Sunday, January 22, 2012

Changing your child for the world?

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On Autism Daddy's blog yesterday was an interesting post that has created some hub-bub in our autism community. It very much reminded me of a post last year from a blogger who said if a pill to cure autism was invented, she would use it to cure her child. I wrote a post responding to that concept here. Autism Daddy's post is of a similar thread, but different fabric: He rages against the quote "I'd change the world for my child, but not my child for the world."

To be fair, our experiences with autism are different. I cannot imagine with much accuracy what its like to have child with severe autism. My son is high-functioning and (very) verbal... well verbose would be a better descriptor. haha. Trying to put myself in another autism parent's shoes is hard and I know trying to fill those shoes with my own feet of experience would be impossible.

What I can say with a fair amount of accuracy is that we've all had those moments. We have all wondered what life would be like with a neuro-typical child. We all have moments when the grass is much greener on the other side of the parenting fence. That simply is human nature.

Yet, here we all are in our difficult parenting circumstances with our kids (and maybe even ourselves) on the spectrum. He we are dealing with problems we never, ever imagined, that parents of neuro-typical kids grow out of after age four if they ever experience them and basically doing the best we can with what we have. He we are trying to raise children with autism. When that pregnancy test came back positive, I never envisioned this life. (Keep this bold statement, and all others, in your head for future reference)

I have this friend... well, sorta friend. I knew her before she was mother. Being a mother was really what she longed to be above all else. She had her child's entire future mapped out, including his personality, his likes, dislikes, his interests, his friends, his favorite color and so on. She divide up traits from her partner and self, along with all her family members applying them to her future child. In her head she envisioned who her child was going to be. She romanticized her unborn child when she pregnant, which we all do to a degree, but she was extreme.

I absolutely could not relate to her thinking at all. I knew that children are not who we want them to be, but who they are. Maya Angelou said once (and Oprah repeated it constantly) "When people show you who they are believe them". That was a lesson I learned a long time ago. When I became a parent, I lived those words. I did not want my son growing up thinking he cannot fulfill my dream for him. My dream for him is simply to be happy and to be fulfilled. How he chooses to do that is up to him.

I'm going to skip debate portion of response. Read my old post and you'll see that my feelings differ from Daddy Autism and the supporting reasons why. I don't feel the need to restate those things. What I intend is to leave you, my dear readers, with some fat to chew on. It's not my goal to change ideas, but rather offer another perspective...  by deconstructing Daddy Autism's words, delving into them and answering (most of) his questions.

Your kid sleeps less than 2 hours a night because of his autism. You wouldn't want to change that?!  

Yes, I would and I do. Sleep is an issue for autistic kids and it sucks royally as a parent because it means you don't get to sleep. The truth is is that a child with autism may not require as much sleep as other children, but both parent and child will survive it, cope with it and hopefully find a way to make sleep work. I write this on a day my son woke up before 3 am. Dude, I'm tired, but I've got a plan. 

Your kid doesn't talk because of his autism. You wouldn't want to change that?!

Chances are your child does talk, you just don't speak their language. Self-expression is an integral part of humanity, one which you cannot separate from a being unless they are brain dead. Does your child communicate like your neighbor's kid? No. Does your child have to work one million times harder to be understood? Yes. Does that devalue their self-expression? Absolutely not. If anything, it makes it carry a million times the weight of a nuero-typical person.

Would a parent give anything to make that self expression easier? Of course, but that doesn't necessarily mean changing the language. After all, I may not be able to speak Russian, but that doesn't mean it's a language that doesn't count. Growing up in a diverse community where English was a second language for most family friends, I noticed that many people assume not communicating in English means a person is not intelligent or less of a person. I've seen it with adults speaking to children with Selective Mutism. Last night, to take the point further, I watched The Kings Speech. King George VI was perceived as less than because he stuttered. And its been a stereo-type fought against in the autism community. Our society defines the inability to carry on a fluid conversation as inhuman, but if anyone knows it is not the truth, it should be us parents. As much as we teach recognizing non-verbal communication and it's importance to our children, we should be able to see and practice it ourselves.

Your kid bangs his head against the window because of the big A.  You wouldn't want to change that?!  

