Knickers on the Line

Notes from a Magniloquent Mama

Courageous Cultural Conversation? I’m shaking in my shoes!

February10

Hey folks-
I was invited to speak tonight at a mediated meeting of parents from McCornack. I believe there are several Latino parents being asked to speak and several non-Latino parents. Then we divide into small groups and have facilitated conversations. This has come about as a result of some very angry rumblings among parents at our school who feel that we are devoting too many of our resources to ELL. I’d like to say that after this evening everything will be hearts and flowers and we will join hands and sing kumbaya- but I am pretty sure this will be just one small step on the path to creating greater understanding between parent communities.

Yesterday I walked to a coffee shop about 3 miles from here (yay Me!)- and as I was sitting reading books that people donate to the bookshelf- I picked up a book called Understanding the Culture of Poverty. Reading was so incredible- it called into question a lot of the assumptions I make about people and what they OUGHT to do, especially to prepare their children for success in education. Wow.

The book outlined generalized values systems for people of different backgrounds and income levels. How people develop or use friendships, how they approach money, attitudes toward education, and more. It was fascinating to see myself in there a few times and think, is the reason I have trouble coming to agreement with this person in my life a matter of values and assumptions?

I was asked to speak tonight and I am shaking in my shoes. After reading this I feel that I cannot take a stance of self-righteousness ever because I am not other-aware. I was so worried that people might be offended by my explanation of what I want from my children’s education- but then I thought I would explain this recent revelation. We’ll see- maybe folks will roll their eyes and fall asleep- but I am just going to speak from my truth. Here is an excerpt from what I wrote up:

When I think about what my expectations of my children’s education are, the values my parents passed on to me come out loud and clear. Here are just a few of my hopes and dreams for my children’s education here at McCornack and in the larger context of their lives:

I want them to love to learn, and become people who seek out opportunities to learn about things they love. I think the buzzword
is “lifelong learners”. Reading and writing are very high on my list of specific skills, but also art, music, science, math, and geography. I want them to be familiar with all the ways in which we try to understand and reflect the world around us, and bring meaning to our sometimes confusing experiences.

I want my children to understand that everyone has their own experience, and their own family & cultural values will always be at play- and that those values make us unique and fascinating people. I want them to have respect for people who see things differently than they do, or make different choices. I want my children to have the humility to say, “You see this differently than I do- tell me more about how you see it”. I want my children to have a more global perspective of things- to want to learn about other cultures, lands, and ways of being.

I want my children to always be critical thinkers, people who question further. I want them to be able to look at what they are learning and ask, “Why is that so?” and “How does this affect me?” or “Could there be more to this?”

I come from a family that had a heart for social justice. The Nuns taught my mother to have compassion for those who struggle. I want my children to also have a heart for social justice and service- and to look around them and ask how they can build up their community or the World by addressing the needs of others. Maybe this won’t be on a large scale, maybe it will mean they take soup to an elderly neighbor- but I want them to see beyond their own survival. I want them to appreciate that we are all connected and that when we bring others up- we all benefit.

I want my girls to have healthy relationships with others. To make sure they are treated with dignity and respect, and not hang around allowing anyone to mistreat them. I want them to feel strong and secure within themselves- and to have the ability to examine their motives honestly and courageously.

Another important value of my family is that the education of a child is not the sole responsibility of the school. The learning does not begin and end with the school day. As a parent, I have at least an equal share in my children’s education- probably much greater. It is my job to look for ways to advance their learning, respond to their unique talents, and encourage them in their personal development. I don’t know about the parents here- but my children showed up with their own unique personalities and gifts. Before kids I would have said that children are a blank slate- but now I think they arrive with special gifts and challenges. I feel that my main job is to respond to what they came with, and create opportunity to go further. These are efforts that I hope will help them move through the World with grace, wisdom and compassion.

These are my values- and they may not be shared by all here. They are personal and reflect my tradition and the way I was raised. It is my truth alone-

Surrounded by crazy Norwegians- throw me a line!

April3

What is it about Norwegians?

This morning I went to my very first aqua aerobics class and was simply introducing myself to a kindly woman, and she got this beatific look on her face and said “A good Norwegian name!”. When I told her I was named after Kristin Labransdatter, she looked like her head would explode from the joy.  She immediately called to another friend in the pool (also Norwegian) who came swimming over to me like a hungry shark, then another Norwegian woman came over. Pretty soon they are talking about their cousins, their latest trip to the mother-land, their grandma-ma’s cooking- and asking me questions about whether I had ever been to places that all kind of sounded the same and had some kind of significance to all the bobbing heads. When they finally stopped talking and I told them I didn’t think I was very Norwegian,or at all Norwegian.  I’m pretty sure we are russian and french and maybe iroquois-and my mom was just reading the book and liked the name. They decided to leave me alone, and resume their friendly, but swim-offish ways.

I have often thought that it would be fun to belong to a group of people who are so tied to their culture. You could eat cafelta fish without people looking at you funny, attend pow-wows without feeling apologetic, throw out a few slang terms in your native tongue just to show everyone that you really belong.

For a moment though I was almost a Norwegian- American, and it was kind of fun.

Et trana di, kukhode!

 

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The Magniloquent Mama word of the day is… CULPABILITY

March9

So- we got our car back yesterday. About noon we received a call that it had been found in an apartment parking lot not far from our house. There was some damage, but it’s drivable. The kids were really upset by the process of going to get the car. They were both crying and carrying on in the car, and while the police officer had us sign forms and helped us jump the car, the girls’ pink tear-streaked faces were pressed against the windows of the station wagon.

