What Am I? A Rag?

In a crazy turn of events, I’ve had to move from my rented home in Kalamazoo, Michigan to my parent’s house in Naples, Florida. My parents are reaching (or have arrived) at the golden age of life, where they have difficulty doing for themselves. So, I packed up my things, stuck them in a storage unit, hopped into my little Aveo, and drove the 1300+ miles South.

The trip was grueling, as I dragged along my youngest daughter, her friend, and my dog. I had to leave my pup (who is actually about ten years old) with a friend, as my parents are severely allergic to cats and dogs. It hurts my heart to not have her with me, but I know she is in good hands until I can get her back again.

What’s really crazy is what I’ve been through the last few weeks.

My mother has two siblings in Cuba that are quite ill. My uncle Luminado and my aunt Celeste. Both have cancer and, from what I understand, my uncle is terminal. My aunt is fairing a bit better. My mother traveled to see them for ten days and, during that time, I was left to take care of my ailing father, who had suffered a mini stroke about two months ago.

My father is, at the very least, a difficult man. In our youth, he was somewhat a tyrant. He was intolerant of anything that was outside the “machismo” Cuban way of thinking. I cannot speak for my other siblings, but my experience growing up was hindered by the daily mantra of “you are a girl, you cannot do (insert activity here).” Whereas many of my friends were climbing trees, doing lemondrops off the horizontal bars, riding their bikes through their neighborhoods, and finding new friends at the mall, I was relegated to only playing in my backyard or on the front sidewalk, going to the store with siblings or my parents, or having to turn down invites to spend the night at friend’s houses. All in the name of “girldom” (a.k.a. “weaker-sex-istan”).

What my parents never imagined would happen was that I would grow up into a woman that does things for herself, as much as possible, if only because I refuse to believe the “you are a girl, you can’t do that” bullshit.

A prime example of this is the conversation I had with my father the other day, before my mother came home.

He was sleeping in his bed, taking an afternoon nap (which, apparently, old folks like to do). He comes shuffling out of the bedroom and into the back lanai, where I am sitting, reading a book. He sits down in his recliner, kicks back and raises the leg rest, and proceeds to huff and puff. I throw him some side-eye, because (thanks to my psychology schooling) I am certain he’s fishing for attention. (One thing I’ve learned in all this, is that my father requires attention and validation of his ailments just to feel “alive”.)

Me: What’s on your mind? 

Him: (shakes his head) Hmmm, nothing.

Me: That’s a lie. I can tell you are thinking about something and it’s bothering you. What thoughts have you got running around in that head of yours?

Him: Well, I was lying in my bed, with my eyes closed, thinking. 

Me: Thinking about what?

Him: When I die. I was thinking that your mother is going to need help and maybe, we can bring her sister here (from Cuba) and between her sister and your cousin, they can live here and take care of your mother. 

I have to admit, even using the skills that I have acquired after not only being a single mother of three kids, but also, from my five years of study, I have a tough time dealing with the things my father says in an objective way. But, can you blame me? He’s my father. There’s a long, and varied history there with many not-so-good moments that tend to rise to the surface when I am around him. However, I maintain composure and ask:

What am I, a rag? 

Okay, I lied. Composure was lost. I was a bit upset. To my logical brain, I had picked up in the middle of my life (albeit, a poor life, but I had left my two oldest daughters and my granddaughter in Michigan to come help my parents), left my friends and two of my children and my grandchild, left all my belongings (not to sound materialistic, but, that furniture was mine and I had paid good money for it), and then traveled in a teeny tiny car, thousands of miles, to sit here and basically be told I was insignificant.

He stares at me.

Me: Do you not realize what I’ve done to come down here to help you, but most importantly, to help my mother? (insert litany of all the things I listed above)

Him: (stammering) Yes, yes, I know. It’s just that, who’s going to take care of your mother when I am gone? 

Again? Really? Do you not realize you’ve now TWICE said that I am incapable or unworthy to complete this task of caring for my mother if you so happen to die? At this point, I’m shaking my head because I cannot imagine that he cannot see the forest for the trees (yes, I know, a cliche. Bite me, this is MY story!).

Me: Do you not realize that I have raised three kids on my own? (And, they are healthy, intelligent, and kind women.) I have owned homes, owned cars, worked hard, had money, not had money. I have traveled to new places, lived in two states, and, although my current circumstance is not ideal (yup, I am, by FULL definition, homeless), that does not mean that I will not continue to better my situation and that definitely does not mean that I am not capable of caring for my mother if you happen to die. 

Him: I know. I know. But – 

Me: There is no “but”. Do you know that this way of thinking has made me who I am today? You and mom always worried about me “finding a man”. What do I need a man for? I’ve built homes, cleaned shit, have technical and computer skills, can take out my own trash, wash my own car, buy my own things. I don’t “need” someone to care for me, because I am not a “girl that can’t do anything, or shouldn’t do anything” by virtue of being a girl. That phrase you always said to me, growing up, is part of what has fueled me to not let me get in my own way. And, when you say that my aunt and my cousin need to be here to take care of my mother, when I am already here and left everything to be here, that hurts my feelings. 

