Archive for March, 2008

Enough Check-Boxes?

My dad sent me this article from today’s New York Times that really struck a chord. Barack Obama’s recent speech on race was met with cheers in our house. He finally talked to the American public “as if we are grown-ups” about the complexities of ethnicity, to borrow John Stewart’s phrase.

And this particular article focuses on Obama’s discussion of his mixed heritage, a familiar topic in our home as well. My husband identifies as “half-Japanese, half-Jewish”; and while I may be “all white,” coming from one parent raised Catholic and another raised Jewish, I also had similar issues and choices and judgments placed on “what I was” religiously/ethnically (if you believe Jewish to be an ethnicity, as some do), according to others and wondering myself.

Just last week I spoke for a few minutes to the congregation of our Unitarian Universalist fellowship (a place that celebrates  complexity in beliefs and identifications) about identity, and described how, as a child, when people asked me “What are you?” I would answer, “An Earthling. How about you?”  Trying to be funny, but also tired of the unanswerable question.  And, having known my husband for some 23 years now (gasp!), I’ve certainly seen him answer that question countless times, in various settings and countries, over the years.  Now thinking of our daughter trying to answer it simply someday is almost laughable.

Sure, there is some natural comfort in being able to “locate” someone in perceived categories — but, of course, this is also a slippery slope to stereotyping and, really, to simply just not listening to who people are in all of their complexity. Race, religion, sexual orientation, even “home” — many people’s answers aren’t a simple one-word answer, even though it would surely be easier if that were the case.

I just finished reading Eat, Pray, Love, in which author Elizabeth Gilbert describes the culture in Bali (one of her three destinations in her search for “everything” and herself).  It is so ingrained there to be able to locate everyone (where they are from, whether they are married) that outsiders have learned to answer locals’ questions about them in specific ways so as not to disturb the Balinese so deeply that they will not relate to you at all.  As a single woman, she learned to answer “not yet” to the oft-asked question of whether she is married, for being single in Bali after about age 20 is wholly unacceptable (imagine that?!).  Gilbert writes, “Even if you are eighty years old, or a lesbian, or a strident feminist, or an eighty-year-old strident feminist lesbian nun who has never been married and never intends to get married, the politest possible answer is still: ‘Not yet.'” 

I digress, but I loved this passage, and it reminded me that issues of identity run so deep in every culture, and have since the dawn of time.

The NYT article concludes that our culture’s goal should be to eliminate people from having to “check boxes” when it comes to personal identity.  And, that concept, as we have discussed many times in our home and in various grad school classes and such,  is one I also find questionable.  “Color-blind” can also be dangerous, and unwanted (“You erase my ethnicity, you erase me!” as my husband always says).  Forcing people to identify with nothing is as stifling as forcing us to identify with one thing. And I worry that many liberals think they are so color-blind, so “above” issues of racism (and sexism), that they actually do a real disservice.

This election is obviously bringing this identity politics issue up on every level.  As women, if we identify with Hilary, there is a nagging feeling that we are identifying “white.”  And so on — you’ve heard it all before. (The recent Newsweek issue on “Hilary, Gender, and Class” is worth picking up if you are interested in this topic, though.)

Why we loved Obama’s speech in our house was that he did not try for color-blind, but for complexity.  He didn’t try to erase the topic of race/ethnicity, but to dive into it on a level where we should be talking about it by now.

So, I’m not sure I’d advocate eliminating check-boxes altogether, but I like allowing multiple boxes to be checked — and some days allowing one box have more weight than others, and less weight another day.  In the end, I’d advocate simply listening to what someone is trying to say when they talk about their own identity or issues they face in that regard, without thinking we know their answer in advance, or that their answer should match our own.

