Archive for My Kids

Black and White


I was blogging the other day about race.

 

Ok, I wasn’t really blogging about race.  I was blogging about how to teach your kids not to point out women’s mustaches in such a loud voice.  But, the blog post ended on the topic of race with my son asking me “Are we black?”.  And, I have to admit, that’s a totally reasonable question from a child.  It’s the kid version of the same long-winded conversation we all seem to be having lately about the meaning of race and whether we’ve made any progress as a nation in our understanding of each other.  My kid wants to know if he’s black.  To him, black is a color.  A pretty-easy-to-define color.   He’s never met anyone who was literally “black”.  Just like he’s never met anyone who was literally “white”.  We’re all a different shade of beige and brown.  And our color changes throughout the seasons.

 

As adults, we know what “black” and “white” mean.  Or we think we know.  But, try explaining it to an 8-year-old.  Try explaining Trayvon Martin to an 8-year-old.  It’s really complicated and totally simple at the same time.  This weekend, my husband and I needed to explain the Trayvon Martin situation to our kids.  In a way that would make sense to them, but not scare them, but not oversimplify the issue.  It was difficult.  It was not black and white (pun sadly intended).  We had to touch on skin color vs ethnicity and perception vs reality.  My kids went from confused to sad to angry to scared.   My kids, like my husband, are Hispanic.  And they get pretty dark for much of the year.   At least as dark as some of the African-American people we know.  My son now knows that he’s not “black”.  But this weekend he asked us “What if I grow up to be black?”.

Part of me knows that’s a silly question and that I still have a lot of teaching to do with my kids about race.  But part of me knows that’s a serious question coming from an honest, scared place inside my son.  He’s figuring out that the color of your face can be a deadly serious issue.  And he looks in the mirror and wonders.  Should he be scared?  To him, prejudice makes no sense.  To him, hoodies and affirmative action and hip-hop and race riots mean nothing.  He’s only 8.  He doesn’t know the important history or the rich context.  Yet.

That he lives in a world where brown and beige really mean “black” and “white”.   And “black” and “white” are so much more than colors.

 

 

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Bearded Ladies and Teachable Moments


I read a blog post the other day about the top embarrassing things kids say in front of strangers.  They are usually obvious, true things.  That just don’t need to be pointed out.  Loudly.  In public.  Like mustaches on women.  And men wearing a lot of eyeliner.  And people who smell like poop.  Everyone already noticed.  You just pray that your child is not the one to loudly state the obvious.

Because then you have address the issue with them.  Loudly.  In public.  And these are tricky issues to explain to your kids: that it’s ok for women to have mustaches (look at mommy’s!) and it’s ok for dudes to wear make-up.  And, while it’s not really ok to smell like poop, some people just do.  And there’s not much to be accomplished by pointing it out.  You can’t just hush your child or tell them to be quiet.  That’s not very nice.  And it doesn’t work anyway.  If you simply say “shhhhhhhh”, they will just continue to argue their case.  “But mom, she DOES have a mustache!  And it’s not gray like grandma’s!  It’s black like daddy’s!  Look!  See it?  She’s right there……”

You can’t punish or shame a child for stating the truth.  You have to gently and quickly explain WHY they should “shhhhhhhhhhhh.”  Explain that, yes you see it too, but we don’t really need to talk about it right now.  Or that, yes everyone looks different, isn’t that great?  It’s a great Teachable Moment, but if you’re like me, you’d rather have the Teachable Moment in the car on the way home rather than in the check-out line right behind the Bearded Lady.