I left him pensive.

Did it matter what I said? I don’t know for certain. See, he’s not developing dementia or Alzheimer’s, but there is significant cognitive decline happening. Times where he asks a question, to receive an answer, then five minutes later, asks the same question again (presumably because his mind is still processing what he wants to know and hasn’t caught up yet).

This topic hasn’t come up again, but it really burned my cookies. I’ve been through quite a lot with this man as my father. Many of it, horrible. I’m fairly certain I have PTSD because of my childhood under his roof. But, at the end of the day, at the end of my lifetime and his, he is still my “father“. I don’t mean he’s my mother’s “baby daddy”. I mean, he took care of me by providing for my schooling, put a roof over my head, and made sure there was good food to eat on the table every day. He sired me and performed the duties of taking care of his offspring. He is not my “daddy”. That is where he fell short. However, I understand that he is human. I understand that, just as I was subject to the environment in which I was raised, thus was he subject to the environment in which he was raised. I could find fault in his behavior all day long, but if I do not consider that aspect, that he may have suffered something in his youth, as well, then I am no better than any judgmental person who has no empathy or sympathy for others. I would not be able to deal with this situation, without reminding myself that everyone goes through something, that everyone is influenced by the environment in which they are raised, and that many behaviors are the result of that environment.

Until next time –

 

Lisa

 

My Experience Is Not Everyone’s Experience (a.k.a How -isms shape our lives) Part 2

Another story for you of my experience with “-isms” (ex. racism, sexism, ageism, etc).

When I moved back to Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2006, I was sitting pretty on a large sum of cash. Growing up, as I was a girl (and a Latina girl, no less), my role was always defined as “the nurturer”. Back then, even though it is not that long ago, I was implicitly being groomed to be the homemaker, caretaker, wife, cook, maid; all the things that my mother was and that I was supposed to be because, as my father always told me, “you are a girl”.

Yes, I am a girl

Yes, I am a girl

 

However, watching my mother and her submission to my father and her reliance on him, sparked a fierce independence in me. Even to this day, I struggle with the desire to be close to others (males) and yet retain my independence. My mother, at 76 years old, has her driver’s license, but has not driven a car in over 20 years. She knows and can utilize cash money, but does not know how to pay a bill with a credit/charge/debit card or checkbook. She has never had to improve her English speaking skills, because my father can speak English quite well. The big issue for her, however, is that my father is 9 years her senior and beginning to fall to the ravages of time. My fear is that she will not be able to manage things herself once he is gone. I, on the other hand, have no issues paying my own bills, searching for assistance and information in this new technological age, driving a car, etc.

InTheKitchen2008

In the Kitchen (Where I belong?)_2008

 

This is the backlash to the way I was raised. This has helped me in many ways, yet hindered me in others.

Back to my story….I had packed up my girls and moved back “home” to Kalamazoo. As I stated, I was sitting pretty and had a full time job on top of the money I had. So, going to the store was not an issue. Purchasing those things I wanted and needed was not a problem, as I had plenty of money to do so. So, I did. I wanted my children to have the full benefit of this money, as we had always struggled before. Now, that is not to say that I went hog wild and spent money on fashion items, but it was not uncommon for me to go to Target or Sam’s Club and drop a few hundred dollars on necessities and desires.

One afternoon, my girls and I went to Sam’s Club to purchase some groceries and small appliances. I ended up spending a good $600 on this trip. But, that is not the shocking part of this story.

To understand this experience, you need to understand how I raised my daughters and how they were when we would go out in public.

 

100_3774

Jaime bday pic 080507 Tomara, Adriana, and Jaime 2006

My girls were always clean, well groomed, and wearing gold jewelry (this largely in part because of a metal allergy, which did not allow them to wear costume, or fake, jewelry). So, on this particular day, my daughters were nicely dressed, wearing their gold jewelry, and sporting the Ipod’s I had purchased them. See, going to the grocery store with Mom was not as exciting an adventure as it used to be when they were toddlers.

We make our purchases and head out the store. If you have ever shopped in a big box store, you know that they typically have a greeter at the door, who will also inspect your receipt and the contents of your cart, as you exit. This day, there was an older lady, with a short red bob (what I jokingly call “the Midwestern Mom haircut”) standing at the door. I roll my cart towards her and reach out to hand her my receipt. My girls are standing around me, joking and laughing and bobbing their heads to whatever music they are listening to. This lady grabs my receipt with a nervous smile, and looks at it. She then proceeds to look at my children. She sizes them up, her eyes traveling up and down the length of them, inspecting their clothing, jewelry, and Ipod’s in their hands. She then looks back at the receipt. Her eyes travel back to me and she says “that’s very pretty jewelry your daughters are wearing”. I smile and say “thank you”.

Do you see what was wrong with this exchange, no matter how polite it all seemed? She never ONCE looked in my cart to verify that the items on the receipt were in the cart. She only looked at me and my children. Now, why do you think that is?

Yeah, it was racism...

Yeah, it was racism…

I have my assumptions about the manner, which I fully addressed with the manager of this Sam’s Club. You see, I understand that there are people who feel compelled to steal things from stores. Ironically enough, I also am intelligent enough to know, based on empirical fact, that the majority of theft occurs in the White population.

