Friday, August 12, 2011

How do you know when you're begining to fit in your minority neighborhood?

Yesterday, one of my 11 year old neighbors caught me off guard. He's American born, of African descent and raised in the city.

J: Where you from?
Me: Hershey, near Harrisburg.
J: [blank stare]
Me: Know the chocolate bar? I lived in the town where they're made.
J: [recognition] Oh. [pause] What language do you speak?
Me: [blank stare] huh?
J: What do you speak?
Me: As in language?
J: Yeah.
Me: [Suppressing Smile] English.
J: Do you speak Latin?
Me: [Pause. Blank Stare. More Pause.] No.
J: [Confused look] Oh, cause you talk funny when you're mad. Like this [uses nasely impersonation]
Me: [surprise at his reference to my anger, and recognition of his line of questioning] Oh, I have an accent. Right. Didn't know that.

The white man accent, nasal included. And so transition happily continues…

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Story of (an)Other: Urban Faith and An Education

Suburban Beginnings

I grew up in a suburban community in South Central PA where I attended school in a township with one of the highest tax brackets in the state. My dad was an avid hunter and fisherman, and he invited us into his joy of the dance with nature, the hunter and hunted. Likewise, my socio-demographic background was made up of folk very much like myself: German, Austrian (often culturally Mennonite) or Anglo; diversity was limited to infrequent trips to the closest urban geography. Harrisburg is not that big, but culturally, was nearly 100% more diverse than my home town: African descent, Latin descent, Asian descent, etc., whereas less than 1% of my suburban home-town was non-white.

Urban Life With Others, 101

About 2 months ago, we attended church at Valley View Presbyterian Church in Garfield, Pittsburgh. Our family just moved into the East Liberty neighborhood, and had just begun the search for a community to commit to. (Since this story, we've begun attending regularly.) A friend of ours is pastor there, while another has just finished interning here for his Masters of Divinity at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (PTS). It was one of about four churches we attended. We happened to be there during a month long conversation about gun violence, gun control, and its effects on the neighborhood, residents, and parishioners of the East End. The church, when regular attenders are all there at the same time, is a beautiful picture of diversity of mostly Black and White folk. Our new commitment has yet to give us the opportunity to enjoy this, but we look forward to seeing it.

During the service, Chad invited those present to share the names of those affected by gun violence. That is, to honor and remember those who had been killed by a gun. It was a hotter Sunday morning, and there were about 50 people in the sanctuary. At Chad's invitation, one by one people began to share of sons, cousins, close friends, popular or respected members of local neighborhoods, etc. Quietly, but with firmness, they shared: To be remembered. Some were sad, but most spoke with a matter of fact-ness that I found hard to process. These fallen ones were almost all youth, and many were the innocent victims of cross fire. Unintended victims of others use of firearms. Out of those 50 present, about 12 people spoke in memory of around 15 loved ones lost.

Someone Else's Story

I had so much difficulty during this service. I wanted it to stop; I couldn't believe so many kept sharing. It was surreal. I was in denial at times, the delivery the victims stories were shared in every day parlance. I wanted it to stop; it was easier being naive or ignorant to the pain I was experiencing, listening to. Never in my life had I ever been subject to the loss of loved ones like this, nor had I ever imagined it for others. This is not my story! I reeled. I was becoming responsible with information I wasn't sure I was ready to hear. Part of my denial, although individual, was carried by the guilt that I have for so long been unable to understand someone with such a different story, one that as a white male, I'm both ignorant of and perpetuate. Part of the systemic racism, I am.

I too, struggled to hold back deep, deep sorrow. Where am I, that these beautiful people live in a place that 30% of those present have lost someone to this utter violence? Where have I lived, that my brothers and sisters, folks with whom I share the commonality of fathers, mothers, children, extended family and friends have been subject to a story of brutality? To mourn the loss of so many, particularly the young, is unfathomable to me.

Living in Someone Else's Story

In the end, this is why we chose this church, and the East End of Pittsburgh. After growing up and living in very homogenous, white places, Megan and I could no longer imagine ourselves in a culture of similarity, of sameness. Our time in Los Angeles fueled this burning in our bellies. We wanted to be in a place to hear other stories, to know more than our own ancestry. Its important for us for our children to know others as well. I don't intend this words for a right to brag, or sound self-important or romantic. In fact, it's hard for me to be here. Culture shock courses daily through my veins. It is our conviction of truth: our family is being killed in the streets, and we don't know the story. We remain ignorant to their culture, their lives. Of course, it's not all death. But with this Sunday came the reality of personal myopia: This is not my story. I need to hear others' stories to be more faithful in my pursuit of loving YHWH, of loving others.

I must listen. And in order to have an ear, I must live in that place where my other family struggles, suffers. They could be my sons, and I want to learn to care for them as I do my boys.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Wages of Inconsistency

Hold Tight Only to Compassion
It has been said by experts, "You must be consistent, or your children will be confused."
Who among us is consistent?
Circumstances are always changing.