Enough ignoring issues of race, gender, class and ethnicity.  Enough stereotyping.  While I still favor Hilary’s policy ideas (see this other NYT article on this topic!), I do like Obama’s oratory prowess, in that he seems to be getting people to actually hear his talk of cultural topics we often try to sweep under the rug or make “black and white.” (Hilary has spoken about gender in its complexity as well, by the way, although I’m not sure she’s been heard!  And both candidates shy away from really liberal positions and discussions on topics such as gay marriage. But I digress again…)

Enough bickering.  Let’s seize this Obama speech moment as the positive it is.  Let’s work together, in all our contradictions and identifications, and  bring the national conversation on who we are, and who we have the potential to be, to a higher level.

March 31, 2008 at 3:45 pm 1 comment

Ahhhh.

A two-hour nap. Right in the middle of a Sunday.  That was a gift today. That was enough.

March 31, 2008 at 2:31 am Leave a comment

Getting It Over With?

I hear so many moms use the phrase “getting it over with” to talk about having children close together.

I get it, really I do, on the practical levels. The sleep deprivation and diapers, the lack of “freedom” — you have your kids close together and all that is out of the way in a few short years, rather than dragged out over a decade or so (depending on how many kids and how far apart you’re talking about). I also get the financial piece; the sooner the kids are school-age the easier for parents to work/work more and bring home the proverbial bacon.

And, yet, I still always balk at this statement, because on a deeper level, I’ve learned that I don’t want to make any major choices in my life to “get it over with.” It sets off my inner alarm bells of an attitude that is not living in the present, but living for some “someday” when things will supposedly be easier, better, etc. I’ve learned that “someday” living is a trap, rarely true and at the very least a cheap ticket to a life passed by without really experiencing it.

Now, I am not (not, not, not!!) saying that I think there is any one right age difference between siblings. There is clearly not, and different spans work better for different families for unlimited reasons and circumstances. It’s not the spacing I am questioning, just this particular reasoning.

I know diapers and sleep deprivation aren’t fun, but so much of parenting babies and toddlers is fun. And conscious presence and quality time spent together is a precious lifelong gift, to our kids and to us. Of course I realize the people who say they want to “get it over with” aren’t necessarily saying they aren’t taking the time to enjoy parenting at this stage, or that this is their only reason for their choice, but I also think it is worth stopping and pondering why so many moms are saying it.

I guess I just wonder if the “get it over with” logic is somehow connected to the culture of success, busyness, “never enough”-ness that I launched this blog to dive more deeply into. Is this reasoning about rushing through a stage of life that I hear so many parents of teenagers or adult children wax wistfully about how fast it went and how they wish they’d stopped and enjoyed it more? Is it about lacking an ability to slow down and just “be”? Is it fear of, what, stopping, falling behind, losing out, losing energy?

I’m not sure, but I do know the “get it over with” phrase is so over-used in my mommy circles that there is something to this. And it is usually said with a commiserating grimace, as if we know we are all stretched to our limits and surely want to get these years over with, too. Maybe there are more tangible social issues behind this pervasive logic — such as, lack of support in this culture for mothers/parents in so many forms (from lack of maternity/paternity leave to lack of quality part-time jobs and child care). Of course there are.

When I’m less sleep-deprived, I’m going to think about this more (haha). For now, I’m just putting this thought I’ve had for some time now on paper/screen. (Has anyone else written about this yet?? Hmmmm.)

So, what do you think? Have you heard the phrase used in this context? Have you used it yourself? Do you think there is a connection to our over-drive culture?

March 30, 2008 at 3:08 am 10 comments

Thursday Night TV

I admit it, I’ve been watching Celebrity Apprentice, on and off at least.

It’s not what you think. I’m really not a fan of Donald Trump. In fact, quite the opposite. However, one of the contestants on this show — celebrities playing to win big bucks for their favorite charity — is country singer Trace Adkins, who is playing for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN).

Adkins, like us, has a daughter with life-threatening food allergies. Like us, he has had the experience of seeing his little girl go into anaphylactic shock, and like us his lifestyle has been changed by this terrifying result and risk from the previously ordinary activity of eating. (The link above to the show is actually to a clip of Adkins talking about his daughter and food allergies.)

