May 29, 2012

A Guest Post on Momsoap

A few weeks ago Martha Wood from wrote a piece that appeared here on empatheia Yes, This Baby is Mine.  Now I am really excited to have a guest post appear on her blog. Head over to Momsoap to check out my piece Pronouns and look around while you're there. Martha isn't afraid to write about anything--race issues, the underbelly of attachment parenting, and the realities of motherhood. She alternately makes me think, laugh, and shake my head as I read about her journey as a mom to a biracial daughter in Texas. Thanks for sharing it all, Martha! And thanks for sharing my piece.

Read my guest post, "Pronouns," here:

May 27, 2012

Graduation and Ball Games

Image via Flickr/paul.hadsall

Two of my kids are playing ball right now, so I have softball and baseball on my mind (3-4 games/week plus practices makes it hard to think about anything else, honestly!) I've also attended a few graduations besides my own, been to some graduation parties, and been reading about graduations in the paper. Put the two together--ball games and graduations--and here's what I've been thinking about. 

For some kids, playing ball seems to come naturally. They are born with a talent for the game and can connect with the ball just about every time they are at bat. It almost seems like they have an advantage! They know how to play the game, and know how to turn a single into a double, or a double into a triple by being fast and paying attention to the game. For those kids, it almost seems like they're starting out on third base! It's fun to watch their natural talent blossom. They represent the innate beauty of pure athleticism. But there are other kids who start swinging and missing from home plate. They have to use every ounce of strength to hit the ball far enough to make it safely to first base. They have to pay extra close attention to the game so that maybe they can steal second. Then they get stranded at second, and have to wait for the next inning so they can begin the process all over again. 

Imagine a game like this: the struggling kid finally gets on second base after two innings of trying. The runner ahead of them on third could potentially score the game winning run. A ball is hit along the third base line. The third base runner heads home and scores the final, winning run of the game. We celebrate that game winning run with fervor and excitement! The team rallies around the winning runner, the crowd hoots and claps and cheers. Meanwhile, the kid who has fought so hard to make a hit and get on base is left alone. Silently running the bases. Touching home just to say that they made it. In the stands, we often don't pay attention to those kids. They don't get our hoots and cheers and high fives, even though their arrival at home plate took much more effort, more work, and more struggle than the home run of the natural athlete. Their run was scored after the game's official ending, so it really doesn't count.

Image via Flickr /MomMaven
Seven of my own students walked across the stage to receive their diplomas last weekend (another one from a different high school walks today.) Those seven students were from a rural Iowa high school that had a graduating class of 60 students. Seven out of 60 were at risk of dropping out, but they made it! For several of them it was a huge accomplishment, a graduation that occurred against all odds! Some kids have overcome poverty, survived the death of a parent, divorce, health problems, and/or other seemingly insurmountable issues---but they made it! Seven out of 60 means that those alternative school graduates made up just over 11% of the senior class. During typical commencement ceremonies, only the top 10% (or less) is recognized.

On Friday, my wonderful former student-turned-current-co-worker held a surprise going away party for me.  I was shocked to look around the room and find out how many of the attendees were kids who didn't earn a diploma when they were working with me. They left my program at age 17 or 18, and went on to either get an adult high school diploma, a GED, or to pursue a job. In the statistics I put together for the state at the end of each year, they are dropouts ("failures") and not recognized in any positive way for their accomplishments--even though they had to persevere and show more stamina than many of their peers to get where they are now.

Yesterday I was reading a newspaper story about the ceremony held Friday night for the students graduating from the school I will be teaching at next year. There is a long list of Valedictorians, Salutatorians, and all of their academic achievements. So many kids earned scholarships and are going on to do impressive things at colleges and universities all over the world. 320 graduates, the highest average ACT score in school history, and many other achievements and honors were bestowed upon the class of 2012 at my future place of employment.

