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9 months ago

1474 words

Photo: My pin collection is growing! I received the typewriter and coffee pins from my dear church mentee today! They are adorable! My pins live on my knitting project bag, which holds them well. Sailor Moon comes from Adorned by Chi.  Beyonce and Black Girl Magic came from Effie’s Paper.

 

I spent my Tuesday afternoon as a tour guide at the boys’ school. It’s choice time again, with parents of incoming kindergarteners touring schools before ranking them and losing lots of sleep hoping their they get into their top choice school. Readers who have been with me for a long time will remember the thoughtful, yet exhausting saga of visiting all the schools, making a choice, then waiting until we heard that we got into the school we wanted and we got full-day kindergarten.

The worst part about the process was not knowing any other mothers of color in town and therefore not having anyone to talk to and compare schools with. I really wanted to get some specific information about how each school treats the children of color, especially the boys of color. I had to hone my questions, pay very close attention to language and presence while on my visits. Eventually, I walked into our first choice school and felt like I’d landed at the best choice I could find under the circumstances. I took a chance, but it has really turned out well for us. The boys love their school, the staff knows them and knows me well, and we’re having a fantastic experience.

So when the time came to volunteer for something this school year, I jumped at the chance to be a Kindergarten tour guide. Not just because I wanted to sing the praises of our school in person, but because I wanted to be present for even that one mom of color who needs someone they can trust sensitive questions with. I’ll never, ever forget how impossibly uncomfortable and adrift I felt during my process. Even if I only end up talking to one mom over the entirety of the tours, it will be worth it.

All dressed up, walking around with a group of seven parents and the parent coordinator for our school, my mind immediately went back to my old days as a charter school teacher. I remember what it’s like to walk into rooms to observe, trying not to distract students, keeping my eyes on the walls and on their work, but ears focused on the lessons given. I remember the pride I felt about the teaching and learning we were doing at my old school, and a bit of that returned as we walked around this elementary school that I chose for my sons.

But the differences…

We walked into a fourth grade classroom that was just settling in for a mini-lesson on secondary characters in fictional works. They were reading Because of Winn-Dixie and were using the book to break down the more sophisticated elements of fiction. Kids were on the rug, some on their bellies taking notes, others sitting cross-legged. They were attentive, making insightful observations, casually conversing with the teacher and their peers. The teacher was clearly putting on a show for the guests in the room (we all do it. I remember doing it), but you could tell that her lesson was tight and she knew what she was doing. The students wore everything from posh outfits with expensive brand labels prominently shown to sweatpants and Patriots gear, girly dresses with leggings and uggs… a majority of the boys were wearing hats.

It’s a silly thing to notice, but it was noticeable to me, mostly because of my Southern sentimentality. Where I come from, men and boys don’t wear hats indoors.  I was surprised when my noticing took me all the way back to the discipline mentality of my old school. The uniforms, the demerits, the silent hallway transitions…  so much time and effort and infrastructure was expended to control the behavior and presence of the students I used to teach, from the top of their hatless heads down to their khaki pants and shoes. It was all in the name of “safety” and “no excuses” and creating a “safe” learning environment for them. Where the students at the boys school enjoy a comfort of self, a safety in being able to be who they are and therefore take positive risks, my former students were tasked with transformation, imposed discomforts, a shedding of skin so as to be rebuilt in someone else’s image. The result was a different sort of classroom feel, a different sort of association with academia, and a different relationship with the students. The ultimate result was a mixed set of outcomes after they graduated. I know the why of the rules of the school I worked for, and I had my misgivings even then… but now…

My Quiet Thoughts are about how breathlessly guilty I felt in that moment. I’m thinking about the oppression that we sometimes buy into without even knowing what we’re doing, because it feels so thoughtful, because it’s made to make such sense to the rational mind.  I’m thinking about how separate is still so very unequal. And I’m thinking about how the experience of choosing between 6 excellent elementary schools in one suburban town is embarrassingly luxurious.

