I Am Not White: A perspective on racism

I’ve learned a lot about racism in the last 4 years. In Uganda they have a name for white people. Musungu. As you walk down the streets people will call out “Musungu” especially children. At first I liked it. It was like having a name and everyone knew me. It made me feel at home. Then I started to see it differently; I heard things like

“You can’t do laundry well you are Musungu”

“Give me money Musungu you have much.”

“Your wife is a Musungu she can’t cook”

“Musungu can’t dig”

Musungu don’t want to have children, they don’t dress modestly…the list went on. I felt that no one saw me. They just saw the color of my skin. Their idea of who I was as a “Musungu” had been shaped by hollywood. The stereo type I was placed in by my skin color alone was based on what the media had shown them.

I AM NOT WHITE

My skin is white I am not. I am Mormon, I am a Mother, I am a wife, I am happy. Those are choices I have made they are the things I have made an effort to become. They tell you something about me. White is just the color my skin happens to be.

By the way…my eyes are blue. Just in case that matters.

If minorities are poorer, have fewer opportunities or are stereo typed I believe that these are not problems of race they are problems of community, of choices, of habit and even of dreams.

When I told my family that I was marrying Joseph they had ideas in their mind about what that meant. They pictured a stereo type of a black man in America. It took less than a day before they had recategorized him based on his actions, and choices which were apparent in his appearance and demeanor.

I don’t believe that our police officers in general are out to get black people. I think they are put in a position because of their jobs where they are required to make snap judgements about people. Their judgements can mean life and death for themselves and those around them.

If you want respect be Respect -able.

 

Joseph and I have talked a lot in the last few days about this and he says,

“I am not sure why people are surprised by racism, Racism is a tool that has been used by political kings and masters to divide and rule communities and nations. It has existed as long as the human family. It’s human nature to notice differences in another person and one of those differences is skin color.

All of us have labels and one of them right now being pointed out is skin color. But there is one label that is crucial that we put on everyday, that is appearance. People will argue or say don’t judge me by how I look but the truth is before you say anything to any person, your outward appearance says a lot about you. The way you dress, the language you choose to use etc.

This is how I feel about the situation in Minnesota. We don’t have all the facts of what happened that evening at 9pm. We can only formulate speculations and frame stories of that incident. I am black and very grateful that I am housed into this skin color and so at first I imagined myself in the situation, picturing me with my beautiful family getting shot for some reason. I allowed myself to fear. But then I have tried to analyze the story, both from the view of that policeman and the gentleman who got shot.

Once again with no full facts and details of what really happened we can only speculate and frame the incident from our perspective. I suspect the media wants to frame it as racism so that they can emotionally appeal to most of the people. We can fear, we can let it divide us into camps of black lives or all lives, we can go forth with racial flames. Or we can come together for all the Americans who were killed in this tragic incidence. We can do our best to find justice and we can mourn with all the families that were involved in this tragedy, for any life taken is irreplaceable. May the almighty who is the creator of black skin and white, the giver and author of both life and justice intervene to help us comfort all involved.

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A Plea for Help

Poverty is a difficult thing. The more I learn about it the more complex it is. My eyes have been opened in the last three or so years in a way that I never could have imagined. We judge poverty by our own experiences. If someone doesn’t have running water or indoor plumbing we consider that a hardship because we have it and couldn’t imagine doing with out. My husband grew up without it and sees it as a superflous thing that doesn’t mean much to him. He sees what Americans have given up in order to have such modern conveniences and to him it’s not necessarily a win.

Sometimes as Americans we are a bit smug even in our desires to help. People don’t need rescuing, they don’t need someone to push for them to have the same modern convenices that we consider essential. Most of the time they just need an opportunity.

When I was in Uganda, my budget was kind of tight. I had used everything I had to pay my way there and to pay for my expenses during the 5 months that I lived there. Yet I was surrounded on every side by people who had less than me. How could I not help?

