Thursday, August 30, 2007

What a cute baby! Guess who it is. Duh.

Apparently it's the tradition at school for 3rd graders (and now 6th graders at the middle school) to get to know their classmates by sharing some facts about themselves posted alongside a baby picture.

The assignment goes something like this: Did you cry a lot as a baby? Did you sleep a lot as a baby? What was your favorite baby toy? etc, etc. Please bring a baby picture sealed in an envelope with your name on the envelope. Photos will be returned when we are done with the classroom project.

The photos are posted alongside the blurb of information, but there are no names. The idea is that each child must guess at the identity of the baby based on the baby picture and the information.

When my daughter did this in 3rd grade she was the only Asian American in the class; she is the only AA in her 6th grade life skills class. From what I can tell so far, my son is the only one in his class this year.

So I don't want to be hyper-sensitive and find racism in everything. There are not many redheads in my son's class so that would be an easy one, unless the redheaded child didn't have much hair as a baby. My daughter didn't come home traumatized that everyone identified her photograph with little to no discussion. And my son is the one who still doesn't understand why a classmate would come up to him at the playground yelling "Chinese eyes" since he isn't Chinese.

Yet the fact remains we live in a highly racialized society and culture.

There is a part of me that cringes at the assignment and some of the messages it may send unintentionally. There is an underlying assumption that the baby pictures will look similar enough that there is an element of surprise and competition. There is also an element of competition and pride for the kids - "It took the class "x" minutes to figure out which picture was mine."

For my daughter, her friend "E" from Kenya, and my son there is no element of surprise.

Unless the photo I send is the one where they are so bundled up you can barely make out a face.

Here's the kicker for me. My daughter is doing this assignment for her life skills class. Personally, I can think of several other life skills these new 6th graders need to learn.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rice & Seaweed in the Thermos

I love my children. I am just very grateful for the local public school system.

All three kids are off to school (though Elias shed a few tears today, causing a few other moms to cry for him), and we are trying to get into a new rhythm. The boys and I walk to the elementary school, and Bethany rides off on her bike to the middle school. Depending on the morning, Peter joins us or waves as he drives off.

And when we're lucky, everyone has remembered their backpacks, homework, and lunch boxes.

The novelty of the school lunch wore off fairly quickly, so we've had to get creative. What will they joyfully eat in the 20 minutes (!) they get for lunch? Bethany and Corban got smart. They asked for leftovers in a Thermos. Every now and then the leftovers are recognizable to friends - meatloaf, mac & cheese, spaghetti. But more often than not, leftovers involve sticky white rice and some sort of marinated meat or fish. Even better are the fragrant soups full of oxtails, seaweed or radishes.

Having been the brunt of much teasing and ridicule during my childhood (we were the 1st Asian American family to move into our suburban school district), I must admit that I worry a bit that bringing seaweed soup would create some social difficulties for my children. One might argue (and believe me I have tried) that cheese has a pretty pungent smell. But kids know cheese. They even get processed cheese food in a can. But seaweed?

Why God why? Maybe it's the four weeks of seaweed soup I ate post-partum with each of my children to help my recovery and breastmilk production (thanks, Mom!) that they love it so. Maybe they like the shades of green and the opacity of the broth against the glimmer of the Thermos.

The first few times Bethany or Corban take something "new" for lunch I try to be cool. I don't ask them whether or not their friends wanted to know what was in their lunch. I don't ask them if anyone commented on the odors released when said Thermos is opened. I just closely monitor the contents of the Thermos when I do the dishes.

I was genuinely surprised when the Thermoses would come home empty. Maybe some rice (sorry, Mom) stuck to the bottom, but pretty close to empty.

I guess the thing that I feared most - that their friends would make fun of them and their food choices - doesn't matter to them because it hasn't turned out that way? I know friends have asked, and made a comment here and there. Maybe Bethany and Corban are so hungry that rice and seaweed soup is better than cardboard pizza with fruit cocktail cups? Maybe they don't care what other people think? Maybe they are more comfortable in their own skin than I give them credit for?

Having children forces me to deal with my stuff, the old stuff from years ago that has spilled into my 30s. Their worldview and understanding of being Asian American forces me to deal with my understanding of Asian American so that I don't freeze myself in time much like my parents' generation did.

Next time: Thoughts on the "Guess whose baby picture this is" game.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Is this how West is different from East?

When you get caught doing something wrong, really, really, hurt other people wrong, what do you do? How do you respond, and how do you feel about yourself?

Here in America a car salesman gets caught sending flowers to his girlfriend because the florist sends the bill to the house...where the salesman's wife sees the receipt. His reaction? He sues.

In China, the head of a Chinese manufacturer linked to the lead-tainted Sesame Street toys kills himself.

Again, I know that these are extreme examples that are complicated, but I think it was my own reaction that was rather unsettling.

When I heard about the company CEO's suicide, I could understand it. I wouldn't follow in his footsteps, but I could see how his train of thought might have gone.

It's not just guilt. It's not just the financial hit. It's the shame. My cousin, "Denise", and "Chris" - they all felt the shame and couldn't silence the demons.

When I heard about the salesman suing the florist, I couldn't understand it at all.

Is there something redeeming or worth redeeming in such shame? Is there something redeeming or worth redeeming in personal rights and entitlement?

Lord have mercy on us all.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Yellow at the pool

Are you what you read? Or better yet, does the book you're reading say something about you?

I realized I must have looked rather unfriendly, or at the very least a bit too serious to be sitting at the pool smelling of sunscreen, with this summer's collection of titles: Yellow, Living on the Boundaries, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, Crucial Confrontations, The Opposite of Fate, The Woman Warrior and Grace Eventually.

Now some of you are wondering how in the world I had time to read as much as I did. Well, I read at night and in the afternoon I get to read at the pool.

Now some of you are wondering why at the pool. Thanks to my frugal parents, I hate running the a/c during the peak hours of 12-4, which means I feed the kids lunch and we head out to the pool so I can maximize the benefits of having an annual pool pass. (It really is cheaper than running the a/c.) I get there early, grab a seat under the big umbrella, and because my kids are older it's safe to watch them from the concrete pool deck as they spend vast amounts of time submurged in chlorinated water.

I've made a few very unscientific observations:
Most days I'm the only "yellow" person around. Tans not included.
People are more likely to talk to me when I am not holding a bright yellow book titled "YELLOW", even if I am reading the book with a smile.
People are most likely to talk to me when I am struggling to keep the sunscreen from ruining my copy of Real Simple or People magazine.
My books are too serious for the pool.

Well, the pool season is almost over, but I still have a few good weeks of reading left.

Any recommendations? What are you all reading? What does the book say about you?