Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: mothers

Working Towards Your Passions


“As a teacher I employ art, not as a mere subject but rather a holistic experience to cultivate knowledge.  Entering into a sensory experience that is informative, thought provoking, and idea inducing provides one an opportunity to be inquisitive, contemplative, and theoretical. This is the territory into true learning that I wish to navigate my students through.”

These are words that Nina Caruso, a mother of three children, wrote in her thesis paper. She is finishing her bachelor’s for Studio Arts Education at Oakland University, which would qualify her to teach K-12 for art. Next year she and her daughter will be graduating college.

I met Nina years ago at a poetry group and as mothers trying to pursue our passions, we immediately connected. I remember at the time Nina was working full-time as a pre-K teacher with the Waldorf Education.

“The economy went bad, and it was not picking up again,” she said. “The school lost many families and they let some of the teachers go.”

Nina was one of the teachers they let go and that was a blessing in disguise. Otherwise, she would not have pursued her dreams.

“As mothers, we don’t get rewarded for our hard work,” she said. “By going back to school, I was rewarding myself. It was very cathartic. You have to feed yourself or you’ll burn out.”

Last week Nina’s work was part of an exhibition at Oakland University, where seniors show their work. I was sent an invite, and reading her name on the exhibitor list, I was impressed and inspired by her accomplishments. I called her and asked, “How did you do it?”

“I feel it’s important for people not to brood about the bad and to do what’s good,” she said. “It’s all work anyways. Whether you go against the current or fight for the good – it’s all work.”

While Nina is a little sad to be finishing the coursework she really enjoyed, she’s ready to enter her major as a teacher.

“I look at an artist and an educator as the same,” she said. “Educators are very creative in how they teach students to learn and artists find ways to enter into people’s sensory experience for them to learn. It can meet us where we need to be met. There are no rules. The artist might have had an intent but the receiver or viewer will get what they needed out of it.”



Give Americans Some Slack, Not Jail Time

Chained Slave

On Monday, an L.A. Judge announced that a 74-year-old grandmother would be released from prison after serving 32 years for a murder she did not commit. In 1981, Jones’ abusive boyfriend kidnapped two drug dealers and then forced Jones at gunpoint to drive them into an alley, where the boyfriend shot one of the men. Jones ran from the scene, expecting to be killed too. Instead, the teacher’s aide and churchgoer with no criminal record was charged with and convicted for two counts of murder and other crimes.

Also on Monday, the Real Housewives of New Jersey Teresa Guidice, a mother of 4 children, was sentenced for 15 months of jail time for fraud charges. Her husband was sentenced to 4 years.

The majority of Americans are hardworking people who try to give back to the community. They want to do the right thing, they try to help, they pretty much follow the rules, which is not so easy given the number of rules they have to follow. They are good people, and yet they get slapped pretty hard for being human and making mistakes or in Jones’ case, being caught in the wrong situation.

“Over-incarceration in America destabilizes families and communities,” writes Piper Kerman, in Orange is the New Black. “We have a racially biased justice system that over punishes, fails to rehabilitate and does not make us safer.”

Read Amanda Scherker’s article in the Huffington Post and you will see how easily a person can be locked up as a “criminal” for a non-violent offense, which not only ruins his or her life but that of his family, and in return affects us greatly as a community while making corporations quite rich.

It’s pretty scary! According to the article, the total prison population has grown by 500 percent over the last 30 years. Currently, one-third of the world’s entire imprisoned female population is awaiting trial or serving sentences in the U.S., mostly for nonviolent crimes. Many are mothers. And we lock up more juveniles than any other developed country.

Americans do not deserve this type of harsh treatment – especially not while the real criminals are out there, happily sauntering around, living rich off of others’ destruction.

Interviewing My Mom

Mom 3

The story we leave behind is the best message we give to our children. My mom does not like to tell stories, but she has lived her life in a way that says a lot. Still, for years I’ve been trying to get detailed information from her about her childhood, her early marriage and motherhood. But while I have been successful in doing great interviews with the most prominent members in the Chaldean American community, I have not been too successful with her. She always tries to divert my questions.

Finally, on Wednesday, with the help of my sisters, we poked around until we learned that in the village of Telkaif in northern Iraq, snow did sometimes appear, during which time my mother and other children would slip and slide over it – basically ice skating with shoes.

“What was the biggest lie you ever told?” I asked her.

“I didn’t lie,” my mother said, indignantly.

“Yes, you did,” my older sister responded. “I remember when Babba gave you spending money, you would put it away and when it totaled to two dinars, you gave it to your mother.”

My mother shrugged. “I did do that. They needed it. They didn’t have much.”
“So that was for a good cause,” my sister said.

Even when my mother lied, it was out of the goodness of her heart.

Well, given that my mother is now 80 years old, I have a lot of catching up to do – with regards to jotting down her stories. So I pray that God blesses us with her presence for a long long time.

Wax On, Wax Off

When two of my nieces were only nine years old, I began taking them to work, a family owned video store. Their job was to fill the buckets with soap and water, and walk between the aisles, putting the movies down one shelf, washing the shelves, drying them with a towel and then putting the movies back up. There was a very specific system to it, and whenever they would complain, I reminded them to “Wax on, wax off” – for those of you who remember Karate Kid – and that one day they would thank me for it. Their reward was a free lunch which consisted of a sandwich, drink and a snack, and as they got older, they received an additional five dollars.

This was some twenty years ago. Needless to say, they turned out to be a smart and successful bunch. One became a lawyer, the other a chiropractic.

These days my cousin, a manicurist, and I use the same techniques on our daughters that the women in our family have used for centuries – working hard and loving every bit of it. It never hurts to have children get a taste of responsibility very early on!


The Beauty of Women

The Beauty of Women

One of my poems was published a few days ago. I wrote it in honor of a woman who played a big role in my life last year. When I saw it published, I realized the number of women who have played mentors over the years, beginning with my mom, sisters, relatives, friends and teachers.

Today I was at the library with my children. I and the woman sitting beside me watched our sons play together at the train table and making small conversation like, how old are you? What’s your name? Her son said to my son, “My name is Crocodile.” My son started calling him “Croc” for short.

She and I laughed. We began talking and I discovered at forty years old, she had five children that ranged between the ages of 22 and 5. She has been taking care of people since she was eleven years old, when her parents separated and she, the oldest of seven siblings, had to take on the role of a second parent. A year ago, this woman twisted her foot stepping down only one step. Her ankle broke, and she had to have surgery and screws put in. Soon, she’ll have to have another surgery to remove the screws.

“A few days after the surgery,” she said, “I sat in my office chair and rolled from one room to the other in the house, cleaning.”

She was the typical mom that gives, gives, gives. One positive outcome of the accident is that since she can’t go, go, go all the time anymore, she has turned to reading and she love sit.

“I haven’t read so much since I was a kid,” she said. As for the housework, she has learned to say, “Fuck it!”

Link to recently published poem: