The Complexity of Being and Becoming Hmong American #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

Today we have the privilege of learning from Kathy Moua, a Hmong American woman, daughter of refugees, sister, and auntie. Minister and teacher during the day, truth seeker at night. Coffee drinker on the beach during off days.



George Floyd was killed by a white police while an Asian American policeman stands by and does nothing to stop it.

 This was the headline and photo that was being passed and posted around in the greater Asian American community all week after George’s murder. My heart sank and my body shut down because though it wasn’t noted, I knew he, the Asian American policeman, was Hmong.

 

I was sad that another Black life was taken. I was angry at Tou for doing nothing. 

I wanted to immediately disown and disassociate with him.

I was ashamed and wanted to share his photo and say, “Don’t be like him.”

Yet something from my gut stopped me from reacting in that way, and instead I wept.

I wept for George and then I wept for Tou.

 

George, your humanity was taken away from you. You suffered while one of my people did nothing. You cried and no one helped you. My soul grieved for your life.

 

Tou, what were you thinking and feeling? Did you even care that George was crying out, “I can’t breathe?” Were you afraid of your White counterparts? Are you so comfortable with the system that allowed you that badge that it didn’t matter that George was being killed? I don’t want you to go to prison because of what happens in prisons, but I also hate that you did nothing to help George. What is your story? Did you think about George’s story? Why did you do nothing?! 

 

I wept because I felt a piece of me in George and I felt a piece of me in Tou. To be clear, the humanity I saw in Tou does not justify his complicity in George’s death. These complicated feelings reminded me what my friend, La, wrote in her piece yesterday; that we are all interconnected. I realized that what Hmong Americans might be feeling during this time relates to some of the Hmong/Black violence against one another. When our parents arrived as refugees to this country in the late 70s, they entered into a Black/White race binary under white supremacy. With no knowledge of the English language while working to make ends meet, a lot of the Hmong ended up in Black neighborhoods. The Black communities were rejected to receive loans for homes and businesses which lead to severe poverty. Under the pressure of these conditions our communities fought to survive and sometimes ended up viewing each other as enemies. Our communities need healing. My hope is that as we meet one another in the streets, we can change this narrative. 



As I was reading my feed on Facebook, two stories stood out to me.

The first was a post by a Hmong American woman named Tracy Yang. These are her words, “Every time I hear about a police killing, I always experience a bit of PTSD. I never talk about it much, but now is the time I tell it publicly. On September 27th, 2002, St. Paul police officer Michael Thurston shot my father, Ki Yang, 9 times in the chest and left him to die in my mother’s arms. He got to keep his job and received a two-week paid leave. Thurston claimed self-defense. Till this day, Michael Thurston walks around, living his life. Meanwhile, my family and I have had to move on with our lives with a hole in our hearts that will never heal. Justice matters. Change needs to happen. For peace, love, and unity. #NoJusticeNoPeace #JusticeforFloyd

 

The second was the story of Youa Vang, a 60 year old Hmong mother, who went out to the protests to show her solidarity in Minneapolis. Her 19-year-old son was killed by the Minneapolis police in 2006. Black leaders shared their platform with her at the protest and she cried out for justice for George and every life taken from the MPD. 

 

A ripple effect of stories like these seem to be surfacing to remind us that this too has happened in our community. As we listen to each other’s stories, may we see that our fight is not against our Black siblings. Do we not see that the Hmong community have been oppressed by the systems of white supremacy similar to our Black siblings? Hmong Americans, is it perhaps that we have been blind to this from being racialized under the Modeled Minority Myth? White supremacy says, it’s a black and white conversation when it comes to the social construct of race. It has disembodied us.

 

Our fight is against the infiltration of white supremacy in all its forms. It has us questioning each other’s humanity and dignity rather than seeing and believing each other’s realities. There is room for all the complexities of how we are related to one another. When we rely on the labels and narratives given by white supremacy toward one another, we will find it hard to stand in solidarity. 

 

Understanding our histories and identities is complex and takes a lot of work. I get it. I’m tired too. But do the work anyway. Have hard conversations. Read books. Ask your Hmong siblings who get it for help. Do it daily. Complexity is not an excuse for your anti-Black racism. 

 

Because you know what isn’t complex? The fact that Black Lives Matter. 

Do you know what is beyond exhausting? Centuries of fighting against the senseless killings of Black Lives.

