Growing up “really” white.

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My childhood was not idyllic but it was safe, mostly fun and secure. Mom was more realistic than the ones on TV, she did a lot of cooking and baking, the knowledge of which she shared equally with all her children. My brothers and I could all sew on a button, take care of a garden, do laundry and clean the house. Dad had been raised by a mother who taught him he deserved to be taken care of by a “good woman”. His mother never actually liked my mother. One morning when I was about 15 and my mother was ill I witnessed his first attempt at making breakfast, at least he didn’t need  to call the fire department.

Growing up, mom often had to work to help pay the bills, so my brothers and I had regular chores; clearing the table, washing and drying the dishes and “making milk”. My grandmother used to get these boxes of food from the government because she was poor, she hated the “government surplus” so my mom bought her what she wanted and we got the surplus. That meant large bags of “powdered mild” which needed to be reconstituted and well chilled to be drinkable, if I shirked on this chore, it meant a lot of angry brothers having to put warm, lumpy, ‘milk’ on their cereal.

Discrimination was brought to my attention in High School when I learned that there were no sports teams for girls. Growing up with five brothers I was all about climbing trees, running fast, crashing bikes, baiting my own hook and anything else they tried. Deer hunting was I admit not my cup of tea. Title IX would come too late for me, but it has opened up a lot of possibilities for younger women.

Being the only other female in a family of eight, I shared many pots of tea with my mother, but not nearly enough. She was a wonderful woman who was very smart, could not be beaten at scrabble and loved to read. I did have that one brother who was always in trouble, but the rest of us were quite ordinary. We attended church every Sunday, whether we wanted to or not, we went on a lot of camping trips all over Wisconsin and mingled with the fun loving group from the ‘Old Car Club’, and of course my mothers’ side of the family, the fun side. No one could call us rich, but we sure led a rich existence.

Our parents loved each other and proved that opposites attract. Dad was racist and opinionated about it, pretty much all races, in that he did not discriminate. He did have other qualities, as none of us is all good or all bad. Mom was much more open minded and believed that looking at people as a group made no sense, every person was the sum total of their experiences and she tried to teach us in every thing she did.

It was 1971 when I became a freshman at the University of Wisconsin in Stevens Point. Up to this point I had only seen black people on TV, and we all know how messed up that was. The first students I met were advocates and part of the Black Student Coalition, minorities, of any kind made up less than 5% of the student body. In four years I never saw a person with a white cane or using a wheelchair. The more people I met the more I could see for myself how wrong my father had been. If he were alive today I am sure he would be a Trump supporter, and my mother would be there to cancel out his vote as she often did.

Years later in this story my new husband and I would become Foster Parents, for mostly selfish reasons, and embark on another incredible journey. Many of the kids we helped had similar stories, the color of their skin was not the defining issue, poverty was. Children raised in poverty, hunger, homelessness do not have any boot straps to pull themselves up with. Many of them have the clothes on their backs, they do not have family like I did. We were not rich but we always knew there would be food on the table and clothes and shoes and most importantly that we had a home. Imagine if that were all taken away, would your life be the same if you worried every minute of every day whether you would have any food or a warm place to sleep. How dare we expect children who have nothing, to grow up undamaged. Children deserve to be nurtured and secure.

Fostering kids taught us a lot, racism is destroying the lives of so many children. They go to church and hear that we are all children of god, created equal and then they leave and go into the real world where they are bullied, looked down on and discriminated against. One birth mother of a foster child asked if we would adopt her daughter. When we said yes she was relieved, she had feared that no one would want her daughter because she was biracial. That did not mean she would have an easy childhood, schools do not do enough to protect children from the ones who’s parents taught them to be racists. Racism is learned but it can be unlearned.

Perhaps the one thing I would change would be to Home School all of them. Imagine how much more they could have learned had they not been tortured daily, for being adopted, for having learning differences or for the color of their skin. They survived pretty well, but as a mother myself I still wonder how much better it could have been for them. What could I have done to ease their burden?

Students with disabilities are bullied and marginalized more than most minority populations, so if you happen to be a person of color with a disability and you live in poverty, as most do, you have everything stacked against you. Your only hope is to go to a school that sees your potential and nurtures it. The dream of every child in school.

Whiteness shaped me, but it was nurtured by a mother who was color blind. She understood cultural differences and that there is no such thing as race. Her faith was strong and she believed that we are all members of the human race. Being white in our case was a European thing, Americanized Polish/German cooking and lots of tea with milk and sugar, by the pot like the Brits, with wonderful things we all learned to bake.

Mom could not prepare me for the hair thing. Although my daughter is 3/4 white, her hair is all black and I wish someone had explained what I was supposed to do with that. Twenty plus years later there are tutorials for everything and curly girls websites, but there was nothing when she was little. Okay so that’s two things I would change. Thankfully she met a wonderful friend freshman year in high school who would teach her many things and welcome all of us into her family.

There are so many things that can influence a human being on the journey from cradle to grave, culture is one of them, but don’t forget respect, and a little of it goes a long way. My mother  lived a life of perseverance,  she carried on in the face of great challenges and adversity, neither losing her faith nor her sense of humor.I hope that the same can be said of me some day, it makes me happy to be compared to her.

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I’m the baby in the picture with my parents and three older brothers. June would have turned 88 this month, she died 16 years ago but the dementia took away 7 more, okay three things, at least, but who’s counting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Blogger — physdisco

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My name is Whitney and I am an artist at Indigo Wings. Photography has always been a passion of mine and I attended a small University to obtain a degree in Graphic Design. Photoshop allows me to take my pictures to a different level, expressing the hidden elements and highlighting detail that I feel […]

via Guest Blogger — physdisco

Guest Blogger

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My name is Whitney and I am an artist at Indigo Wings. Photography has always been a passion of mine and I attended a small University to obtain a degree in Graphic Design. Photoshop allows me to take my pictures to a different level, expressing the hidden elements and highlighting detail that I feel deserves prominence. It also allows me to express my true self in ways that would otherwise be impossible.

As a baby I was exposed to alcohol and drugs while my mom was pregnant with me so my developing brain had to adapt.  I have an anxiety disorder, depression, a closed head injury which resulted in a severe right hemispheric dysfunction with Obsessive, Compulsive tendencies and Fibromyalgia. They affect me daily.  I second guess myself a lot.  Ordering a pizza or calling to set up appointments can oftentimes seem insurmountable. Even talking to people on the phone, I constantly feel judged.  With OCD I get stuck in a loop of thoughts and I have to work to get out of them. Depression is something I live with every day. My bad thoughts can overwhelm me but I am working to get through them. Some days it is just a complete struggle and it lasts all day. Situational depression can be cured, I wish I had that. Please don’t ask me “how long it will be until I’m done”, working on it.

Crowds are usually overwhelming, and by crowds I mean any group of two or more people. My anxiety has cost me opportunities in those situations. I know that you can’t always avoid those situations but they still make me feel uneasy, at best and total panic at worst. Fibromyalgia causes me pain every day. The amount of pain varies but it adds to my worries about the future.

Indigo Wings has helped me find a place where I can be creative and express myself. I am not very good at interacting with people in social situations.  Being able to talk and interact with people online is easier for me. Volunteering to take on the role of managing Indigo Wing’s social media was good for the organization and for me. This is another way that I can contribute that is in addition to my art. It helps me feel like I am being a productive part of society.

Full time employment has eluded me. Many work places have really fast paced environments and that can get overwhelming for me. While I am a hard worker, sometimes it just takes longer for me to complete tasks. Wanting to work and being able to find the right environment for me has been difficult. I worry that I will never find a place that can accommodate me.

Sometimes I dial myself down because I’m worried that I will be too much for people. I worry that people won’t like me, but I am working to accept that I don’t have to change myself to please other people. Even when I was young I did not like to bring attention to myself, I just want to blend in.  I dealt with bullying early on in my life, being biracial and adopted into a white family. People would always ask why I was adopted. Some people even said that my birth mother didn’t want me. That was not the case. My birth mother struggled with alcoholism and an addiction to drugs. She knew that she was not well enough to take care of me so she chose to put me up for adoption, she even chose the family. I had visits with her over the years but she passed away when I was 9. I still miss her. I wish I would have been able to know her as an adult. I wonder what she would think of me.

Race has been an issue for me as long as I can remember. My mother was Caucasian and my father was Caucasian/African American. I was unsure of my identity for a good chunk of my life. I wasn’t white enough and I wasn’t black enough for some people. I didn’t know where I fit and that’s all I wanted, was to fit in and not get all this attention. I didn’t like being questioned about my race. I was told by multiple people that I had to choose one race or the other and I could not be both. I did not want to pick one or the other. So it I questioned my identity and wondered if I would ever fit in.

A lot of kids would make mean comments and bully me. I remember being at a park after I finished a soccer game and a boy on the playground made fun of me and said I looked like a boy. I hadn’t even talked to him yet. I felt really bad about it for a long time. Looking at old pictures I can’t see what he saw. He was just mean for not reason.  I got called ugly and teased for the way I talked.

