A local foodie and one more duffel bag

As the first snow of the season turns drearily to slush outside in the navy-blue dusk, I sip tea and crunch thin slices of a giant white radish dipped in vinegar.

It’s an odd sort-of treat to the western way of thinking. But here in cold, agriculturally spartan Bohemia, it is a welcome bit of crispness and freshness in the winter.

The texture reminds me fleetingly of hikima, but it is not nearly so sweet and a touch less earthy. Before being sliced the giant radish is large enough to serve as an impromptu weapon if pressed. Sliced thin, it has a bite in the aftertaste and is better served with a few drops of vinegar.

 Creative commons image via Pixabay

Creative commons image via Pixabay

It’s one of those things you get used to after a time in a different climate, especially in a place where imports are either not readily available, prohibitively expensive, of exceedingly poor quality or ecologically unsustainable. In the case of Hikima, it simply doesn’t exist here.

Just about everything fresh—beyond the ever-present root vegetables, wrinkly apples and cabbage—falls into most of those categories this time of year. I’m plotting a salad for tomorrow with frost-sweetened beets (the very last of the garden harvest), roasted pumpkin slices from the cellar, nuts, seeds, white cheese and whatever thinly sliced cabbage can be had.

There are plenty of people who buy the over-priced, pale and tasteless excuses for vegetables that are imported here, but I prefer to live as locally as possible, eating in season and storing what I can for the winter.

Only part of it is due to the price and low quality of the winter imports, though those are certainly considerations. Another part is my own conviction that eating in season is both personally healthier and more ecologically sustainable. And those things matter a great deal.

But I’m not a saint when it comes to importing. I have been recently obsessed with my list of things to buy abroad for a very specific reason.

‘Tis the season to get a bag from America.

The past few months have been full of lists and discussions of what you really cannot get in Prague or reasonably online in Central Europe. Partly this is the normal, pre-holiday scramble of most people with children and extended family around.

But in my case it is complicated by a large physical gap right in the middle of the family—large meaning the size of he Atlantic Ocean and most of the continents of Europe and North America put together. And one small duffel bag making its way from one side to the other in the care of a family friend.

Living on the edge of Eastern Europe, I have kept a running list of things to buy when I travel for the past twenty years. Once the list was topped by ordinary toiletries, household items and food, such as gallon jugs of salsa, hair ties, tubs of school glue, jumbo packs of washable markers, good quality clothing for the next couple of years, dried tapioca, molasses and assorted spices.

As the Czech Republic became more integrated with the consumerist networks of the world that list has shrunk until today it reads as follows.

  • Dr. Bronner’s soap

  • Vicks Vaporub

  • Edible vegetable glycerin

  • Real brown sugar

  • English language games

  • English books

  • A few special children’s toys unavailable locally

Shipping is prohibitively expensive—eighty dollars for a small box that would hold only a fraction of that list. So, mostly we wait until someone makes the trip and pay the $100 fee to send them with an extra bag. That’s what is happening in the run up to this holiday season. We sent a young man to America to learn some English by hanging out with our cousins, and sent him with fresh rye bread and a few other things that can’t be easily obtained there. Now he’s on his way home and bringing a holiday sack with him, like a scrawny, young version of Santa.

For most of human history, where you lived was a decisive factor in what you ate, what you wore and every other detail of everyday life. Today, our global society likes to pretend that isn’t true anymore. It largely isn’t for those with money and even the rest of us consume a lot that comes from distant places.

But due more to social, political and economic trends than to distance and geography, there are things that are difficult or even impossible to obtain in one area that are common in others.

Receiving such a large package is like a holiday all it’s own. The preparation spans weeks, if not months—careful lists, family discussions of priorities, predictions of needs for the next year or so, ordering items, Skype conversations with the person receiving the orders and assembling the pack. more discussions of weight and size limits, revision of priorities, coordination of flights, schedules, transport to and from airports, and then at last the keen anticipation as the final days count down.

When the duffel finally arrives with a jetlagged traveler, there is all the sweetness of hope and anxiety. Things are often broken in transit, and if they happen to contain liquid that could mean stains and a mess to clean up, instead of a celebration. There are also battery operated toys for the children, which we have read and reread the US air traffic regulations on but still harbor anxiety about.

Finally, the moment of unpacking is at hand. Everything is tightly compressed in the pack and a faint whiff of the pine forests and wood smoke of my mother’s home in Oregon lingers poignantly on the taught canvas. It’s hard to unzip but I work the zipper down.

The first sniff smells clean. Nothing too terrible could have spilled if it smells good.

After twenty years, this has become a tradition that would be hard to break. And yet, I know that it is no more sustainable than eating out of season. There will likely come a day when flying is either too expensive or limited to make any such packages feasible. Then those of us living far from childhood homes and families will be cut off from small comfort foods, little luxuries and preferred clothing.

For now I savor it, a bit of guilty pleasure, one more duffel from across the world, filled with treasure and home and celebration. Tucked amid the good fabric, toys, games and Dr. B’s, there is homemade candy from my mom and pickled peppers from my brother’s garden. These, of course, are the things no money can buy and no import shop will ever satisfy.

How to be a good-enough parent

”This kid was whining, saying his mom’s name over an over again. She couldn’t even get him to stop.”

All it takes is one of those comments, usually about the bad behavior of kids or families with children getting in the way and a flood is unleashed. Whether the person making the original comment was judging the parent or not, most people jump to the conclusion that the child’s parent is to blame.

Parent shaming is more popular than fat shaming. It’s the most socially acceptable form of public shaming in our society.

If you’re like me and not made of dried rawhide, you probably want to avoid it pretty bad. Fortunately, I’ve read just about every parenting book on the market, and according to some flatterers, I have quite a few parenting tricks up my sleeve.

So here is my fool-proof guide to avoiding parent shame and winning the coveted twenty-first-century “good enough” parent medal.

 Creative Commons image via Pixabay

Creative Commons image via Pixabay

Before you start

  • One of the main reasons parents are shamed is because of overpopulation. Before you start, consider whether or not you should. Our world is suffering from population explosion and ecological collapse. It could be argued… and in practice will be argued that you are selfish for insisting on procreating your own special genes.

  • The easiest way to avoid parent shaming is not to become a parent. Sure, we need to have a next generation to keep the economy going while those virtuous adults who choose not to burden the earth with their off-spring get old, but you might want to leave that up to someone else.

  • Another way to avoid the overpopulation and ecology shamers and still be a parent is to adopt. But you’ll be shamed for adopting too. There are stories about adoptive parents exploiting poor people in other countries and buying children. Even though you personally might not have done that, you can be sure that every time the subject of how you adopted kids is brought up, this issue will be rehashed and you’ll be publicly shamed about it.

  • If you either already have kids or still think you can have kids and avoid shame too, read on.

The loving foundation

  • Most people at least claim that they believe the most important part of parenting is love. It all starts with love and the worst shame any parent can have is to be accused of not loving their kid enough, or heaven forbid, loving one kid more than another. There should be nothing your kid could do that would cause you to stop loving him or her. Well, a school shooting, yeah, then you should stop loving them but other than that. Be unconditionally, unendingly, inexhaustably loving.

  • But not too loving. Don’t smother. Don’t be biased in favor of your kid at public events. Lots of shame comes to those parents who cheer too much or protect their kid from criticism or favor their kid over others.

  • Be loving but know precisely when your child doesn’t want to be kissed or hugged anymore. Physical affection is essential. Just because your child pulls away or shouts obscenities at you doesn’t mean they’ve grown out of the hugging phase. They still need loving hugs, up until the point that they don’t. You have to know where that invisible line is. Stop hugging too early and you’re cold and creating needy sociopathic monsters. Too late and you’re a pathetic cliche.

  • Be loving from a distance when they decide they don’t want to have anything to do with you as young adults. Be loving but have no emotions. Love but don’t expect love back. Be immune to screaming, hateful diatribes. Accept them with equanimity.

Balancing parenting and career

  • Provide for all of your child’s physical and emotional needs. Make sure you have a job that pays well, so that your child never has to be exposed to black mold, a leaky roof, a dangerous neighborhood, cheap and unhealthy food, bully-target clothing or unsafe, cheap toys. Financially poor parents are among the first to be shamed everywhere. If you didn’t have good job prospects, you never should have had the off-spring, so buck up and make money.

  • Moms, be especially sure to have a prestigious job, Set a good example for your daughters. It is unforgivable to give girls the impression that their options are limited. And boys need to see women as powerful and prestigious providers too. Feminists are great at shaming moms who break ranks and don’t get a career. Half-time and place-holding jobs don’t cut it. You’re sending a message that women are limited by their biological childbearing function.

  • Not only must your job be prestigious and keep you out of poverty, it must guarantee a stimulating environment for your child, including expensive educational toys and legos, toddler foreign language and music classes, memberships to sports, arts and crafts clubs and courses, and vacations to exciting places. If your child lags in academics, you clearly missed some of these requirements and it’s all your fault.

  • At the same time, you must be present and attentive to your kids pretty much all the time. If doing this while satisfying the points above requires breaking the space-time continuum, tough beans. Nannies are a lazy-parent trick. Parents who rely on nannies for more than emergencies deserve the shaming they routinely get.

  • Make sure you are home with your kids for at least the first three years of their lives and that you are there when they leave for school and when they get home. In fact, while exercise is good, not driving your kids to school is shame-worthy if you live within a 200-mile radius of any historical child-kidnapping incident, which defines every inhabited place on the planet, except maybe some remote cabins in Greenland.

  • What your kids need more than anything is your constant, reassuring and playful presence. It is the single most important factor in the development of their self-confidence and their educational success. Of course, their day at school needs to be as short as possible and not lengthened by after-school programs, so that you can selfishly work longer hours. They are just children after all and their growing brains cannot handle long days the way adults can. You know who those whispers at pick-up time are about.

Tackling the housework

  • If you were thinking that you can game the previous section by working from home or running a business out of your home, this point is specifically for you.

  • Embrace the mess. Kids are naturally messy and it is unnatural and harmful to deny them the right to be messy or to force them to live in too sterile an environment (defined as spaces in which more than 50 percent of the floor area is walkable). When social workers enter a home on a child-abuse tip, a too-clean home is one of the red flags they are looking for. Shame on those clean-freak parents!