 

 

My Dear Readers,

Some of you may have posted a black square on IG or used #BlackOutTuesday as a show of solidarity with the Black community. This week folks also were encouraged by @JessicaWilson.msrd and @BlackAndEmbodied to #AmplifyMelanatedVoices – 

In the spirit of #AmplifyMelanatedVoices we have the honor of listening to and learning from three Christian Hmong women. If you don’t know anything about the Hmong people, LMGTFY . Remember, you don’t have to limit your learning about the Asian American diaspora to the month of May.



Dear Hmong Christians, A Love Letter #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

Today we have the honor of listening La Thao, a Hmong American woman born and raised in the Midwest and a sleep-deprived minister, thinker and creator.

 

To my Hmong Christian family,

We need to talk about racism and our complicity when it comes to violence toward marginalized communities, particularly in the Black community. I won’t quote a Bible verse to tell you what I’m going to say. I definitely will not quote a popular, White American pastor. Do I really need all of that just to ask for your compassion?

Last week when we discovered that a Hmong American police officer, Tou Thao, was involved in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Hmong community was pushed into the conversation of racism, this time as oppressors. We were called to confront the anti-Blackness in us and seek justice for George while others were afraid of backlash toward the local Hmong community and others defended Tou Thao. As I watched Hmong Americans become divided over the death of another Black man by police brutality, I am reminded of the ways we are more connected than we think to people beyond the Hmong community.

Years ago a friend gave me a new word to describe one quality of the Hmong people after listening to me share about our culture. The word is “interconnected”. Interconnected is about having multiple links or connections between multiple parts. It is more complex than “connected”. It’s a word that has stuck with me and a word that I believe describes one of the most beautiful things about us. We want to know each other and how we’re related. We all probably heard someone joke about how all Hmong people are related to each other. When we meet another Hmong person, we’re prepared to answer questions about who our parents are and which city we reside in. We do this so we can find out how we are related and to honor each other by properly using the right title to address each other. Are you my aunt, uncle, cousin, nephew, or niece? 

For the younger generation who are unfamiliar with parents, we make connections differently. When I meet another Hmong person, I tend to ask where they’re from and whether they know someone I know from their hometown, church, school, clan, etc. I feel closer to someone because we have mutual friends. I work with college students and I realized one day that a student I worked with is the niece of my cousin’s wife therefore, making me her aunt. Suddenly this student wasn’t just a student that I worked with. She was family. For others, this might seem like strange behavior. Asking about family is too invasive, especially personal details like names. For us, this is normal. This is our way of hospitality and to make each other feel seen, and I think this is beautiful. 

What is beautiful is also broken. We are so interconnected to each other that it keeps us from seeing our relations to people beyond the Hmong community. With the recent events, we are not connected to it simply because one of the officers involved in the killing of George Floyd is Hmong. If that is true, then we wouldn’t have all these divisions about how to support the protests. We have gone so long taking care of our own that we fear our pain will become more invisible if we focus our attention on others. I get it and I feel that tension, but other BIPOC communities are not against us. They are with us. Our experiences are not the same, but connecting our pain with the pain of other BIPOC will help us to see that the ones who are against us are those who support white supremacy and systems of oppression. If we embody who we are as an interconnected community of people who want to be anti-racist, we should be able to look at BIPOC communities and say we understand oppression enough to wish that none of us would ever have to experience it again. We are all connected.

For my Jesus-loving Hmong Christians, our community is even more narrow. Our churches tend to be focused on members than serving the needs of the wider Hmong community. This is why I am not surprised to see Hmong American churches doing business as usual on Sunday mornings while their neighbors are hurting. This is a corporate sin we need to confess and repent. We have a long way to go to understanding the pain of other communities. Let’s do better. Confess and repent our ignorance and anti-blackness. We are capable and should do more than saying one prayer for the Black community as if this is only their problem. We are all connected.

Let’s move on from needing theology and biblical evidence to convince us to be compassionate and to hear the cries of the oppressed. If you can’t bring yourself to protest systems of oppression and racism right now, I understand. Maybe where many of us need to begin is to remember where we come from and protest to God. Cry out that our stories are not heard. Lament that after all these years we’ve lived in the U.S., we are still unknown. Weep that we only know a history of suffering. Protest to God that this is not how it should be. Once we start to lament our own story and receive healing, we could begin to see how our relations extend further than our own people. We are all more connected than we think. I’ll wait for you.

