Thursday, January 25, 2007

children's museum

Last weekend we took Jonah to the Children's Museum. What a great place to play! It has a pretend supermarket for children to play in, a "water room" for experimenting with water, a construction room, and so much more! My friend's band was playing and that was fun too. I want Jonah to be exposed to lots of quality live music. Summertime is best for that since there are a lot of concerts in parks then. Here is a pic of Jonah playing in a manmade stream. He loved that and so did Tim, wishing he could have such a toy for himself!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

anti-racist parenting 101

I've been thinking a lot about how, as a white parent, I should go about raising my child to be a person who harbors no racial prejudice, and whats more, becomes a person who fights racism when he's older. It's easy to forego thinking about race and racism as a white person. That is, afterall, one aspect of white privilege. I do have the choice to NOT devote any energy to this topic. But precisely because I am white and aware of the existence and gravity of racism in this society as perpetuated by whites, I feel compelled to do something about it. And with that urge to challenge the racism instilled in me and my immediate surrroundings comes fear.

The safest thing is to think and read about the topic. Then it's inside my head for just me to mull over. And yes, the learning phase is an important and ongoing phase. But, there comes a point when one has to take action, whether it's through discussing the issues with others in or outside one's circle or in other ways. That is where things get scary.

My biggest fear is feeling shame, rejection and hurt. As we grow up (and I'm talking about white people here), we learn what is socially acceptable and what is not, which of course varies somewhat depending on our communities, but overall, any discourse about race is pretty much taboo. But, I should hope that this is true, we are naturally curious about all kinds of people, especially as children. However, our curiosity is often squelched because it's just not socially acceptable to, for example, ask out loud about people's skin color or hair texture. So, we get instantly hushed or shamed. That is not a good start. Immediately we learn that certain types of differences, in this case "racial" differences (racial in quotes because "race" is really a biologically unfounded social construct), are taboo. Something to perhaps ponder silently, but to never speak about. This is how any discourse on "race" is extinguished from the start.

What I just described is the level of communication where a parent can start. Instead of shushing a child who is naturally curious about people who look different from him, the parent can encourage the dialogue and explain to the child that yes, people have different degrees of pigmentation, etc. and make sure the subject doesn't get tagged as taboo in the child's mind.

The other way that a mother of a toddler can begin the journey of anti-racist parenting, is by exposing the child to peole that look different in very ordinary circumstances - play groups, books with photographs, etc. I am, of course, already worried that I'm failing in this regard. I do go and socialize with random groups with Jonah, but he does not see people that are all that racially different. This is just because of the way our city's demographics happen to be. But I do question my choices of the places where I take Jonah. Do I choose the places according to my own comfort level with the families that frequent these particular community centers and libraries?

The children with which Jonah interacts are mostly white and Asian. To illustrate my fear that I am failing anti-racist parenting 101, let me share with you a brief anecdote. The other day we went to the store and our cashier was a very dark skinned black man. At the point when I separated from Jonah and stepped closer to the credit card reader and the cashier pulled the shopping car with Jonah in it slightly behind the cash register to begin unloading the groceries, Jonah suddenly had this freightened look on his face and began to cry. The man gave Jonah a sticker and told him he was his friend. Jonah stopped crying and became more comfortable. But it was interesting to observe my own reaction to the situation. I was pretty certain that Jonah became scared of the man because he looked so different from the other people he was used to seeing. I noticed feeling paralized and unsure of what to say or how to react. Should I have said, "Oh Jonah, don't worry. Look at this nice man. You don't have to be scared of him." Of course, Jonah is too young to understand a sentence like that, but he can understand emotional tones. Instead of saying anything, I let the cashier deal with the situation. How lame of me. That's what white people tend to do. Stay paralized and let people of color navigate the uncomfortable situation for them. And that too is racism.

So, now I've publicly processed this encounter and will hopefully be better equipped to react next time.

