Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Decision '16

It's here.

The journey that started in 2008 way back in Virginia will be coming to an end. Grad school conquered, post-doc finished in another few months - and what remains is the decision.

Where will we call home for the long haul?

Becoming a tenure-track professor is no easy thing. Years of research, classes, conferences. Networking, hoping, publishing, dreaming, dozens of job applications and, gratefully, many interviews. Traveling across the country to see campuses and meet departments and see cities.

Hours of pouring over the racial dot map, of looking at school demographics and neighborhoods.

Knowing that this decision is harder because of the reality of being a multi-racial family. Knowing that when we said yes to that characterization, we were saying yes to more than just loving our sons because, my friends, love is not enough. We were saying that we knew it would all matter. All the schools, churches, neighborhoods, friends...the "who" involved in those places would matter. The mirrors in their lives would matter. The representation in their books and movies and music. In their lives. They cannot be the only black people they know.

So some might just look at the job, the salary, the benefits, the "can we afford to live there" question that comes with some of these places.

We have the added privilege of asking "can ALL our sons thrive here?" Is this a place of overt or covert racism? Are the schools set up to fail our black sons? Are there churches where they will see people of color in leadership positions? Or will they always be "other"?

So while maybe some people would be kept up at night wondering about test scores or income taxes, I have to wonder if the school is the type of place where my son could have the police called on him in kindergarten. Or whether the town will offer one long string of micro-aggressions all the livelong day in his direction. Or whether there is a barbershop that will know how to do their hair. Or a store that will even sell non-white dolls. (Yes, my toddler boy loves his dolls.)

I would love to say that God is making this all clear but the truth is, this may be the hardest decision we've ever had to make. Possibly because of the feeling of finality. Most people start their tenure-track position with the intent of retiring there. This is not a 5 year job, it's a 30 years or more position.

This is where we will do life. For the long haul.

And this decision has to be made. For someone like me, a thinker who hates the uncertain, this is where it gets too hard. No amount of spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations can fully encompass what we need to know to make this choice. There is going to have to be some risk, some intuition, some hope.

I am so not good at those things, especially after several years worth of transitions and other huge decisions. That part of my brain is refusing to function.

I know I often tie up my posts with some deep realization I've had, some way that God has helped me to see something right and good and helpful. Today is not one of those days.

Today, I am unresolved. Grateful beyond words that we HAVE choices that are good, but unresolved, nonetheless.

I know once the decision is made and we move and look back, that things will have fallen into place. I know God goes before us and with us in this. My head does know that.

In the meantime, though, I could use a decision-making miracle. An infusion of life into that exhausted area of my brain. Clarity. Hope. Risk.

And, honestly, I could use it now.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Who Are Your Sons?

They were standing in front of me. I'm not sure they knew I was there or that I could hear them. Even if they knew, I don't know if they would have cared.

They had their faces pressed to the glass, pointing, laughing.

Mocking.

I watched the ice, where young kids from ages 4 to 9 skated. For most, this is their first season of hockey. Some just learned to skate. A few, like my son, tower above the rest, looking out of place, but needing to be there because they, too, are beginners.

They skate by these four kids who are watching. The younger ones don't seem to notice. Their heads are down, tongues out in concentration, desperate to stay on their feet, determined to try to get the puck this time.

But the older ones, like my son?

They see.

They see the fingers, the open mouths in silent laughter that they can't hear through the glass. They know that fun is being made. And that they, the larger ones, are the likely targets.

I glance around, bouncing my infant in my lap, wondering if their parents are here. I guess their ages to be maybe 12, 13 years. Probably they're here early for their own practice or possibly to watch the high school game that will be starting on the next rink over in a few minutes.

And I sigh.

I have learned the hard way that attempting to engage pre-teens in meaningful dialogue without any relationship is a recipe for disaster. For being called the F-word or worse, for being mocked myself. And right now I am surrounded by young children watching their older siblings play hockey, my own infant playing in my lap and trying desperately to get out of my arms and crawl on the bleachers. The last thing I want to do is invite these young children to be a witness to vitriol or, let's be honest, violence if I confront these kids. If I were alone, I would say something.

But today, I stay silent. They don't know me. They won't listen to what I have to say. And, honestly, their parents COULD be sitting right next to me. And as many of us attempting to raise respectful children know, parents may not take kindly to watching their kids be reprimanded, even when it is absolutely certain their kids need intervention.

So I sit there, sadly, wondering about authority and where it has gone, hoping my son doesn't totally understand what's going on, that this won't dampen his enthusiasm for hockey.

When I was their age, if ANY adult had called out my behavior, I wouldn't have dared called him or her a foul name in response. Most likely, I would have hung my head in shame and endured the certain discipline of my own parents when they found out about it later.  As most certainly they would have.

