My Family Has A Language Barrier

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We have a language barrier in our house. Or we could call it a communication problem. It’s not new to me. I grew up in a household where there was a communication problem because of language, but I didn’t think it would extend to my adulthood.

Boris and Natasha, my two shyster cats, refuse to learn English so we can better cohabitate. I get tired of trying to decipher the tone of their meows. It is hit and miss. I think they’re tired of it too because as they get older, they’re stretching their vocal fold cords to new heights. I must not be getting their new commands right. In the early years, they were quieter, ignored us when we spoke to them, and yet we did what they wanted. Apparently, we were better trained ten years ago than we are now.

Early morning and late evening Boris sits by his bowl and glares at me. That means he wants to be fed. Natasha, on the other hand, gets my attention early morning by putting her paw on my face and waking me up so I will administer her a morning massage. We had our routines down. The minute there is a hole peeking through at the bottom of the food bowl, Boris demands vocally that we fill it. If they think we are going to forget, they open and then slam shut the cupboard door a few times to get our attention.

Lately, they have been directing us more often with their meows. We have a hard time figuring out the new things they want us to do. “There’s a mouse in the basement, let me down there.” We missed that one. The mouse is gone and the meows at the basement door has stopped.

“I want a treat, not my regular food.” as the meowing starts at another cupboard. And then of course, there is the… “You are sitting in my chair.” It took me a while to realize the meow at my head and the push at my back meant I needed to get up and let Boris or Natasha in the chair. The older they get the more demanding they are.

Boris saying, “I want my chair. Get up!“

I tried to teach Natasha to nod yes and no. After all, if my son could train his cat to use the toilet, I should be able to make my cats learn yes and no and to shake their heads. Natasha just blinked at me that she loved me, but she was adamant that nodding was beneath her.

I think of all the arguments we’re having about language these days. Recently, I saw a post that said if you’re going to live in America you needed to speak English. While I agree learning English may be a good idea, I thought of my grandmother.

My grandmother lived in America from the time she was 19 or 20. She never learned to speak English. I have no idea why. That’s what I mean when I say I am used to language barriers in my home. We lived with my grandmother. I never had a conversation with her that I could understand. For some reason, they never taught me Polish. I could understand a few words but that’s it. When my relatives would visit my dad and I would laugh because we couldn’t understand a word. I can’t say I was ever bothered by it because the one thing I did understand was that she loved me.

We are still having language barrier arguments all these years later. I wonder if some of what we are arguing about, only having people speak English, isn’t because of fear. I remember waiting on a couple of customers that spoke Spanish. They spoke English to me and then when talking to each other, spoke Spanish. I must admit I was a little fearful or paranoid because I had no idea if they were talking about me or making fun of me, or were planning something else. Media had put fear in my mind of a different culture. I no longer feel that way once I recognized it for what it was.

Different cultures view language different ways. Young people in other countries and now too here in our own, are learning to speak many different languages. I have friends whose children know how to speak Chinese because they went to language camps in the summer. Knowing each others languages breaks down barriers.

If you’ve ever had teenagers you know that may create a language barrier in your home. They speak teen-speak. The hard part is their language changes with each generation and now…it’s a language with letters and emojis. I can translate LOL but anything more my grandkids text me, I have to ask, “What does that mean?” I think I need to hit them with some shorthand or cursive, although my one grandson can read cursive.

I would like to think if we look someone in the eye and see them, really see them, the language barriers would fall away. If we take away the fear of insecurity of what we don’t know when they are speaking, maybe we wouldn’t be so judgmental.

As I grew up, I knew people who spoke Polish, German and a few other languages. They were the immigrants that were here during my generation. Not all spoke English. The argument was the same as it is now and so was the judgment. Guess what? We survived it and we integrated these people into our culture. I would not be here today, living in America if it were not for my Grandmother who never learned English. Yet in those days their culture was not accepted either.