According to the FBI, in 2009, there were a total of 1,056,473 reported thefts (larceny). Of those, 68.1% were committed by White people, 29.0% by Black people, 1.4% by American Indian or Alaskan natives, and 1.4% by Asian or Pacific Islanders (https://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/data/table_43.html). Now, I’m not saying that people other than White people do not steal, however, the White people leaving that store before and after me were not attended to with such scrutiny as my daughters and I were.

I understand the desire for someone to do a good job at what they do, and considering what this woman’s job was, I’m sure she didn’t want anyone stealing anything under her watch. I do not understand, however, her scrutiny of my children (who were all minors at the time). She did not perform her specified job, which, I’m assuming, was to verify that the receipt matched the contents of my cart. She didn’t do her job. She, instead, took it upon herself to immediately judge myself and my children, and made her biased presumptions solely on…what? Skin color, perhaps? That is the only assumption I can make at this point, as I did not have time to speak to her, but only to her manager. I took my cart full of items to my car, fuming the entire time, and then I returned to the store to see if I could confront her. I did not want to make a scene, but I was damned sure not going to hold my tongue.

I was offended. Not so much by her scrutiny, but by the fact that she was sending a message to me and my children by her behavior. The fact that a woman with three brown children could not purchase those items, or had the need to steal what the children were wearing, is the very distressing message that she was conveying.

My discussion with my White, male friend included this concept. That it is not the tangible, explicit things PoC deal with on a daily basis, but rather those covert, or hidden,  “-isms” that pervade our society. Quite possibly this woman thought she was not doing anything untoward, however, in my eyes, she was. She was saying “you aren’t the right color/type/culture/gender/what-have-you to be able to shop and spend money in this store.”

True Story!

Comment below on whether you’ve ever been faced with a situation where someone conveyed this type of message to you, without the exact words even being spoken. Or any other story you have of racism, sexism, ageism, etc. that you would like to share.

Thanks for reading!

Lisa

 

Read Part 1 here.

Picture Activity Schedules Aren’t Just for Kids With Autism

When I was only 25 years old, I was a young, divorced mother of three beautiful girls, attempting to manage my own home, career, and life. My kids were my life (and they still are), but at the time, it was straight HELL trying to manage all the multiple issues of life, work, and parenting that come with having a young family.  For the most part, I didn’t do too horribly (a quick survey of my children will either corroborate or contest that), and at that time, I had some “tricks and tips” that I came up with to help manage my busy life and busy schedule.

My girls and I in 1999

This past year, in my college classes, I participated in an Honors Thesis program for the Psychology department. During two full semesters, I was paired with a wonderful mentor, Jenny Ward, who was working on a project regarding children with autism and picture activity schedules.

Jenny and I

What the heck are picture activity schedules and what the heck does that have to do with your kids, Lisa?

Well, it’s funny you should ask. Picture activity schedules are graphic representations of different steps in an activity that help a child with autism perform that activity with little to no prompting. The great thing about picture activity schedules is that you do not need to have autism to use them, and, unbeknownst to me, when I was a young 25 year old mother of three, I created and used a version of picture activity schedules with my own children, without realizing that is what they were.

Here’s how it went down: I began using them around 1999. I had a 7 year old, a 5 year old, and a 4 year old. I worked a (more than) full time job, which typically had me working from home, even after I had finished my day at the office. Every week day morning, I would get up at approximately 4:30 am to get my children’s clothes ready for the day and get myself ready. By 6:45 am, everyone had to dressed, washed, teeth brushed, hair combed, and waiting by the door with bags and lunches, to get where we needed to be on time. Wow! I’m sure you are exclaiming. That’s really early! Yes, yes, it was. Thankfully, I was a very energetic 25 year old and could get up that early without too many aches and pains. However, it did not seem very logical to me to get up so early, only to turn around and go to bed by midnight, sleep four and a half hours, wake and do it all again. Besides, it was extremely tedious and eventually grew very exhausting. So, what did I do? I created picture activity schedules for my children.

Here is a sample of what one looked like:

Tooth brushing Picture Activity Schedule

I had something similar to this posted in the bathroom. There was another one for getting dressed in their bedrooms, along with one for making the bed.

These little posters were such time savers for me and my girls. If they had any question as to what they needed to do, I directed them to the posters littered throughout the house.

Now, these are different from the picture activity schedules used with children with autism today. As many of these children, especially the more severe cases, have trouble reading, writing, and even speaking, the picture activity schedules they use are typically only pictures, with little to no words written on them. Such as this sample here:

Picture Activity Schedule for a boy with autism – tooth brushing

 

But, my point is that it works in much the same fashion.

For me, these things were a lifesaver. Rather than have to explain to my children every 5 minutes what I needed them to do, I would say “what does the tooth brushing picture say?”. Even the two younger ones were able to, if not read what was written, then at least reference the picture and deduce that it was time to brush their teeth.

I must have been doing something right, when it came to those rough mornings, because my kids are all still alive and kicking, and one of them even made me a grandmother!

My girls and I in 2012