 

My Dear Readers,

Some of you may have posted a black square on IG or used #BlackOutTuesday as a show of solidarity with the Black community. This week folks also were encouraged by @JessicaWilson.msrd and @BlackAndEmbodied to #AmplifyMelanatedVoices – 

In the spirit of #AmplifyMelanatedVoices we have the honor of listening to and learning from three Christian Hmong women. If you don’t know anything about the Hmong people, LMGTFY . Remember, you don’t have to limit your learning about the Asian American diaspora to the month of May.

Today Was Supposed to Be

Today was supposed to be senior prom for #Eliyasss #BabyDreamBig. He was planning on wearing the same suit he wore last year with a bow tie and socks to match his date’s dress and maybe new Vans. Maybe. Why break in a new pair when you don’t have to?

Today was supposed to be filled with a trip to the florist to pick up a lovely nosegay – a fancy word for “expensive bouquet of flowers that the date holds for photos but promptly leaves on a table at the venue.” A last-minute check to iron the shirt and make sure the tie and socks match. Lots of texts about where the photos would be taken and who was actually going to be at which after-party.

Today was supposed to be a chance for the kids to dress up like fancy adults with none of the responsibilities and a chance for the parents to see their babies on the cusp of adulthood. Fancy hair, bad spray tans, high heels they can’t walk in. Scratchy rented tuxes with equally uncomfortable rented shoes (and that is why we bought both of our sons suits for prom). For some it’s just prom. For others it’s a warm-up for a future wedding (if you know, you know). More digital photos than anyone will ever actually print of every combination of friends you can imagine and can’t imagine. AP Bio. Lunch. Coding Cats. Discord group. The boys. The girls. The nosegays that will get tossed to the side. Each couple. Those three couples. That couple with the third wheel. The group that did that thing that one year. Freshman year lunch, second semester. Sometimes reluctant photos with parents and/or siblings. And for my son and some of his friends a photo at the red doors of their elementary school. 

Today is now just like any day and by that I mean the days that are bleeding into each other with very little differentiation because four out of five of us are not essential workers. Today is cloudy, cold and rainy, which would’ve caused problems with plans for outdoor photos and some consternation for the girls and their mothers over makeup, hair, strapless dresses, and strappy sandals.

Today is just Saturday, the Saturday that would’ve been Elias’s senior prom. The night the Supper Club – our group of friends, most of whom have a senior boy “graduating” this year – would’ve sent the kids off to prom and then gathered for dinner, drinks, old and new memories. Three of the couples? We will be empty nesters. We are assuming we will be empty nesters come fall. Tonight was supposed to be a night where we talk about how we can’t believe the boys are graduating and headed off to Drake, Purdue, and the University of Illinois. Today was supposed to be a chance for the parents, for me, to collectively process this new, again, season of parenting.

I asked Elias if he  wanted to dress up in his suit and at least pose for some funny photos, even offering to take photos of him and his date socially distanced, but getting into a suit is neither funny nor fun without the community of friends to share in the moment. I get that. I’m trying to get that. I’m trying to let him decide what he wants and needs as he is the high school senior in the house while I am also trying to figure out what I’m feeling that is different than when I sent off the older two kids to their “lasts”…

I do not know how to name the grief and joy and pride of sending my youngest off to college when we are all making this up as we go along. I am trying to be grateful to have all five of us sheltering in place with a warm home and too much food while giving myself permission to be sad because it wasn’t supposed to be this way. #RunMySon is supposed to be at college stressing and enjoying the end of his junior year. #FlyMySweet is supposed to be in Brooklyn dancing and with stretch therapy and Thai bodywork clients. Peter is supposed to be with his students and patients. I am supposed to have space to be sad and remember and dream without feeling guilty for not being grateful for this unexpected family time.

I do not know how to name it right now except to say it’s ok to sit in the in between and not jump from grief to acceptance. It’s ok to be sad and not see the silver lining right now. It’s ok to wish it wasn’t this way and sit with that for a bit. It’s ok. Even if it’s not ok. It’s ok that today was supposed to be something else. 

The Price of the American Dream

She looked tired, but she put on a smile as she greeted our table, apologizing for the delay. We were a party of eight on a busy Friday night. The staff was hustling – the woman and her son.

The woman seated people, went from table to table taking orders, ran to greet carry-out customers, answered the phone to take those orders; she was the mother of the young man who filled our cups with water, cleared the tables, did what needed to be done. On a Friday night.

I found myself periodically distracted from the dinner conversations, watching the woman, watching the son.

