Monthly Archives: November 2011

The “First” Thanksgiving

Every Thanksgiving Americans across the nation gather with family and friends. Huge, multiple course feasts are prepared, with all the fixings and favorites. Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Sweet potato pie. Cranberry sauce. Corn. Green bean casserole. Corn bread. And finishing with desert (if we have any room left in our stomachs!). We give thanks and rejoice at the bounty we have before us.

There’s traditions in each family around Thanksgiving. Special dishes of food. Perhaps viewing the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV. Or a football game. These traditions are special to each gathering, to each group of people. We take comfort and joy on this day as we reflect on what we are thankful and grateful for.

This aspect of Thanksgiving, of being mindful and aware of our gratitude, is one I support and enjoy. I have much to be thankful for. However, the myth of Thanksgiving is something I strongly disagree with and that I find upsetting. Especially as it’s taught in our public schools.

I wrote about my disdain on how Columbus Day is perceived and taught earlier this year. I am equally appalled by how Thanksgiving is presented, especially in schools.

My oldest daughter, Z,  is in 2nd grade and for the last three years I have needed to “re-teach” her about Thanksgiving. This year she told me her teacher had read the class a book about the Pilgrims coming to America and how the Indians helped them. She told me about “the first Thanksgiving” where the Pilgrims and the Indians sat down and shared dinner on that day. In 1st grade she shared a similar story with me that she had learned in school. And in Kindergarten, she brought home a photocopied book she had made, the first few pages are shown below.

Looks real peaceful. Smiling Pilgrims with a gun and a solemn Native American.


So… what’s so wrong with any of this? Why am I upset over it? Honestly, I’m upset and saddened because what I was taught in school as a child, and what is apparently still being taught to my daughter, isn’t true. When I mentioned to Z this year that what her teacher read the class was a nice story, she defended the story of the first Thanksgiving by telling me that it really happened.

It didn’t. The story of the first Thanksgiving that we have been told is a myth. A legend.  The idea of Pilgrims and “Indians” sharing a peaceful meal is entirely fabricated.  There were many days of thanksgiving, both amongst the Pilgrims and in Native American tradition and these were celebrations of a successful harvest season. Much more of the myth is, well, myth, right down to what the Pilgrims and Native Americans wore or ate.

There’s also many omitted details. Such as  in 1637, when the day of Thanksgiving was a celebration of the return of Pilgrim men who had traveled to Mystic, Connecticut and fought against the Pequot tribe resulting in the deaths of 700+ Pequot people. Or of Pilgrims robbing the graves of  the Wampanoag tribe and stealing their food (information that comes from a Pilgrim’s account of the first year). Rather than these events being altered, they are entirely left out.

My dismay over the Thanksgiving story as it is currently presented isn’t solely based on the omissions on how Native Americans were treated. Or the stereotyped construction of Native Americans being primitive and dumb. It isn’t from the way Pilgrims are presented either, as pure models on which to base our selves. My dismay is that we are teaching our children (and adults) that this story is truth. That the story that has been constructed as the first Thanksgiving is history.

Why do we teach false history? If the idea of the thanksgiving tradition is important somehow, then why don’t we frame it as a tradition? Why don’t we frame it as a story? When we frame it as, “this happened” we aren’t teaching our children anything worthwhile. James W. Loewen wrote in his novel Lies My Teacher Told Me that, “The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honest and inclusive history. If textbook authors feel compelled to give moral instruction… they could accomplish this by allowing students to learn both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ sides of the Pilgrim tale. Conflict would then become part of the story, and students might discover the knowledge they gain has implications for their lives today.” (p 97)

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it

History should allow us to learn from it. It’s my hope to raise two confident, intelligent children with the capacity to critically think and examine what is presented to them. And to be able to decide what is truthful based on their own exploration of such, not blindly believing what they are taught or told. It isn’t only the past history of our nation that we are misinformed on. The events that are currently happening in our nation are often misconstrued, censored and even hidden — by the media, by those in power and by the overwhelming fact that most of us aren’t even aware. Try googling ‘UC Davis Pepper Spray’ or ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and see how aware you are of the events happening right now, in our nation.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the teachers and people in my life who taught me to critically think, to question, to examine and seek out the truth in everything.

Advertisements

Coping with Holiday Grief

Holidays can be a difficult time.

There’s the stress of  planning, of cooking a meal, of traveling to destinations. There’s the stress of family. Of gathering everyone together. Of  relationships that may be less than ideal. And the feeling of absence of loved ones, either through distance or death.

