crowded street full of traffic in Lima

Objects in Mirror Are More Similar Than They Apear

“We are having a major problem with our Muslims in this country right now”. “There is a big fight about holiday celebrations in our schools” “there’s no more Christmas plays because the Muslims don’t want them” “We are a welcoming country and have lots of immigrants. We haven’t had problems with our Chinese or Aborigines.”

It has been an interesting political time to travel around the world. Most people we meet want to talk to us about the upcoming election in the US and mostly about Donald Trump. This particular dialog that is written above, was from a woman in Australia who must have been relating to our white commonality and felt free to share her views. Maybe she believes we have a “Muslim problem” in the US too and thought I would share in a dialog disparaging all Muslims. In actuality, her statement shocked me and made me feel highly uncomfortable. These emotions sent out red alert sirens and cut off all access to the language centers of my brain. I had no response. All I wanted to do was buy tickets for our excursions not engage in a political discussion about religion in schools.

I understand the argument in favor of the Australian woman’s opinion. It is likely something along the lines of: why should we, the majority population, give up our Christmas plays in schools just because a family who holds different religious beliefs moves into the neighborhood. Jacob and I had many long discussions about this as we drove through Australia. There is no easy answer. One solution would be to eliminate all holiday celebrations from state funded public schools. Another solution is to tell the minority population to put up or shut up. Neither seems like a solution that would leave either party feeling heard, acknowledged or respected. I was raised in the Christian faith so Santa Clause, Christmas Trees and Christmas plays were perfectly fine for me. It never occurred to me that someone else in the room was sitting through it because they had to or might have been feeling confused as to why their own religious celebrations were not reflected in the school community. This is called privilege. The world in the majority population goes along just swimmingly for its members. I get to have my religion reflected in schools, I get to walk through stores with no one paying me any mind, I get to have the floor when I am speaking and show anger without someone wondering if it is “my time of the month”, I get to marry who I want. For me though, living with this much privilege is like driving a car with a huge blind spot.

I can’t even begin to know what it is like to be a Muslim in the world right now but I do know what it is like to be targeted with cruelty from others and to feel ostracized even within my own family for holding different religious views. It is from these experiences that empathy is cultivated and I can begin to widen the view out my car window. I remember reading an article shortly after a truck plowed through a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, France this past summer. The article was a about a woman who was made to remove her “burkini” while playing at a beach. I get it, the so-called Islamic State claimed the attacker as one of their own but does this really mean that all people who wear a “burkini” are potential terrorists? I wish those officers had put themselves in that poor woman’s shoes. The choice to wear loose fitting clothes and a headscarf is about modesty and covering those parts of the body that are deemed only appropriate to show in private. It was like asking that woman to strip naked on the beach and because the officers did not hold the same beliefs they had no clue what they were asking and could only see their point of view. I can imagine how I would feel: violated and abused and targeted for something I had nothing to do with orchestrating.

I feel so grateful that we enrolled our girls in school in Cape Town, South Africa. Many of the families at the school are Muslim and we were there when Ramadan began. This allowed Jacob to have a really wonderful conversation with a new friend from the school about the meaning behind Ramadan. We learned that Ramadan is not just a time for fasting but also a time for reflection on how privileged one is who has enough food. By fasting, the Islamic faith teaches, on a very real level, what it is like to be hungry and then from this place remember to be grateful for the many blessings in their lives. How beautiful! I do not have to follow this religion to appreciate this message.  The fact that this holiday was reflected at their school was a gift to our girls and opened a comfortable dialog about Islam with their Muslim friends.

I truly believe that the woman from Australia was speaking from that part of herself that felt under threat by the changes that were being requested by the Muslim community. I imagine her outrage was coming from a place of fear. Possibly fear that said, “I am afraid my kids will lose their connection to our religious beliefs if they do not get to have Christmas celebrations at school” and maybe the counter argument is something like, “When the only holiday that is recognized in schools is Christmas, I feel scared that my kids will never find a way to fit into this new community.” Is it possible to make room for all? Is it possible to learn to vulnerably communicate in this way? Brené Brown has written several books on this subject, one in particular is titled Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Parent, Live, Love and Lead. In it, she says that real courage is in our willingness to be vulnerable and to honestly communicate our feelings especially when they are fear and shame. This is when we can be real, this is when we can take off our boxing gloves and get down to what is really driving our anger.

I will probably always have a blind spot, we all do but if I can find a way to relate to the pain another is expressing, even if it is being expressed in anger, I can start to learn that my car is not the only one on the road. I want to drive on highways where every driver is looking out for others because they are each able to notice the different cars sharing the road. Then, when one unknowingly cuts off another, that driver kindly and vulnerably acknowledges that, “I didn’t see you and I am sorry” instead of flipping the person off and saying, “well, get out of the way this is MY road!” That brief conversation with the woman from Australia was a missed opportunity to be an ally for marginalized populations. I wished I had explored why she was angry with the Muslim community and also taken the opportunity to point out their possible perspective.   Perhaps this small dialog could leave us both feeling a little more connected, a little more open to a different view and willing to share space with each other.

“Connection is why we are here; it gives us purpose and meaning to our lives”

~Brené Brown


“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom”  ~Bob Dylan



Quinn running through a park with her hand in the air

Keepin’ It Real: Communcation

Jacob and I were recently asked by a good friend of ours during a much needed Skype session, “Ok, let’s be honest, how is it really?”  JD and I both laughed and then sighed and spoke about the ups and downs of the last three months.  It occurred to me in the days following our conversation that he might not be the only one with that burning question.  So here is the first in the series of…

Keepin’ it Real: Travel with Kids

Installment #1: Rage Against the Machine

I think that Jacob would agree when I say that overall things on the road have been surprisingly great.  For instance, right now, as I sit and write this post, the girls are playing in their room popping out every so often to dance and spin around the living room in the quest for a toy or whatever object they need to enhance their game.  They have been doing this since I got home from my Christmas shopping outing which was about an hour ago.