My father has often told stories of his job a a bus boy, one of his first jobs after arriving in Chicago with a master’s degree in engineering. I waited tables in college to pay for my books and expenses. Dad talked about bringing home leftovers from the kitchen to share a late-night meal beyond their budget. I remember putting in my tithe into the offering plate – a roll of singles. Our family never owned a restaurant, but watching the mother and son serving us reminded me of my family, my parents – the sacrifices they made out of the love and the gulf between us.

My parents owned a dry cleaners. It was a drop-off – the clothes were taken to a plant where the cleaning was done and returned to our storefront on hangers. The back room where the bagging, tagging, and detail work happened was where my sister and I used lint brushes to make the clothes look as new a possible. We worked when we weren’t in school, went in on weekends when we could. In my faded memory my parents closed the store only twice in the many years they owned that business – one Saturday in 1993 for my wedding and one Saturday in 1995 for my sister’s wedding. They may have closed the store to attend our college graduations, but I don’t remember. I do remember my mom talking with customers, reminding them in the weeks leading up to my wedding that they would be closed on April 24.

My mother’s ability to chit chat in English grew exponentially during those years of handling other people’s dirty laundry. She remembered customers’ names and milestones, their preferences for dress shirts – folded or hangers, starch or no starch, and usual drop-off and pick-up times. The woman at the Chinese restaurant recognized an order from our table as a carry-out regular. One couple in our group often dine in the restaurant, and the woman had memorized their favorites. I watched her son hover to refill our water, and I thought about my sister and I in the backroom listening to our mom make small talk with the steady stream of customers. A spontaneous night out with friends at a Chinese restaurant and suddenly I can’t get my family’s dry cleaning business out of my head.

A customer once asked my mother if she hoped to pass down the family business to her daughters. I couldn’t see my mom but I could hear her polite but insincere smile as she responded, “No. I do this so my daughters will graduate from college and not have to do this.”

We did. My sister and I both graduated from college. Neither of us do the kind of manual labor my parents took on to fund our middle class lives and college education. I can’t speak for my sister, but I have often wondered and grieved over the fact that my U.S.-based college education, my fluent English and broken Korean, my penchant to think in terms of “me” as often as I do “we,” my assimilation into a culture and country where I am forever a foreigner was too costly a price. Make no mistake. I love and deeply respect my parents. They did their best. Their English is better than my Korean. They recently shared that maybe they had been too hard on me, their first-born. They didn’t know how to raise an American child. But as a 48-year-old grown ass woman, I am living the cost of the American Dream, living and breathing the distance and disappointment between us. Good enough sometimes isn’t good enough. Is that ok? Will that be enough?

I think back to the woman and her son and imagine going to the restaurant to share some words of wisdom. I thought I would have some by now.



The Last First. #eliasneedsahashtag

Tomorrow our youngest child starts school. Again. This time it’s the last first day of high school. The light at the end of the child-rearing tunnel is shining brighter and bittersweet. I’m not crying. I’m more tired but also sleepless. I’ve been on edge for the past two weeks, and it’s because tomorrow our youngest child goes to his last first day of high school.

I find myself staring at him. I can still see his baby face, but it means looking up and past the facial hair. His laugh makes my heart smile. He’s been busy enjoying the final days of summer freedom, before he and his friends head back to classes, daily reminders that college applications are due, essays need to be completed, important decisions need to be made. He planned a night of s’mores at our fire pit. He had a dozen boys over for a LAN party. He helped organize a night of playing “hostage” and I bribed them inside after curfew with pizza. “Can my friends come over and….” Yes. Yes, your friends can come over because this is the last first day.

In many ways he has always been in a hurry. Even his birth story is one of hurry. He barely waited for my doctor to show up. I didn’t have time to change into a hospital gown or sign all the papers and get admitted before he was born. There are photos of me, breathing through my contractions, braiding our oldest child’s hair with #2 at my side, and hours later I’m in the same shirt holding #3.

The build-up to the last first day snuck up on me. Getting ready for the first day of high school doesn’t involve the same rush as elementary school. In our community the kids can go to the high school to pick up their own schedules, and smart phones make sharing your schedule a matter of a few thumb movements.

There are no lists of school supplies. There are no discussions about why you don’t get a new box of crayons every year, no search for the specific brand of watercolors (Prang), no required supplies actually except for the expensive calculator to do things that don’t factor into most people’s daily lives. In our home we don’t buy new clothes for back-to-school until the old clothes don’t fit, and I still have a shelf of folders and notebooks that can be reused. July came and went and suddenly August was here. We are so ready for this day that it snuck up and surprised us.

