Parenting: Another Chance at Living Selflessly

My Little Ninja

My Little Ninja

Perhaps no other life experience has given me the opportunity to learn to live selflessly like Parenting. And I do not throw around the “P-Word” lightly, for anybody who ‘spews’ their ‘chemicals’ to produce a child. In my book, a parent is one who commits her/his self, actively to raising her/his children – born to them, born for them, adopted or as caretaker. It could be an aunt or uncle, or grandma raising children of their relative, or a stranger adopting a child unknown to them.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that parenting is the only way to live selfless or care for anything other than oneself. I know plenty of non-parents who are intimately engaged, or may I say, engrossed in all sorts of life ventures, as humanitarians, community mobilizers, mentors, fundraiser, trainers, teachers, friends or volunteers. I was one of anyone of those categories before I became a parent, and intimately committed to whatever and whoever I invested my time and energy into. Yet, as I have learned since becoming a parenting, while I could walk away from any of those preoccupation to create a just and friendly world, I do not have the same luxury with parenting. That is, if one is a parent – totally different from being a father or mother.

What prompted me to say all this? A couple of things. But, one most recent as this weekend. I took my son to participate his first ever Tae-Kwon-Do Tournament, Nam’s Veterans Martial Arts Tournament in Stroudsburg, PA. The organizer, his Tae-Kwon-Do teacher, is a Grand Master, international olympic judge, and trainer and National Coach for both Team USA and post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. By the way, Master Nam is a great teacher, I hate the thought of moving far away from him!

N’way, the whole experience at the tournament was amazing, so deep and personal. I watched, as parents, including grandparents, uncles and aunts, and siblings, braved the morning downpour to bring their children to competition. Parents preparing their children, investing energies and a whole day to stay with their children and see them through all the competition. There were plenty of joys and celebrations of wins, as well as tears of sorrow for losses and no wins. I cheered on my son, as well as friends, whom we know from our school

Though, one unfamiliar face stuck onto me and hit me deep. A father carrying a bag full of broken boards, and more in his arms, with his two children each carrying two giant trophies [girl- first and second place; and boy – two first place finishes], following him to departure. Daddy had a grin on his face, showing lots of excitement for his children’s achievements.

Nothing beat the feeling I had for my son’s achievements. While he did not win first or second place, he had three third place finishes, fetching him three trophies and three medals. I was a mixed bag of emotions; I cried and celebrated tears of joy and accomplishment. But also a little sad that he did not get first place, even though we had not expected anything more than a “certificate of participation”. I cried because he cried; he does not do losing very easily. I was even more surprised and saddened that another kid, usually not as good as my son is, beat him in “Forms”. How did he take second place from him!

As a parent, I had to hide my tears from his face, instead cheered him on for his achievements. I told him to pose for pictures with his trophies, with a smile. I asked for a picture with him. I reassured him that, the first time around is not always easy. But he should be proud of himself because some kids did not get a medal. I urged him on to try harder next time, grow his strength and scoop the top prize, next time around.

Perhaps we should participate in more tournaments going forward, to get him accustomed to competition and grow a spirit of fighting harder. My commitment to my son’s accomplishment has taught me a lot about myself and family. That my needs can take a back seat, as I nurture this little one, to partake of this world, and lay his footmark on this planet. Since becoming a parent, I have also learned a lot about my mother’s parenting style, and contextually appreciate the decisions she made [consciously or not] as a parent. I also much more appreciate, parents dedicated to raising their children, and providing the best they can afford and know how.

As I have always maintained, everyone is going through their hustle, do not judge! One must not sit on their high horse and judge the decisions of another parent, without stepping in those shoes, including for parents who seemingly or indeed go astray with decisions they make about parenting their children. Parenting is a wonderful thing. For some people, once they take that step to parenting, it is all they live for, and live selflessly for-ever-after!

celebrating his first Tae-Kwon-Do competition and medals

celebrating his first Tae-Kwon-Do competition and medals

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I Never Signed Up to do “Men’s Work….but…