  • Also cleaning does not count as being present and attentive. You need to be playing with your kids, engaging in child-led activities (such as being the evil queen, lady’s made, monster or bad guy running from miniature cops). Cleaning must be kept to a minimum and done only when the kids are asleep, which rules out most home businesses.

  • Ensure a hygienic and stimulating environment for your child. Those same social workers are also looking for cluttered and dirty homes. That goes right on the form. Parents who are slobs and have clearly not washed their floor since it was puked on and who have clutter covering a lot of grime will certainly get shamed.

  • Also clutter doesn’t count as a stimulating environment. If your kids can’t find their educational toys or the pieces to all those games or the wheels of their lego sets, they won’t get the advantages those toys provide.

The care and feeding of littles

  • Ensure that your kids get good nutrition. Processed and prepackaged foods are the worst. Restaurant foods are also highly salted and sugared and full of harmful GMOs, white flour and trans fats. The harm these foods do to a child’s body and brain is truly horrific, including the development of allergies, neurological disorders, obesity, immune disorders and lifelong risks for diabetes and heart disease. (In fact, if your child already has any of those conditions or autism or ADHD, you are pretty much sunk on avoiding parent shame. You will inevitably be told that all they need is a better diet.)

  • You really need to cook from scratch. Bake whole-grain breads, but make sure you test for gluten sensitivities and learn to bake the gluten-free kind, if necessary. Note that cooking, like cleaning, doesn’t count as being present and you’ll need to do it while the kids are asleep or at school.

  • You’ll also have to satisfy both the vegetarian shamers and the “kids need a lot of protein to grow” shamers, but I’ll leave that one up to you.

  • Always keep in mind that sugar and nutrient deficient simple carbohydrates like rice, white bread, noodles and fries must be kept to a minimum. Did I mention that ketchup is mostly sugar? A lot of bad parents around you will be feeding their kids pretty much only these foods—right in front of your kids unless you keep them locked away from society. Because these foods are specifically designed to be attractive and biologically our bodies crave simple carbohydrates, your kids will beg for them. The shame is so easy to slide into.

  • And the most important rule about food is that you must never ever force your kids to eat something. You must provide healthy food, while they watch other kids both in person and on TV consume junk food and fast food. But forcing your kids to eat is one of the easiest things to shame parents about.

  • Food can never become a point of controversy in your home, or you will be “creating eating disorders.”

Fostering education and self-confidence

  • Children are the future and even people who don’t have children will rely on your children’s economic activity when our generation is old, so education is a hugely important part of parenting—the most important part according to many. You must ensure not just adequate but excellent education for your child, if he or she is to have any hope of surviving in the competitive economy these days.

  • As a preschooler, your child needs bright, fun, educational classes in foreign languages, brain development, music and art, and you should be present or right outside the door at all times.

  • You should carefully choose your child’s school. The only consideration allowed when looking at cost or transportation times is the child’s comfort, not yours or your selfish work schedule. You must get your child into a high-quality school or all the rest is your fault.

  • Teachers will expect you to devote several hours to your child’s education every evening, to keep all records and projects in perfect order, to go through backpacks and school materials and replace anything lost in the classroom jumble and to ensure that homework is completed and that the child actually understands what he or she is doing, rather than just parroting answers you gave.

  • Remember while average academic success on an assignment gets a C, which implies that most kids will get that kind of grade, you must make sure your kid isn’t one of them. C students can’t expect professional or academic success and parents of C students are lazy slouchers.

  • Oh, and never pressure your child about academics. The most important thing you can do for your child’s academic success is to boost his or her self-confidence with lots of praise. Praise your child’s every effort and reward good grades but not to the extent that any other child who is not so successful will suffer low self-confidence. Excessive praise would be as unforgivable as pressuring your child to succeed.

  • If they don’t succeed academically, it is your shame, not theirs.

Screen time, consumerism and socialization

  • If a child has social problems at school, it is the parent’s fault. Usually the parent has not provided the right kind of or new enough clothing, school supplies, accessories or toys. That or the parent is extreme and doesn’t allow the child to watch the popular entertainment of the day or play the current video games. Such a child cannot keep up with what the other kids are interested in. Kids will often be unpopular or even experience bullying when they come from extreme households that don’t allow these modern influences.

  • But of course you shouldn’t allow your child to be indoctrinated by consumerism either. There is nothing worse than a whiny, consumerist brat, constantly demanding this and that and thinking only of themselves. You need to identify the exact amount of toys, clothes and consumer items your kids need to survive socially and yet not become spoiled brats. It’s up to you and shame on you if you miss the mark!

  • You’ve no doubt seen the studies about the harmful effects of too much screen time on kids. You must carefully limit your child’s exposure to television, movies, video games and social media. Fifteen to thirty minutes per day might not be harmful but you have got to shut it off after that.

  • Also make sure the experience of shutting off the screens isn’t traumatizing to your child. That’s another reason parents get shamed.

  • And make sure that the denial of this forbidden fruit doesn’t result in your child being obsessed with screen-based entertainment. One more reason.

Morality without forced religion

  • Instead of consumerism and entertainment, make sure your child has a spiritual grounding and a healthy desire to help others. Involve your child in groups and communities which are focused on spiritual values. And above all teach your child right from wrong. This is one of many areas that parents are shamed for neglecting when their children get into trouble.

  • But never ever force a religion or spiritual beliefs on your child. Spiritual abuse is real and often turns kids away from spirituality entirely, which is also the parent’s fault. You can take them to a place of worship a couple of times, but don’t force them to go once they are old enough to wish to play video games instead. They will have to develop altruism and ethics without the structures that every previous generation of humanity relied upon for their spiritual development, and it’s your job to make sure they do (without the help of clergy).

The big one: Behavior and discipline

  • When it comes to separating right from wrong, it is important that you understand the difference between discipline and punishment. You must ensure that your child is disciplined but never punished. Punishment destroys self-confidence and thus higher brain functions.

  • You must teach your child how to behave well, or you will certainly be shamed. But you must never be harsh or punitive. You’ll not only be shamed. You could even be investigated by the authorities, the ultimate shame.

  • There are truck-loads of parenting books about how to ensure respectful and responsible behavior without harsh measures. They all rely on the idea that if you approach your child properly, they will inevitably respond reasonably and logically. Any childish lack of logic or other abnormality that causes your child to misbehave despite the expert strategies. reward charts and carefully phrased respectful reminders is probably your fault too, possibly something you did during pregnancy.

  • You may remind your children of the rules, ask them to sit in “time out” if they become too upset, ask them to ‘do over” whatever they did with poor behavior and provide positive reinforcement when they do behave well.

  • You will be held personally, legally and morally responsible for each and every one of your child’s misdeeds, but you are never allowed to punish them for it. You must be consistent with your rules and guarantee their sanctity, but you must never physically force or confine your child. You can gently remind them of the benefits of following your hard-and-fast, but punitively revoking privileges is no different from punishment.

  • You must at all times treat your child with the same respect you accord to well-behaved adults, even while your child is screaming insults, throwing food in your face and poking his or her siblings in the eye for fun. Respect, say the parenting rules of logic and reason, begets respect, and if it doesn’t, you must have done it wrong.

  • Don’t be a helicopter parent. Allow your child to take risks, so that they understand natural consequences. Natural consequences are the key part of non-punitive discipline. Instead of your punishments, your child should incur the natural consequences of their actions.

  • Of course, you should not allow your child to incur any of the consequences on the following list, or you are a criminally neglectful parent: physical harm, cold, dangerous heat, sunburn, tooth decay, malnutrition, allergic reactions, exposure to dangerous organisms, illness, exposure to dangerous substances, consumption of unhealthy food and its long-term health effects, sleep deprivation, educational failure, social ostracism, emotional trauma or public shame and disgrace. The public shame must be all yours when you fail at parenting. You must protect your child from all of the real consequences while not punishing and not helicoptering.

  • When your child does something even mildly annoying in public, you will be shamed. You need to ensure that your child does not annoy others. After all, you cannot impose your life choices to have a child on those who chose not to have children, even if they are counting on the next generation to keep the Social Security system ticking when they’re old. If your child whines, repeats annoying words, pesters you for attention, fidgets, taps things or otherwise is seen or heard in an annoying fashion, it is clearly because you failed at the point on discipline. You must be attentive and stop the annoying behavior one way or another immediately. However, you must remember to never be punitive or harsh. Otherwise you will not only be publicly shamed but reported to the authorities.

Keeping it all together

  • If doing all this, while working a sufficiently lucrative job, cooking from scratch and making sure your kids’ homework gets done, sounds tough, have no fear. Today people also shame parents for not doing self-care and taking time for their marriages.

  • You must take time for yourself. Go away for at least a couple of days per month with your spouse to ensure your family is rock solid. If your marriage falls apart, your kids will suffer and you’ll never live down the parent shame. (While planning this mandatory self-care, remember what happens to parents who hire nannies and sitters.)

  • If you’re stressed out, harried and gray-haired as a parent, your tone of voice will not be loving enough. Get enough sleep after the kids are in bed, the cleaning and cooking that you can’t do when they’re awake is done and the bills are paid. That’s the only way to avoid the shame of being willfully sleep deprived. You’ll need to use your skills with physics to stretch time in order to make time for reading novels, massage and other quality me-time activities. Remember there’s no excuse for not taking care of yourself, so you can be a good-enough parent.

My best tip is that the next time someone parent-shames you, make them read this.

Good luck! You’ll need it.

You don't have to forgive

I’ve been staring at photos of Jemel Roberson for almost two weeks now. Every violent death of innocent people—there have been so many lately—is a tragedy. Every time the police in the US kill a black person for no conceivable reason, other than prejudice and disregard for their lives, it’s an outrage.

But there is something about Roberson that has me by the throat. It grabbed me even before I saw the pictures of him with his nine-month-old baby. It’s the context. He saved people from a mass shooting, yet another one. He did what all those who oppose sensible gun regulations keep saying some good guy with a gun must do. And then they shot him dead.

And I watch black men and women speak about it—calmly, with dignity, with tightly controlled emotions. I don’t think I could talk about it in person without getting upset. Writing has always been easier for me that way.

But of course, I’m not black. I haven’t been forcibly taught to control my emotions or hide outrage to such an extreme. I respect that dignified control. I try to emulate it without much success. Today it makes me think of an incident that happened at my house, which was a lesson on self-control, manners and forgiveness.

