Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Race - Part 1 - Who am I?

An on-line community that I have been a part of with some regularity since Mane was small is having a discussion about race. It's an organized discussion with writing assignments and such. This seems like a good place for me to wrestle with my thoughts. So, the first assignment went like this:

"But who are you? When you look in the mirror, who stares back at you with eyes full of wonder, mystery, and knowledge? If you had to describe yourself, what community, race, or cultural terms would you use for yourself? When other people or institutions in the community describe you, what racial terms do they give for the complexity of your lived experience? Do you use the same descriptions as others? If not, why do you think there are differences?"

When I look in the mirror I check out the bump on the ridge of my nose and the freckles all over the place. I see someone who looks a lot like my mom. Some days I'm really happy with what I see and some days not-so-much. I'm struggling to find that place for freedom where I don't worry any more about whether I look young or old or beautiful, where who I am matters more than how I look.

If I describe myself in terms of community, I'd say that I live in an ethnically diverse neighborhood with some wonderful people who have been support and love and encouragement to me. I, sadly, wouldn't describe myself as a member of a church community, as it has been more than difficult to establish ourselves in any community of faith.

I am of European descent, particularly German and Swedish and Irish. My great-grandmother immigrated to the U.S. when she was 9 years old, shortly before World War I. She refused to speak German to her children, and she knew very little English. So, she didn't really speak with them at all. I would say that my family has identified much more by occupation than ethnicity. I come from a family of farmers. Sometimes I am reminded of this when I run into the cultural traditions of Mango's family - a family of more educated professionals.

To be honest, I am not fond of being "white." This is another thing I'm trying to work through. I want Mane to be proud of her heritage, not trying to become something else. My family gave me very little sense of cultural heritage, and I have to be intentional if I want to pass something of a cultural heritage on to Mane. Vespera's experience is rich with culture and fraught with the hardships of racism and discrimination. Being her mother has caused me to pause much more often in reflection on culture, ethnicity and race. Here is an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to a friend last week:

"The attitudes toward Hispanic people are pretty heated all over the U.S. right now. The kinds of things I tend to deal with are people's attitudes about immigration. AND the total neglect of Hispanic people in discussion about racial tension and race relations in our country. People in the U.S. view "race" as a black-white thing, as though everybody else does not exist. The science museum here just did a "race" exhibit, and I was surprised by how much I had trouble with it. As a rule, I don't use the word "race" at all, except when I'm specifically talking about the tensions in our country that have to do with skin color. The rest of the time I talk about ethnicity and culture. I was surprised that the science museum called their exhibit "Race," though that was what they were getting at - skin color, I mean. Anyway, being in such close proximity with another culture has made me think about how we humans like to be with people who are like ourselves and what that means. I don't necessarily think it's good or bad. It's the way we are. And I'm frustrated with the way adoptive parents are encouraged to find ways to connect with people of their child's cultural origins. This can lead to a lot of artificial self-serving relationships. Authentic relationships are much harder to come by and cannot be forced. I've thought a lot about how not to be just a "spectator" of another culture but, instead, how to embrace that other culture in appropriate ways. I don't want to exploit, and I don't want to act like something I'm not. It's all a big jumble in my head. It's a difficult topic, and, in some ways, I feel that I don't even have the right to say much about it since I am of European descent."

I get frustrated with my "whiteness" and, perhaps, my lack of cultural identity. It drives me crazy to check off the box that says I'm white on applications for things. White is not an ethnicity or a culture. It's a color - not to mention that white & black are not technically the color of skin of anyone I know. Mane has grown up describing herself as pink. And our neighbors call themselves brown. Vespera calls herself brown. These are actual colors of skin, and if we tried to name all the colors accurately we would run out of words. There is simply more diversity in the world than that.

So, I guess I wouldn’t describe myself in the terms that other people use to describe who I am. I am a mother, lover, friend, Christian, family therapist, childbirth educator, woman, neighbor, activist. I am German, Swedish, and Irish with a messy family history. I hold within me the characteristics of those cultural groups without thinking about them. I am a collector of diverse traditions. Someone learning to cook and sew and garden. Someone gathering spiritual traditions from various traditions. Someone gathering family traditions from the same. I am me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Library List Continues

Some new ones:

In Rosa's Mexico by Campbell Geeslin, Illustrated by Andrea Arroyo
We haven't read all of this one yet, but it's a very fanciful book about Rosa, violetas, her mother's soup, and their cooking pot.

Rain Makes Applesauce by Julian Scheer, Illustrated by Marvin Bileck
This is an enormously strange book of silly talk with equally strange illustrations. It's worth it just for reading something totally out of the ordinary. It's a Caldecott Honor Book, too!

