A Landmine Turned Atomic Bomb

January 15, 2011

Sr. Wantabee and husband have a simple room for their teenage kids, a boy and a girl. To play on the weekend, we expect a decent attempt at school and a decent attempt to keep your bedroom striaght. A respectful please and thanks are always welcome in exchange for the transport we supply. Friday afternoon her son, who had been down with a migraine headache for two days, perked up to do some homework and one load of wash before dancing out to be with “his crew.” He’d be home by 10 pm. The daughter on the other hand, had attended school, had play practice that went late so went via lightrail to her babysitting job, being retreived by her father at 1 am! But, a messy room. When the son returned, he found the garbage removed from his room and some furniture moved around to get to all the trash. Realizing he would be upset, we did not anticipate the atom bomb that exploded. “It is MY space!!!” “I was going to do it!!!!” The daughter is in bed by 2 a.m. and up at 9 a.m. for a concert performance. On the way, Sr. Wantabee pointed out that the room was not straight, she was tired and so going out priviledges were suspended. Another atom bomb exploded. “That is MY room!!” “I plan to clean it!!!” “My friends and I need to spend an evening unwinding together as we have had a VERY stressful week, MOM!!!!” How did these landmines turn into atom bombs?

As I pondered this and Sr. Wantabee realized she had never had her own room after age 2. She had always shared with her sister or a roommate. She was not adopted and did not realize the importance of a designated voice. Likewise she had been raised by a mother who was a stay-at-home mom, spending her life cleaning and cooking while Sr. WAntabee’s job was to do well at school. As a young adult, she was a professional and had roommates who enjoyed nesting and considered Sr. Wantabee inept. In Kenya, she had maids and supervised housework. Now, back in the States, she has her own home for the first time in her life and at ae 64 is trying to be a professional and feels the responsibility for the home. Even though she may not be a good housewife, she knows it is her realm as she seeks to be professional.

Sr. Wantabee’s husband is an only child who never had to compete for space and who was raised in Africa with maids at home and when at school, everyone had one job in the door. He just does not understand the fuss.

The kids, born in Africa, are the real Americans, greatly gifted far beyond the mother of the 50-60s or the father raised in the bush of Africa. They have not shared space since age 7 ie 11 years and as teenagers feel they have inherited bedrooms from their now 28+ siblings and deserve the same respect and total trust at age 15!

The result, a cultural atom bomb as the three cultures in one family collided over, “Pick up your room if you want to go out.” The blessing of diversity and the tension exploded. Relationships are repaired but… where is the next landmine?

A Forgotten Sheroe, Dorothy Haas

January 14, 2011

Yesterday Sr. Wantabee had lunch and a former boss was there, the chaplain of a retirement center where Sr. Wantabee did part of her internship. One of the residents was a woman over 100 years old. She had outlived almost all known relatives. In her day she was a trend setter, a world wide teacher and advocate for women in ministry, even in the pulpit. She was probably one of the first Christian Ed. leaders. She was one of the greats.

When Sr. Wantabee met, though, she was trapped in a mind with symptoms of Alzheimers, living in a memory care unit. She sat in her chair without the strength to walk. Parts of her mind were gone so that she had gone through a stage of being mean to everyone so could not be predictable in social company. Sr. Wantabee would visit and sometimes just watch her caress a doll. Other times she played with a kleenex. On occassion she would become lucid and launch into a monologue that was very logical, giving Sr. Wantabee a definite treatise on a subject. Most of the time she just was. Her favorite topic was children. She loved to hear, “Bless the Lord, oh my soul and all that is within me…” and would follow the Psalm and it would calm her.

She died and my friend only knew the Home had not handled the funeral and that there was probably no-one alive that particularly knew her. Sr. Wantabee wondered, “Is it possible to live too long?” How odd that people pay thousands of dollars to live just one more day while others outlive their lives. It is good she has gone to a place where she is known, appreciated, and can communicate. Maybe death is not the biggest enemy!

La Americana

January 13, 2011

Sr. Wantabee’s payin job is working in ESL. She has a “life time California credential” but Minnesota does not recognize two states in the union – California and Texas because they teach weird things like ESL! Duh. She returned to the U of MN at a ripe old age of 58 and got an additional liscensure in ABE, Adult Basic Education, to make her legitimate in teaching. The U of MN accepted her years of teaching bilingually in Kenya and so the Board of Education accepts the U of MN stamp of approval – but only for 5 years. Sr. Wantabee now must earn 125 CEUs (continuing education units) before June 2012 to maintain her liscense. It’s time to get serious. So…

Wednesday she attended a movie discussion group on the movie “La Americana,” led by an immigration lawyer. Sr. Wantabee did not consider herself oh so knowledgeable on the subject so thought she’d check out this 3 CEU credit.

“La America” is about a woman in Bolivia who has a daughter she must provide for and decides to enter the USA illegally and works in cleaning work. After she gets across the border, her daughter is hit by the school bus and ends up in a wheel chair. The mother meets a man who loves her and they send funds to Bolivia for the girl’s medical expenses. What does the daughter want for her 15th birthday but the return of the mother. The mother returns to be reunited with the daughter who she discovers has a fractured hip and a frozen leg that can only be dealt with through high medical expenses. Eat or help the girl. The movie ends with the opening scene of the woman leaving her compound again to try to return to the States again to get the money for the treatment of her daughter. “I wanted to be a good mother but…”

It was a very gripping human tragedy story, highlighting the reality of people living in poor countries. In fact, how many similar stories has Sr. Wantabee heard except that Kenya does not border on the USA. She was deeply touched.

Sr. Wantabee did not consider herself an knowledgeable about immigration and Latinos but in fact, she has a British husband and gone through the whole immigration lawyer process with him loosing his green card and becoming naturalized. She has two adopted Kenya children who also live in the reality that a policeman can stop the card for some reason known to them, ask for ID, look at the face, ask if they were born in the USA and take them to the police station for a whole check.

In the discussion room, Sr. Wantabee sat there, married to a Brit and with two Kenyan children. The teacher to her left is third generation American of Hispanic descent married to a Frenchman. A teacher to Sr. Wantabee’s right has a Costa Rican son-in-law. The presenter is an American married to a Scotsman. We all realized the precariousness of their living situations, in the midst of the paranoia of the “alien” but they are so integrated into our identity.

At age 64 will Sr. Wantabee get those 125 CEUs to prove to “the system” that after teaching for 40 years, she is qualified to continue part time in to retirement? It remains to be seen.

At a deep level, Sr. Wantabee understood “La Americana.” “She too wanted to be a good mother….” “She wants to be a good teacher…” “She wants to …”


January 11, 2011

As I reflect on 2010, one of the highlights was teaching about the origins of the American Thanksgiving tradition. The essay in simple English talked about the flight of the Pilgrims from England, Europe, in search of freedom. I was not convinced my students understood.

A Hmong refugee woman in the front row began to comment. Slowly she began to talk. I remember when I was five years old hiding in the jungles of Laos and eating the leaves off the trees. We were always hungry. We had to walk ten days in the rain to a big river that would carry us to a port and to America.

I asked another young 25ish woman who is married to a 50 year old man. What brought you to America and to marry an older man who is divorced. She easily replied, “How else could I come and live near my mother? A younger man would tire of me and leave me.”

Those immigrants understood the story of Thanksgiving in ways many Americans never even dream about. They work minimal wage jobs and come to evening classes so their children will have a hope and a future.

Last week a young man shot 19? people and a congress woman because ??? Perhaps we have lessons to learn about freedom from the immigrants.