Do I want my son to hit himself when he's upset? Nope. Do I want a child to bang their head against the wall? Not at all. Do I want to change it? Yes. That is a work in progress. In most cases its a reaction to frustration (like not being understood when trying to communicate to another human being) or sensory overload. Sometimes it can just be a routine, since they develop so easily. But there are other coping skills to teach, just like you'd have to teach a neuro-typical child who chews their fingernails or sucks their thumb when under stress a more acceptable, healthy coping skill.

Your kid smears his feces against the walls.  You wouldn't want to change that?!  

Hey! It's art! I know, I know... but since this is "Pooping Red Guy" and poop is often the topic of conversation in my house. My son doesn't do that-- well, once when he was an infant he woke up early and used his mother's sleeping body as his canvas-- but my husband has talked about it in general when he did therapy at the elementary school. It's a theraputic issue. Yes, work on changing that. I'd definitely change that. Working on changing it until... (as Dr. Phil says. Meaning until it changes.) 

Your kid recites the same phrase from Dora The Explorer all day long.  You wouldn't want to change that?!

This one made me chuckle just a bit, not because I'm making light of the issue, but because we live in a home where repeated phrases from our favorite shows abound. It's not always the same phrase, but one from a mental library of about twenty. The same phrase can stick for weeks. We are an aspie household (and thanks to brain damage, its more apparent now). It's something we do when traditional language doesn't fit a situation. 

For my son particularly, his repetitive feature is knocking. If you watch The Big Bang Theory, you know Sheldon always knocks three times on Penny's door. My son does it on his desk. Three times, always the same rhythm. I know this means he's excited or anxious. It's self-expression for him and it helps me understand him better.

No, I don't want to change that. It's part of who we are. It's part of the way we communicate with each other. The more we recognize what we are expressing to each other the more enriching our family dynamic becomes.

Current Phrase: Mongolians, you tear down my city wall for last time! (but soon it may be Swiper, no swiping!)

Your kid is so stuck to his routine that any teeny tiny diversion and he has a meltdown.

That I do want to change because transitions and diversions are a part of life. There are a ton of strategies for dealing with this. Since I know that many, many kids with autism grow up to manage transitions in their own way, I have faith with the proper guidance (aka parenting), mine will, too.

Your kid will only eat chicken mcnuggets from McDonald's, nothing else will do.  You wouldn't want to change that?!  

Of course I would try. Yet, if Temple Grandin can survive on green J-ello and yogurt... eating chicken nuggets forever doesn't seem like end of the world. 

Now admitting that you HATE your kid's autism doesn't mean you don't LOVE your kid.  I LOVE my son.  But I HATE the disorder that he's been stricken with that will make him dependent on mom & dad for the rest of our lives and beyond.  

Warning: This part got up my nose and is a little more ranty than I wanted. 

I grew up hearing that my family hated that I was fat but loved me. You know what message I took away from that? That *I* was not good enough. That they hated who *I* was. As much as you separate your child from your child's offending condition, chances are your child does not. As a child that was just different, I'll be the first to tell you that my childhood mind did not understand that separation like my adult mind does now. How we approach our children's problem matters. What we say about it matters. How we express the negative bits matter-- regardless of the method of expression. When a kid gets the message that they are inherently flawed it changes who they are. Autistic children are not flawed as much as they work under a different set of mental parameters than neuro-typical people. They have different issues-- We ALL have issues.

I'll say it again: We all have issues. We all have things to overcome. We are all a work in progress and will be until the day we die. Sending the message to your kid that you wished they weren't born the way they were is just not cool. And since we are product of our experiences and flaws (which is an over-simplification, but I won't wax philosophical here cause this post is long enough) you could not erase your child's autism and keep their personality. It is by working with and through our defects and issues that we become the best person we can be and make a difference in the world around us. Autism does not exclude you from the human experience nor the human condition.

Do parents of kids with cancer or diabetes say that?  No, of course not those are life threatening diseases.  Do parents of blind or deaf kids say that?  I'd be curious.  Do kids with down syndrome or cerebral palsy say that?  I don't know, but I doubt it.  

