Friday, January 26, 2007

Comfort and discomfort

In my first blog posting way below, Tereza commented by focusing on one of the lines in my blog:

"Our job is to try and teach her to be critical of whiteness, to be comfortable with being uncomfortable"

and broke it down. In particular, Tereza, you raised points about how comfort is a privilege and that white privilege protects our comfort, that there are far too many knee jerk skills we have perfected that allow us to coast back to comfort in the area of race when discomfort comes up. You said a lot more that is smarter than that.

As an exercise in trying to be more practical and more concrete about this: I want to think about this comfort in discomfort thing and how it comes up with Luca. Luca is a whiner. Meaning, when vulnerability comes up, she doesn't respond aggressively by lashing out, acting out, being pissy. No, when she is vulnerable, she gets whiney. It's so annoyingly gendered, but it's true. Of course, I do the same thing. Anyhow, I have that mama thing that when she is tired or hungry or sad or whiney, my arms open wide and I gather her up and comfort her.

Lately, when she's been crabby or whiney or a butt head, she's started to say, "Don't you understand, even when I'm crabby, what I really want is for you to just cuddle me. Stop talking and cuddle me!" And usually when she says that, my partner Rocki and I say something like, "Luca, if you want to be cuddled, then you need to ask for cuddles rather than getting whiney or crabby or mean. You need to ask us for what you want so that we know. It isn't fair to make us just guess." So here we are, focusing on teaching direct communication, asking for what you need, all of that. Good emotional skills, right?

But I can't help but think about this within the context of this wider conversation of comfort and discomfort. Some of the ability to be comfortable with discomfort that we're talking about is a kind of state of awareness that rests on a strong foundation. At least, that's what I think it is. I think that part of the life gift that Luca will have is a strong sense of self and a security that there are people who love her who are happy and willing to cuddle her. The ability to sit with discomfort would rest on top of this, wouldn't it?

Or are there some things I need to do right now? Sometimes this strange little matron in me wonders if, when she gets all limp and whiney and boneless, if part of what I need to do is stand up all stiff and just make her deal with it. I remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine, years ago when I was first pregnant. This friend, African American Muslim man, grew up hard, still has lots of family members living hard, is a kick ass father, has (I believe) six kids, etc. He was tripping about me becoming a parent because that wasn't how he saw me. But then he asked, "So, are you going to be one of those white liberal folks who won't spank their kids?" Wow, big step back. "Yes," I said. "I am. I don't believe in it." We had this great conversation about where we come from and where we expect our kids to go. This friend is a peace loving stunningly kind man who does some pretty hard core diversity training with organizations that really shifts those organizations. I have seen him touch groups and make change in a way that is very different from a lot of "diversity training" which stays in the superficial. And in our conversation, his point was that, he is raising Black kids, most of them boys. As they grow up, the world around them isn't going to be looking for ways to be kind. Quite the opposite. His kids need a kind of strength, of toughness, that is going to carry them through when their surroundings (people, place, social context) deny their humanity or individuality. As we talked, I reflected that for my white child, a kind of anti-violence bent is probably important. If they are the inheritors of social power, it would make sense that they have spine but that their instinct is towards the collective, away from the individual. We talked about how, if we were raising our kids to be strong folks in a move towards social justice, strong and powerful within their social positions, we might well be raising different kinds of kids. Taking that conversation five years ago and applying it to day (and so I'm paraphrasing a friend and this might not be exactly what he meant( his kids are guaranteed discomfort (within the context of race and racism) and will have to learn how to hold on to and find their own comfort. Kids with white privilege will have the skills of asserting and demanding their own comfort (within the context of race and racism) and asserting their own normal and will have to learn how to hold on to their own discomfort.

And are the skills to do those things the same or different? And is this even a right way to think about it?

Sitting here now, about five years later, I'm not as sure about any of this. Or, I want to hear more perspectives - on raising all of our kids white and of color, within the context of race and racism. Like I wrote earlier, I'm not sure what this means about raising my child - on a day to day basis - or how to raise Luca so that she can sit within discomfort and stay present, keep moving, and resist the desire to hide or go away.

And as an aside, oh the rashness that I write this as though I have the extant of control implied by my words.

1 comment:

t.t. said...

Susan, I totally agree with you when you say that "Some of the ability to be comfortable with discomfort that we're talking about is a kind of state of awareness that rests on a strong foundation. . . [on giving our children] a strong sense of self and a security that there are people who love (them) who are happy and willing to cuddle (them)."

It is a tough call to know when to cuddle our children and when to let them deal with their own emotions. Thinking about raising kids differently depending on their needs, as per your discussion about your friend and his kids, is also an interesting debate.

Your posting also made me think of gender stuff too. How boys are encouraged to express certain emotions (anger) and girls others (sadness - I notice myself chanelling my anger into tears a lot, for example when what I really want to do is break something.)