Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lost and Found

Today all over the news one could find Olympic skier Toby Dawson being reunited with his first father. Toby was born in Korea and at age three was adopted by a caucasian couple in Colorado. After winning a bronze medal in the Olympics many Koreans claimed he was their son. Today he met his birth father who explained that he was lost in a crowded market while with his mother. His father said that he had searched orphanages but was never able to locate his son.

During tonight's broadcast Toby stated "I didn't feel like I fit in anywhere. I looked at my parents and I didn't look like them. And if I went to Korea I wouldn't fit in there. I was lost, stuck between two worlds."

And when he said that, while I understood, I mourned for my kids because I suspect that someday they will feel that way too. And why shouldn't they? I can only think on some small level that it would be like moving to Senegal. Even though you might live there for 20 years you still wouldn't be Senegalese, your neighbors would always think of you as "The American" and there are times you would be wondering about and missing what could have been had you stayed in America. Then add the fact that for twenty years you didn't look like the majority of people around you it is easy to see why you might easily feel like an outsider. Yet, in all likelihood, if you returned after 20 years to America you probably wouldn't feel totally American either.You would probably feel a sense of living in two worlds while adapting to one but never totally fitting in because your experience is just so different than the majority of people on this earth. Which is why I believe that it is so important for our children to have close friends who are also adopted. Because being transracially/transculturally adopted is really in a class by itself. You are in a sense an oddity...difficult to label...difficult to classify. And we all know how important it is for society to put nice, neat labels on everyone and everything.

So it is my belief that adoptive parents like me owe it to their children to give them opportunities to make them feel like they fit in somewhere, to give them the opportunity to freely express their conflicted feelings and to navigate between their reality and the ghosts "Of What Could Have Been." And even though we may do our best we should still be prepared for the fact that it may not be enough. Because there are times that you just cannot replace or repair, judge or compare, what has been lost with what has been gained because there is never a way of truly knowing what would have been best. Yes, it is probable that our kids will be stuck between two worlds and the only thing we will be able to do is let them know that we understand that straddling two worlds is hard, disappointing and scary but that we have faith that they can do it. It is the only thing we can really offer to them. That and our love.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Long Road Home

Opening your heart to the possibility of love can be a difficult proposition especially if you are seven months old and have already lost everything you've known. Three times.

Our journey began five years ago when we first adopted our son. For some children, joining a new family is fairly uncomplicated. The road to trusting a new set of parents is like the joining of two just get on, navigate a few new turns and before you know it you have arrived. Sure they may have run into a road block or two but they are able to trust with all their heart that their final destination is just around the corner so they gladly continue on.

Yet, for some children the ability to trust takes many years of navigating back roads, taking unexpected detours while traveling to unknown sites and places not bargained for. The journey is often long and tedious and sometimes you wonder if they will ever arrive. Tonight, I have hope that our son has arrived. And while it may not be to his final destination, I am thankful that he at least made it into our drive.

And so my son, whether this is the real thing or just a pit stop as we journey along this highway together; I am thankful that today you decided to open your heart to our love. For once you have opened your heart I believe that there is no going back, because the destination has changed from one of survival to one of trust and understanding. Sure there may be a few ROAD CLOSED signs scattered along the way but now you can make the detours without losing your way completely. For now you will know in your heart that the on ramps to our love are abundant, are clearly marked, and are just waiting for you to take them. And when you travel on them you will experience the comfort that comes from following a familiar path home. A road that leads you to a family that loves you no matter where your journey began or where it will take you. A road that brings you home to a place offering inner peace and unconditional love. It's a home we have stood in front of shouting directions to you as you whizzed by, lost, and trying to find your way. For years we have been waiting for you to turn into our driveway and now you are finally here. Welcome. We are glad you made it home safe and sound into our loving arms.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bound for Brazil

My 16 yo daughter has been a hand full since she has hit the teen years. It is hard because we have raised her to take risks, to believe in herself, to be independent, to know that she can accomplish what she sets out to do. We have taught her to trust herself, to go after her dreams and to not be afraid to step outside of the box that we call home. Somehow when you raise a child that way it seems that when they reach teen status they move away from you quicker, dislike you more, and in general cannot wait until they are out of the house far, far away from you. And of course, there are days that you cannot wait until the back door hits them in the butt on their way out too. But really as exciting and scary as it all is, we have raised our daughter to be able to take on us as well as the world. Although it is difficult for us now we know that when she is an adult we will be glad she has grown into who she is and who she is truly meant to be. But right now, who she is, is a girl who wants to spend her junior year of high school as a foreign exchange student in Brazil.

I have always been impressed with people who have been willing to leave everything they know to try to learn more about another country and her people.You have to dig deep within yourself to face the unknown with a smile. Yet, I have a confession to make. As proud as I am of my daughter for even contemplating such an opportunity; there is the part of me that wants to hold her back. A part of me that wants to say "No way, you are too young." A part of me that wants to scare her and a part of me that wants to dare her. I feel conflicted, confused and frankly, there is a part of me that is afraid. I am afraid of losing her, missing her, afraid that we are getting too close to an age where our family will no longer be important to her. Sure she knows all my faults and points them out to me everyday. But I want her around to keep me honest, to show me new ways of looking at things and to just have the comfort in knowing she is right here with us forever.I love her and want to keep her near. And if the truth is told, today I am not sure that I want to hold open the door for her. Not just yet. Really, I want her to explore the world next to the safety of my feet like when she was a baby. I want her to once again ask the simple questions like "Why is the sky blue?" And I want to know she is upstairs in her bed; snug, safe and warm. I want her to explore our world, not one thousands of miles away. Yet I know that's not love. Love is more than keeping someone close. Love is more than halting another person's growth to keep ourselves feeling useful and alive. Love is really about two people gently leading each other onto themselves. It's knowing when to let go so they can discover who they are on their own. It is about being confident enough in your love for one another that you know that holding on is more detrimental than letting go.

So although I may not always like it I know that I have to hold that door wide open for Kylee. Afterall, we taught her to go through that door in the first place and to embrace whatever she found on the other side. And although she will not know it, I will hold that door open wide, as I hide my tears and hold in my fears. For it seems like it was only yesterday that I held the door so she could get in as she stood on her tiptoes trying to reach the latch. I guess I didn't realize then that the time would come so quickly for her to step outside on her own. And although I may be tempted, I promise I will not let the door hit her on the butt as she makes her way out. However, I might just hide her keys so she can't go anywhere.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Okay, lets just say I am too tired to post anything original today so I leave you with this story written last year

By Cheryl L. Dieter copyright© 3/13/06

It was 58 degrees. The mercury was sliding quickly down the thermometer and as it did the tree limbs sank closer to the ground; trying to soak up its warmth for the evening. The sun dropped below the horizon as did the eyes of passersby as they drove on ignoring what it was they didn’t want to see. Life is like that sometimes. Often seeing is believing. Often we would rather believe in the power of things than deal with the truth of people. A truth so simple that it is hard to believe that it arrives with no fanfare, with no fancy packaging, and in a red and white windbreaker.

He had three shopping carts full of cast off cans, empty milk cartons and various paper sacks. A large piece of burlap tied with fraying brown rope stuck out a foot from the bottom of a cart. An extra shirt hung from the handle as if it had been nonchalantly tossed into a closet, only there were no other clothes in the space. Except for the shirt the area was bare one of the few places that had nothing hanging from it or packed within it. But it wasn’t his possessions that caught my attention so much as it was his dinner. For reasons unknown I felt drawn to him. Even a little compelled. I turned around, parked the car down the street and watched as life played itself out.

