April 12, 2017

An Unexpected Inspiration

We have all done things we wanted to do, but that put us outside our comfort zone. Often these experiences change us in ways we could not have imagined. I had such an experience this past summer when I attended a language camp. I knew no one and had no understanding of the language I was set to learn.

I was approaching my senior year and was sorely lacking in language credits. I had taken French my Freshman year and began a class my Junior year, but I could not seem to wrap my mind and tongue around the language.  It is not that I didn’t care about learning a language. I wanted to learn a language and needed to for my chosen career path. So I did something drastic. I found the most opposite yet interesting language I could think of and signed up for a four-week, no-outside-world language immersion camp in Minnesota. The language I chose was Russian.

At camp, I was assigned to a cabin with nine other girls I had never met before. Not knowing what to expect, I began to get to know them. Seven of the nine girls whom I lived with were adopted at a young age from Russia and were at camp to regain a language they had lost. My family experience was dramatically different from my new friends. I have always had a family and a home in which to live. One girl in my cabin watched her mother hang herself at age five and was put in an orphanage along with her brother when their father was jailed. She did not remember much about her life at the orphanage except that when she didn’t obey, her head was held under water. As I came to know these girls and their experiences, I realized I needed to do something.

I returned home after those four weeks with different plans and perspectives. After becoming familiar with the people behind the stories, I decided that if I could help even one child through a similar experience, I would. I have decided that when I am ready to take care of a child of my own, I will be adopting, preferably from Russia, but until then there is still much I can do. I enjoy studying Russian, so when I returned I enrolled in a dual credit Russian class at the University of Texas at Arlington. By fate or coincidence, my Russian teacher had co-founded an organization called Allies in Youth Development years ago. Allies’ goal is to help and encourage orphans in Russia by sending supplies and by fostering a relationship between the orphans and college students local to the region. I have attended fundraisers, am planning one of my own, sponsored a child, and am trying to work out a way to visit Russia and the orphanages with Allies.

I knew, going to camp, that I would learn a language, but I never expected it to change my life. And without a doubt, that is what it did. My life plans have changed in an astonishing way. I am not just taking a language class; I am helping to change lives.

December 4, 2016

I Don't Want Children, And That's OK

“The expectation is that they will marry and have children,” explains Sue Fagalde Lick, author of Childless by Marriage. “If they don’t, everyone wants to know what’s wrong with them.” 

Today at church we had a 'baby dedication ceremony'. Basically, anyone who has had a kid in the past 365 days stands on stage and is told how important their role as parent and teacher is while everyone in the audience oohs and ahhs over their squishy faces. People make jokes about "That will be you one day!" and "I can't wait to be a parent!". It's great and encouraging.

      But I don't get it.

I just don't understand. When I see little kids, I think they are adorable, but I mainly want them to be kept away from me. When I looked at the stage full of parents and children this morning, I didn't see my future. I saw burden and mess and lost freedom. Don't get me wrong; children are a beautiful thing and I know that they are blessings to many. They just aren't for me. Of course, I've thought about how I might parent or what I might choose to name a child, but these are largely thought experiments. The idea of being pregnant is repulsive and the idea of having to care for a child oppressive, no matter what stage of my life I frame the picture in (not to even mention the litany of health challenges and genetic counseling my partner and I would have to go through). I know many women do not share this opinion, but that is the point. There is no uniform view on motherhood and children that can be assigned to a person simply because of their gender. 

This perspective tends to make normal interactions... interesting. During Bible studies, lessons are impacted down to 'how such and such will affect your future husband and children,' or people show me baby gifs and I go 'meh, I guess that's cute'. The list goes on: 'You are going to be such a wonderful mother one day!' 'Would you really want him to be the father of your children?' 'How will you balance such a demanding career with raising your kids?' (mind you, I have neither the career nor the children presently, which makes this particular question all the more puzzling). These assumptions that I will/want to/ought to be a mother simply because I am a woman are frustrating and we ought to work to eradicate them. More toxic, however, are the responses I receive when I reply 'no, not really,' to the much-dreaded children question. I am told to 'just wait' or maybe given a smile and nod combination that seem to say 'ahhh suuuure you don't want children'. Or my personal favorite: 'then what will you do?' which points to the underlying assumption: that somehow, becoming a parent will 'fill' me or give me some long lost purpose. 