My family kept their traditions alive by speaking their language and keeping close to the rituals of their heritage. Their roots were important to them. Perhaps it’s hard for those of us that were born in this country to understand that. It took me until my later years to get it as I sort through the things that were important from their native land. Though my mother was born in this country, her roots and heritage mattered to her. She never forgot where she came from and she never neglected to try and teach me their traditions. Sadly, I never realized the importance of keeping another culture’s heritage alive in family until she was gone

I find it exciting to learn about different cultures. The next time you eat Lasagna or Chinese food or take part in a tradition of another country, enjoy it’s richness. I am learning more about my Polish heritage and I am proud of it.

I think Boris and Natasha are proud of theirs too. I am sure Natasha is meowing Siamese and Boris is meowing Alleycat, and both are going to be stubborn and hold tight on keeping their language skills to meowing in their language. How lucky are we that our love for one another transcends those language barriers so we can bask in the purrs and blinks they give us on a daily basis.

Traditions, roots and culture remain important no matter what nationality we are, especially if it connects us to another country rich with history of our ancestors. It doesn’t make us less of an American to embrace our lineage.

Barriers can be created by closed minds and hearts. I am lucky love always won with my grandmother and my shysters. My life is richer because of it.

I Remember …

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Where were you when John F. Kennedy was assassinated? We have seen that question asked over and over again for those of us who are old enough to remember it. That was a big event in our nation’s history. In our own lives events might not be so monumental but yet they stand out as pivotal times in our lives that propel change. Each of us has those moments and these are mine.

Photo by ATC Comm Photo on Pexels.com

I remember somewhere around seven to eight years ago, going to Grandparent day at my grandson’s school located in a suburb of a large city. Sitting in his classroom I took note of the fact that the class was composed of many different races. In fact, I remember thinking my grandson was almost a minority in this classroom. This was a shock for this white woman from a small community in Southern Minnesota. I made sure I did not mention my observations to my grandson as he was oblivious to all of this. He hadn’t yet been made aware of the differences. All he knew was that they were his friends.

I remember attending a band concert at my granddaughter’s school during the time when suspicion and fear of Somali immigrants were high. I walked past a Somali woman with her head covered in her hijab and I too felt fear and suspicions because of what I had heard. I noticed there were more Somali parents with their children in my granddaughter’s school. Those from the community didn’t give them a second glance because they knew them and that was their normal, but I must admit because of all the attention by media and government, misinformation and haters, and no experience knowing a Somalian, I was afraid. Would we be in danger during the concert? I remember thinking I didn’t have this problem back home in my community. I felt comfortable and safe there.

I remember the first time I came in contact with a gay person. He was a friend of ours. We had known him for years but we didn’t know he was gay because he kept it hidden. He finally came out to us. It stands out in my mind that though we knew of this, someone decided they needed to point out to us that our friend was gay. They thought we didn’t know. Though our friend was our age he was also a friend of our daughters, and the person thought we should keep him away from her, and we should stay away too. They knew we wouldn’t want to expose our daughter to those things.

I remember the first time I met a black man. He was the husband of my best girlfriend from high school and they visited our home in our small white community. We didn’t have qualms about meeting him because if my friend could love him we would too, However, we wondered how our three-years-old and six years old would react and if they would say anything. They didn’t notice his skin was another color.

I remember the first time I met a Morman. The family moved to town and the husband worked with my husband. I was told by many to stay away from them because they would try to convert us to their ways. Some people shunned them. We gained loving friends and surrogate grandparents for our kids and religion was never talked about, though one of them was a leader in their church. Unless we asked a question they didn’t try to convert us to anything. They just loved us as family and spent many hours at services at our church supporting my children.

I remember when my relatives came to visit and stay for a few days when I was a teenager. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses. The flag went up with many of my parents friends. And my church at that time had taught me to be wary of the evil they may teach. I had already met them from a previous trip to visit them in California so all I knew was the love and caring of family, no matter the difference in religion.

I remember the first time I met a Transgender person. I knew them all their lives, however, I didn’t meet them as who they were inside until the last year because they hid it out of their fear of how we would react. They were family and my reaction when I finally knew, was love.