Walking over to the middle cart the man began removing carry out boxes of various shapes and sizes. Dumpster dinner was my guess. With great care he laid out a wrinkled newspaper; gently smoothing it as it touched the picnic table. He began to place the boxes on the wood in such a way that it appeared that he was setting up some great banquet for himself and seven guests. Then after putting each box in its proper place he opened it and said what appeared to be a blessing. Faith in its simplest form. I waited and wondered, “Would someone join him for the elaborate feast he was displaying?” but it appeared that I was the only witness.

He took his place by the first box on the left. Chinese. Probably beef and broccoli, mostly broccoli and very little at that. He stood up abruptly. Circled that table, shook his finger, and conversed with someone known only to him. Or maybe God. One never knows. Then he sat down at box number two which was directly across from his first entrée. About a quarter of a hamburger…lots of catsup. Wiping his face on his windbreaker he again abruptly stood up, circled the table, shook his finger and spoke aloud. Crazy. He must be crazy I thought. He sat down across the table from entrée number two and opened the Styrofoam lid. Unrecognizable. Lots of it. Isn’t that always the case.

Again and again the pattern repeated itself. The quick upright movement, circling the table, the talking and the sitting across from where he had just been. Crazy I thought again. But as I watched it occurred to me that from my perspective it was crazy but perhaps for him it was a necessity. It was getting cold. Maybe he circled the table to warm up as the cold food was going down. Maybe he wasn’t crazy after all. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. Time to go. There were other things to worry about.

As I drove home it occurred to me that I had not seen the man with anything warm. No warm clothes, no warm food, no warm blanket. Not even a warm conversation amoungst friends unless you counted the invisible character that dined with The Man that evening. I wanted to make sure he was warm. It felt important. Yet, not important enough to invite him to my house or give him a ride in my warm car. Instead I went to the garage and looked for the warmest sleeping bag I could find amongst all the junk that garages seem to collect. A picture frame, several broken toys and a bent fishing pole all crashed to the ground as I tugged the bag from its hiding place.

As I drove back I prayed that he was still there. Would he be surprised? Happy? Grateful? Irate at my assumptions? Would he sleep well that night?

As luck would have it there he was, a lone figure against the darkening sky. The wind softly blew the frayed pages of a small prayer book that he was reading. I had a chance to really see him before he noticed me. His curly red hair hung to his shoulders, his beard was thick. He looked up in surprise as I rolled down the window.

“Do you need a sleeping bag?” I asked.

His eyes twinkled and the skin around them crinkled as he smiled.

“No, I already have too much,” he replied. “I know it’s getting cold but, no, I have just what I need. Thanks.”

I rolled up the window and drove home. I bawled when I thought about the truths hidden within his answer. How could a man with so little have too much? How could a woman with so much have so little? Why were my needs so big while his were so small? Could contentment really be found in three shopping carts? Crazy, I thought. Yes, he must just be crazy. And with that thought ringing in my ears I pulled into the driveway and felt compelled to clean out the garage. It was if my life depended on it, a woman possessed; two dumpsters full. And as I worked I wondered, “ If the man could see me now what he would think?” but somehow I knew. "Crazy," he would think. "She must just be crazy."

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Importance of Believing

Reading the title you might think that this post is spiritual in nature and in some sense it is. Because when we really listen and believe what they are telling us we give to a person's spirit something far more valuable than just an encouraging word. We give them a gift. A gift which serves to strengthen one's self and the freedom that comes when we legitimize another's experiences.

I have been thinking about this lately. A wonderful adoptee and I have had a discussion about this and then today another friend whose son is adopted really brought this home to me. When our transracially adopted children come to us and say, "Jenny doesn't like me because I am Asian," we need to hear them and not discount their feelings with a "Oh I am sure she didn't mean it that way" knee-jerk type of response. Our kids know what they feel. They are there to witness to multiple playground interactions while we are not.

So the question becomes why would we choose to doubt our child rather than embrace their feelings and provide an opportunity for discussion? Why say in effect, "I don't believe you or "you are too sensitive" rather than "Why do you think that?" or "I am sorry you feel she doesn't like you because you are Asian. That would make me sad and angry too." And while on occasion our children may perceive things incorrectly I think that by giving the benefit of the doubt to them rather than giving it to a stranger we are giving them something much more precious...the knowledge that their parents are behind them and that our belief in them supercedes what we have experienced for ourselves.