My daughter bursts in the front door, breathless and wide-eyed. “They called her “black face!’” she gasps.

 Creatuve Commons image via pixabay

Creatuve Commons image via pixabay

My husband just drove up with my daughter and her Nigerian friend from the city, age 8, in the car.

“Who?” I spin around. Our little town is very, very white, something my slightly brown children are all too aware of.

Still gasping out each word, my daughter points out to the road. She says both my son and a boy visiting us from across town ran up to my daughter’s friend when she got out of the car and started taunting her, calling her “black face” and a the local term for “African,” which isn’t supposed to be derogatory but lots of things depend on tone.

I run out the door and find the little girl on the front porch alone. I bring her inside and ask for her take on the story. She is mostly silent, answering with shrugs, nods and shakes of the head with her lips pressed together.

“Is it okay to call you that?” I asked.

Shrug.

“Do kids at school call you that?” I know she goes to school in a mostly white area as well.

Nod.

“Do you like it when they do?”

Shake.

The girl is only eight and we’re on the leading edge of Eastern Europe. We don’t exactly get consciousness raising here, so I can’t assume much. I explain that it isn’t okay for people to call her things she doesn’t like or to make fun of how she looks. As I explain, she slowly relaxes. This is only the second time she’s been away from home over night with white people and she barely got out of the car when this happened.

Justice will wait a moment in favor of therapy. I spend a good long time reassuring her that this is not okay and I won’t let anyone say those things in my house, no matter what. I reassure her that she is beautiful—and she is objectively stunning for an eight-year-old as it so happens. She nods but looks unconvinced.

I do get confirmation that it was my son as well as his friend calling names and I try not to show that this not only deeply embarrasses me but fills me with rage. She doesn’t need my emotions. but my kids are adopted from a racially marginalized group here in Eastern Europe and they have been called “black face” themselves, although they are many shades lighter than the Nigerian girl.

That my son would participate in this… There are no words.

I give her my own apology and send both girls upstairs to play and go out to slay demons.

When I corner the boys outside, they are initially unrepentant—silly, stumbling and giggling. This almost, but not quite, breaks my cool. I want nothing more than to rip them to shreds.

I ask for their side of the story. They attempt to say they were just playing, just kidding, but admit to using the words. The visiting boy admits fairly easily. He isn’t entirely sure these are bad words. My son knows better and it takes longer to get the truth out of him.

I need to cool off to keep from doing something illegal, so I put my son behind one door and the other boy alone on the porch for a time-out. After awhile, my son is more open to talking and he tells all.

The other little boy is frightened and crying. I know that his father just left definitively a couple of weeks ago and that his mother cleans houses. I note with quiet irony that the Nigerian girl’s mother cleans for a living too.

When children do really bad or dangerous things, things parents want to stop in their tracks, there is a conundrum. It isn’t garden-variety naughtiness and with rambunctious kids like mine, they have already seen every acceptable disciplinary strategy in more than a dozen parenting books. Giving them regular discipline (time-out, apologize, revoke video game privileges) seems woefully inadequate and I want to make this eminently memorable.

I talk to my son alone, keeping my fury in check.

“Why did you call her that?”

“It was funny.”

“Has anyone ever called you that?”

Negative head shake.

“Well, actually I happen to know that they did when you were in kindergarten. Lots. It was a big problem. That one teacher…”

Shrug.

I had to bite my tongue. Unlike the kids and some parents, the teacher had not called him “black” or “gypsy” but she had said “those people have trouble in school” and “it’s about the genes, you know.” In the spring she had insisted that he had a contagious skin disease and would be banned from kindergarten for the several weeks it would take to be completely screened by dermatologists. Fortunately, the pediatrician stood up to her. It was ant bites. But all Marik knew was that he had to go to the doctor and the teacher was upset and the doctor said it was silly. As a mother you protect six-year-olds from some of the world’s worst truths, but kids and parents had said those things to him.

“Do you like it when people call you something like that?” I pressed.

Head shake.

Sigh. “Do you think you can give her a really really good apology?”

Nod.

I am far from satisfied, but I go out to talk to the other boy. He’s wiping his tears on his sleeve. This is even harder, though less personally humiliating, since he isn’t my son.

“Have you ever seen an African person before?” We essentially don’t have any local people of African origin here, so this is more or less how I phrase it.

“No.”

Much as I thought. “Why did you call her those words and laugh at her?”

Shrug. “I don’t know.”

“Have you heard other people use those words about African people or other people with brown skin?”

“Yeah.”

“I understand that you heard older kids and grownups use those words. That still doesn’t mean they are okay. It is not okay to call people names and I will never allow those kinds of words at my house. Even outside my house, if you use them, you won’t be welcome at my house. Do you understand me?”

Slight nod.

“Do you think you can say you’re sorry in a really nice way?”

“She’s black. It’s true.”

I’m momentarily at a loss for words. He’s only seven. I didn’t expect much resistance, though I didn’t have any great hopes of making a lasting impression on him either.

I again have to leave in order to avoid coming down like a ton of bricks on someone else’s kid.

I leave the boys in separate confinement for awhile yet. Then I bring them both out to the porch. I tell them that they need to apologize extremely well or my son’s friend will have to go home immediately. I know his single mother is looking forward to a day of rest with him here, but that’s just tough. He will go home if he is recalcitrant on this one.

Before I’m finished the two have started giggling again but I reiterate the consequences and they start to get serious, when they realize I mean it. I have my phone out, ready to make the call.

They start crying and we discuss more. My son’s friend unexpectedly states that kids at school do call my son those names. My son argues that it is mostly only one kid. Obviously he wasn’t telling the full truth before. I discuss with them the ridiculous nature of calling someone with slightly tan skin “black” and point out that the Nigerian girl is also not technically black in color, but more like dark brown. I reiterate that these differences don’t matter and it it is not okay to laugh at someone’s appearance anyway.

Slowly they both appear a bit more genuinely contrite. Finally, I leave them to plan their profuse apology and go upstairs to see the girls again.

I ask the Nigerian girl if she would come down, when she isn’t busy. Overly polite child that she is, she jumps up immediately to go downstairs. I ask her if she would be willing to listen to the boys’ apology. She agrees.

We join the boys outside, and I reiterate for everyone that it isn’t okay to call people names or laugh at anyone’s appearance or background. The boys actually do a pretty good job of apologizing and I almost ask, “Do you forgive them?” But I bite my tongue again.

She’s standing there with her head high, looking down on them from the top step of the porch, while they stand on the grass in the deepening dusk. I think on the fact that white people have probably never apologized to her for racism before. It will be a rarity in her future as well, if she ever gets another such apology, and the racism isn’t going to stop.

The handling of this moment is as crucial as any other step I’ve taken in resolving this deceptively childish conflict.

“You don’t have to forgive them,” I tell her. “They can handle it themselves. But you can forgive them if it makes you feel any better.”

She takes a moment more to look down on them and then says with the most impeccable manners I could wish my kids had, “I forgive you. Thank you for your apology.”

Then she turns and goes back to playing upstairs.

I let the boys come in the house and mostly things continue well, except that I discover that it is the Nigerian girl’s birthday. They don’t do birthday parties in her family, so no one mentioned it when we invited her. I decide this is a perfect opportunity to make the rest of the day all about her.

The boys have to work off a bit of their naughtiness by cleaning the floor. I whip together the world’s fastest chocolate cake and make the boys wrap a gift. The birthday girl is wide-eyed and stunned when she comes downstairs again to our impromptu decorations and party. She says she’s seen birthday parties on TV and she does everything just like in the movies, closing her eyes and putting on a dramatic show of making a wish and blowing out the candles.

In the middle of eating the cake, the seven-year-old who had never seen a black person up close before blurts, “At least you don’t have to worry about getting chocolate on your face, since…”:

I growl his name and fix him with a death-glare across the table. He gulps and wisely shuts up.

She doesn’t appear to notice.

By the time I tuck all four kids into bed, I am aching and exhausted. I feel like I have been literally fighting a war. I don’t know if I’ve won anything this day and I am sure that tomorrow and every single day we’ll still be fighting it.

How does this relate to the case of Jemel Roberson exactly? Well, it isn’t just that case of course. But I would say to all the black people who hurt inside or out because of this lethal and crushing racism we are living with, “Thank you for your calm and your manners and your endless attempts to live in peace with us. You do not have to forgive white people, even when we apologize. We can live with not being forgiven. What we need is to learn and remember and do better in the future.”

Do you believe a woman, a child or a surveillance video?

I wasn’t alive during the US Civil War or even the civil rights protests in the 1960s, but when I study those times it is clear that the United States was divided. There were groups of people who saw themselves as so different that they could not be contained by the same nation. There was such anger and hurt, injustice and resentment that many people at the time did not believe the country could ever be reconciled.

And maybe in some ways, it never was.

Other problems came up and the deep rifts between groups became submerged for a while, but they did not go away. In fact, they have returned with a vengeance. Today it is easy to imagine a war between sides in the United States.

Cornerstore Caroline racism sexism divide.jpg

And I am not a peacemaker. I stand on one of the sides. On my side there is so much rage, pain and fear for the future. I feel rage when I hear the news. Yes, rage. I may not show it on my face because I’m with my kids or sitting in a waiting room with strangers. But my most basic reaction to current events is rage against the greed, indecent selfishness, self-destructive delusions, raw bigotry and careless destruction going on at the highest levels of our society.

But I am also steady enough to understand that on the other side there is deep fear and resentment as well. And they too feel rage.

The other side feels unjustly blamed and accused. They have only been trying to get by and build good lives for themselves. They are sick and tired of always being the ones who have to give back and retreat—for that is how they see themselves. The people on the other side—not the insanely wealthy few, but the people—have watched their hard-won standard of living slip, their income shrink and their self-image be trampled.

I’m not claiming to be objective. I do believe there is right and wrong. But I believe wrong can fiercely and truly believe it is right.

Take for instance the incident at a Brooklyn corner store that has been going around the internet. For those, who heard about it even later than I did or have been doing healthier things than staring at screens, let me explain.

First, a video surfaced of a woman at a corner store in Brooklyn who was distraught and calling the police. She said someone had grabbed her “ass” and it was a nine-year-old boy. This would be enough for any controversy, but add in the fact that the woman is white and the child is black and you’ve got an explosive American brew.

