The Truth of Who I Am

"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." -Eckhart Tolle

Muddle. Stumble. Stall. Love.

I was up at 5:07 AM and could not fall back asleep for my remaining 53 minutes of dedicated and desired sleep time. When this happens I’ve learned that there’s something my mind needs to deal with consciously. So, grudgingly, I headed down to my computer to write. Writing has always been cathartic and enlightening for me. I’ll admit that considering the possibility of this becoming a blog post added much pressure to write something sacred that would be worthy of your time. So I had to retreat into myself a little deeper and write my truths as they showed up. Here’s what came up.

I was clear, well before my kids were born, that no topics would be off limits and no human rights issues would be hidden from them or “made nice” for them so they could think that they are not affected or somehow do not participate in the way things are. This would apply to topics such as sexism, child abuse, human trafficking, child labor, gay rights, death, birth, racism, poverty and whatever else came up. I don’t know if this is right or wrong, good or bad, amazing or inappropriate, but this was something that felt important to me and I knew I was going to muddle, stumble and stall through whatever difficult conversations came up and I was going to be courageous about it. So, I’ve been having conversations about human rights with my kids for as long as I can remember. However, when it came to LGBTQ rights, like many other straight people, I had to get past thinking about the sexuality of being gay (because the sexuality of heterosexual people was rarely the first thing I thought about when I met them). This is how it happened.

One beautiful sunny Sunday, a couple of years ago when my kids, David and Kaya, were 4 and 2 respectively and we were driving in midtown Atlanta past The Fox theater, we started to see beautifully colored balloons and ribbons and people dressed in all manner of interesting, colorful clothing making a lot of noise and merriment. David looked out the window excitedly and asked, “What are they doing, Mommy? What’s happening? Can we join them?” I paused at first while my mind raced to find the words to explain it all in kid language. In case you missed it, there was a Gay Pride parade going on and, in Atlanta, we go all out (pun intended) for Gay Pride. We will not be outdone. And Midtown is where it’s at (to use my Southern English). My mind, of course, was trying to find the words to explain the role of attraction and sex in this particular human rights issue. I started to talk about how people were out there in the parade to demand the right to be who they are. That some people are not accepted or allowed to be who they are in the world and this was a day to celebrate and be proud of yourself exactly the way you were created. That being free to be who you are is the best way to be in this world. Muddle. Stumble. Stall. As we drove along, I slowed down to let some people cross the road and then I saw a sight that gave me the answer and the words I needed. A little girl was crossing the road holding on to the hands of who appeared to be her two dads. My heart filled up. That was a beautiful sight. THAT was the epitome of what it was all about. That was the starting place for me with my kids. The people were in the streets to defend their right to love each other and be a family. It was about love. Love. Just love. I didn’t have to explain to my kids about attraction and sex at their ages (wasn’t ready for that with either opposite- or same-sex sex). All I had to clarify was that there was this silly notion that it was not okay to have two moms or two dads in a family. That some people believe  it  is not okay for girls to fall in love with girls and for boys to fall in love with boys and they were working as hard as they could to make sure our country had laws against it. There was much contemplation by my son and a few clarifying questions and he seemed to see the absurdity in the judgment and denial by some people for others to be who they were and create their loving families however they decided. Then, the conversation took on a whole different strange turn when he started wondering if he could marry his sister or his most favorite cousin… you can imagine that discussion. A lot more muddling and stumbling and stalling happened with this new discussion, but that’s for another day.

twodadsand daughterwinningcovers

We seem to be having lots of debates about this issue and very little dialogue. The difference between a dialogue and a debate is that a dialogue is about gaining a deeper understanding while a debate is about winning. The truth is that either we all win or we all lose. There is no in-between for this matter. So we need to have dialogue. This can’t be a debate. We cannot afford to turn it into a debate. We are in this together and the right to love and to be able to show up and commit and care for and be recognized in the world as the lover and loved one must be for everyone. If not, then nobody can really be free. We are all connected. Our selves are part of a whole. I believe this to my core. This little video clip about the self says it all in a more scientific way (and a cute accent) if that’s what you need. Consider what that might mean if the little pieces in this world that we each call “self” are not so separate from each other. What if it really is all energy and we are actually one big ball of energy. Maybe the ideas and beliefs we have that separate us could be stronger if we realized that they are all connected by the same thing. Energy. God. Spirit. Love. Each one of us is driven by a deep desire to belong. To a family, a partner, a religion, a country, a gang, a book club, a team, etc. Could it be that this desire for belonging doesn’t have to be limited to the small groups we create? Perhaps we seek connection and belonging because it is in our nature to belong to something bigger. Perhaps we seek connection and belonging because we do belong to a collective whole. Our debates about whether or not some people should be allowed to have the same rights as some other people do, are just about us trying to separate into smaller groups to belong. But perhaps the small groups we create and cling to are too small and diminish the truth and power of who we are as a whole.