I have met so many a-parents who have said that they feel like by "buying into this way of thinking" that they are teaching their children that they can whine and blame all the bad things in their life on adoption or their race. That they will develop a "poor me" mentality. That what their kids really need to realize is that everyone is "different" and that they need to stop focusing on that, be happy for what they do have and to get on with life. The problem with this way of thinking is that it teaches the child that they should not depend on what their senses are telling them. That they should not trust their experiences and that those "ahh-ha" moments when life clarifies itself right in front of you, are in fact, just illusions. Yet, by negating our kids experiences we are really just telling them that if they just look close enough at themselves they will realize that there is something wrong with them, the way they think, and how they interpret things. So instead of teaching our kids that there is something wrong with them why not tell them what they really need to hear, "I Believe You." Three simple words when spoken alone have little power but when said together have the power to change the world. While "I Love You" can sometimes fall short "I Believe You" never will. And that is because "I Believe You" really affirms everything precious and true about a person. It says you are trust worthy, you are accurate, you can trust yourself, and that your experiences are valuable in helping you determine what can and cannot be trusted; a valuable and perhaps life saving skill of you are not a member of the majority.

So this week, when someone of color tells you an account of something that has happened to them, look them in the eye and say "I Believe You." It's a gift whose price cannot be measured.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Bears...Oh My!

Today we went up to the cabin and took a hike. While walking we saw deer prints and a set of mountain lion tracks! It was amazing. Living in the city you sometimes forget that nature has her own way of doing things. And that bear, bobcat and mountain lions really do still roam free. Dave brings his huge walking stick when we go hiking. I am not really sure that it would protect us should a mountain lion pounce but at least it makes us feel like we have a fighting chance.

On our hike our son (age 5) looks over to his dad and says " Daddy you are brillant"
We just looked at each other astonished...where did he learn that word? So Dave says to him, "What does brillant mean?" and he relied "It means you can do many things well." By golly, I think he is brillant!

Friday, February 9, 2007

The One

Marriage is like baseball. If you are lucky you get to play in a few extra innings, you make it to home plate more than you strike out and you have many winning seasons. I was reminded of this tonight when a guy showed up at our door to take our daughter out. He was wearing a baseball cap; his ears sticking out from the brim.He looked nervous kind of like the rookie on the team who is up to bat for the first time. And as I watched him look at my daughter I knew without a doubt that he is not "the one." He's a pitch hitter until she finds the one who hits the grand slam. I suspect that just by looking at her face I will know that he is "the one."

I can only hope that she picks well. That she finds a man like her dad. A kind, caring and compassionate man who puts those he loves in the forefront of his life. A man who tries hard each and every day, a man that is smart, funny and intelligent. A man that she finds as hot 20 years into their marriage as the day that she met him. The kind of man with whom "the rest of your life" truly means just that, and who, when he envisions the future sees her in every scene. I hope she chooses a man who dares to dream big dreams and has the tenacity to make them come true. And I hope that they both understand that it isn't the World Series events that pull you apart but the thousands of annoying pitches that you have to take day in and day out and that if you don't have a loving and positive attitude during practice that eventually you'll get hit by a foul ball . Anyone can survive the majors but it is really how you handle the everyday minors that count. And I hope that when it is time for them to create their own team that they understand that it doesn't matter if you win or lose, it is how you play the game. For it is only with an abundance of kindness and giving more than you take that you get to walk the bases together instead of striking out of the game.

Copyright 2/9/2007 by Cheryl L. Dieter

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A Poem For Kylee

As my daughter enters her teenage years I am distressed to find that we are clashing more and more. At the same time, I am glad that we raised such an independent thinker who will go out an take on the world. I wrote this to let her know just how much she means to me and how proud of her I am. ('s the mushy part that she will just hate) I love you Kylee. If I lined up all the girls in the world and had to pick just one to be my daughter... after all these years, I would still pick you!