When he started kindergarten I was the parent with a big smile ready to sing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” because it had been a long summer with a job, three kids, a husband working long hours. I was ready for his first day of kindergarten with an inappropriate level of giddiness, but he had other plans.

My sweet boy wrapped himself around my legs like a koala bear. It would take a teacher and the principal to slowly unwrap his limbs from mine and take him inside. I knew what to do and I did it. I turned around and walked away with the biggest lump in my throat and tears hot in my eyes. The eyes of less experienced mothers glared with judgment and horror as I walked away without turning back and while those of my peers looked with understanding, urging me to take a deep breath.

The principal gave him a magic penny and told him when he touched the penny it would magically signal to me to think of him. He knows now that I can’t help but think of him. As I steel myself for tomorrow I’m thinking I need that magic penny that will signal him to think of me.

Parenting in Paris

She has always used my body to support hers. Here I am, her footstool.

There was a time when I knew everything about my children. I knew their due dates before they were born, remembered their birth weights and lengths. Two were born in the morning. One arrived at 12:02 pm just to be special. I knew what they ate, when they ate it, which side they had last nursed, when their diaper had last been changed.

Do you remember the fear and shock when the hospital just sent you home with your newborn? We did it three times and couldn’t believe no one asked any real questions except about a car seat and then double-checked the hospital security bands, which we thought was funny because our kids are all Cheeseheads (born in Wisconsin) so they were the only Asian babies – a full head of dark hair that caused nurses and doctor to gasp each time.

So 8,451 long days that were also 23 short years later my daughter and I traveled through Paris and Iceland in what felt like a dream and master class in parenting a young adult child.

Some things never change

We shared a bed through the entire trip, and I couldn’t help but listen to her breathing settle into sleep, watch her move around until she relaxed. She was the same. The infant, baby, toddler, preschooler, little girl, pre-teen, teenager and now young woman all wrapped up in one – still sleeping deeply enough to have once slept through a microburst that tore through our neighborhood. My instinct to cover her and brush her hair away from her face remained.

But so did her instinct to brush away my hand and look at me ever so briefly with a mix of annoyance and familiarity. I want to push away anything and everything, even if it’s a wayward cowlick, to make her way easier, more open, better, and her instinct is to push for autonomy and discern her own preferences. It is her journey and story she will perhaps one day tell but of which I am a beneficiary of. After all, her learning to push away is what got us to Paris. She had been planning her own trip to Europe when she asked me if I would join her in Paris.

Parenting a young adult means knowing when to push even if it means getting that look and when to wait for that invitation to join in. It’s so much less about the kind of directing I did as the parent of a young child. We were the parents who didn’t ask where our children wanted to eat. They ate where we ate. We didn’t ask them where they wanted to go on vacation. They went where we took them. We involve them much more now because our children are older with preferences, limitations, interests that are more defined, but it’s still so hard to figure out where that line is and how to draw it. But being in Paris with our daughter I knew that these were lines she had drawn to include me as both mother and guest and what an honor and privilege that was.

Some things have to change

I love my own mother very much, but our relationship is different from that of mine with my own daughter. My mother and I still have language and cultural barriers, while my daughter and I have the advantage of having both grown up in the Midwest. I could never quite get my parents to understand the concept of school dances, and I’m still trying to explain to them what a prom-posal is. (Can someone tell me why this is a thing???) The impact of assimilation is palpable in my parenting. My daughter was my Snapchat tutor and helped me find a great deal on my flight to Paris with a different search engine. In my parents’ generation and culture of parenting the parent is always the parent, the advice-giver.

My daughter has spaces where she is the expert, the lead, and it was exhilarating, freeing, and unnerving to live it out in Paris. She had spent part of a summer in Paris as a student so she had a sense of the city, the subway, the places she wanted to revisit. She had a plan, and she asked me about my preferences and expectations. More often than not she was the one leading the way through the streets and subway transfers. It was disorienting enough to be in a foreign city, but to see my daughter as the one leading the way was beautiful. Mothers of little ones, hang on. The babies grow up into grown adults who will forever be your babies. Your babies change and have opinions and questions, preferences (thank goodness we both love baguettes, cheese, and red wine) that you cannot dictate. The time is coming. It’s amazing.

It’s also scary. I’m sure none of my Dear Readers have control issues when it comes to parenting, but I do. I thought it would be easy to let go my tendency to pick up after my child when she was 23 but when you’re sharing a small space that messy suitcase spilling out over the floor is as annoying as the messy bedroom at home she will never sleep in permanently ever again. I thought I would know how to read the silence in our time together as intuitively as I learned to interpret her cries. Just kidding. I never could tell the difference between her hungry cry and her diaper cry.

But the chatterbox toddler who asked a million questions doesn’t always grow up to be the extrovert. Instead of wishing the questions would stop, I’m learning how to ask questions after I decide what it is I really want to know and understand about her young adult life.

It’s not easier. It’s different.

A wise older friend once told me, when I was in the thick of diapers and sippy cups, that parenting never gets easier. It just changes.

I felt that intensely as we tried to strike a good balance between being tourists and simply enjoying being in Paris. There were moments vaguely similar to those long days as I wondered if her silence was simply exhaustion, a need for introvert time, frustration with me, or hangriness. And then I had to remember that being the parent of a young adult means your child now has the vocabulary and capacity to answer questions. To be an adult. “I’m not ready for a meal, but I could use a snack. Do you want to keep exploring or join me for a snack?” “I’m fine staying here for another hour or so. Would you like to go ahead to the apartment?” Those were questions we asked each other. Mother to daughter. Daughter to mother.

And then came the goodbye. Somehow nine days that looked like more than enough time to spend together in Paris and Iceland snuck up on us, just like the long days sneak up into years that vaporize. The first day of school is both the best and worst day of the year for me as a mom who has had the privilege of working from a home office. The silence in the home after a long summer of a never-ending revolving door of children and their friends and their toys, electronics (my youngest son’s friends are known to bring their gaming PCs over for a night of gaming), socks, hoodies, keys, cars, drama, and heartbreak is both welcomed and lonely.

But when your child no longer lives at home, no longer has clothes in her bedroom dresser or closet the goodbye doesn’t get easier. It changes. I thought saying a mutual goodbye at the airport, where we were both headed to our respective homes would be fine.

It wasn’t easier. The tears welled up, and I took a deep breath. We both took a deep breath and said goodbye.

And Then There Was One: Part Two

I miss him. The bedroom he shared with Elias for the past 13 years is cleaner without him. His bed is made. There is only one set of man-child clothing strewn across every surface of the room. There is less laundry. No one is asking for that nasty frozen popcorn chicken. We went to Trader Joe’s and didn’t need to buy salsa and chips (how long do you think the 12 jars we left him will last?). He took all four pairs of shoes with him. Who will drink the whole milk he used for his protein shakes?

Parenting is perpetually asking yourself if you are doing enough or doing too much. It is trying to live in the moment while planning ahead for every possibility. It is humbling, exhausting, exhilarating. It is an exercise in faith, trusting God is in control while also knowing we are partially responsible. And just when you think you can’t sign any more reading logs or stay up to make sure s/he makes it home by curfew, it’s time to tell them to jump, just like I did when I forced each of my children to take swimming lessons because I didn’t learn how to swim until I was in fourth grade and am an insecure swimmer. The instructors would line them up at the edge of the pool and tell the kids to jump.

Corban, jump. It will be OK.

We were already onto phase two of move-in day, which consists of a trip to Target to pick up everything we weren’t sure he needed but now were certain he would die without. We decided where the area rug would go, and set up the lounge chair that will mess up his spine. Elias had fan assembly duty. Peter was putting together the lamp. Bethany was putting together the photo collage. I was putting away the environmentally-unfriendly but college kid-friendly supply of paper plates and bowls and plastic cups and utensils. Corban’s only job was to get his bearings.

So he stood there, in the middle of the room, holding a bunch of papers that were handed to him when he checked in and got his keys (keys to the room and to the BATHROOM!!! Keys to the BATHROOM????) looking as overwhelmed as we all were. He looked up from the papers and said, “Hey. Thanks for helping me move in.”

You are so very welcome, Corban. Just don’t forget to call or text or Snapchat. #runmyson

I asked him to take a selfie on his first day of classes.

 

 

 

 

And Then There Was One

Motherhood has been a journey often marked by numbers, which has been challenging for someone who took “math for bushes and trees” in college.

How many weeks pregnant?

How many weeks old is the baby?

How many feedings? Hours of sleep in between feeding?

How many children? How many years in between said children?

The days seemed longer than 24 hours, and even though I love my children sometimes more than myself there were so many days, weeks, months, and years when I felt like I was drowning ever so slowly in feedings, diapers, wipes, bottles, sippy cups, apple slices with not a hint of the peel, gummy fruit snacks, playdates, reading logs, worksheets, permission slips, practices, auditions, performances, races, teacher-parent meetings, juggling, juggling, juggling….