It’s now been over a year since my father has passed away. This past Halloween was the second year without him and tomorrow will be the second Thanksgiving. People have told me that it will, “get easier” but so far that hasn’t been my experience. I find each holiday, each event and milestone to be equally as difficult as the last.

There’s a constant feeling of, “he should be here.” This past June as I sat at my graduation, waiting to walk for my Early Childhood degree, I had difficulty containing my tears and my emotions. I kept trying to focus on the speakers, on those sitting around me, on the number of seats in the venue… on anything to distract myself from the running thought in my head that he should be here.  Because he should have been there. While I was proud of my accomplishments, my feelings of loss were overwhelming.

My feelings of loss exist outside of holidays and milestones. Perhaps this is just another stage of grief. Or perhaps this is a lasting feeling. I mean, I miss my dad and it follows logic that I would feel that loss even more so in times of heightened significance. Holidays. Birthdays. Graduations.

People that play such a vital, important role in our lives surely would be missed. Surely their absence wouldn’t be overlooked.  I don’t want to dwell on the sadness of his absence. I don’t want to allow my feelings of sadness to become a surrogate replacement for the place where, “he should be”. So how can I, and others dealing with loss, handle the upcoming holidays (and other milestones) ?

Griefnet.org offers several articles on dealing with grief during the holidays. Below are a few points I found to be particularly helpful:

  • Holidays often magnify feelings of loss of a loved one. It is important and natural to experience the sadness that comes. To block such feelings is unhealthy. Keep the positive memory of the loved one alive.
  • Often after the first year the people in your life may expect you to be over it. We are never over it but the experience of many bereaved is that eventually they enjoy the holidays again.
  • Don’t forget, anticipation of any holiday is so much worse than the actual holiday.

Keeping the positive memory of a loved one alive, by celebrating and remembering them can help to cope with the grief of loss. Here are a few ideas on how to do so:

  • Light a candle to honor your loved one, perhaps during holiday gatherings as a reminder of them.
  • Create a memory box by asking family members and friends to write down a good memory they have of your loved one. These may be shared as a group or viewed at a later point privately.
  • Look at pictures and/or videos of your loved one. Often times these will spark memories and encourage conversation of good times.
  • At a gathering, encourage family and friends to make colleges of words and images that remind them of your loved one from old magazines, scissors and glue.

Overall, be gentle with yourself. There is no magic amount of time designated for grieving. There’s also no “right” way you should be feeling. Do what feels comfortable to you and allow yourself to feel however it is you feel.

Focus on Success

Some days are filled with frustration. With waiting. With anger. With lack of movement. With lack of change.

Some days, despite our best efforts, we don’t receive the things we need and require. We don’t accomplish the goals we set out to reach.

And we don’t hear the words we need to hear.

On some days, this is due to our own inability to hear them. Those around us are speaking words of praise, acknowledging our accomplishments and our successes. Providing support and encouragement in continuing to succeed and offering constructive criticism in an effort to encourage our growth in those areas. On some days, we are lost in our own minds, our focus elsewhere, and we do not hear all the positive feedback that we receive.

On other days, there is no one speaking words of praise. On these days we must speak praise to ourselves. We must acknowledge our own accomplishments and successes, encouraging ourselves to continue moving forward in our goals. On these days we must be patient with ourselves and realize that despite the lack of outside support and encouragement, we are doing a “good job.” We are doing the best we can and we will continue to do better. We must be kind to ourselves and speak positively of our accomplishments, noticing our strengths and weaknesses while weighing them equally.

At times I become frustrated as I continue to look for praise & approval from those who have never given me such. From those who continually choose to overlook my strengths and instead focus on my weaknesses.  I am not perfect. Neither are you or anyone else. We all have our own strengths and our own weaknesses. To focus solely on either, in ourselves and others, is neither kind or productive.

We must try to focus on the strengths in ourselves and others.  Constantly receiving negative feedback (about our weaknesses, our failures, our mistakes) while neglecting any positive feedback (about our successes, our accomplishments) doesn’t make us feel good — whether the talk is coming from another person or ourselves. A focus primarily on negatives (even if the goal is improvement) brings our thoughts to “I-can’t-do-it” and provides supporting examples of such beliefs.

Identifying and acknowledging strengths provides a foundation on which we can build on. A focus primarily on strengths provides examples of times we have been successful, allows us to examine how we were able to succeed and empowers us by identifying methods that have previously resulted in success.

I know when I’m told that I’m, “doing a good job” I tend to not believe such. What does “doing a good job” mean? How is it defined? Statements like that are generic and don’t provide any supporting “evidence” that I, or anyone else, really did a good job. In acknowledging success we must be specific. For example, “You did a good job at setting the table. You really paid close attention to where the forks needed to be placed.” Not only did I offer praise but I gave focus to a specific aspect of success and used “you” statements to show objectiveness, rather than “I feel…” or “I think…” statements, which show my subjective view.

