Archive for the ‘diversity’ Category
Did you know there was a hugely divisive edition of Time magazine recently? Oh well of course you did! You read that article and the aftermath so long ago you’ve forgotten about it by now. And I’m still here waiting for my edition of Time come through the diplomatic pouch. We have to wait a little longer to get our mail as we’re in the foreign service. Whatever your thoughts on attached parenting and breastfeeding, don’t you find it interesting that the whole thing blew up around (US) Mother’s Day?
I have boobs, with nipples attached, and they’ve served me well during my time overseas. In fact, I breastfed in eight countries, some of them more accepting than others. That is just another reality of life in the foreign service. I fondly remember a sweet elderly lady in France tenderly stroking my shoulder in support as I nursed my hungry infant. Or the midwives in Luxembourg who marveled at Pudding’s ability to eat and eat from the moment she was born. During one notable incident in Germany- I even got paid for it!
Pudding was a mere two weeks old, and we’d gone to a Christmas Market in Germany with my visiting parents. Recovering from Pudding’s birth took a long time, and she had the biggest appetite, so when she began screaming in the middle of the market, I abandoned my parents and looked for somewhere to nurse.
I found some steps, sat down and used our American stroller (pushchair) to block the view as best I could (not very well). As Pudding screams turned into contented suckling, I noticed that the steps I’d chosen to sit on were actually part of a huge Nativity scene. I was torn between moving so as not to upset anybody’s religious beliefs, and telling myself that Jesus nursed at the breast too. Plus I figured people would be more disturbed by the fury of Pudding if I were to stop her when she hadn’t had her fill. I decided to nurse it out.
A few minutes later, I noticed a man coming towards me. I can’t see my parents anywhere, and I realize how both public and vulnerable I am at this point. If I’ve upset this man’s sensibilities, I’m a sitting target. I want to tell him that I’m not actually a lactivist, but a mother trying to do her best, but I don’t speak enough German for that. He marches determinedly up to me, then puts something in the cupholder of my stroller. When Pudding finally finishes her meal, I discover a shiny new 2 euro coin! Obviously in my bedraggled state, without a fancy European stroller accessory, I looked like I was begging!
I was part of a group of international mothers all living overseas at the time, who all found this story hilarious. Some of us breastfed, others didn’t. Some of us worked, others didn’t. It’s all good in the Motherhood. Rather than judging one another, we offered as much support as we could- all of us sharing the not-so-simple task of raising our children in a foreign country without any family support at hand.
A couple of weeks ago, here in South Africa, I had a breast exam and the doctor described my breasts as ‘lumpy.’ She wasn’t immediately concerned, but she feels that sooner rather than later, I need to have a mammogram, rather than waiting until I’m 40 or 50 or whatever my heath insurance dictates is the optimum time. I immediately thought of my foreign service friend Jen, who bravely navigated the process of discovering a lump to multiple surgeries, and blogged about the process of dealing with that, children, oh, and her husband on an unaccompanied tour in Iraq. Amusing anecdotes aside, I don’t have much to say about my boobs. Jen’s on the other hand, have a very important and relevant story to tell.
This week, Jen and her nipples have been dismissed from the State Department’s foreign service blog roll. When she asked why she had been deleted, she was specifically referred to a post about her nipples which was deemed ‘too personal’ to be seen by other members of the foreign service or potential candidates. Not only does her family have to go through one of the most traumatic experiences, deal with how that affects her husband’s career (and by extension their entire life), but then to be told that is the reason she isn’t a relevant part of the foreign service community is entirely too much.
It came as no surprise to me to find that my blog was never added to the list. This kind of exclusion comes in stark contrast to the supportive and welcoming foreign service community that is my extended family while overseas. One that I’m proud to begin representing soon as Community Liaison Office Co-Ordinator. I’d like to know exactly why our family isn’t considered a relevant part of the foreign service experience.
Being the parent of a special needs child certainly changes your experience of the foreign service. And being part of the foreign service changes your experience of special needs parenting. I’d say, like Jen’s nipples, this is something we should be talking about. Indeed, considered a vital resource for anybody else who finds their life- foreign service or otherwise- is turning out differently than expected. Sooner or later, life will get too personal, and if that happens to be because of cancer or autism, you might just want to read about someone who has been through it too. I believe our stories show that even when your world gets rocked, it keeps on spinning. A lot of spinning, in our case.
I don’t mind being excluded because I chose to write about my money-makers, they aren’t important like my friend’s. Just note that we usually call them galou-galous around here. Please don’t exclude any of us for talking about things that are important, and essential, but not always pleasant. And please don’t try to paint a picture of a homogenic community, because that is a far more distasteful than nipples as an image for the foreign service of today.
Now I’ll return to waiting to collect the diplomatic pouch with my Time magazine. It asks ‘Are You Mom Enough’ and I would reply- absolutely, I just might not be Foreign Service enough to blog.