The answers and direction are not always known by us, but we get to decide how we get there. We need to have dialogue for that. We need to let go of winning for our small group and think about winning for our collective whole. Our laws must change for legal rights for everyone, but our hearts must change for us to win. We need to take those courageous steps into dialogues that go to the heart of the matter. And when we don’t understand, we need to ask questions instead of judging and assuming we are so different and so we must be separate. The answers are there. We each carry the answer in our innermost self. When I delve into my innermost self, my soul, to find the answer, I believe it is really as simple and uncomplicated as this quote I recently came across by Ray Bradbury.

“Looking back over a lifetime, you see that love was the answer to everything.”

Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense. Love. It is all we are and the answer to everything. I could have chosen to write about the fact that unequal rights cannot be constitutional and to list all the rights which are not available to people when they are not legally married should be enough said regarding the decisions we make as a country. Really should be enough said. Period. End of story. Let’s agree that every American human should have the same rights because that’s a no-brainer. I could have been very political about all this. Believe me, I’ve read all the clever writings and analyses and arguments and contentions backed by research and history and religion and votes. But I believe the truth is not as easy to uncover in all that. Not to say that it’s not necessary for people to write those articles and for us all to be informed. We absolutely must be informed. I live and teach the idea that we must be informed and we must participate in our society. There is no neutral ground. We are all participants whether we like it or not. I also believe there is a simple and uncomplicated truth about this issue and it is love.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

P.S. I would love to hear your truths and I ask, with love, that you please comment from a position of love, too.

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Eleven Things I Worry About When My Kids Are At School

Sending my first child off to preschool took me by surprise. Up until then, David had been in the safest, closest place to me – my womb and then in the care of his dad or myself or close family members with an occasional babysitter here and there. So when it came time to leave him at a school with a bunch of adults and kids who knew very little about him or what he loved and exactly how he needed to be loved was nerve-wracking! From the outside it may have looked like I was comforting and encouraging my 2 and 1/2 year-old to let go of me and stay alone with a new teacher and a bunch of kids in a new place. An outsider might certainly have made that mistaken assumption. The truth is that I was a mess on the inside and asking him to let go of me was a lie because I was actually the one gripping him tightly in my arms so he could not let go. Side note – his cousin and most favorite person in the world was already in the class from a few months earlier so David really was trying to get out of my arms and get started with his time with his cousin.

This is how worried and anxious My 2 year-old looked.

This is how worried and anxious my 2 year-old looked.

My husband, I suspect, saw through the lie I was creating and gently ‘helped’ my son let go of me. Apparently he was in on this ridiculous conspiracy to separate our child from us and throw him out into the scary, brutal, cold world. Clearly he did not genuinely love our son and clearly he was asking for some marital problems. He may not have noticed the angry glares I sent his way as my heart broke open a little wider that day. They say when you have kids you wear your heart on the outside. I say YES you do. You absolutely do! I’ll admit that even when their wonderful father is taking care of them, I still have some doubts about their welfare and am secretly always suspicious that SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN TO THEM. That’s how I feel about having these two little beings in my life. My chest was cut open and my heart was placed in my hands. What’s a mama to do but defend that heart fiercely and tirelessly and relentlessly. You mamas know this to be true, don’t you?

It’s been about five years since that day (and the many other similar days) and although it’s gotten much easier to leave my kids at their respective schools these days…okay, who am I kidding…it feels like unloading a huge weight off my back on most days. That’s the truth. Regardless, even if it does feel like a weight off my back for a few hours, having them in school with neither my husband nor I there with them leaves me feeling a little bit of terror at what could happen. Here’s is a list of some of the things I worry about:

1. I worry that they might hear about something that they don’t understand and not feel comfortable asking questions. This mostly relates to life stuff and not so much academics. I used to be that kid that was super aware of everyone else and too shy to speak up for myself.

2. I worry that they might tell their teachers something about me that would cause me great embarrassment, such as how impatient and irritable I was with them in the morning or how I got home with them the day before and fell asleep on the sofa instead of getting dinner together while they watched a TV show. And then gave them eggs and toast for dinner.

3. I worry that they might be teased or bullied or worse, that they might not think twice about joining in on the bullying to fit in and not choose to speak up for the kid that’s getting hurt.

