Building yourself, one world at a time.

She’s describing her newest Playmobil family to me.

‘This is the dad, he works at the hospital. The mum works at a restaurant. And this is the kid. She’s just….a free kid, because she’s home educated.’

Can we pause for a moment, just for the collective joy swelling of our hearts when we hear our kids say something like this?

I find parenthood is interwoven with guilt and second guessing myself, much of the time. The top 10% of my brain is telling me I’m doing a great job, to trust myself and the kids. The other 90% is like, ‘Really? You think that’s a good idea? Have you thought about the 83920438 ways this decision (whatever it may be) might screw your kids up?’

I hope I’m not alone in feeling that way.

I do find that I’m better at propping other people up than telling them I need support. I like reaching out to people when they might need a boost. I like inspiring others. But in reality, sometimes, especially during gloomy months full of clouds, ear infections, and sad news, I’m just trying my best to get through every day.

And so it rolls on. Am I doing my best, as a home educating parent?

It’s a fine line, a high and dizzying tightrope, along the border of feeling you aren’t doing enough and feeling you need to leave plenty of free time for small miracles to happen.

My miracle today is right now. It’s 1:26 pm. I can hear the kids; they are in a very involved game of Playmobil that’s been going on awhile. They are building worlds, they are living in them.

I’m upstairs in the office, alone, writing. A lot of stuff elsewhere, a bit in this blog. I find my old anonymous blogs that grew so popular were probably that way because they were anonymous. I’ve never written an inauthentic word, but a great many words haven’t been written because they were too scary, too painful, too much for me to share.

So this little period – be it ten minutes or thirty – is my miracle. I’m thinking and writing and feeling instead of all the other ways I use to numb myself on days when things all feel a bit too much. I’m here, I’m trying. …And downstairs?

Downstairs are just two kids who are free, because they are home educated. Because they follow their interests, because they explore their joy, because they trust themselves to find their way. And really, who am I to second guess that?

They are building worlds downstairs, I’m building worlds upstairs. We’ve put a money tree leaf on soil, to help it take root and grow. Sheet music has been read, youtube videos have been watched, I actually did the breakfast dishes. This day isn’t yet over, but we’ve done enough. Building a world, building yourself, is work enough.

Amended titles. 

My daughter changed the title of this book. I’m so sad that she needed to. Who said girls can’t love pirates?

This particular book company are notorious for the ‘girls’ book of this’ and the ‘boys book of that’, but stories? Good stories are good stories. They aren’t aimed at a person’s genitals, but at their minds and hearts.

I ordered this book for my seven year old daughter, I’m proud she changed the title, she loves the stories. But never a sighting of this book goes by that she doesn’t rail against the idiocy of the title. Maybe I should be grateful that it gives us scope for conversation and feminism, but instead I’m sad these conversations need to happen from such a young age.

I hope my children never say shit like, ‘But some of my best friends are black!’*

Driving home today, we heard the news on the radio. It was discussing the American football player who refused to stand for the national anthem; it was discussing black people being killed by police in America.

And so the questions came.

‘Mama, what did that say about the police hurting black people?’

‘Mama, why are police hurting black people?’

So we spoke. I told them if a white person and a black person committed the same crime, the black person was likely to be more harshly sentenced, to spend longer in prison. S started to cry – she said we need to speak out and get these people released.

I told them how people of colour are more likely to be treated unfairly in daily life. How they might be denied the same opportunities white people had.

What a hard thing to say to my children, but how easy it was to say it. If we are allies of the human race, we cannot deny racism. It exists. My children could quickly grasp the idea of racism on an institutional and individual level. It was easy to have this discussion (don’t be afraid), but so hard that we had to have this talk.

I said, I hope the two of you grow up to be people who stand up against this sort of behaviour. You might be able to challenge racism in your future jobs, you might be able to reach out and include people that might be left out. But don’t wait till you are grown up. You can make a difference now.

