Poetry: A World Like This

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Winnie the Pooh
and Tigger too
couldn’t have dreamed
of a world like this.

A world where kids
stay doped up
on Ritalin and Prozac,
while drug dealers
work the swing sets
and slides
of a local playground.

A world where kids
with guns and the will to kill
run the streets
with cold, hard eyes –
their consciences seared
by the flames of abuse
and neglect.

A world where the innocent
pay for the crimes
of the guilty, and justice
has become a four letter word.
A world that I once loved
but now only seek
to escape.

No, Winnie the Pooh
and Tigger too
couldn’t have dreamed
of a world like this.

But the funny thing is,
I think our dreary friend
Eeyore
saw it coming
all along.

(Poet’s note: This poem was written back when I was a foster parent, inspired by much of what I saw in the lives of the kids I took in. This is not meant to be a strictly anti-psych-meds poem, but unfortunately, I saw many of these kids unnecessarily or overly drugged just to keep them quiet or avoid dealing with the effects of their trauma.)

I Miss Having Kids Around

Today my husband and I went to go see one of his students dance in a special recital:

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Seeing all the cute little kids dressed up in their costumes and dancing made me really miss having kids around. I used to be almost constantly surrounded by kids between foster parenting, volunteering with the kids at our old church, and working in the school system as a teacher’s assistant/aide. My favorite age of kids to work with were always the younger ones, 3-4 years old to around 6 or 7, although I bonded well with kids of almost any age.

At this point, I don’t know if my physical/mental health will ever consistently improve to the point that I can do those things again, but I miss them. I am thankful for the experiences and memories though.

Mental Illness Labels : Alphabet Soup Poem

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Yesterday I commented on a post by blogger Myloudbipolarwhispers about mental illness labels. In the comment, I explained how one of my foster kids once had a therapist who talked about the dangers of “alphabet soup”, which is when people start collecting so many labels (ADHD, ADD, ASD, PTSD, SAD, OCD, DID, BPD, RAD, and so on and so on) that they lose sense of themselves as a person or even worse, those treating them lose sight of their humanity and just see them as a list of diagnoses.

I shared in the comment that I even wrote a short poem about “alphabet soup”, which ended up in my book about foster care (From Both Sides). Myloudbipolarwhispers mentioned that she would like to see the poem, so I figured I would just share it in a post here, since it definitely fits the themes of this blog:

Alphabet Soup
By: Maranda Russell

Some good old-fashioned RAD,
a touch of PTSD,
just a hint of OCD,
a generous helping of ADHD
and a pinch of ODD
to taste.

Add it all together
and what do you get?

Alphabet soup…

and a kid
made entirely
of labels.

Admit that you can be prejudiced…

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I know this is a sensitive subject, but I want to be honest about it. First off, I know that the last thing anyone wants to admit to is having a racist or prejudiced thought. For some reason, we think that if we have a wayward thought or idea about this subject even once in a while that it automatically puts us in the company of the KKK or other hate groups. However, I believe that if we live long enough, all of us will have at least occasional prejudiced/racist/stereotypical thoughts or ideas. It is unfortunately a part of living in the culture we exist in. By pretending that we never have these ideas, we are actually making the problem worse, not better. If we could identify our prejudiced or stereotypical thoughts and recognize them for what they are, then we could consciously decide to change those beliefs and ideas. That is the way we could really get rid of the damaging effects of prejudice.

For instance, most of us have at least some stereotypical beliefs. Even positive ones (like that Asians are all super smart or that African Americans are better athletes) are still stereotypes. I admit that I occasionally have stereotypical beliefs, so when I do, I have to consciously grab them and think them through to decide whether they are really true or not. For instance, watching the news makes it easy for me to think that all conservatives look down on the poor and are greedy. Of course, this is not always true, but it is a stereotype I see frequently. On the other side, I know many people stereotype liberals as being wimpy and lazy. The trouble is that most of the time these beliefs are not critically analyzed and we only look at one side of the story (the one we happen to agree with). We are all victims of bias and perception, but we refuse to see it.

As a child, I honestly do not remember prejudice or racism. I grew up in an urban Indiana neighborhood that was very much a melting pot. My elementary school was probably at least 50% minority, although back then I never even thought about that kind of stuff. My mom dated guys outside of her race and for a while one of those guys was like a second father to me and lived with us. My older sister’s first real boyfriend was from a minority as well. I think my first real look at prejudice came around the age of 11 when I moved to a small town in Georgia. In this small town minorities were rare and in my middle and high school, racism definitely existed. Most minorities stuck to their own kind. There wasn’t a lot of intermixing and the town was almost set up in a segregated fashion (clearly marked minority neighborhoods and even a separate cemetery for non-whites). This new culture was certainly a shock to me, as were some of the hateful comments I heard. Of course, these people would have denied being prejudiced if confronted, but behind the scenes they were definitely not shy about their beliefs.

As an adult, I definitely try to be open-minded and not stereotype people or groups, but I will admit that I am not perfect. For instance, one night I remember my husband and I going to a local White Castle and noticing that we were the only “white” people in the crowded restaurant. I hate to admit it, but I experienced some momentary discomfort and just felt kind of “out of place”. However, as I sat there, I thought about the fact that minorities probably often find themselves in this kind of situation. I’m used to looking around and seeing lots of other people who look like me, but many others don’t regularly have that experience. Thinking the issue through, truly gave me an entirely new perspective and made me sympathize with those who often find themselves surrounded by others who are different from them in some way.

I’ll also admit that the first time we took in a foster child from a minority that I was a little more anxious than I should have been. When we accepted that foster placement, we didn’t even know he was from a minority, so when I first saw him I was surprised a bit and also a little worried. My first thoughts were to question whether I could do a good job raising someone from a different culture, however, once the child moved in and we got to know him it was soon clear that underneath the exterior differences he was just like every other kid we had taken in. Soon I was going to bat for him against others who were stereotyping him or treating him like he didn’t exist.

In the end, my point is that when we do have thoughts or experiences that bring out the “prejudice” or “racism” hidden inside of us, it can be an opportunity to learn and grow if we face it head on and think things through. However, if we just sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist, we only help to perpetuate the problem.