Middle school was really tough for me too.  That is when I started cutting myself. This went on until my senior year of high school. Even after that I had some slip ups over the years. When I was young I felt that my choices were limited, I have learned that is not the way to solve problems and I realized that I was affecting people more than I knew.  You can’t hide something like that for long. Wearing long sleeves and pants was a way of covering it up.  I tried to hide it but some people saw the wounds and scars.  I felt a lot of shame.

In high school l was cyber bullied and the girl said that she would get her cousins from another school to come to our school and beat me up. I finally showed my mom the conversations but I was scared to. From kindergarten to 12th grade I was bullied. I was quiet and kept to myself. I was nice to everyone I met but people would still mess with me. I didn’t tell my family and friends the full extent of the bullying that was happening. I just kept it inside and kept it to myself. I did not want to burden other people with my problems. I felt angry and really sad. I was super depressed for a long time and felt I was really ugly. I still struggle with depression.

Over those years I had attempted suicide multiple times. I felt like life was not worth living and I was not important to anyone. I had so many pent up emotions and I did not know how to control or deal with them. It’s so hard when you feel a lot of despair to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just felt like it was never going to be better. I felt hopeless, even though I had some friends, I was afraid they would leave me if they knew how messed up I was.

Finally finding a good therapist after so many failed attempts, I have realized that there is hope. Things do get better and I am glad I’m still alive. My closest friends and some special family members stuck with me and helped me see that suicide was not the answer. Sadly, there are so few good community mental health services, some people never get the help they need. My mom fought with the ‘gatekeeper’ of insurance coverage for behavioral health services so that I could keep trying to find people who could really help me. She was told many times that I should not be allowed to choose my own therapist. I am happy that she kept fighting.

My birth mother died of the complications of alcoholism when I was nine, but I have had a good relationship with her family and especially her mother and father (who passed away last year). My parents encouraged this relationship because they understood how important it would be to me.

While I struggled with strong emotions growing up and my baby brain had to rewire itself to allow me to function, I feel all of this has contributed to who I am as an artist. The way I see things is different than anyone else I know and I have the talent to give others a glimpse into my world, not everyone can do that!

The Dream

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Once upon a time, on the shores of Lake Michigan, a little girl was born to a family with three boys (two more boys would join later). These children had loving parents and many adventures. While they never traveled the world, nor any of the contiguous states, they did a lot of camping, which to them was enough. They all graduated from High School but only one graduated from University. She married a Naval Officer, and did get a chance to travel the world.

There is a vast difference between a small town in northern Wisconsin and  San Francisco or Honolulu, or Tokyo but there are also similarities. While traveling the world she did notice, thanks in part to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, that the people of Tokyo were similar to people she grew up with. Tokyo is after all made up of neighborhoods that are made up of people, good and bad, but mostly good. Just ordinary people who are all trying to figure out their purpose.

The marriage didn’t last, so I won’t bore you with the gruesome details. Falling in love again didn’t take long and the new couple went about the business of figuring out their purpose. The husband had that figured out pretty well, after having broken his neck at wrestling practice in high school, trying college and finding out that the world was not too hospitable for him and his wheelchair (circa 1960 something) he and some friends formed an organization to “fix” the access problems of people with disabilities. Society’s Assets was born and was well established as an Independent Living Center when he moved on to a policy position with the state.

Working for a nonprofit, she was learning firsthand how so many people with disabilities struggled to gain access to a society that sometimes feared them and often ignored them. Also, that people who have disabilities are just like those who don’t, they have hopes and dreams, and being in Wisconsin, they also like to party!

During this time they talked about starting a family, of course they exhausted the conventional methods for some time and finally consulted a fertility expert. If you were expecting that his broken neck was the problem, you’d be wrong. They did a bit of grieving and got on with busy lives. He perhaps better than she at the business of accepting and moving on, comes with the territory when you suddenly find yourself paralyzed at the age of fifteen.

They decided to become Foster Parents, they had a lot to offer to children, and there were plenty of children in need. The first child had been severely neglected, to the point that she no longer cried, having learned at the ripe old age of six months that a  cry would yield nothing. Yes, she learned to cry quite quickly and with the help of her new extended family of friends with all different disabilities she began to flourish. There were more, the story of the first recovery led to more children who had been abused and neglected, twenty in ten years.

Most of the children were neonatally exposed to alcohol and drugs so they had varying degrees of issues to contend with. Imagine you were born via C-section after only 28 weeks gestation, weighing only 1 pound 3 ounces and addicted to Crack. Good news, NOW it is widely accepted that babies need to be tested for drugs at birth and treated accordingly. Not the case for this child, side note, white females are the most likely to survive these circumstances, and she was and is a fighter.