We could all benefit from an increased focus on strengths. While there is a space and time for constructive criticism, we as people also need to hear what we are doing well. We need to hear praise and acknowledgement of our accomplishments. We need to hear support and encouragement. We need to hear these things from ourselves but we also need to hear them from those around us.

Can we try to not only focus on the positives, but also communicate them – to others and to ourselves? I truly believe that we are all doing the best we can in this moment, given the knowledge, resources and support we currently have. Let’s tell those around us that we see the accomplishments they’re making and the things they are doing well. Let’s help them build their foundation for continued success and build upon our own in the process.

For One Minute…

You may have seen one of these pictures floating around your town. Or on facebook. Or tumblr. Or twitter.

Or maybe you haven’t.

Either way, I love the concept. Take one minute – where ever you are, whatever you’re doing – and just look at the sky.

In silence.

For that one minute, contemplate how awesome life is.

Right now, as it is.

(Not how it used to be. Or how you wish it would be. Or how it could be.)

Just how awesome life is, right now, in this moment of being alive.

Really. I encourage everyone to do this.

Being mindful in the moment. And grateful, thankful, of just how awesome it truly is.

#ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear

Across the country (and even over seas!) young mothers are uniting in a discussion on a common topic – their experiences as a young parent. The hash tag #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear was started by blogger and former teen mom, Natasha Vianna about her frustration with comments made to young mothers. You can read more about how and why #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear started in Natasha’s blog post at the PushBack.

Clearly Natasha struck a chord with other current and former young moms, who have utilized the hash tag and shared their own frustrations and experiences. As a former young mom, I too joined in on the discussion. I was 19 years old when my first daughter was born and by 23 I had two daughters. The stares I received and the comments people have felt the need to share with me have, at times, been appalling.

Shortly after leaving my abusive, dead-beat boyfriend I was at my postpartum check up. My beautiful 6-week old daughter was sleeping in her car seat, as I sat in the waiting room filling out papers.  Two middle-age ladies who were sitting near by “whispered” to one other about how I was, “Just another one of those girls.”  It sadly wasn’t the first nor the last negative comment I have heard.

You’re doing a good job… for a young parent (& why is that surprising?)

Why didn’t you marry your [abusive] baby’s father?

Your life held such potential [it still does]

Really? You have two kids?

Its irresponsible of you to want your own identity and interests

 How unfair that teens are having babies when there are couples who are unable to conceive [no correlation]

I was fortunate to connect with a young mom group in my area at that time called MELD. Once a week several other young moms, myself and our children would meet. For the first hour we shared dinner with one another and our children. Afterwards our kids would be watched by volunteers and the remaining time would be split between sharing and education. As we shared our experiences with one another, there seemed to be an endless supply of rude, appalling things we were being told.  Though I have graduated from the group, I still keep in contact with most of the moms. I have also made amazing, supportive friendships with many young parents online.

Despite assumptions and stereotypes placed on young mothers, we are succeeding. I’ve completed a college degree and am working on a second one to become a social worker (working with young parents and their children). I’m a member of my school’s honor society and my GPA is a 3.549. My young mom friends have also graduated high school and gone to college.

As Katie of A Girl Like Me blogs: “We’re not all on welfare, and we’re not all party animals or sluts or druggies like the girls who give the rest of us a bad name. We love and take care of our kids just as much as ‘normal’ aged mothers do. We’re still intelligent and productive members of society. We grow up with our kids, and I feel like we learn more life lessons that way. The young moms I know are some of the wisest people in my life.”

Natasha Vianna blogs that, “Hearing the success stories of young moms can sometimes anger people even more. If we’re not falling into the ‘stereotype’ and have made something of our lives, we are told we are still a bad example! We are told we are promoting the concept of becoming a teen mom. When we fail, we get the ‘I told you so!”

The stereotyping and judgments placed on young parents is appalling and damaging to their success and the success of their children. General assumptions, such as the ones shared on #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear can be truly damaging. We are empowered by speaking out and sharing our experiences as young moms. I encourage all young moms, current and former, to join in the  conversation on twitter #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear

Are We Doing Enough for Our Veterans?

Today, November 11, is Veterans Day. An annual holiday in the United States honoring military veterans. While it’s wonderful to have a day honoring the brave men and women who have served, and who continue to serve our country, it isn’t enough.