And then I woke up this morning and wanted to stay in bed scratching my mosquito bites until they bled and oozed because it was a release. I woke up knowing next Monday is the start of a week that seemed light years away and now it’s here.

We will have one child at home. Granted, he will probably hit 6-feet soon, but he still gives the best hugs and has a laugh that fills the house with joy and warmth. It’s just that his older siblings will be moving on because we are headed for that light at the end of the tunnel.

Damn that tunnel.

I’m not complaining. Our son, Corban, is headed to college to explore his options, and he is excited, nervous, honest, naive, wise, and ready. Our daughter Bethany is headed back to NYC to pursue a career in dance and do the starving artist thing with all of our blessings. #runmyson and #flymysweet are doing and becoming what parents dream and hope and pray for. Oh, and #eliasneedsahashtag

I’m being honest. I am full of joy, worry, regret, hope, fear, and dreams. I am looking back at 21+ years and a bit freaked out at how slowly and quickly it all went. HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT IT HAS BEEN 21 1/2 YEARS OF MOMMING??? HOW???

No, I don’t want to go back. No, my uterus doesn’t want another baby. I just want things to slow down a bit. Bethany and Corban are in a hurry to grow up, and as a grown up I know a thing or two about adulthood being overrated. I want another week or two or three of summer. I want a few extra late nights around the table with all three of my children eating me out of house and home laughing about something I didn’t quite catch. I want more time with all three of them. Together.

I’ve already asked my neighborhood girlfriends to look out for me. I can feel the tears on the edge of my heart. They are good tears. I am sad and joyful. I want to feel all of this deeply without drowning. I want to celebrate and mourn and not forget Elias is still home with us. It is bittersweet in the best possible way. God has been so gracious and good. I just can’t believe it’s almost here.

You can’t force your children to like each other, but you can give them space to learn.

 

 

 

When Your Breast (pump) Gets In The Way

Virgin Mary "lactans" , showing Mary breastfeeding Jesus. Painted in 1784. Byzantine

Virgin Mary “lactans” , showing Mary breastfeeding Jesus. Painted in 1784. Byzantine

Just like every other mother in the world, I am a working mother. I just happen to work for a regular paycheck outside of the home. If our family had to pay for the work I do in the house we would be broke-er than we are. Again, just like every other mother in the world.

Unlike most other mothers in the United States I returned to my full-time job with a key to an employee lactation room – a private, locked room with a refrigerator, sink, private toilet, recliner and HOSPITAL GRADE BREAST PUMP. All you needed to do was bring your own tubing and, what I liked to call, your personal pump trumpets.

Thank God for the liberal media.

But again, not everyone has that luxury (which, IMHO, should be a given here in the USA) so I went on the hunt for what is the best breast pump for because I also knew I would be traveling and needing something at home.

Why am I writing about this now? Well, I’m also on a private FB page of working minister mamas in the org I currently work for, and a national staff conference coming up means that working minister mamas with little children are wondering what will travel and being present at a meeting actually look like.

Will there be childcare? How will I hang out with people after the official programming ends? How will I talk with other adults during mealtimes? Will there be high chairs? Will rooms have mini-fridges for storing breastmilk? Does a breast pump count as a personal item? Is it worth it to go? What will I miss if I don’t?

It will look crazy but that is what working minister mamas do, right? We do the crazy. We actually are crazy. We defy stereotypes simply by occupying traditional male space and then we have the audacity to show up with the proof that we are not men. We bring our children – infants, toddlers, preschoolers. I used to even pull my school-age children before grades counted. (That was high school for us.) And then we ask questions like: Will I have time to pump during a break or is just easier to go in and nurse?

So, reading the posts by newer and younger minister mamas made me think about why there aren’t more public spaces for women to do something that ought to be considered natural but isn’t.

Because the patriarchy. Because if men had to breast feed we all know that pumps wouldn’t be so noisy or bulky. Because if men had to breast feed we all know that lactation rooms would be as commonplace as the line for the “ladies room”. Because if men had to breast feed we would see commercials about pumps instead of erectile dysfunction drugs. Because if men had to breast feed there would be more laws protecting lactation rights and enforcement.

Until then, we women Google. We ask our FB communities. We network. We do what we need to do to get the job done.

I’ll never forget sitting in the back of the church sanctuary nursing our infant daughter under a blanket (because back then you couldn’t buy a nursing shawl so you used a blanket) and a few men freaking out in their godly way. Wouldn’t I like to go somewhere else? No, I wouldn’t. Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in the foyer?  No, I wouldn’t. Do you really think you should feed her here? Yes, I do.