But here's the thing...while there are a few stories of Valedictorians and Salutatorians rising up after difficult childhoods, most successful kids started their k-12 educations with:

  • At least one parent who graduated from high school and attended some college
  • A mom who at least knew about the benefits of breast feeding and didn't feel pressure from social service agencies to sign up for free formula
  • A roof over their heads--and most likely the same roof for a good portion of their childhood (in other words, low mobility and lots of routine)
  • At least one parent who read to them every day as a toddler
  • Access to quality preschool
  • At least one parent who could help with homework after school
  • Access to quality after-school programming
  • Transportation to and from programming after school
  • Regular meals, every day, every month, every year
  • Clothing that not only fit well, but allowed them to fit in well
The most successful kids have all of that, and more, as they grow up. They are set up for success, and the only thing that limits them is their own free will, their own desire to succeed, their own passion for learning. The top 10% of each graduating class sets itself apart because they are driven! They make a commitment to go above and beyond what most of their classmates do, and I agree that they should be recognized for their accomplishments! But I also wish we could recognize the amazing achievements of some students who didn't start out with all that, and still somehow still make it to graduation.

In the game of life, some kids start out on third base and don't even know it. Others struggle to make it on base, work hard to advance, but sometimes don't make it to home plate until after the game is officially over. I am glad that we celebrate the game winning runs! But shouldn't we also celebrate the kid who keeps coming back, inning after inning, trying their best to make it home--even if their feet don't get to home plate until after the game is over?

There are kids who overcome obstacles like parents who are addicted, homelessness, abuse, the death of a parent, poverty and hunger. They try so hard. They overcome so much. For me, those kids accomplish something that is every bit as amazing as what the top 10% of the class does. I wish there was some way to recognize them, too. I wish commencement ceremonies could honor both the top ten percent, and a few of the kids who kept trying, no matter what life put in their way, and finally made it. 

The 11% who worked with me in the alternative program accomplished so much. And I'm sure that among the 320 who graduated from my future school, there are some stories of accomplishment just as great. 

Woo hoo! Congratulations! High Five! Even though you didn't make it to home plate in the usual way, or maybe even during the regular game, I applaud all of you graduates out there who finally did it! 


May 13, 2012

Yes, This Baby is Mine

Happy Mother's Day! In honor of this day, I am featuring a guest post from one of the feistiest, funniest,  most thoughtful and thought-provoking mom bloggers I know: Martha, from Momsoap. Thank you so very much, Martha, for sharing your experiences of being a mom on this Mother's Day.

Photo courtesy of
If you look at our features, my daughter looks exactly like me, not her dad. But most people don't notice it until they get to know us. Most people don't look past the color of our skin.

I'm white. My daughter is, as she puts it, "light brown." Her father is Nigerian, so he is very dark. I'm as waspy as they come, full-on European background and raised in west Texas.

But since becoming the parent to a biracial child, I've become accustomed to  the once hurtful, now simply, banal, question, "Is that your daughter?" Or, "Is she adopted?"

Yes, yes she is my daughter. And no. No, she is not adopted.

I carried her around for nine months. Spent 19 1/2 hours in painful labor, pushed her out and nursed her for a long, long time. She is fully mine.

I made her with him. And we are different colors. The conception doesn't seem to fully register with many people until they see us all together. Or get a glimpse of my daughter's dad, who is now my ex.

Over the past four years, I've been asked if my daughter is adopted; had strangers insinuate that I'm the nanny; poked fun at, until they realize I'm not joking, that she really is mine; and just been stared at in general.

All because my daughter and I have different skin colors.

If you look at us up close, I mean, stop, and look past our skin, we look very much alike. I've been told that my daughter is just a mini version of me, with brown skin and curly brownish/black hair. She is mine, through and through. It's difficult for me to see how people don't see it.

Yet, over and over again, we get questioned.

Once, we were at a funeral of a distant relative. My own flesh and blood looked me in the eye and said, "How long have you had her?"

As I bounced my baby in her Mei Tei, I thought it was a strange way of asking me how old she was, confused, I responded, "She's almost a year old." At that point, I had not yet learned to see how we looked to people outside my own frame of reference.

I had a baby. She was mine.

It never occurred to me that people would question my parentage. Until it started happening.

He went on to tell me that he and his wife as missionaries in third world countries had adopted some biracial children. Too.

Too. It was that word that sent my mind quickly to what he had assumed.

I laughed. "Oh, she's not adopted!"

