Archive | January, 2012

Culturally Stripped: An Identity Crisis

22 Jan

This past week was a short week at the school where in teach, in part due to MLK’s birthday, but also because there was a day of staff development. Now normally, staff development is a necessary and beneficial, but not always enjoyable, activity. But this time, I participated in a particularly challenging activity that really made me question my own cultural identity and how I define myself.

The activity went as follows. To get a sense of how difficult this really is, I encourage you to participate in the activity as you read each step.

Step One: On a piece of paper, write down six things that you think are essential to your identity and things that define you. Things like your skin color/physical traits, race, language, religion/faith, being a parent, being a son/daughter, being a wife/husband/partner, family heirlooms, food, peace, vocation, freedoms, rites of passage, privileges, etc.. When given this task, I wrote down the following six things: Mother, Wife, Daughter, Teacher, Writer, Freedom of Speech.

Step Two: Cross off one of these things. If you were forced to give up one of these parts of yourself, which one would you give up? For this step, I crossed off “teacher.” As much as I love my profession and I think it’s played a huge role in how I view the world, of all the things on my list, I felt teaching was the least essential to my being.

Step Three: Cross off two more of those things. If you were forced to give up two more parts of yourself, which ones would you give up? This is where it really started to become difficult. After some deliberation, I eventually crossed of “daughter” and “freedom of speech.” I decided that while being a daughter once shaped me, it’s no longer the main focus of my life and while giving up my freedom of expression would be difficult, I’d do it if I could keep my husband/son and still write (even if the topics would be censored).

Step Four: You guessed it. Cross of two more of those things. If you could only keep one of the essential parts of your identify, which one would you leave yourself with? Despite the fact that these were only words on a paper, crossing them off was somehow painfully real. How could I choose between my husband, my child, and my need to express myself through the written word? Eventually I chose to cross off “writer” and “husband.” I told myself that realistically, I would sacrifice anything for my son. This is true. However, I know that if I had to give up writing and my husband, I would absolutely not be the mother that I would want to be. But, similarly, if I had to give up my husband and child, would I be the writer that I want to be? I doubt it.

It was fascinating to have conversations with my colleagues about their decisions. When faced with giving up faith or family, most chose to give up family, citing that they knew their faith could get them through anything, even the loss of their family, whereas if they gave up faith and then something happened to their family they’d be left with nothing. Touché.

This made me question my own choices. What if (God forbid) something did happen to Husband and Child and I no longer had the ability to write? Then who would I be? What would I become? Thank goodness this isn’t a choice I actually have to make and that will probably never be forced upon me. Whatever life brings, I don’t think I’ll be forced to give up the badge I wear (sometimes bashfully) that says, “I am a writer.” *Wipes brow* Thank God, Harry Potter and Everything-Else-Holy for that.

But the whole point of this exercise is that there are people who are forced to strip themselves of bits of their identity every day. There are students who are asked to give up parts of who they are every time they enter a school building. Perhaps it’s that they must speak a language other than their home language to communicate. Perhaps it’s that they are told to do things that would be disrespectful or taboo in their cultures. Perhaps assumptions are made about their beliefs and their choices, and perhaps these assumptions are wrong.

These are issues that as an educator I was aware of, but I must admit I have not been proactive about fixing them. If I am so fortunate as to not have to whittle my identity down to one element, then why would I expect this of my students? I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to realize this, and I’m proud that I’m taking steps to better myself as an educator and truly get to know my students.


A Birthday Wish

7 Jan

My miracle turned two years old today.

When I think about the day he was born, I always am amused because it really did start out like any other day. I slept in, took a shower, shaved my legs, did my hair and makeup. Nothing unusual about that. But then I went to the hospital and one surgery later, I had a son.

It really does seem like only yesterday when he was wearing newborn sized clothing, sleeping all hours of the day (except when I wanted needed him to), and making me realize that until that time I had never truly understood the meaning of the word “exhausted.”

Now today, he sang happy birthday to himself, wore a 2T Cars t-shirt, refused to nap, and still left me exhausted.

I know this is cliché, coming from a mother, but I truly believe that I have been blessed with the best little boy to have ever walked the planet. He is sweet, loving (usually, unless you’re trying to pick up his toys or change his diaper), hilarious, and I’m pretty sure he’s a genius. Plus, have you seen him? I know as his mother I’m supposed to say this, but it’s true: he is one cute little boy. I would not change one single thing about him.

