Wednesday, September 23, 2009

An Unplanned Day

Now that I'm back at work, I work a lot. My typical daily schedule:
~5:30-6 am: Wake up
6-6:40: cajole son into eating and dressing and getting to the bus on time (6:40)
6:35- 1/2 hour before work (either 8:30 or 10:30 or somewhere in between): personal email, Facebook, knitting, breakfast, banking, odd but quick errands
9-6 or 11-8 or some variation (yesterday was 9-8): work
6:30 or 8:30 til around 10: dinner w/DH and DS, watch TV together, more computer playing

It seems so simple, distilled like this, but as you all know, life is never that simple. One thing you can see, though, is that if you're still recovering from, say, a brain leak, and you need a lot of sleep, there isn't much time to just hang out and do nothing. This week, because of all the great things my staff want to do in our community, I am working both Friday and Saturday (rarely happens) and am taking today (Wednesday) off to compensate myself.

So, what shall I do on my day off? I've already gotten my Obligatory Important Task to Better the Family done today (took both cats to the Vet for their annual check up, hissing and shots). Frankly, I think I scheduled the Vet visit just because it would be completely unheard of to have a day off w/o a doctor visit somewhere in it.

I will probably take a bit of a nap at some point today, just because I can . . . but this unexpected, unplanned day off is such a treat! I sit here in my kitchen wondering how I should spend the time so that I feel good at the end of the day, good and accomplished.

Suggestions? What do you do on unexpected free days?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

They Have to be Carefully Taught

I think perhaps the only time we actually talked about race relations at my house (although I am rather flighty sometimes and might have missed deeper discussions) was one night when my dad started singing a lyric from South Pacific:
You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

His point, and the point of the song, is that parents will pass along their own prejudices to their children, whether they do it consciously or not.

I remember feeling confused at first, because in nearly all ways, my parents were teaching me to make friends with everyone, regardless of the color of their skin or other differences. The thing is, I grew up in a nearly-all-white neighborhood/school/church. I didn't come into contact with much diversity until I was in late middle school and started going to Conference-wide Youth Group meetings and events for my church. That is where my mind started to open and I started to learn more about people who were different from me, and it was delightful (usually) and challenging (once in a while) and surprising (sometimes).

For the last 8 years or so, I've been managing library branches in neighborhoods where I am the minority. I've been in meetings where I've been the only white face in the room, and when I go out to lunch near my branch, I'm often the only melanin-challenged person in the place. If I go to certain places near my last branch, I can go into restaurants where I am probably the only native English-speaker. I have no problem with any of this, of course, and I love my job (and the neighborhoods in which I've worked).

Why do I bring this up? My friend, Erin, sent me a link to this article from Newsweek about recent research to see if multicultural TV shows and videos are helping our kids be more open-minded, and also what kinds of parent-child interactions would help. Although I have a few issues with the study (they used only Caucasian families, for instance) it is still interesting. The study says that many families just don't talk about racial differences, hoping that raising their children in a diverse world and not pointing out differences will allow their children to be "colorblind" . . . but this appears to be a false hope.

The results of the study? If you want to help your child to view everyone as valuable, you should talk about differences in appearances, but then affirm that we're all valuable. You might actually have to struggle through feeling uncomfortable and TALK. From the Newsweek article:
What parents say depends heavily on their own race: a 2007 study in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that out of 17,000 families with kindergartners, nonwhite parents are about three times more likely to discuss race than white parents; 75 percent of the latter never, or almost never, talk about race.
Aha- so some groups are having the discussions at home, and others are not. Mine was a family that didn't talk about it much, and here I am, a very open-minded, loving person who embraces equality and diversity. I've met some people recently who, judging from some of the comments their teenage boys have made (openly racist), discuss race-relations at home in a way that I would find abhorrent.

The article goes on to describe a study where kids in a preschool were given different shirt colors, red and blue, and for a while weren't treated any differently. They played and interacted as one large group all day, but after a few weeks, when questioned, the kids felt strongly that their own color of shirt was better than the other, and that kids in the other color were "less" in various ways.

This goes right along with other things kids are learning at a young age. Our brains are programed to file information away according to "same" and "different". That is why young babies have to test things out with all their senses (putting everything in their mouth?), sorting through the world by subconsciously saying "same", "different". We are hard-wired to notice differences, then . . . and it's up to us to figure out how to react to the differences. Will we celebrate them or will we mistrust and fear them?

The conclusions that are drawn through this research seem to be that we need to talk specifically to our kids about racial attitudes, especially if we want to help them develop positive thoughts and feelings.

In many (most?) middle-class white families, this topic is probably still taboo. Do you talk to the children in your life about racial attitudes? Do you talk about which behaviors/thoughts are appropriate and which are ugly? And what about beyond race . . . do you talk about being accepting of people of different religions? People who have graduated from a rival school (even that state up North?) People who vote differently from you? Do you talk openly, do you mention the elephant in the room?

Let me know what you're thinking!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Best Bad Example

I've had this topic rattling around in my head for a long time. It all came to me when my sister and I went to lunch at a great (usually) place near her office. This is an amazing story:

When we walked in, the host didn't even say hello, just held up 2 fingers, and started walking with some menus in his hand. He put the menus down on a booth table and then kept walking, and L and I weren't certain if we were supposed to follow him or sit at the booth! When I saw that he stopped to talk to someone at a far table, I figured this booth was for us. After all our menus were there, right?

This guy turned out to be our waiter. He took our drink order by saying "drinks?" He came, brought the salsa and some water, but no chips. Then he came with his order pad in hand and stood there, waiting to write. Still no words, he just looked at us, one at a time. We gave our order and he walked away. L wondered - are we going to get any tortilla chips? I flagged down a waiter (not ours, I don't think) and said "can we please have some chips?", and after a little confusion, he went and got some chips. By this time, L and I were laughing at the bad service. When the waiter brought out our food and set it down w/o a word, I said to L, maybe we should tip one quarter per word. So far that would be, what, 50 cents? I am not exaggerating - throughout our entire time at lunch, that waiter said 3 words to us! Only 3! He barely made eye contact, and was not at all attentive. If the food wasn't so spectacular, we'd never go back.

This got me to thinking about customer service at the Library. I mean, we're in the business, right? How much do we actually say to people who come in our doors? Are we enthusiastic about helping people? When we announce programs, do they sound enticing? Do we assume that everyone has been there before, or do we assume there is someone in the building who really has no idea how things work? Are we patient, treating each customer like they're the first and most important person of our day? I have thought about going back to that restaurant and taking a pic of that horrible waiter, just to keep in my mind how important it is to connect with our customers.

We don't sell great food, we don't even offer snacks or drinks. Sometimes, the building is full enough that there aren't even any available chairs! Our product is more ethereal - it is connection. We give our customers connection to the internet, for sure, but also a connection to another human being. We are sometimes the first person they've asked for help in using the computer or finding that information they need. Sometimes, we're their last resort, sometimes we are their third place and sometimes we're part of the vast array of middle ground.

Regardless of where we fit into the pecking order of their lives, we are there, at the Library, to provide great service. If we can't do that, we are failing.

That's my 2 cents on the topic today.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Oh, and Stephanie totally got the feelings right about parenting in her latest post about her daughter. Hope over and read it, if you are interested.