In every movie, show, documentary or other forms of art about children with chronic illness there is always a moment where the child blame his or herself for their parents unhappiness with the condition. The message is *I* came into this world and ruined my parents life. They do not say *cancer* caused my parents divorce. They do not say *diabetes* made my mom cry today. They do not say my dad hates *my disability*. I'll give you a moment to digest that paragraph.

Get it? Good.

But dude, really? Cancers that children get are more often than not FATAL. (As a mom whose buried children, I'll remind you that sucks royally to hold your dead child in your arms and quickly turns another other living child problem into a blessing.) Autism is not fatal. I was taken aback by that statement. Just wow. I'm gonna give a parent of a dying child a little more leeway to be angry than a parent whose child has autism. Why? Because there's more time to deal with autism.

My niece with Cerebral Palsy went to Oxford last year as a Rhodes Scholar. She wasn't supposed to be able to speak. She wasn't supposed to be so intelligent. Her mom (who has cancer, by the way) and her dad decided to focus on her strengths and help her cope with her weaknesses. They had those its-so-not-fair-moments, too. I've had those moments. BUT, and a big but... they don't get projected and they are fleeting because... LIFE. Because he's alive. Because life is too short to grab onto the negatives with both hands. 

I don't say that I wish my child was different because I know he is a sum of his parts. (I do say I wish I could help ease his suffering during his symptomatic moments. My husband said that out-loud today and we say it directly to our boy all the time.) I don't want to devalue him. I don't want him to ever think he is not the absolute most precious thing to me in this world. He is the best thing I've ever made and being his mother is the best gift life has given me. Seeing the world through his eyes, without molding the world for him in my vision, is the most profound experience... there are no more words to finish that thought... it just is.

Changing the world for your child means all of the above in this post. It means accepting your child for they show you they are, it means recognizing the joy and fulfillment they get from lining up toys in a neat row. It means helping them rise to their challenges so they can be the best of who they are. It means parenting not the way you wanted to parent but parenting the way your child needs you to. It means understanding the world is wearing blinders or stuck in its own rigidity because the impact your child has on it and the value they add to it is goes unnoticed.

That's not just autism, but all children would actually apply to the above, huh?

Daddy Autism: Your child was put on this Earth to help you learn these lessons. You were put on this Earth to help your child grow wide in a narrow world.

If you take nothing away from this post, please absorb this list based on the bold-ed points:
  •  We cannot be in control of our all our circumstances all the time. Life throws curveballs to which we can only react. We do get to control how we react to our circumstances. 
  • We cannot dictate or decide what will make others happy and fulfilled. We can only recognize a fulfilled and happy person.
  • Through self-expression we are validated by those around us. Verbal communication is only a portion of the self-expression picture. In our culture it is the focal point, but that does not mean we are viewing the picture correctly.
  • It is our flaws that make us beautiful.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas Traditions

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I'm going to stick to my Danish roots here and say that today is Christmas enough to say "Merry Christmas". Growing up, we celebrated both days of the holiday. You had dinner and exchanged gifts on December 24th. The following morning you opened what Santa put in your stocking or under the tree or both and just had a leisurely, simple breakfast (normally some kind of pastry), at lebkucken (not me cause I don't like it), and basked in the delight of the holiday. One formal celebration, on informal. I kinda miss the tradition and feel a little lost on Christmas Eve without it.

My husband's family does not celebrate this way, but there are times when we've had Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. That really all depends on the rest of the family's schedule. The fist Christmas we spend with the my husband's family, the boy was only four, so I doubt he remembers his first three holidays. This is pretty much the only sort of celebration he knows. Sometimes it makes me sad because, as a parent, you want to share these things with your kid. You want to recreate the joy you had as kid with your kid.

The one thing I do love about my in-laws traditions? No stress. My family cannot seem to function with any measure of peace. Over the years, I came to dread certain parts of the festivities. The fights. The two days of cooking. The lack of sleep. The chaos. The who-is-not-coming-cause-they-are-mad-at-so-and-so. The you-can't-make-that-dish-that-way-so-its-easier. I can't imagine subjecting my boy to the stress that used to abound. While I miss my childhood holidays, I do not miss the beast those holidays turned into.