A Poem for Kylee By Cheryl Dieter copyright 3/9/02

More Than I Could Have Ever Hoped For

Once I wished upon a star at night

For a daughter like you... so beautiful and bright

A girl I wanted, she’d be oh so dear

We’d be able share our laughter and our tears

Then I was blessed when into our world you came

And luckily our lives would never be the same

So this I’d like to tell you now

A few words that tell you how...

You’re more than I could have ever hoped for

You’re more then I ever dreamed

A child so full of light and love

The world has never seen

You make this earth a better place

Than it’s ever been

Just because your light shines so bright

To welcome others in

And on that starry night I wished

To see you as you are

Kind and thoughtful, your gentleness

Seen shining from afar

You’ve taught me things I’ve never known

Like wonder and great love

How life was meant to be fully lived

Mixed with laughter from above

You’re more than I could have ever hoped for

You’re more than I ever dreamed

The twinkle in your eyes so bright

It’s loved by all who’ve seen

The smile you carry throughout the day

Has brightened many lives

And this I say to you my child

Life would be incomplete without you by my side

And so as I look back in time

I thank those stars above

For bringing me such a wondrous child

And the greatest gift - your love

So when we have our days

When nothing seems quite right

Just know I thank my lucky stars

Each and every night

For you’re more than I could have ever hoped for

You’re more than I ever dreamed

The concern that you show to others

And your helpfulness I’ve often seen

So when my time is over

I’ll thank the stars above

That I have spent this time with you

Experiencing your great love.

He's Yours

All good things must come to an end. The last part of the adoption journey is finalization day. It's the day when your adoptive child legally becomes yours and also becomes an United States citizen. However, all adoptive parents already know that our children were ours all just takes awhile for the judicial system to catch up with our hearts.

He’s Yours- A Finalization Story

By Cheryl L. Dieter

Copyright July 29, 2003

"I will not cry," became my mantra as we drove to the courthouse.

"You will not weep," I admonished myself over and over again as we climbed the gray granite steps to the building.

"I will not shed a single tear," I told my husband as the judge entered the court room.

Now, normally I’m not a crier but you couldn’t tell that to anyone who knew me for the last twelve months for everything about this adoption had made me cry. Absolutely everything. The day we got the call from Kathy that we had a son the tears started flowing. While pictures may say a thousand words hearing the sounds of, "I ‘ve got good have a son" was worth a million bucks. I cried as if I’d won the lottery ... because I just had.

I cried when the plane took off as we headed to Korea to pick our new son up. I bawled the first time I saw his beautiful face and tears of joy mixed with laughter ran down my cheeks when I first glimpsed his "stick ‘em up" hair. I sobbed when I first held him and fed him his bottle. I cried buckets when it was time to take Karson from his foster mother and I cried at the airport knowing that I was taking this precious boy from the only family and country he had ever known. I blubbered the first time he called me "Mama", during his first steps, and when his first tooth appeared, as well as numerous times in-between. In short, the last year had been an endless river of happy tears but today I vowed I wasn’t going to cry.

Not a tear was shed when the bailiff swore me in nor did they fall as the judge examined the paperwork, making sure that everything was in order. I didn’t cry when she asked me to tell her his name, what he liked to do during the day and what kind of baby he was.

"So far, so good," I concluded. It was then, just when I thought I was in the clear, that the judge sideswiped me.

"Now tell me what it has meant to you to have Karson in your lives," the judge said quietly. "Oh-oh," I thought as I bit my bottom lip to keep the tears in check; the judge had unknowingly just crossed the line. I looked up at her and with an incredulous look on my face reflecting on the fact that there were no words I could ever use that would adequately express what in the world this boy, my hopefully soon-to-be son, meant to me. Yet, we had made it this far and as far as we were concerned we were already a forever family. I knew I couldn’t blow it now.

