Monthly Archives: February 2013

Desperate for Diversity: Why White Kids Need People of Color

The words “Martin Luther King Jr.” and “trouble-maker” flew across our dining table in rapid succession.

I felt as though I’d been slapped in the face.  I’d read about Dr. King  in the paper, seen him on TV. Wasn’t the civil rights conversation supposed to be important?

Well, there would no more conversation at my house, anyway.

Between kindergarten and college graduation, I had only two black teachers.  The first was Mrs. Hall, in fourth grade.

I wasn’t used to sharing my thoughts with adults, but Mrs. Hall created an atmosphere of safety in her classroom. One day I walked up to her desk and took a chance. “It seems like people remember the good things that happen to them in life and forget most of the bad,” I said.

She looked at me, head askance. I don’t think she quite knew what to say. A while later she approached me. “It does seem to be true,” she said, affirming my small thought.  “People do remember the good, don’t they?”

Her comment fed my soul. For a Christmas gift, I gave her a wide-brimmed hat with an attached scarf. That spring she told me she wore it while riding in her friend’s convertible. My pride soared.

I grew up in a white crayon world: White boys in crisp chino pants and plaid shirts. White girls in knee socks, cardigan sweaters and penny loafers. My only memory of our elementary school’s single black child is of a huge boy everyone called Bosco, after the chocolate syrup my mom never bought.

Only fifteen-minutes up the road, an entire community of black children functioned in a parallel, if not equal, universe. Coming face-to-face with them in junior high school caused my first-ever culture shock.

For seventh grade English, I had Mrs. Tyler. One day a giggly girl with hair like Glinda the Good Witch asked if she could get a drink of water. Only Sherry pronounced it, “wooder.”

Mrs. Tyler drew her head back. A smile played on her lips. “What did you say?”

Sherry repeated her request.  “Can I please get a drink of wooder?”

A tall, broad-hipped woman, Mrs. Tyler paced the floor in her belted dress; a piece of chalk or maybe a pencil clasped in her hands, her arms bent at the elbows. “Boys and girls,” she sighed. “The word is ‘wah-ter.’ Not ‘wooder.’ You need to speak Standard English.”

A hush fell over the room.  She explained that our whiney inflection could impact our chances at successful careers.

No teacher had ever corrected our speech, and mine was hardly the worst. But I made sure to say “wah-ter” and  “dah-ter”  from that day on.

When I saw my first TV commercial featuring a black person, chills shot down my arms. This was way before Bill Cosby. Even before Coke launched its “I’d like teach the world to sing” campaign. Seeing people of color on television seemed so normal ; but at the same time, so out of the ordinary.

By mid-term of my college sophomore year, I had a one-way ticket to New Mexico.

I finished school and married there, and for some time my husband and I lived in a rural area populated primarily by Hispanic families. Their adobe homes dotted land that had been in their families for generations.  Several Indian pueblos – the home of Tewa-speaking peoples – sat off the main highways, hidden from public view, within a few miles of our house.

Our sons were the only gringos on their little league team. They sat in the dugout with boys as brown as berries, spitting out sunflower hulls and kicking the mud out of their cleats. I listened as the other moms chatted in folding chairs, or clustered on the tailgates of pickup trucks. I couldn’t understand a word.  One Native American mother shouted something that sounded like, “Ponay! Ponay!”

I figured it meant, “Get a hit,” or “Good eye.”

I tried to fit in, make friends. People were nice, but I always felt like an outsider. In New Jersey, nobody cares; but in New Mexico, the first thing they ask is, “Are you from here?”

When is a person ever good enough, I wondered; white, black or brown?

Still, the confluence of  cultures in New Mexico warmed my heart. How different it was from the world I grew up in. As a child, the people I saw were all white.  The firemen, police, bank tellers, doctors and dentists, even the shoppers at the neighborhood grocery store.

In my highschool graduating class of about 230, fewer than a dozen black students took advanced classes.  Only a handful played in band and orchestra. We were a motley crew at our lunch table – a Jew, a Pentecostal Christian, a native Estonian, a black girl named Karen, and me, by then a lapsed Presbyterian. Karen was tall, conservative, and an only child. She wanted to be a nurse, like her mother.

But not once did Karen and I visit one another’s homes, go to a movie, or talk on the phone. I craved diversity in my life. Why couldn’t I have a black friend?

My children understand ethnic diversity because they lived it. They learned to judge people by their character, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once dreamed, and not by the color of their skin.

Without the many colors and textures of diverse relationships, we short-change ourselves and our children. People who are different broaden our minds, stretch us and teach us that the world is safe. No parent wants to place a child at risk. But in a white crayon world, kids won’t be able to recognize a beautiful design when they see one. FFG

Becoming a “Strong” Parent

In the 2010 movie Company Men, Ben Affleck plays Bobby Walker, a sales executive for a ship building company who is shocked into reality when he is downsized out of a job. In dire financial straits, Walker is forced to give up his Porche and beautiful suburban home. Finally, desperation forces him to move his wife and two children into his parents’ house, the house he grew up in. He tries to keep his unemployment a secret from extended family members, but his daughter blows his cover at Thanksgiving dinner when she delivers a blessing with a few good words thrown in for her dad.  Stunned by the announcement, Walker’s carpenter brother-in-law (Kevin Costner) offers him a job.