That's it for my first installment of my thoughts on anti-racist parenting. If you'd like, read more about anti-racist parenting on a website which I frequent Anti-Racist

Czech party

Yesterday we were invited to a gathering of Portland Czechs. A couple new to the area with a two-year old girl organized the party. So many Czechs came out of the woodwork that my eyes almost popped out of my head. I didn't even know there were so many Czechs in our neck of the woods. Lots of them with children too. We are now talking about starting regular parent/child get-togethers. What I would like is for the adults to take turns playing Czech children's games and leading a Czech sing-along with the children each time, but a lot of the mothers just want to socialize and let the children play free-style. So, that's what might happen. The only trouble with that is that the older children already use English, not Czech, to speak to each other, which sort of defeats the purpose of Jonah joining the group. The idea is, afterall, for him to hear Czech around him, especially coming from other children. We'll see what materializes.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


It snowed here today and the snow actually stuck! That meant I didn't have to go to work today; a strange notion for most, I know. But we here in the Pacific Northwest don't know what to do when it snows. The whole city stalls, people drive like idiots, and it just make sense to stay home and drink hot chocolate... We did hit the backyard today. Jonah didn't seem to excited by the snow, but I did share with him the excitement of sledding on the littlest hill in the world, right in our backyard. I must say I enjoyed the sledding much more than he did. After fifteen minutes of running around in the snow, Jonah was ready to go home. Grandma Zuzi came over while Tim was at work (bad weather can't stop him from going to the old office) and was over all day.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

latest favorites

Lately Jonah's been obsessed with bubbles. Bubbles of all kinds - blown bubbles, soap bubbles, bubbles in drinks... He loves to watch them and touch them. At the library, where we went for toddler story time for the first time in weeks recently, he kept going up to the librarian asking for bubbles. She does start and end story time with bubbles, but he was so insistent she keeps on blowing more, it was funny.

The other things Jonah has been enjoying lately are drawing with pens and crayons, brushing his teeth, ripping paper (and if it's toilet paper, opening the toilet and throwing the pieces in there), flushing the toilet excessively, opening and closing pens, and sticking keys in keyholes.

He recently started pretending! He pretends to talk on the phone. Yesterday he used an object in a creative way for the first time, pretending the end of an (unplugged) extension cord was a phone. A true milestone.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Notes on our trip to Prague - Pt. III

Jonah is such a great traveller, I must say. He did very well on the plane - and twenty hours is a lot of travel time for an adult, let alone a little guy! He slept anywhere between three and four hours on both trips, to Prague and back. Not much, but when we got to our destinations, he adjusted to the nine-hour time difference better than Tim and I. My worst fear was that Jonah would have a screaming/crying meltdown on the plane or that he wouldn't sit still and would want to run around like a little devil. Neither one of my fears came true. Sure, there were a couple of times I thought, "Here we go" when he started to bawl, but those were very short lived, thank goodness. The most surprising thing was that Jonah was content on our laps and in our arms the whole time on the plane!!! He traveled as a lapchild, afterall - meaning he didn't have a seat of his own. With all the flying we've done to Montana, California, and Europe in the past year, Jonah has become a seasoned traveller. I think he would do a better job hosting a travel show than Rick Steeves who sucked last time I heard his show on NPR. That's it: Travel for Toddlers with Jonah B - awesome idea!

As far as transportation goes, Jonah even enjoyed the tram and subway rides in Prague. So much to look at. And the Czechs actually erased their scowls for a brief moment and smiled at him. Quite a power he has.

Since our trip, Jonah's been obsessed with planes, finding pictures of them everywhere and pointing up at the sky, saying "pain," meaning "plane." I think our next trip will be to New York sometime in the spring to visit Auntie.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

notes on our trip to Prague - Pt. II

Because my childhood in Prague feels like another life almost severed from the one I lead now, as many immigrants' childhoods spent in the "old country" probably feel, going back I always look for the things that have stayed the same and that help prove in some tangible way that my childhood wasn't just a fantasy.