We do hang stockings at the grandparents house Christmas Eve... and when I say stockings, I mean the real deal. Legg's are hung on the chimney with care. It's actually a really neat and old fashioned tradition. To belay anticipation anxiety, we do let him open one gift Christmas Eve. Otherwise, he may literally explode from excitement. And I call today Christmas. 

(At this very second, the whining about opening a gift has started. Apparently, we let him open a gift at 10 am last year, so we are two hours late this year. I have no recollection of when we did last year, but an aspie never forgets. Still, I'm making him clean up his various messes before unwrapping.)

Scrap Credits

Garland Tree
Betsy Tuma Snow kissed Christmas @ two peas in a bucket
Brandy Buffington Holiday Party @ two peas in a bucket
Kelly Jo Scraps Jingle Bell Rock Collab

Kelly Jo Scraps Jingle Bell Rock Collab
Natlie Designs Merry Christmas

Betsy Tuma Snow kissed Christmas @ two peas in a bucket
Shabby Princess Holiday Sampler
Deliscious Scraps Articliscious

Kelly Jo Scraps Jingle Bell Rock Collab
Shabby Princess Holiday Magic
Natlie Designs Merry Christmas

Friday, December 23, 2011

No witty title for this one

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I am a mess. I'm not that happy Christmas kinda mess I normally am this time of year, but the  oh, crap, I forgot to buy presents, bake cookies and mail cards kinda mess. My intestines, I am told, are fabulous. That's what happens when you have surgery in the middle of December.

I've been scrapping to get into the holiday spirit. (It would really help if it wasn't 60 plus degrees outside. I feel like I need to turn on the air conditioning!) Here's a little card for everyone:

Those are my two special guys in front of the tree. The picture was taken pre-invasive-hernia-surgery. I'm glad we decorated the house before I had the procedure because it wouldn't have happened otherwise. Aren't they handsome?

Every year I take pictures of the kid in front of the tree once we are done decorating. I have nine years of a boy in his underpants, so this year was incredibly special. See that? He's wearing clothes! The best part? I didn't have to ask him, beg him, fuss with him or even prompt him. The idea of taking a picture not half naked was his very own idea!! Progress. The autsim gods are smiling upon us at the moment.

The kit I used to make this festive piece is very special. Actually, it's a kit that made me misty-eyed to be candid. There is a Danish scrap designer whose blog I frequent. Being that my mom is directly from Denmark, I'm always thrilled to run into a Dane. Designers come in all flavors from Brazilian to French, but this is the first Dane designer I've ever seen. Naturally when I think of Denmark, I feel all nostalgic, warm and fuzzy inside that makes me feel almost home-sick for some reason. Maybe because I've always enjoyed my time there and want so badly to go back. (I also get hungry-- Danish food is soooo yummy. And no, they don't eat danishes, but there hot dogs rock.)

I posted on her blog-- Nothing But Freebies -- a couple of weeks ago. The other day, I had a comment in my inbox (on another blog). She made me a Danish Christmas themed kit!! It was just about the nicest thing a stranger has done for me in as long as I can remember. Here's what she posted:

The freebie I offer today is a special freebie. It is of course for all of you but it was inspired by a comment I got the other day from Carrie from Delaware and is therefore made especially for and dedicated to her and her mother from Aalborg in northern Jutland, Denmark. The freebie contains a lot of stuff associated with a good, old fashioned, Danish Christmas. I have also included a text that means a lot to all Danes around Christmas. It is an extraction from the Book "Peter's Christmas" written in 1870 and still known to all children in Denmark. I have used the fantastic illustration from the book to make a few elements for the kit. Finally, I have helped all you non-Danish speaking friends around the world by including a small word list giving you a few of the Danish Christmas words in English.

Isn't that so sweet!! Here's the kit:

Check out the whole post and grab the kit while you can!
Isn't it lovely? All the items are familiar to me... and make me wish my mom wasn't a thousand miles a way...

I will be attempting the woven hearts tomorrow, which are ornaments made from construction paper or card stock that form little heart shaped baskets. You fill the baskets with goodies and hang them from the tree. I've  never been good at making these, but I'd love to master it enough to help the kid make some so he can learn to do something Danes do.

I am just so touched! What a nice reminder of the holiday spirit. Thank you, Trinne!!