"The sky is bluer," I suggested quietly, thoughts swirling in my head.

"Since we have had Karson the mockingbird is more melodious, the colors of the rainbow are brighter, and a baby’s laugh is sweeter," I replied, as my voice cracked and I bit down on my lip just a little harder; tears on the horizon and threatening to take me out to sea.

"The sunshine is a little sunnier, the grass is greener, snowflakes fluffier, and the wind whispers softer," I stuttered desperately grasping for the right words that would explain just how precious our son was to us. "Our love is deeper, our hearts are stronger, each minute is more miraculous, our joy more profound..."

"You need not say anything more," came the voice from the bench with a tear glistening in the corner of her left eye. And at that moment time stopped and the silence became deafening. And then, finally, the judge looked over her bench, a soft smile gracing her lips and declared, "He’s yours."

And with that pronouncement I did the unthinkable...

I smiled...

I laughed..

I jumped up and down...

We posed for pictures...

And later that night...

I cried.

Graduation Daze

I wrote this piece just after my son, Ross, graduated from high school. It was a wonderful experience to be able to share in his joy as he entered a new phase in his life. Yet, it was also sad. Sad because of the days I missed just having fun with him instead of worrying about doing this or that. Sad because I knew he was having to step out and make his own life and with this new sense of maturity he would be making his own mistakes and nothing I could do would protect him from what may come his way. I can only hope that he crafts a life that is meaningful to him, one that brings hope and understanding to others, and that he experiences more happiness than pain. That is my wish for him and for you.

Graduation Daze

By Cheryl L. Dieter copyright May 2001

I still remember it as if it were yesterday. Twenty laughing, giggling, squirming little boys and girls dressed in their finest, smiling ear-to-ear, as their parents slowly filed into the classroom for the big event. Each wore identical blue construction paper mortar board hats with long, blue, adult-sized gowns held up by safety pins, belts, and scarves of a multitude of colors and shapes. Anything and everything was used in a feeble attempt to keep those young feet from tripping over their hems towards disaster. I can still picture the slightly frazzled look on Mrs. Kern’s face, as she clucked at her brood to stay in line, as only a kindergarten teacher can do. While the temperature was beginning to rise outside, inside the classroom looked cool and crisp decorated in the school’s colors, blue and yellow. ABC’s practiced to perfection hung about the room, as did pictures of houses, dogs, and families. Plaster handprints of each child sat proudly at each desk, tied with a bow as neatly as a five-year-old can master such a skill. And in the center of the space, the numbers,2002,written in childish scribble and scrawl, filled the blackboard like a distant horizon. So big and close were those numbers, yet at the same time, so very far away.

With great fanfare the Pledge of Allegiance was recited and relief spilled over the innocent faces of the class. Kindergarten graduation, had at last, begun.

Amanda Abernathy... Benjamin Cook...a look of anticipation shone brightly on my son’s face. Ross Hosman...he beamed as his name was called. He stood still for a second, then marched confidently to the podium, took the microphone in hand, and told the crowd what he wanted to be when he grew up.

"A marine biologist," he responded so swift and sure of himself, "because then I could have a boat and go fishing every day of my life."

Then he quickly collected his construction paper diploma in one hand and grabbed my hand with the other as he jumped off the stage full of dreams for the future and with nothing to fear.

And now, twelve years later, here I sit on a hard steel gymnasium bleacher with hundreds of other parents waiting for graduation 2002 to begin. Some parents laugh, others pull hankies out of their pockets, and some wear an amazed look of relief that their child made it through high school at all. Yet, in all of us, I can see that silent lingering question that begs the answer as to where has the time gone, have we taught our children well, and will they be able to handle what life brings to their door?

