Rainbow Loom Reflections

If you have a child in the 6-12 age range, then I’m sure you’ve heard of Rainbow Loom. It’s the new craze in the schools, and the top selling toy in Canada and the U.S. The toy was invented by a Malaysian father who one evening was watching his daughters make bracelets out of rubber hands with their fingers. He tried, and because his fingers were too large and clumsy, he couldn’t do it. So he hammered some nails into a board, making a makeshift ‘loom’ and started playing with the elastics. He and his daughters realized quickly that they could make really amazing, more intricate patters with the loom…and the rest is history. You can read his story here – http://www.thestar.com.my/Lifestyle/Family/Features/2013/12/13/Malaysianborn-father-strikes-gold-in-Rainbow-Loom-in-US.aspx/.

My 7 year old son is OBSESSED with rainbow loom. It is pretty much all he talks about with his friends and what he does when he gets home from school. He has been obsessed now for three months, and I would estimate that he has clocked over 50 hours making bracelets. The bracelet patterns are separated by beginner, intermediate, and advanced, and he is now doing the advanced patterns. I have found this all very interesting to observe. Beyond the development of skill (fine motor/dexterity etc), this Rainbow Loom fad has been incredibly positive for my son at a deeper level, uncovering and strengthening values and facilitating new learning, in these three ways::

1. Gender Bending: At Mo’s school, both boys and girls are into it and are making and wearing bracelets. Before Rainbow Loom, I have found this age to be very gender separate – the boys do their activities and the girls do theirs. Despite LOTS of conversations about this and the fact that Mo is being raised by two moms who are feminists and make it clear that ‘you can be who you want to be’, Mo has always been a ‘boy boy’ – his top interests have been trucks, superheroes, weapons, wrestling and sports. And before the Rainbow Loom, Mo has never been interested in making a craft or wearing a bracelet, and he would say that ‘only girls do that’. This change and interest in bracelet making has been fascinating to me. Quite frankly, it shows me the power of peers, that I think (unfortunately sometimes) is stronger than the power of parents (Hold On To Your Kids by Neufeld and Mate is an excellent book on this). Anyways, I love how it is now cool for boys to make and wear bracelets.

2. Teaching and Learning – especially Online: Mo learns how to make his bracelets through online videos, where someone is showing and teaching the step-by-step instructions on each pattern. Rainbow Loom has official online teaching videos, but kids are now putting up their own on Youtube, and Mo seems to like these ones even better. He listens to a 10 year old girls voice going through the steps, he can press pause and rewind when he’s missed a step, and he learns new patterns extremely fast through this method. It’s interesting to watch him learn in this way, and its amazing to see kids teaching and learning from each other online! Mo asked me about making a video himself to teach Rainbow Loom, and I think this would be an ambitious and interesting project, to see how he teaches (at the age of 7!).

3. Generosity: Mo is giving everyone his bracelets – our neighbors, his friends at school, the dental hygienist when we went to the dentist… He is making so many of them, and there are only so many he can wear on his arm. He is very proud of his bracelets, and I realized that 7 years old normally don’t have a lot of opportunities to practice generosity, because they don’t have money or things to give away. Rainbow Loom has provided an opportunity for him to practice generosity, and I love to see this in action.

Here are a few photos of Mo doing Rainbow Loom…

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Struggling with silence …

One day during the holidays, I had a disturbing incident that I’ve been grappling with ever since…

I went for a walk down the street with my father-in-law and my 2-year old to the local cheese store, to buy cheese for our lunch. We walked into the store and as my father-in-law picked out his cheese, the man at the counter said to me: “Wow, you have a really cute boy.” I said ‘thanks’ and then he proceeded to say…: “You made such a good looking child, I would sponsor you to make more children, and I’ll give them a job when they grow up. It’s always the Indians on my street who make so many ugly children, 6 or 8 children, and they aren’t good-looking like your child is.” But that wasn’t the disturbing part. The disturbing part is what happened next, which is that I … said nothing. I became uncomfortable, looked at the ground, my father-in-law quick bought his cheese, and we left the store.

I can make all of the excuses in the world about why I didn’t speak out against such explicit racism – I was tired, I was stressed, I didn’t want to make a scene in front of my father-in-law etc etc. But that doesn’t excuse my silence or change what happened. I did call the cheese store that evening and make a complaint. But that’s not good enough. I should have spoke up. I wish I spoke up. I feel ashamed. I have gone over in my head, again and again, what I should have said – clear, assertive language, naming the racism and letting him know that I won’t shop there.

I don’t think its productive for me to get swallowed up in guilt and shame. What I think is productive is to pose the question: why? Why was I silent? Why, as someone who is well versed in anti-oppression and anti-colonialist thought, who cares deeply about social justice, who teaches about racism and power and privilege at a community college, was I silent? There is a clear disconnect between my values and my day-to-day actions.

What is this disconnect about? How do I change this? And other questions: would I have been silent if he was homophobic instead of racist? I think the answer is yes. Have I ever directly spoken out against racism/discrimination/sexism/homophobia etc (not in a ‘rally/protest’ kind of way, but in a ‘naming someone’s behaviour’ directly kind of way)? The answer is yes actually (thank god!), but usually not spontaneously. Usually, its a conversation that I initiated, and had thought about and rehearsed in my head beforehand. And these conversations generally haven’t been easy and sometimes, haven’t turned out the way I want (which in my rosy world would be for the person to listen, not get defensive and change their viewpoint/behaviour…).

In grappling with this, I reread Audre Lorde’s piece “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”, which has been very helpful for me in thinking through this (see here – http://shrinkingphallus.wordpress.com/the-transformation-of-silence-into-language-and-action-by-audre-lorde/). She writes about the emotion of fear – fear of being ostracized, fear of a fight, fear of the unknown. When we are silent, we have let fear win over authenticity and truth. As Lorde writes:

“We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”

This resonates for me on a very personal level, because I have worked through the emotion of ‘tired’. I truly used to be afraid of ‘tired’ on a daily basis, and now I’m not. This work needs to be done for ‘fear’, which may be trickier because it comes up sporadically, whereas I faced ‘tired’ every day when I first became a parent (and continue to face it every day). I think some of this work needs to be connected to mindfulness work – in the mindfulness literature, there is a differentiation between reacting versus responding – reacting being unconscious and automatic versus responding being conscious and reflective in action. I was clearly reactive in the cheese store – I felt embarrassed and just wanted to hide my head and leave as quickly as possible. I didn’t respond consciously or reflectively. I feel like this mindfulness work is critical to changing our actions, so we are present in all of our day-to-day actions, confronting incidents that make us uncomfortable and afraid. In my mind, no amount of anti-oppressive literature can prepare us for day-to-day action, when our values don’t connect with our behaviour, and when our behaviour is reactive.

To end with another one of my favourite Audre Lorde quotes, that I want to keep remembering every day:

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

I want to dare to be powerful.