Perhaps, those who know me maybe surprised that I am making genderized statements. After all, I am that kind of girl often pigeon-holed as a Feminist. You know, feminism does not come with collar popping praises, similar to capitalism. It is too loaded, too abhorred by plenty, as much as it is celebrated and revered by others. To some, it is the “Coming of Age of a Woman as a [Public] Person”. To others, It is the end of Womanhood, as we love, know and expect of a good and worthy woman. I personally chose to stand aside and let the battles rage on.
I am a very proud woman; it is my third or fourth identity after: 1) Human; 2) Muganda; 2) Black; 4) PanAfrican; oops it is 5) Woman, in order of my identity. No one can ever take away from me the fact that I am born human; the rest I have annexed as I come of age into this world. It is possible that Black comes before Muganda, though my unequivocal allegiance to Ssabasajja Kabaka – King of Buganda supersedes my cling onto blackness. Biko grandpa got this
Then, if my “woman” identity is so far off, why I am making genderized statements that I Never Signed Up to Do Men’s Work..?
As I repeatedly say, to be human is to be contradictory. I hate to be pigeoned-holed into any form of identity, thought process, time period or affiliation. My thought process, my understanding of life, my allegiances, my desires and my commitments are as transient as my geographical belonging.
There was a time I thought it matter greatly that, My Mechanic is a Woman. Not anymore! I want my mechanic to be as knowledgeable, courteous, consistent and cost-effective, as possible. I do not know so much about cars, otherwise I would be fixing them like I do with parenting. Whereas I detest social constructionism, and repudiate structuralism, many a times, I cling on to certain structures with nostalgia.
I reminisce about the days when men and women lived their social lives in their equal right, without necessarily having to compete with each other for recognition. Men enjoyed things men do [hanging out, playing soccer, flexing muscles, and women did the same [chatting, laughing hysterically, and cooking meals], stories I learned through experience, passed on to me as tales from my mother or my social circles, or have read about.
As a woman, my grandmother, who did not go to school, commanded the house to order. My grandmother guaranteed that food was planted and grown on family land by family labor – boys or girls, gardens weeded, four Sonic 13 on all six lanesood harvested and cooked for the family to eat. She ensured that every member of her household actively engaged in household chores, kept them grounded with respectful behavior for elders, adults and the neighborhood, and supportive of one another. She was The Boss Lady in the household, who never shied away from sparing the rod..and… No! She did not climb trees to harvest the mangoes, or ladders to construct the houses and barns and kitchens. She did not fix broken bicycles or pans, or build cars with children. She was a good Muganda woman, with the necessary mechanics for sharpening a blunt knife.
My grandfather took on his role as the overall in-charge of the household, especially the financial provider for the family. He went out to work for financial compensation, paid his monthly tax burden, school tuition for over fifteen children and bought the meat, sugar, bread, whenever he could afford. He also bought the land on which his family house resides to date. Prior to his death, he demarcated a plot of land equally to each of his children regardless of their sex – girls or boys.
I can say the same about my father, who took to [not heart but] muscle being The Head of the Household. While not without his faults and shortcomings, my father ensured that school tuition fees were paid, land purchased to farm family food and build family houses, and builders paid. He bought food home, especially his favorite fish and meat, and clothed the family and toiled himself into retirement.
My mother contributed greatly to holding the family together and supported my father’s financial pursuits. She provided a clean and reliable supply of my father’s wardrobe, wore the pants and dresses whenever my father was away from home or traveled for work, supervised builders on site and ensured abundant supply of water and other building material, planted food, managed the farms and gardens and brought food on the table, contributed to the children’s wardrobe, scholastic needs and upkeep, and run the general household. She was Superwoman!
Then enters moi, who came into feminism embracing its mantra as, The Radical Notion That Women Are People, a bumper sticker on a Senior Female Law Lecturer that I greatly admired as a feminist and scholarly activist. That summed up all my attraction to feminism, as a young girl. I did not want anyone restricting the length of my dress, the style of my hair, the offices I could step into, the words I could public say, the arguments I could engage in, or the causes I chose to defend. I did not want anyone defining my public lifestyle and pursuits. I wanted to climb trees, speak about human rights violations, wear my knee-high dresses or saggy jeans pants, rock dreadlocks, party hard, and drink to this and that, whenever I felt like.
But NO! I did not want to take responsibility for climbing ladders to build or paint my house, fix my bulb, repair my car, wash my car, shove snow from the driveway, build cars, carry loads of household equipment, mow the lawn or pay my bill at a restaurant on a date. That is what men do. Nor did I sign up to be my son’s playmate, especially in ‘boys games”, or build his cars. I love watching and learning vicariously through him, but do not enjoy being the center of making it happen.
Fast forward, and here I am: dressed up as a Ninja, playing flash, sonic, spiderman, supergirl and batgirl. I am the ‘adult partner” to his Cub scout meetings, building cars, building rail tracks at home and anything boys do. I do not mind climbing trees, and chasing him around the yard. Though, I do not want the entire weight fitted onto me. I want him to build cars with boys and with males. Perhaps then, we will have a winning car in the next Pinewood Derby Car Race.Team Biko Sonic 13 at the Pinewood Derby Car Race

