in 1506.

Wow! Who knew? I had always held Columbus in the highest esteem-a hero even. But faced with additional information, I had to revise my position. Columbus, far from being a hero was a failure and by all accounts a miserable guy to be around. Not only did he not find a trade route to the "Indies", and fail to find the amount of gold he promised Ferdinand and Isabella, he was imprisoned in his own colony and was an all around jerk!

Of course, he was a brilliant sailor and navigator and his contribution to our world is enormous, but at the very least Columbus was a complex dichotomy. Maybe even a bit of an enigma.

With this new information, my bias about Columbus and his endeavors-which up until now were positive-have shifted. I can not just accept the information I was taught as a kid. I must face the fact that there is more to Columbus than meets the eye.

Hmmmm, this sounds familiar doesn't it. We develop biases based on data that may or may not be accurate and we own them. Ok, we are human. The question is what do we do when faced with additional and/or conflicting information. Do we rigidly hold onto your old beliefs or do you modify based on the new information?

I am suggesting that we teach our children to evaluate their biases and beliefs as new information comes their way. When it comes to the biases that can lead to bullying, rigidity is not something we want to promote.

So, if an when my daughter comes home humming a tune about Columbus, I will tell her the entire story-the good and the bad-and let her make her own judgement about Columbus.

With Respect,

PS: Max got out within hours of my triumphant announcement that I had fooled him. Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Lessons from Max

Sometimes lessons can come from the most unusual places!

I can sometimes feel a bit like trying to change the course of a river. I look around me and wonder, "am I really making progress", or "can we really make our future bully-free?"

Yes, there are times that I want to give up and let it be someone elses problem.

But then, something happens.

What happened this time was Max.

Max is our 2 year-old beagle-poodle mix-we call him our designer dog gone bad as Max was in a puppy mill waiting with his head on the chopping block. Max is one determined dog. He likes to roam. I have spent more days and more money trying to keep Max safe and in the yard. Yet Max always finds a way out.

Oh, I can keep him in for a while but eventually he finds another escape hatch and I have to find out where it is and then how to patch it up so that he can't escape.

You have to hand it to the dog, he just doesn't give up. There are times when I think he is smarter than I am-or maybe he is just focused on one objective-exploring the neighborhood.

Today, I found his latest path to freedom and spent some time putting up yet another piece of fencing. So far, he appears to be flummoxed, but I know that someday soon he will be visiting his friends on the other side. He just will keep looking and sniffing until he is successful.

This lesson from Max couldn't have come at a better time for me. It can get tiring and frustrating to carry the bully-free future flag.

But like Max, I am going to keep looking and sniffing-focusing on one child, one school and one community at a time. I know that we can successfully eliminate bias and bullying.

Won't you join me?

Where do your lessons come from?

With Respect,

Monday, October 8, 2007

Money, Money, Money-its a rich man's world!

I was watching Larry King interview Suzy Orman. They covered a wide range of topics from the mortgage meltdown, to consumer credit card debt and how to accumulate wealth. Larry King asked Suzy how much money did one have to have to be truly wealthy-able to live their lifestyle without touching the money.

Her answer-$100 million dollars. Yes, that is right. $100 million.

I remember talking with my friend Bob Grossman in the 80's about his plan to accumulate $1 million and live off of the $80k in interest. Bob did accumulate his million-but doesn't feel that 80k is enough to meet his needs.

So, where does this leave those of us who haven't accumulated 1 million let alone $100 million. We used to be called the 'middle class'-the people squeezed in between the rich and the poor. We used to represent the bulk of the US population. Yet we are an endangered species. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported that the next generation of Americans will be the first generation that can't expect to live better than their parents!

As the middle class is declining in the United States, we are seeing the creation of yet another divide between people. And we can see the consequences of this schism in other countries right now. And it ain't pretty.

We live in a non-middle class area. For me, I could care less. But my daughter has been asking me lately if we are rich? I say, of course, we have are rich in love and laughter and family-we have food, are healthy and have a roof over our heads. What she really wants to know where we stack up in the wealth area compared to her friends-they kids are talking about money and the lack thereof in the third grade. Her friends have moms that don't work, that take vacations to Florida at the drop of a hat. Her friends take tennis lesson, horseback riding lessons, piano, violin, and what ever other lessons their parents believe will make them 'better people. To my daughter these kids have everything.