Returning today from a week’s trip across the country to visit my family, we are acutely in tune with this fact of our daughter’s life and ours. We pre-board the planes so my husband can clean out every nook and cranny of the seats before we sit her down (we have found peanuts, one of her severe allergies, lodged between the seats on every flight we’ve taken her on). We have to cook and bring food to every house we visit (her other allergens — tree nuts, sesame seeds, and dairy — are hidden in so many foods) and ask that no one serve fish in her presence (the allergen that forced us to call 911 this fall after she ate just a few bites and went into full-blown anaphylactic shock).

Now, we are nothing but grateful for our daughter, that she survived the anaphylaxis and we have strategies to keep her safe. We know her, and our, fate could be much worse with any number of conditions, circumstances, etc. And we know this is just one part of her many wonderful facets. But, honestly, it’s stressful to deal with food, healthy, normal food, being a potentially lethal substance for your child. It’s everywhere, every social event focuses on it, every book and activity, everything almost, has something to do with eating.

And it is so disturbing to ponder why so many more kids are getting these kind of reactions from food — what has happened with our food supply, our immune systems, our environment? It’s a big issue in our family, and our daughter’s life literally depends on us, and doctors, finding answers to very tough questions.

So, we watch Celebrity Apprentice and root for Trace Adkins, for the big money to go to FAAN. We tear up when he does as he talks about how terrifying it was to see his daughter go into shock, and he will do anything to help her and kids (and adults) like her dealing with this serious condition (that many folks don’t understand is this serious for some people — as Trace says, this is not just allergies that itch, but allergies that can kill you).

We roll our eyes at the egos and consumer spin of the show. But we watch. For us, sometimes it’s just OK to pick our battles. And the battle to find a cure for anaphylactic food allergies is one we will fight, even if ole Trump is involved.

If you’re interested, the finale, with Adkins as one of the two celebrity finalists, is this Thursday night on NBC. His daughter will appear, and viewers will have a chance to donate to FAAN or the other finalist’s charity as well.

This isn’t something I write about too often, but it certainly is something that makes “Having Enough” such a powerful concept in my life. I’m so grateful for FAAN, and for the people who have helped us with our daughter’s condition. And we are literally thankful every day just to eat the simplest of foods and be healthy and OK and together.

(All right, yes, if you watch, you will have to stomach a zillion ads, melodrama, and Omorosa — but, hey, Marilu Henner is on there, too; she’s a peach!)

March 26, 2008 at 12:44 am 3 comments

Jack Johnson

My husband and I like to consider ourselves the original Jack Johnson fans. DH watched his surf videos before he ever had an album. We went to see him in little SoCal clubs before many people knew who he was (now he fills stadiums and graces the cover of Rolling Stone).  We even got to talk to him on the phone once (sigh).

And, each album, we become bigger fans as Jack continues to address issues important to us (and sing groovy love songs to his wife, too).  He has sung about media and consumerism in wonderfully insightful ways on previous albums, and on his latest, Sleep Through the Static, a much quieter album than the rest, he takes on war, global warming, and our country’s perilously proud, hypocritical position in world politics at present.

Check out Jack, if you don’t already love him (how could you not? oh, don’t tell me if you don’t!).  And, here are the melancholy but lovely lyrics to track one of the new album, a track I keep listening to over and over (track 2 is about the war, also amazing…):

All at once
The world can overwhelm me
Theres almost nothing you could tell me
That could ease my mind

Which way will you run
When it’s always all around you?
And the feeling lost and found you again
A feeling that we have no control

Around a sun some say
Is gonna be the new hell some say
It’s still too early to tell some say
But it really ain’t no myth at all

We keep asking ourselves
Are we really strong enough?
There’s so many things that we got
Too proud of
Too proud of
Too proud of

I wanna take the preconceived
Out from underneath your feet
We could shake it off and instead we’ll plant some seeds
We’ll watch them as they grow
And with each new beat
From your heart
The roots grow deeper
The branches
Will they reach for what?
Nobody really knows
But underneath it all
There’s this heart all alone