Finally, the school principal calls Ross’ name and once again he strides confidently to the podium, just as he did so long ago. This time, as he collects his diploma, he is still full of dreams but has developed the maturity to have already let some go. No, he won’t be fishing anytime soon for there is work to do and bills to pay. The plaster handprints have long ago given way to greasy fingerprints on the door jambs, the result of a blown engine on the old Chevy. There is also no time left for a game of Duck...Duck...Goose! and the other simple pleasures of life. And yet, perhaps the biggest difference between that graduation of so long ago and today’s ceremony, is that this time, as he jumps off the stage into life, although he is a little scared, Ross no longer reaches for my hand.

Shifting Into Idle

I wrote this two years ago when Dave's Grandma was 94. Like many people her age she was finding it difiicult to take that path leading towards her "twlight years." These days Grandma is living in a retirement home, yet, she refuses to give into the idea that she will never drive again. I hope that when I am her age I will be as determined as she is ... it will make life much more interesting. In writing this story, I have taken certain liberties with the spoken word but the content remains true to Grandma's life. As read on Iowa NPR and as published on Heartwarmers.

By Cheryl L. Dieter copyright 2000

Everyone knew it was time for Grandma to stop driving. Everyone, that is, but Grandma. At 93 her health was deteriorating and she was beginning to forget things but these "insignificant" matters were not going to stop this Iowa "silver fox" from getting behind the wheel. If you think taking car keys away from a teenager is difficult you haven’t seen anything until you’ve tried getting them away from the over 90 crowd. Since sending Grandma to her room or withholding her allowance was not an option, we didn’t have much bargaining power. Not that we didn’t try. We cajoled and we nagged. Various family members even took her car keys but mysteriously another set would appear out of thin air. And amazingly Grandma could always find this new set even though she couldn’t remember which key actually started the car.

When the doctor ordered her to stop driving Grandma took matters into her own hands. "They didn’t require licenses when I started driving so I really don’t need one now." became her new motto and "If I can’t drive I might as well die," became, yet, another battlecry.

As determined as we were to get Grandma to stop driving, she was even more determined to keep her license. When it came time to renew her license, instead of asking a family member to take her to the Department of Motor Vehicles, she asked a neighbor; conveniently circumventing those of us who would have told the inspector not to renew it. In short, we soon realized that we were losing the battle of the car keys to a woman who had lived through four wars and the depression. In retrospect, it was hardly a surprise.

One particularly hot summer day, I called Grandma. When she answered the telephone she sounded so sad and forlorn.

"What’s the matter, Grandma?" I asked.

"I can’t start my car," she exclaimed.

"Grandma why were you trying to start your car? You know you’re not suppose to be driving," I said, about to give her the full lecture on the dangers of driving.

"Now before you get in an uproar and start telling me stories about dangerous old lady drivers who wipe out entire families who are on a trip to the ice cream shop, I want to explain," she snapped. "There are times that I need to feel like I’m still able to do the things I used to do. I need to feel useful and alive again. At those times, I take my keys and start up the car and sit behind the wheel and just let the motor run. I listen to the hum of the engine and remember the people I’ve seen and the places I’ve been. And sometimes, when I feel particularly daring, I take new turns and forbidden roads just to prove to myself that while I may be an old dog, I can still learn new tricks. You know, sometimes sitting in idle just letting your motor run is better than the trip itself. You should try it someday."

And you know, Grandma is right. Sometimes just sitting in idle and letting our motor run is the best the best medicine we can take as we drive down the crazy, fast-paced lanes known as the highway of life.

A Simple Life

I wrote this piece on our horrendously long (26 hour) flight home from Thailand. I had often debated with other sociologists about the negative impact that those from highly advanced economies had on "so-called" third world countries and their citizens. Boone's thoughts on the matter enlightened me in such a way that book learning never could. I thank Boone for putting things in perspective in my mind and for sharing with me those things of importance in his life. Boone is a good man and I feel priviledged to have met him.

