Culture & Identity

My We the People

I became an American in Nagasaki, Japan. Well, not literally. I was literally born an American in 1974. But 23 years later, teaching English in Nagasaki, Japan, I found my American identity. I felt connected for the first time to the larger collective. The We the People. 

Prior to living in Nagasaki, my identity was tied to more local groups. Schools and church and family and friends. I do think I was proud to be from Ohio (Go Bucks!), but as a recent college grad who enjoyed feeling righteously indignant, when I thought or talked about "America" at all, it was most often to go on about what was wrong with it. And then I moved to a city our country had destroyed with an atomic bomb. 

Everyone there has a story about August 9, 1945. I will never forget the one the man in the picture below shared with me. He was a student in one of my classes. After he retired, he had decided to learn English. Because he loved America. And he had scars all over his back from flying glass blown out of windows in the blast radius outside of where everything had been obliterated. And he told me how after the bomb, his family hid in the mountains fearing the American troops coming into the city. Expecting the brutal treatment they knew conquering Japanese troops to inflict on their enemies. Instead, they were met with kindness (and chocolate!) by the American soldiers. In those first days after the bombing and in the rebuilding. I could hear his genuine affection for those American soldiers. And I was proud. The arguments about what my government had done and why fell away. In that moment, those soldiers from 52 years earlier became my we the people. I was proud on behalf of their actions. My American identity was born. 

And I've carried that with me for the last 20 years. That sense that I belong to a nation of good people with kind soldiers. And I've tried to be that kind of American. A kind one. 

After this election, listening to our new President's hateful rhetoric, I felt despondent. Untethered in a way that was surprising to me. It wasn't just that my candidate lost. That has happened before. This was not about policy disagreement. I felt like my American identity was being challenged. Because he did not represent me. Or the good people I thought made up our country.

 Apparently there are many, many people in America who have felt for years "forgotten." Like the government didn't represent them. Well now I know that to be a horrible feeling. To feel like you don't belong to our We the People. To feel unrepresented. It is disheartening. Luckily for me, the feeling didn't last long... 

me with two of the kindest Americans I know. At the Women's March in Birmingham, Alabama

me with two of the kindest Americans I know. At the Women's March in Birmingham, Alabama

There have been a lot of "Why I Marched" posts this last week. I honestly don't know exactly why I marched. I wasn't going to. I had a lot of things to do that day. But that morning I felt called to go. I asked my Dad to cover driving and picking up my girls to their events that day, and I set off on an hour and half journey to Birmingham about an hour and a half before the rally was set to start. So I don't know exactly Why I marched. But I do know why I am glad I marched. I found again my We the People.

The park outside of the Civil Rights Museum was packed with the biggest, most diverse crowd I've ever seen in Alabama. Apparently there were 5,000 marchers. They had been expecting a couple hundred. And it was a joyous day. I overheard someone say, "we're just preaching to the choir." Yes. Yes, we were. But sometimes you need to do that. Sometimes you need to see how big and beautiful your choir is. And how diverse. That day in Birmingham, and in photos from marches all over the world, I found again that I am part of a bigger collective. I do belong, and I am represented. But not by politicians. Because politicians and governments should reflect our We the People (and we should fight to make sure they do!), but they are not our We the People. I am represented by all the good people and each action they take to make our world a better place. 

I no longer feel untethered and unrepresented. My We the People are the Woman Marchers all over the world. My We the People are those who believe Black Lives Matter. My We the People are those who speak up for the rights of our LGBTQ friends. My We the People care about immigrants and refugees. My We the People want to take care of our planet. My We the People believe in science and in facts. My We the People value diversity. My We the People respect all religious beliefs. My We the People bring chocolate. My We the People are kind. And My We the People are a mighty number...  

Our children are listening...

So this morning my 9-year-old was laughing about a sign she had seen which made fun of Trump by calling him names. I started to tell her how mommy prefers we disagree with people on their policies and how we should engage in critical dialogue about their plans and actions, but I prefer we not actually call people names. To which she replied, "but Trump started it." I sighed. And I was disheartened a bit.

And so all the way to school this morning, I half heartedly talked to both girls about how people can disagree with us on things and that doesn't make them bad. But as I said, it was a half hearted attempt. Because as my daughter had said, Trump started it. And I feared that with all the hateful rhetoric now being so up front in american politics, I might be fighting a losing battle by asking my daughters to use respectful dialogue. And again, I was disheartened. 

Then after I dropped them off at school, I checked my email. My nearly 13-year-old had sent me an email last night. Strange. I'm not usually on her social media list. In fact, I've promised to never comment publicly on her Instagram... but anyway, I opened the email to find she had sent me a poem she wrote with her friend. And that brings me to this moment. When I'm going to share the poem now with you all. Because she has been listening. And I could not be more proud of the message she has heard. And she has reminded me that despite all the negativity around them, kids will hear positive messages. So we have to keep saying them...and I am hopeful once again for our future... 