The ‘family’ of friends with disabilities taught these children many valuable lessons; believe in yourself, dream big, open your heart and mind to all the possibilities and especially, that all people have value. Their dad was so proud to pull a modified bike cart full of the youngest while those who could ride bikes safely followed along. Babies and toddlers we dealt with, equipment modifications aside, you love them, expose them to as much stimulation as they can tolerate and allow them to become whatever they can dream of. Was it easy? Short answer, no. Was it worth it? Absolutely!

Foster Parenting ended after ten years when we decided it was time to focus on the six children we had adopted. School was a constant struggle, there were some really great people like Rita S-Z who was always there even when she didn’t have to be. There were some truly misguided ones as well, like the assistant principal who chose to ignore the diagnosis from the Waisman Center. Graduation was equal measure pride and relief.

Along the way, we traveled with as many of them as possible. Our first love was camping, mostly in the beautiful State Parks in Wisconsin and on some longer journeys. Not that their weren’t other adventures, traveling by plane was a nightmare that usually ended in the airline damaging the wheelchair or sending it to the wrong city. There were some flights that went pretty smoothly, by our standards, often to D.C. for NCIL meetings. Most of these children knew the Smithsonian like the back of their hand. They are better for the experiences and because of all the people with disabilities, from other parts of the country and world they came into contact with who lived extraordinary lives.

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Our children are now in their 20’s and 30’s, still trying to find their purpose, much as their father and I were at that age. Last year I thought I had rediscovered mine, I launched a nonprofit Gallery and Studio so that people like my children could come together with others and help support themselves while building a community of artists who have talents and disabilities. During the past year we have met some extraordinary individuals, both artists and art lovers.

Indigo Wings Inc. opened it’s doors in late 2015 and it has been a rocky road. Our space is nice, it’s the location that is a bit of a struggle to find. It is the best we could afford being largely self funded, but not the best for visibility. We will try to keep going but there is no guarantee.

We have been so lucky to have met so many amazing people who have influenced our children in so many positive ways over the years. As we get older, we have lost some, others have moved away, but the impressions they made on all those children they helped raise are part of the people they have become. I wish more children could be exposed to that rich a childhood. People with disabilities matter, diversity matters, tolerance matters. We are all citizens of the world and how we live our lives matters.

Indigo Wings Gallery & Studio

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This time last year I don’t remember if it was snowing, like today. I do remember being neck deep in paperwork, hurriedly filling out state and federal forms bolstered by the excitement that I was fulfilling a dream. At the time, I had no idea that there would actually be a physical location with “Indigo Wings” above the door before the year was up. What started as the realization of a decades old dream was now a reality, a stark reality.

Visions and dreams often are a large measure of possibilities and some small measure of reality. This was the first dream I had dared to invest my heart and soul into and on a good day I am so grateful for all we have accomplished. There are sixteen artists who bought into this vision and whose creations grace the Gallery walls, tables and windows. Individuals who’s backgrounds exposed them to beauty and pain and that combination has inspired their creations. If you have been following this blog you have read about some of them. There are more stories to tell . . . perhaps another day, when I am more hopeful about the future.

Reality alas has reared it’s ugly head. All my efforts at fundraising and publicity have not worked out. The art is here, very few people have actually seen it. We have a website https://www.indigowingsinc.com,  it has a Donate button that has never been used,. There is a Facebook page “Indigo Wings Inc.”, also an unused Donate button. There was the Ignite Madison speech, reprised at Nonprofit Day, a video containing an impassioned plea, both of which are still somewhere on Youtube. It’s really hard to compete with kittens and cute kids on Youtube. We did try the cute kid angle, alas, I am no better at getting my grand daughter to do as I ask as I was with my kids at that age.

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Then there is this blog, I know I need to invest more time in it, I just can’t find any. No matter how many webinars I sit through, insights gained and tried, I have still failed to get the message across. This reminds me of my first marriage, which ended in divorce and people telling me they knew I shouldn’t have married him but didn’t want to say anything. They were right, I probably wouldn’t have listened, I was as full of hope for the future then as I was at this time last year.

Back to reality. We come in every day, hopeful, and on many days no one else does. Some times a curious individual comes in to “see” what is here, loves what they see, and then leaves. These artists create beautiful objects that need to be seen to be appreciated, but they also need to be purchased, or I have failed. Honestly, despite what you may have heard, I do not bite and if I talk too much, just tell me, and I will leave you alone, or perhaps make you a cup of tea.