On the other hand, how could I help? Every day I encountered handicapped people whose needs far exceeded anything that I could give to make a difference, I encountered children who lived on the streets and had no home to go to. I encountered single moms struggling and often failing to care for their children. I saw people who were sick, suffering and the need was overwhelming. I helped where I could and I consoled myself with the fact that I was there making a difference. I was volunteering for a non-profit that helps single moms become self sufficient. Musana was making a difference and I could feel good about how I was spending my time and the little money I had. IMG_1613

Then one day I was walking the streets of Kampala making arrangements for the new street sign we were putting up at Musana. A woman approached me, obviously hungry, she had a small child strapped to her back and she was clutching her obviously empty breasts and pleading for help. She didn’t speak english but her message was clear. She had nothing to feed her baby. The baby looked at me with large open eyes from his mothers back. I shrugged my shoulders indicating that I had nothing for her and moved on. It felt heartless but what could I do? I couldn’t help everyone.

Since then I have had my own children. I have sat in a cozy gliding rocker in a decorated nursery and nursed my babies. During those times that I have not had enough milk I have gone to the kitchen and quickly made a bottle to satisfy my chubby sweet baby. I have come home from church after several hours of not being able to eat and made myself something to eat to help with that cold empty shaking feeling in my stomach that nursing a hungry baby leaves if you don’t eat enough.

Every day since my son was born that woman has been in my mind and heart. I have wept tears over the help I didn’t offer. Needless to say I would do things differently if I could go back. Still I would be faced with the same dilemma of too much need for my capabilities to help; but this woman, this one woman, I could have helped to feed her child. She came to me I could have done something.

A friend of mine is preparing for her own humanitarian trip to Uganda in May. She s raising $25,000 to build an orphanage while she is there. She is asking that we and anyone who is willing participate in “7 days of nothing” now I cringe a little at the title because having seen people who have nothing and it hardly compares. But the idea is to do without something for 7 days and donate your savings to the cause. Perhaps you can eat simply for 7 days. Nothing but beans, rice and oatmeal (typical food for many  families all over the world) Perhaps you can forgo using your running water and carry whatever water you need from an outdoor faucet, to get a feel for the way the majority of the world lives. Maybe try walking or riding your bike to work or the grocery store if you can.581766_10151416836355658_826602642_n

And if that is too much for you maybe you can skip your daily latte, or a trip to the salon. or go on a sugar fast for a week. Save what you can and send it to my friend to help build an orphanage. For Joseph and I we have washed our own clothes by hand, carried our water, walked wherever we need to go, done without many things and we know how to do it. We will be joining my friend in her 7 days of nothing and perhaps that woman and her sickly child will not haunt me so much. For you I pray that you will find something that works for you someway that you can give and I think you will find that the bigger your sacrifice the more impact it will have on your life.

Polygamy is just more

polygamyRecently two of my friends have told me that they almost wished that they lived polygamy so that they could have some help with the house work and/or kids. I smiled a little when they said that but didn’t say what I really wanted to say. It’s an innocent and understandable thing to think but has a few flaws. Here is what I really wanted to explain to them but it just wasn’t the right time or place.

Now I always feel that I have to add a disclaimer when discussing polygamy since I never actually lived in it as a wife myself. However, living in it as a child, and a young woman who anticipated living in it as a wife, I do have some perspective. The first thing that comes to mind when people when people say that, is that they seem to be forgetting that the “other wife” won’t just be another woman living in “her” home. It will be another WIFE, an equal in every way. The home will be HERS too. She will want just as much say in how the home should be run, how it should be decorated etc as you do. She is his wife and will want and NEED all the same things that you did when you married. You had to learn to get along with your husband, to accommodate his needs and wishes and now you will need to do the same with her.

Another thing that many don’t consider is that she might not be any help at all. She might have half a dozen kids that you will be responsible for in addition to your own while she goes to work to earn the extra income that will be needed to support the extra family. She might be a horrible house keeper, a worse cook and she might not like the way you raise your kids and have her own very different ideas about discipline. And since your children are now hers as well you will have to learn how to accommodate each other.

Now don’t get me wrong there are some positive things about having a sister-wife. I’ve seen sisterwives that genuinely enjoy each others company and on nights when their husband is away until late they hang out together and enjoy some girl time after the kids are in bed. They both love each others children and can share in and enjoy all the little things their kids do in ways that some one less invested just couldn’t.

I’ve seen sisterwives that were able to help each other with new-born babies, even supplying breast milk when one might not have enough. It’s nice to be able to leave your children and know they are in capable hands of someone who loves them.