I wasn’t always tolerant of any of this. I would say in the past ten years I have evolved after a long hard look at myself, what I learned as a child, what I learned as an adult, and what ideals were actually chosen by me to believe, or what was planted in my head without thought and question and that included my religion and my belief in God.

I grew up in a religion that told you to believe and not question. I did that but was always silently not quite sure about what I was being taught. I came from a family where my mom was Catholic and my dad was Protestant. I was told I would go to hell if I believed or changed religions. I was never allowed to go to my dad’s church because it was a sin. We could go for the fabulous church dinners but never for the services. I don’t remember how we worked out attending funerals because we did do that when relatives on my dad’s side died. I wondered how all my relatives on my dad’s side could be going to hell because they were such good people. I wondered in my later years why would my mother marry someone she knew was going to hell because she really believed that. I finally did attend my dad’s church, for his funeral. How sad is it I missed all the years I could have attended church with him when he was alive if it wouldn’t have been for those preconceived edicts from my church at the time? It makes me very sad to think of that.

When I finally changed religions, my mother, to the day she died, told me I would go to hell and when she was in her dementia state she told me she should have disowned me when I changed religions.

I had a good reason for changing. I wanted to go to church as a family and when we got married the priest that presided at our wedding told my husband two things that really stood out during our counseling. The first was that he shouldn’t join the church because they had enough bad Catholics, and the second was that the Vikings were ***** rich and I can’t mention the racial slur here. That cemented my decision. I didn’t feel a man of God should speak that way of another race, or without knowing my husband, make the judgment that he would be a bad Catholic as I knew how strong my husband’s faith was having been through what he had been through in Viet Nam and being raised by a mother who had a strong faith.

I wish I could say that was the moment when I started to question what I totally believed in my life, but it wasn’t the aha moment you might think. It is moments over the years of questioning, experiences, and taking a hard look at myself that has gotten me to old age, and not without many mistakes and acts of prejudice that I didn’t think of as prejudice, and am ashamed of today.

I remember a former Catholic school member who became involved in a cult. This was one aha moment that began my questioning. He came to speak at my church to give us a little parenting advice. At that time I had two young children. When I heard him speak I asked him what I could do to protect my children. He answered, “Make sure they know what they believe and why they believe it.” I know I thought to myself, how can I teach them that when I don’t know what I believe totally either.

Life continued on and I worked on that advice but I switched to prejudice on a different front. If my children friended someone who didn’t have a good reputation I would not let them hang out. I will tell you now that it is the worst advice I could have given my children. Instead I should have welcomed those kids into my home and got to know them. You see, I listened to what everyone else was saying without giving them a chance and not making up my own mind. I am ashamed of that reaction and I try to do better now.

I began to notice in small ways the way prejudice seeps into our lives, even tiny little nudges in my own life.

I remember being told by someone I loved like a daughter, when she found a new religion, that she could no longer be in touch with me because I didn’t believe like she did. That was thirty years ago and to this day we have no contact, though I have tried.

I remember being told by a church council member when I gave an opinion on a decision waiting to be made to allow an LBGTQ support group to meet at our church, that I didn’t give enough money to our church to have my opinion count. My opinion was that if people felt the need for this group we should provide a place, but others did not feel that way and it was denied.

Recently a friend was invited to a girl’s get together. When asked if she could bring me she was told I wouldn’t fit in. I suspect because of my views on many of these subjects along with politics or maybe they no longer like me as a person because I do state my opinions and do not go along with the crowd.

I remember a letter I received from a reader when I started my column telling me how ugly I was and how I was ugly as a child and that I never had any friends. I kept the letter to remind me to try and never be like that.

In no way have I experienced what other friends and family have experienced because of their race, gender, or religious affiliation. In our culture, we seem to overlook the little slights that are there every day and accept them without thought. Little judgements in our own lives that are directed at us or those we throw out to others in the world erroneously that may pave the way for bigger ones

You might now be wondering or saying, “Get to the point.” It is this. I am a sum total of the parts of my past. I had prejudices I didn’t know I had until I was confronted with them. I have prejudices that are still there but I don’t see, especially if I don’t question what I am feeling or where those feelings about others or events came from, or why I make decisions that affect others’ lives.