Inch by Inch: The Garden Song by David Mallet, Illustrated by Ora Eitan
This is a picture book of the Inch by Inch song we have on our Peter, Paul & Mary album. Mane loves to read the book and then hear the song. There's something amazing about something being in two places and two different mediums.

The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote by Tony Johnston, Illustrated by Tomie dePaola
This is the favorite of the four books we last checked out. It's very reminiscent of Brer Rabbit stories, but this one comes from Oaxaca, Mexico, and includes some new Spanish words for us to learn.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Biblical Thoughts on "Aliens"

Although most immigrants I speak with are not fond of the word "alien," this is the word used in our English translations of scripture for people who were not Hebrew but were living among the Hebrews/Israelites. For the sake of Biblical study, I'm using the word "alien" today.

"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God." Leviticus 19:34

"For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:17-19

"Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this." Deuteronomy 24:17-18

"You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance,” declares the Sovereign LORD." Ezekiel 47:21-23

Monday, May 21, 2007


"Sometimes grace is a ribbon of mountain air that gets in through the cracks." ~ Anne Lamott

Or sometimes grace is digging in the garden in your own back yard. In either case, some of the dirt got under my fingernails, some of the sunshine got into my skin and popped out a few more freckles, and I am feeling better. Prayers ascending on ribbons of spring air and sunshine brought a whole lot of healing to my heart this weekend.

...enough that I may be able to compose the post I've been thinking about race. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Between the IRS, the neighborhood, Mango's graduate school & the school where he teaches, and Mane's potential allergies my anxiety levels are reaching unparalleled proportions. Apparently just when you're really convinced you've got a problem whipped, it's time for the devil to bring it back to life. And God is sitting there waiting for me to just trust.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

Help me, help me, Jesus.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Life on a Cliff

It wasn't too long ago that I posted about how if you're really uncomfortable where you're at, and whatever you're doing makes you want to run away, you're probably just about where God wants you. It's not always like that, of course. Sometimes we have these beautiful moments where all things come together and all the stars are aligned and it's totally worth it. It's a little like walking on the edge of a cliff. You'd rather be a little further inland, but then you'd miss the beautiful view. And you'd miss all the close calls where you know that God is watching out for you because you're doing the right thing. And you'd miss that flip-flop feeling in your gut. maybe I could do without the flip-flop feeling. The truth is, I'm afraid of heights. And I'm afraid of my neighborhood right now. I'm just so sad and afraid. I haven't felt afraid in a long time, and I know that isn't where God wants me. At Christmas I wrote about how peace is knowing that God is at the helm and trusting God. When I put it that way, I believe it. And for a few nanoseconds I have peace. I believe that God made humans this way so that we'd have to keep repeating it to ourselves for the rest of our lives. If it got too easy, we'd forget to attribute our peace to God. We'd think we figured it out for ourselves, and then we'd give ourselves a little pat on the back and forget about God. Nope. Not gonna happen. God is the One who holds all things together and keeps them from flying apart at any moment. I like to live my life faced with this enormous reality. It keeps me awake.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Neighborhood

If you have it in you to pray for my neighborhood, I am asking you to do so now. Crime and racial tensions are climbing. We are gathering neighbors for picnics in our yard on Friday evenings to help fight the crime and build community. We need your prayers. Thanks.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Barbie Dilemna

Mane is 5, and she LOVES barbie. I have so far not allowed barbie to live in my house, but I'm starting to think about the pros and cons. The typical cons I hear about barbie are as follows:

* Barbie is ridiculously proportioned and may lead some little girls to develop bad body images.
* Likewise, supporting the industry that makes Barbie allows the industry to continue to make ridiculously proportioned barbies.
* There are tons of barbies in the world and their continued production leads to more plastic trash in the landfills.
* Barbie is materialistic - focused on clothes & accessories.

Ok, so Mane has neighbor friends who have what seems like millions of barbies. They've gotten them mostly from thrift stores, though a few were gifts. For me, this solves the plastic production/landfill issue. I know I can get used barbies at almost any thrift store, along with whatever accessories I might be inclined to purchase without contributing to the further production of said plastic toys.

And, I guess the materialism is something I see with most toys. American Girl is the same way. You can go as far as you want with buying accessories. And Calico Critters. And Groovy Girls. And Only Hearts dolls. They all have tons of clothes & accessories available if you are going to buy into the materialism. Barbie isn't alone in that respect. It's similar to what I was saying in my post about freedom. Buying alternative toys doesn't necessarily free you from materialism.

