Friday, August 28, 2009


And we are home again, back to our routine. Sam worked a 24 hour shift yesterday, so Beatrice and I spent the day reading books, running errands, finding activities around the morning, Beatrice and I spent an inordinate amount of time with the camera. I taught her how to take pictures without me hovering, and let her go. She asked me to make silly faces. Click. She demanded I play her out of tune guitar. Click. She placed the camera an inch from my eye. Click. She photographed her books, my back, her doggie, my hair, the pillows. Then we finally stopped, and I paged through the camera. Seeing the world through a Bea's eye view is fascinating.

It got me thinking about how amazing it would be to have a day where everyone took their camera through their daily routine. And took photos of how the coffee lady looks at them, their commute in the morning, and just documented their everyday experience. Maybe it would be like a scavenger hunt. We would each get a checklist of things to photograph and compare our experiences. What could we learn about how each of us engages with our world?

Later, after camera-time, we hit the storytime at the bookstore. The lady who runs storytime asked me if Beatrice was British. Not a British name, but if she was literally a British child. The question/assumption happened in front of everyone, and the woman next to me looked shocked and horrified by her question, having had the luxury of hearing Beatrice call me Mama for fifteen minutes before the storytime lady arrived. Here is my photograph of the morning: having my motherhood denied by a well-meaning reader.

I know as a parent of a child that looks nothing like me, this is par for the course, but it gets exhausting. I just think if Beatrice were the dark one, and I were the white one, no one would assume I was the nanny. And that is so disappointing to me. There are some that would disagree with that, I'm sure. That think people would think it whether I was white or brown, but my experience as the mother in a multi-cultural family has shown me the world through a different lens. People are generally kind--ignorant, perhaps, making assumptions based on stereotypes, perhaps--but I think, in general, people are well-intentioned. They try to start conversations, telling me that my daughter is beautiful, questioning our interesting relationship. People have told me how much Beatrice seems to love me, even though I am the nanny. But the point is, they are drawn to talk to us. I just think in my head, "They are staring at us because we are so fascinating."

When I was younger, perhaps more beautiful, single, I would get asked at least once a week where I was from.

"Schnecksville, Pennsylvania," I would quip dryly.

Not the answer they were looking for. What they were looking for was something exotic. Something far away. Something to explain my black hair, interesting nose. "No, no," they would say, "What are you? Where is your family from?" If I wanted to be obtuse, I would say "Pennsylvania." And if I wanted it to end, I would answer my dad is Irish-American and my mother is Central American. That is the answer they want. What is my heritage. What they are asking is "Why do you look like this and talk like that?" I realize, now that I get asked a lot less, that it was a way to start conversation, a way to tell a stranger that she is beautiful. During those years, though, I frequently thought about what it was to be American, about my identity, about being Other, and about how different I was from both of the cultures that made me who I am.

I know the storytime lady's intention was not malicious. She made an assumption about us. There are many nannies at that particular storytime. If I had corrected her, or explained the genetics of our family, I'm sure she would have apologized, or corrected herself, or as most people do, joke about how different we look. But the point is, for me, I get exhausted by it all. I get exhausted having to justify our genetics. I think my daughter looks like me in some ways too as much as others think she doesn't look like me. I get exhausted at having to be compassionate with them, to think of people's intention, make apologies for the ignorant people in my head so I can continue thinking of the world as a place that accepts me, mixed ethnicity and all.

In this roundabout way, I've been thinking a lot about Mel's blog post yesterday, and the blog post that prompted it. And so, I think my thoughts have really been circling around the idea of intention.

This writer of the childfree/childless piece, inadvertently, hurt a community (ALI community) of women of which she claims to be a part. And I think, as I wrote on Cait's Mom's blog, she set off a bomb directed at a certain childfree group, but when you set off bombs, you easily hit innocent people in the vicinity. And as Cait's Mom said, she meant to hurt someone. She didn't write to explain or be kind or be compassionate. She wrote it to lash out at those she felt attacked her. That impulse is in all of us. But what do we do with those feelings of anger and hurt?

I have certainly used my blog to vent. I don't have nearly the audience as a writer for the Orlando Sentinel, but still, I cannot take the moral high ground. My blog is a safe haven for me. I have been unkind, I'm sure. Her post, and feeling a great deal of anger and offense at her words, made me think about my own intention. My intention here on my blog, and in this community.