And I’m thinking about my part in all of it: I was part of an oppressive infrastructure. I chose to move to the suburbs in search of a different school opportunity. I am now actively participating in the luxuriating of rich suburbanites in a “stressful” but ultimately win-win school choice experience.

Ideas have consequences. Choices have consequences. Reflection has consequences. Armed with new insights and wisdom, we can make changes and make better choices in the future.

I don’t (really) regret moving to the suburbs. I just recognize the extraordinary privilege that my two boys are experiencing in this beautiful, excellent school I chose for them. How can I make sure I don’t lose sight of how extraordinary this experience is? How can I make sure my boys appreciate it, too… and use all of this privilege for good? Extending the benefits to others, especially their peers in the city? How can I be supportive of the other families who make it here, making sure they get the support that I didn’t always have? How can I make sure that my membership in this community and others is always purposeful and inclusive?

There are no easy answers. Quiet Thoughts don’t always have a solution.

It’s Mid-January in New England so, yeah, it’s another cold Friday night. This house is warm, and I will consider every night with a functional boiler this winter a miracle. Snow covers the ground for now, but we’re getting well into the 40s tomorrow and Sunday, so it should go away! The weatherman says we’re in the back half of winter now. We gain a little sunlight every day, and our coldest days are (on average) behind us. It’s always nice when hope is on the horizon.

It is Friday, so I have wishes for you, Dear Reader. I wish you good, dark roasted coffee, pancakes, and bacon this weekend, Dear Reader. Basically, if you’ve been at a diet, I totally wish for you to have a little splurg day. It just seems like a good time for pancakes without guilt, you know? I wish you a little time to read or craft while listening to a podcast. Levar Burton Reads is back, and this week’s story was interesting. The short story read during this week’s Paris Review Podcast was really good and I highly recommend it. I wish you this satisfying feeling of finishing one annoying task this week. Organize that pantry. Clean out that basement. Fold all that laundry and put it away! Then bask in the glow of having gotten it done. Such satisfaction is often fleeting, but Lord, it feels good while it lasts! I wish you something spicy and saucy, something that wakes up your senses here in the middle of winter. I wish you a chance to share a starry sky with a favorite person, a lingering hug and kiss that makes you forget about the chill, and the brilliant warmth of being with a person who knows you better than anyone else.

As with every week, I wish you a chance to recognize your infinite beauty, which is undeniable, and breathtaking. Your presence really matters, and your life has so much meaning for the people you share the way with. Reach out, be kind, and be thoughtful. People are watching, not in judgement, but with profound admiration. It’s a good and joyful thing to be so deeply loved.

Until Monday, stay warm, be a good neighbor, do something kind, and take care.

 

10 Replies to “[Quiet Thoughts] Different Worlds”

  1. I am so drawn into your writing. I appreciate your perspective on these issues. I find myself thinking about the same kinds of things in terms of privilege. I don’t have children yet, but I recently bought a house outside of the city in a more rural area. 3 acres. Good schools. No crime. With the idea that one day I will have kids and I want to raise them somewhere safe.

    However I work in the city. My hometown. A city that has been given the nickname murder capital. A city with lead in the water. A city that is shrinking. A city with serious blight. A city with a literacy problem. At a nonprofit that works with residents of the city to improve quality of life.

    I feel guilty for moving out of the city. I feel privileged and weird about it. I’ve never felt privileged before. I’m not sure how to handle it. And it makes me wonder if I’m even qualified to work with the community anymore.

    It’s a strange place to be…

    Also, I love the eclectic button collection and that you knit! I had no idea. I also knit. That’s what my blog is all about.

    I’m in Michigan. We have a similar weather pattern going on. It was beautiful out today!

    Thank you for the bacon wishes. I hope your weekend is lovely.

    1. “And it makes me wonder if I’m even qualified to work with the community anymore.”

      Lord, how this sentence hurts my feelings.
      Lord knows I have these feelings myself sometimes.