Have I mentioned these were boys? White boys? (Just in case you are making any assumptions.)

We hear a lot about so called "mean girls." About the bullying, the horrible treatment, about girls as young as preschool forming cliques and saying awful (and even racist) things to the little girls around them. I, myself, have still not recovered from middle school and the treatment I received there from girls who could have been friends, allies, teammates but instead chose power and pettiness and sent a girl to her bed sobbing every night.

But these boys. Mocking, laughing, taunting. Seeping privilege and meanness from their pores. Boys can be mean, too.

If this were an isolated incident, I would have written it off.

But it seems like there is just so much meanness, so many kids cursing out adults and parents, so many kids lost in a world without boundaries.

Parents, what are we doing? Are we giving up our parental authority and firm boundaries in the name of raising kids with "minds of their own," producing unkind, entitled children who don't have a freaking clue what the difference is between healthy independence (which is what I'm shooting for) and premature abusive power?

I for one would want to know three things if my sons were perpetrators of this type of shenanigan:

(1) That my son at least KNOWS this is terrible behavior.
(2) That if another adult were to approach him and point this out he would respond with respect and repentance.
(3) That said adult would feel comfortable telling me about my child's behavior and being confident that there would be discipline involved.

And let me make something clear. I don't propose to be any kind of child development expert. I don't read a ton of how-to books about parenting. I don't propose that I am perfect or that I don't mess up all the time or that my kids never do anything wrong or hurtful to others.

But, gosh darn it, I am trying. Trying to raise my boys with an understanding of right and wrong, with a bent towards kindness and justice and respect, with a love for God and his children. Sons that would be able to withstand this type of treatment with their confidence and joy intact and would, if being mean themselves, be able to receive chastisement, repent of the behavior, accept forgiveness, change in a positive way and move forward in new understanding of how their words DO have power.

So, parents, take a look.

Who are your sons becoming? The mocking, cruel boys on one side of the glass? Or the type of boy who might intervene and say "Hey, those kids are just learning...let's stop laughing at them and help them out!"

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Missing Out

It was easy when my husband left almost three weeks ago to feel like I was going to be missing out on the fun. Jaunting around the country on airplanes, eating out, wooing and being wooed. Sleeping full nights of sleep in fancy hotels. Talking with adults all day long.

To a tired, lonely mama, these are things of beauty, things one might yearn for.

But as we have muddled our way through (some days with good successes and some days where we have just barely survived), it has occurred to me that he is actually the one missing out on a lot.

With a 26 month-old and an almost 9 month-old, things change fast. Routines, developmental milestones, interests. I thought I wouldn't have much to report at the end of each day when he checks in, other than a daily tally of the tantrums and triggers.

Man, was I wrong.

In the last two and a half weeks, the following has happened:

THE INFANT
  • Has gone from picking at occasional foods to eating full bowls of beef and barley soup.
  • Is, in my opinion, one move away from figuring out the crawling thing and has started to pull up on things.
  • Figured out how to go from laying down to sitting up by himself. 
  • Said "mama". (Man, that first time gets me every time.)
  • Outgrew the bucket seat and is now rocking the convertible. He's not sure about it. 
THE TODDLER

  • Has decided to potty train himself and is having rousing success. (I would NEVER have planned to do this with the husband away, but this is what you get with a highly persistent child who insists on using the toilet all of a sudden.) I don't want to assume we are almost done with it, because I know he could wake from his nap and decide he's done, but changing a few less diapers a day has been lovely. 
  • Started talking in short sentences and using pronouns.
  • Picked up the baby. (This is not actually desirable, but he can do it.)
  • Moved up to 4T pants and youth small shirts. 
  • Learned to jump from the diving board into the pool by himself. 

THE BIG KID
  • Ok, not much changes in a few weeks for a 9-year-old, but he did get moved up in his hockey league to the next level for games and has held his own quite well with kids who have been playing and skating for years. AND he was asked to play goalie this coming week, a role for which he is practicing daily in our garage with great gusto and determination. He even made his own goalie pads out of cardboard and duct tape. Thank you, Camp Invention. 
So, while all these things may not have quite the elegance of flitting about the country being wined and dined, I have been able to enjoy it, to take it in in a new way. I have marveled at how busy these little people are, even in the middle of it exhausting me. How life NEVER stops changing around here and about how much my husband will have to catch up on when he gets back. 

And, miraculously, somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking about what I was missing. 

OK, let's be honest, I would REALLY love a full night's sleep in a fancy hotel. 

But besides that, I am happy right here with all the chaos and change and development going on around me. 

And that, friends, is a miracle.