I’ve seen it work out great when one wife has a talent or skill that the other just doesn’t. In my family we all knew that if we hurt ourselves and needed a sliver removed or a bandage put on Mother A was the one to go to. Or if you needed a hammer or screw driver or just a safety-pin Mother B would have it in her super organized drawer of “stuff” Mother C would plan vacations and be in charge of the garden when the others had no interest. Mother D enjoyed playing with the children and would make messy fun with homemade playdough. Mother E could make the softest yummiest rolls. Her steady diligence kept the huge yard watered. and Mother F was a live in Grammy. Each of them has unique gifts and talents that have made our home better in some way.

My point is that there are benefits to having multiple wives but I’ve never heard anyone who actually has lived that way suggest that one of the benefits is having help around the house. It takes a lot of selflessness, hard work and forgiveness. sometimes it turns out wonderful and sometimes it doesnt.Its just like marriage between a man and a wife only more of everything…more wives, more complicated, more children, more work, more house to clean, more love, more joy, and more sacrifice.

And Then There Were Four

The fourth of July has always been a special day for me. I love that holiday. A year and a half ago it became that much more special when my husband proposed to me on that day. This year we are planning a new exciting way of celebrating that holiday. We thought it would be fitting to celebrate by adding a fourth member to our family!

Yep thats right I’m pregnant…again!

None of us have been very sure how to feel about this. When I first suspected that I might be I panicked because I didn’t think my body was ready to do it all over again. Then I started thinking about how much I love having a special gift from heaven kicking and stretching and moving around inside me, I thought of how much I adore Preston and how much joy he has brought into our lives and I desperately wanted that test to be positive.

I decided to surprise Joseph this time and not tell him I was taking the test until after I had seen the results. He was getting ready for work so I went in the bathroom took the test and waited anxiously to see what it would reveal. With in a few seconds a could see that plus sign emerging and I was so excited.

I went to the bathroom where Joseph was shaving and knocked on the door. He opened it and I said “So I have something to show you.” I held up the positive test.

He looked at it with a blank expression. What does that mean he said.

“It means we are going to have another baby!”

“Ill wait till I see it was his response. But he looked a little shaken and dazed.

In the next few days our roles kind of reversed. as morning sickness kind of took over my body and my life I became dazed and terrified of all that I knew lay in store for us.

Joseph became super excited.”Hows my girl?”He would ask me when he would get home from work.

“I’m sick.”I would answer.

“I’m sorry about that. But I meant my other girl” he would say with a little smile as he rubbed the spot that is just starting to grow.

Preston is another one who is not quite sure how he feels about this change.

PicMonkey Collage

But in the end I think we are all very excited about the new little spirit that will be joining our family this coming July!

How I wish for Waterfall fingers!

I had an experience tonight that brought back some special memories. My husband took our baby for an hour or so tonight and let me just sit and play the piano. Its something I haven’t done in far too long. I was shocked at how much my fingers had forgotten. My heart and my brain wanted to play like not a day had gone by but my fingers seemed slow and rigid. As I played though it started to come back and I had a feeling that I’ve really missed. My cares and concerns, my aches and pains started to drift away as I got lost in old songs that I still somehow remembered.

As my husband and baby listened from the other room occasionally piping in with a comment it brought immense satisfaction and sweet memories of sitting in our living room in Aunt Hannah’s old house. (She had died and left her home to us but it would always be Aunt Hannah’s house.) I would play the piano and get lost in my feelings, in my hopes and dreams for the future, in the music itself, in the sweet feeling of feeling my fingers move effortlessly over the keys.

Then, my mother listened from the other room. I knew she was lying on the couch reading the newspaper. I could hear the pages turning and I knew she was listening. I would pick a song that I had practiced earlier in the day; one I knew she hadn’t heard me play before and I would play it waiting to hear what she would have to say about it. I always knew which songs she enjoyed and which ones she was just putting up with until I finished. Some times if I practiced a passage too many times over I would hear her sigh a little and I would switch to playing a song I knew she enjoyed like Breakers or Only You.

Sometimes I would get frustrated with a difficult passage and I would slam the key board with both hands and give up. Vilate…try it again I would hear her say from around the corner. Sometimes I would pound just to get a reaction out of her or to let her know I was annoyed at something. When my feelings where especially wound up and every song made me pound I would eventually give up and go soak away my cares in the tub.

I miss those days, and I will always be grateful to my mother for the part that she played in helping me to develop this talent. It was difficult to continue with it sometimes but she never let me quit and she always let me know how much she enjoyed hearing me play. It gave me a reason to practice and get better.