I grew up playing with barbies, and, although I have also dealt with my share of body image issues, I have never thought of them as related to barbies. How I felt about my body had a lot more to do with my experiences with real live people growing up.

And I really did love playing barbie. My play with them was very involved. There were epic sagas. They had names and personalities. My mom and my aunt had made clothes for them, and my mom made furniture out of wood blocks & carpet scraps. My dad built them a closet.

I guess I don't like them in my house because I don't find them aesthetically least not any more. How's that for a snobbish response? I don't have a problem with Mane playing with them at other people's houses, as long as I don't have to have them strewn about my house with their clothes and shoes and handbags. But...I *would* love those cute little calico critters, even if they were strewn about my house. So, I think the issue really is aesthetics. But, aesthetics for me and aesthetics for Mane are two very different things.

So, I guess I'm torn. I loved playing barbies. Mane wants to have barbies. But, I think they're ugly. They're plastic and weirdly shaped, and they don't move well. Soooo, could somebody please make a cute alternative for barbie? Only Hearts dolls won't do because she wants to play with grown-ups. That's a major lure of barbie, I think. She likes Kelly dolls (Barbie's little sister, who is allowed to live in my house because she isn't ridiculously proportioned and ugly), too, but she always has to choose one to be the mom and one to be the dad because she wants to play "family" stories.

*sigh* *shrug* Thanks for letting me vent. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sleep Research

Some interesting tidbits (my own writing is in green):

"Human biological clock makes a turn in a cycle of about 25 hours when there is no clue to know the passage of time. However, the earth rotates in a cycle of 24 hours, repeating light and darkness. " (

"For most of evolution humans have slept clustered together with friends, animals, parents and children. In traditional societies, according to Worthman, communal sleep is considered safer since there is always someone there to help in case of an emergency. In these societies people find that group sleeping reduces the risk of spirit loss, which is especially common when a person dreams.

Recently, studies have shown that this type of sleeping, called co-sleeping to contrast it from the solitary sleeping patterns of people in modern societies, has real physiological benefits. James McKenna of the University of Notre Dame reports that babies in many countries outside the United States sleep next to or in the same room as their parents. He notes that infants who sleep alone slip into abnormal patterns of very deep sleep which prevents them from waking during an episode of apnea. " (

"Recent research suggests that sleep patterns vary significantly across human cultures.[8] The most striking differences are between societies that have plentiful artificial light and ones that do not. Cultures without artificial light have more broken-up sleep patterns. For example, people in these cultures might go to sleep far more quickly after the sun sets, but then wake up several times throughout the night, sometimes staying awake for several hours. The boundaries between sleeping and waking are blurred in these societies. Some observers[attribution needed]slow sleep believe that sleep in these societies is most often split into two main periods, the first characterised primarily by "" and the second by REM sleep. This is called segmented sleep, which led to expressions such as "first sleep," "watch," and "second sleep" which appear in literature from all over the world." (

I have to say that this last quote from wikipedia is fascinating and somehow appealing to me. I love the way my house feels when I walk around it in the middle of the night and everything is peaceful and sleepy. I love how close everybody feels on my block when it's late on a still night. I can lean off my balcony and and talk to my neighbor halfway down the block almost without raising my voice. I love the intimacy of talking in the middle of the night. What I wonder is how the different sleep patterns affect the relationships between people. Obviously, without artificial light, people aren't really doing anything when they're up in the middle of the night except maybe talking and thinking, maybe walking or small tasks that can be done by the light of moon or fire.

I have to clarify that I don't like to have to get up in the middle of the night. I *do* enjoy an unbroken night of sleep...yet, on the nights when I've been up for a while in the middle of the night there's something appealing about it...not when I have to be up, but when I am just up.

Also, I need to clarify that the last quote is from wikipedia, and I'm still looking for more scholarly sources. If anybody out there knows books or resources about the anthropology of sleep, I'd be interested.

Here's an interesting sleep project:
"The Uberman's sleep schedule revolves around forcing yourself to rely on six twenty to thirty minute naps spread throughout the day for your daily dose of sleep. I stuck to thirty minute naps, currently having them starting roughly at 2 AM, 6 AM, 10 AM, 2 PM, 6 PM, and 10 PM every day."
('s something other than Wikipedia saying the same thing:
Indigenous cultures that do not rely on artificial light differ greatly in their sleep patterns from those that do, according to Prof. Roger Ekirch, author of At Day's Close: A History of Night-time. They have what's called "segmented sleep" patterns where they wake several times during the night, sometimes for long periods at a time. Ekirch theorizes that artificial light's influence on sleep cycles has contributed largely to the rise of sleeping disorders in industrialized nations." (


I have long thought about sleep, human sleeping habits, and the anecdotal stories of sleep I know. Since I'm rather sleep-deprived myself this morning, I thought it would be a good day for my promised post on sleep. :)

I started thinking about sleep when I was in college. I went from being an early-riser, who can go to sleep early & rise early and loves the site of the morning mists, to a lover of the midnight hours, writing poetry in the dark, sipping coffee and talking philosophy late into the night.