What about when it’s gone?
And it really won’t be so long
Sometimes it feels
Like a heart is no place
To be singing from at all

There’s a world we’ve never seen
There’s still hope between the dreams
The weight of it all could blow away with the breeze
If you’re waiting on the wind
Don’t forget to breathe
‘Cause as the darkness gets deeper
We’ll be sinking as we reach for love
At least something we can hold
But I’ll reach to you from where time just can’t go

What about when it’s gone?
And it really won’t be so long
Sometimes it feels like a heart
Is no place to be singing from at all.

March 17, 2008 at 2:04 am 2 comments

Family First

I haven’t blogged in a week because my whole family was here visiting from places East and colder. We dropped everything and hung out every day together at the beach house they rented down the road. We were all healthy and the weather was lovely. It was a gift of a week.

If I’d have been rushing to get back to the computer, or cart my toddler to activities, this week, I would have missed both family time and the opportunity to actually focus on enjoying the moment — the rare and brief and once every ten years moment that is my whole family getting together. So, I let it all go and just said “family first.” I’m not available for other requests for these few days.

It’s easy to say “family first,” but I think not always easy to act on. “People first,” is another way to say it. “Loved ones first,” another. But, to actually do this, we often have to forfeit some ego, some external rewards, some supposedly important plans.

For me, at least, saying “family first” this past week felt so right, so liberating and so real. Sure, I didn’t get as much done. I didn’t make any progress on becoming a hugely successful writer or cleaning out my piles of paper begging to be sorted. But, funny enough, two paid assignments still fell in my lap. No, they aren’t for the New York Times, but I sure feel good about them because I can still do them and keep my focus on the people who matter to me most.

What I wonder now is if we really do have to forfeit anything to choose “loved ones first,” or if that’s just a cultural myth that keeps us working and wanting. I may have let go of certain plans this week, but I still got the work I need and I got a much better peace of mind to boot. So I can go into this work not resenting it, or not burnt out, but feeling pretty well balanced or at least true to what I say matters to me.

Now, this is not to say those loved ones are perfect. Even in our happy family week there were a few incidents of rolled eyes (among adults) and scolded kids. But, the point is not to strive for perfect everything, or perfect anything, really — perfect family or perfect relationships or perfect time — just to appreciate what we have as it is.

And to stick by what is priority to us.  (For me, it is family; for others, it may be something else, but the point is, to paraphrase Ghandi, to have what we think, say and do be in line.)  Then the rest of “success” will come to our lives; it just may look different than (or perhaps just like) what we had actually imagined.

March 12, 2008 at 3:32 pm Leave a comment

Monthly Affirmations

This month’s (March) “Having Enough” affirmation:

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary
so that the necessary may speak.”
— Hans Hofmann

Stop. Listen. If I cannot hear clearly, I know to unclutter. My home, menu, schedule, closet, mind. What I need to know about my life’s direction, health and relations is there, buried beneath the excess. The process of simplifying brings me great clarity.

Repeat: I eliminate the unnecessary so the necessary may speak.

(By the way, Hans Hofmann was a German abstract expressionist painter and art professor who wrote the book, Search for the Real. I love how his quote refers so aptly to art and life.)

Also, I realize I put last month’s (February) affirmation on my sidebar, but never actually blogged it, so I will repeat it here so it can be cataloged with the others:

“The first health is wealth.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

My health is worth more than any possessions or accolades. If I care for my health, I care for my whole self and my loved ones. If I cherish my health, it continues to give me all I need. If I lose my health, I can set my intentions and actions to recover it. A healthy body, mind and soul are true gifts.

Repeat: I cherish and care for the ultimate wealth of my health.

March 5, 2008 at 11:46 am 1 comment

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To spark conversation about redefining success (as individuals, families and institutions) and to counter "never enough" messages currently circulating in our culture.

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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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