In the video the woman acts indignant and injured and is clearly also anxious, feeling outnumbered by people who disagree with her handling of the situation. Even another white woman comes up to her and tells her to stop. Her reasoning isn’t that she doesn’t believe the other woman. She is simply saying that you don’t call the police on a little kid. You handle it. You talk to their parent or give them a stern “no, that’s bad touching.” You don’t call the police.

The 911 operator seems to agree and although the voice of the operator isn’t clear on the video, the woman hangs up unhappy with the result.

Now given the recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice over the vehement objections of about half of the nation because of untried allegations of sexual assault the issue of believing a woman alleging harassment is a fiery topic.

On the one hand, this was a child—not an older teen like Kavanaugh was but a small child. On the other hand, as any parent of a smaller-than-average or disabled child knows, kids that age can still be vicious. And just as the allegations against Kavanaugh pointed out, although sexual harassment by a minor may not warrant prosecution, it can point to a lasting problem of character and ethics.

Should the lady have called the police? No, if she had been grabbed on the buttocks by a boy, there would be reason for a discussion with him and his parent.

Except… a week later surveillance video emerged showing that the boy simply walked by the woman in front of his mother and a younger child. His backpack brushed against her. That was all.

Some will take this to mean that the woman maliciously made the whole thing up. Some will even grasp at it as an example to put up when women accuse men of sexual assault. If this woman could “make it all up” then how can we say others don’t do the same.

It is worth considering the social atmosphere of extreme tension and division this is taking place in. Here is a woman at a corner store in Brooklyn. She is part of the powerful, white majority in the country, a majority that has been blamed very publicly for much of what is wrong in our society because of the history of white colonization, racial oppression and structural racism.

But she is also a woman and as we know, the vast majority of women really do encounter sexual harassment and a huge portion experience violent sexual assault. This woman could easily have experienced sexual assault in the past.

And whether we like it or not, in Brooklyn she is likely a racial minority in the immediate area and likely to feel both resentful and threatened. Most people of color treat white people like people, sometimes with a bit of caution and hesitation, but without open hostility. But there are those who, in reaction to structural racism, are hostile to white individuals, particularly to those who may be oblivious to their role in continuing racial injustice.

This woman likely felt a lot of racial tension in her neighborhood. She was likely afraid of young black men because of stereotypes and the social divide that keeps her from having positive experiences with them.

And she fears sexual assault from all men, because statistically it’s a real danger.

So, I am not one hundred percent convinced that she intentionally made it up. A couple of weeks after the incident there was another interview with her in which she still claims she was grabbed, despite the obvious proof of the surveillance video. I hazard to guess that she felt some ridges on the child’s backpack and mistook them for fingers. I can easily believe she thought the child had scraped his fingers across her “ass.”

Trivial? If it were real, it wouldn’t have been trivial. It would have warranted a good talking-to and any black mother worth her salt would have been on the kid like a ton of bricks. Life expectancy is short enough for young black boys as it is. No mother needs to add actually being disrespectful toward women to the already considerable risk factors a black male child faces.

To those who point to such an episode and say “See! You liberals only believe women when it suits you,” I would say that our outrage is not against the woman’s allegation per se. Our anger is over two things. First, you don’t call the cops on a nine-year-old who is unarmed and non-threatening. You talk and you be a grown-up. The fact that she did call the cops and did not try to talk about it shows that she automatically saw this boy as so bad that discussion would be pointless.

Second, at least part of her wrong assumption in the first place came from her racist conditioning to see young black boys as bad and dangerous. She felt an uncomfortable sensation and turned around and saw a black boy and her immediate thoughts were negative.

Should she have turned around and checked to see what was going on when she felt an odd sensation brush by her? Sure. If she’d met the kid’s eyes she would have seen that he hadn’t even noticed her. If that wasn’t enough, she could have engaged in conversation and quickly understood what was what.

It is not a racist infraction to feel something brush suggestively against your butt and spin around. Unfortunately, women have good cause.

What is racist is to let indoctrinated and unsubstantiated fear take over and make judgments of others far beyond the facts because of their race (or other irrelevant characteristics for that matter).

And people, I know things are tough and divided right now. But could we at least agree not to call the police on little children?

The first reason for outrage: Living with climate change

Your grown children scrape at the rock-hard ground with salvaged hand tools, trying to turn the baked mud. They have realized their dreams and they have professional careers but today—in 2050—everyone has to keep a garden to supplement the limited food they can buy at exorbitant prices.

A torrential flood came through last winter and took away what was left of the homes built in better times. But the water didn’t stay.

When the three-day storm was spent, all that was left was stinking mud on everything—tainted with the bodies of people and animals and with chemical spills. Now the drought has returned with a vengeance. It hasn’t rained in weeks and early spring looks like late summer used to look, at least in the sky.

 Creative Commons by Asia Development Bank

Creative Commons by Asia Development Bank

There are no trees left. Those were cut long ago for fires and to build makeshift shelters when houses were destroyed by winter floods and summer brush fires. What is left are mostly the hardier sort of weeds. Even if they can plant the seeds they have left, your children won’t see much of a harvest. Just like last year, the insects are the only life that is flourishing and they swarm in clouds that can make breathing difficult on some days.

Even with their career jobs, they need this garden. Your youngest grandchildren—which you may well not be alive to meet, if you were in your twenties in 2018—sit listlessly in the dust beside the garden. The low-nutrient diet and grinding stress of survival takes its toll on both mind and body, especially for the youngest ones. They can barely muster the energy to cry, let alone play. They are wracked by sicknesses that your generation believed banished from your wealthy country forever.

They are still better off than the wretches your children see along the road outside, refugees from the south. Long lines of refugees were something you saw on the news. They are now something your children and grandchildren see on their doorstep and all along the high fences your children built to protect their scrubby garden.

The lines of people trudging by never end and they look like walking skeletons. They don’t beg as much as they used to. By now they know that your children don’t have enough for their own and they go on, hoping against all the facts to find a place with some rain… but not too much rain.

This is what famine and drought look like and it’s what life will likely resemble in 2050 in the US Midwest and Southern Europe, if carbon emissions from coal, gas or oil burning and factory farming continue apace. According to the recent report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this is the kind of impact we can expect from a 2°C rise in global average temperature, a level we’ll reach by around 2050 if we continue as we are and by 2100 even if we implement the more widely accepted agreements on emissions reduction.

 Creative Commons image by Tim J. Keegan

Creative Commons image by Tim J. Keegan

A 2°C temperature rise doesn’t sound bad to many people in northern climates. The problem is that it is an average and it isn’t equally distributed. It also is a lot more drastic than it sounds for the earth’s climate. Even such a small-sounding temperature change would mean widespread drought.

Extreme weather events would hit temperate areas the way they are now hitting desert areas such as the Middle East. The areas hit today will become uninhabitable.

Still many people don’t register the realities of such impacts. Scientists often call out people who predict the collapse of civilization due to climate change. A 2°C temperature rise may be bad but it would probably not mean the complete destruction of modern industrial and consumer society. And most people in wealthy countries will still live, just poorer and shorter lives.

Scientists deal in probabilities and theories. They aren't supposed to look at impacts personally or allow emotion in. That prevents them from extrapolating out what their data would actually mean for their own family as I have done here. And even so, many climate scientists are suffering from clinical levels of anxiety and depression due to their understanding of what is coming and the lack of response from the wider population or the outright denial of many in positions with the power to change it.

If you are over thirty and your children are already half grown, this may be the fate in store for your grandchildren and great grandchildren instead. But he fact still remains, that this is the life we are creating. On paper the predictions don’t sound that bad for people in temperate climates. Most predictions focus on the fact that some more vulnerable areas which are already very hot will become uninhabitable either by flooding or extreme drought. Many people in the equatorial countries may die outright.

But those countries are far from the English-speaking world. And the predictions scientists put forward about us sound dry and theoretical. “Decreases in crop yields, increases in pest infestations and extreme weather events, increases in disease, spreading drought in certain areas and increases in coastal flooding.”

If you have never been bothered by any of these things and do not currently raise food from the land, it all sounds distant and like someone else’s problem. Many people assume it will simply mean that food is more expensive. But I have spent a fair amount of time in countries where this type of weather is common today, the countries likely to be hit hardest and earliest by climate change, such as Bangladesh. The weather that scientists predict for much of the American west and the Midwest and for large parts of Central Europe is the weather these vulnerable places already have and their dismal economic realities may be a crystal ball in which we can see our own future.

 Creative Commons image by Tavis Ford

Creative Commons image by Tavis Ford

Food is likely to become so expensive that many more people will have to be engaged in growing or attempting to grow food, even if it is only to supplement what they can buy.

The lackadaisical view of climate change so common in society today isn’t really surprising. On the one hand, we have dry predictions which give little indication of the wrenching realities they factually describe.

On the other hand, there are the more fictionalized predictions of the collapse of civilization as we know it and the death of whole swaths of the population.

One sounds incremental and abstract. The other is easy to dismiss as unrealistic and if it were actually likely, many people would decide it’s better to live with all comforts now than struggle to be one of the few miserable survivors in such a world. Better to die quickly is the trendy, distanced logic, so why try to fight it if we’re doomed anyway?

But neither of these is a real depiction of what climate change means for us and our families. The reality isn’t total annihilation and neither is it merely a matter of higher prices. It means a lot of real hardship and heartbreak. Life will go on unless global average temperatures reach the 4°-5°C-above-pre-industrial-temperatures range. But it will be a much harder life than it needs to be.

Climate change is currently the umpteenth reason for outrage. Many of us are so exhausted by poverty, discrimination, racism, sexual assault, war, ableism, denial of health care, general bullying and immediate environmental pollution that climate change gets put on the back burner or at least low on the activist’s list of grievances.

It should be the first reason for outrage and the rallying cry. Climate change effects everyone and it is the thing that across all underprivileged groups we have contributed to least but which harms us most. It is caused only slightly by individual actions and more by corporations and heavy industry. It is the most essential injustice and those who will suffer most from it are those who have no voice at all—small children and those not yet born.

At the new moon, I will paint another word picture about climate change—this time about the sort of effort and lifestyle it would take to prevent this level of climate change. Outrage is necessary and so is hope.

Who would I have been in the days leading up to Nazi Germany, Stalinist Prague or US slavery times?