The fight doesn’t end when they get home…

Homelessness, unemployment, disability, substance abuse and mental illness all face service men and woman upon their return. Lack of family or a support system, compounded by inadequate or nonexistent services does not present the honor and respect our veterans deserve.

There are some resources available to veterans. The National Center for PTSD offers information on Post Traumatic Stress disorder in veterans, though they do, “not provide direct clinical care or individual referrals.” Afterdeployment.org, “is a behavioral health resource supporting service members, their families, and veterans with common post-deployment challenges.”

Flickr: finishing-school

Serving San Diego county in California, Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD) provides comprehensive and innovative services for military veterans and assistance to needy and homeless veterans and their families. Solider On, serving the state of Massachusetts, “assist[s] veterans with both picking up the pieces of their lives and filling in the gaps that public agencies do not address.”

Soldier On’s mission statement declares that, “Homeless veterans need an interwoven effort that provides a safety net of housing, meals, health care, substance abuse aftercare and mental health counseling. They also need job assessment, training and placement assistance. Our mission at Solider On is to offer a continuum of care that includes immediate and long-term housing, treatment and recovery for addiction, food, and clothing, as well as medical, counseling and job-related services.”

“Because government money for homeless veterans is currently limited and serves only one in 10 veterans in need, it is critical that private groups such as Soldier On reach out to help provide the support, resources and opportunities most Americans take for granted: housing, employment and health care.” Private groups comprise a large part of programs providing assistance and resources to homeless veterans.

The story of Herold Noel, an Iraq War veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and living in his car in Brooklyn, is featured in the documentary WHEN I CAME HOME. The film examines the challenges that are faced by combat veterans returning home and the battle that many must fight to receive the benefits promised to them. The trailer is provided below and you can view the entire movie streaming online for free on hulu.

I Miss You

July 7, 1949 – November 10, 2010

One year ago today my father passed away. He was 61 years old and died alone at his house from heart related problems. He was also an alcoholic. I don’t dare omit that information because it’s important. For most of my childhood my dad was sober. For the last five or so years of his life, he was in a cycle of active alcoholism, treatment/rehabilitation, being sober and returning to active alcoholism. At the time of his death he had been sober for a brief period.

I loved my father. He was the person I most looked up to. I tried to help him. I drove him to hospitals. I offered my support. I called to check up on him and to help him with anything he might need. But, here’s the thing that I feel those who have not directly dealt with alcoholism/addiction may not understand: Only the person using (alcohol and/or drugs) can decide to get help.  Family and friends can assist in creating conditions that may make that decision more attractive.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc (NCADD) offers

I know my dad knew I loved him. I don’t have any guilt over how I acted towards him. I feel no regret that I didn’t do enough for him, because there was nothing more that I could have done. I felt I needed to set boundaries to protect myself and my children. I don’t feel bad that he didn’t see them more, because when my daughters saw him, he was well. He wasn’t falling down drunk and they will never have those memories of him being like that. Instead they have memories of a papa who made them fairy houses and brought them presents from the festivals he had been to and who dressed up on Halloween like a fisherman.

I refuse to let the years when my dad was an active alcoholic cloud my memories of him. Instead I’ll focus on the years prior, when he was the dad I looked up to, who believed in me, who understood me, who was my hero. That’s the dad I’m going to remember.

I’ll remember the dad who I could call when I locked my keys in my car for the 5th time – an hour away. I’ll remember when he would take me fishing. When he took me to pick fiddle heads and dandelion greens. I’ll remember his obsession with the Iditarod. And the presents he would make me out of wood. The time he taught me how to weave a basket. And when we would find him on his mail route and have lunch with him, car-side. I’ll remember going camping and walking on the beaches. The time he took me out in the boat on the lake, gave me a canvas and paints and told me we would both paint what we saw and then compare it. I’ll remember all the times he helped me get my cats down from trees they had climbed and become stuck in. The 4th of July parade. The times he snuck my brother and me candy and drove us around looking at holiday lights, so we could finish it before we got home. Canoeing. All the talks with him about anything and everything. The lasagna and soups he would cook. His tattoos. I’ll remember how he taught me about gardening and flowers. His love of animals. Bob Dylan songs. And trips to Vermont and the cows…

Despite the sadness, I honestly also feel relief that he doesn’t have to suffer anymore. He wasn’t perfect but he understood me more than most people ever have.  He shaped me so much in my love of nature, animals and literature and, most importantly, in believing in yourself. I love you dad and I miss you.

————————

Resources on alcoholism and recovery:

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc (NCADD)
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Resources for people affected by alcoholism of a friend or family member:

Al-Anon/Alateen
Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)