But, when her friends do come here they have fun and alway wish that their parents spent time with them doing things-raking and jumping in leaves, catching butterflys, baking and other 'middle class' activities. Apple picking in the fall, picking berries in the summer, planting a garden, walking our own dogs, shoveling our own walks, putting money in the piggy bank, donating to local charities and helping wherever and how ever we can. We are just like millions of people all over the country. But, if Suzy Orman and the Wall Street Journal are to be believed, then we are an endangered species-our kids will either be rich or poor.

Given those dire predictions,how do we instill the values that made our country great in our children-a respect for money, the value of earning a dollar, saving vs. spending, and respect for people who don't have as much money as they might.

Money hasn't always been considered an "ism" like racism, sexism ageism etc, but we are getting to the point where we are going to have to face the reality that our kids are going to have another 'ism' to deal with.

Like all other 'isms' the time to start helping your kids understand that money-having some or having none doesn't define the value a person can bring to their lives is right now.

With Respect

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thursday's book on Friday!

At the Mouth of the Luckiest River is an oldie but a goodie. The book was first published over three decades ago, but is remarkably free of negative Native American stereotypes. The book tells the story of an Athabascan Indian boy and his determination to keep the peace between his tribe and the Eskimos. The young man must confront his tribe's medicine man-one of the most powerful members of the tribe-to stand up for what he believes is right.

This book may be a bit hard to find, but like many classics is worth the effort.

Have a good weekend.

With respect,

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Ethnic Role Models-the Reprise!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the importance of ethic role models for children by relating how my daughter responded to receiving a doll-Wan Ling. Some people thought that it was a shame that my daughter's self-esteem was buoyed by a look-alike doll and not from her inner strength-or my parenting!

In response to one of the poll questions, one person wrote about a friend who's nephew has down syndrome child:I think not seeing images of kids like himself--I think this also goes for physically challenged --in movies, cartoons, and especially animated movies (his favorite) really does a disservice to him and other children who are only use to seeing images that look like only like themselves.

But perhaps the most important comment came from an astute 12 year old girl who joined her family from China via adoption from China. Melody was responding to the comments made about American Girl's new "Asian" doll, Ivy Ling-a sidekick to another American Girl doll named Julie:

My Mom bought me the Julie books and the Ivy book several weeks ago. I like that there are some Asian influences in the books, especially, the one called, "Happy New Year, Julie", but I found that the majority of the books barely expressed the fact that Ivy was Chinese. Some of the books barely mentioned Ivy at all. I would like for AG to come out with a historical, Chinese-American doll that is not just a side-kick.

This is not about all of us looking alike. And, it is true that some Asian characteristics are more prominent in some people. In fact, Ivy looks great as a bi-racial doll. It would be fine if one of her parents was Caucasian and the other Chinese. But remember, Ivy Ling is not a bi-racial doll. She has two full, Chinese parents. All of the adopted Chinese-American children that I have ever met have certain characteristics such as almond-shaped eyes, and I would like a doll to look like that.

It is easy for us to make judgements about what others-who may be different than-us feel should be important. But until we walk in their shoes, we have to listen to what matters to the people directly effected. Until we can do that, it is all too easy to pass off ethnic role models and people-first language as political correctness on steroids.

In the case of ethnic role models, it seems that kids feel that they need more.

I hope people listen.

With Respect,

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Saga of the Olympic Torch-Should Jenny withdraw?

Yesterday, I voted for Jenny Bowen, the founder of Half the Sky-an organization dedicated to making the lives of children living in orphanages better-to carry the Olympic Torch.

Jenny, an American, lives and works in Beijing. She said she will run with eight Chinese children who are orphans.

On many levels this is a wonderful thing-it raises awareness for the kids who are left behind in China's orphanages, the publicity could help Half the Sky raise money which could help more children, its a great image of international co-operation and it is great showcase for adoption.