I thought I knew what I knew until I didn’t, until life and experiences changed my perspective. I would have missed wonderful,caring relationships if I wouldn’t have been confronted with issues I was uncomfortable with, never given them a chance, and shown a different perspective.

This is my story and why what I believed has evolved over the years. I can’t imagine what life would feel like now if I hadn’t questioned, had held on to my rigid views, and boxed myself into a tiny world where I stayed in my comfort zone and there was no growth.

I can only hope that I can keep growing and learning no matter how old I become. I can only hope I still work on those prejudices I have buried inside of me, some that I see, acknowledge, and are working on, and others that will pop up as the world keeps changing. I admit I still judge harshly especially when it comes to hate and discrimination. When I feel judged by others I judge them back. I am a reactor and that is my first reaction. I boycott establishments where I feel employees don’t show respect for others by not wearing masks. I stay away from venues where I feel there is more judgment than welcome. So I too am guilty of the same thing I accuse others of. I know it’s not right but those human emotions are right there under the surface ready to rise up at any moment.

There is not an easy answer for me. Perhaps as in other instances that I mentioned, my perspective will change because of experiences as I will keep questioning and searching, and looking inside of myself to know what I believe and why I believe it.

I am not trying to change your mind on anything here, just sharing my story in the hope that during these challenging times you remember the words of my old school friend. “Know what you believe and why you believe it.” And also these wise words, The right decision is made out of love, not fear. —spiritual enlightenment

The Wisdom of Teenagers

Sprinkled Notes by Julie Seedorf Published in the Albert Lea Tribune on September 6, 2018

sprinkled ColumnMany kids these days don’t know the song called “School Days” written in 1907. I’m not that old, but my mom loved the song as she was a teacher. The first verse went something like this: “School days, school days, dear old golden rule days, readin’ and writin’ and ’rithmetic, taught to the tune of the hickory stick.”

Today I think the “hickory stick” would be considered child abuse if I get the meaning right, which to me meant if you didn’t behave you got the hickory stick. During the time I was in school, it wasn’t unusual for a nun to rap a child’s hand with a ruler — I was scared to death to speak in case the ruler would be directed at my hand. I know that is hard to believe since I am a chatty person but my parents at conferences always heard that I needed to speak up, raise my hand and answer questions.

In high school it wasn’t unusual for someone to have to bend over and grab their ankles if they were misbehaving, especially from one teacher. We all loved this teacher, and though it happened I don’t know that any hard feelings linger. It also wasn’t unusual to hear someone had been slapped or berated and yelled at in the principal’s office. And if those things happened, our parents were even tougher on us at home.

It is 2018, and the word on the old people street is that kids have changed. It is harder to teach because kids are more disrespectful, teachers can’t discipline and teenagers are out of control. I dislike when we lump all kids and teenagers together. I happen to love teenagers. They have always been my favorite group to work with. I love their honesty, how they keep us honest and real because they call us adults out occasionally in our behavior, and they do have wisdom beyond their years. Their world is much different than the world I grew up in. Teenagers today deal with social media, broken homes, academic pressure and also problems such as bullying, homelessness, LGBT issues, suicide, and stress.

One morning this past summer, I followed my church youth group’s media page as they traveled to the National Youth Convention in Houston, Texas. I was surprised and impressed with the posts of one young lady called Aly. She was very insightful, so I decided I wanted to know more about her interactions at this convention.