In graduate school I wrote a paper about co-sleeping, and I became more interested in human sleeping habits and arrangements than ever. Co-sleeping, also known as "the family bed" by many, involves family members, other than spouses, sharing beds. For us, this involved sharing a bed with Mane until she was 3. (Then she moved to a mattress on our floor. Then she moved to her loft bed when she was 4. Then she started sleeping on the couch at 4.5, where she still sleeps now....more on that later.) Co-sleeping fosters attachment, easier nighttime nursing, and none of that cry-yourself-to-sleep business. It looks beautiful in theory.

Then Mane was born. And I found that nighttime nursing involves MUCHO sleep loss...or, at least, very broken sleep. Then I started hearing theories about broken people never used to sleep 8 hours straight in early societies. It's sort of a modern luxury to get uninterrupted sleep. Yet, somehow, all our experts are telling us that uninterrupted sleep is essential to good health. Could it be that if we slept in other ways our bodies would adapt? If we stopped being resentful about interrupted sleep, might we find that broken sleep works just as well? Try as I might to make that theory work, I still felt pretty sleep-deprived for much of Mane's early life.

Yet I am sure that getting out of bed was not the answer. Co-sleeping allowed me to stay in bed, only semi-conscious, while attending to Mane's nighttime needs. I was more rested than if I'd had to fully awaken and get out of bed to attend to her. And Mane has thrived from the attachment bond created by knowing that we will always be there to take care of her. We didn't leave her in a dark lonely room to cry alone, and we never will. And it hasn't turned her into a shy, dependent, clingy child, either. Quite the opposite. She is outgoing and thrives in new situations. She has a great deal of confidence.

So, what I find interesting is that people all over the world sleep with their children, yet it is such taboo in our culture. People believe that you have to get your children out of your bed or they'll sleep there forever. get married and then begin sleeping with our spouse in our adults years and don't think of this as a sign of dependence or poor sleep habits. I think it's good and healthy to help children adapt to all kinds of sleep situations. As Mane got older we moved her to her mattress on the floor because there wasn't enough room in our bed. And we were elated to have privacy in our own room when she moved into her loft. We're still pretty happy with her sleeping on the couch rather than with us. Because she learned to sleep with us, though, we can take her camping and on trips all over the place, and we don't worry that she won't sleep. She can sleep anywhere as long as we're around. Now she'll even sleep on other people's couches. :) Children who are trained to sleep in a dark quiet room in their own bed with no people around from a very early age have trouble traveling. It's just true.

Research tells us that being around other people helps babies regulate their breathing & sleep pattern at night, perhaps reducing the risk of SIDS.

And my theology studies tell me that God is a God of relationship and community. We are created in the image of God and have a deep need for connection with God and with other humans. Those monkey studies tell us that mammals need real connection in order to thrive. You can't deprive a monkey of an attachment figure and expect it to live.

When we sleep we are at our most vulnerable. And so when we sleep with others it demonstrates our trust, and it nurtures the bond of deep connection between people.

So, I think Mane sleeps on the couch because it's in the middle of our small house, and she feels a certain connection with everybody that way. Mango brings her to sleep with me when he gets up early in the morning so that he doesn't wake her up while he's getting ready for work. And this works for us. She sleeps on her own...but connected...for much of the night...and then she gets some snuggle time with me in the morning until I sneak out of bed about an hour before she gets up.

Only recently have I begun to realize Vespera's need for physical connection with people. She came from a house where she slept with her sisters. She has her own bed here, of course. She tried having Mane sleep with her once, only to end up on the floor because Mane wanted to take up the whole bed. Vespera sat and talked with me in the beanbag last night with her head on my chest, playing with my fingers, just like Mane would if she were sitting there. And she always responds positively to having her hair stroked or her back rubbed. I commented to Mango that other night that most "American" children, especially at the age of 16, would be resistant to physical affection. It reminds me that I want to raise Mane to be demonstrative with her affection. Be able to hold your child as a teenager gives you one more tool to foster the connection when they are most likely to be unable to bridge the gap between you in any other way. When they are feeling so out of sorts that they don't know what to say or how to be close to you, a head-rub, back-rub, foot-rub maintains the connection. The human touch can still be there when words fail.