My most vivid memory of a wonderful Teachable Moment took place in a Subway restaurant.  I was in line with my 2 year-old and my newborn, waiting to order sandwiches, when my oldest pointed out an obvious truth.  The woman in front of us was very very big.  You might even call her fat.  And she had a big butt.  And she had big big wiggly arms.  These were my son’s words, not mine.  They may have been in my (unconscious) thoughts, but they were not my words.  They were my son’s loud, well-enunciated, easily-overheard words.  We all heard him.  Me, the woman in front of us, everyone else in the looooong line.  Crawling away to die was not an option.  My only option was a Teachable Moment.   And I think I did ok.  I explained that, yes that woman was bigger.  People come in all different shapes and sizes, isn’t that great?  And some people who are bigger want to be smaller.  And they have to work really hard to get smaller.  And “fat” is not a naughty word.  But it’s a “word that hurts”.  Especially if someone is working really hard to get smaller.  And so on and so on.  And either I explained it really well or I simply explained it too long, because eventually his eyes glazed over and he moved on to the important topic of the orange street sweeper we had seen that morning.

It’s funny what kids notice.  And it’s funny what they don’t notice.  A few weeks ago, we were having lunch at Grand Avenue Mall in downtown Milwaukee.  I noticed that we were one of the only families there that was NOT African-American.   This is a very different experience from the one we usually have in the mall near our home in Neenah.   I wanted to have a Teachable Moment with my kids.  I wanted them to notice.  I wanted them to ask me why.  I wanted to talk about the northern migration of people of African descent after the Civil War and their concentraion in certain urban areas.  Blah blah blah.  My kids didn’t notice.  And didn’t care.  They’re awesome that way.  When I did ask them if they noticed any differences between Milwaukee and Neenah, they said no.  Sigh.  So I briefly touched on the fact that bigger cities sometimes have a bigger diversity.  More ethnicities, more languages, more socio-economic classes, all that stuff.  And that it is interesting to visit other cities that are different from our city.

At that point, my youngest son looked around and smiled.  “Everyone’s black!” he noted with joy.  Then he added, “Mom, are we black?”

Looks like we need some more Teachable Moments.

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Picture Day Postscript


There they are! Gage and Solon in all their long-haired, chicken-necklace, crazy-toothed glory. They're beautiful. 🙂

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Picture Day Prelude


In honor of my last post regarding School Picture Day, my mom has (lovingly) provided me with copies of several of my old school pictures.  So, here I am in all my glory.  From back in the days when School Pictures were a BIG DEAL.  I know that’s true, because my mom has written (lovingly and gently so as not to dent the picture) on the back of each: my name, my grade, and the year.  So enjoy……

1. Mushroom Haircut with ribbon hairclip*(1982, 1st grade)

2. Ruffly Rainbow Shirt with Oddly Poofy Hair (1983, 2nd grade, beginning of the tooth-loss evolution series)

3. Big Picture with No Bangs and Red Little House on the Prairie Shirt (1984, 3rd grade, check those teeth!)

4. Tasteful Bobbed Haircut and Ribbon Collar Blouse (1985, 4th grade, growing into those teeth)

5. Ruffly Denim Cowgirl Shirt with Ponytail and Real Breasts (1987, 6th grade, hello puberty)

*1982 was the year of weave-your-own ribbon barrettes with dangly beads.  They were so so so awesome.  On this particular day, my mom picked out my clothes, poofed and sprayed my hair, dolled me up, and told me that there was NO WAY I was wearing that ribbon barrette for School Pictures.  And I actually snuck it on the bus and clipped it in my hair on the way to school.  Can you imagine my mom’s reaction when the pictures came home weeks later?  This was SCHOOL PICTURE DAY, after all.  Oh, the horror.  I remember it as my first act of evil treachery.  I think I said confession for it.  I’m over it now.  And, ironically, glad for the memory.  See how Picture Days work?

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PICTURE DAY


I remember PICTURE DAY from my elementary school days.  My mom would mark the calendar and make sure we got a haircut about a week before-hand.  She picked out the perfect clothes, usually coordinating ensembles for all the sisters.  She would actually blow-dry and style my hair in the morning.  Starting in 5th grade, she would even let me put on some blush and lip-gloss.  This was PICTURE DAY, after all.