Today, I read some of the comments on the site. There are some people that think Jenny is 'cheating'. They question how she could have gotten so many votes in a short period of time. Indeed, her votes nearly doubled in less than 24 hours and it appears she is closing in on the leader.

This is a perfect example of the power of the internet-adoption groups-representing thousands of families formed via adoption-all over the world are being rallied to Jenny's side.

Of course, in many cases the rank and file Chinese citizen is not privvy to groups, blogs and other lightning fast communciation tools. It is easy to see where the idea that Jenny was cheating could come from.

So, is Jenny's selection really a good thing? I am certainly not as sure as I was yestday. I wonder how we would react if a Chinese citizen had carried the torch in Atlanta or Salt Lake City? I suspect there would be outrage that one of 'our own' got supplanted by someone who was not a citizen. Should Jenny win, what impact will it really have on international relations? on adoption?

The Chinese have a long tradition of saving face. How will they handle the international public scrutiny on their adoption policies. Not only will the world comment on what happens to China's children, but the Chinese themselves will be made aware of just how many kids are leaving the country or languishing in orphanages. Much of this information has been kept from rank and file Chinese citizens.

So, like most complex questions there are positives and negatives. I know which way I am leaning. Maybe the eight kids representing all the children in the orphanages should carry the torch...

What do you think?

With Respect,

Monday, October 1, 2007

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and the Olympic Torch Relay!

Please take a minute and vote for Jenny Bowan to carry the Olympic Torch in Beijing. Jenny is the founder of the Half the Sky Foundation which is dedicated to the children in China that are still in orphanages. The program has done some incredible things-increased the number of foster parents, improved orphanage conditions dramatically, provided education and medical care. In short, this organization is performing miracles. We would love to see Jenny represent the orphans of China-usually girls. They are a group that is often forgotten. Please vote for Jenny today-and pass this onto anyone you think might be interested.

Vote here:

Good Monday morning and welcome to October. October is a busy month-the Supreme Court begins its sessions today, harvest festivals begin popping up all over the country,kids gear up for Halloween-second only to Christmas in terms of retail sales.
Beijing is choosing their Olympic torch bearer and people all over the world put their own unique spin on the transition from summer to autumn.

We celebrated Asian Mid-Autumn festival last night-albeit a few days late-we ate moon cakes (we liked the winter melon the best), the kids made dumplings and we ate delicious, homemade and authentic Chinese food. Seated at our table were three Shanghai natives, one girl who's mom is Chinese and her father white, one woman born in Uruguay, a couple of plain old Americans of European ancestry and a girl who joined her family via adoption from China.

It was quite exciting-people speaking in Chinese and Spanish, the kids trying to communicate with the the non-English speaking group, the English-speaking rolling Chinese words around on their tongues, and the non-English speakers doing the same with English. Of course, there was plenty of Spanish thrown in to the mix.

As I was shooed out of my kitchen when the Shanghaiense women took over, I was able to sit back and watch the show. Not once did I hear the kids-or adults-become frustrated by the difficulty in communication. Not once did I hear anything about the 'unusual food'. The kids-and adults-listened in awe as they were told the story of the Mid-Autumn festival communicated in Chinese, Spanish, English, and pantomime.

Of course, there were some goofs-we forgot to treat the older women with the respect they deserved. We should have seated them at the head of the table-but everyone sat down willy-nilly. But in general, we managed the evening without international incidents.

We were lucky to truly bring authentic experiences to our children. It broadened their horizons and gave them insight into a distinctly different cultural experience.

With more of these kinds of experiences the kids (and their adults) will truly be able to understand and respect culture, choices and 'abilities'. We are five kids closer to a bully-free future!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thursday is book day!

I came across this book as I was looking for ways to show my daughter that there were other kids-maybe not exactly like her-dealing with issues that were difficult for them. While I do believe that we are lucky-we are healthy, have a roof over our heads and lots of love-I also believe that we have the right to ruminate on our problems-even if there are others in the world in more dire straigths. I believe that we have the right to think our problems are as important, albeit only to us, as anyone else's problems.