New Year Resolutions from A Mother to A Wimpy Child

I have heard people claiming that making New Year Resolutions is so cliché! Everyone goes on to breaks their resolutions, so why bother?
Well, I still believe there is reason to set annual resolutions at the beginning of each year. Similar to academic life, professional or business ventures, everybody needs goals. Something to aspire to or to keep one grounded; something against which to judge oneself -successes or failures, losses or wins; or cause a celebration, and plan for more celebrations. We all need that oomph; a year is too long not to want to prove, reform or redeem oneself.
So yes, I will be keeping some resolutions around this year. But I will not tell you what they are, except to give you a clue: SECURITY!
There you have it, all my New Years resolutions summed up in one word. And sorry no! I will not be quitting social media, anytime soon.
While we are at resolutions, here is something I thought would be perfect New Year Resolutions from Mother to A Wimpy Child.
 
1. No more thumb sucking, apparently because it tastes like milk. Next time you want milk, feel free to suck on the farm cows like calves do.
2. If you get up and do not make your bed, kindly get rid of your beddings by throwing them out of the house for good.
3. You do not like the food I make you, be my guest. Pick up a fruit of your choice, with a bottle of water for dinner.
Wimpy Child
4. If you have nothing good to say, allow your mouth to remain closed, including from sulking and sobbing.
5. You think homework is too hard and boring? Try listening to yourself whining.
6. Always remember that I brought you into this world, and I can swiftly take you back where you came from.
7. You’re just jealous that I am boss-lady. Try being the servant, then tell me which one you prefer.
8. I am the tree, you are the plane. Last time I checked, a tree does not get out of the way for a plane’s passage.
9. I know it is hard being a boy. Don’t worry, your Scottish roots allow you to escape into your skirts, and your Baganda roots a man-dress.
10. And if your birthday seems to take too long to come around, always remember there are typically 365, and February 29 is not an annual guarantee.
Happy New Year Wimpy Child, the world would be such a dull place without your sulk to make the sky cloudy, your tears to make rain fall, and your cold shoulder to freeze into snow!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are said to be those of this person’s “alter ego”…and do not necessarily represent the “other person” 😉😘