4. I worry that their teachers might not be kind to them in a moment of frustration or irritability (and teachers have every right and too many opportunities to feel these emotions). My kids adore their teachers so this would devastate them. Never mind that they should have pretty tough skins about being in such situations because they’ve had practice from their mother.

5. I worry that there might be a national emergency or tornado or school shooting or some other senseless violence and I would not be there to hold them close and tight myself and tell them everything was going to be alright.

6. I worry I may never see them again. I really can’t say any more about this one. It is terrifying to me.

7. I worry that the ridiculous focus on testing these days will kill their curiosity and love for learning about the world.

8. I worry that they will learn, too well, how to follow the rules and color inside the lines and think inside the box and not know when NOT to do so.

9. I worry that my husband forgot to pack their drink and a fresh fruit and/or vegetable in their lunch bag.

10. I worry that the school might try to contact me because SOMETHING HAPPENED and my cell phone would not pick up the call or message.

11. I worry that I might forget to pick them up on time and they would be waiting sadly all alone when all the other carpoolers had left the scene (unfortunately this has actually happened).

So there. Those are my worries and it’s a lot to carry around 180 days out of the year. Can’t think of any one that I could let go off. It’s the life of this mama and I’m willing to bet it’s the life of most of you mamas (and probably papas, too). I hold my heart in my hands tenderly defend it fiercely and tirelessly and relentlessly. And I rely on the truth that I was born to do this and my instinct to love in this way and to defend and protect my children in this way is, truly, in my nature in the same way that a leopard mama protects her cubs. It’s a fierce, instinctual, crazy kind of love and it is intended for the children we are honored to have in our care. It is real and necessary.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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It’s Spring Break and I Had Time to Chip Away Some More

Hi again! Kinda soon but why not? I’m going to milk my enthusiasm for all it’s worth.

Well that was exciting to create a blog site and actually post a blog and then tell people about it. I spent the first couple of hours checking back to see who’d read it and what they thought about it. But then I calmed myself down with a reminder that this is only ever going to be about me sharing my truths and inviting you to share yours. There can’t be any judgment about myself regarding what I write and share here. For me, this life has to be lived as openly as possible and I am going to spend the rest of my life chipping away at the armor. It’s hard to really see people and the world and what’s beautiful and what’s not with an armor shielding me from all of it. So I’m going to work on chipping away at it until there’s nothing left to hide me from the world or to hide the world from me. Chip, chip, chip.

I just finished reading, “Daring Greatly” by Brenè Brown and it seems like this synchronicity thing might be real because her name and her ideas have been coming up for me over the last few months like a rainstorm! In fact, two nights ago, I saw her on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday series and I got a glimpse into the author as a person and fell a little in love with her. Her work has been all about vulnerability and shame, which she says is the key to living your best life. That’s deep, isn’t it? That being vulnerable is actually an act of courage in the midst of fear. As I type this and consider the possibility of sharing it with people I know, I feel that fear. I get that many of you are probably writers and sharers and this may seem so trivial to have fears about sharing my writing. Heck, even my work revolves around writing since I’m an educator and have published work based on my research. This feels different, though. This feels like taking off my clothes in a public place. And, no, I have never been a stripper in my life and hold no judgment about people who are in that line of work so I don’t really know what that would feel like. I think they are pretty gutsy to do it. Sharing my truths just feels like what I think it would feel like to take my clothes of in public. Because no matter how cute those clothes are, it’s what’s under them that matters and it’s hard to show it all off to the world.

Getting back to my point, I think there’s a lot of truth to the idea that vulnerability is our driving force. When I was ten years old I found a card I wanted to give to my parents to wish them a happy anniversary. This was not something usual for us to do in our family. You have to understand that I grew up with four siblings and parents who did everything possible to ensure you had a tough skin. Fierce loving and loyalty, but never a mention of it to each other. We NEVER told each other we loved each other. EVER. So there were the words at the end of the card stating, in bold letters, “I LOVE YOU.” I loved the card and I so wanted to tell my parents that I loved them but the words staring at me from the inside of the card just scared me. I imagined giving it to them and then feeling naked and hot and embarrassed. I imagined my siblings reading the card and all the things they might say about how sensitive I was. Really, y’all, this was painful. I decided I’d try to erase the one sentence and when that didn’t look right (for so many reasons), I tried to draw a picture over the words with a black marker. Then, because it was a tri-fold card, I tried cutting out the middle part with the words and writing my own message on the inside. Then I just gave up and hid the card and never gave it to my parents.