That's why I liked this book. The short stories and poems collected in this are arranged in sections that focus on particular problems and crises children may face that isolate them from "normal" peers. Themes include sickness, disability, hospitalization, loss, conflict, developmental change, and loneliness.

The stories are simple, most 2-3 pages followed by a few questions to talk about. Characters featured in the stories represent a range of ethnicities and socio-economic situations.

If you want to help your children either cope with some of these issues-or help them walk in another child's shoes for a moment, then this is the book for you.

It isn't rocket science and won't 'fix' problems that kids face, but it is a beginning and you and your child can explore the issues together in 'safety' because the problems aren't happening to your child.

So, enjoy this week's selection.

With respect,

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Say what you want-but remember that actions still speak louder than words.

Did our notion of free speech go out the window when Columbia University President, Lee Bollinger introduced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a "a petty and cruel dictator." Granted, Ahmadinejad did say some flamboyant and controversial things-like questioning the Holocaust's impact on Palestine and claiming that there are no homosexuals in Iran-which reminds me of an equally ridicules statement by Bill Clinton claiming there were no gays in the military-but that is another story!

At any rate, I am not supporting Ahmadinejad or Iran in any shape or form, but I am questioning the wisdom of Lee Bollinger's introduction-which if it doesn't undermine our sense of free speech, it certainly seems like it can be selective use of free speech to me.

And while I don't condone the Iranian president, I also don't appreciate Lee Bollinger playing fast and loose with one of the most important tenets of the Bill of Rights.

Here's why: it is clear that most American don't like the things that the Iranian President said and don't like the schemes that they suspect the Iranian people are concocting even as we speak-and that is OK. I am totally concerned with what is going on in the Middle East-and in Asia-and any other place where nuclear weapons are a real threat.

Can we separate what the Iranian government and people are "doing" from who the Iranian people "are".

We need to be able to separate deeds from the people who are doing them or talking about doing them.....just like we do with our kids. You probably always like your kids-although this might be tested at times, but you probably don't like the things that theydo. You might not like what George Bush is doing
in his role as President, but unless you know him, you can't determine if you "like" him.

To put it another way, don't say "I don't like George Bush". Say instead, "I don't like anything that George Bush is doing in the Middle East." You have the right to say what you want(remember Freedom of Speech) but you need to be mindful of the consequences especially when it comes to our kids forming points of view on people.

You may be tempted to shrug this off as just semantics-but words can be weapons, too.

Yesterday, we defined bias, prejudice and discrimination. Today, we need to think about the consequences of our biases and prejudices about Iran and its people and the actions that it might lead us to take. More importantly, we need to be mindful of how our children will interpret our thoughts and actions.

Will they assume that all Iranian people are "bad". Do you want them to make decisions about people based on the actions of one person. How do you square biases and prejudices driven by the Iranian president with the family from Iran that just moved in to the neighborhood.

Equally as important is if you want your children to be judged by the prejudices spewed from the Iranian president. Do you want you new Iranian neighbors to make the assumption that your family-like all Americans-are fatally flawed?

Bias, prejudice and discrimination is a two way street, but we do have the opportunity to evaluate people on a 'one-off' basis by they kind of people they are, by the things that they do-and not just by what they say. And I would venture to guess that we want our children judged by their own merit, not by some stereotypical measures that other ascribe to all Americans.

Person by person and community by community, we need to look beyond the rhetoric-we don't have to agree with, like or respect the rhetoric, but we do need to respect a person's right to their own views.....and decide if we want them in our circles by how they act on their views.

With respect,

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

D (definition) Day

I was tooling around the Internet yesterday and came across a statement that biases were based in facts while prejudice was not based on facts. That struck me as odd, so I decided to look around a bit more. I wanted other opinions on the differences between bias and prejudice.

I found these definitions from Southern Mississippi University the most succinct and informative-and considering their location in the Deep South, I assumed that they were pretty familiar with bias, prejudice and its consequences.

So here goes:

There are many definitions for the word "bias". In human relationships, the most important of these connects bias with prejudice.Bias implies unfair judgment based on these arbitrary human characteristics. It's also something we all do, whether through a systematic like or dislike of certain characteristics, or simply through lack of familiarity with the world of human difference.