Even if this holiday has been side track by my ovaries and small intestines and even though I'm mess... and even though my house looks like a tornado hit it, I think its going to be a very memorable Christmas! 

Now I'm gonna wipe the sweat off myself, open a window and try to get some sleep...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Something Larger than Yourself

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My kiddo, Matty, and his best friend, Sammy have been nerding out together for over a year now. I'm really quite impressed they have navigated the complicated social situations and hierarchies of neighborhood kids. I am tickled to see the two get into age appropriate trouble together, take up for each other and basically see their bond on display on a regular basis.

Sammy is a great ally for Matt, helping him work through the more aspie moments and understanding when Matty needs space. He's been the autism ambassador for Matty when other kids have asked Matty "why are you so weird?" (true story. And it's autism kids that are supposed to have no filter?).  As a mom, I can't imagine a better friend for my kid.

Remember those days of childhood? One day so and so is friend and the next you have no clue what happened but you're treated like you have the plague. Or maybe it's your aren't cool enough. Or maybe you are different. Maybe you said no to peer pressure. Maybe you saw someone doing something dangerous or wrong and spoke up. Maybe so and so's friend is jealous and starts a rumor about you. We've all been there at some point in our lives. People are mean. Social situations can feel like a battlefield when you are the enemy. Unfortunately kids that are different are often the enemy.

Navigating relationships and social situations as a NT person is not easy. If it were, shows like Jerry Springer would have never existed and Dr. Phil would be out of business. No one would get divorced and Congress would probably be an efficient governing body. No one would commit crimes because people would actually think their actions through. All the world's past and present ills would be erased. Let's face it: NT don't have the social aspect of humanity anywhere close to correct. If we did have it right, we'd be living in Utopia. Being different would be okay.

I'm always a little amazed at the social judgement by NT people. I remember once my husband came home from a kid's birthday party with the kid. Hubby was utterly devastated because other parents made fun of him for not letting our chug can after can soda at five years old. I was shocked. I couldn't believe the judgement passed by other adults just because we helped our kid moderate his behavior, which saves our whole family from sugar-caffiene-crash hell. That judgement came from our choice being different from theirs. I see nothing wrong with teaching our kid how to make healthy choices in a social situation. Cause you know, binge drinking isn't cool at parties. At the same rate, I'm not gonna judge you for letting your child consume their body weight in soda on their birthday or at a party. 

People seem to forget the old saying when you live in a glass houses shouldn't throw stones? I have met a lot of people who could really benefit from social skills training that are well outside the autism community. During a political campaign season, all you have to do is read the news or turn on the television to remind you that humans suck at social skills in general.

This subject, that people are mean to others who are different, ended up playing out in my house the other day. You see, Matty and Sammy have always been open to including new kids in their exploits, but no one has really fit. By fit, I mean no kid has ever been able to hang with the differences of Matty and Sammy in a larger group of kids. Those two always end up being social pariahs (and mostly Sammy by the default of liking and sticking up for my son). There was no third kid with (early) Musketeer ethics (cause don't the Musketeers have a falling out later in life?).

That changed a couple of weeks ago. Enter Teddy. Teddy was a quiet kid, I thought. Matty and Sammy were practically ga-ga over his skateboarding skills. There was no posturing or pretense. He is just a down to earth kid. Teddy is helping the other boys with their skateboard tricks. He just... fits. The two boys made Teddy's visits seem like Tony Hawk himself was showing up at my door.

The other day, Matty told my hubby that Teddy didn't like to speak to people. The kid explained that it wasn't because Teddy was shy or dumb, but because he has a speech impediment. I think it bothered Matty that this really cool, new friend of his didn't think of himself this way. The hubby suggested Matty share his own diagnosis because he can relate to being different.

My kid did just that. He shared with Teddy, he also encouraged Teddy. Different does equal shameful. A speech impediment doesn't mean you have less to say; It just means you have work a bit harder to say it. My kid can certainly relate to communication issues. No one had to say that Teddy has probably faced relentless ridicule by his peers and stigma by adults because of a speech impediment. We know what's its like in this house to be different.

My kid told his friend that there was no shame in being different. Matty related to his new friend in a way that not many others could. Sammy lent support. In the words of Temple Grandin's mother (which I often use myself) different is not less. Different, not less. 