So, yesterday was Picture Day at my sons’ school.  Big deal, right?  For me, not so much.  Count this as yet another entry in my Mom-of-the-Year application.  I did make a mental note of the date.  I did consider getting the boys a haircut.  Although, Solon declined (vehemently) the suggestion that we go in for a trim.  He thinks he wants long hair.  I even gently accused him of looking a little Bieberish, but he stands by his desire for long hair.  And Gage couldn’t care less.  He has to tilt his head up to see himself in the  bathroom mirror, which renders that giant spiky cowlick invisible to him.  So, his hair lays perfectly flat, as far as he’s concerned.  (Side note: Please don’t ever point out that cowlick to him.  He’ll notice it in a year or two when he’s tall enough to see in the mirror.  Let me enjoy this year of peaceful morning grooming.)

So, no haircuts for the boys.  No big deal.  I started to think about what would be the PERFECT SHIRT for them to wear…….flattering neutral color, no patterns, no collars.  The problem is, I started thinking about this the night before.  Around 10PM.  It turns out that the PERFECT SHIRT is whatever is clean and doesn’t have any holes above chest-level.  Solon decided that he wanted to wear his favorite purple shirt.  The worn out T-shirt that is 2 sizes too small and has white graphics all over it (as well as not a small amount of cat hair).  And, as usual, Gage couldn’t care less.  He chose a striped green polo shirt with a collar that lays mostly flat.  (When he returned from school that afternoon, he was wearing a striped green polo shirt with a taco meat stain all down the front.  Let’s just hope his pictures were before lunch………)

So, I felt guilty all day.  Don’t I care about PICTURE DAY?  Don’t I want beautiful school day memories?  Aren’t I good enough mom to wash laundry more than once a week?  Don’t I love my kids?  The answers to those questions are, respectively; no, yes, no, and yes.  The truth is that I don’t care a lot about school picture day.  I have tons of pictures of my kids.  And I have wonderful memories of their school days.  Memories I made  by hanging out with them.  By helping them dot their “i”s and get their “g”s facing the right way.  By getting (pretend) excited about the rules of Four Square.  By taking one million pictures of them myself with my iPhone.   By making fun of their cowlicks on the internet.

I also think it helps that photography has come a long way in the past 20 years.  Back then, school pictures were some of the only affordable portraits that families got. There was a ton of pressure to get it right.   There was no instant gratification of images on a digital camera screen.  You didn’t get to share uploaded photos with all your family members and “tag” each other’s kids online.  You couldn’t simply print out high-quality photos in your own home.  You had to actually own a camera.  A camera with film, batteries, and flash cubes.  You had to take 24 pictures with the hopes of getting one “keeper”.  You had to drive across town to the photo store to pick up your developed film, only to find that your kids’ eyes were closed in every picture.  So, the only pictures I had of my friends were the ones we traded at school.  I still have most of those pictures.  I wonder if my friends do too?  If so, I’m glad my mom did my hair on PICTURE DAY.

When my kids’ school pictures come in, I will love them.  I always do.  Because they always look like themselves;  silly smiles, taco stains, long hair, purple T-shirts, and all.  That’s how I will remember them.  To me, school pictures are a wonderful chronicle of goofiness, a rite of passage in the cattle-call of grade school, another step in the tooth-loss-evolution photo series.  And I love them all.

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Fishermen


My boys are fishermen now. Grandpa bought them their own fishing poles, brought them to the lake, and taught them the joys of throwing expensive lures into trees and weeds and each other’s hair.  And they are absolutely obsessed!  They each got their own tackle box (with their own money).  And they each have their own pole  (one of them is already on Pole 2.0).  They have even started reading old Field and Stream back-issues Shiloh brings home from his waiting room.  Here’s a picture of Gage after the caught the biggest perch I’ve ever seen in Lake Winnebago.  Granted, I’ve only seen 2 non-breaded perch in my life.  But it looks pretty big.  My boy has some fish-catching skills!  He’s still working on his fish-touching skills though.  That’s his friend Sam actually holding the fish.

We pulled this beauty out of the channel near our house.  I can’t tell you what kind of fish it was.  Solon said it was a striped bass.  And he’s usually right.  All I know is that it seemed like a very nice fish, but pretty angry.  Shiloh was working late that night, so that’s my hand you see.  Actually touching an angry fish.    This was early in our fishing experience, so the boys had not yet developed any worm-touching or fish-touching skills.  It was a busy, slimy night for me.