I think I was most offended by the original blog post because it seemed so unnecessary. I felt a kind of visceral reaction to her flaunting her child's love, exposing her version of motherhood as the only way to experience a relationship with a child, and for belittling someone's choice in life. I, for one, applaud anyone who knows their limitations and knows for certain that living childfree is best for them. And her intention, from my best summation, was simply to be mean.

And so I will walk away from yesterday with thoughts of intention. Maybe for a day, I can see people as the series of photographs that make up their world, rather than the captions they write underneath.

"Breathing in, breathing out; feeling resentful; feeling happy; being able to drop it, not being able to drop it; eating our food; brushing our teeth; walking; sitting - whatever we're doing could be done with one intention. That intention is that we want to wake up, we want to ripen our compassion and we want to ripen our ability to let go; we want to realise our connection with all beings. Everything in our lives has the potential to wake us up or put us to sleep. Allowing it to awaken us is up to us." - Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty


  1. I know what you mean about having a place to vent.I am so thankful for my blog as well. A follower (from not too far).

  2. I love this blog. I love your words. Feeling so much more peaceful and purposeful right now, after reading them.

    I think I have been thinking a LOT about intent, perception, what was meant vs. what is felt and where amidst all of that some sort of truth lies. And I don't think I was aware that "intent" was at the heart of my unrest until now.

  3. "everything exists on the tip of the wish," a teacher in my tradition says, and you are so right (as I know too well) that wanting to be right obstructs our ability to be compassionate. So much here to think about, thanks for bringing it all to my attention.

  4. I think so much about this topic...the intentions of those whose desire seems to only harm, or be hurtful with their words, with their actions. I live with this my every work day now, dealing with a person who just aims to hurt. It doesn't seem like I can change those around me (or this one person in particular) so someone gave me this advice (it comes from Miguel Ruiz) - that i'm trying to remember everyday when I encounter these situations....

    1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
    Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

    2. Don't Take Anything Personally
    Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

    3. Don't Make Assumptions
    Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

    4. Always Do Your Best
    Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

  5. What a great post to get me thinking. I read the posts you were referring to and it all left me feeling a bit dirty. And sad. Why do we women do this to each other? We have enough struggles and hardships to face, without always beating up on each other, no matter what side of the fence of a particular issue we sit on. Sometimes, we are all our own worst enemy.
    And people assuming - that is tough and I'm going through so much of that now with this new baby bump. I know no one means harm and their intent is always good, but it can be draining for us, on the other side of those assumptions. Either having to explain ourselves and our situations or bite our tongues and give them the answers they want to hear. Although in your case, I'd never be biting my tongue!
    Your writing is so powerful and moving, Angie. I feel lucky to know you.

  6. the best fortune cookie fortune i ever got said, "we judge others by action, and we judge ourselves by intention." i love this post...

  7. Thanks for sharing! I just found your blog and look forward to reading more!

  8. Great post Angie. It took me a while to get to a place where I could decipher people's intentions and not want to slap every person who came in my path. I have to agree that this woman was't thinking when she posted about childless/child free. It may not have been her intention to hurt anyone, but she did. What I have come to realize that it's hard to think ahead about every word we say and whether we will hurt someone or not. I know I have been hurt by well meaning people who just didn't think and I am sure I have hurt ohers, unintentionally of course. I have no point really, except to say that I'd like to believe that this woman just didn't think about what she was posting and how offensive it would be to some people.

  9. I'm very sceptical about protests of 'good intentions', it's akin to 'I'm just joking, you must not get my very sophisticated sense of humour' or 'if you knew me, you'd know I'm not really racist/ homophobic/ sexist/ bigoted' or 'Just to play devil's advocate...'

    I'm sorry that woman was so ignorant, you are not obliged to school others about your heritage and they shouldn't expect you to.

    And that article... ick. At least she took responsibility for screwing up in her comments and on Stirrup Queen's too. It resotres some of my faith in the people's capacity to be thoughtful.

    I love listening to you vent! xx

  10. thank you for this post. when i was pregnant with Leila we all used to joke about if she turned out white and looking like her father (which she did) everybody would think i was the nanny. funny, because i know it's true. i'm from a multi-racial family and many of my friends are too; i see the stupid assumptions all the time. and i say stupid, because i live in an extremely diverse city (washington dc) so most assumptions will undoubtedly make you look like an ass. i know how exhausting it is to explain everything. but my favorite question is not "where are you from?", but "where did you come from?" "my mother!" (you ass!)
    great post, thanks.


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