And they talked about how they could help make things better. They spoke as children do, ignorant of the centuries of enslavement and oppression, but so sweet and pure and ideal.

‘Mama, _______ is kind of sort of black and he’s so nice! Mama, ______ is black and she’s very, very kind.’ They went on, naming names of children they knew. Using these children as examples of wonderful people of colour – but not yet realising their friends might be hurt now or in future because of their colour. Not understanding they themselves might be hurt one day because they are raised by two mothers.

But they named names*.

And I sit here, home after a morning walking through thunder and lightning, thinking that the most important thing is connection. Putting names and faces and stories to real people instead of buying into stereotypes.

I’ve had emails from people saying they’ve used our family, me, to discuss with their children about queer families. I don’t mind. I come out, I am who I am (trying to have) no hesitations because I know it’s important to the world to be a real person. Not just a label.

So, my sweet children, go on naming those names. Go on questioning the system. Go on planning how you can make a difference.

And, my sweet friends, go on thinking about this stuff. Consider discussing it with your children. They are capable enough to handle the hard stuff, and really, aren’t we all responsible for challenging racism? One way to do that is to teach the next generation that inequality exists. It’s real. But diversity is wonderful; cultures are deep and rich and powerful. They are worth defending, worth learning about.

These conversations are worth having.

 

Adventure day. 

We’ve been so busy lately. Busy with all sort of ‘enriching’ things. Classes, time with friends, busy busy busy. Even though during the summer most groups and classes are off, we have been alternating our normal ‘busy’ with total crushing downtime.

Last night I thought it was time to get back to what life has always looked like for us – at least before the busy bug struck.

Time to explore new places, with no constraints to rush back to anything else. A day with just the three of us (though Suzy was missed); no friends to consider when we decided what to do.

Last night I had a little google, looking at English Heritage, the National Trust, the CADW, and plain old ordinary maps. That’s how I discovered we don’t live that far from a big ass chalk horse carved into a hill in Wiltshire. I decided that could be a loose destination, a way for us to be pointed in.

This morning I told the kids it was Adventure Day. As we drove, if we saw anything cool we’d stop. We did – at a garden centre cum pet supply shop, with a cafe charmingly named after the camp where Suzy and I met. We marveled at cactus displays, venus fly traps, compasses and swiss army style cutlery. Then we got back in the car.

Oh, white horse on the hill, how I love you. We drove up a very narrow, winding road to the top of a hill. The whole carpark was chalk; it was so white. We pulled out a blanket and had a picnic on the flat grass expanse, looking at books, chatting, laying back in the sun.

Eventually we headed off to see what we could see of an Iron Age fort and a white horse.

There were grasshoppers singing, blue skies, a gentle breeze rippling the long grasses. We had pastels and oil crayons, scavenger hunt books and a kite, and all the time in the world.  With nowhere to be, we found we were in exactly the right place for exactly the right amount of time.

We stood on the hill and searched for the other two white horses visible from the peaks. We walked ages along a chalky path (which made me feel sick at points, so high and steep were we!). We saw a train pottering along in the distance and wondered if the people onboard would notice the horse.

And I felt happy. Happier than I’ve felt in ages. It was just me and the kids, just me and this wild, gorgeous place, just me and all the time in the world. Never have I felt so enriched.

As we move towards September, we are rethinking how our days and weeks will be ordered. We are leaving some things behind, trying one or two new things, but largely – we will hopefully be exploring, be adventuring without having a specific day set for that purpose, wandering and thinking and making art.

We’ll invite friends along, and gladly go along with others, but I think we’ll try to have more time just us. More time drinking in the beauty of wild spaces, time lazy and ripe. Because, really, what could be better?

Wednesday evening. 

Tuesday evening on the drive home from gymnastics, we saw a funfair being set up in a local spot. We decided to check if it was open the following evening. 


Wednesday evening, we checked. It was open and mostly deserted. 

You asked if we could go after dinner, and we said yes. 


