Untamed book club
Welcome back friends. I hope everyone had a peaceful, happy Thanksgiving.
This week's post covers the vignettes woods through racists. Melanie Speros will be writing next week's post on questions through conflicts. We're winding down and on track to complete the book at the end of the year. At that time, we'll figure out if we want to do an Untamed live zoom. I think it would be wonderful. More on that later.
I am a cream cheese parent..yes, I am. But for me it was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with either grape or strawberry jelly. It was also peanut butter and honey sandwiches, for the kids who didn’t like jelly. It was plain peanut butter. And plain jelly for the kids with nut allergies. On bread both white and wheat. There were juice boxes and Clementine oranges, pre-peeled. One of each—sandwich, juice box, orange—was placed into a gallon size ziplock bag along with a napkin. I carefully marked each bag with what it contained and filled up the cooler.
You bet your ass I wanted to look better than the other moms—especially those moms who ran into the store on the way to practice, bought the giant bag of individually packaged chips, and then threw it on the bench. Lame. I wanted to outshine those moms and in so doing help my daughter and me to shine in the eyes of the other kids and parents. Not knowing which kid liked what, I made way more than was necessary. Enough to feed several siblings and bring leftovers home.
The reactions from the other parents ran the gamut: a sincere thank you from the mom who didn’t know how she was going to make time for food between the day’s various appointments and practices to the eye rolls that said, “Really? Just who do you think you are?”
I’m all that and more.
I’m a cream cheese mom. Or, that’s who I was anyway.
Now. I’m not saying I turned my kid into an asshole. Although there have been times when she’s exhibited asshole-like behavior. I think we can all relate to that. And I know I have no one to blame for this but myself (and, to a slightly lesser extent, my husband.) We were very fond of saying yes to almost everything. My daughter grew up much the same way I did: many yeses and far too few nos. I just wrote about this very thing in my memoir manuscript. Now that she is a senior in college and has been exposed to students from a wide variety of backgrounds, she understands much better how lucky she was and is. I love seeing this maturation in her. And yes, sometimes she still asks for far too much, but that is to be expected. I'm getting better at no, but still have a long way to go.
I was an asshole. I hope I’m less of one now. I’ve been working at it anyway, and for several years. I love Glennon’s point in this cream cheeses section that the memo needs to be revised to read that successful parenting is about making sure all kids have enough. I can’t even imagine what our world would look like if every child knew in their soul that they would always have enough. I think it would be beautiful indeed. But it would require a major shift in our collective thinking. Can we do it? I don't know.
This section also made me think that the memos need an addendum, with instructions for it not to be opened until new parents are at least able to sleep through the night. Maybe even later than that. But not too late. The addendum should read that we will be tempted to mother like a laser, but warn of the pain of that type of mothering. The pressure! How uncomfortable for our children and for us. Making wiser decisions will help everyone.
Five flavors of cream cheese is about YOU. Not your kid. No one needs 5 flavors of cream cheese! No one!
Get your ass in therapy and figure your shit out NOW so you and your kid(s) don’t grow into assholes together.
As to Glennon's section on racists. We could do an entire year or five working on untangling the messages and learning we've had around racism. Suffice it to say here that I plan on re-reading this section many times because it contains valuable learning. We have to start somewhere, and being quiet while we're learning is one of the most valid things I've read this year related to white women and racism.
What stuck out to you about these sections of the book?
Next week: Melanie on questions through conflict.
I love that you chose to write about the cream cheese/snacks story. When my son was at his tickiest, he was determined to play basketball. I was so thrilled that he didn’t let his Tourettes stop him, so in awe of his Knowing, so humbled by his perseverance, so jumbled up in anxiety back then, that snacks and impressing other moms with my culinary skills wasn’t even on my radar. I just didn’t want to do anything really clueless – like having snacks with peanuts, or miscounting the siblings and not having enough snacks for everyone. I thought about doing the healthy thing – packages of carrots & celery – but no one really likes that for a snack after a game. However, I did indulge in overabundance. We had enough left-over snakes for another game! I managed to rein that in for year two of basketball.
