Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cleaning Up For The Cleaning Lady!!! (On Rediscovering and Redefining My Tribe)

Knowing who you are, not one of my strong points.

Knowing where I come from, though, becomes clearer to me the more I travel away from it.  And perhaps, as I begin to travel back to it.

Back to the values I grew up with if not the physical locality.

How do you know where you come from if you don't know anything else?

On the other hand, maybe those are the people who already know who they are and don't need to travel around the world to find out.

I've been a chameleon my whole life.  A very bad chameleon.  I can get along with - and like almost - anybody.  I can become the group that I am with at the moment.  I can empathize with whoever I am with at the time.  (Within limits, I am seeing recently, within limits!)  I always saw this as a good thing.

In the Peace Corps they told us, though, that the people who do best in other cultures are the ones who know the differences between their culture and the one they are currently in.  The people who truly know who they are.

I have unintentionally morphed and changed with every culture - or socioeconomic group - I have joined.    This is probably a natural part of growing up and of finding yourself.  It's just amazing how long it is taking a woman who was supposedly gifted and talented as a student this long to find out about her role outside of academia.

Let me be clear.  This has nothing to do with money or with what your dad did for a living or how big your house was growing up.  It has to do with the expectations around you, who your parents and your neighbours and you, yourself, saw you as as you were growing up.  It has something to do with values - but that always comes across as so judgemental.   (let me just say this right now, and yes, I mean you N and C!, that if you are reading this, you ARE in my tribe, and I am NOT saying this to judge or offend you!)

It has more to do with expectations and who you really are as a result of what influences - yes, values, and morals and belief systems and expectations, and just not knowing that there was anything else out there but what was around you.

I am who I am today because of the values and expectations of the tribe of my childhood.

They say all of your values - the core of your belief system - are shaped before you are six years old.

That, for me, was a university setting in Germany with a young father who was studying to be a doctor and a stay-at-home American mother who had graduated Georgetown University with a degree in languages. 

My formative experiences were at uni.   The people my parents hung out with were uni students, crazy 70s psychology students, hippies, but still educated, thinking, adults. 

The move to well-off North Stamford (note the North, do they still do that there to distinguish ourselves from the REST of Stamford?!!!) came after a four year interlude living in the resident units at Stamford Hospital.  Sure, the neighbourhood was working class.  And the school was in a low-socioeconomic area where I got to meet - and get along with - people whose parents didn't go to uni and who had no expectations of going to uni themselves. 

But our immediate neighbours - international residents from India and South America as well as the USA - were all residents at the hospital.

These other people I went to school with were always other in my mind.  I only see that now.

My tribe.

I found - and still do - North Stamford  boring.  It is only now, from the scope of what I have experienced since, that I see it as a unique culture in the world, one that doesn't exist in the same exact form anywhere else.  22 million people in the NYC metropolitan region alone, a region that DOES strongly influence the rest of the world.  Forgive us our smugness, world trading goes heywire when we shut down due to the cyclone of a generation.

I remember going to a play put on by students at a prominent community center in North Stamford.  It was about the trials and tribulations of growing up and it was written by the kids.

The only song I remember was "Cleaning Up For the Cleaning Lady."  The kids were on their hands on knees (maybe not, but that's how I remember it NOW!), like the opening scene from Annie, where they sing "It's a Hard-Knock Life".  And they were whinging about how hard - and silly it was - to have to pick up your room, and your dirty clothes off the floor, because the cleaning lady was coming that day.  Very clever actually.

And, it seemed to me even at the time, that the adults in the audience all chuckled smugly at their precocious brilliant children and at their own ability to provide the financial means for this sort of lifestyle.
You can take the child out of CT, but you can't take CT out of the child!   Thanks Meka for the outfit.  Really, people don't wear plaid anywhere else in the world, except maybe for Scotland, Ireland....and CT!

In retrospect, good on ya mates!  You worked hard for it.  Especially since the audience consisted of refugees from Nazi Germany only a few decades before, people who had been robbed of everything, including the title of being human, and started over with nothing in a new country.

Maybe having a father with a German accent did make it harder for me to relax within the confines of my tribe in Stamford. 

So I grew up with trips to the Caribbean like everyone else I knew.  Although we didn't have a cleaning lady until later. 

We did have that room though, the white room in our house, where the kids weren't supposed to go.

And the expectations that not only would we go to uni, but we would obviously go to one of the best ones - really, people mocked my first choice, Cornell, as a safety school! - and become someone who would make a difference in the world. 

Getting ready for the Melbourne Cup next week!  (Election Day for you folks in the USA, good luck with that!)

Why do I feel as guilty about this as I do about that German accent?!

The truth is that my tribe hasn't judged me on my socio-economic status or my accent.  I do that to myself.

The truth is that my tribe accepts me because they understand me.  That they understand me because they share my same values and expectations.  And this goes beyond how much money we had growing up or what country we grew up in. 

On Friday,at our homeschooling playdate in the park,  I heard a woman saying that the goal of education should be to enable each child, irregardless of ability or circumstance, whether they are special needs or gifted and talented, or in the forgotten muddle in between the two, to reach their full potential.

It was like she was quoting me back to myself. 

And why should I still be feeling guilty about giving my children everything, about expecting the best, accepting absolutely nothing but the absolute best for them just because others are making other choices?

What is best for me and mine is not what is best for everyone.

But I am done feeling guilty for wanting more - and achieving more - for me and mine - just because others don't have that inclination or opportunity.

Sounds Matthew enjoys.  Freddie Mercury with Justin Bieber.  Sorry about that, mate!

It's not about the white room or the cleaning lady or the trips to the Caribbean.  Those are only signs of the opportunities our parents took advantage of to give us the best that they could. 

My dad was an immigrant too.  Within his own country.  His family left East Germany, as refugees, with nothing, when he was thirteen. 

Two years ago we were sleeping on mattresses on the floor and grateful for a roof over our heads during The Floods. 

Until less then a year ago Damon was a bartender.

What we DID bring with us was an educational background - and a lifetime of expectations - that allow us to make choices that better our lives daily.  We have more opportunities because we have been raised to have certain expectations for ourselves and for our children.

Thank you Tribe, for reminding me of who I am, of where I come from, and of what my values are. 

I will give my children everything, because I was given everything.

Even if we don't have a white room to keep them out of and even if I AM the cleaning lady.  Who by the way is very undependable, extremely erratic and always taking sick days when I am quite sure she is probably off somewhere typing away at her novel!



  1. Loving it, as always. I'm so glad you've kept up with the blogging, Christine. I nominated you for a blog award :) so stop by my most recent post to read about it. Keep it up!

  2. You rock Linz!!!! Sorrry about that! I was WIPED OUT from trying that November write a novel thing..the most awesome failure so far, as it turns out, on my way to my goals!!! turns out that I shouldn't try to find that extra hour right now - I really DO need 8 hours of sleep, or at least 6. BUt...did get some writing in and some more ideas and...all in all a great success and motivator! But no - not a good idea for right now...hope yours is going well though! Can't wait to read it - hint hint. I got so happy the other day thinking not only of you writing that AMOUNT of work but also knowing that - knowing you and your writing - it will be something WORTH READING! So excited for you! Thanks for the nomination too....I feel I owe it to some folks lately to increase the quality of what I post...less whinging, more positive!!!