Children become confused when parents become rigid,
holding rules above love.
Be consistently flexible.
Hold tight only to compassion.
~from The Parent's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

This quote was on the top of my Facebook News Feed this afternoon. It's something I struggle with on a daily basis: how often I parent from the place of "this is what we've done before, so the answer is NO!" or something to that effect.

Compassion, as it feeds our ability for empathy, is the foundation parenting principle of the Echo Center. Current research with children reveals that emotional intelligence is tantamount for brain development. Further, it offers that connecting with children and recognizing their emotions in the moment (i.e. the flailing little girl at the store, or the suddenly sad and "acting-out" little boy over leaving home for that appointment) provides for more whole, compassionate people when the child is older. My kneejerk response is to correct out of an (understandable) frustration towards the desired behavior of said child. This quote and the Echo Center paradigm runs counter (and counter-cultural) with the current philosophy of parenting: discipline towards compliance. "Good" boys and girls, via proper behavior, is the parenting goal for many of us.

Myself included: I often fall into disciplining for compliance, despite my time and effort with the Echo Center and desire for an empathetic connection to my boys. My real struggle is this walking the line of compliance and parenthood, vs. connecting my children in their emotions. Directing or disciplining that doesn't fall into that "command and control" mentality is a hard road to walk for me.

How do I love my kids, and allow them to be children? How do I teach them compassion, when my own experience has been compliance? Further, how does one do this well, without being overly permissive as parents, instilling a sense of respect and proper posture between parent and child?

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Remembering Nan

Nan, my maternal grandmother, passed on a couple of weeks ago. She had Alzheimers for years, and the last 6 or so have been increasingly difficult as the disease slowly stole her away from us. My dad had heard her utter the last words she would initiate on her own 6 months ago, and even these were reading speed limit signs on a road trip to see family. I had mourned her a great deal before her death, through the years as I both saw her at visits and during conversations with my mom about her decline. The day she passed and over the weekend were also hard, as I mourned the woman who was a mere shell of a vibrant, welcoming host with an easy, tittering laugh. I realized I was also mourning the chance to mourn; the disease likewise quietly and insidiously took her away so slowly that it stunted an opportunity for remembering and honoring her as she was. As I looked at her for the last time, there was a quiet rejoicing at the deep peace for Nan, who joined Pap, my grandfather, in rest.

Saying goodbye on Thurs. morning at the funeral may have been the hardest. After everyone else had their last opportunity to say goodbye at the viewing, I was the last to release Nan from our family, next to my brother and his little boy. The four of us looked on, my brother quietly weeping. I was holding Owen, our oldest, who looked on unaware of who this woman was. He was quiet and curious, his gaze intent on her.

He asked me (as is his habit lately): Who's that?
Me: That's Nan. That's dada's grandma.
O: I wanna see her.
Me: There she is. She's sleeping. She's gonna be asleep for a long time.
O: I wanna touch her.
Me: That would be good, wouldn't it? I know you do, but we'll wake her.
Me: Can you say 'Love you Nan?'
O: Love you Nan.
Me: [I start weeping] Can you say 'I'll miss you Nan?'
O: Miss you Nan.
Me: Can you tell her 'bye-bye'?
O: Bye-bye.
We stood for a moment longer, just being present with Nan, something I hadn't been able to do in over 6 years, and the only opportunity for Owen.

That was hard. Still is; I'm crying now. Something about holding Owen in his innocent wonder and curiosity, wanting to spend time with Nan who was sleeping, was powerful and touched something deep. Perhaps I was saying goodbye through Owen, somehow unaware in the moment that I never really had the chance. Perhaps I'll know, perhaps not. I'm learning to grieve; to not over-analyze, and to rest with who I am in the moment. Damn, its hard to do that. Perhaps its the gift of death from those who proceed us to learn to live more in wholly.

Even since then, while both in Hershey and a few days after our return he said "I wanna see Nan" or "Can I play with Nan?" Our little one seems to love people, even when he hasn't yet met them.

Nan, you were loved by the great-grandchildren you were never given the opportunity to know even in life. Rest in Peace; you waited too long for this opportunity that was taken from you. Sleep deep...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Politically UNcorrect Fable Characters

Soooo, I had my first experience with our eldest saying "the wrong thing at the wrong time." It was embarrassing, flabbergasting, disarming, I'm sure extremely uncomfortable with the man in the bike shop, and yet I haven't been able to stop my shameful laughter when I think about it.

O and I walked in shop together and enjoyed the "hundreds" of bikes around us, while another man - who was rather obese - entered the shop behind us. O didn't see him then, but was enjoying the tire pumps while I kept an eye on him and labored over tire decisions. After this gentlemen made his transactions he walked through the area of the shop where O and I were when my firstborn finally noticed him. He smiled with a touch of wonder on his cheerful toddler face, stopped inflating imaginary tires, looked up at the man, pointed, and said

"Look dada, it's Humpty Dumpty."