Turns out Teddy has a lot to say. The shy, quiet kid blossomed in my living room. And yes, he does have a speech impediment, but that day it didn't stop him from opening up, chatting away with the boys in front of us parents. He stopped giving me one word answers and there was no silent shaking 'yes' or 'no' of the head. Teddy's whole demeanor changed as his words danced around the room.

Later, when they went outside to skate, you could hear Teddy for the first time hooting and hollering like a boy should. I didn't mind the loudness this time. That noise was a result of my boy who related to and encourage a friend, not by spotlighting sameness, but by relating and embracing differences.  My son took on the challenge of expressing his feelings and thoughts in a way that his friend completely understood. I still feel misty eyed thinking about the positive impact my kid had on his friend's life at that moment, helped a friend remember the power of his voice.

While discussing the boys love for Teddy, my hubby questioned what made Teddy so special to them. I told my husband that the logic to it is simple. Here are two boys who aren't like the other kids around them. They know it. They've been excluded. Teddy adds a piece to that-- he can relate to them. There is strength in numbers. As people, we all want to part of something larger than ourselves-- even if you have an impairment.

Yep, I'm one proud mom.

P.S. I'm sorry if I'm all over the place. For one, I'm outta practice writing. For two, I had surgery yesterday and am loving my pain meds at the moment. 

P.P.S. Later this week, I will be making a really, super exciting announcement!! So stay tuned!! I've been working hard (with the help of some friends) to bring our autism community something really special.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Children of Autism in the Military: An American Fail

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That's right. I said FAIL. 

One would think that the military in this country would be leading the charge to serve children with autism because their parents do so much for our country. Like sacrificing lives and such? Their families move around all the time without complaint, they lose a parent to deployment over and over again, and are giving of themselves in countless ways us civilian people would say 'oh hell no' to.

I have a girlfriend who spent her summer so excited about her husband being stationed state-side, only for the fall surprise that the military changed their minds. Not only did the family have move to another country, they lost all her furniture, too. She spent months living out of a suitcase, pregnant, alone with two small kids. I think she's one of the bravest, most adventurous women I know.

Could you imagine doing that with a child on the spectrum? One word: Hell.

This morning, Diary of a Mom's blog made a heart felt plea. Contrary to what we civies think, the military is redefining the word 'under-served' for the autism community. It's inspired me to post this, before I've had even one cup of coffee this morning (so if it seems like there are more typos and word omissions than usual, you know why) and meant putting aside the other brilliant post I was working on for you. I am utterly outraged at this under-service.

Did you know only one in eighty-eight children  receive valuable interventions for autism if their parents are in the military? Again, that's 1 child and 1 family getting the needed help, support and therapies out of 88. It's... it's... UNACCEPTABLE. These children didn't sign up for substandard care and they didn't sign up for the Armed Services. The fact they are in military families without choice comes with a certain expectation: That our government will support them because their parents are supporting us.

We have all failed. It isn't just the military, it's us. We've allowed this to happen by not speaking up. The good news is that it's not to late to fix it. With ONE CLICK, you can make a difference by asking our leaders to support the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act- H.R. 2288. You can let your congress-person know you want this travesty corrected.

This click is brought to you by the tireless work of a mom and Army wife: Rachel Kenyon. Her dedication brings us the ability to speak out, speak up and help our fellow autism parents who also happen to be actively serving our country. It takes no time at all. I did it in between sips of coffee. Rachel doesn't believe the cavalry is coming for her cause, but I say it is now on it's way. Get on your horses, moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandparents and all! Let's be known as a formidable force in Washington, D.C. (I know my congressman must see my emails and think 'it's this chick again... just give her what she wants')

When you are done emailing your congress people, consider another holiday gift for our brave military families by donating time or money HERE. Your gift will keep military parents from drowning in therapy bills and provide for their immediate needs. Let's face it, bills are slow to pass and our politicians are confused at the moment. Our personal donations make a difference here and now while we wait for the rest to follow. 

One more thing: When you are done all that good stuff. Share those links on your favorite social media sites. Spread the word, change a life.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Holiday Scrap

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I have spent a relaxing evening scrapping while the hubby took care of dinner. I used a photo my sis in law took of my inlaws on Thanksgiving. I used Shabby Princess's Harvest. Plentiful and Dinner Party kids (all are free to download).