Prejudice is a feeling we have about one another and our human characteristics: age, facial features, hair texture, body size and shape, gender, skin color, nationality, language, religious values, cultural values, sexual orientation ... the list is endless!

When people act on their biased feelings -- whether intentionally or unintentionally -- then they are acting out "isms", such as racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism ... the list is endless and devastating to human potential. This is what is meant by terms such as "harassment" and "discrimination."

When all is said and done, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck-then it is a duck. So, lets be honest and not get caught up in semantics. We need to own our biases, stereotypes and prejudices-and not let our kids imitate them.

With Respect,

Monday, September 24, 2007

Are you my mother?

Do you remember that great children's book-Are you my mother?-where a baby bird falls out of its nest and goes looking for its mother. The baby bird stops to ask the cow, dog, and even a steam shovel if they are its mother. They all tell it no, and he keeps on searching until, lo and behold, he finds his mother-and she is a bird.

But let's rewrite that story just a bit. A weak and sickly baby macaque monkey is abandoned by his mother. He was found, near death, and brought to an animal hospital. where a white pigeon literally took him under her wing and 'mothered' him.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what people look like that we forget that we don't have to look like anyone to be loved. And isn't that what we all want-to be loved no matter how we look? Isn't that the message you want to send to your children?

I know that I do.

With Respect,

Friday, September 21, 2007

We can all relate to this story!

Everyone can relate to this came from

A man observed a woman in the grocery store with a three year old girl in her basket. As they passed the cookie section, the child asked for cookies and her mother told her "no." The little girl immediately began to whine and fuss, and the mother said quietly, "Now Ellen, we just have half of the aisles left to go through; don't be upset. It won't be long."

He passed the Mother again in the candy aisle. Of course, the little girl began to shout for candy. When she was told she couldn't have any, she began to cry. The mother said, "There, there, Ellen, don't cry. Only two more aisles to go, and then we'll be checking out."

The man again happened to be behind the pair at the check-out, where the little girl immediately began to clamor for gum and burst into a terrible tantrum upon discovering there would be no gum purchased today. The mother patiently said, "Ellen, we'll be through this check out stand in five minutes, and then you can go home and have a nice nap."

The man followed them out to the parking lot and stopped the woman to compliment her. "I couldn't help noticing how patient you were with little Ellen..."

The mother broke in, "My little girl's name is Tammy... I'm Ellen."

So the next time your child is whining and complaining, remember this story...and it might make you laugh.

With Respect

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thursday is book day!

"The Jade Dragon" is a story of two girls-one born in China-Stephanie-and adopted and one born in the US to Chinese-born parents-Ginny. Ginny, feeling like the odd-girl out is thrilled when Stephanie joins her class. At last, another girl who looks like her. Maybe she can finally get a best friend. Unfortunately, Stephanie is not interested in anything Chinese-even Ginny-and Stephanie's mother continually rants about Stephanie's lack of "Chineseness", making it difficult for her daughter to forge a relationship she desires.

While the story, is about the relationship between the two girls, it is the context in which the story plays out that is interesting. Written in the 80s with references to "The Smurf" and "Star Wars", the language used about adoption is now considered a no-no. For example, Ginny's mother refers to Stephanie's birth parents as her 'real' parents-a moniker that parents whose children joined them via adoption have fought hard to stamp out and how unlucky Stephanie is because her parents didn't want her (ouch). Ginny's mother also refers to Ginny as an ABC-American Born Chinese. She scoffs at Ginny's attempt to walk the line between dutiful Chinese daughter and hip American girl.

Most interesting is the peek into the girls' psyches. Both girls feel that they are outcasts-different in a fundamental way. Ginny asks Stephanie if she wishes her white parents were Chinese. Stephanie confesses that she wishes they all were white. Ginny also 'confesses' to not wanting to be Chinese-more to please Stephanie and gain her trust than anything else.

This type of story is important for a couple of reasons:
1. It provides insight on the difficulties growing up as a person of color in
the world.
2. It highlights the juxtaposition between kids wanting to be "American" and
their parents desires to instill traditional values and culture.
3. It shows the lenghths that kids will go to in order to fit in.

