Let’s Talk About Kids Like Ahmed

Posted by on Sep 17, 2015 in Our Cultures, Races & Religions, The World We Parent In | 0 comments

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You know who Ahmed is, yes? In case you don’t because you were asleep for the past thirty-six hours, Ahmed Mohamed is the fourteen-year-old Texas ninth-grader who built a digital clock, brought it into school to show to his teacher and ended up in police custody. Here’s one of the many articles about it.  Go ahead and read it; I’ll be right here when you’re done.

Unfreakingbelievable, isn’t it? Except it isn’t. Ahmed explained his project to his teachers, and somehow, the result of those interactions was that the teachers didn’t believe him and the school called the police who in turn described the clock as looking “like a movie bomb.”

Would the clock have looked like a bomb if it were brought in by a white kid whose last name was not Mohamed? It’s tough to prove, but that’s often the case with racist behavior. I don’t believe for a second that if my white son had brought in this clock, he would have ended up in police custody like Ahmed.

People and institutions have since opened up to Ahmed, hoping to make up for the indignity he suffered. We want to show him that what happened to him at school does not represent who we are as a country. From President Obama to Mark Zuckerberg to Space Camp to administrators at MIT and various other institutions and corporations, doors have opened for him. “You are awesome and you’re welcome here,” said everyone. The future of science, of the world, is his.

Never mind that the amount of pressure this public glare puts on Ahmed must be crushing. Or that at fourteen, Ahmed may not even know for certain whether he wants a life in science. Once he sorts through the tornado his life has suddenly become, he will find himself, unavoidably, with a scar—one that none of these generous offers will be able to wipe away.

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One of the Best Things About Last Week Was Having to Explain to My Kids Why It Mattered

Posted by on Jul 2, 2015 in Our Cultures, Races & Religions, The World We Parent In | 0 comments

Equality for All

By now, approximately 100,000 articles have been written about everything that happened in this country last week and how great most of it was. (Okay, yes: I made that figure up.) The nation finally took a look at confederate flags and realized that the history they represent is one steeped in slavery and rebellion against the United States. The Supreme Court affirmed our presidentially guided, legislatively passed law guaranteeing health insurance for all (or most, anyway). And the next day, our highest Court said, not only ought Americans to have health care, they ought to be able to marry whomever they love. Red, white, blue and rainbows for everyone.

My favorite part of this? (Aside from, you know, the actual equality.) The fact that I had to explain to my kids why any of it was a big deal. Because to my children,* born in the twenty-first century, it’s hard for them to grasp that the country hasn’t been like this all along. To them, equality is the default position.

Fly the confederate flag? “Why would anyone do that? The South lost the war.” Yes they did, and it was a long time ago. My children have both learned about historical figures like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr. My older child knows about Ferguson, and other high-profile recent examples of racial violence. He is beginning to put some of the more complex pieces together, to understand how people target various other people with categorical hate. My younger child, who knows fewer details, considers treating people differently because of their race “stupid.” If the confederate flag represents a rebellious collection of slavery-based states, take it down. Amen.

I did not try to explain many nuances of the Affordable Health Care Act to my kids. What they know is that “Obamacare” made it possible, even mandatory, for most people in this country to get health insurance, which translates into actual health care. They cannot understand how anyone could oppose this. My ten-year-old, assigned to write an essay for school on why she was proud to be an American, included a lengthy collection of sentences on how easily mothers in the United States can always access doctors for their children, whenever they are required. Would that it were always true.

My favorite discussion with my kids was also the point that seemed to confound them the most:

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“What Will You Be, Sara Mee?” – How a Book Can Help Connect a Child to Her Birth Culture

Posted by on Feb 24, 2014 in Adoption, Our Cultures, Races & Religions | 0 comments


As an adoptive parent to a child whose origins lie in a culture different from my own, I try always to keep my eye open for things, however small, that can provide links from our culture to the place and customs my daughter had to leave behind. Such items aren’t substitutes, of course; there is no such thing. But by providing bits of concrete details–descriptions of holiday celebrations, tastes of traditional foods, videos of cities and countrysides she’s never seen–I hope to give her the beginnings of a multi-sensory story about the place and people who make up her beginnings.

I spied What Will You Be, Sara Mee? a few months ago while perusing a list of Korean children’s books before Lunar New Year. The picture book tells the story of a young child’s tol, or first-birthday celebration. The first birthday carries great importance in Korean culture because historically, many children never survived their first year. While conditions have obviously improved dramatically, the tol continues to be celebrated with much fanfare. At the center of the tol is the toljabee ceremony, when the birthday child chooses one object from an array set before her. Tradition holds that this object will determine what the child will be when she grows up–a pen means she’ll be a scholar, a bank note means she’ll be wealthy, a bow means she’ll be a warrior, and so on.

Until I discovered Sara Mee, I had never seen a children’s picture book, in English, about a tol. I ordered Sara Mee immediately, even though at age eight, “Emmie” is really a little too old for the book.

Emmie is not too old, however, to see this bit of her own story told in a larger, “this is part of the world around you” fashion.