Lost In Translation…Between Santa and Religion…

I am revisiting the discussion about parents celebrating with their children, or is it children celebrating with their parents, or parents imposing their will on their children. I am still “Lost in Translation”, not an outcome of feedback I received on my most recent piece parent-children relations, but a feeling of “unfinished business”. I still cannot understand how a parent would expect his/her children’s excitements to be about or around them, not the opposite!
I have heard that, if your message does not come out as you expected, it is most likely because you did not communicate effectively. At least that is agreed upon by those who put the interests of their audience over and above theirs, and are comfortable accepting blame for not being understood. Others would be quick to blame their audience for “not understanding them” or missing the point. I tend to belong to the former, preferably because it helps me grow as a public communicator.
N’way, I still believe that every person has a right to their beliefs, grounded in own social, economic, cultural political or religious understanding. I am comfortable tolerating different belief systems, as part of my commitment to humane social living. I lose nothing by not disagreeing with others about their beliefs. Everybody believes in some unexplained power or authority: buddha, meditation, yoga, running, deity, karma, giving, good luck, prayer, handwork, capitalism, democracy, community, social living, family, religion, or something.
I am a great observer and learner from different belief systems. Though, I steer clear of directly confronting anyone about their belief systems, unless of course they are a source of social injustice and disharmony. I will not hesitate to challenge notions or pronouncements that undermine other forms of social organization or social living, like racism, sexism, ethnocentrism or capitalism. However, I have made my peace, to never engage in arguments about politics or religion with anyone in my circles, who I do not care so much about, but I would not dare to lose. Typically, anyone I regard as an acquaintances or not very close relationship. I am comfortable engaging my family and close friends because of the relationship and trust we have cultivated overtime, which would unlikely end due to religious or politics disagreement.
And while many religious followers often emphasize that their faith embodies love, peace and hope, on the contrary, I have experienced religion as a source of high social exclusion, intolerance and self-centeredness. Many religious believers preoccupy themselves with convincing you that their way is right, righteous and loving, while implicitly judging your [alternative or non-religious] beliefs and lifestyle choices. I was once told that I would not pass the test on “Judgement Day” [whenever and wherever that would be], because I have no religious backbone to lean on, other than my belief in humanity. I have sat down with a religious family, where one stated in my face that a child born out of wedlock brings great shame to the family. I was also scolded for privileging “Santa” over “Jesus Christ”! I could not be more misunderstood than in the last incidence!
For those who know me, I do not subscribe to “organized belief system”, except perhaps my cultural affinity as a Muganda. Even then, I pick and choose what works in different situations. I do not subscribe to most fantasies either, like Santa, dead people or nativity. Put more appropriately, I ceased subscribing to such fantasies, the more I learned about the world. Then I became a mother, and my ‘mystical-free world’ made a u-Turn. Now I sit through TV or Video shows of action figures, ninjas, anime; open myself up to learn about fictional characters through books, outdoor activities or tales from my child. Sometimes I am tasked by my little one to research facts about all sorts of characters in videos, TV and children’s reading books, or listen to long and windy stories that I have no interest in, but because that’s “What’s hot in the KidZone”!
Lately, I am a victim of the expectation to honor all sorts of celebrations and holidays that were never of any interest to me in my solo world. For my son’s birthday, I have to come up with cakes of all shapes, sizes and toppings from what fascinates him at the time. I have directed the production of cakes that look like Lightning McQueen, fire-spitting dinosaur or Sonic the Hedgehog. For Halloween, I lost the right to present him with a costume of my choice, such as Curious George custome for his first year. Now, it has to be either Ben10, Captain America, Ninja Turtles or some other Ninja, in addition to coming up with a costume for myself, per his request.
For Christmas, he does not care whether I give him any presents. My presents are highly expected and appreciated any other time, except Christmas, when it is “Santa” comes down the chimney with presents from his workshop in the North Pole. While I do not worship at the altar of Christmas, I have to ensure that gifts are purchased, wrapped, and left under the chimney the night before Christmas, so that he wakes up to the magical giving for that kindhearted mysterious creature. While others might find their mystery through God, Jesus Christ, Allah, Jehovah or Messiah, to many children, it is the Tooth Fairy, Ninja Turtles, Sonic or Santa. Mysteries help children cast their imaginations far and wide, expanding their brain power to dream big, and that is why I support my son in fully experiencing them.
So, do not demand that your child’s fantastic mysteries be about you or what you believe to be the “perfect or acceptable mysteries”. Allow them to create their own mysteries, and support their ability to enjoy their mysteries. Until such a time when their world view changes, when they will learn that there is more to life than mystical characters and fantasies. Social living involves thinking beyond oneself, accommodating everyone’s belief systems and lifestyles, which might one day have to be their own children!

Dear Parents, Your Kids Celebrations Are Not About You…!