      You are qualified to work in the community. If you give your constituents your absolute best, with an open mind, a giving heart, and a loving spirit, then you belong there. Do the work you are called to do. Where you lay your head at night, ultimately, doesn’t matter.

      But yes, it’s a hard path, having your feet in two different worlds. You will want to serve both for different reasons. It will exhaust and annoy. Breathe into the feelings. Breathe into the challenges that both communities face. Choose your mountains carefully, but always, ultimately, choose yourself. Your health. Your life. Your spirit. You give the impression of being a very thoughtful, future-looking sort of woman. So many big plans, so much work and bold execution. Be proud of this. Have no regrets about living your life and the vision you’ve set for it.

      I’m jealous of your three acres. We have a little under 1 and it’s so nice. I’d love more. I dream and dream of moving to a bigger lot, or winning the lottery and purchasing the house next door.

      Yes to knitting! I WILL pop over to your blog and check it out! I am taking a magic loop sock knitting class and I’m 2 inches into the cuff. I am comfortable with magic loop, but haven’t felt strong enough with shaping to do socks. Gotta do the heel flap by Saturday. I’m really pleased with my progress so far.

      I’m a knitter, a quilter, an embroiderer and a doll maker. Matter of fact, I’m going to put a post up tomorrow about my latest doll. I plan to learn applique and bookmaking before the year is over!

  2. I have just finished reading Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. It opened my eyes to how complacent / unaware / defensive those on the side of privilege in society (in this case me being white) can be. I finished the book hoping to stay more sensible of this in my life – how the society I live in is built by and for white people – and your comments about looking at how a school treats boys of colour made me think about it again. Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. It’s so hard to do the right thing. Sometimes you think you are, then next thing you know, you learn that everything you know is wrong. And in this environment, when what’s acceptable seems to change at the speed of a single click, and with everyone now the arbiters of inclusivity, language, decorum, etc… rightness is wrongness, freedom fighting is oppression, oppression is liberation. It’s a mess. To not participate is to be a hermit. To participate is to, inevitably, expose your own biases in such a way that other people will immediately judge you, and you can’t help but judge yourself.

      When we look back on this 20 years from now, I’m not sure we’re going to say we did something for the better.

  3. Although I don’t think I’m experienced enough to have felt it on the same level, I know what you mean about suddenly realising you were part of something thta you didn’t agree with. I recently realised that now, as someone in my early twenties with friends in their teens, I’m on the opposite end of a weird situation I was in as a teen with friends in their early twenties, and I’m worried I’ll end up being part of the problem (though hopefully realising this will mean that I don’t let those power imbalances ruin friendships). I don’t know if it’s exactly the same thing, but… sometimes it takes a bit of role reversal to make you aware of those kinds of things, you know? This probably wasn’t relevant. I’ll just go.

    As for snow, it’s just STARTED snowing here. Thankfully, this is England, so it probably won’t last more than a few days at most. But still. I am not looking forward to having to leave the house.

    1. I’m going to show my age a little bit and sound like my mom, but I feel like it doesn’t help that the kids these days (the teens and the kids younger than 25) have all the knowledge, all the access, to an entire world too big to be contained…. but without the wisdom required to navigate it. There is a lack of thoughtfulness, an instantaneous commitment to judgement, a steadfastness to the point of stonewalling even in the face of facts or rationale…. and a significant lack of trust and I’m not sure I understand. A decision was made that we simply could not be worth listening to. What we know, what we’ve learned, what we have to offer, means nothing. Sure, this is a different world than it used to be… but plenty has carried over. It’s frustrating.

      When I’m with those fierce (and wonderful, in their ways) young people in my life, I just do my best to listen. I try to ask more questions than I answer. I do my best to keep my opinions to myself. It’s not always easy, and I’m not always successful… I just try to stay out of their way until they are ready to breathe and stop and listen.

      Maybe I’m the one being irrelevant now… I’ll stop.

      I hope you got out of the house without too much weather trouble!

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