We are located at 4601 Monona Drive, Suite 102. (across the street from Rocky Rococo Pizza). There are a number of artists who work on special commissioned pieces so call 608-286-1222 or email indigowingsinc@gmail.com and we can connect you to an artist.

 

 

 

Quad Cabs loses another cherished member

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Dan, Ed Roberts, considered to be the father of the Independent Living Movement and BobSCAN0097(edit)

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Once upon a time there were three great friends, they had similarities and differences, as all good friends do, but mostly they had great adventures. Each had become a Quadriplegic under different circumstances. There may be better ways to describe this transition, but the reality is that they each excelled at being Quads, much the way Aaron Rogers excels at being a quarterback.  Sorry, Bob was not a football fan so I had to say that. They each experienced different accidents; Al, the eldest, diving, under the influence in shallow water (he had already raised one family); Dan, the middle child, at wrestling tryouts, practicing takedowns, in High School; and Bob,  shot in the neck by a friend who was “playing” around with  a gun, also in high school.

This could be a very sad story, except that it isn’t. They all became forces to be reckoned with in the Disability Rights Movement. Al passed away a few years back but not before he had made his mark, raising awareness where it was needed. He fought for alcohol and other drug abuse services for people with physical disabilities and offered his services by speaking to high school students about the dangers of drinking and driving and/or diving. He was already a parent but became an even better grand and great-grand parent.

Dan, having been a quad the longest (not that anyone was counting), became an advocate for people with disabilities, co-founder of an Independent Living Center, family man, grandfather and the last to get his driver’s license.

Bob too made his mark in the Independent Living Movement as a service provider and as an advocate. Access to Independence was where he did some of his best work, well except for his card playing and Trivial Pursuit. He and Al could drive, they had accessible vans and they all enjoyed recreational shopping, one or the other would pick up Dan (who as yet could not drive), and Quad Cabs was born. Shopping usually involved lunch and several hours, at first all three in one van. As the vans got smaller and wheelchairs got bigger,  they had to travel in two vans.

Many years ago, possibly 1983, the Quads decided to go to Washington D.C. for a National Council on Independent Living Conference. Bob had the van, it had a lift but no joystick (not invented yet) and somehow we decided we needed to drive straight through. Six people, three in big power wheelchairs, luggage and all the “stuff” we needed, jammed into a van. The only one’s who got out were the three wives/partners, one to pump gas, another to empty leg bags, and one to feed the captives. There were a lot of jaw dropping expressions as we repeated this procedure again and again. Sound dreadful? Absolutely the most fun I have ever had on a road trip!

Bob was the most entertaining of course, he would get “weak in the knees”, his explanation of this phenomenon was so funny that we were entertained by it the rest of the trip, suffice it say the outcome could have been disastrous and odorous, which made it all the funnier (you had to be there). Bob was also a fairly tall guy, not so much taller sitting, just legs that went out a long way. When he laughed really hard he would literally double over and need to “suck wind” to right himself, which only made everyone laugh more.

While in DC he and Teri had an excursion into the Subway, because someone (Dan) told them how great it was and they just had to try it. We took the van back from dinner in Dupont Circle or possibly Georgetown and Bob and Teri entered the subway. Several hours later they returned to the hotel having experienced several elevator “out of order” signs and after being convinced they should ascend via escalator (a two story monstrosity) only to have it break down half way through the journey. A cell phone would have been nice, also not invented yet. Bob retold that story many times over the years and it got funnier every time.

The Quad Cabs crew went camping, that always involved a lot of card playing and hiking. They all carried copious amounts of firewood, sometimes dragging entire branches behind their chairs, connecting tarps to keep the rain away from the card games (most of the time). We started doing Foster Care, Bob and Teri made Ben (sorry Ben), Al reconnected with the love of his life and our lives got infinitely more complicated. Most of us continued to camp, just not together all the time.

Bob and Al, Best Friends Forever . . .1b87ea12041c124834707943e3fd20af

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They each had their brushes with death, so very close, so many times but, they had many more adventures. To say that they have each lived a full life would be an understatement. Dan is left to carry on the spirit of Quad Cabs, and like Al, Bob will be missed. It is painful for those close to him now, in time his spirit will once again remind us of how much pure joy he shared with the people he came into contact with.

I promised that this wasn’t a sad story and it isn’t.  Bob was so much fun, and he knew how to push buttons (which he often did). Those card games were more about the fun than the cards. Bob/Teri introduced us to Hot Cocoa with a scoop of Ice Cream, still the best way to do it. Bob and Al had an answer for every question in Trivial Pursuit, it was, Johnny Horton. One time, to everyone’s surprise, they were actually right. We all laughed so hard.