I know that my purpose is not to be a mother. I just know. Perhaps one day I'll be in a situation where I decide to adopt a child who needs me, and I will love them and teach them to the best of my ability. But it wouldn't be to complete my main mission. It would be to help someone else who needs me. Important and worthwhile, sure. But not my 'calling'. 

I am perfectly at ease with this fact. But society isn't. A study in 2012 concluded that "Motherhood is so highly connected with adult femininity in the United States that many women feel that they need to be mothers." Kelly Flynn wrote a poignant letter in which she summarized the judgment she felt: "The unasked question hangs in the air: 'You don’t have children because — —?' The implication is that if I chose a life without children, I am cold. If I can’t have children, I am to be pitied." Women across the country have faced this reality, regardless of whether their child-free state was an intentional decision. When I tell people in all seriousness that I don't want children, they "want to know what’s wrong with" me. The answer is, of course, nothing, but this consistent pressure is what made me sit in church this morning and wonder "what if something really is wrong with me, what if I really am broken?" 

We need to stop. We need to halt our assumptions, get to know people's hopes and plans before talking about their 'future children'. Such assumptions are inaccurate and damaging. We must likewise halt our judgments. Childless women are not inherently cold, no more than childless men are. 

If a woman ever tells you that she doesn't like kids or doesn't plan to have any, don't tell her that she'll change her mind 'one day!'. Don't even ask her why.   
Just say 'cool', make note, and move on. 

July 8, 2016

Racial Anger and Dallas

I live near Dallas. I was in sight of downtown today. This is my home, and I am angry.

Before I continue, you should know a couple things:

  1. I am not debating nor wanting to debate the validity anger surrounding police shootings. I know that in most of these situations both the cop and the victim's loved ones believe they did/were doing the right thing in the moment. Debating the validity does not solve problems and it does not mean the anger goes away, so frankly it is pointless.
  2. There are times where I will be generalizing. I totally know that each individual handle anger differently and so many in Dallas tonight were peacefully managing and trying to solve their anger. This post supports the actions oof those people. 
  3. Context:11 Police Officers Shot in Dallas

So, I am angry. African Americans are angry. There is plenty of anger to go around tonight on all sides for so many different reasons. I am here to tell everyone feeling anger and frustration and sadness over this event one thing: Angry is ok. It is even good. It tells us something is wrong either in reality or in perception. 

So, I am angry. You are angry. And it's ok. What's next? I have created a three-step process to managing pain and emotions in order to help myself and my family:
1) Recognise that you are feeling anger. You can fix what you don't know.
2) Figure out why you are angry. For example: is it because cops in your city were shot from rooftops? Is it because there is a pattern of racially based decisions regarding threat validity? Is it because these shootings have not received as much air time or interest as Trump's recent gaffe or TayTay's new beau? You can't address the feeling when you don't know the core cause.
3) Fix it. 

But how do we fix it? By breaking the cycle. Conflicts, history, and the seasons are all naturally cyclical. In police brutality the cycle looks like this (it's a circle y'all, but Blogger doesn't let me make bullet lists in the shape of one ;P): 
  •  Media reports 'unarmed black man shot by police' remember, the validity of what actually happened doesn't really matter much to us. We still feel angry, so there is something that needs to be fixed (in another situation I might suggest that what 'needs to be fixed' is actually our perception, but because this issue is so subjective and widespread that while the problem might no be as severe as some see we have to all agree that there is a pattern of racially based decisions regarding threat validity.)
  • Protests occur many even most will be peaceful.
  • Headlines change from 'protests occurring' to 'riots' a riot only has to happen in one city to create this change, and the reality is that the one violent activity will likely be perpetrated by African Americans.
  • Police tense and more on guard depending on the size of the event this could affect one city or even the nation. Dallas will affect the whole nation.
  • An officer pulls over or encounters an African American and for some reason identifies a potential threat most officers that cause headline ABSOLUTELY have some suspicion regarding the victim's action.  
  • The officer instantaneously and subconsciously has to conduct a threat validity assessment what this means is that an officer has to evaluate the likelihood of this suspicion being a life-threatening reality. What this means is that the tensions and worries about the one fringe riot likely play a key part it that evaluation. The officer's subconscious is going 'my friend's storefront was ravaged by the Fergeson riots' or '11 of my fellow officers were shot down trying to protect protests by violent protesters. I AM NOT EXCUSING THEIR DECISIONS. In order to fix we need to know why and how. We absolutely need fair reviews of such shootings. 
  • BONUS: No conviction or repercussions fuels more protests