In 1996, I sat in a class of American college students on a study-abroad program in Olomouc in the Czech Republic. A Czech man just a few years older than us came in to give a lecture about life in the 1980s under Stalinist totalitarianism and the Soviet occupation. I don’t remember the exact details of the lecture but it was good. It was moving and detailed and real.

I was the only one in the class who knew much of it already and who spoke Czech. I had been to the country before in 1992 and had my mind exploded during a week in a rustic cabin with a group of young people who had been quiet dissidents three years earlier, copying down illegal protest songs by hand in tattered notebooks.

 Creative Commons image by Xabier Otegi

Creative Commons image by Xabier Otegi

I absorbed the university lecture eagerly, asking several questions at the end to draw out interesting parts of the man’s story. Then I made myself stop. I didn’t want to hog the space and I knew I should let the others ask. But when I looked around there was not one hand raised.

One of the American college students, sprawled in a chair at the back of the class, drawled, “Yeah, that’s the difference over here. Americans would never have put up with that.”

It sounds like a cliche but I really felt like something hit me in the chest. I had no breath. Before I could recover, the class broke up and the lecturer exited quickly, while my classmates put their notebooks away and went out for an afternoon of Czech beer.

Listening to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the US supreme Court and the protesters screaming for all they were worth from the gallery, I thought of that remark and of Jan Palach, the student who lit himself on fire in protest of the Soviet invasion of 1968. Palach is a symbol of the final and most extreme protest when oppression has become so immense that dissent is easily silenced, dismissed, buried or imprisoned.

Things have gone from bad to worse in the US in the past two years. The quiet corporate coop that made a mockery of electoral democracy for decades has become overt. The extreme racist, misogynist, eco-cidal ideology that was threatening before has taken more and more power by more and more unjustifiable means.

Plenty of readers will sneer at my title and say that I should not compare this to Nazi Germany, Stalinist Czechoslovakia or slavery times. We are not seeing people shot in the streets… well, except when they are black and vaguely suspected of something. We can still protest. We cannot compare ourselves to Jan Palach and those who had all of their other options taken away.

And that is true. We still can protest. And that is why those screams made me think of Jan Palach. Those protesters hauled off by security were mocked by many. They screamed as a man credibly accused of sexual assault, a man with clearly stated misogynist and extremist views was given lifetime power over us.

They yelled and made a scene and they were ultimately powerless to do anything. The charade of “democracy” went on with smug indifference. Those in power snicker and call their “tantrums” futile and petty.

But it is not nothing to scream at injustice and the destruction of a democratic country. It is not nothing. It is the one thing that still stands between us and the likes of Jan Palach. We can still scream where it is heard. He couldn’t without ending up being tortured in a dark cell.

There is a meme on Facebook that says “You now know what you would have done in Nazi Germany. You’re doing it right now.”

The idea is that the early days of Nazi Germany did not look so different from our current situation, a terribly polarized country with a ridiculous, extreme right-wing faction gaining popular support among a certain frustrated portion of the population while most of the traditional powers tut-tutted and insisted that any resistance be done through their channels. Most of the middle class and intellectuals were sure for a very long time that it wasn’t really that bad, that these nuts would not get total control. They considered the Nazis to be deplorable certainly but not a real threat.

And most people either were swept up into the extremism because they were easily swayed by advertising and razzle-dazzle or they disliked the extremists who gained power but just grumbled quietly about it and mostly made sure not to take any great personal risks.

The thinking behind the meme is that the beginnings of Nazi Germany looked a lot like the United States today and so it is now easy to tell what kind of person you would have been then. And in some ways that meme is right. We have far different technology and public discourse and we are more aware of totalitarianism than most people were then. But the same dynamic is clearly visible, the same divided groups and the same vulnerability to manipulative extremism.

I don’t compare our times to the height of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Prague or slavery times. I do compare our times to the run-up to such moments in history. We are still in the stage where we can scream and not be shot—most of us. We are not yet faced with the choice Jan Palach perceived—to live in utter oppression or to die loudly enough that the scream will at least break the oppressive silence.

And so I ask myself who would I have been in the days leading up to the darkest times in history?

And today I know the answer.

I would have been a writer who wrote the truth even if it meant losing jobs—and eventually a career—over it. I have done that. I have lost jobs and lost my hard-fought career in newspaper journalism with one of the best national newspapers in large part because I wouldn’t tow the line and I broke out of the mold of the celebrity-focused, reality-impaired news too often. I had a couple of run-ins with censorship of historical facts and ended up on the NRA’s journalist “hit list” before I was done.

I would have been a member of a vulnerable group who could not get work or participate in mainstream society in my own country because of the self-destructive way that country was organized which directly excluded my group. Because of that I would have been forced to leave the country and spend my life far from my home and family. I left the United States twenty years ago because as a legally blind person I could not be independent and fully participate in society without public transportation, which is today one of the greatest needs for everyone to combat climate change. Because I am legally blind, the community I emigrated to does not entirely accept me either, but I do have public transportation and so I can have a normal life, a family and a job. The same was true of many who fled destructive regimes for other reasons—less-than enthusiastic welcome but a chance to live.

Whether I stayed or left, I would have been active in protest movements, organizing as long and as hard as I could. I led protests against the war in Iraq in my city, even though it cost me another job and impacted my health. But for a long time I would not have been among those who dropped everything to protest full-time or risked the most. I participated in actions to support Greenpeace blockaders who did risk their lives to protest US imperialism and environmental destruction. I was terribly afraid when I was almost caught by military police while bringing food to an encampment. All I risked that time was a trip to the local jail, a fine and a record. But I quaked with fear and because I was trying to adopt children and didn’t want the possible bureaucratic repercussions, I didn’t ask to take on a riskier role in the protests.

In those other times, I still would have adopted children from a vulnerable group, despite disapproval from many sides. I have done that. I would have been one of those people who held down a hearth and cooked food and let people traveling to protests or fleeing from danger sleep in their home. That too I have done.

 Creative Commons image by Michelle of flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Michelle of flickr.com

I would also have been among those who eventually became too exhausted by hand-to-mouth work and health problems to go to most protests. I am exhausted. Most protests are too far and too difficult for me to get to anymore. Then again, needy children keep me tied down. I would have been one of those who found a small corner to hide in when I got older and less physically strong. I would have continued in small ways to resist personally and to give help to the endangered ones who crossed my path.

I would have been among those who wished to do something significant, to join the “real resistance,” but didn’t first because of fear and later because of those who already depended on me. I have fantasies of helping refugees from war-torn and climate-devastated regions. I have fantasies of going off to live in camps at places like Standing Rock to put my body between the corporations and the destruction of the earth’s climate and our children’s future. But I haven’t done it. I am less afraid now that I am older. There is less at stake because there is less of my life and no career or adoption process left to lose.

I would have been a quiet ally to those most targeted by the oppression. I would have stood up for them against social bullying and helped if I could. But I wouldn’t have had either the energy or the capacity to do much that really mattered, because I am also not among the privileged and because even when I don’t fear for my own life and livelihood, I fear for my children, and because of distance and lack of funds and reticence toward cold, hard living.

I would not have been a hero or one remembered by history. I would not have been a collaborator or someone who willfully didn’t see what was happening. I would have been willing to sacrifice a job or a career, but not my family in order to tell the truth. I would have done small things to help those worst affected and felt guilty that I didn’t do more. I would have been among those taking carefully measured risks. And unless I was among the unlucky few—like say Heather Heyer— I wouldn’t have paid the highest price. I know because that is the kind of character I am in our current story.

Have you let yourself think this through? Who would you have been?

Avoid falsely easy answers. You may be among those targeted by hate today but there are likely others who are in greater danger—assuming you have the leisure to be reading my blog.

If you are among those most targeted today, consider that victims also had options back then. Would you have been among those who left early, who found a way out or a way to fight back? Would you have been among those who covered their ears and prayed that it would not go so far? Would you have been among those who blamed your friends and neighbors or joined with them in mutual aid to survive? What is it you are doing today? Are you lashing out at allies or frozen with fear or getting your children to safety and building alliances?

And if you are part of a group that is not yet targeted, who would you have been then? Would you have been the bystander who knew a bit of what was going on but chose not to get too involved? Would you have been the one who who shut their ears and eyes to the suffering of others and the devastation of their homes? Would you have had the courage to use what rights you had to say “no,” to protest loudly when you could and to give aid quietly?

Who would you have been? A lot of the wondering has been resolved in the past two years. Who are you now?

In the hurricane: How one child's storm can swamp a family

Snapshot

Rain patters on the roof on a Saturday morning. The comforting, homey sounds of pouring cereal and my seven-year-old’s chatter lull me.

My nine-year-old daughter cruises around the room, poking at objects, shifting things around randomly, dropping things, babbling in the toddler syllables that take over at home from her fairly normal speech in public.

After a few minutes, she disappears outside. I will need to corral her soon and ensure that she takes her supplements, brushes her hair and eats something, preferably something with protein, but I put it off for a few more minutes. We almost never have a relaxed weekend morning at home.

The seven-year-old starts his piano practice and homework. The nine-year-old has been in and out several times. I manage to get her to swallow the supplements and she only screams a little when she has to sit and brush her hair. They have been really good this morning and I remember that there is the last of a cobbler in the oven.

I talk my daughter into an egg for breakfast, as brain ballast, and then tell them we’ll have a morning treat—cobbler with some spray whipped cream from the can that Papa got yesterday.

 Creative Commons image by Hamid Najafi

Creative Commons image by Hamid Najafi

I know this is one of my daughter’s favorites. With its contents of sugar and preservatives, canned whipped cream isn’t great for her and it could cause a bit of chaos and mental fragility today, but she’ll be able to blow off steam outside.

The kids both cheer, united for once, and I go to the fridge to get the coveted can.

A quick glance doesn’t reveal it so I start shifting containers. Then I start a systematic search, top to bottom. No whipped cream. I

know it was there last night and I know my husband doesn’t like it. I ask my daughter, who is most invested in it to come and look. She scours the fridge and sounds completely baffled by the missing whipped cream, though not upset.

“I’m going outside,” she says with a resigned shrug. “I give up.” No baby talk in that at least.

I notice when she’s at the door. She’s headed out the door away from the trampoline and the swing. “Where are you going? “ I ask absently, my head still in the fridge.

