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Misplaced Mommy: Welcome to My World

I remind myself everyday that I chose to move here. I came fresh out of graduate school, bleary-eyed from days of thesis writing—my diploma burning a hole in my pocket. The offer to create and direct an undergraduate program was too tempting to refuse, so I packed up my first husband and dogs, and headed 16 hours straight south for what was, in more ways that one, the beginning of a new adventure. Looking back, I should have taken more time to consider my new surroundings—a southern town where Christian denominations battle each other for members and high schools still have separate black and white homecoming courts.

I imagine my reactions to everyday situations were heightened due to my background in multicultural issues. While I am by birth Asian-American, I was raised white—and therefore my vision of the oppression of others is blurred by my privileged upbringing. It is through my new glasses, however, earned through years of research, experience, and self-examination, that I see the imbalances around me. I lost three of my eight 19-year old freshmen to marriage during the first semester, all of whom decided to leave school and immediately start having children. I spent tireless hours of classroom time retraining my students' misuse of words such as "retarded," "handicapped," and "gay." My attempts to move a congregation of black students who had seated themselves together in the back of the classroom into the mix of the class with their white counterparts was met with hesitation and concern. I admit the feather ruffling made for exciting days, but I grew tired of what at times was forcing the values of equality and acceptance down the throats of people who hadn't tasted such wonderful fruits in their entire lifetime.

Four years, a new military-pilot husband, and a 19-month old daughter later, I am still here. The challenges of living in this town seem to have doubled since having a child. Perhaps it's because prior to parenthood I drowned myself in my work and never went out. Or maybe it's because I didn't mind driving two hours for a Target and Starbucks fix. But now, not only do I see the faults of a town that exists in what I can only describe as a time warp, but I feel even more isolated and alone. Unbeknownst to me, my status as a college professor afforded me respect and admiration from those not typically supportive of the female species. When I decided to leave my position to stay home with my daughter, I gained an invisibility I had never experienced. Apparently, the speak only when spoken to rule still applies to women in my town.

Saying that my life values differ from my local parental counterparts is an understatement. In this land of beauty pageants and all things feathers and bows, my simply dressed daughter and I stick out like sore thumbs. A mother who apparently felt she was doing me a favor provided me with explicit instructions on how to use corn syrup to stick a large bow in my daughter's nearly bald head. I'm constantly clarifying my daughter's gender to folks who blame me for dressing her in overalls and sneakers, or calling her "buddy." Seeking refuge from military-by-marriage family, I have attempted to make contact with several air force spouses, who, like myself, are outsiders trying to parent in a place far from our own families. It seems, however, that our military status is all we have in common. Far be it for me to want to discuss more than my husband's flying schedule, new recipes, and the next spouse social. At mixed gatherings, my preference to hang with the guys and discuss sports is deemed questionable and practically inappropriate by some of the other wives. While I'm happy to oblige the mommy conversations that mostly center around our children and husbands, there comes a point in time where I desire the company of sisters with whom I can discuss deeper issues both personal and parental in nature.

I'm aware that all these experiences, whether they are desirable or forgettable, are valuable in shaping me as a person and parent. Even in what, at times, is a town with limited resources and cultural opportunities, I am able to find snippets of normalcy that rejuvenate my spirit and keep me grounded. But as I have come to learn, those moments are fleeting. The longer I live here, the louder my inner voice speaks to me. Will I be able to say something every time I hear negative stereotypes being perpetuated? Can I model acceptance of differences through learning and understanding on a daily basis? Will I be able to parent my daughter in a way that supports her self-worth as a strong, independent woman? Quite honestly, I am not sure how I will maneuver through these murky waters, but these are the questions I must face. I am a progressive woman turned mother living in the Deep South, and I can't help but feeling that I'm just a bit out of place.

column added on 2006-03-26 :: ::

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Kristen M. Chase
COLUMNIST PHOTO

Kristen took the plunge into motherhood via a surprise pregnancy, now a blossoming 19-month old toddler, and provides the diversity on her block as an Asian American Yankee in the Deep South. As a former college professor, published textbook author, musician, and diversity advocate, Kristen's a proverbial "fish out of water," trying to find her way in a place that time has clearly forgotten and desperately trying to balance her roles as mother and military wife while not losing her sense of self (including a hankering for heels and a good martini).

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