Stammering for a moment he finally managed to spit out, "Uh, uh, OH! You mean your husband is African American?!"

Once he realized that I had indeed procreated with a man from another race, I thought it best not to bother correcting his assumption that we were also married (we were never married) and move into the realm of a hell-bound sinner who had sex outside of marriage. After all, I was at the funeral of Bible-thumping west Texas Christian. There was no point in asking for a prayer session to bless me away from the eternity of hellfire.

Not to mention, possibly confirming for him the stereotype that white women who sleep with black men are sluts. Yes, another small town Texas stereotype that I battled as a youngster when I began exploring men of different cultures, and had long forgotten after living for nine years in Detroit where mixed race couples were much more common, but still not without stereotypes.

Motherhood to a Biracial Child

Now that it's been a few years into motherhood of a biracial daughter, and I've worked out the basics -- like how to comb her unbelievably thick hair; how often to moisturize her skin; and managing to mostly ignore that mini punch to the gut when someone asks me if she's mine --  I realize that I am in a wonderfully amazing position here in between the racial discussions in our society.

Something I learned from a mentor years ago, and I'll share with you here today, is we do a great job with racial discussions here in the United States. We do the most important thing when it comes to relieving racial tension. We talk about it.

We may not always agree. But we talk. It's the most important thing. To not be afraid to talk about race and ethnicity. Because it's all around us.

And as a white woman, who grew up around lots of racism and negative stereotypes about people with brown skins, I know how and when to measure very subtle racism. I also know how to address to my own people, which is an important part of the talks.

And best of all, I have come to realize that there is an important place for the biracial family in the midst of racial conflicts.

We see both sides. We really do.

Since having my daughter I am truly and honestly able to look quickly past the exterior and see a whole person, no matter what color the skin, what kind of clothes they are wearing, and what side of town they live on.

Many people believe that we are already living in a post-racial society because we have a black president. Because we got rid of Jim Crow laws and because everyone has the right to vote.

But we are far from a post-racial society. There is still racism in our culture. And it's time we talk and try to see the other side. All of us. Because eventually, if you don't already, you will probably have someone in
your family who has different color skin than yours. And they probably won't be adopted.

Photo Courtesy of
Martha Wood lives in Austin, Texas where she is a single, self-employed, work at home mom. She runs a small social media business, and blogs as a freelancer. She also authors her own blog at where she writes about racism, attachment parenting, and just general motherhood.

May 6, 2012

End of the School Year & Behavior Issues

For schools that don't have a year-round schedule, this time of year gets a little rough. The weather is so nice that lots of kids think about their after school ball games more than they think about what's going on in their classrooms. Schools know this, and schedule field trips, picnics, field days, talent shows and all kinds of fun events for the last few weeks of the year. Older high school students think about prom, graduation and...the future (whatever it may bring.) That stuff is definitely fun for most kids, but for some it causes almost debilitating anxiety. The loss of routine, the fear of change---all of that can be really hard for some kids. And honestly, there are not very many kids in any grade who are mature enough to be able to walk up to an adult and say something like, "I'm having difficulty with this transition to the end of the year. I'm really overstimulated by the changes to our schedule and I don't know what to do."  Instead, kids start exhibiting a lot of behaviors. Personally, I think that all kids get antsy at this time of year; but the kids who are most thrown off are kids who have special needs of some kind, and kids who live in poverty.

Why do I mention these two kinds of kids? I've seen it in my own classroom and with my own children--the angst that the end of the year brings for some kids.  Here's what I mean:

Some kids only eat at school. Our economy is so tough right now that the numbers of kids receiving Free or Reduced lunch is growing monthly. In Iowa, check the district-by-district numbers of students receiving Free/Reduced lunch by clicking here. Only 3 districts in the state have less than 10% of students enrolled  receiving Free or Reduced lunch. 57 districts have more than half of their student population receiving Free/Reduced lunch. Where do these kids eat in the summertime?  For some students, the end of the year is a time of worry. They know that they may not get to eat regularly until school starts again. With that kind of worry weighing on you as a child, would you be able to behave well?