A Simple Life

By Cheryl L. Dieter copyright 1999

Two years ago when my family moved to the Midwest, we did so in search of a "simpler" life. After burning the candles at both ends, we felt it was time to slow down. We wanted to have the time to stop and smell the roses, and to enjoy the "simple" things in life. I thought I knew what those "simple" things were until we met Boone during a mountain trek while in Thailand.
Boone was 33 years old then. Gracious and quiet, he used to be a sustenance farmer. In his village he eked out a meager living cultivating rice and growing vegetables. His was a simple life, yet Boone wanted more. He wanted more than to just sustain himself, he wanted to have some money set aside for a rainy day. So Boone gave up farming and he dedicated his life to learning how to speak English in an effort to improve his life. Now he leads jungle treks for foreign tourists who pay a lot of money to forget their busy lives and experience the "simple life" of the hill tribe people in Northern Thailand.

I got to know Boone very well on our two day trek and I think he got to know me better than he wanted to as he carried my pack for most of the trek. I would like to say that I lead the group due to Boone’s pack carrying generosity. I can’t. He carried my pack in hopes that I would arrive at the remote village sometime within the same week as the others in the group. Going straight up mountains and then straight down did terrible things to my knees and by the end of the day I was beginning to think that knee replacement surgery sounded like fun; if it involved being evaced out by helicopter.

That night while sitting around the campfire in the thatched roof village, Boone and I discussed his former "simple" way of life. I asked him about the concerns that idealistic academics have expressed about the hill people losing their culture and their "simple" ways of life due to the lure of money from Westerners.

"They think we have a "simple" life," said Boone. "Those people should try to live such a life. What is "simple" about trying to keep your children fed on a daily basis? What is "simple" about having no money for clothes or to send your child to school? What is simple about watching a loved one die because you cannot afford proper medical care?" Boone told me that everyone wants a better life, a color TV and a satellite dish so they can learn about and discover the world in an effort to improve theirs.

Early the next morning when the rooster sounded the alarm, as I lay on the grass floor, every muscle in spasm, I contemplated my "simpler" life. Money could not buy me a cool breeze when I desperately needed it on the top of that mountain. It could not stop my heart from racing nor quell an aching thirst. Yet, money was able to buy me something else. Understanding. An understanding of why people risk life and limb to come to the United States in search of a "simpler" life. Never again will I just listen to the put-downs of those who criticize our new citizens who haven’t yet learned their new language. Because for them getting here was the battle. The language is just a minor skirmish.

Isn’t it ironic that while the people of the "so-called" third world are attempting to "simplify" their lives many of us in the states are attempting to do so, only from the opposite end of the spectrum. In truth, maybe simplifying is really just letting go of old beliefs, allowing new possibilities to enter our lives and stopping to smell the roses. Or maybe, it’s as Boone said. Maybe it’s as "simple" as a new color TV, satellite dish and a little money saved for a rainy day.

Monday, February 5, 2007

All For One And Not For The Other

I think about my one son...caucasian, blonde and tall. I think about my other son, asian, dark and small. And I wonder how will there lives be different because we refuse to acknowledge how racism impacts every part of society. My Korean born son is as much my son as my other but when he steps out on the street he will be viewed differently, perhaps even suspiciously. The "face" that he wears will be that of the white person he has been raised as but the face that will be seen will be that of his ancestors. Worse, being raised as a Caucasian ( because after all that is what I am and I know no differently) he will be thinking white, acting white, dreaming white while the world will be thinking asian, seeing him "act" asian, and "allowing" his dreams to be not necessarily of his choosing but what is deamed allowable for someone of his "color." Society sees one thing, I see another. Society will tell him one thing, and I will tell him another. But in the end it is what he will tell himself that will matter. And all I can hope is that I have taught him that his worth is not determined by others but, rather, by what he decides is important and valuable. And may he always know that value is not determined by what others deem worthy but instead it is measured by how many times one keeps putting one foot in front of the other despite knowing the odds. It is a shame that he will have to wear out twice as many shoes for his walk through live than will his brother. But I am determined to make sure that his shoes provide a lot of support and cushion him when the load seems unbearable. It is the least I can do.