“To see the chickens,” she says and slams the door.

A few minutes later she is back, buzzing around, her vibe becoming more frantic as the morning progresses. She knocks books off the table and scatters bits of broken plastic from a toy across the floor. She puts muddy hands on the food I’m making for lunch. She won’t either do her homework or play. She refuses cobbler with no whipped cream. Too much fruit. “Yucky.”

Then she says she’s going to visit the chickens again.

“What are you doing with the chickens? “ A jolt of alarm goes into me. Our chickens are large, tough and utilitarian. I am only a little concerned for their safety, but she has never shown any interest in the chickens before, except for the one day when we brought home somewhat cute, half-grown chicks.

“I just really like the chickens. I really really like them,” she calls back as she slams the door again.

Suspicion blooms inside me. I meet my seven-year-old’s gaze. He doesn’t say a word but slides off his chair and dashes to the door. Not a word has passed between us on the subject but I know he is going to spy out what she is doing at the chicken coop. It will no doubt result in conflict and very possibly a fist fight.

I’m too exhausted to stop him though. The past few days have been a whirlwind—an endless string of work, her meltdowns, doctor’s appointments and school problems. The relative calm of cooking while dealing with kids has me groggy. And anyway it’s seventy yards up a steep hill to the chicken coop and I have onions frying in a pan for soup and a dishpan full of soapy dishes.

Someone needs to check on what is going on at the chicken coop, so I let the seven-year-old do it.

 Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

In two minutes, he’s back, the empty whipped cream can held up demonstratively. “Yup, she was squirting it into her mouth,” he says, confirming both of our unspoken suspicions.

I am grateful that he doesn’t care that much about canned whipped cream. One less bickering fight between siblings. I’m also impressed to see that he managed to get custody of the canister without physical injury… hopefully to either of them. The can is entirely empty, so she probably abandoned it to the chickens.

Confession

I’m going to write about life and parenting with a neuro-diverse child. There will be people who judge me for even mentioning children in my writing. The new thinking is that one should wait until they are adults and then ask for their consent before writing about them.

There will also be those who curse me for telling the harder side of living with a neuro-diverse person. There is a heavy push for parents to gush about how privileged and honored we are to parent this specific child. It comes after several decades in which parents of neuro-diverse kids were sainted and considered to be charitable saviors of mental invalids. Now the pendulum has swung the other direction, and we are required to abase ourselves in gratitude for a life that is in most cases still both physically and psychologically exhausting but also just part of life.

As usual, I am not much influenced by the trends. I am writing about this because there is a crisis in judgment of and pressure on families with neuro-diverse members. Services and educational adaptation are minimal and the vast majority of the blame for any difficulties is shunted onto families, who are almost always struggling as hard as they can to help those with neuro-diverse conditions survive and thrive in a brutally neuro-typical world.

Another reason is that once the years have passed, it is unlikely that I or anyone else will remember what these years were like. Middle childhood can be a very difficult period for many neuro-diverse children and their families. Most outsiders have no clue and are quick to jump to judgment when they see the outward manifestations. Even neuro-diverse adults often forget what the day-to-day reality was like. This is a world that rarely gets a detailed accounting.

For that reason as well, I will write.

Snapshot

“I want it! Now! Now! Now! I hate you! You’re the worst parents! I hate you! I want it! Please! Please! I’ll be good! I’ll be sooo good! I hate you! No! No! I want it!”

My nine-year-old daughter shrieks as my husband and I pull her out of the mall by gripping her upper arms on either side, careful not to injure her but firm in our refusal to let her topple displays or persist in a demand-based tantrum.

This was meant to be a quick stop for groceries but things have derailed. She is twisting between us, kicking at our legs with her sharp little princess heels, interspersed with frantic promises to be perfect and manic screeches of hatred. She turns to sink her teeth into my hands, but I am still stronger and quicker than her. I shift my grip and deftly avoid the bite.

The meltdown was most directly sparked because she saw the round pink globes of LOL dolls in a toy store window and insisted that she must have one. These collector’s dolls come in opaque round packages. You cannot tell which one you’re getting. That apparently is the fun in it or maybe just the profit in it for the manufacturer. They are only a tad more complex than the toys in a Happy Meal but they cost a solid $25 per secret package where we live.

My husband and I aren’t impressed by the dolls in the first place and we generally don’t buy toys for the kids during random shopping trips, let alone anything that expensive. Her name day is coming up in a few weeks and I suggested that she could ask for one of these dolls for her name-day gift. That started the whining, yelling and kicking, though it was still at a somewhat subdued wheedling level and was mostly directed at Papa, who is more amenable to impulsive purchases than I am.

But he has been practicing sticking to his statements with her and he had already said no. He repeated himself more firmly and that sparked the all-out revolt.

We finally pass through the automatic doors of the mall and my husband releases her arm, apparently assuming that she’ll stamp her feet, sulk and eventually recover. But instead she wrenches her other arm out of my grip and spins toward the doors with lightning speed. I catch her round the middle, glad that I’m still relatively agile. My husband turns, slower to react and stares. Then she tears herself away from me and sprints into the parking lot, across lanes of traffic, heading in a straight line away from us.

“Get the car!” I yell over my shoulder and dash after her.

I’m very nearsighted and I dare not let her get too far away, but I know that the only way we’ll contain this situation is if we can get her in the car. She reaches the end of the parking lot without slowing down and disappears through a line of shrubs still a hundred feet in front of me. I break through the shrubbery and find myself on the exit ramp of a gas station.

I don’t see my nine-year-old as I dash across it and come around the pillars of a giant gas station sign. There is another line of denser shrubbery behind it. I run past it but then turn, real fear hitting my breathless body as I survey the gas pumps and cars. There are now many directions she could have gone and I can’t see any sign of her purple shirt and turquoise mini-skirt.

Fortunately, I’m seriously winded by this time though and my feet don’t carry me far beyond the shrubs. I hear a tiny noise and spin to see her crouching low under the branches. She stares for a split second before she leaps away and that’s all it takes. I grab and latch onto her arm with an iron grip. I pull her back around to the exit ramp and my husband drives up in our car, which is something between a hatch back and a mini-van with sliding doors in the back. He opens a door from the inside and I wrestle our struggling, screaming daughter inside.

No one appears to have noticed and I’m momentarily torn between relief and cynicism, considering that to any bystander the scene just played out looked exactly like the classic Hollywood portrayal of a child kidnapping.

 Creative Commons image by Jeffrey Kontur

Creative Commons image by Jeffrey Kontur

She is still screaming and kicking in the back seat. We can’t stay on the exit ramp with cars behind us, so my husband drives two blocks to find a place to pull over, so that we can wrestle her into her seat belt. She seems moderately calmer and we reiterate that she can ask for a toy for her name day but she will not get this toy today or anytime soon, due to her current behavior.

We have to keep going. We’ve had dinner and it’s nearly bedtime. If she doesn’t get into bed at the right time, she will meltdown in the morning and not get to school and then someone won’t get to work. “Just wait them out” is almost universal parenting advice. It’s meant well but it often doesn’t work in the real world.

We get back into the front and my husband pulls the car onto the freeway. It seems unlikely that she could actually plan this, but as soon as we’re in heavy traffic she starts up again, kicking my seat and hitting her brother, yelling insults at him. I reach back and seize her hands, keeping her from physically tormenting the seven-year-old.

By this time we’re on a freeway bridge and there is nothing more to do. I meet his eyes and talk in a low, calm voice under the screeching.

“I know this isn’t fair. I’m sorry. I need you to be a big kid and be calm,” I tell him. I explain that the nine-year-old is having a really hard time and has a problem in her brain that makes it very hard for her to regain control. She screams insults and bullying names at him and starts to cry a bit. I hold him with my gaze and he keeps his hands away from her.

By the time we reach the next exit, she is a bit calmer. We discuss stopping in low tones but it won’t help. She will see it as power if the whole family has to stop and wait. Both my husband and I are still relatively calm and this alone is a major victory. We have managed to keep our cool despite a pretty extreme scene.

I lay out the consequences of further physical attacks to the nine-year-old, while still containing her hands. I don’t kid myself that this will have much effect. When she’s in this kind of state, her ability to process cause and effect is nearly nonexistent.

Even so, she is quiet enough that I release her hands, which turns out to be a mistake. She seizes the nearest hard object, her large plastic doll and throws it at my husband’s head. Since he didn’t take that exit, he’s wrestling with a snarl of fast, big-city traffic. I mange to knock the doll aside so that it hits the headrest instead of his head and falls onto the seven-year-old.

I give him a quick apology and make a left-handed sweep of the back seat, removing every hard object I can reach that she could throw and piling them at my feet in the front. She’s screeching at top volume again, hurling most of her insults at me and Papa. The seven-year-old has flattened himself against the door on his side.

I turn back to the front and check to make sure that my husband is undisturbed while driving. The small shocks of her feet slamming into the back of my seat irritate me, but it is mostly the greediness of her demand for immediate toys that makes me seethe with anger inside. I am hanging onto my calm by a ragged thread.

I spare a moment to think about parents with other types of disabilities and single parents. What if my husband was driving alone with them when this happened? What if I didn’t have above-average physical strength and speed for a woman or what if my eyes were just a bit worse? The thought of the judgement of people who would see us and think we were being overly harsh and that we should somehow magically find a way to handle the situation with grace and sweetness fill me with disgust.

Then the seven-year-old cries out a warning and I turn just in time to fling up a hand as the nine-year-old launches her booster seat, which she has managed to get out from under her, at my husband’s head.

I don’t catch it and she seizes it again when it falls. She draws back for another throw.

“Don’t!” My husband’s strangled voice indicates that he’s struggling with a major freeway interpass and he can’t even have me twisting in my seat and waving my arms around. I hold my hand up grimly, ready to take whatever she has got to keep it from hitting the driver in the head.

Exhaustion

Every day is exhausting and hard. Some days I feel like I'm in a war zone. 

I don't say that lightly because I worked in war zones years ago. At the end of the day my ears are ringing, my vision is fading in and out and I am staggering on my feet. Every inch of my body aches and my shoulders and cheeks are bruised from blows. My husband's face is blank and his eyes are glazed after only being in it for a few hours after work. My son lies in bed in a fetal position. 

