Micah 6:8

"...do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mothers and Daughters and the Cultural Divide

I watched the movie, "Spanglish" again last night. I have seen this film 8-10 times and I still cry every time I watch the final scene between Flor and her daughter Cristina. If you haven't seen the film it is a gem. A beautiful, heartbreaking, and funny look at mother/daughter relationships, cross-cultural communication, the hidden lives of hard-working immigrants, and the giant socio-economic divide between the rich and poor. Here is the trailer:

In the final scene Cristina is angry with her mother because of a decision Flor makes to protect and preserve her daughter from being completely swallowed up by white, American, upper middle class culture. They are standing in the middle of the street and Cristina is yelling at her mother. She tells her that she is "unfair" and that she is"ruining her life." Flor looks almost as if she had been slapped. She tells Cristina, "I am sorry to make you face the central question of your life at such a young age. Is what you want out of life to be so very different from me?"

My daughter, Micah, is only a year old, but I am already afraid of conversations like this one that we will eventually have. I had them with my mother and I'm sure she had them with hers. The mother/daughter relationship gets pretty tricky to navigate around eleven or twelve and doesn't seem to get easy again until 25 or so. When I was a teenager I thought that I wasn't anything like my mother and that I would never want to be. I know I said things that hurt her deeply. And I am afraid of the day when Micah will start to say those words to me. The only thing that gives me hope is knowing how much I value my Mom now and how close we have become, so I know it's possible to get through. But as difficult as I anticipate those days will be, I cannot imagine the way the pain is magnified for immigrant Moms who are not only losing their daughters to teenage angst, but also losing them, in a sense, to America.

When the mother daughter cord is already stretched it's tightest, I can't imagine adding the tension of language and cultural differences, the tension of the upside-down power structure when a child must be the translator and cultural broker for a parent. And how does the immigrant mother connect with her daughter when she has never attended an American school, when she cannot communicate with or is afraid to communicate with teachers, and often must work long hours in a low paying job that is physically demanding and mentally numbing? What does she do when she can't ever be sure if her daughter is fully explaining things? When her daughter laughs at the mother's attempts at English or social participation? When the daughter has so many extra reasons to see herself as wanting to be so different from her mother because they live in two completely different worlds.

I think immigrant Moms, and especially single immigrant Moms, must be commended for their ability to make it through the teenage years and maintain a strong connection to their daughters. They deserve our recognition and support. I could learn a lot from the women who are walking those paths. I think we all could.

If you haven't seen "Spanglish" put it on your list of must sees. But have the tissues ready.

Monday, September 20, 2010

First Birthday Blessings

Micah is now a one year old. A blessed one year old. Here are some of the ways she is blessed: She has access to medical care; a 12 month well-child check with a caring doctor and vaccines to protect her from disease. She has access to good nutrition: protein, fruits, vegetables and clean, safe water. She has loving family and friends who gathered to celebrate her first year and a great church family to nurture and support her spirit. She has access to brain developing toys and books, and a clean, safe place to play. These are simple things that I often forget to stop and be thankful for. Many, many children throughout the world and even here in the US do not have access to these fundamental building blocks of a healthy life. But every child should have them. Every child could have them if we all decided together to give that as a birth day gift to the world. Imagine a world where every child had basic health care, education, nutrition, a clean safe environment, and a loving supportive community around them. Just imagine the kind of heights we could reach as a people if we could unlock the creativity and potential of all those children who are chained and broken by poverty. A new world is possible. It must be. If we can make a way to travel to the moon, than surely we can make a way to protect the early lives of our children. "Our children." Because after all, they all belong to us. If it's good enough for Micah, then I say it's good enough for every mother's child. Whether they live in Aurora Illinois or Kibera, Kenya. I spent a lot of time planning and preparing for Micah's party. I wanted to give her something special, and I think I did (though she won't remember it.) But maybe next year we'll throw a birthday party for all the children of the world and ask our guests to think about giving a gift that can do more than just bless a little girl who is already blessed. We are so grateful for all the people who came to celebrate with Micah and all the kind and thoughtful presents she received. We are blessed to be a blessing, so we're going to work hard to try to think about how we can share from our abundance. Check out this video below about one way to help children around the world with your voice.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Who Am I Now?

In five days my baby girl will turn one. I have spent nearly every day of the past year at home focused on her. Holding her. Feeding her. Reading to her. Watching her grow. Trying to be a good mom. Practicing my new identity. Giving up much of my former self and stretching my little heart into something new...something she calls "Mama." I am "Mama" now. And sometimes I go days without ever hearing my old name. Mostly that's ok. But there are parts of the old Desiree that I miss. Parts that are so much harder to cultivate now than they were before my baby was born. A year after becoming a mom I am still wondering, "Who am I now?" Do I still have something to contribute to the world? Can I still be a part of the movement for justice? Can I give more than everything Micah needs from me?

Motherhood is tricky. I know what the research says about how critical these first three years are in the development of her little brain. I want to pour myself into her. I want to give her everything I can. I want to read to her every day and take her to the children's museum and the nature center and the library. Her world is my world. She is everything to me. She has sucked me in heart and soul. But sometimes my singular focus on Micah makes me forget that there are other little ones out there in the world. Hungry little ones. Sick little ones. Neglected little ones. When I stop to think of them I wonder how I can possibly make time for them on top of what I'm trying to give to Micah.

I feel the tension. Part of me wants to keep trying to be a force to change the world, but a big part of me wants to just drop out of the world completely and focus all my energy and attention on Micah. To put everything else on hold until I can at least get her through preschool. In some ways I feel like I've already dropped out of the world. Or at least that Micah has become the world to me. I've spent hours thinking about how to make her birthday party special. But no time thinking about all the other kids around the world turning one next week. The old Desiree had a deeper sense of burden for those other kids. In some ways becoming a mother has deepened my compassion for others and in other ways becoming a mother has limited my ability or willingness to act on that compassion.

How can I hold tight to Micah and hold tight to the Micah 6:8 life at the same time? Sometimes I don't feel like I have enough space in me to do both. This blog used to be called, "Remembering Kibera" because it was focused on remembering my friends who live difficult lives in the largest slum in Africa called, Kibera. I still think about Kibera all the time. But I wonder what impact I will be able to have on Kibera and places like it now that Micah is my world.

I want to love my baby girl with every ounce of my power and I want the best possible start for her. As I'm sure all the mothers of the little girls turning one next week in Kibera do too.