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,