I also made a Christmas background for my computer using a kit I fell in love with from Natlai Design:

Happy Scrapping, everyone!

Friday, December 2, 2011

No matter how it's packaged, hate is still hate

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I've been called a lot of things by a lot of people in my lifetime, but this past week marks the first time I've ever been called 'racist'. I've had a particular fellow call me racist over a hundred times, actually. Sure, I've had some not so nice words hurled at me in passing, but being called racist for agreeing with someone on the issues that many black people have to still deal with in this day and age? Well, it was mind blowing.

I'm not even sure how I got sucked into the conversation. The only thing that I can think is the particular person who spent more than his allotted 140 characters on Twitter doing so engages in this behavior for the sake of publicity. I would imagine he mines Twitter for hashtages, like #tcot (a conservative tag) for people to debate. I use the term loosely because a debate implies reciprocity and arguing facts, neither is something this tweeter believes in. For the sake of simplicity and as not to satisfy his craving for attention, I will refer to him as Mr. C.  

I've always been of the mindset that unless you talk about these icky, tough subjects, people will continue to face discrimination. The Tea Party has made speaking negatively about race in code socially acceptable. We've gone from an open dialogue to no dialogue at all simply because we have a black president. The key to undermining non-whites it to not talk about the problems and injustices they face. Therefore, I'm always willing to discuss the topic.

Truth be told, I was very happy to join in what I thought would be stimulating conversation. I was looking forward to learning new points of view, mental enrichment and the chance to talk about something that matters (besides my kid and husband). Others in the conversation seemed to be really ganging up on Mr. C, which I felt bad for. I did not let them influence my opinion of him.

Mr. C happens to have a blog and a Ustream broadcast, which I happily perused. I found him an articulate, compelling writer. He makes a lot of very valid and important points about racism. His appeared to have good insight into the problems his culture is facing internally and externally. I was jazzed to get to pick his brain, listen to his thoughts and share mine with him.

I was warned by one in the conversation, a conservative, that Mr. C would do nothing but attack me. I laughed that off. Surely a man like Mr. C is compelled to have intelligent conversations. Surely his arguments and points stood on their own merits. A person like him doesn't need to stoop to insults in order to prove his point.

The others in the conversation that agreed with the conservative of the group, I thought, may be ultra conservatives as well. I think I stated something along the lines that I was a big girl and would form my own opinions; I don't feel I need to be liked by someone to agree with them.

Now, I'm not sure whether to show you how the conversation transpired or describe the craziness to you. All I know is that I have never in all my years encountered anything like it and I spent years being the only white person in the room.

Maybe I'll do both. I'm renaming the those in the conversation and putting my thoughts in italics. Here goes:

Mr. B: just wait until Mr. C goes off on him then redguy may change his tune!

Me: BTW, I'm a girl (cause we all know Pooping Red Guy is my blog and also an action figure).

Mr. C: Pooping Red "GUY" is a girl? How damn DUMB is that? (not a very grown up way to start a conversation with someone you've talked to, but I let it ride. I thought perhaps it was humor at my absurd screen name.)

(Now I'm not really good at looking back at old tweets, so I can't pull up the entire conversation. Somehow we stumbled onto racial division. I'm all for maintaining cultural identity, but I also am for diversity. I know the two can be achieved simultaneously. That's a good thing, too, because we can share our cultures with others so that we learn from one another. Also, we can enjoy what those cultures have to offer. It's a win-win.)

One thing that irritates me to no end (and I've heard over and over again from many black people) is when a white person says "I'm not a racists because I have some black friends". It's not a statement that screams "not racist". You are immediately identifying your black friends as black, and not just as your friends. I don't say "I'm not a homopbobe because I have some gay friends" and a man can't say "I'm not a misogynist because I have some women friends". By making those sort of statements you pigeon holing your friends by race, gender and sexual preference with is very much the founding idea in any sort of bigotry. I really wish white people would stop saying they can't be racists because they have black friends. I have actually known racist people who have black friends... the argument holds no water.

Me:  By saying "my kid has a black friend" you are immediately dividing people by race.