Those days are gone and now its my turn to be the mother and to foster those talents and others in my own children. But it felt good to go back tonight if only for an hour and enjoy the old songs and the old feelings. And even though my fingers fumble a little and trip over themselves when I try to play songs like Waterfall and All Of Me, the music and the memories will always be a part of who I am. 76178_449134880657_1450414_n

This photo was taken after a 10 piano concert. My favorite thing about this photo is that I had decided to ruin it by totally cheesing it up. Turns out everyone else had the same idea and all of our cheesy smiles look the same!

I’m a Mom! Preston turned 6 weeks old yesterday and I am still wrapping my head around the fact that I am a mom. This isn’t just a temporary experience that will one day go away this is the real deal. The truth is that I have mixed emotions about that.

As I have seen so many others have babies i mostly saw just the good parts. The blissful mother sitting quietly rocking her sleeping baby wrapped sweetly in a blanket. My experience has been a bit different or at least there were things about being a mom that I never saw with other people.

I never saw…

how sometimes you don’t realize until the end of the day that you never combed your hair. And then when you do realize it you also realize that you really don’t care.

how many times I would find myself racing to the bathroom because since the birth I literally have seconds before its too late; and I never knew how many times I would have a nursing baby in my arms at the same time because he would scream if I tried to put him down.

those moments at 3 am when the baby hasn’t slept all night and just won’t stop screaming and you feel like challenging him to a match to see who can cry harder.

I never knew the “joy” of nursing a baby while milk from the other side drips down your belly and onto your baby.

But there was no way that anyone could have prepared me for the feeling that I would get when my finally satisfied baby looked up at me with milk dripping from his chin, opened one eye and grinned.

I couldn’t have foreseen how much joy I would get from hearing him finally poop after it has been a few days and I am worried.

And nothing compares with laying in the bath tub with my baby laying next to me, his arms and legs wrapped around me like a little monkey and his little face propped up so that I can see his wide open eyes, his fat chin and pink lips propped up on my chest looking as content and happy as I have ever seen him.10564793_10154365362515344_1384080184_n

I lay awake at night marveling at the tiny pink balls that are the undersides of his perfect little toes, the tiny dimples on his little manly hands and his funny elf shaped ears.

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His one little curl that WILL stand up in the center of his head and the little muscles of his arms make me just want to squeeze him.

He loves to cuddle and he sighs in contentment when I am close to him. Its so amazing to know that he loves me so completely and that I am the one he wants above all others. I never new I would sit and cry just because I don’t know what else to do with all the love I feel.

It scares me a little to love someone so much. Especially someone so vulnerable. Before I had a baby, I was never really afraid of much because the worst thing that could happen was that I would die… and that didn’t seem so horrible. Now there are dozens of worse things that could happen and all of them make my blood run cold with fear.

What if he gets sick and I don’t know how to make him feel better?

What if He gets hurt? I could get in a car accident, I could drop him, he could fall off the bed, he could choke, he could just stop breathing in the night for no reason, he could have any number of complications that would be outside of my control and the thought is horrifying. Nothing is worse than the thought of losing my baby or of seeing him suffer.

I have always heard stories of soldiers laying dying and calling for their mothers with their last breaths. Now I have a little son and suddenly that becomes the most heart breaking thing I have ever heard. I pray every day with all of my heart that the Lord keeps my little one safe. 10551783_10154365363500344_372717421_n

Grandma is worried about how empty the house is going to feel when this little one goes home.

And I am worried about what I am going to do without all the help taking care of him.

Being a mother is scary, difficult, exhausting, wonderful exhilarating, fulfilling and indescribable…

So I guess I better stop trying. Besides I think I hear him stirring…

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Yep! I’m A Mom. You Can Tell From The Stale Milk On My Shoulder

My Dad

In our house everyone alwaNielsen Family 021ys referred to my Dad as Father. Even the Mothers called him Father, at least when us children were around. So it was natural that as a small child of about three years old I thought Father was actually his name. One night as I lay in bed my brother Marcus was in the same room with me. “Want to know a secret?” he asked me.

Yeah

“Father’s name,” he paused for dramatic effect, “isn’t really Father!