Humpty Trumpty

Humpty Trumpty’s mother turned on Fox News
Humpty Trumpty’s mother loved Donald’s views
The idea of a border wall sounded so great
It would keep her and her son Humpty safe

Humpty Trumpty sat on the wall
Humpty Trumpty had a great fall [into Mexico]
All of Mexico’s horses
And all of Mexico’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again

Mexico’s leader assembled the humps
Gluing him together with quite a few bumps
They chucked him back over
Trump’s border wall
He was back in America
Humpty and all

So even though Humpty was full of hate
Mexico still found it in them to make him great [again]
So this is where many people hit quite a slump
You should be kind and respectful to everyone
Even Donald Trump [even though he’s a nutjob]

— By Dukie Momo & Jojo Pickles

Finding your voice- Or Lessons I've Learned from Isabella

Finding your voice- Or Lessons I've Learned from Isabella

I've been working with children since I was old enough to babysit. Been teaching children in some capacity for the last 23 years. So I don't want to say I've seen it all, but I will say not much surprises me. And I generally think I'm pretty good at reading kids and meeting them where they are and bonding with them from there. Or at least I thought that until this past year when a creative, loud, happy child named Isabella surprised me and taught me a new lesson that will help me now to be a better teacher- and maybe even a better person.

Let me back up- when I first began teaching Isabella, then 2 years old, about a year ago in one of my parent/child gymnastic classes, I did not see her at all as creative, loud, or happy. In fact, I saw her as timid, introverted and nervous. She hid most of the class behind her dad's legs. And her kind, supportive parents, along with her kind, well-meaning teacher would encourage her to try skills and push her to participate. But if I'm honest, she didn't really ever seem to enjoy the class in those days. But I thought she needed time- time to get to know me, time to be comfortable in the environment, and time to just watch and observe before doing.

You are not that special

I've learned an important lesson this week. I am not that special. And even as a child, I wasn't that special either.

Teaching Parent/Child classes for the last 8 years, the question I am most often asked by parents is some variation of "is it normal...?"
Is it ok... Do you think I should be worried about... My child does___, do other children do that?

And not once has a parent been hoping I would say, "Wow! That is unique! I've never seen that before!" That would not be a comforting answer to a parent trying to figure out if their kid is ok.
As parents, we can all see the wonderfully unique gifts our children have. We don't need reassurances that our children are special. But sometimes, we do need reassurances that they are not. We want to hear that our children our normal- that the behavior is not that strange...

And you know what? Without fail in the hundreds and hundreds of times I've had a variation of this conversation with a parent, I've always been able to reassure them that yes, their child is ok. Sometimes I have to say honestly that the behavior is not typical. But I've never had to say the behavior was unheard of... and that is all the parent needs to hear to feel less scared. Another child has gone through this. Another parent has dealt with this too. They are not that special.

I would wager that no one in the history of parenting has ever worried a child is too normal. No one stresses when a child hits all the developmental milestones on time and falls in the 50% on growth charts. We take comfort in our children being like everyone else even as we celebrate and encourage them to be different.

As grown-ups though there are no charts to gauge our averageness by and tell us where we fall compared to everyone else. We don't have casual conversations where we can ask others if our behaviors, thoughts or feelings are normal. And so we start to imagine that we must be the only person on the planet who feels or acts the way we do.

But this week I've heard from a quite a few people in response to my openness on this blog about issues I've dealt with, and I've learned another person has felt what I have. A lot of other persons actually. And I am less scared for hearing it. I am not that special. And you dear reader, you are not that special either...

 

The Gift of Authenticity

A friend told me recently she has never been happy in her whole life. And while that might sound heartbreaking, it was honestly one of the most beautiful, hopeful interactions I've had in a long while. 

We were not in a bar commiserating as old friends. In fact, we're barely more than acquaintances. And yet we found ourselves in the middle of a crowded lobby talking authentically about our real selves. The beautiful part. And she was sharing not out of despondency or to complain; she was sharing about taking control of her future by owning her past story. The hopeful part. 

It's all too rare in life to have genuine, life affirming interactions with good friends. Not because we don't care about one another, but because life is moving fast. And we're all busy trying to be so many things to so many people in so many settings. So experiencing moments when all pretense is gone, and core emotional truths are open and vulnerable is a gift. And so to have one with a casual friend on a random day in the middle of a crowded room was an especially unexpected gift. One that I will now treasure. And one that reminds me to be open and hopeful for more of these interactions- not guarded and cynical of sharing my true self for fear of being real.