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Race, Adoption & Being Part of an Interracial Family

Posted by on Feb 10, 2014 in Adoption, Our Cultures, Races & Religions, The World We Parent In | 0 comments

interracial adoption

There’s a fabulous new exhibit at the Museum of Science in Cambridge, Massachusetts called the Hall of Human Life. Upon entering the exhibit, you put on a bracelet bearing a unique bar code and answer a few demographic questions. Then you travel from station to station–over 70 of them–as the mood strikes you, answering questions, performing activities and receiving back data that will enlighten you in individual and societal ways about the human race. I brought my kids there over the December holidays, and we had more fun than we’d had at any museum exhibit in a long time. Seriously, if you’re in the area, check it out.

One of the stations in the exhibit posed a few questions about race. All three of us–I and my two kids–gave the same answer to this multiple-choice question:* “With which race are you most familiar?”

We all checked, “Caucasian or white.” I did, my son did, and my daughter did–my daughter, who is definitely not white.

It’s amazing how the human brain is capable of processing so many individual thoughts within the space of approximately 1.6 seconds. When I witnessed my daughter checking that box, it took about that long for each of the following sentences to run through my mind:

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Blowing Her Mind

Posted by on Mar 8, 2013 in Education & Learning, Our Cultures, Races & Religions, Out of the Mouths of My Kids | 0 comments

evolution surprise

(Image credit: zanzibar via Flickr.com)

So I didn’t post at all last week, and now it’s Friday. What’s up with that? Well, there was this school break, and the laptop got sick and had to go to the computer hospital, and then there were one, no two, no THREE snowstorms…yeah, so the dog ate my blog post. Except we don’t have a dog. Never mind. Let’s get to it.

Seven-year-old “Emmie” has been thinking about her origins lately. No, this isn’t an adoption post. She’s been thinking about her origins as a human being–about our collective origins. Early in the week, she approached me with this question:

“You know how God made the world? Well, when did the dinosaurs come in?”

You’d think I would have an articulate answer for this one at the ready. After all, we’ve been through this with eleven-year-old “Jack,” who was obsessed with dinosaurs between the ages of two and eight. He long ago had to work out the inconsistencies between what he read in his encyclopedias on prehistory and what he learned in Hebrew school.

But that’s just it: Jack worked out that dichotomy on his own. He never came to us with questions, never seemed troubled that both the Genesis story and the theory of evolution couldn’t both literally be true. One was Science, one was Not. That’s always been good enough for him.

But kids are different.

Not wanting immediately to discredit too much of what Emmie had learned in Hebrew school, and feeling a corresponding need to ease her into the science, I explained about dinosaurs preceding humans and talked about the allegorical nature of the Genesis story. She nodded, and didn’t ask any more questions.

But Emmie always has more questions. Sure enough, she just needed some time to cook them.

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A Constructive Response to the Hanukkah Stare

Posted by on Dec 13, 2012 in Holidays, Our Cultures, Races & Religions, The World We Parent In | 0 comments

Hanukkah

(At least they’ve heard of Hanukkah. So that’s something, right? (Photo credit: The J Train via Flickr.com))

If you are Jewish and you don’t live in, say, New York City or Brookline, Massachusetts or a similarly constituted community, you may be familiar with the Hanukkah Stare.  I live in an area where Judaism is inevitably a source of bewilderment to someone, so I encounter the Hanukkah Stare at least once each year.  For the sake of the uninitiated, I’ll describe it before proceeding any further.

The Hanukkah Stare is received when a Jew walks into a store and asks an employee about the availability of either general or specific Hanukkah merchandise, and the employee has never heard of Hanukkah.  The Stare commences immediately following the question, when the employee appears to suffer from a sudden state of immobility–facial muscles included.

The Jewish shopper repeats her question.  This is when the Hanukkah Stare generally sets in for its longest stretch, as the employee, convinced the shopper is either speaking a foreign language (I suppose we are) or is just making stuff up, tries to figure out what the heck to do.  Generally, there is no blinking.

A number of years ago, I wrote an essay for JewishFamily.com called “Finding Jewish Meaning in the Holiday Season.”  My experience last week with a local flummoxed and slightly rude store clerk reminded me of why I wrote this essay back when my now ten-year-old son, “Jack,” was small.  I reprint it here in the hopes that it can offer some inspiration to all those of us who still find ourselves dealing with the Hanukkah Stare and the other, less desirable reactions that sometimes accompany it.

 

Finding Jewish Meaning in the Holiday Season*

Being an American Jew in December means two things.  First, it means celebrating Hanukkah, a minor holiday in our religion, but one that is eagerly anticipated by children who can’t wait to rip open their gifts as well as by adults who look forward to the holiday’s sanctioned consumption of latkes, sufganiyot and other foods fried in oil.  Second, being Jewish in America at this time of year means facing the reality that in many places, observing Hanukkah instead of Christmas still marks us as different.

Two years ago, just after my son turned four, he and I patiently waited at the deli counter in our local grocery store.  Christmas was only days away—as was Hanukkah—and the store was packed with happy celebrants stocking their carts.  A merry, middle-aged shopper next to us in line thought she would pass the time by engaging the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy in my cart in some childish banter about his presumed holiday excitement.

“Is your tree all ready for Santa?” she asked, her sugary voice emphasizing the key Christmas terms.

I held my breath.  I’d never minded responding to people’s assumptions about my holidays with a concise, “I’m Jewish; I celebrate Hanukkah.”  But now my son, just four years old, faced the glare of public interrogation as he was challenged to explain his identity.  How would he respond?

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