When I got back into the car, Lauren announced tearfully, “I wish the people who steal cars would all turn into pigs and we could eat them for bacon!”. Yummy… bacon (sorry- I had a Homer moment). It was an interesting idea- and surprising coming from a child who was so repelled by the experience of killing and plucking our own Thanksgiving turkey 2 years ago. But- apparently, she was not disgusted enough to actually become a vegetarian (while many of her classmates have announced to their parents that meat makes them want to gag). Anyway- this got me thinking about CULPABILITY- a big ole’ word that is thrown around in the Catholic Catechism- but basically meaning the degree to which you are responsible for your actions.

Lauren’s comment made me think of bacon- yummm…bacon. I mean, it made me think about culpability.  I have noticed that the kids at her school who do weird things and act out- don’t exactly have the nicest home environments. I have been helping with reading groups and am so saddened that the kids who struggle with reading have no one reading to them at home at night, no one to help them sound out words, and encourage them to overcome their fear of just not getting it. Lauren and I talked about what makes people make poor choices after she said something about why God made someone steal our car. I couldn’t help but get into free-will and culpability, and by the end, we both agreed that maybe what car thieves need is a big ole’ hug from their mama.

I know that Thomas More in his book Utopia calls government out on the carpet for creating thieves and then punishing them. Call me a Socialist, but I tend to agree with him. We create a society in which families struggle to meet basic needs (and there is little value for the important things- like parenting), then the spoils of our culture go to those who don’t have to struggle as hard just to stay alive. Sure, there are plenty of the “pull yourself up by your bootstrap” examples- and I am not saying I don’t believe in personal responsibility, but the kids in Lauren’s class who can’t read as well as my kindergartner are likely going to be the same kids who graduate at the bottom of their senior class- if they graduate at all.

It’s hard to impart values to your children when you are working yourself to death trying to put food on the table. I also recognize that our society has some major flaws in its social welfare system. What is the solution? Hell, I don’t know. I think that everyone reading to their child for 30 minutes a day would be a good start. Conveying to your children a value for continuing education, and its power to help improve life for everyone- that would be a positive beginning. 

Damn- this blogging this is supposed to make me feel better! I just want to cry, oh-and hug car thieves. Maybe then I could read them a story for 30 minutes a day and change the world.

Kitchen Table Revolutionaries

March2

When I was asked by a friend to consult on a grant project to help fund a city park project, my first reaction was, “You haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of getting $ during this ” severe economic contraction”! But this morning something magical happened that reminded me just how much people can do when they organize and reach out to others to share their passion for a project.

The park this group is trying to refurbish is one of the most used parks in our fair city- and the 2nd largest distribution site for the free lunch program through Food for Lane County. The project this group is proposing is certainly one with merit, and initially I was cynical about their prospects, but then we had this meeting over morning coffee and identified 5 funders- private and public- who would each give 5k. The goal is 75k and a matching grant has been promised. I do believe that these folks can get this done. If people start talking with their neighbors, asking their friends, and making good use of their connections- I think they will make short work of reaching their fundraising goal.

I’m sure you have heard the 6 degrees of separation theory. This meeting was an example of this- everyone seemed to know someone who knew someone who could do “the ask” on their behalf. Will all these parts fall into place? I don’t know. But this group has the energy and passion to see this project brought to reality. What incredible forces for good we can be when we organize.

I mentioned in my abandoned blog, a while back, that I read Francis Morlape’s book Getting a Grip. It was about social apathy and the lack of directed effort to affect social change. She suggests that many people fail to get involved in social change projects because they feel dis-empowered and invisible- unable and uninterested in working for change. How did we get from the passionate 60s to this?

But, just when it feels like hope is gone- we organize to elect a president who is making sweeping changes daily. We call our friends to ask for their help in making a dream, no matter how small, a reality. It is so encouraging to see that people still meet around kitchen tables over coffee and talk about how they can improve their world- even if it’s just making it a nicer place for children to be children.fun-places-to-take-kids-when-its-hot-in-nashville-tn-splash-parks-fountain-playgrounds-1

Giving up Facebook for Lent…

February28

You know that technology is out of balance when your friends start giving up networking sites for Lent. 

I have been talking a lot with my girlfriends about the role of social networking sites and how they have changed friendship. All this talk has lead to a revival of real-life face-to-face interacting- and even (gasp!) drinking tea and visiting!

I look at how many people I have “friended” on Facebook and Myspace and consider when I last saw these folks, and it all starts to seem rather pitiful. There are some exceptions to the pitiful- like people that live across the world, or just the US, or in, say, Condon, Oregon. But the folks that are local? There is no good excuse for not seeing these people on a regular basis.

This afternoon we are going to a “Childrens’ Happy Hour” at the home of some new acquaintances. I’m really looking forward to it! These people are “friends” of mine from Facebook, but honestly- I don’t know much about them- so it will be an adventure to actually socialize with them and not just read their status updates.

I just had a funny thought- what if someday people are so socially inept that they speak like they are constantly updating their status. It would look like 2 Elmos speaking to each other:

“Elmo is ready to go home” “Elmo is sad the Ducks lost again” This would be completely ridiculous, eh?

A friend recommended a book recently called Bowling Alone. Apparently more people than ever are bowling, but fewer people are joining leagues. The book suggests that technology, lack of developed social skills, and changing social roles and expectations have lead us to become isolated and incapable of engaging in society. It will be interesting to see how the author quantifies it- or if he just preaches and rants.

Oh, my friends who gave up Facebook for Lent? I can’t seem to reach them at all! What’s up with that?!

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