You’re lying! I said Yes it is,

Not its Ivan

“Ivan, I said the word over to myself and suddenly had recollections of hearing people call him that. I knew Marcus must be telling me the truth. I felt betrayed. My parents had lied to me and told me that his name was Father. That is one of my earliest recollections about my dad.

I vaguely remember him taking me and my sister Liz to the park next door to our house. I remember having his 50th birthday party and how excited I was for that. I remember him always whistling as he came through the back door after work. I remember him finishing his breakfast in the morning and taking off the bib that he always wore when he ate folding it up and crossing the ties on top. Then he would settle his hat on his head and do a big wave and say see you later alligator! Then he would do a little jig as he walked down through the long kitchen to the back door in the playroom.12303_10150150985230344_1710961_n

My dad rarely if ever spoke of his feelings for us. I don’t think I ever heard him say I love you until just recently. But we all knew. I think every one of us knew without question that he loved us. He was my hero and was and still is in my eyes pretty near perfect. One of my friends, after meeting him, described him as a mix between an apostle and Santa Claus.

One day I was getting ready to go to Japan. In the weeks leading up to my departure it had seemed to me that every time I saw my dad he had something mean to say to me. “Isn’t it almost time that we get to get rid of you?” He would say to me at dinner time.

Or do you think we could pay those Japanese to keep you?”

It hurt my feelings. One day I realized that it was only his way of covering up his tender feelings of love for me and his having a hard time letting me go so far away. I went to the family room where he was sitting in his chair. I sat on the arm of the chair and put my arm around his shoulders. “I’m sure glad that I understand when you say things like that to me that it’s just your way of saying you love me. Otherwise I might get my feelings hurt.” He was quiet for a minute but I saw tears brimming in his eyes. “Yep”, he finally said “its a good thing you know that.”

I remember one day I was throwing a fit of some kind and mother had about had it with me. She took me to Father. “I know exactly what she needs” he said, “she needs a little sugar to sweeten her up.” And he pulled a box of ding dongs from the closet and gave me one. then he let me climb up on the bed next to him and cuddle while we watched tv. 149692_449132820657_467824_n

I think my dad always knew that if he showed me he trusted me my guilty conscience wouldn’t allow me to disappoint him. I loved him so much that the thought of disappointing him was worse than any punishment I could be given.

I was never a touchy feely kind of person. I didnt like hugs except from my dad and because he was the only person that I would accept hugs from I wanted them all the time. He would always ask me how I was doing on getting my quota of hugs for the day. One day I was about 20 years old I was working in the kitchen when my dad came to me. He put one arm on each shoulder and looked me right in the eyes so that he had my full attention. “One day I’m going to die,” he told me. I started to protest but he cut me off. “You will come to my funeral and see me all laid out in the casket in my white clothes.” He walked me through the whole funeral finally he said, ” when you are standing at my grave side I want you to wait and when everyone has gone I will be there and I will give you a hug.”Thats my dad. I love him with everything in me. He is my rock.

1002636_767888493221636_1477277037_nAs I grew up and I made choices different than what he would have wanted me to make I have worried that I would disappoint him. One day we were riding in the car. He had had a stroke and the doctor had told us that he could go at any time. we were driving and he told me ” Im glad that we get to spend some time together, I know ive never said it much but I wanted to make sure that you knew that I love you.”

I do know that. I told him. But I worry that I have disappointed you in some of my decisions.

He knew exactly what I was talking about. Vilate, he said, You decided to be a Mormon, so just be the best Mormon you can be and I will never be disappointed in you. unnamed

AS my dad’s health continued to decline I worried that he would never see me get married, never get to meet my children. But he has continued to hang on, continued to pull out of each stroke that he has had. When he came in the room just an hour or two after my baby was born and held him I thought my heart would burst. When he knocked on my bedroom
door later that night because he wanted to tell us goodnight I was touched at his sweet affection for us. I smiled when he held Preston in his arms and called him puddin head. It had been awhile since I had heard him call anyone that.

I know that one day my dad will leave this life, and leave me behind. But until that day I will enjoy every minute I have with him. I will tell him how much I love him, I will enjoy watching my baby play with him and I will know that when he goes he isn’t very far away. I love you Father!wykDibs6NOvmOTTC3Ie7KV3eCo3zUGcmahsy_M-G4Yk,3dCQrrcEuJYpMAneLr7gi3dqsuzXu7FqPZ6qNxlGerw