Glennon writes (p. 191) “It’s not the cruel criticism from folks who hate us that scares us away from our Knowing; it’s the quiet concern of those who love us.” Ouch! This line is so profound for me because it is when I am most likely to doubt my Knowing. It is most likely when I doubt the love and understanding of the person trying to be helpful. There was no book, or script or memo for how to raise my sons and their neurological/behavioral obstacles. In fact, there were very few specialists, back then, who had experience treating kids with Tourettes, OCD, and the co-morbidities that challenged my sons. I’d often come home from the neurologist, call my mother, and her advise sometimes contradicted a path I had chosen at the doctor’s office. There is no room for self-doubt when you want to live from the Knowing.
My favorite section, however, as Tracey referenced is about racism. (p. 186) “Imagination…is the catalyst of compassion. Imagination is the shortest distance between two people, two cultures, two ideologies, two experiences.” I believe this to be true.
During Thanksgiving dinner, my sons schooled me on the importance and significance of gender identification in signatures. It wasn’t enough that I believe people should feel comfortable identifying who they are. I needed to learn about how marginalized, mistreated, misunderstood they’ve been. I saw my bias, and am determined not to be part of the problem. I will learn, so that I can take action. I will imagine their suffering, being treated “less than,” and how unjust this is.
The section about racism made me distinctly uncomfortable. I mean, in a big way. To the point that I got angry because I felt as though I was being held responsible for something that existed long before I landed on this planet. Is it just me, or does it seem like the world wants us to feel guilty for being born who we are – regardless of race, gender, orientation, or belief system? It seems as though someone has a bone to pick with each of us no matter who we are or what we do. And the media takes delight in fanning the flames. I'll have to revisit that vignette when my feathers are not so ruffled and see if I can be more objective when I go through it a second time.
Cream cheese parent? A little bit. Except that I would NEVER suggest to another parent that they should level-up their game. I would lead by example, and hope that the kids would do the dirty work for me. "Ethan's mom brought string cheese and grapes and Goldfish! Can't we bring something better than bagels?" Hmm, passive/aggressive much, Kelly??
Glennon writes on page 182 “What if we stopped our lives and the world for things that are worth stopping for? What if we raised our hands and asked, ‘Can we stay here for a minute? I’m not ready to run out to recess yet.” The immigration issue really hit me after I read the book "American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins. I was one of those people who said I cannot imagine but after reading the book I than could imagine risking it all for a better life for my children. I felt compassion and pain but that’s where it ended. I went out to recess.
The section on racists also hit me. Ever since the killing of George Floyd my heart has been aching. While I was living in Florida, I worked for a wonderful black woman. I remember her saying once you need to drive me to this certain neighborhood. I asked why? She said it’s an affluent white neighborhood, if I go alone someone will call the police. I was stunned. After the killing my husband and I went our first rally. I liked when Glennon said a walk is like praying with your feet. We were there for a couple of hours and I was thinking am I doing any good? My husband was closer to the street and a black man rolled down his window with tears in his eyes and said thank you. That made it all worth it. I started reading to become more knowledgeable in racism and realized I have a lot to learn. I got tired so I went out to recess. I can take a break because I’m white. Blacks cannot. I agree you Tracey, it’s a chapter that needs to be re-read and discussion that will take long time to untangle.
Kelly, I can understand why you felt angry reading the section on racism. I think anger might be the first stage in a process of coming to grips with our country's sordid history and the institutionalized racism that developed from that. Give yourself some time to learn about our history and the plight of people of color. Read some books or articles about what it means to be a transgender person or homosexual. My take is that marginalized individuals do not mean to make non-marginalized people feel guilty about past events that happened before we were born or too young to know what was happening. Marginalized populations are asking those who are not marginalized to: 1) understand and acknowledge the experience of marginalized groups; 2) look deep inside ourselves for the biases we internalized growing up in our society; and 3) instead of insisting we aren't biased (which is virtually impossible) and do nothing, become anti-racist.
