Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's important to be happy with yourself

There I was, getting all upset about a conversation on Facebook, when it hit me: I just have to be happy with myself, my family, and the way I'm raising MY children.  That's it.  I looked at my children, who were playing on the back porch swing, watching a squirrel build a nest in a tree next to the house and I was utterly thrilled with my life.

Jason and I put a lot of time and effort into raising our children to be happy, loved, well-behaved, and responsible.  And so far, they are fantastic kids.  Granted, I may be a bit biased, but I truly believe it.  They are strong and healthy, with wonderful moral values already.  Patrick told me that he'd heard about the earthquake in Haiti when he was in school, and said "I have three twenty dollars from my allowance.  Maybe we can send that to Haiti."  He's been saving that money for months but as soon as he heard about people who needed it, his first instinct was to help them because he knew they needed it more than he did.  And so we did.  I can't even begin to tell you how proud I was of his decision.

He is six.  Just six, and yet he already knew that you have a responsibility to help others when you can.  I like to think that we have instilled that value in him by demonstrating that we do so also.

We know some people who look at Melkamu as exotic, who use him to claim that their children "have black friends." Like he is supposed to show that they are well-rounded and not stuck in a narrow little slice of the world.  As a rule, we've stepped back from those people.  My child will not be used to show that you are "colorblind".  My child will not be used so that you can say "Oh, we don't care about color.  My son has a friend who is black!"  He is a beautiful, smart, loving, happy child in his own right.  He will NOT be used to show your "acceptance" of others.

To me, these are symptoms of the same problem: that people isolate themselves with those who share their own views.  The only people they know are people with whom they share commonalities of race, socioeconomic class, and/or religion. They do not stretch themselves to know others who come from different backgrounds.  As a result, they believe that everyone has the same advantages, the same opportunities that they did.  And they then believe that people who are struggling are there because they just didn't try hard enough, didn't work hard enough.  It makes me truly sad to know that I personally know people with these views, because they don't see the problems themselves and aren't willing to consider the fact that there might be people who, due to the circumstances into which they were born or those that they can't control, DON'T have the opportunity to help themselves back up.

I went to an inner-city high school.  White students were in the minority.  There were a lot of drugs around, though we used to joke that our students couldn't afford them, so they just sold them to the students in the mostly-middle-class, mostly-white, high schools nearby (in retrospect, it's clearly not funny but a 17-year-old has a different view of what's funny).  As a result of being in that environment, I learned to get out of the comfort zone into which I'd been placed while going to an all-white private Jewish elementary school.  I had no choice, and it was one of the best things for me.  I could genuinely claim friends of many races.  I could genuinely claim friends of different religions.  I could genuinely claim friends of different economic backgrounds.

I hope that Jason and I are instilling that in our children.  I believe we are.  My children's friends are black, white, Indian, Hispanic, and Asian.  They have friends with more money than we do, and friends with less money than we do.  They have friends with two-mom households.  They have friends with traditional families, and many friends with adoptive families.

When I dropped off my kids at daycare today, Patrick (who is on spring break) was immediately welcomed by two girls in his class--one Hispanic and one Indian.  He then went to play with some other friends, both of whom are black.  Melkamu hugged his favorite boy in the class, who is white, and his favorite girl in the class, who is black.

And so I leave this post, not trying to brag on how well-adjusted my kids are and therefore how poorly-adjusted the kids of these other families are, but with a hope that the parents of those other families will stretch themselves, come out of their comfort zones and reach out to others who come from different backgrounds.  And that they will do it with only a sense of wanting to meet others, to expand their worlds, not with the ideas of changing their religions or using people as ways they can show how "accepting" they are.  Their kids will benefit tremendously.

2 comments:

Live from the South said...

Erin,

We're both lucky to have the types of experiences we've had. I first taught at a school that was over 40% English Language Learners. These children represented over 100 different countries and languages. One of my strongest memories was seeing 3 little girls playing on the playground, holding hands and running down the hill. They were Korean, African, and Caucasian. Placing a human face on the name of poverty, abuse, and struggle, and comprehending just how lucky I was compared to most of the world, was a gift. And yes, your children are wonderful. Both Kamu and Patrick gave an egg to Griffin, and I think they did this on their own. Keep up the good work!

stephanie said...

Um, have you been swirling around in my brain today? Unbelievable how much I've thought about today is right here in this post. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must stand to give you an ovation.

I'm happy to know you.