The screaming hurricane is finally down at nine in the evening but we don't have a glass of wine and watch TV. I don't write on evenings like this. We just totter off to bed, separately, sometimes without even a word or a touch. 

It isn't every day but it is like this most days.

I recently read The Little Monster: Growing up with ADHD by Robert Jergen. The author, a man with severe ADHD and auditory processing disorder (the same categories of disability as our daughter), describes growing up in a fog, unaware of many of his actions, unable to remember what happened, what he said, what others said, moment to moment. He wasn't just in trouble. His parents, even used to four rambunctious boys before him, were desperate. 

I listened to it as an audio book on a rare day at home alone while my husband was out with the kids. During the portion of the book focused on Jergen's childhood, I gritted my teeth and muttered angry words at him and sympathy for his parents. The book does a good job of helping the reader understand his experience and he didn't describe his parents nicely, but I knew what it was like for them.

He did accurately describe the endless hurricane of chaos, destruction, obliviousness and carelessness with which he filled their home. He was the youngest of five boys, so it is possible that his presence wasn’t as all consuming as this hurricane is in our home.

Here there is often only one person who is allowed to be human on many days, only one person who is allowed to have needs. Nothing and no one can exist beyond her when she's in meltdown. And yet it isn’t her fault any more than my bad eyesight is my fault. And in rare quiet times, she promises to try not to be a hurricane.

Jergen writes that he believes everyone in the future will hope their children have ADHD. That is the only thing in the book that is truly wrong and infuriating. I have great sympathy for him and honor his experience and his admirable truth telling about having these disabilities, but the truth is also that he has never parented a child, let alone a child with his type of disabilities. 

I am glad for the hope that at least someone with these types of disabilities has found a measure of happiness and independence as an adult, though it is clearly noted that Jergen tested as highly intelligent on standardized tests even as a child and many children with these disabilities do not.

As a person with a significant visual disability, I know all too well that adaptation can be done and yet that it takes a great deal of mental resources. I have watched the vast majority of blind and visually impaired adults sink in to poverty and isolation, while I battled my way to a life with a family and a middle class lifestyle. 

Some kids with ADHD are also very intelligent, just as there are people with autism who are high functioning with genius-level intelligence. That has, in fact, become a kind of stereotype for ADHD, but it isn’t actually the norm.

Those people with disabilities who get a voice to speak about their experiences are those with abnormally high intelligence who manage to find coping mechanisms. They are not the ones who are destroyed and sentenced to failure. poverty and the astronomical ADHD-in-prison statistics. Coping mechanisms may be beyond the reach of many.

Snapshot

The house is a disaster. There are toys and clothes scattered all over the kitchen and hall floors. The kitchen is piled high with dishes. I’m cooking two major meals at once because the next day is jammed with doctor’s appointments and school events for kids.

My seven-year-old gets up from the early lunch I heated for him and goes to get his own backpack ready for a soccer tournament. I call out items he shouldn’t forget and I manage to fill his water bottle in between stirring veggies on the stove and putting breakfast things back in the fridge.

I put a kiss on the top of his head. I know there are benefits to hardship and having to be moderately capable at almost eight will put him ahead of his peers in many ways. But it still makes me sad that he gets no more than this hurried send off for the first soccer tournament of the season. All the other kids have devoted parents cheering from the sidelines at every game.

But it isn’t going to happen for us. For now I’m just grateful that the nine-year-old is letting me cook very briefly. She is actually doing something nice for once. I put the box of washable kid-safe paints where she can access it near the drawing supplies, and she has the contents spread out by the fireplace. Hopefully she’ll paint and I’ll get thirty minutes of cooking done.

 Creative Commons image by Dylan Parker

Creative Commons image by Dylan Parker

On my way to the freezer I walk by and notice that she has opened every single color of the washable paints, which are used not just by her and her brother but also by my ESL students. I stop to make a quick check and find to my dismay that the damage has already been done.

Every single color has been squeezed out of the bottles into a plastic large container and she now has a half gallon of dark gray paint. There are dregs in the bottoms of a few bottles, which she didn’t squeeze hard enough but mostly the paint supply—at least $50 worth—is gone. That is the price paid for the last twenty minutes of uninterrupted cooking.

Snapshot

“I don’t know that letter! I don’t know it! Let me go! No! No1 No! I won’t do it! I don’t know how to read!”

The nine-year-old is throwing a tantrum because she momentarily cannot remember the sound made by the letter A. She can actually read, though dyslexia makes it a struggle. But her short-term memory issues, a common part of ADHD, makes it so sometimes she truly cannot remember the sound of a letter.

The bigger problem is that she knows this happens and she is not above pretending to have such a memory attack in order to get out of homework. My husband is close to tears and this has only been going on for one hour.

The day is yet young at 5:00 pm.

By 6;00 pm they have switched to math, giving up on today’s reading assignment. Dinner is ready and I take over from my husband.

“How in the world am I supposed to explain algebra to her?” he fumes at the textbook. The problem reads 42 - ? = 14.

Our nine-year-old can—on a good day--just barely work out 42 - 14 = ? with help. But my husband never needed to work at math as a kid, so he doesn’t remember how you get from that to the real problem. I wasn’t as good in math and I still remember the agonizing steps.

I spend the next two hours trying to coax her into the basics needed to get to where her classmates are, while she screams and thrashes around on the floor.

Snapshot:

I have to get to physical therapy as soon as I get the kids off to school in the morning. I prepared extra well the night before, so all I have to do is slip snacks and water bottles into their backpacks.

The nine-year-old insists on wearing leggings with half a dozen holes in them and a halter top even though it froze last night and the forecast is chilly. I know the judgement I’ll get and I force a long-sleeved shirt on over her halter top, even though I know she’ll just take it off. I can’t physically get the halter top off of her with out injury to one or both of us.

She starts screaming ten minutes before it is time to leave for school and she continues well past the time they usually leave. I let the seven-year-old go on his own. She seizes a log off of the woodpile and hurls it against the glass back door of the house. The glass doesn’t break but I doubt it can take much more.

I open the door a crack and tell her to stop hitting the glass and go to school. She grabs a longer piece and tries to strike me with it. I close the door and it lands against the door jamb. I open it a crack again and tell her that every time she hits the door she will lose a day of television privileges. We’ve been through this before.

I count fifteen strikes of logs against the glass before I leave by the other door, locking it behind me. She comes raging around the house, screaming at me.

She still has some nervousness about getting in trouble with her teacher. I tell her that she will be late for school at this point but if she goes right away she will not get in big trouble. It makes no difference. She continues to rage and scream, her face covered with snot and her hair stringy at the sides.

There is no waiting it out. I either have to leave or I will miss an appointment that took six months to get. The irritated doctor, who didn’t believe me the last time I postponed an appointment, might not even allow me to get another.

Snapshot

I whisper “Good morning” into the children’s ears as the first streaks of dawn make silver in the east. They need time to get up slowly. Given that they have to walk to school because I can’t drive, we rise pretty early here.

I turn on lights, scratch and rub backs, exchange a few words with the seven-year-old and smile noncommittally at the pretend baby talk of the nine-year-old while I give her a reassuring hug and kiss. Then I go down stairs to get snacks and vitamin supplements ready.

“She’s in Papa’s room messing with his office!” the seven-year-old calls down a few minutes later.

Yesterday, she climbed up on the stove to get candy out of the stash on the shelf just below the ceiling and then refused to eat any dinner because she already had her sugar fix. She took non-washable dye and hid it in her room when I did an art project with her and then lied when I was looking for it. She got into my room and made off with my phone and my scissors.

I have to go to physical therapy again this morning. In a flash, I am so angry I can’t think straight.

I run up the stairs and pull her away from my husband’s desk, where she is rummaging. I take her downstairs and my voice cracks with strain as I demand that she tell me what she was doing, what she had taken or what she was looking to take. I am pretty sure it is either sweets, money to buy sweets or something electronic she wants to distract with at school.

She refuses to say, as usual. She doesn’t tell the truth anymore the way she once did. It is hard to blame her, since she often gets in trouble and now is often accused of fibbing.

My voice cracks and I start yelling, shattering the peace of the pink-tinged morning. My voice is hoarse and scratchy for the rest of the day and I feel like a bad parent for ruining the morning for everyone.

I am too tired, too worn out. I am sick and tired of lies and commercial demands and unkindness.

Judgement:

“You just have to give her some positive reinforcement.”

“Well, you know ADHD doesn’t really exist. It’s just something they say to excuse lazy parenting.”

“I know what it’s like. My kids are all really active. They’re great in sports. You should get her playing sports.”

“It’s about diet. I’ll bet you always eat out at McDonald’s”

“I’m sure it isn’t really that bad. And she’ll probably be a genius in art or something.”

These are all real statements that people have said to me in just the past month. Neuro-diversity is terribly complex and you’ll never find another child exactly like mine. Some neuro-diverse children are exactly the opposite. There is no way that most people can truly understand people with hidden disabilities.

But there is one thing that everyone should know that would actually help neuro-diverse people and their families. That is that hidden disabilities are real and they are very difficult to deal with. Assume you don’t know.

And don’t judge.

My child and my whole family eats a more healthful and careful diet than 90 percent of the population today. My child gets lots of exercise, taking multiple aerobic dance classes, walking too and from school and bouncing a giant trampoline most afternoons. It isn’t “all in the diet” or “lack of exercise.”

It’s a disability. It exists and it appears from the outside like a very bad, very spoiled child. Our walls are covered with more reward charts than any household I’ve ever seen. I have studied and tried dozens of strategies and parenting styles.

Most work fine with my seven-year-old. He is known for being a very active and even a “wild” boy but he doesn’t have ADHD. None of the parenting techniques actually “work” with my nine-year-old. A few help a little.

i used to think I could tell if a child was being parented well by observation. I now know that I can’t. I wish I had been able to learn to be less judgmental in an easier fashion.

Exclusion: The abled-privilege knapsack

Shutting down "the privilege Olympics"  should not be code for "screw the disabled"

You too are wearing an invisible knapsack. 

In 1988, Peggy McIntosh explained white privilege in terms of an invisible knapsack filled with unearned benefits and assets that white people carry with them almost entirely regardless of class, economic status, citizenship or other conditions.

It's a good analogy. I am now much more aware of my knapsack of white privilege and I can observe the effects of its contents on a daily basis. 

