Monday, January 18, 2016

Being White on MLK Day

I debated whether or not it is "ok" to think and talk and write about being white on MLK day. I remember and know, personally, that power-filled majority cultures tend to make everything about them. About me, I mean. They, I mean we, I mean I, make our voices heard, find power, assert dominance, even on days and in places and with people where the focus isn't supposed to be us. We like to be "big deals."

I've always had trouble knowing what it means for me to celebrate MLK day. Of course, there's much King did and said that is more than worth celebrating. Still, I can't help but simultaneously think: I wish there weren't so many reasons to celebrate. I wish he hadn't needed to say so much, do so much, believe and hope and dream so much. There's tragedy mixed in with the celebration, and the extent of the celebration is commensurate with the extent of the tragedy. But, the opposite is true here as well. With the tragedy of racism and prejudice, subtle and not-subtle slavery, comes real and true and glorious celebration when bits and pieces of the darkness are chiseled away and we can see the light underneath.

MLK day is a celebration of King's birth. I wonder, what would I have been like had I been born that day in the south? Maybe in the same town as King. Unlikely we would have been at the same hospital. What would my childhood have been like? My adolescence? My young and mid-adulthood? King never got past that stage. I probably would have. I might still be alive. How different would my childhood have been compared to the one I did have in the 90s? I'd like to think hugely different, but I'm not sure. Could we have known each other? Would we have bumped into each other? On purpose, or by accident? What would I have thought about him? Would the strong call I hear in Scripture to love my neighbors, all my neighbors, to fight for injustice and for the weak and powerless, seem as strong when the question of racial injustice and white privilege were brought to surface? Would King's criticism of and plea to white Christians have applied to me? Probably. Does it still? Yes. Would I have marched? Would I have risked jail? Those Ivy Leagues, you know, they don't like criminal records on their admission applications. I wonder who they would have picked- me with record of jail due to protesting, or a black student with an impeccable record and grades. It's a real question- even in those "we're-above-race"ivory towers.

These are the things I think about on MLK day. These questions are what it means for me to be white on MLK day.

I'm tempted to avoid the day- to treat it as a holiday for rest and maybe some community service. To spend it feeling guilty- guilty for the fact that I'm part of a culture that made this day necessary to celebrate. That I probably would have been explicitly involved in the culture of slavery and overt discrimination. That I probably wouldn't have been as brave, as holy, as I would like to think I would have been. That I probably am not as brave or holy as I like to think I am.

But, guilt and shame and avoidance, or even Hallmark card quotations of King, aren't celebration. They are, in their own way, a part of my privilege. They are part of the problem.

I've never been a good celebrator. But that is what I need, we need, to do today. To celebrate a man who was needed, is needed, because of injustice and inequality that I probably would have perpetuated had I grown up with him. Celebration like that demands humility and confession and repentance and love of what is good and true and beautiful and right, rather than love of self. Now that's something worth celebrating.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Working and Mommying

Today marks 365 days since first dropping munchkin off at daycare so I could return to work as a Family Medicine resident. Was it a tough day? Sure. It felt strange to leave him in the arms of someone I didn't know, unsure if he'd eat and sleep, unsure if his little 10 week heart and mind were feeling abandoned, nervous about work emergencies that would make me late for pick-up, and if I'd find time for pumping between seeing patients.
Munchkin's first day of daycare

But, I'll tell you a secret. I was ready to go to work at the clinic/hospital. Like, really ready. The shift from a 60-80 hr work week that was super structured to totally unstructured days at home with a newborn was rough, and, I'll admit it, often boring. I'm sure if there had been other kids running around, or if I had planned to set up my life to be a work at home mom, my attitude and reality would have been different. But, there weren't and I didn't.

Don't get me wrong, I love time with my little munchkin. Maternity leave is important, in most cases should be longer, needs to be protected, and really is a unique season of life. I'd love a more formal way of giving moms who don't work outside the home real maternity leave.