The reality of this film is positively gripping. But what struck me as most profound was how the director dealt with the children’s emotions. They’re afraid. Embarrassed for their father and family and relegated to the background amid all the worry.

One day Walker comes home after a hard day working construction. It’s still light outside. At his old job, he never got home before dark. Nobody ever said, “Quittin’ time!”

Down on himself, he climbs the back steps in his dirty work clothes, lunch pail in hand. He sees his teenaged son shooting hoops by the garage, probably the same backboard his used when he was a kid. Walker puts his hand on the door, ready to open it and go inside. It seems he would just rather wallow in self-pity. But then he has an epiphany. He looks at his son and puts down his lunch box. He realizes in that instant that his son deserves a dad, even if he doesn’t feel like being one, and goes out and starts playing with him. He becomes a stronger father, a stronger parent. 

Strong parenting is about being involved. It about doing what kids need right now in their lives. Or else figuring out what those needs are and getting the job done. That’s the kind of parent Bobbie Walker became. And when he opened his energy and love to the people around him, including his supportive wife, good things started to happen for him, too.

I have always said that when we commit to caring for our kids and doing right by then, we are blessed and taken care of in return. 

Before I was pregnant with our first baby I had never seen a woman breastfeeding. I was twenty-four. I thought breasts were vestigial organs, like the appendix. They made a girl’s sweater stick out, but had no practical use. 

Upon discovering my ignorance, my husband sent me to the library. 

The book I found in that old stone building was the original La Leche League manual.  It opened my eyes to a world of mysteries. My first revelation that babies need their mothers. 

I guess nobody ever told me.

That book was the start of a marvelous journey. I learned that being a parent, a good parent, is an active process. It involves striving daily to do the job better. And reaping the rewards.

I was determined to dedicate myself to mothering my children. Not to treat them like a burden, but a blessing. 

Being a strong parent often means we have to put our own desires, whims, pain, loss, etc., on the back burner. Stop wallowing long enough to recognize there are others who need us. Choosing to meet our kids’ needs, every day, no matter what. That’s strong parenting. FFG




A Pretty – And Useful – Valentine Craft You Can Make At Home!

Even though my kids were already grown and out of the house when I created these special Valentine hearts, they were so much fun to make I thought I’d pass along the directions.

The hearts are made with shopping bags – the kind that have handles. If you have red or pink bags, all the better. But you can cover plain brown bags with felt or wrapping paper. Below are the instructions for the red and pink heart, but the purple heart can be made just as easily. They both open, and can be used as decorations or gift holders.

You can probably use hot glue as an adhesive. Regular glue may not be strong enough, but you can certainly give it a try. I sewed mine together with a zig-zag stitch. The fun part is coming up with things you can put on the fronts of these hearts.

On the purple one, I glued a pink ballerina angel and a heart cut out of wrapping paper, and glued on scraps of lace. On the red one, I stuffed a little heart pillow with “lipstick kisses” on it. Be creative. Fill your heart with candies or cards. Give it as a gift!

1. Cut two hearts of the same size from the bag (one from each side), making the heart’s center at the middle of the handles. Keep the handle attached on one side, cut off the other one. The remaining handle should emerge from both “bumps” of your heart. This piece with the handle is the back of the Valentine holder craft project.

2. Make a smaller heart of red felt (You could substitute sturdy, wrapping paper for the felt or use whatever color or material you want). I then zig-zagged the small heart to the front bag piece (the piece w/o the handle), leaving a large opening in the center for putting Valentine cards or a flower, etc. (You could use hot glue.) The color of the bag then becomes a border for the red felt heart.

3. On top of the front piece, I also attached smaller felt hearts and sequins hearts. I glued the word “Love” from an old card.” Finally, I sewed two pink rose buttons to the front, at the point where the opening starts at the top of the bumps. I wrapped a strip of red felt around the handle and zig-zagged it closed.

4. Take a piece of red felt and trace another heart, exactly the size of the back bag piece (the one with the handle). I cut a piece of white lace and stuck it between the felt and the back of the bag, and pinned it together, making a sandwich – felt-lace- bag. Next, I pinned the two pieces together – front and back. You zig-zag all around, securing back and front.

5. Use a tacking stitch to attach a white satin ribbon tied in a bow at front center. It’s a super cute Valentine decoration, and can be used to hold Valentines, candy, flower, etc. If the bag were large enough, a child could take use it to bring their Valentines home from school.

Everyone loves a Valentine. So remember your loved ones on this very special day! FFG


Manners That Make Kids Shine

 The Goops they lick their fingers,

And the Goops they lick their knives;

They spill their broth on the tablecloth–

Oh, they lead disgusting lives!

The Goops they talk while eating,

And loud and fast they chew;

And that is why I’m glad that I

Am not a Goop–are you?

Written more than 100 years ago by Gelett Burgess, this poem has been set to music by at least one musician that I know of. It makes a cute little ditty kids can memorize and has a lot of truth in it.