I typically do not write about family affairs. I have a self-censored rule that “I shall NOT wash my family dirty linen in public. Even with all my multiple identities: as a humanist, a Pan African, a Black person, a woman, a cosmopolitan, an internationalist, I still believe in the “private-public dichotomy. Yes, in my world, there is still a “public” and a “private”, and the private should be spared and jealously safe-guarded from public eyes and ears, and scrutiny. The more I have come of age, the more I realize that I do not have to say everything I feel or think. I am grateful that the heart is hidden inside our bodies; nobody can claim to know my feelings. Although, those who seek to find fault, will always claim knowledge of your sentiments, feelings and intentions. Nor, do I need to offer an opinion on everything that I read, observe or hear of. I am grateful that my fingers, mouth and head allow me to excuse myself from uncomfortable situations, until such a time when I am ready to resurface. As my mother always told me, who can claim that you hurt them when you did not say a thing? [Apparently some still take it personal, mommy].
N’way, allow me a minute to break my Code of Silence about “The Private”, and say,
“Dear Parents, your child or your children’s celebrations are not about you. Nor are their intrigues, their excitements, or their dreams. It is their moment. Please do not feel offended if they would like to play with their toys, friends or cousins instead of sitting around chatting with you. If you are on a phone call with them, please do not expect them to maintain a long attention span, unless of course they are talking to you about something that excites them, like their favorite fictional characters. When you give them presents, please let them enjoy the occasion for receiving your gifts: perhaps it is their birthday, they lost a tooth, Easter Bunny visited, it is Halloween or Santa came into town. That is what kids talk about; please allow them to enjoy their childhood. Sometimes they might offend you by saying that they wished for “Pokémon” instead of the “Spiderman” you got them. Please find a constructive way of reminding them the importance of being grateful, and hopefully they will receive what they had wished for next time. Although, as we all know, our children’s interests change as quickly as their attention span. The next time you think of gifting them, or another celebrations comes around, they might wish for snow or white sand from the forest!”
Why I am saying all of this? I presume that if you are a parent, you probably already know all these facts about your children. Though, I have learned that not all absentee parents have these facts at their finger tips. Some want their children’s excitements, beliefs, celebrations and interests to be centered around them. They want their children to follow their own trajectories, as scripted from their childhood, even when they have never spent an equivalent of a month per year, since their children were born! When the kids do not respond per their expectations, the custodial parent is to blame!
Perhaps the same is true that custodial parents also want our children to ‘be like us’. I must say though, I have learned to “let my son be”, allow him to dream as wildly, explore as wide, and seek as far and beyond. I have put on hold my needs and comfort for the sake of my son until that time when he comes of age, or says he does not desire me anymore. I have opened up my son to venture into territories I had abandoned long ago or had excluded from my lifestyle. For instance, I was never a cheese-easter, but I started eating cheese regularly while pregnant with my son, because my OB/GYN said I needed to eat more protein, particular cheese and eggs. I had vowed myself as a cosmo girl, who would never fit or be caught living in suburbia away from the bright city lights, until that all changed in pursuit of “the school district”. I abandoned my geographical place of comfort, in the name of “raising my child around his family”. I have even learned to make, and sometimes taste pancakes, pizza, muffins and donuts, for the sake of my son, although I ensure to make them as healthy as it comes. If you had told me six years ago, that I would be spending my Xmas morning googling, discovering and reading about action figures/fictional characters: Sonic the Hedgehog, Ninja Turtles, Pokémon, Spider-Man, …. Thank You Santa! Or that I would be consciously celebrating Christmas, again!