I am on a learning curve.
Being anti-racist doesn't just mean that one isn't a racist. Being anti-racist doesn't just mean that one sways a racist to not be a racist anymore. If everyone in the USA was not racist, there would still be institutions that by their very nature marginalize certain individuals. We need to gut out racism. We must acknowledge our complicity in living in a racist society, even if we are just becoming aware of that complicity. That's why "white priviledge" has become such a popular catch-phrase. And we need to get involved in reinventing institutions, in electing officials who will help move us toward this end, and yes, have those uncomfortable conversations about race.
I am Jewish. I think about how the Holocaust might have been prevented if only many more non-Jews had stood up to the Nazi regime when Jews were made to wear the yellow Star, when they were not allowed to go to public parks, when they were stripped of their licenses to practice medicine or law, when their businesses where looted, when their businesses were stolen and given to non-Jews.
There is a true story about a little town where the Nazis came to take away the Jewish spouses of non-Jews. The townspeople gathered and protested. The Nazis left, taking no prisoners. This was probably early on during the regime, because as time when on, I'm sure the Nazis would have just shot everyone in sight. I wonder what would have happened if more non-Jews had protested early on instead of being compliant…
I have innumerable relatives who died by Nazi hands. I have relatives whose businesses were taken away by Nazis. I wouldn't want anyone who wasn't a part of that horror to feel guilty. If you look above to the 3 things I listed as to what marginalized people ask of non-marginalized people, there is a parallel for what I would ask of non-Jews: 1) understand what the Holocaust was and how it happened; 2) look deep inside and acknowledge biases learned by living in a predominantly Christian society; and 3) when you see anti-semitism, call it out and educate people.
Kelly, and all book club members, we are in a time when change for the better is upon us. I want to be part of the solution!
Susan, so beautifully stated. I was schooled on Thanksgiving by my sons, who explained the importance in understanding gender identification on ZOOM chats, or why the Vice-President elect writes after her name, she/her. I was resisting “they” because it is a plural noun; it’s used when someone’s sexual preference is fluid. Somedays they identify as male, other days as female, and sometimes as neither. They must come up with a better pronoun.
I think at some point in our lives we’ve all experienced being marginalized, feeling “less than”, not understood, not recognized, not treated with equality. To me, if I don’t imagine this torment, this suffering then I’m part of the problem. When I can imagine someone else’s pain, I can have compassion for their struggle, I can be a voice for those who aren’t heard.
Sometimes this world seems uber PC. In the 70s, my husband wrote a well known song with the lyric “oriental women”. Today, no one would know that reference—except maybe think it had to do with rugs? I think it’s essential that we hold each other with kindness and respect because that’s the best of the human experience. I feel lucky that my kids grew up in LA, a multicultural city, one that celebrates its diversity. I grew up outside of Boston, in a Catholic and Protestant neighborhood and we were the only Jewish family. And kids can be mean.
Wow Lisa—what a powerful experience. I think when we have direct knowledge about how different our lives are from minority groups we become more aware of and proactive about their diminished access to equality.
When my sons were young, we hired an awesome nanny from Belize. I asked her to return one of my kid’s jerseys because after I bought it, and brought it home the sensor was on it. I thought (for a nanosecond) The Gap might give her a hard time because I didn’t have the receipt. Guess what?! The store manager intimidated her, and implied that she had stolen the jersey, and refused to help her. The next day, I went to return the jersey and my worst suspicion was realized. The same store manager, who happened to be African American happily took off the sensor. I wrote a seething letter (on my company’s letterhead) to the president of Gap. Our nanny received a written apology and a $500 Gap shopping spree. But the store manager remained the store manager.