This is the post which caught my eye: 

Have you ever had communion @ mass with over 30,000 people? We have! day 5//we started off the day with Sunday morning mass, where we praised the Lord one last time with the ELCA groups from around the country. On the way to church in the morning, my mom & I met this amazing lady. She was originally born in New Jersey, but now lives in h-town. When my mom asked who she lives here with, the first thing she said with a big smile on her face was “no one, I travel with God”. I instantly knew this chat with her would be one of the most powerful things I will experience on this trip. We started off talking about how we were going to have a church service with over 30,000 young people who have come across the country. The conversation only developed & got deeper from there. Some things she said that has stuck with me are:
“I travel with God’s grace everywhere I go”

“We the people are the church, I take it w me everywhere I go”

“I just enjoy the fight (of life), if you don’t like the fight then you’re not gonna make it here very long”

“Anyone trying to take down your faith is the devil”

“I am the spirit of my dreams”

“You’ve gotta strut because Jesus is the only way in (to heaven)”

These are just a few. To most of you, this may just seem like this was just an ordinary small talk conversation. But it left both my mom & I in tears when my mom told her that I am her daughter, the lady looked @ me & said: “& shes your strength”. It made us both cry. but the EXTREMELY ironic thing about this conversation with this woman was that what she was preaching to us was EXACTLY what the speakers @ the youth gathering the previous night before were saying. The speakers just kept repeating how WE are the church & those were the exact words this woman said to us. She was so into our conversation she ended up missing her stop, but she was so content about it. She said, “That was God’s work, this conversation is happening for a reason”. @ that moment I knew I had seen God already that day. Another thing we told her was that a speaker the previous night had said, “We just need more love in this world”, but this woman told us that there is already PLENTY of love in this world right now, people just need to learn how to share it. This woman will leave an impact on me for the rest of my life

 

 

I decided to interview Aly. I asked why she chose to go to this convention. She explained her pastor wanted the youth to start helping people, learn more about themselves and God. Aly’s faith changed during confirmation classes, and her mentor was a big part of that. She learned that talking about faith wasn’t something to be ashamed of.

Aly didn’t know what to expect of the convention. The speakers had an impact. She stated, “There wasn’t a time I didn’t have goosebumps. We had speakers who addressed what we are going through in our lives and touch us every day, things we don’t address in our smaller churches and these problems are our world, too, and it helps us understand what is happening and how God connects us to love others.”

We don’t often have homeless people on the streets of Wells or Albert Lea. They are there but hidden, and that was one of the other takeaways for Aly from being in a larger city.

“People were on the streets with blankets and some had tents, just random people, women, and children, too. I learned to not be scared while doing some mission work. They aren’t bad people. They have suffered some bad circumstances.”

Aly is one teenager who chose to speak out on her learning experiences of that which is different and that which expanded her faith. There was 30,000 youth at this convention. Other churches have conventions and mission trips teaching teenagers of a different world than the one they live in. It expands their humanity, their world and their vision for the future.

When I asked Aly what else helped move her faith forward one of her answers was CRAVE. CRAVE describes itself as a party with a message of purpose. CRAVE was started after a friend of the co-founder died of suicide. CRAVE came to our community this summer.   One of the comments of one of the speakers still stands out in Aly’s mind. The statement was from a former drug dealer and he said, “My first job was being a drug dealer, and now I don’t deal drugs, I deal hope.” It reminded her people are going through struggles in faith, in living and relationships, and there is hope. She hopes to carry that hope into the future.

I like to listen to what teenagers have to say about the way we adults interact with them, so I asked what our small-town churches can do for our teens today. Aly suggested our small-town churches need to address the subjects our teenagers are struggling with today, which were addressed at the ELCA youth gathering.

After listening to not just Aly, but other teenagers, I feel we, as adults, need to address these issues from the pulpit and offer tools and support for them. We need to offer acceptance rather than judgment, so they feel the church is a soft place to fall in times of trouble — a community of all ages to guide them through their challenges. We need to not sweep what is happening in today’s society and what we perceive as large-city problems under the rug and never talk about the elephants in the room. We have the same issues in smaller communities; we may choose to ignore them because of fear or lack of understanding or hoping by ignoring they will go away.  Teenagers are not alien or bad; they are teenagers with vast wisdom — which may be different than an adult but wisdom non-the-less — and they want to be heard.

Teenagers may not always go about getting our attention the right way, but underneath the lashing out are real feelings. We need to see beyond the actions and hear the unspoken words. They are our future.

“We need space to discuss unspoken, uncomfortable dark truths.” —Janet Mock