Talking about Christmas, I ceased celebrations when I parted ways with Christianity umpteen years ago. In my entire stay in America, I had never celebrated Halloween until after my child was born, and I partook in Thanksgiving fetes because friends or family invited me to share with their families. Generally, my personal politics and convictions determined my response to many celebrations and traditions, even though I respect the choices of those who follow these traditions. Halloween to me was a “ghostly blood sucking ‘orgy”, which I always skipped because I hate blood and was fear dead people. Thanksgiving robbed Native Americans of their lands and culture by invading colonialists, whom I did not wish to honor. Christmas and Easter were channels of institutionalized control, miseducation and European colonization of the black mind and erosion and denigrating African culture and traditions. I could say the same about Eid, but since I was not born into Islam [like Christianity], I embraced it, whenever it welcomed me to partake, until my recent departure from consciously seeking to enjoy it or any other inklings of organized religion. [Did I say that I was once engaged to be married to a Muslim African man? Uhm! Story for another day!] I believe the stronger basis for our existence is the fact that we are all humans first born onto this planet in human flesh, with one life to live, before we vanish, or perhaps re-incarnate or hang around our loved ones as spirits.
So, I have learned to let my son live his dream. I do not force him to adopt my own beliefs or confine him to my desires. Well, there are a few exceptions; to protect him or encourage him to learn, or teach him to be a strong and respectful man. I often tell my son that it is important to be polite, respectful and appreciative, than to have high academic grades. As a member of society, there are certain requirements I am gonna impose on him, to learn, to live and excel in human society. As a single mother raising a man, when I have never been a man, moreover a young American man, I am gonna go beyond his wishes to ensure that he becomes a man he, myself and well-wishers will be proud of.
I emphasize to him the importance of “Please”, “Sorry” and “Thank You”, drinking water with his meals, at least between meals, eating vegetables and fruits, getting his homework done and doing his weekly chores of cleaning the bathroom sink, toilet and wiping dressing mirror. I offer no apologies for that!
Still, I let my son dream his dreams. To him, Christmas is about “Santa coming down the Chimney to bring presents to kids who behave well.”  Who I am to tell him otherwise? The “Tooth Fairy” rewards kids who lose their teeth, Halloween is a “Trick-Or-Treat” moment for little kids, the only passport to going out very late at night, on Thanksgiving, it is time to eat turkey, even when mom would rather we ate “Tofurky”, and a Birthday is a very special day to eat cake and receive as many presents. It does not matter that I do not celebrate Christmas, which according to me it is a Christian holiday, my son will celebrate it for as long as he wants, and because I have plenty of family who are Christians. The same way I let him celebrate Eid with his muslim paternal family, [I too have muslim family and friends].
I am not gonna bombard him with the religious symbolism of Christianity or Eid; I parted ways and have no interest in exploring that with my son at this age. In fact, I tried to let him share his paternal families Islamic culture, until grandma gave us the ultimatum, “If he cannot attend Sunday School regularly, he should not come at all.” My intention was to give her an opportunity to spend some quality time with her grandson, since she did not see him a lot in his five years, and she does not ask to spend one-on-one time or take him out, until her other grandkids are visiting.
For as long as I am expected to be the sole parent for this child, I will continue allowing him to believe as he imagines, that Santa came down the chimney and dropped off all the presents, including any entrusted with me to ‘secretly’ give to him. I remain protective of my child’s excitements and wildest dreams, from unnecessary scrutiny and criticism, especially coming from anyone who offers no help or support in parenting him. I know and believe it takes a village to raise a child, but let the village not only come in to condemn.
Hopefully, we as parents will learn to support our children’s dreams and fantasies in their imagination, rather than stifling or suffocating them with our mystical convictions derived from religious dogmas that do not unite but divide us as humans. After all, I am learning that most of what my child is fascinated and get hysterical about is from interacting with age mates, exposure through reading, visual and digital images, his classroom teacher interaction, and lastly from myself as a parent [I know some might disagree]. Perhaps our children’s excitements will enable us to look back eighteen or twenty-one years later and say, “Job Well Done!”