How do you define manners in your family?  Do you insist on boys removing their hats indoors, or waiting for everyone to be served before eating? Do you have your kids call adults “ma’am” and “sir”? Or do you prefer “Mr.” and “Mrs.”?

Personally, I don’t think it matters. What matters is that their behavior shows regard for others.  Of course, mannerly kids make any parent look good. But the real reason for teaching kids manners is because they’re going to need them every day for the rest of their lives. The better mannered they are the more opportunities will be open to them. Nobody wants to associate with an oaf, except maybe another oaf.

Who wouldn’t respond more favorably to, “May I have a piece of gum, please?” than, “Gimme some of that.” I shiver at the thought. On the other hand, phoney baloney manners make a kid sound like Eddie Haskell from the old Leave it to Beaver show. Better to be genuine than a fake.

I sure as heck didn’t force my kids to address me as “ma’am.”  My husband said “yes ma’am” when he was a kid. But that’s because he’s from Texas.  

I recently asked a group of moms to list what they believe are the most important manners – behaviors and habits that meet society’s collective definition of politeness. They came through like champs. I used their responses to compile a list of manners that make kids shine. Shine means polish. And that’s what good manners do for kids: they make kids shine.

My thanks to all the moms who participated in the survey. After sifting through their responses, I came up with the TOP TEN:

1. Learn how to greet people: Say hello, make eye contact, smile. The moms I polled thought shaking hands was important for boys; and I must say, a young man who makes eye contact while shaking hands and saying, “Hello, glad to meet you,”  at the same time is way ahead of pack. Standing there like a lump doesn’t cut it.

2. Always say “please” and “thank you.” When they use simple courtesy, kids discover that people are more interested in helping them the next time. Maybe that’s what is meant by, “A little courtesy goes a long way.”

3. Speak when spoken to. Use complete sentences. Say “yes” and “no,” not “yeah” or “nah.” Example: “Yes, Mrs. Castorini, I would love some oatmeal.”

4. Pitch in without being asked. Some parents call this having an attitude of service. It requires that parents clue their kids in to what’s going on around them, or have situational awareness. Is mom bringing in the groceries? Get up and help. Is Grandma washing the dishes? Offer to dry. Dads who open doors for women are setting a good example for their sons. No child should be exempt from helping in some way, unless perhaps they are completely disabled.

5. Don’t interrupt. Not being the center of attention is hard for a lot of kids. Most parents agree that interrupting is a bad habit. It’s also a hard habit to break.  A child should be taught to say “excuse me,” or “pardon me,” when others are talking, or wait until there’s a break in the conversation – unless the house is on fire.  But parents also need to be aware that kids need their attention, another matter altogether.  Kids who are not interrupters are a lot more pleasant to have around than screaming mimis who pull on their parents’ and teachers’ sleeves to make themselves heard.

6. Learn to be patient. Basically, patience involves denying the self for a little while – or a long while. It’s stepping aside and letting others go through a door. It’s saying another kid can be first in the game or have the first piece of cake, and waiting until others have been served before eating. It’s listening to Grandpa’s story without complaining. We can’t always have what we want when we want it.

7. Speak politely. No exceptions. Kids should use the same proper language with friends that they use at home and at school. No cursing, no rude backtalk, no name-calling. This is one thing that parents must model consistently and insist on if it’s going to stick. 

8. Eat nicely. Table training starts in the high chair, when a baby begins to immitate his parents’ and older siblings’ eating habits. Chewing noisily with the mouth open is gross. So is talking while eating. Of course if your family never eats together, you won’t know how your kids eat. Kids need to learn how to set the table properly and use their napkin instead of a sleeve. They should wait until everyone has had “firsts” before taking “seconds.” And even then, they should ask before taking. My kids had to ask to be excused. Sometimes we just wanted them to sit at the table a while longer to be together as a family. Other times they needed to run off to practice or a meeting. I think saying, “May I be excused?” is as much an acknowledgment of the child’s importance to the group as it is respectful of parents and siblings. It certainly didn’t hurt my kids.

9. Make eye contact. We all know people who have a hard time with this. Their eyes dart all around the room and you wonder what they’re looking at. So teach your children to look at people when they talk to them. Not stare them down, just make eye contact now and then, focus their attention. It some cultures it may not be considered polite. But in our culture it’s considered a sign of self-confidence and respect.

10. Treat older people with respect.  In general, when encountering an older person, a child should treat them with due regard. This does not mean that mistreatment or abuse should be tolerated. Please don’t misunderstand. Demonstrate how to hold a door, offer assistance, give up a seat on the bus or subway. Train your children to say, “Hello, Mr. Smith.” Show them what it means to be nice.

Teaching kids manners is an investment in their future. The dividends pay off big.  FFG

The Long Bus Ride Home

A five year-old boy named Ethan was supposed to get off the school bus on Tuesday afternoon. Supposed to go home and play and have his supper. And the bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was supposed to drop off all the kids in his care and go home as well.

But those things never happened.

The kindergartner, who reportedly has autism, was forced off the bus by 65 year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, who then shot and killed the Continue reading