Sunday, January 2, 2011

Freed From Identity

As you may notice, I originally wrote this post in early January, but am submitting it now to the March Bilingual Carnival because this morning, I noticed myself, once again, making all sorts of meaning out of Kaya's speaking English to me when I speak nothing but German to her. This post addresses that tendency that we have as humans, as multilingual parents, to sit with confidence in our fears, and can hopefully offer a different perspective and sense of freedom for you in the way that it has for me.

The other day, as I was having coffee with a friend, a woman walked into the cafe with her twins. They were snuggled in a blue double-Bob, taking in the world around them. Soon after she wheeled them in our direction, conversation ensued about life as a mother with two.

She was easy to talk to. The conversation flowed, and I found myself really enjoying the whole scene. And then, when she addressed some advice she'd been given, my mind started to spin. Apparently, as a parent of twins, you're 'supposed' to avoid the 'T-word' (twins!) because it can give the wrong impression to the kids themselves and to others in their lives. She tends, she said, to avoid referring to them as 'the twins' or even as 'the kids' so that she can appreciate their individual identities.

A month ago, I would have smiled, nodded, and continued on my way, thinking little more than, "That's a good point. I'll have to keep that in mind in case we have another one. But thank goodness it's her with twins, not me. I don't know how I'd deal with TWO at the same time!"

Last week, however, my internal dialogue went a lot more like this:

That makes sense. I can see that. It's important for kids to feel confident in who they are, and to know that they are loved regardless of their brothers and sisters. But wait a second. She said "identity". Is she implying that each of them "is" a certain way, and will "BE" a certain way because of the identity that they already have?

My mind continues to spin. I'm guessing that she didn't really think twice about her use of the word identity. But I sure did.

All of a sudden (well, after 3 days of coaching in December), I see identity as something apart from who we are. I think that each of us has an identity which attempts to, and generally succeeds in, running our life. It tells us who we are, who we should be, who we aren't, who we want to be, and leads us, AND others, to believe, to KNOW, that's just who we are. In fact, once we've been around long enough (I'm already seeing it happen in the first 2 years of Kaya's life), it begins to dictate who we are 'allowed' to be and what we 'allow' from others:

"You are smart, Kaya. So, why are you saying that!?"
"You are sweet, Kaya. So, why are you screaming!?"
"You love water, Kaya. So, why aren't you swimming?"

And more personally...
"I'm independent. So, why am I looking to others for help?"
(What's wrong with me?)

Maybe, like me, you're tempted to answer the above questions. It seems so obvious that, under each circumstance, we act a certain way for a certain reason, right? At the same time, however, I'm clear that I was living my life in a way that had me, and others, believing that I AM a certain way because of who I've been and what I've done and where I come from. When I live my life with my previous actions and circumstances dictating who I am, and expect others to live in that way, too, I get pigeon-holed into being a certain way, and am mentally and emotionally left with no options as to where to go or what to do when I'm ready for something different...

Now, I can say from a place of sincere excitement and peace, I live from a space where I really get to choose who I want to be in any moment that I want to be it. And how truly different it feels.

If I want to embody love, then I can be loving RIGHT NOW. It doesn't make a difference if, up until now I've yelled at my dogs and been rude to my husband and been overly impatient with my daughter. As soon as I'm not being loving, and recognize it, I can choose to be loving, and re-commit to being loving right NOW.

It's so empowering. Suddenly, my failures are no longer failures, but reminders of what I want and what I can do to make it real and right now.

As I was walking in the sunshine this morning, feeling overly exacerbated with my two dogs and the tricycle that wouldn't work, I realized that, in having written what I had, thus far, I may be sending the message that I've reached this level of perfection where it's so EASY to move out of being stuck, and I can just skip through my life with a blissful smile on my face.

Nope. Not true.
In case my dog challenges didn't persuade you...

After I got home last night, I shared with Geoff how excited I am to renew my commitment to be compassionate with him. I brought up a few moments in the past few days when I hadn't been compassionate with him, was specific about how I can change that, and felt excited and connected about moving forward from there, despite or maybe because of, my past actions. Within minutes, the conversation turned, and suddenly, I found myself feeling afraid to trust, in confusion about "what" to do, and once again, devoid of compassion. Ugh.