Kids are Cultural “Whores”: Wait, can you say the “W” with Kids…?

It is amazing how quickly kids switch cultural identify. Well, if like me, you believe that “language is culture”, that’s what I am talking about. Last summer we returned to the US, after three-and-a-half years globetrotting. We left the US immediately following my child’s first birthday, for a much deserved break and scholarly experience around the world.
About last Fall, I noticed my child’s accent changing, become less  “Ugandan” and more “American”. My friends did not help me feel better; they said it would be gone by December. I felt a ‘teeny weeny sadness’, at the thought that my son would no longer “be a Ugandan” with ‘the brand’ accent gone. Alas! I have not been good at making the accent stay! I did not realize how tough it is to teach a child another language in another country with a predominant language. Especially with my multi-national child: African [by ancestry] and American [by birth and ancestry].
Power to parents who succeed at nurturing multi-lingual/multi-national children. Sadly, not many of us Africans are good at keeping children fluent in our first languages, especially when born or raised abroad, but even when born and resident in our own countries to same nationals or foreigners. We get into the stupid “western culture superiority” complex, and deny our children a chance to become fluent in our Africans languages, arguably because ‘they will not develop’ or ‘compete in the globalized world’. Forgetting that we were born and raised speaking our mother tongue, or of parents who spoke our mother tongue.
Yet, many like me, become surprised that our children are ‘losing our culture’ or are becoming culturally distant and lost! I am always shocked when talking to my child, that recollection of our time spent in Uganda are not forthcoming! At times, he cannot even remember part of my family, the playmates he had, we had bathrooms or a kitchen, or that we ate food similar to what we have here in America. The worst, but without blame, he does not remember that we lived in South Africa (before Uganda) during the last couple of years abroad.
So, I decided to give him a “Lesson about South Africa” while we were at our local library recently. I pulled out a book, “South Africa by Pat Ryan”, which talked about how “Africans lived happily” [of course there is an element of romanticization typical of a western writers about Africa]. Then white folks came to South Africa and began fighting with the blacks, took their land, culminating in a system of “Apartheid”, where whites lived, worked, played segregated from blacks.  Black people became poorer than whites, lived in terrible housing, and could not shop in the same places as whites. I showed him the grass thatched huts where black people lived, and still live in the countryside; he thought they were “Weird”.  [btw, thanks to this young man, my love for the word “weird” no more!]; I showed him clothing of f the black people made with beads, which was strange, as well as the men racing on Ostriches. That made him laugh so hard! Well, at least he laughed; which means he learned something, right?
We discussed the book after reading, and I asked him what he had learned from the book. He told me that “brown” [not “black”] people were poor, while white people were rich. “Why did he swooped “black” with “brown”?” I asked him. He said, “Black is like darkness, when you cannot see properly or like the black shoes. But the people in the book were not black; they were brown.” I asked him, whether he knew of any black people, and he said, “I am black.”[ If you know my son, he is not “black like darkness”.] Surprising to me, since he has thought of himself as white, until our conversation not to long ago, about “black-and-white” in America’s racial conception.
Kids are smart ‘cultural whores’; telling it as it is, using their wit to make sense of nonsensical labels. To him identity is defined by color not the labeled per race. He sees brown, chocolate, and pink, He has protested before when I said his playmate “C”, classmates “M” and “S” are white, because “they do not look as white as paper,” he said. For now, he has accepted that label, since the conversation with mom following a class reading about Martin Luther King Jr.
Anyway, happy to inspire a young generation of thinkers, readers and critics. We hope that the reality of his eyes is followed by the reality of race relations when he comes of age. I hope he does not become a victim of racial profiling and racial injustice blatantly metted out against black folks in America, particularly our young black males. I think I am doing all I can to keep him openminded, culturally international in thoughts, ideas and experiences, and innocent to the brutality of life. Yes, I do agree to myself sometimes that “Ignorance is Bliss”!
Still, as a parent of a young black male growing up in America, particularly suburbia America, I worry very often whether this country will allow him to live and grow up without the preconceived injustices? Will he still be that “cute boy” at 12, 13, 14, free to skate around the neighborhood without anybody calling the police on him? Or would he be a sense of uncomfortable curiosity, that even the neighborhood dogs bark uncontrollable at him, just like they do with me. Would he still comfortably ware his jacket or sweatshirt hood over his head? Or walk in the neighborhood without an encounter from nasty neighbors. I believe this is the beginning of a lifelong education about the American culture, that he so innocently takes on as part of him, but that one day, he will fully recognize that it labels him [in fact labeled him since childhood], as a person to be feared, dreaded and be monitored all the time! Perhaps then, he won’t have as much luxury to ‘whore up’ this American culture, and would have to find another geographical and culture to experience and become a part of….?

Different shades of Special Needs

“There is no one student who is similar to the other. And no one student behaves the same everyday,” so she said to me.

I cannot agree more! Picture being in any classroom of Students with Special Needs. Whatever special need you can think of: Autistic Support, Post-Hospitalization, Life Skills, Early Intervention or Multiple Disability Support. Or so you may believe! Turns out, that is not always the case.