I remembered that incident often and very vividly as I grew up and eventually ventured into telling my mother I loved her and telling my sister the same. This only happened after I was a long distance away from them in college and saying ‘I love you’ over the phone as opposed to when you’re looking someone in the eye is so much easier. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I woke up one morning and decided that I just had to tell each of my first family members exactly how I felt about them and what they meant to our family. I went to my email and typed and typed and typed for a long time. Most of the time I was typing through the blur of my tears. Tears of love and gratitude and sweet memories of my first family. When I was done I clicked the ‘send’ button. (If you’re interested in the actual letter, you can read it here). Immediately after doing that I sat and stared at my screen and felt naked (I really had gotten dressed before getting to my computer) but happy. I took a deep breath and then swam in my vulnerability. I reminded myself that telling them all I told them was an act of courage for me and their response (or lack of a response) would be what it was and do what it did, but I was going to have no regrets. And I didn’t. Not once. For what it’s worth, I have yet to see any of them face-to-face but I’ll deal with that in July when I see them again. In the meantime I’ll be chip, chip, chipping away.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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21 Random Shortcomings, Facts, Habits & Goals About Me

  1. Fact: I can’t stand to be touched while I’m eating. It makes me really uncomfortable – to the point I get those icky chills. It’s been a real challenge since I became a mother because very young children have a tendency to do that a lot.
  2. Fact: I love my family and friends really hard and treasure them like they have no idea.
  3. Goal: I want to own a kick-ass basement that is ideal for all kinds of fun parties and for just hanging out – I mean the mini theater, french doors that open out to a pool and outdoor hot tub, a great bar inside AND outside, all kinds of games including air hockey and ping pong.
  4. Fact: I went to a VERY rural school for grades 1-3 in a tiny town in Tanzania – Mzumbe – during President Nyerere’s time (socialist) and we had to carry a hoe (not a ‘ho’)to school once a week so we could work in the field – we actually planted, harvested, and shucked maize and also grew and picked cotton – in very large fields, not just some little community garden in the back of the school.
  5. Shortcoming: I don’t have any…seriously…you actually expected to read about one here?…not me! Okay… that’s my shortcoming – I don’t enjoy talking about my shortcomings because then people would KNOW of them and then they would notice them and then that would be all they see. Or maybe all I would see.
  6. Goal: I am working very hard to be truthful in all I say, do, feel, and think (including my shortcomings).
  7. Fact: I am not amused by people who think its funny to pass gas ( I’m uncomfortable even typing that). I’m having to lighten up now that I have two young kids.
  8. Goal: I want to raise my children to be whatever The Universe/God/Source/Great Spirit/Allah intends for them to be and to never impose my wishes on them.
  9. Fact: I love to travel. I miss being able to travel as much as I used to.
  10. Fact: One of my most peaceful moments on this earth was actually when I was in a hot air balloon (above the earth) flying over the beautiful red sand dunes of the Namib dessert.
  11. Shortcoming: I have lied and cheated to win a game…still a little embarrassed but don’t regret it and don’t intend to do it again.
  12. Fact: I love to laugh, love people who make me laugh, love to make people laugh, love to hear laughter, love that humans are capable of laughter, love stand-up comedy (have attempted it, too) and hope to die laughing.
  13. Habit: I make my bed in the mornings and if I don’t, I will make it before I go to bed at night.
  14. Fact: I have gone whitewater rafting on the Zambezi River, starting out under the Mosi-o-tunya (AKA Victoria Falls). I felt very brave doing it.
  15. Habit: I enjoy a good cup of coffee in the mornings – peaceful, early morning and outdoors is always sought but (lately) rarely possible.
  16. Fact: I take great pride in mothering well – whether it’s my own children, my relatives’, my friends’ or strangers’ kids.
  17. Goal: To have a small but fabulous collection of clothes, shoes, and accessories that are always “a sure thing.” I sincerely LOVE fashion and am working on dressing outside the box.
  18. Secret/Fact/Goal: I love the stage – not just performances, but wanting to be on stage…I would get a real kick out of being a Vegas showgirl or a Broadway actress or even in a circus.
  19. Fact: I love every age that I am and have never, nor ever will, lie about or hide my age from anyone who wants to know. FYI – I am 43 years old.
  20. Fact: I can’t stand the taste of raw onions – yuk! disgusting! icky! vomit!
  21. Creating this blog is me “daring greatly” as a wonderful author (Brene Brown) recently wrote about. My intention is simply to share my truths and in the process of doing so, to discover some truths about people and the world. My hope is that we can do this together.

Truthfully Yours,

Rhina

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