The joy you both felt while there, in the summertime setting sun, was worth that yes….and a few pounds spent on rides. 

(And did we stay till they closed? And did you go back Thursday evening? *wink*)

Don’t erase me.

Note: I only speak for myself here. I hope I don’t annoy or offend people who may feel like I am speaking for them and saying things they don’t need or want said. Let me know in a comment so I can think/learn!

Here’s the problem with saying things like
I’m colourblind; we all bleed red.

Why do gay people feel the need to come out? Love is love.

ALL lives matter. 

Look, I get you. I realise you’re saying things about how the world should be. But I’d also like you to know that being colourblind, being blind to differences and saying we’re all the same and all equal, well. It’s not great.

It invalidates the experience of living an othered life. When I hear people saying they don’t understand why gay people need to come out, it can feel like a tidal wave of erasure coming my way. My experience doesn’t matter. I don’t know what it feels like to be queer in this modern world.

But the thing is, if you are white and straight (and male? well educated? have money?) you probably don’t see that there is still a big problem. Lots of big problems.

Black people aren’t making up racism or exaggerating what it means to be black in today’s society. Why would they? Why would gay people be so scared of coming out if it wasn’t a colossally huge deal? And why would they (why would I, I own this, it happens to me) have to come out every single day to new people they meet, if it truly didn’t matter?

Sometimes I can say I have a wife and the conversation moves on, but usually it’s fraught with well meaning apologies for assuming I have a husband, asking me about gay marriage, etc. Sometimes it’s been less…pleasant.

My experience is other.

Saying things like, ‘Please, people, let’s stop talking about #blacklivesmatter and white privilege, we’re all Americans,’ boils my piss. Because the simple fact is, only a white American would be able to say something like that. Look around at every other minority, they’ve got a different story to tell. We may all be Americans, but we are not all living the same experience.

And, quite frankly, all this ‘colourblind’ stuff feels like privilege and assumption and oppression even more. You may mean it like, ‘Hey, we’re all people.’ And while that’s great, the assumption that you ‘don’t see difference’ means that you assume everyone is having the same experience you have. You are wiping out our voices, you are ignoring what we say, you comfortable where you are and assume everyone else is, too.

But I think the only way we are all going to get there, get to that place, is by doing the hard work. The uncomfortable work, if you aren’t used to it. It can take balls to come out again and again, ten times a day, but I do it because I don’t want to be ‘whitewashed’ (for want of a better term….maybe straightwashed?), because I want my children to know it’s okay to be who they are, because other people I meet might be trapped in a very tight and alone place, and I’d like them to feel comfortable telling the truth with me.

It can take bravery to try to find out the answers to questions you or your family may have. Why do some women wear headscarves? Why are black people ‘still’ so angry about slavery? (Yes, my mind explodes at this one, but this is a very common thing to hear in America.) Why do people want to emigrate to new countries, and what is that like for them? 

Do the work. Do a bit of research. Have uncomfortable conversations about inherent racism, about privilege, with your friends and family. Try to imagine what it might be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

And please, stop erasing me.

We are all different and that has the potential to be such a strength. This world is full of colours and shapes and sizes and abilities and loves and stories. When you say we’re all the same, you are speaking from tremendous privilege and perhaps idealism, but you are not speaking the truth for all people. There are many rich subcultures all around us all, and what a shame it is if we miss the opportunity to learn more about them, to make friends with people unlike ourselves, to celebrate all these differences and how they enrich us all.

Minority people have spent years, decades, centuries carving out spaces to be proud of themselves, to not fall prey to shame and violence. When you say we don’t exist, when you say our experience isn’t valid, you are trying to wipe out the things that we have fought hard for, the things that make us special, the things that are a big part of who we are. If you want us all to be the same, to be a world without wonder and difference, I’d gently suggest that the way to do this isn’t to cover your eyes and pretend you don’t see us. We are here. We are ready and waiting for you. We want you to stand by us as allies, we want you to delight in our differences, we want to be acknowledged.