I would say, 75% of the time this is how they are; engaged with what we are doing as a family or with each other in play.  We are all establishing a routine that is completely different from the one we know in the US and in someways, not so different at all.  For instance, our biggest difficulties with the girls arise when they are tired physically or tired with each other.  Typical fights occur when Quinn wants some down time.  She is like Jacob and me, a little more introverted and requires solitude to refill her gas tank.  Mackenzie is the ultimate in outgoing.  She refills with social activities and rarely wants to do anything quiet on her own.  This difference causes a big amount of friction in our family because three out of four of us need alone time to recharge inevitably leaving Mackenzie to feel frustrated which then leads to tears, clenched fists and stomping feet.

Quinn has her challenges as well.  She gets tired more easily than the rest of us and a chain reaction is set off: Quinn starts whining, stress increases and biting at each other ensues.  It is not as if these kinds of fights didn’t occur at home, it is just they are more noticeable now that we are around each other 24/7.  One lesson Jacob and I seem to have to relearn with each new city in which we arrive, is the need for a plan on where we will eat BEFORE we leave the house.  If the plan is to eat out, pick the place or top two places ahead of time and when ready, go there.  Instead, we often find ourselves wandering around the streets trying to decipher menus in a foreign language unable to make a decision due to growing weariness, hunger and cries of our children.  If it were just us, no problem we can order just about anything and be happy but the girls are much pickier. When hunger is onboard, good communication and decision making is not.

Jacob and I seem to be holding onto the some of the same roles we held in Colorado.  Mine was always the running of the house: Grocery shopping, dinner preparation, cleaning, laundry.  Jacob has always been the one to research things to buy, vacations to go on or other such decisions.  He is a natural at this and so I often rely on his research as a baseline of information to make decisions. He is also the one with a close eye on our finances.  When I let go of full-time work to stay home with the girls, I also deferred to Jacob about decisions regarding our finances.  I know I am not alone when I say, stay-at-home moms struggle with guilt over not bringing in money.  Even though I went back to part-time work when Quinn was 2, I was also starting a business and still not bringing in much more than we were paying for childcare.  The deferred responsibility over financial decisions continued and guilt when I would spend any money on myself and resentment of that guilt, continued.

This is all irrational I realize and never once did Jacob reinforce these feelings by his words or actions.  My inner conflict, I think, just naturally comes from that sense of autonomy we all seek and when we rely on a partner financially or for any other basic safety and belonging need, it feels vulnerable which creates internal friction and therefore, communication is challenged.  I wonder now, how we fell into these gender roles. I remember in college I railed against the notion of these typical gender roles.  And yet, here I am 40 years old and following a path that was set before me 100 years or more ago.  All this to say that I think both Jacob and I were ready to give up some of our typical family responsibilities and patterns when we chose to embark on this journey.  So its no wonder, we are having arguments that stem around wanting the other to take on more responsibility for the thing we are sick of doing all the time.

Alas, some of these roles and responsibilities will always fall to one or the other; patterns are not so easily changed.  For instance, one of my “jobs” which I just have to deal with, especially since the the girls are older and more conscious of what it means physically to be a girl and not a boy, is to be the take-me-the-bathroom parent.   What I wouldn’t give to have a few moments to myself when our food arrives to the table to enjoy a couple of bites rather than inevitably when the food arrives, the girls have to go to the bathroom or Jacob says, “have you girls washed your hands?” a legitimate request but couldn’t we have remembered that 10 minutes ago?  Jacob is a master at excel spreadsheets and retains information like no other so maintaining our budget sheet and comparing airline prices will likely always be his job.

Ahhh, these little gripes grow into monstrous beasts if not attended.  Just as at home, we fall into doing jobs for the family that we naturally gravitate toward.  The trick is to communicate when we need a break from that job. We are trying to figure all this out; adjust to our new normal.  Sometimes heated arguments about sticking to budgets that start on the streets of Arequipa, Peru lead you to new awarenesses of your shit or “work” as I would have said it while wearing my therapist hat.  Jacob and I are each reading a lot on Buddhist thought and teachings and trying to establish a regular meditation practice to develop more tolerance for internal suffering in all it’s various formations.  I try to find little moments during daily activities to practice mindfulness.  I often described this to my clients as everyday mindfulness practice.  Just turning my attention while out and about to observe what I am feeling in my body, emotions, or thoughts, can be just the thing I need to reset my state of mind and choose kinder more accurate words.

Many of the arguments and communication breakdowns (cue Led Zeppelin) between all of us are the same now as they were at home.  The gift is that we don’t get to run away from it or go to sleep or work for 8 hours and “forget” about the argument. It is right there, waiting to be resolved.  We get to practice a new way of being using better strategies.  For the girls, we understand that they need a break from each other and don’t always know this need is their problem.  Jacob and I have each taken a kid and split up for 2-3 hours to give them that break.  Then, I get to feel my heart soar watching their loving reunion as they run toward each other across a plaza.  It’s all about asking for what you need, anticipating the needs of the girls, taking space when necessary and finding acceptance and openness for times of difficulty.  Now, let’s see if I can walk my talk…