While I cringed at the 'improper' adoption language and other slang, my daughter didn't blink at them. She related to both characters-Stephanie for being the Asian daughter adopted by white parents and to Ginny, always feeling like she didn't belong-except when surrounded by other Asians.

Your children may not be Asian or adopted, but the feelings that Ginny and Stephanie explore may be a wake up call. If your kids aren't 'different' they may get a better understanding of what that feels like. And you can start to "really" understand the power of language for form values.

With respect,

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In the pink....standing up to bullies!

The pink triangle was originally used to identify homosexual men in Nazi concentration camps. Today, the pink triangle has evolved to a symbol of gay pride. Of course, some men-regardless of their sexual orientation-simply like to wear pink and don't think twice about the color's significance. But, there are some people who assume that a man wearing pink, must be gay and then go out of their way to make sure that man knows how he feels about homosexuality as the 'story' below indicates!

Once upon a time, a high school boy came to school wearing a pink shirt. He was minding his business when a group of older boys began to harass and threaten-they thought that he was gay because he was wearing a pink shirt.

The younger boy was devastated, but he was not alone. Another senior decided 'enough was enough' and decided to give the bullies something to talk about.

The next day, the older boy and his friend handed out 75 pink shirts before class-and also brought a pink basketball to school and pink material for headbands and arm bands. About 1/2 of the schools 830 students wore pink that day-including the young man who had been bullied for wearing pink in the first place.

The bullies got made and began to throw chairs in the cafeteria, asking if the kids knew that pink on a male is a symbol for homosexuality. The response-who care-and that it didn't matter to him or anyone else. Judging people by the color of their shirts or pants is ridicules, is also what the bullies heard.

And the young man who was bullied in the first place-was supported and defended by his fellow students. Those kids were sure raised right!

The End!

Of course, this is not a once upon a time story. It happened in Nova Scotia earlier in the month.

What do you think your child would do in a similar situation? Would the stand up to the bullies or would they look the other way-not wanting to get involved? What do you think you would have done?

With Respect,

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Satire-the reprise

The battle over the appropriateness of a recent YouTube video depicting adoption from China is still raging-weeks after the video was first uploaded. This discussion followed hot on the heels of the controversy generated by O. Yang's photos of white fathers and daughters born in China. Like everything, some people feel that it is satire and other think it is a horrendous and destructive and racist piece of 'entertainment'.

Who is right? And do we have the right to make that decision?

Merriman-Webster Online dictionary defines satire as:
1 : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
2 : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly

Franky, both the video and photo series meet the criteria as satire. Yet, members of the community were enraged that these artistic endeavors saw the light of day.
They want these types of things stricken from our collective memories? Other think that if something offends you then you should just not partake.

So what is a thinking person to do? Surely, ignoring the offensive material is one way. Censorship of offensive material may be desirable, but not realistic in our free speech society.

Thinking people have to come to grips with the fact that there will always be material, billed as entertainment, will sneak into our lives-and it will always create controversy. However, as time goes by, things that were once considered ok, become obsolete (think about Aunt Jemima Pancakes-Aunt Jemima was portrayed with a kerchief on her head, thick, full lips and curly, curly hair early on...and by the next generation her look had changed significantly because the earlier look was hopelessly stereotyped.) We can hope that what we find offensive will go the way of the original Aunt Jemima.

Until that happens, we might want to look at these things as opportunities to help our kids understand the role that the media plays in our points of view of what is ok and what isn't. We can use these opportunities to discuss the 'whys' and 'what ifs' of our value systems.

It is a great opportunity for you to show your kids the difference between satire and racism-from your point of view. We should not give up the fight to eliminate bias and racism, but we should use what examples to show our kids the consequences of 'satire'.

With luck, by the time our kids get older, they will find hurtful satire has gone by the wayside because they don't get the play they once had.

With respect,

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday Fun!

If you NOT convinced that how we say and do things-even unwittingly-are picked up by our kids, read these REAL stories below...