I can start from here, I thought.
We can start from here, I said.
What do you want, I asked?
What do I want, I thought?

It's Monday afternoon and we are STILL working to move forward from right here. Granted, in my head, I have, and I am. But what good does that do me if I'm living my life all alone here at my desk while my baby sleeps?

I kept asking myself, as I knew my friend would coach me, "Would I rather be right or happy?"

The answer was obvious...yet I couldn't bring myself to move beyond my fears of what I saw as blind faith (trust).

So, this exciting perspective that I have now doesn't keep me FREE from challenges in my life...if anything, I see them arise more frequently. But I can say, with confidence, that my stress level is lower overall, and my fears are more quiet. I know deep down that it's my identity wanting to "win", to "be right", to step away from Geoff and be happy in my own place, 'knowing' I'm right. What has me feeling so free is knowing that I don't have to live from this place of identity, that instead, I can live from a world of possibility, from a world of excitement and passion and creativity where I am connected with everyone and everything around me. I get to listen and be wholeheartedly confident that everything is as it is for no reason until I give it one.

From this world, I can see my daughter as whoever she is going to be in whatever moment she is going to be it. And not expect it to be otherwise.

And that, my friends and fellow philosophers, is as exciting as it gets.
Once again, I feel SOOO free.

Knowing that there isn't one identity that IS Kaya, or some one identity that she's going to BECOME one day. To me, with constant practice and reminding, she will be who she is being in any moment that she is being it, until that moment changes and she is being something else.

When she's feeling tired, maybe she'll be being loud and whiny, and annoying me to no end.
It doesn't mean she's annoying.

When she's feeling hungry, maybe she'll be being cranky and ornery, reminding me that I feel cranky too.
It doesn't mean she's challenging.

If she's speaking English back to me, when I speak nothing but German to her, it doesn't mean she's a passive bilingual with no hope for active bilingualism.

And perhaps the hardest one to conceptualize for those of us that love her most...
If she's speaking German to me and English to everyone else, it doesn't mean that she's smart.

I can hear my thoughts reeling: What? Do they think I think we shouldn't call her smart? Or praise her at all? Do they think I think that will screw her up? Is she smart? Is she not smart?

Hello, identity. My old friend...

Suddenly, I feel freed to see my daughter (and everyone else, for that matter!), for who she is in THIS moment, as opposed to defining her by the past that she has lived thus far.

Until last month, that's who I thought I was, too.
I think it's who many of us think we are...

But where is our past, really?
And where is our future, really?

In our minds, right?
And in others' minds?

Thus, if ALL we have is THIS moment, then WHO we ARE is defined my WHO we are BEING in this moment ALONE.

I am a writer.
I am a mother.
I am a wife.
I am love.
I am passion.
I am possibility.

Kaya is sleeping. =)

She is peace.
She is love.
She is joy.
She is wonder.

She is full of possibility, just like the rest of us...

A similar blog post on this topic that you might find interesting is,
5% German
as well as the follow-up post to that one,
Expert Advice and Analysis

Thank you for being here. Your interest and curiosity continue to motivate me and remind me that I can and do make a difference. Over the past month, as eager as I was to blog, I spent all my extra time working on Geoff's Christmas project. Should you be interested in checking it out, don't want to wait to see it in person, or haven't already seen it on FB, drop me a line and I'll share the link. (I considered posting it here, but there's some fragile photos of our baby that I don't want pasted where they don't belong.)


  1. You are a sister; and an awesome one at that.

  2. Interesting points you make! I believe that our identity is very much a part of who we are and yet sometimes we make choices/mistakes that should not be considered our identity. This inspired person said it so much better than me:
    "...when our children misbehave, we must be careful not to say things that would cause them to believe that what they did wrong is who they are. "Never let failure progress from an action to an identity," with its attendant labels like “stupid,” “slow,” “lazy,” or “clumsy.” Our children are God’s children. That is their true identity and potential. His very plan is to help His children overcome mistakes and misdeeds and to progress to become as He is. Disappointing behavior, therefore, should be considered as something temporary, not permanent—an act, not an identity."
    I believe this holds true for us as well and embodies what I heard you saying in this post.
    If you're interested in reading the whole article, here's the link:
    You'll have to tell me what you think! ;)


I LOVE reading your comments, they make such a difference! Thanks for sharing!