As I sit here getting weepy-eyed about the prospect of him aging even more than he already has (can’t he just stay two forever?), I have a birthday wish for him. I wish for him to remain as sweet, loving, smart, hilarious and cute as he is on this day for the rest of his life. I wish for his life to be easy, and that if struggles do come (as they usually always do), he realizes has the love and support necessary to get through them. I wish for him to be healthy and happy, always. And lastly, I wish for him to realize that no one will ever love him more, or as completely, as I do on this day.

Happy Birthday, to my son. I love you.



Reasons Behind the Struggles

2 Jan

I’ve never been a believer of fate or destiny. I don’t like the idea that my life is predetermined and that no matter what I do or say, I can’t change the outcome. I believe that the choices I make matter, and that I can change the future with the actions that carry me through life. That being said, I also believe that everything happens for a reason. If something seems hard, pointless, or heartbreaking now, it’s all to make me stronger or shape the choices I make in the future. When I reflect on the things I’ve been through that were difficult and a struggle, if enough time has passed I can see how these things ultimately made my life different, and usually better, when all was said and done.

If it weren’t for my family’s insistence that math and science were the keys to professional success, I never would have taken calculus as a sophomore in high school. Consequently, I never would’ve been seated four desks ahead of the gorgeous senior who would later become my husband.

If it weren’t for my parents’ demand that I get a job to help pay for my car and cellphone when I was 16 (something that seemed completely unfair at the time, but now makes perfect sense), I never would’ve taken that job at Sears where that gorgeous senior happened to shop one day (nearly two years later) when I was working. And, if  it weren’t for the failed boyfriends and the chances I took on romance, I would never have been confident enough to flirt shamelessly with that gorgeous man when he wandered by my register, and he probably wouldn’t have asked me out for our first date.

If it weren’t for the nearly two years it took for my husband and I to conceive our child, I am positive that we wouldn’t have found ourselves with the beautiful blessing that is our son. We have the perfect imperfect child, and I know that he was worth every day we had to wait.

My life has been more difficult the past four or five years than I ever could have predicted it would be, for a myriad of reasons. It’s been an emotional struggle and I think in many ways it’s forced me to grow up and mature much more quickly than people in their early-to-mid twenties typically do. To be completely honest, there are a lot of days when I don’t see the point in that. I feel robbed, I feel frustrated, and I feel hopeless. What gets me through is thinking that five, ten, fifteen years from now, I’ll look back on these times and realize that yes, it made me stronger, and there was a reason.

Life is not pointless. There is meaning behind every heartache and every difficult step we take forward. Sometimes we just have to wait a little while to understand it.

Awkward Encounters of a Local Teacher

1 Jan

When I took my teaching position at a local school, I knew that running into my students around town was inevitable. I knew I would see them at the grocery store, at Target, at local sporting events, and I knew that some of these encounters were bound to embarrassing (i.e. no shower, no makeup). So far this school year, I’ve been right about both of these things. What I didn’t really plan for was the sheer awkwardness of it all.

What are you supposed to say, when you run into your students in public? Do you introduce yourself to whoever they happen to be with, knowing that if it’s a parent you’ve probably already met them? Do you stop and chat or do you just wave and keep walking?

These are the questions that I was faced with last night when my husband and I ran into a student of mine at Best Buy. I wound up asking the student if he was enjoying break, telling him I’d see him on Tuesday, and then walking away. Not an unpleasant interaction, but I still felt dumb about it. My student was with a woman, presumably his mom, and I know I haven’t met her before because he’s a student in a class that I just recently started teaching. I knew the second I walked away that I should’ve introduced myself, or at least said hello, but at that point I was already in another aisle and it felt like it would have been even more weird to go back and do it. Now she probably thinks I’m incredibly rude and anti-social.

Or, maybe that’s just how I think she feels. Maybe I’m over-analyzing the situation. Maybe I’m feeling dumb about nothing. All the same, I’m tempted to email her and apologize. But, then again, what if it wasn’t even his mom? *Sigh*

Part of the problem is that I’m still new to this gig. I don’t know the protocol or the unspoken expectations for these situations. My hope is that I’ll get better at these awkward public interactions and that eventually they won’t feel awkward at all. I guess only time will tell, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed, just in case.