On Diversity

tnraj

A friend left a comment on my recent post about raising boys and it got me thinking. This friend’s child has multiple special needs and is confined to a wheelchair. In the comment, she suggested that exposing children to diversity (not just in concept) contributes to compassion. Most of the children who have grown up around her son are empathetic and kind with him.

A transgendered friend has also shared with me that the kids she grew up with from early childhood were always accepting. She began to have problems when she changed schools as a teen and encountered kids who were unfamiliar with her gender identification.

When I consider diversity, race is usually the first thing on my mind. When I was first visiting pre-schools, I always looked around and counted the number of brown faces I saw, putting it into my mental filing cabinet. My friend’s comment reminded me that diversity goes way beyond race. Parents of children with special needs offer something of great value to any school or community.

Sometimes the rabid competition to get into good schools in Los Angeles can prompt me to think in a conformist way and try to portray my family as something more mainstream than we truly are. I want to always remember that our strength is in difference. That is where we shine.

A Very Tango Christmas

I’m squinting at the screen through puffy eyes and a bad hotel coffee headache, overlooking the marina at Shelter Island in San Diego. For my Christmas present, Scott not only bought me new sparkly red tango shoes, he also sent me out of town for the weekend to dance in them. I’m rooming with my tango guru Jamie Rose and in between hours upon hours of dancing a day, we’ve been eating Godiva chocolates, taking baths and listening to Deepak Chopra meditations (I know, moms, please don’t hate me). I can’t believe that a mere few days ago I was in full-tilt Christmasville. It’s a different world.

On Christmas morning, I made epic latkes and we had T’s aunties over for breakfast. The day was an explosion of robot godzillas and mechanical zombie bugs and dance parties on the bed. Later, we watched Nightmare Before Christmas (T’s choice), ate Chinese food and had a massive meltdown, but nothing unexpected. Two days later I still felt hungover as I left a house littered with the aftermath- fire hazard Christmas tree needles ground into the carpet, discarded ribbons intertwined with the dust bunnies in the corner of the living room, toys with no place to go living on top of the coffee table.

A side note: if you’re looking to make latkes, I highly recommend Tina Wasserman’s tutorial. She has some handy tricks. My latkes were the best ever (just look at ’em). Scott kind of has a crush on Tina. I know this because he watched 20 minutes of youtube latke tips with me and there is no other possible explanation.

I nearly had an anxiety attack from the guilt as I was packing for San Diego. I’ve gone out of town plenty of times for work, but I’ve never left T for the weekend for fun. Scott reassured me that I would almost certainly find a way to make the weekend into work, seeing as I don’t really do fun all that well. Or rather I don’t really do anything all that well if I’m not writing about it. I feel unmoored if I don’t have a secret purpose in any given scenario- a reason to take constant notes in my head.

Tango is actually a great remedy for this. Even if I do run back to my room and journal about my experiences after class, I can’t (as I often do elsewhere in life) write in my head as I’m dancing. Tango takes a tremendous amount of focus. You can’t be anywhere else but in your body or you’ll step all over your partner and dance like Frankenstein. I danced with an interesting mathematician yesterday, who told me that tango’s biggest gift to him was that it gives him a space in his life that he’s more than just a big walking, talking brain- he actually has a body.

As the New Year approaches, I’m reflecting on my hopes and goals for 2013. I always try to avoid New Year’s resolutions, because they seem to be just another big stick to beat myself with- a list of all the ways I can’t stand myself. But this seems a worthy goal: to spend more time fully in my body instead of stuck in my brain chatter. Back to it!

Hanukkah Mama Goes to Church

We’ve been reading a great book with T called Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, about being in an interfaith family. I highly recommend it. It gave me the idea of eating latkes for Christmas breakfast (yum). The book has actually inspired me to try to come up with some tradition blending of our own, and we’ve been having a blast sprinkling Hanukkah gelt in the Christmas stockings and going on a hunt for the latke food truck on our way to see Santa.

We’ve also been going to church lately. We’ve been hopping around, trying out a few different churches, seeing if there’s a place we feel we fit in- weird, interfaith, transracial, looking-kind-of-like-a-boho-biker-gang family that we are. Strangely, finding a church we like is more important to Hanukkah Mama than it is to Daddy Christmas. I loved the rituals and traditions of temple growing up and I feel compelled to offer my son a similar experience. It doesn’t really matter to me whether it’s temple or church, it just matters that it feels like home and gives him a shared experience of the sacred. My belief in the importance of offering T a racially diverse community whenever possible leads me to lean toward church.

I had a very personal and present relationship with God as a child. I think that relationship made me good at being alone. I always had this other thing- a light behind me, a hand to steady me- that kept me from being lonely. Some people naturally gravitate toward a dialogue with God. Some people don’t need it, don’t want it, don’t believe it. I’ve always been able to see it from both sides and they both make sense to me. But me, I have the God impulse. I don’t expect to necessarily ever find a satisfactory answer, but I’ve resigned myself to the search anyway.

Scott, on the other hand, couldn’t stand church as a kid. Church was the place that he got stuffed into a suit and made to sit still to make his grandfather happy. It was a place of discomfort and obligation. But he’s being a champ about the whole church thing. We’ve been having a nice time getting up on Sundays and getting a little bit dressed up (which T loves to do- he’s a dapper little dude by nature), going to church and then going out to brunch with friends. It’s becoming a sweet ritual in our week.

It’s not enough for me to talk to God in my bedroom alone; I want to share the experience. And I’m just gonna say it- it’s all the same thing. Temple, church- whatever. It’s a place to feel a part of the human race in a way that transcends the constant brain chatter, a place to stand together and sing together and remember that we belong to each other.

Happy holidays from Hanukkah Mama, Daddy Christmas and T, just T, who gets to be whatever he wants to be!

Giants Eat Pancakes

The other day we took T to LACMA to gaze at his beloved Metropolis 2, and to visit the Tar Pits (which he insists on visiting, only to run away screaming, STINKY! STINKY!) and the strangest thing happened: he wanted to see the art. Until now, LACMA trips have mostly involved trying to convince him to not hide and scare people in the mammoth Richard Serra sculpture.

For some reason, T wanted to take the Jenny Holtzer elevator to the third floor and actually get off, rather than just ride up and down sixteen times. He was utterly enchanted with the Robert Therrien sculptures we found there. As only T can, he threw his arms up and danced with glee at each new abstract form, declaring them WORMS! or A BIG ENORMOUS HUGE HAT! or A ROCKET! He had equally compelling observations about the more representational work. I’m tempted to write the artist and let him know that he should consider re-titling the above piece, Giants Eat Pancakes.

The experience reminded me of wandering the galleries of the Met with my father as a child. Those afternoons were so full of wonder. I sometimes bemoan the fact that it’s unusual for art to truly transform my world the way it did when I was younger. It happens, just not often. But watching T’s joyous response completely rocked the ground under my feet. I’ll never again be an eight-year-old frozen in front of a Jackson Pollock, or a fourteen-year-old, having my brain cracked open by Louise Bourgeois, but I can borrow my son’s eyes. Who knows what crazy magic I’ll find.


(a big enormous huge hat- of course)