Even when a class is categorically labelled as “Autistic Support”, the students come in “Different Shades of Special Needs”. Each with own disability, no uniformity, and with varying needs that a class teacher who has not one, but possibly eight or ten students is expected to ably manage every single day. Moreover, there is no guarantee that any one of the children will display consistent behavior and attitude on every other day, or throughout a  single day. Happy in the morning, sad by mid-morning, and erratic, violence and explosive in the afternoon. Happy one minute, crying the next, then bouts of laughter!

I, for one, had no clue what “Austin support” entailed before I ventured into a classroom of elementary autistic support students. I imagined that they are similar to students with Multiple Disabilities, till I found out about a special category called – Multiple Disability Support (MDS). Still, I wanted to experience dealing with and teaching autistic children. My fears and initial reservations were not in vain! Challenging, scary, traumatizing and soul searching, are among the many thoughts that come to my mind reflecting on my experience in two separate classrooms of K-4th grade students with autism.

No! The kids did not throw stones at their teachers, although they were capable of hurting with the same zeal as they were loving in the same instant. Like any other humans, they hurt the people they love and care for! They pinched, scratched and punched their teachers, then smiled and asked for special favors with barefaced shame. They screamed, cried and ignored authority, but expecting the teachers’ attention and kind heart to give in to their demands.

In one classroom, I experienced different shades of autistic children. One boy scratched me (and other teachers) several times with his blackened nails. Yet, he obeyed when told to sit down on the ‘calming chair’, until he was asked to stand. When he was asked to eat, or when the TV showed scenes he did not like, he yelled. He became distraught, restless and cried repeatedly when he saw school buses pulling up in the parking lot an hour before official close of school. To calm him down, we told him to put to put on his jacket and prepare to go home, or just ignored him.

Then this kid with a beautiful smile, picked up his mess whenever he was told, and agreed to sit down but after persistent reminders and supervision.  Yet, every after lunch, he became erratic, rolled himself on the floor, took off his pants and underwear, put his hand in his pants, threw books off the shelves, ripped the classroom apart, spewed out plenty of obscenity and stormed out of the classroom, running and screaming down the hallways. A minute later, he was a calm lovely boy, apologized for his nastiness, and said he wanted to see mommy! Another kid, generally calm and obedient, responded to instructions quickly, did great one-on-one class activities, and excelled in his academics. Except when he was not engaged in classwork, and every after lunch, he was unsettled.

The room teachers did a great job managing their classrooms and responding to the needs of their students, especially in comparison to:  a) my prior experience in other special needs classrooms; and b) with the insurmountable challenges they had to deal with. Only two teachers, one permanent and her Associate – for eight autistic students! Yet, they used various activities and techniques to engage their students in learning as much as possible, as a group and one-on-one at individualized level. They taught their students to work for special privileges, counseled them when they were acting up, and rewarded them for good behavior. Still, that did not deter the explosive students from going off, or the cool ones from staying calm.

I wonder if after the experiences, thus far, my expectations of transformative teaching are dwindling following my in-class observations and interaction with the teachers and students?

I know for sure that each student is different from another, and from each time of the day. For many kids, adjusting their program to half-day and returning home in the early afternoon, might be helpful for both the kids and the teachers. After all, many are restless after lunch and hard to keep interested or attentive within the same classroom environment, even when teacher substitutes rigorous academics with age-appropriate infotainment, TV programs, internet videos, iPad and hands-on learning. For some kids, their medication seems to wane down by lunchtime, making them more agitated and uncomfortable for the rest of the afternoon.

Beside the dire need for human resource enhancement for classrooms with autistic children, introducing half-day programs for some kids might be. They could return home after lunch to their parents, breaking the monotony of staying for a longtime in one physical, human and learning space. With additional human resource, the teachers would afford to split roles, and take the kids with capacity to participate in mainstream classroom special activities.

Or more exercise and stretch routines should be added into the classroom schedule, to reduce the length of disposable time. Plus, a little one-on-one massage might also do the magic. Though, it is a heavy task engaging students one-on-one, given all the work required of the teachers in a day to fill out daily paperwork on each students, plan the next day, clean up, cater to students with extra-special care needs, and prepare student for pick-up or drop-off at the end of the day. Sustaining transformative learning is a challenge without parental cooperation and participation of parents in reinforcing the skills learned and taught at school.