I brought Solon and Gage to Gander Mountain for the very first time.  The overwhelming selection of bait and lures rendered them catatonic for awhile.  Once they came to, they got busy choosing the biggest, spinniest, most shark-like lures they could find.  For catching sheephead off the dock in Menasha.  It’s all good.  They were so excited by the selection, I let them choose whatever they wanted as long as it was under $10.  Solon also chose giant rubber crawfish that smell like butt and pepper.

Solon has learned to bait his own hook.  I’m so proud.  Here he is impaling a worm on a bloody hook in order to catch a fish that he will immediately throw back.  So as not to make it suffer.

I’m very proud of my fishermen.  Fishing such a wholesome, nostalgic summer activity.  I love it that they can’t wait to get out on the water as soon as Dad gets home.  I love that they know where Walleye like to feed and what bait to use for panfish and how to tie on a lure so it won’t fly away on the first cast.  If I could get either one of them to actually eat fish, even in stick form, I’d feel like we’re making progress.

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FirstdayofschoolFirstdayofschoolFirstdayofschool!


Here’s Solon all ready to go on the first day of 5th grade.  As he gets older I’m really starting to notice the difference between boys and girls.  This year on the playground, all the girls were standing together wearing well-thought-out ensembles of new fall clothes.  They were nervously looking around themselves and touching their hair.  The boys ran around like spazzes and fell down a lot.  Cuz falling down is fun.  Solon is wearing a “Gabler Orthodontics” t-shirt.  The boy’s never been to an orthodontist in his life.  I picked up the shirt at Goodwill because it had a high thread count.  That’s good enough for Solon!  He attempted to wear his new black shoes with white tube socks today.  Not because he wanted to wear his new shoes but because they were closest to the door on the way out.  Without implying that how one dresses is all that important and without passing any sort of judgement on his clothing decisions, I gently guided him towards a pair of sandals.  Then, I gently guided him towards those same sandals, only without the white tube socks.  I think he looks pretty fly…..

Here’s my son Gage all set to go on the first day of 2nd grade!  He’s wearing a spiffy polo shirt.  Pretty stylin’! (Shiloh picked it out.  He’ll always pick a polo shirt.  Polo shirts speak to him.  Muscle shirts speak to Gage.  Anything clean speaks to me.)

Gage also attempted to wear socks with his sandals.  I gently guided him towards putting the socks in his backpack and deciding later on if he really needed socks.  See how I validated his wardrobe choices and didn’t undermine his personal sense of style?  All while making sure I don’t become the “sandals-with-socks” mom.

I almost just dropped my boys off and left this morning.  I know it’s the first day of school and all.  But the boys were pretty chill about the whole thing.  They’ve had the same kids in their class every year.  And they’ve been running around the neighborhood with those same kids all summer.  Today was really just another hot summer day with friends.  (Trapped inside a non-air-conditioned building without video games.)   But, as I pulled away,  I realized I was about to  miss a momentous occasion.   I turned back.  Here’s a picture of my sister dropping her oldest daughter off for her first day of kindergarten.  Now, THAT’S a big deal.  It’s such a big deal that my sister and I hugged.  We don’t hug.  But congratulations were in order.  “Congratulations on keeping your child alive and well long enough to pass them into the jaws of the Neenah Joint School District.  Job well done.  Job over.”  Ok, not really.  But it’s still a big old deal.  That’s my purple-shirted niece clinging to the hands of her purple-shirted bestest friend.  See, girls are different.  I bet they coordinated outfits.

Looking at all those giddy, smiling faces warmed my heart.  I love our school.  I love the building and the kids and the teachers.  It’s a real testament to Roosevelt Elementary to see how happy everyone was to be there today: parents, students, staff, and all.  The crossing guard was grinning.  The playground supervisor was singing.  It’s like they were all trying to out-do each other with back-to-school joy!

But look at this smiling face.   Can you hear her heart singing?  THAT’s the face of a person happy to see the school year start.

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