I could've been in space in the two seconds that followed. I struggled to breathe in the vacuum, and to know how to respond. This man heard: no doubt. Our proximity allowed for nothing else with O's little voice and volume. O wanted me to know I was seeing a celebrity, so he repeated

"It's Humpty Dumpty Dada."

I quietly affirmed his sighting, and redirected him to the counter at the bike shop to check out. (The owner didn't hear; we were too far. Thank GOD.) Although I felt extremely embarrassed, for I'm sure the man felt TERRIBLE/ashamed/embarrassed, I also had trouble not laughing. (And still do. Having trouble containing it as I type this. I know, I'm probably going to hell.) It wasn't like O isn't familiar with any other childhood characters: he didn't pick the Farmer in the Dell or Old MacDonald, he picked Humpty.

For the record, I'm not angry with our starstruck little one, nor did I reprimand him. He was a pre-schooler identifying what he experienced in his life. It wasn't his fault, nor do I hold him to that.

But what do I do in this place? Any parents have any feedback from their own experiences?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The "Have I Already Ruined My Son For Life??!?!?" Moment Of the Day

Having just been changed after playing outside in water, I'm (Brian) trying to convince a tired O to put on his shirt.

O: I don't like my penis.

[Dada: Oh $h%^! What have I done to my son at so young an age?!?!?? Does he want to have a sex change already?!?!? Am I not affirming his masculinity?!??]

O: I don't like my penis.
D [apprehensively, with internal panic, guilt, shame, etc]: Oh? Why not?
O [think Rainman]: Yeah. I don't like my penis.
D [maintain internal emotional control, he's 2.5 years old]: You don't like your penis? Can you tell dada why?
O [still rainman]: yeah. I don't like my penis.
D [try same tack, something's gotta give, right?] Ok. Can you tell dada why?
O [still rainman]: yeah. I don't like my penis.
D [confusion, reasoning isn't working] Ooooook... You don't like your penis?
O [rolling around a bit, fidgeting]. Yeah. I don't like my penis.
D [silence] ????
O [absent-mindedly kicking at dada] I don't like my shirt.
D [heart rate drops from hummingbird speed, sweat dissipates, embarrassment sets in] Right O. That's good, neither does dada.

Longest 30 seconds of my week. Eeesh.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We're Still Here!

Well, I begin every post with, "it's been such a long time since I've updated our blog!" So I suppose this time I'll spare you! We have a friend who has a blog and hadn't updated it for a LONG time and when she did she said, "I could've had a baby in the time since I've updated!" We have two babies (technically a toddler and a baby- although Elias is going to borrow the car next week- more on this later) and it's only been 5 months since I've updated, so I'm still good, right???!! :)

Thanks for your patience! What has been happening in the Shope home since July? Quite a bit- rest assured I've composed thousands of blog posts in my head since then - maybe my New Year's resolution should be to keep this updated! The funny thing is we never have time to update it - unless I use my lunch time at work. Oh well!

Elias is now 6 and 1/2 months old (these pics are from 4 mos)! I'm really not sure how this happened, as he was born two weeks ago. The boy does not stop moving- even when sleeping, which he abhorrs and I have the dark circles under my eyes to prove it! He is always on the move running after big brother. He started crawling the Monday before Thanksgiving and pulled himself up two days later. I often find myself telling him, "Elias! Mama said sit down, son! You're supposed to be the little one!!" We recently started solid foods and it's going ok- he much prefers mama milk, but we're working on it.

Owen is now 22 mos. and doing great- he's so busy and talking more and more. His favorite words are currently, "bussssh" this is his word for "bus", which we see drive by our house multiple times a day. He says, "it's ssslllouud" for "it's loud" and "swatch" for "watch me". He is also climbing everywhere and loves to build a tower of blocks and then knock them down while laughing with glee. He is Mr. curious and wants everything that Mama and Dada have- including coffee, which is a constant battle, "this is a mama and dada drink, O." :) He wants to do everything himself and loves trucks and his new nativity set from Nanny and Grandpa. He's still a huge dancer and drummer and he actually has quite a bit of skill. A lot of his time is now taken up hoarding toys in his lap so his now mobile little brother can't get to them. Hmm. Progress, not perfection, right?? :)

Brian is doing well- just finished this quarter at Fuller after a grueling week of papers and group projects. He wears the Daddy hat so well and loves playing with the boys. He's been with them M-Th 8-1 since Sept. and they have a good time walking Maggie and going to the park.

I am back to work part-time until March when it will be full-time. :( I love my afternoons with the boys and have been making a lot of new vegetarian recipes, which has been tons of fun. Work is pretty good - I love teaching our classes. I've been busy preparing for our families to come for Christmas- my parents, Brian's parents, and his brother and their family will all be here, so it should be fun.

I've been telling everyone that it can't be Christmas, I feel like it was just Halloween, so in that vein, here are the boys in their Halloween costumes! Maybe by April I'll have the current pics downloaded and posted. :)