A little boy was doing his math homework. He said to himself, 'Two plus five, that son of a is seven. Three plus six, that son of a bitch is nine....' His mother heard what he was saying and gasped,'What are you doing?' The little boy answered, 'I'm doing my math homework, Mom.' 'And is this how your teacher taught you to do it?' the mother asked. 'Yes,' he answered. Infuriated, the mother asked the teacher the next day, 'What are you teaching my son in math?' The teacher replied, 'Right now, we are learning addition.' The mother asked, 'And are you teaching them to say two plus two, that son of a bitch is four?' After the teacher stopped laughing, she answered, 'What I taught them was, two plus two, THE SUM OF WHICH, is four.'

It was that time, during the Sunday morning service, for the children's sermon. All the children were invited to come forward. One little girl was wearing a particularly pretty dress and, as she sat down, the pastor leaned over and said, 'That is a very pretty dress. Is it your Easter Dress?' The little girl replied, directly into the pastor's clip-on microphone, 'Yes, and my Mom says it's a b-tch to iron.'

Have a great weekend.
With Respect,

Thursday, September 13, 2007

San Diego, anyone?

I promised my daughter I would take her to Sea World in San Diego, CA for Thanksgiving-who wouldn't want to share this festive day with Shamu?!

It has been many years since I have travelled to San Diego, so I was a bit flummoxed about how to begin to search for places to stay that were child-friendly and near the attractions we would want to visit-the beach, the Zoo, Sea World etc. I also wanted to be able to take cabs and walk places to eliminate renting a car (for some reason this has always been my least favorite part of traveling).

Looking online for accommodations and flights proved to be challenging-first the amount of information is enormous and there was no ability to compare and contrast, so the back button on my browser was working overtime.

Fortunately, I found Hotel Reservations. The site is very straightforward and has all the bells and whistles that a traveler might need-but they don't get in the way of the information. It took me some time to get used to the way the information was presented-there is a lot of information in a little bit of space, but once that happened, I was good to go.

I started with hotels and was pleased to see that there were LOTS of choices-bed and breakfast, luxury, budget and everything in between and the prices were competitive-if not better than other sites. There was extensive information on each property-including distances to the places we want to see- which allowed me to further hone in on the area that was best for us. The best feature I found was the ability to compare the finalists and pick a winner-one that I don't think I would have found on my own.

The search for flights was a not as successful, probably because we will be traveling at Thanksgiving. While the flights were limited, they were extremely economical and I liked the ability to view the results by price, total duration and total flight time-when traveling with a seven year old, travel time becomes quite important.

The vacation packages were also quite good. The ability to identify attractions we wanted to be near, took some of the guesswork out of the mix-and eliminated the need to make numerous phone calls to figure out if I would spend the week in the car or not.

Since we are also looking at a trip to China in the not-to-distant future, I also peeked at the hotel and flights for that journey. I have been shopping that trip for quite a while and was pleased to find out that the prices and choices were plentiful, varied and well-priced.

After some searching-I sure got the travel bug. Thankfully, travel is one great way to expose kids to other cultures, traditions and people, so I can feel good about giving my daughter great experiences that I can also enjoy-without breaking the bank.

Check em out and maybe we will see you in San Diego!

With Respect,

Thursday is book day!

I confess, I love to read with my daughter before she goes to sleep. We do it every night (whether she wants to or not!).

Some of our favorite books are from The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne. We love traveling with Jack and Annie as the explore everything from the first Olympic Games to meals with lions and buffalo. We can almost hear the wind whooshing through the tree-house as they leave on their adventure and breathe a sign of relief when they arrive safely back in Pennsylvania.

These books are great for beginning readers and to read together. They allow the reader to experience history, nature, and other real life adventures through the eyes of contemporary kids. The juxtaposition of contemporary characters against historical events has been a great way to engage children and then even expand the conversation into a wonderful 'teachable moment'.

The series also help children experience other cultures and traditions. For example in Hour of the Olympics, Jack and Annie are surprised to learn that girls can't attend or participate in the Olympics. The inevitable "why" that kids will ask is an opportunity to talk about womens role in history and contemporary society-and to reinforce that boys and girls can do anything they set their minds to.

So, enjoy these books and let me know what interesting questions or observations that your kids come up with.

With Respect,