I think most of those men are now married and have their own children. I wonder if they wanted their wives to nurse out of sight, like maybe in the bathroom?

And of course, I can’t help but think of the infant Jesus and Mary. We don’t know if she had any help during labor. We don’t know if there was a doula or another woman from the area who came to help her and show her what to do after Jesus had been born. She had no other option but to breastfeed Jesus. Yes, being fully human and fully divine and born of a woman requires that kind of beautiful intimacy.

What are some of your favorite nursing stories? What are some of your questions about nursing? Was breastfeeding natural? Did you breastfeed? What made breastfeeding difficult? Easy? Natural? And, of course, what breast pump would you recommend?

 

Everyday Dismantling #7 – Learn By Making Mistakes

How did you learn how to tie your shoes? To drive? To apply makeup or style your hair? To write your name in cursive? To read? To swim? To ride a bike?

Unless you are some freak of nature and succeeded in learning those life-skills in one single attempt, it took time. It took failure. In some cases, it took a combination of courage and humiliation. For example, I finally stopped perming my hair, and through the gentle coaching of a teacher/director I learned to give up dreams of acting and stick to public speaking as “me”.

So many of my dear readers have responded to my most recent post about a racist encounter in a public space with questions:

What should a bystander have done? What would have been the right response? What  were you hoping someone would do? What should I do when I see something like this happen?

But before I answer the question(s), I’ll do what I did before and throw it back to you, my dear readers.

Why are you asking these questions? Why do you want to know the “right” way to respond when witnessing a racist situation? What is the worst thing that could happen if you had actually been there and done something, anything?

I really wish there was one “right” answer so that we could teach it in schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, coffee shops, and craft beer stores. I wish there was a line or a phrase that would’ve been perfect. I wish I could tell all of you that if someone had only done this or said that I wouldn’t have walked away shaken, wouldn’t have cried this morning at the sound of my friend Deidra’s voice checking in with me or this afternoon when Deb’s kind note arrived.

But there isn’t.

My dear readers, I can hear the fear of failure behind your question. Not all of you, but some of you. Maybe a lot of you. You are afraid of saying something wrong, afraid that you will come off as the arrogant white person, the white savior.

And you might come off that way because until you practice saying and acting out what you are learning in your heart and mind it may sound scripted, savior-ish, stilted. It may come out wrong or awkward. You may be misunderstood. You may make a mistake.

But you should do something, say something. It may not be met with overflowing gratitude. You may not even be thanked. (Brad walked away and I was trying to hold it together so I didn’t seek him out afterwards. I just wanted to leave. But just in case, Brad, if you are reading this, if you are the youngish white man in the polo shirt, I think it was blue, who stepped in, thank you. Thank you.) You may actually exacerbate and escalate the situation. You may fail.

But do something because your conscience, your soul, your heart and mind told you that in the presence of injustice and hatred and confusion people need to act, not just think, the part of justice and love and peace. You should speak up and speak out when you know something is wrong not because you want to be right or perfectly understood.

This is not my first rodeo with racism. I learned I was a chink and a gook growing up in Roselle, Illinois. I was bullied and harassed. I have been told over and over in so many different ways that I do not belong, and while EVERYONE can sympathize with that, NOT EVERYONE knows the personal pain of being told in so many ways over a lifetime that they do not belong in this country because of their race, ethnicity or religion (actual or perceived). This incident and all the others I’m referring to are not the same as not being picked for the dodgeball team or being in the cool crowd or feeling left out.

I was told to leave this country because Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners. My sons, who witnessed this and have told the story to their friends, will say, “We were told to go back to where we came from.” They took the white man’s comments personally.

There is some irony in all of this. Unless you are Native American/First Nations this here United States of America is actually not “OUR COUNTRY” in the possessive ownership sense. We citizens of the USA who lack Native blood are ALL IMMIGRANTS residing on stolen land. This really isn’t “OUR COUNTRY”, is it? Let’s sit on that for awhile, shall we?

But that’s not what that man meant. He didn’t challenge the white male cashier. He saw me and my sons and assumed his white privilege and did not hesitate to tell me to “Go back to your country.”

None of us can learn a new skill in one attempt. None of us. We all fail. We will make mistakes along the way. Silence is a mistake my family and I cannot afford.

Be willing to make a mistake. To fail. Practice in your head what you might say or do and maybe whisper it out loud right now as you finish reading. And then wait for it. Don’t throw away your shot.

 

 

 

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