We are reaching the three month mark into our hosting adventure. The excitement and newness of it all has worn off, routine has settled in, and unexpected challenges have began to surface.
Being that we are an otherwise dependent-free family, becoming parents to a teenager has made us more aware and critical of every last message being delivered to our kid, whether it is via the culture we have brewed as America or our own personal biases built within the experiences we have had as a multi-cultural American family. It has been challenging to balance-out the freedom of an authentic experience, while also providing her with information she needs to navigate said experience, wholly. We want her to have her own thoughts and make her own discoveries, but we are also fully aware of the fact that half if not more what she is exposed to daily, isn't wholesome messaging, has varied purposes, and carries a privilege that needs to be acknowledged. With that in mind, I never could have anticipated how difficult it would be to give her intellectual autonomy.
Some of the pervasive messages I notice the most and lead me down the path of information overload are typically around beauty standards, including assigning moral value to food, fear mongering around body size, and a plethora of confusing pseudo-empowering but limited to specific definitions of femininity. It's not limited to the media she consumes or what is flashed infront of her, but also through the people she interacts with who have been exposed to the same half prespectives and believe it to be true. Living in the South, there is also plenty of purity culture that instills shame and secrecy around anything even remotely of a sexual nature, never mind acknowledging intersectional identities or recognizing gender constructs. Then, of course, living in a state that is one of the original colonies, there is the topic of erasure of complete history, a harsh truth I have personally faced as an immigrant woman of color. There are so many topics that present themselves from what are otherwise normal situations too; pumping gas, doing dishes, walking the dogs, etc.
"Why can't you just let it be what it's going to be?" an acquaintance recently asked. It was hard for me to answer that shortly of course. Who am I to rely on for providing all available information, so that she can have a truly rounded experience of what America is? While localized to one small semi-rural town, in one of 50 recognized states? If I have information that varies from what she's getting otherwise, is it not my responsibility to offer it? Present it as wide as it exists? Admit personal bias too, so as to allow her to see the patience, grace, and curiosity one must personally move around the world with? I can't let things "just be"- how will she be prepared or nurture her critical thinking skills? How will she know it's okay for her to follow or deviate from the paths set infront of her, because she gets to decide? Background, points of reference, multi faceted information is necessary... right?!
While some of her friends have jokingly called me "Mrs. Teacher" and others now outright cut me off when I begin a lecture-like answer for "can I have some water?" I truly try my best to just "let it be" a lot more often than it actually happens; for while fetching the glass for the water, I will be "thinking out-loud" about the corporate giant bottling up spring water on native lands and selling it to the public for 200% profit on the ounce (don't fact-check me on that one, its just an example)... and next thing you know, the friend will scurry away with the glass avoiding any and all eye contact. Ha! at least I put it out there.
Perhaps in a couple more months, I will run out of historical references and additional points of discussion to work-into every "how was your day?"- but I doubt it. Christmas is coming and we are after all, a consumer based society in a capitalist structure.