This past year I've had days, sometimes even weeks, when I fantasize about being a work at home mom- watching and helping my kids discover the world during more than just nights and weekends. Then there were days when I wish I didn't feel the pull to go home right after work, because I'd love to stay longer- talking, working, problem solving, learning. I anticipate swinging back and forth on a gradient between those two scenarios for several years yet to come. I anticipate seasons when I will doctor more, and seasons when I will mommy more.

What I (re)learned this year, is that every "yes" is also a "no."

The last few years have been filled with books and trendy articles about how it is a women's time to have it all. How we can be great mothers and great CEOs, great mini-van drivers and sleep over planners, and also great professionals workers. I appreciate parts of this conversation. I appreciate being recognized as more than a uterus and lunchbox packer. I also appreciate recognition that as a professional I do in fact have a uterus that desires to hold a few children, and pack lunches. I appreciate that being a great mom and a great doctor are both valued attributes. It's also worth noting that the "you can have it all" message is one of great priviledge- most don't have such choices, and having it all means keeping your family alive and mostly well. Overall, I think the "you can have it all" mentality preached to mostly middle and upper class women is a dangerous lie, and in the end a disservice to women.

Every "yes" is also a "no." Sometimes several "no's." When I said "yes" to marrying Jonathan, I said "no" to marrying 6+ billion other people. When I said "yes" to being a doctor, I said "no" to several other attractive careers I had been thinking about. When I said "yes" to being a mommy, I said "no" to quiet lazy mornings, clean floors, and 8 hours of sleep at night (at least for a while).

And that's ok. In fact, the "no's" are part of what make those "yes'" so important, so valuable.

When I say "yes" to spending time with my munchkin instead of working, I'm telling him, "right now, you are more important. I am saying "no" to other things and instead am choosing you." On the flip side, when I decide to stay late at work, bring work home, or even work outside the home at all, I'm also saying, "there are other things that are also important, and sometimes I do those things instead of being with you." Being a mom means that I'm not always, or even often, going to stay late at work, take on every extra task, and might try not to put myself in job positions that are going to make mommying impossible. Being a doctor means that I'm not always going to be home to put munchkin to bed, to spend large amounts of day time together, to see each important moment. That's hard to hear, do, feel. Of course I've made sure someone else can pick him up, watch him, nurture him, when I can't (big shout out to J!), which is something I can't do with my doctoring work. I hope munchkin grows up seeing his mom care about hurting people, and also that he grows up with a mom who disciples him to care for hurting people.

I suppose we all have slightly different definitions of what it means to be a great mom and be a great out-of-home worker- different definitions of what it means to "have it all." The way it's talked about in recent media and news leaves me feeling exhausted, with no room for margin, and feeling consistently inadequate in all areas- home and work. I probably could "have it all," working late after kids are in bed, being a super efficient person during each nap time at home and lunch break at work. But, what I'm finding, is that I don't want "it all." Not like that, at least. Time and space are finite for me, and how I choose to spend my time and space is part of how I say to the world- "this is something I value!" Of course I can value more than one thing and place, and going to work doesn't mean I don't value being home, but it does mean I do value being at work. My limitations of body, time, and space aren't meant to be stretched to the max, striving for some time-warped world and teleporting body; they are gifts to live within, and give the grace needed to not have, do, or be "it all."

There is a lot more nuance to this whole topic than simply "yes" and "no," and there is a wide gradient between "having it all" and being restricted and discouraged from work outside the home. Like most things, real life is somewhere in-between, usually.

Instead what I've learned is that working and mommying is like being given two good gifts, each held in one hand. But, sometimes one of them requires two hands, and that means putting the other one down. When I toss munchkin in the air and see his toothy grin, the gift of work has been placed on the floor. When I loose track of time at work or dream about running a health clinic/center in an underserved neighborhood, munchkin is being tossed in the air by someone else during those moments, and I'm holding more fully the gift of doctoring work.

So, every "yes" is also a "no," and I have been given two good gifts (and more). Also, there's a lot of grace to be found in the midst of the yes', no's, and gift juggling.