The city, its foundation at least a thousand years old, still stands, of course. Some of the same stores and restaurants are still there and have been for decades. The old trams still run, and men with mullets and man purses can be seen still after twenty years, thank goodness. Those are the things that make me feel I'm home.

The others are the little things - the dumplings; the old Trabant cars (we used to have one - a brown two-door hatch back; see picture); the awfully sugary deserts, such as rakvička (the little coffin similar in flavor to divinities, in other words pure sugar) or punčák (pink rum-flavored punch cake); the fabulous spreadible cheeses; the tasty fresh rolls of many varieties; the ladies with their terrible hair colors; the supermarket cashiers in aprons that look angry at the merchandise; the sales people and wait staff with condescending attitude (one thing I could do without!); and the toilets with a little dry landing area and a flush handle on a rope that one pulls down (one of Jonah's favorites in Prague). Those are just some of the things that scream, "Welcome to your homeland!"

Saturday, January 06, 2007

a man of his word

Tim and I just made a list of all the words that Jonah regularly says and came up with more than seventy!!! About a fourth are in Czech. He must be a genius :)

Friday, January 05, 2007

life back to normal

Now, after our trip, it's at last back to our Portland routine. I work Monday through Wednesday "swing shift" and watch Jonah until after lunch on those days as well as all day Thursday and Friday. I got used to spending our days as a family and now Thursdays and Fridays seem so long by myself with Jonah! I find myself at a loss for what to do sometimes, especially with the rainy and windy weather and Jonah's runny nose (better not hang out with other little kids now). Plus there is no one to cook for us. My grandma or dad fed us in Prague. We just had to take care of breakfast every day. Now I'm spoiled.

Today I took Jonah to the Rhododendron garden for the first time after a long time. He was so excited, running around in his snowmobile suit, chasing ducks and geese and wanting to touch their feathery butts. We fed them some and they, as they tend to do, got awfully close. Too close for my comfort, but not Jonah's, no sir. Overhead, more than a hundred wild geese circled and practiced their formations, each flock weaving in and out of the way of the next. It was the most mesmerizing site.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

notes on our trip to Prague - Pt. I

Tim said to me that his favorite things about Prague were the following (in order):

- my grandmother :)
- the sights
- the food

I have to agree. I would add trams to that list as well. I love riding the trams!!! Especially the ones with heated seats in the winter!

The strangest thing for me when I go back is hearing Czech all around me in all kinds of situations. I understand the language perfectly, but I hardly ever hear it spoken, especially by people other than my family. So my head always spins hearing kids on the tram discussing computers, old people complaining about the holiday tv-programming, security at the airport comparing notes on naked people in movies, a mother admonishing her children for being late, a sales person on her cell phone pouring out her frustration about how no present she got anybody for Christmas was right. So many situations, such varied vocabulary... and I haven't heard much of it in decades, but it all comes back when I'm there... a strange phenomenon to be sure.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

doctor's appointment

Barely off the plane and right to the doctor's office it was Tuesday for Jonah's belated 15-month appointment. He got measured, weighed, and poked - ouch! His thirty-plus word vocabulary impressed the doctor who informed us he's well ahead of the six-word average for his age. My head bobbed with pride like a peacock's upon hearing this. This doctor, by the way, stole Jonah's name for her own son who was born last summer. I guess I should think of it as a compliment. Jonah's weight is a little low, but nothing to worry about too much apparently. His height is about average, I gather. No more shots for a very long time, I hope.

Monday, January 01, 2007

back from Prague

We are now back from our adventure in the Czech lands. I will write more about our trip as time goes on. Just wanted to let everyone know that we had a nice time. Here are the pictures. Please note the two sub-albums on the second page. One is of pictures of a Jewish cemetery in the town of Roudnice nad Labem, where a sizable Jewish community thrived for centuries and where some of my ancestors lived and are buried. Jonah's namesake Jonas Topfer, the oldest relative we have been able to trace on my father's side, is very likely buried there. He was alive seven generations before Jonah. The other sub-album is pictures of some of the friends and relatives we spent time with on our trip.