The take-away should be that anger directed toward individual officers are misguided. Direct anger toward the system instead. Step 3 was 'fix it'. The only way to fix this problem is to break the above cycle. The two points in the circle we can best address is the 'riot' and the actual 'shooting'. Here are real, reasonable ways to begin to break the circle at those points:

  1. Very clearly condemning ANY violence. This is often done after the fact, but it goes further than that. Stop telling jokes about it. Tell people around you that you will leave if they joke about it. This applies to cop killing/violence, looting, jokes about the shooting of unarmed individuals, etc. 
  2. Police oversight. I am a big supporter of body cameras for police. These cameras are PROVEN to reduce the use of violence used by officers (due to increased consciousness regarding decisions to use violent means) and reduce violence against and agitation of officers. Body cams really do help both sides. Additionally, if a shooting does occur we have the ability to review footage of the FULL incident. If we had such footage of the Ferguson catastrophe it would have changed the whole narrative.

"It's not us vs them. This peaceful protest is about all of us coming together to solve problems." -A peaceful protester who witnessed the shooting of 11 officers in Dallas this evening; he was interviewed by Fox News because apparently I don't get CNN anymore.

February 24, 2016

Allergic Child Met With Applause

This whole situation is tragic. 

The poor child had no control of the situation, yet was met with applause when forced to leave (a prospect I worry about every time I fly). Obviously these people weren't trying to be cruel. They were happy their plane could finally leave. But they were not considering a single human being other than themselves. 

As someone who has had food allergies her entire life, I KNOW people can be flat out cruel when you request them to change something small in order to avoid an allergen: from PTA intentionally bringing nut muffins because they were so annoyed that you bothered them with 'your problems', to people who understand just what 'life threatening allergy' means yet still telling you that it's wayy to much to request students wash their hands after eating pb&js. This list could go on. 

Many are just uninformed, some simply don't care about you (like the individuals in this article), and others are honestly trying to spite you. It doesn't really matter what category you fall under. As a decent human being it is your duty to help others avoid a situation where they could possibly DIE

I'm an adult. I don't expect you to change your eating habits for me. I've had 18 years to figure out how to navigate the world without your help (sometimes that might even include the decision to avoid you). But a /child/ doesn't have that experience or maturity. Often they can't cut you out. How much is it, really, to put away the bowl of nuts when a parent concerned for their child's life asks? Or, if you know that so-and-so will be at the banquet, to keep the labels on the cookies you bought at the bakery? 

Be conscious of those around you. Do the right thing. Be a decent human. 

Thanks to all the awesome humans who have helped me stay alive year-to-year 😊💖

February 10, 2016

On Bernie Sanders

I'm listening to Bernie Sanders' victory speech and I agree with 80-90% of what he is saying. The reason he appeals to my generation so strongly is because he correctly identifies and is passionate about solving the problems that are so glaring to those of us who have to live in the future. Later, when there is a transcript published I'll make a list in the comments.
Additionally, he is so authentic about his beliefs in a time when politics is fraught with issue, reality, and honesty-avoiding in favor of keeping their seats and privileges. Listening to him makes me WANT to want to vote for him (no, that's not a typo). Those who have judged or competed in debate will understand this phenomenon.
However, as a debater, I also understand that we must step back, away from the charisma, away from his passionate honesty and look at his proposals and their consequences on a spreadsheet scrubbed of our own wants. When I do this, I see that the socialist proposals of Bernie would not fix the very real problems he, and I, see. The way to fix those problems is not to raise tax rates or pay for college tuition but to cut out loopholes and encourage a higher teaching standard with fewer full-time-non-teaching-7-figure-making positions (this could be achieved by slowing and simplifying the insane college admissions process).
As much as I want to want Sanders as an ideologue who believes in the same future that I do, I can't let myself. Because his policies won't bring about that future that I look forward to being a part of.
Unfortunately, I don't think many republican candidates believe in the future and can clearly see the problems enough to put away their partisan bickering and their hawkish protection of their seats. So, this is the struggle we are presented with this election. Those who vote for Bernie are not stupid. They believe too much to LOOK. And I admire their belief in and desire for a future to love and be proud of.