I have never seen a similar analogy used to describe abled privilege, but it is time someone did. In the last few years the necessity of acknowledging abled privilege has been shoved in my face ever more frequently. Even in social justice circles where such things are typically read, people with disabilities are continually being marginalized and silenced.

 Creative Commons image by Woodleywonderworks

Creative Commons image by Woodleywonderworks

It is worth noting from the beginning that people carrying the white-privilege knapsack but not the abled-privilege knapsack or visa versa might well enjoy some of the benefits of the one they do hold, but there are assets in both of these knapsacks that are very difficult to enjoy if you don't have the corresponding assets in the other knapsack.

So, as a white woman brought up to be aware of white privilege, I can pick out instances of white privilege that I enjoy. These are not so much unearned privileges as they are privileges earned by every human but accorded only to those who are white--the privilege of driving or walking without a well-founded fear of being accosted by law enforcement for trivial or non-existant reasons or the privilege of relaxing into a social situation in which my race and culture is in the majority most of the time.

Having children who are not white has taught me even more about my own privilege and a few privileges I gave up by being part of a racially mixed family, such as losing the ability to shelter my children from the societal realities of racism and the very real dangers they face because of it. 

However, there are some assets in the white knapsack that I have pulled out broken or severely dented because of my disability. Unlike most white people, I am beset daily by the assumptions and prejudices of others, both unconscious and conscious. I rarely to through a day without being yelled at in public and someone pushes my "difference" in my face at every turn. 

I was once told explicitly that I was denied a job that I was qualified for because of my disability and I have wondered about the reasons behind many other rejections. I have faced social isolation, rejecting neighbors and hostile school teachers as well as accusations of stealing in stores.

I do not claim that it is the same as what people of color face. In fact, I know it is not the same. But people of color who are not disabled do also enjoy privileges that I cannot.

Please note that this inventory has very little to do with the actual health problems people with disabilities may have. It has everything to do with society’s reaction to and ultimate rejection of us. The benefits of privilege represent the minimum of respect earned by every human being from birth and this is true of abled privilege as well. It is our right to be treated with respect and dignity, to have opportunities and to be judged by our actions rather than by attributes we cannot choose.

So, here is an inventory of the abled-privilege knapsack with some prompts drawn from McIntosh's essay and the writings of Emestine Hayes.

 Creative Commons image by Honza Soukup

Creative Commons image by Honza Soukup

If you are temporarily abled, you are wearing an invisible knapsack and in it you will find:

  • You can, if you wish, arrange to be in the company of people who view your physical body and neurological setup as normal and acceptable pretty much all the time.

  • You can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper or open a random Google search and see people of your shape or appearance widely represented.

  • You can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people that look vaguely like you.

  • Your body shape is reflected in media, movies, books, magazines, online and in most people's imagination as good and capable, even if sometimes not perfect. As a result, while you may have insecurities or anxieties about your looks, they are not a barrier to social interaction.

  • Beauty, handsomeness, masculinity and femininity are personified by people of your general appearance and body shape. 

  • You can be fairly sure of having your voice heard in a group, even if most of the group has different abilities, body shape and speech from yours.

  • Authority most often rests in people who look like, speak like and perceive the world like you.

  • You do not need to make an in-depth study of the social habits and customary communication methods of your immediate neighbors in order to avoid daily conflicts of misunderstanding and unintended offense. 

  • You can criticize the government and talk about how difficult it is to access basic services without being seen as a moocher, a whiner, ungrateful or a burden. 

  • You can go home from most meetings of organizations you belong to and social gatherings you attend feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, rejected, unwanted, unheard, barred at a distance, or dismissed.

  • You can attire yourself, if you choose, in a way that most people in your community seeing you and hearing you speak will assume that you are capable, responsible and trustworthy until proven otherwise. If you happen to belong to a group where this is not always true, a community of people who do look and sound like you and where you would be respected and trusted does exist somewhere in the world. Even if you don't live there, the knowledge that such a community exists bolsters your courage and self-confidence and in most cases you could move to such a community if outside pressure became too intense.

  • People make eye-contact with you and you are able to make eye contact with them. People make small-talk with you and you are able to make small talk with them. This initial social contact often leads to social connections, builds bridges and defuses potential conflicts. 

  • While you may have been teased at school, your chances of suffering from extreme bullying or complete social isolation in childhood are dramatically reduced. Your chances of suffering from PTSD and other acquired barriers to communication with others are significantly reduced.

  • Teachers at schools and universities almost always look like, speak like and perceive the world like you do.

  • The vast majority of students and teachers all through the education system sense the world, communicate and access textual materials in the same way that you do.

  • The entire education system is custom made and designed with scientific precision to benefit your type of brain and calibrated to meet the needs of your particular senses.

  • The language and writing system of your culture was designed by and for people who communicate and perceive language in the same ways that you do.

  • Public buildings, including schools, were built using models of your body, to make them comfortable and easily accessible to you.

  • You have probably not been called a burden. You were not called a burden to your school while you pursued your education.

  • If you are denied employment for which you are qualified, you can be pretty sure it isn't because of an attribute you did not choose and which does not affect your job performance.

  • If you are given an award, you can be pretty sure it is something you deserved rather than a publicity stunt by the patron of the award. 

  • You can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that you got it because of disability hiring incentives.

  • If your day, week, or year is going badly, you need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it is disability related.

  • You can choose public accommodations without fearing that you cannot enter or will be treated with disrespect in the places you have chosen.

  • When you plan social engagements, your way of getting to and into the venue is the same as that of most of your friends and you don't need to strategize, beg for assistance from friends or go to extreme expense to get to or enter the social venues your peers take for granted. 

  • You can always ensure that your living, schooling, work and or social environment will be among people you can communicate with and among which you will be considered "normal" if you desire.

  • You can always find a living, schooling, work or social venue that you can physically access and fully participate in locally if you desire. 

  • If you should need to move, you can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing which you can afford and which you can personally enter and use fully and from which you can get to schools and places of employment.

  • You can be pretty sure that your neighbors in such a location will view you as a full adult, if you are over 18 years old. .

  • You can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that you will be able to access merchandise and that a reasonable portion of it will fit you and be usable by you.

  • Whether you use checks, credit cards or cash, you can count on not being infantilized, shamed or dismissed by cashiers and other people you interact with in public..

  • You can arrange to protect yourself from harm most of the time.

  • You are twenty percent more likely to finish high school than a person with a disability who has similar intelligence. You are twice as likely to finish college.

  • You are at least three times as likely to have any sort of job than a person with a disability and much more likely to have a job that is of some interest to you, that provides some social prestige, that pays your bills and in which you can progress for a career.

  • You are half as likely to be hungry as a disabled person. 

  • You are a third as likely to be a victim of sexual assault and half as likely to be a victim of violent crime as a person with a disability from a similar social or economic group and geographical area. You are half as likely to be a victim of domestic violence.

  • You are twice as likely to have family and friends nearby or who you can contact in an emergency. You are likely to have a circle of friends to enjoy leisure time with and to network with for mutual benefit.

  • You are twice as likely to have a long-term relationship. You are many times more likely to have children.

  • You can swear or dress in second-hand clothes or not answer letters without having people automatically assume these choices indicate low intelligence, shaky mental state or poverty.

  • You can be temporarily out of work or sick without being called a burden or assumed to be unemployable.

  • You can do well in a challenging situation without being called "an inspiration" or used to further the religious or social agendas of others without your consent.

  • With education and credentials, you could become an an acknowledged expert on people who look, speak and perceive the world differently from you and you would not be asked why you did not choose to study your own group.

I am sure I have missed some. It's a large knapsack after all. 

This is one of those posts that will inevitably draw flack. It isn't that I don't care. I have simply decided that the amount of verbal shrapnel I'm getting in "progressive" circles these days for being an uppity person with a disability has reached a point where the potential flack from this post won't be a significant change. 

So let me lay it out there. I am sick of the dismissal of people with disabilities in activist circles. I am sick of being told, "you are white so you need to practice being silent for a while," when I have been silenced, dismissed and sidelined my entire life.

I am sick to exhaustion of being excluded, rejected and sidelined in supposedly progressive groups because I didn't take an insult or bullying in silence and answered back withotu profanity, without insults but nonetheless with unpalatable truth. . 

I get what people of color, indigenous people, speakers of languages other than English and people living in absolute poverty are talking about when it comes to wanting those with privilege to stop yammering about their perspective on society, their perspective on history, their perspective on underrepresented people and their perspective on social justice long enough to listen to the perspectives of those less heard.

I get it because while I have the privileges in the white-privilege knapsack, the English-speaker's knapsack and the resources-beyond-bare-survival knapsack, these are usually not enough to be heard without abled privilege. 

This is not "the Privilege Olympics." It is not a matter of whose usurped privilege is worse. It is almost always so different that it cannot be compared. Still mentioning "the Privilege Olympics" or equivalent is routinely used to dismiss and marginalize people with disabilities in activist circles.

We have huge, life-threatening threats to people of color. The crises for people of color are so extreme in some places that there can be no other priorities or even distractions.

Many of us, myself included, have agreed to this, stepped back and ceded precedence because while there are life-threatening and devastating issues for people with disabilities as well, the numbers seem to indicate that our problems are at least statistically less severe. We activists with disabilities have often felt that we can wait a little while and trust that our progressive activist communities would do their best to include us in the meantime. 

But that trust has been misplaced. 

Not once but again and again. Not only do people with disabilities encounter a lot of social exclusion, bullying and discrimination in society at large, we encounter much the same atmosphere inside social justice organizations and groups claiming to be against bigotry and hate. 

My experiences and the experiences of those I have spoken with are clear. People with disabilities are welcome in these groups primarily as mascots or symbols. We are not respected for in our fields of expertise and study. We are often silenced and rarely given a voice. 

I've been told that my voice and experience are not welcome in progressive and social justice groups on multiple occasions. Usually this was not specifically because of my disability but rather because of my race. I was told that as a white person I am privileged and my role is not to speak. As a blind person, however, given that no other people with disabilities were present or given a voice, I felt that our voice was needed. 

I have been rejected quickly from several groups when my politely phrased protestations against being silenced were regarded as going against group authority. I never used profanity or insults against others in my responses. I did not talk over others but only refused to be entirely silent.

For that reason, this inventory of the abled-privilege backpack is necessary. I welcome any additions that others may find while rummaging through it.