Oh yes, Faithe. I completely agree re: the p. 191 quote and what you wrote here. Exactly. I've talked about this similarly in regard to my memoir. I don't care if people I don't know read it and judge me or whatever..but I'm majorly concerned and feel extremely vulnerable for people who know me to read it and people in the family. It's not surprising, but it is interesting to me that we can disregard a thought from a stranger but obsess about that same thought from someone we know. And I understand exactly what you mean when you talked about your experience with doctors and then someone close to you saying the exact opposite. Yes. And yes. Glennon's point on being able to use our imagination as a bridge to people's experiences and what that can mean for our leaning what profound and important. Thanks for reiterating that here. Thanks for the great comment.
I empathize with your anger, Kelly. I felt that way, not too long ago, when I first heard about white privilege. I was furious…I did not grow up privileged..that's what I thought. And in my mind and out loud I talked about my parents needing donations from the church so we could eat and my mom telling me she had 2 dollars in her pocket to shop for dinner. I was paying off my under grad college education until after I was 30. On and on I went. Then I listened to my she-ro Brene Brown talking about what privilege really meant. That was a rude awakening, I tell you. Made more rude by the fact I was 50 years old and only learning about how my privilege moved me through the world and at what expense to indigenous peoples and POC. It makes sense to feel angry. To feel like we had nothing to do with creating slavery or racism, none of which absolves us, if we want a just society, from turning a blind eye to the fact our entire society was founded on the backs of POC and has worked actively to kill them and "keep them in their place." There is so much work to do.
Perfectly said, Sue. And I appreciate you sharing your story and feelings around your Jewish heritage and what your family went through. I don't know why, maybe because it's more recent history, but it does make it easier to understand when presented in these terms. And yes to being part of the solution! "But" that means active engagement and figuring out where we fit or what to do is overwhelming and confusing..which of course smacks of my privilege!
Thank you for sharing these powerful stories Lisa. And thank you for going to a rally. Action in action! And clearly, yes. You and your husband made a big difference. It's exactly as you said…you couldn't imagine until you could. Isn't that what is the most powerful thing about art and literature? How else can we more effectively put ourselves in someone else's shoes, open our eyes, find our compassion and live it into the world?
How infuriating Faithe. Nothing has changed. Just recently there was a big story in the news about Victoria's Secret and how the store managers and employees were "casing" black customers..basically accusing them of being potential shoplifters when they were in the store to shop like anyone else. Such a loooonnnnnngggggg way to go.
Wow Faith good for you on writing the letter!! Yes Tracey we have such a long way to go.
Yes, Tracey. It’s so important that we share our stories, and the history, of our ancestors.
I can see how this section would cause different emotions in all of us. Like Kelly, I too was a bit mad … but not because of the question of racism. I've had many conversations with my sister about this. I can not say I am not racist having grown up in the USA …it's systematic and autonomic. What I can say is that I can be intentional about being anti-racist in my behavior, words and precepts. I've been consciously and with much effort "walking the walk and talking the talk" 'lo these past 8 months.
But, given all that – what really pissed me off is that I began to question why I am so active in community, schools, PTA's, why I donate and help out those less fortunate, why I join grassroots organizations….Am I a guilty of virtue seeking ? Am I looking to compensate for guilty feelings or am I doing Tzedakah. ( Tzedakah is the Jewish custom of doing good for the sake of doing good.)
And then I thought about it and actually reached out and asked a few people (my daughter being one of them). Glennon was accused of being a 'do gooder' and a racist because she took the role of speaking out for BLM and as a white woman – took it away from someone who lives it daily.
Recently I had a conversation with my queer daughter and she said it wasn't her job to 'teach me about the life she lives daily " I asked her if I wanted to learn about LGBTQ+ , doesn't it make sense that I learn from a group of allies and that I am getting my knowledge from the right sources?
Then I thought about the cream cheese parenting thing and basically called my therapist.