In my own classroom, I know that I have students whose only mealtimes happen at school. Some communities like mine have a summer lunch program, where sack lunches are handed out daily in a local park; but not all communities offer a summer lunch program. I worry about my students; and I forgive some of their behaviors at this time of year because I know that they are worried about where their next meals may come from.

Some kids have little or no adult supervision over the summer.  Most parents don't get summer vacation. Many families can't afford summer child care or camps. What happens to their kids? Many are left alone. Some parents are faced with deciding to go to work so that they can afford rent and food, or staying home from work to watch kids and receiving public assistance to pay for rent and food. Younger kids know that when summer comes, they are leaving a structured and supervised school environment to go to a very unstructured and unsupervised environment. For the first few days it might seem like fun to do whatever you want to, but after that kids may feel lost. They may feel abandoned. They could feel angry or sad and begin to get into trouble.

In my own neighborhood, there are kids who wander all summer. They bounce from house to house looking for something to do, usually knocking on a door just in time for lunch or dinner. Several boys who are in my son's grade frequent my house for access to snacks, air conditioning, and just some positive interaction. Summer is really hard on them. In May, they know it's coming. Whether they acknowledge it or not, in the backs of their minds they know what the summer holds. They may already be a little bit worried, and their behavior at school often is a reflection of that worry.

Some kids are scared of change. The end of the year means that kids are getting ready for big changes: a new grade next year, a new classroom, a new teacher. For some kids that is really, really scary. Some kids have more than just a new teacher looming because they have huge transitions happening: graduation. Whether it's graduation from elementary school, junior high/middle school, or high school, kids know that their lives are on the verge of changing dramatically. The unknown future looms in front of them. Not knowing what will happen next can be really scary for adults, too!  If we have a hard time handling those major life changes, how can we expect kids to handle them? Kids who are pre-graduation, at any age, can have a wide range of reactions: cockiness, sadness, anger and avoidance of school are all things I see in my own classroom and with my own son (who is about to graduate elementary school.)

Those kinds of changes can be even more difficult for kids who have some kind of special need. I think all kids thrive when they are in a stable environment with consistent routines and structure, but kids with special needs absolutely require that structure and routine for day-to-day survival. Variation from the routine can cause some kids to lose their ability to concentrate, focus, and function. All the field trips, field days and fun stuff are drastic changes to the routine. They can cause kids to become lost, worried, and anxious. They don't always have the ability to express those feelings, though, and their behaviors may be the way they express them .

Two of my own children have ADHD, and one also has issues with Anxiety. It has been a rough spring for us so far. Stomach aches from anxiety, anger outbursts towards other students and teachers, inattentiveness and forgetfulness--all of these are issues my own kids have had in the last week or so at school. My kids don't have to worry about being supervised or getting meals over the summer. Can you imagine how a kid who has special needs AND has to worry about food and supervision over the summer might be feeling? Can you imagine how a kid with those issues might act in class?

The point of all this is that sometimes teachers, parents, and community members get frustrated by kids' behavior at the end of the school year and during the summer months. A lot of times, the first reaction we all have is to punish kids with office referrals, detentions, suspensions or calling the police. But the reality is that punishment won't really help most kids.

Think about it: how old were you when you could verbally identify your feelings about something and share them in a reasonable, calm way with an adult? I would bet that many, many adults still can't do it. If we can't maturely talk about our feelings and fears, how can we expect kids to do it?  Kids exhibit behaviors because they are communicating something to us. Many times it is fear, worry, or anger at a situation that they are communicating. Instead of punishing them, why not teach them more effective means of communication?

I encourage teachers and parents who deal with kids having end-of-school year behavior issues to talk to your kiddos to see what might really be going on. There is a good chance that all of the changes happening at school are affecting them.  Teach them how to communicate those worries. Give them a picture card, survey, matrix or list of feelings and ask them to identify what they're feeling. Help them try to explain why they're feeling that way. Then see if there's something you can do to help them make it better.

I encourage you all to look for and spread the word about any summer lunch programs offered in your communities. I encourage you all to keep your eye out for kids who look lost this summer. Invite them into your yard or your home for a snack and some positive interaction if you can. Don't look away from kids who are alone. Say hello. Interact. Pay attention. That simple contact might be enough to help them feel better, or at least feel connected to someone while school is out for summer.


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