Mr. B:  race was divided in the country when the white man stole country from the native Americans! (this is a good point, but just because something was or is doesn't mean it should be or is okay)

Me: it's fine to keep it divided?

Mr. C: And yes Racists should be "divided" from the Blacks that they seek to destroy. (taking this at face value, it seems like a reasonable, understandable sentiment. personally, I'd be happy if we could take racists out of the equation because they are so hateful and hurtful. I'm not sure it's the answer to ending racism, though, nor is it logistically possible.)

Now the conversation goes on in a dizzying kind pace and since Mr. C goes over his 140 character allotment, there's a lot of new windows opening up. In any care, Mr. R (another participant), asks me an interesting question. 

Mr. R: You eat yet? You seem dumber today. Is poop a racist?

I can't find my response, but I said something to effect that I can't judge that since racism is more about the perception of the person's ideas and actions. I've never been called racist, but that if I was than it could be the case. If so, I'd have to re-evaluate my actions. The point was missed as Mr. C interpreted this differently than it was meant.

Mr C: Come on Racist NUT Mr. R. Did you really think this Racist Poop was sincere about not being a Racist and not realizing you were? "My[Racist] kid has a Black friend..." do you know how fucking DUMB that is?

The funny part part is that a) I never said I was racists and b) I hadn't heard enough from any of these folks to determine any overt racism. It should be noted that I really don't understand what Mr. C is trying to convey here. I also find it sad that he's now implied a small child is racist. The kid can't be more than 4 or 5 years old...

I ignored the comment. I became quite clear that my hopes of intelligent, thought provoking, enriching conversation with Mr. C were woefully dashed. I found the others were much better conversationalists and my only chance for any meaningful banter on the topic. There are two people I haven't mentioned yet, but were also late comers in thread: Mr. A, a college student, and Mr. G, an artist, father, philosopher. Some others were in and out of the thread, but not nearly as memorable as Mr. B, Mr. R, Mr. A, and Mr. G (in order of appearance).

Unfortunately, Mr. C spent the remainder of the conversation calling the white speakers racist and the black speakers sell outs. Mind you, this conversation started November 27th and is still going on (it's December 2nd). The real substance of the discussion has come from unexpected sources, for which I am grateful to have made new friends that I can disagree with and then joke around with, while also learning something.

I admit to teasing and egging Mr. C on. It's frankly an exercise in human behavior to see how he reacts to a variety of statements. I imagine that's what the others do, too. It's like watching a train crash over and over again. I do find it sad that this poor man has so much hatred spewing out of him. No one should have to carry that burden. I imagine he's had some pretty whacked up experiences  to have become the man he is today.

I also suspect he has some sort of personality disorder. When I unfollowed him because I was tired of hate speech flooding my Twitter time line, he initiated conversation with me (saying he won an argument we weren't having) and then followed me. That typically doesn't happen when someone doesn't like you and thinks you are racist. It's simply not normal behavior.

For instance, take this tweet I made this morning:

Anger is painful and shortens your life. No one deserves to live with such a rage inside of them &limits them from connecting w/ fellow man

Then he replies to it to say:

Racist insults about Black "anger" make you feel better but it doesn't make an argument. Suggesting that I'm "angry" that you're a Racist won't help you win the argument. Remember your happiness is based on your "winning" so why not get on the right side of the issue and STOP BEING RACIST so you can win? I'm not "angry" because your DUMB White Racist ass can't argue your way out of a paper bag, I'm disappointed that you aren't more of a foe.

Words can't express how sad his response is... for one, he apparently never read anything I've written in the days long conversation (I said I'd rather be happy than win), secondly, when I've agreed with him, he argued with me and called me names and thirdly if I'm such an evil racist and his foe, why on earth is bothering with me? I could say the sky is blue and that would make me racist for not seeing a green sky that is blue. It's just silly.

I made this for Mr. C & sent it to him. Maybe he can sleep better now?

I'm adding the sidebar that I won't be surprised if Mr. C goes ballistic because I didn't use his name in this post. I also predict he'll read it and call bring out the racist nut bit, perhaps even using retaliatory measures. If any of this comes to fruition, I will add it here. I've got my popcorn...   do you?