We are not all the same. And you know, that’s okay.

All I can do is love. 

Here’s my understatement of the year:

Man, things have been politically and socially messed up lately.

Here in the UK, the vote for Brexit (for the UK to leave the European Union) has triggered a huge rise in xenophobic hate crimes. Muslims (including British born), Polish people – hell, any flavour of immigrant (except, perhaps, white and well educated) is experiencing violence, having vitriol spewed at them, living in fear and uncertainty for their futures.

Many companies are choosing to leave the UK, the pound dropped in value overnight to unbelievable new lows, and the strongly held opinions of the leave/remain camps have caused friendship and family breakups. Political leaders appear to have no plan, other than quitting their jobs and stomping their feet.

In the US, a spate of violence has occurred – and not your ‘usual’ mass shootings that seem to barely affect people anymore. I went to bed one night with the news of a black man being held down and shot point blank, and woke up to the news that yet another black man was shot in his car – with a four year old child in the back. I won’t go over the details of these horrific killings, but I will say that my facebook community has been heavily invested in these debates. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter (which I support, 1,000,000%) has people foaming at the mouths.

Most alarming to me aren’t the out and out racists, but the ordinary people left scratching their heads and saying, ‘But don’t all lives matter?’ These are the people who genuinely don’t see why the BLM movement is necessary, the people who say they are colourblind, the people who probably have good intentions but don’t realise the ramifications of what they are saying.

These are the people who went nuts when policemen were shot and killed in Dallas, following a peaceful protest on behalf of BLM. The sort of protest march that has happened twice in London in the past few days, with no violence attached. Of course no one is saying murdering police is a good payback for them murdering black Americans, but suddenly it’s turned into a big contest between ‘black lives’ and ‘blue lives.’

I straddle both worlds, having lived in America until I was about 21/22, then moving to the UK. My friends live across the globe, but most are in the UK and the US. So when shit goes down in either place, given the (shameful?) amount of time I spend on Facebook, I see all the posts and arguments and memes and misunderstandings. Many of my friends are very political, and most are very liberal.

One said this week, ‘Why are we all talking about this? Is there a point? We need to stop talking and start doing.’ She’s right, of course, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. What can I, a sole person with no wide political or social reach, actually do? I’m not going to be going into Parliament or Congress to fight for law changes – but I can help raise awareness, I can strongly support minority communities (ever mindful that I’m queer and an immigrant, which no doubt colours my thinking), I can try to participate in respectful discussions. I can STAND UP against racism.

Most importantly, I am someone who DOES have one area of strong influence – my children. They are the next generation, the next brave people who will rise up and make their voices heard.

My strongest way to be and do is to do just what I am doing. I talk about difference with my kids. We have lots of hard discussions in a way that doesn’t feel so hard, because I start from the base assumptions that these things are worth talking about, and that my children are capable of having these discussions.

I want them to never be colourblind – I want them to see the richness and diversity of all our fellow human beings, I want differences to be celebrated and acknowledged, I want them to understand why when one group of people is targeted with hatred or violence, it affects all people. Keeping quiet implies tacit support of the oppressor, and I hope my children grow and learn how to navigate the tricky waters of society. I hope that even if they don’t take the waters of xenophobia or racism by storm, that they make ripples felt the whole world wide.

It’s up to us, to all of us. We need to lead by example. Black lives do matter. Immigants do contribute to our society. We can’t hope or try to erase whole communities of people from the wider social experience just because they speak another language or have skin that’s black. These people matter.

And so do our voices, and our actions. Do the little things you can. I’ve written my MP, I openly support and campaign for minorities (and gun law reform in America, but that’s a whooooolllle different story), I tell my children that we are all different, and that is okay. It’s better than okay, it’s glorious.

I am me, and you are you, and if only we all joined together, how much more powerful and beautiful this world would be.