This post is sort of part of my A-Z series, but not really because people have gone a little crazy over breasts and as well as all my other hats I wear, I’m a female blogger and it makes me mad. Perhaps instead I’ll file it under Foreign Service Life instead. And then begin to fear what google searches will come my way now…
Here are some other very relevant foreign service bloggers talking about what has been descibed as “Nips for Dips”:
When a friend first suggested I gave Wordless Wednesday a try I wasn’t entirely sure. I mean, I like writing. Still, there was something about it that appealed to me, and on Saturday while we were attending a “Fall Festival” (ridiculous to me as the weather has just now cooled down to London summer, it really does not feel like Autumn), I snapped the picture of Pudding touching the tree. I was hoping to illustrate, at the time, that while all around kids were playing on the playground, bouncing on the inflatables, eating the yummy food, riding the train and the ponies, Pudding felt compelled to do this. She needed a fix. Of course, Pudding did all the other stuff too, she was in her element and not at all overwhelmed by the crowds, noises, sights and smells. She is a sensory-seeker, even a place like Disneyworld has “just-right” stimulation for her. Touching the tree was the one tiny thing that set her apart that day.
So I was a little disappointed when I got home and realized the picture looked like a girl playing hide-and-seek. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just didn’t illustrate what was going on sufficiently, and I felt I had to use words to make my point. For about the millionth time, I was thankful that I do have the ability to express myself. I can’t even imagine how frustrating it would be to struggle with something so essential.
I put up my photo, with my caption, and trotted around the internet looking at other people’s WW images, and leaving comments where I felt I needed to. It was fascinating! Literally a snapshot into their lives, seeing what makes them tick. It is a great way to understand somebody who is taking a different journey. I saw some great images on my travels: skilled photography and candid family moments, the soulful eyes of a dog whose people are out of sight. And then I found a page that I just have to share with you. I just love the joyful expression on her face, and I sat for a while marveling at all the different ways nature expresses beauty. Then I read these words on the site:
“In India any disability is considered as a CURSE.
I want to let the whole world know ‘What a Blessing my child is’. “
Those words have really stayed with me. Although I’m not a religious person, I feel that my children are meant to be just as they are, and I am meant to be their mother. I feel blessed to have them. I have some trepidation of how Pudding’s differences might be viewed in different parts of the world. We still (sigh!) don’t know where we’ll live next, but I hope wherever we go, my children will always know that they are a blessing to me. Indeed, to view your child as anything but a blessing is the true curse. Little Navya and her wonderful parents definitely brightened my Wordless Wednesday.
Coming back to my post, I was struck by a particular comment. Will had written:
“At first I though “hide and seek, but the truth is even better.”
The truth is even better! This was what I got out of Wordless Wednesday. Sometimes we have to look beyond disabilities, and see the true wonder of a person. And for others like Pudding with no physical signs of disability, we have to remember that what you see is not what you get. It really is about taking the blinkers of and seeing the real human, and not how we expect a person to be. When we need to look a little closer, Wordless Wednesday is a great way to do just that.
I once had a conversation with a friend, who is gay, about Coming Out. He explained that coming out is a big deal, you build up to it, it takes all your nerve, you finally do it and feel an enormous sense of relief. Then it dawns on you that you just came out to a few people, and there are about 6 billion more on this planet. You have to keep doing it, over and over again every time you meet someone new. And every time you worry about how they are going to deal with this information. How will it change they way you are perceived? Are they even worth sharing this personal information with?
Almost exactly a year ago, we started to notice Pudding’s differences. We were scared and confused; overwhelmed by the A-word. We had to acknowledge that our visions of her future did not belong to her, and it was okay to let go of them. She was the same little girl she always had been; that is to say, a little different. Still, it was hard to tell friends and family. We knew our parents would feel that same fear for her future. We hated that awkward silence when we told friends. It gets easier, though, and the more we feel comfortable about talking, the more questions people are asking. Questions are easier to deal with than silence. Questions lead to understanding. Silence leads to shame.
There is another way. Pudding’s disability is invisible. We could keep quiet, hide her secret. Unfortunately, secrets imply shame, and shame leads to stigma. We don’t ever want her to feel ashamed about who she is. We want to take these diagnostic words and demystify them. To learn about the community of “Aspies” and “Auties” who not only aren’t ashamed of who they are, but take pride in their differences, and their contributions to this world. We are determined that Pudding and Cubby will grow up taking pride in who they are, whoever they turn out to be. It will be difficult. As they get older they may not choose to be open, and that will be their choice. It is our job to make sure they feel confident and strong enough to make that choice.
I’m thinking about this because on Friday Pudding will have a play date with a new friend. I’ve been corresponding with the mother over email, but I haven’t mentioned that Pudding has autism. Do I let her know before we meet so that she is prepared? Or do I let her and her daughter meet Pudding first, so they can see there is more to her than a diagnosis? I’m not sure what to do. Even spectrummy mummies don’t know everything! Suggestions in the comments please.