Talia Nagar, left, with sons Jai and Teo and husband Brett at Be’chol Lashon Family Camp, August 2019. (Be'chol Lashon)

Checking in with Mothers of Multiracial Jewish Children

Four mothers share insights about raising children who navigate multiple identities, making the best of quarantine.

During times of uncertainty, we often look to our mothers for guidance. This week Team Be’chol Lashon spoke to four mothers of multicultural Jewish children about how they are navigating family life during the coronavirus pandemic. Below are excerpts from our conversations.

Lacey Schwartz Delgado is an award-winning producer, writer, and director, as well as Be’chol Lashon’s National Outreach Director. She draws on her interdisciplinary background to create compelling stories. Lacey wrote and directed Little White Lie, a critically-acclaimed documentary about her life that was broadcast on PBS in 2015.

Lacey Schwartz Delgado with sons Coltrane and Maxwell. (Courtesy of Lacey Schwartz Delgado)

Where and with whom are you sheltering in place?

I am at home in upstate New York with my husband, Antonio Delgado, and our 6 year-old twin sons, Maxwell and Coltrane.

What is something you’ve learned as a mother of children who are learning to navigate multiple identities?

My husband and I both have mixed heritage. I’m biracial, white and African-American, and Antonio is Afro-Latino. Our twin sons, Maxwell and Coltrane, are young, so when we talk about race we focus more on cultural practices and traditions. My husband and I choose to surround them with a diverse community. Lucky for us it’s easy because our family is so diverse.

As a parent I’ve learned how important it is to walk the walk when I want to impart unique and formative experiences to my kids around race. My kids get to experience diversity first-hand through our family and friends. I can’t expect my kids to make choices beyond their exposure, so I choose to build an intentional community where they have space for agency. I know my kids are watching and learning how to relate to others through my actions and the actions of those around them.

How are you navigating pandemic life with your children? What insights have you gained?

During shelter in place I’ve been more attuned to the ins and outs of my kids. We find that scheduling works really well for our family. It’s also given me more time to get to know them and to be more present and creative with them. I recently asked them to make a list of some of the things they would like to do when this is over, and it was encouraging to see how many of those things I can actually do with them now, here at home.

Do you have special plans for Mother’s Day?

This Mother’s Day I look forward to staying at home and being able to relax with just the four of us. In some ways it will be different than a traditional Mother’s Day for my family, but I’m really grateful and appreciative that we have more time to spend together.

***

Talia Nagar is Senior Program Officer at Tipping Point Community, a nonprofit that breaks the cycle of poverty in the Bay Area for the 1.7 million people who don’t have resources to meet their basic needs.

Talia Nagar with son Teo. (Be’chol Lashon)

Where and with whom are you sheltering in place?

I’m sheltering in Berkeley, CA with my husband, Brett Gabby, and our sons, Jai (age 8) and Teo (age 5).

What is something you’ve learned as a mother of children who are learning to navigate multiple Identities?

My husband Brett is Korean and I’m Jewish, and we have two mixed race Jewish-Korean sons. We remind them of their multiple identities as much as possible through ritual practice, celebration of holidays, and food. My husband is a chef and isn’t Jewish, so food provides a point of access to Jewish culture. Our kids experience so much of their cultures through Jewish and Korean food traditions.

This year for Yom Ha’atzmaut Brett cooked an Israeli dinner and made falafel to connect the kids to their Israeli family. We want Jai and Teo to see that there are other families like ours, so we also seek out other multicultural Jewish families so that our kids see that they aren’t alone.

How are you navigating pandemic life with your children? What insights have you gained?

We’ve been doing Shabbat more regularly now that we are home all the time, and it has become an important silver lining. Online learning has meant increased screen time for my kids, so on Shabbat we’ve been taking breaks from screen time. School has been challenging, but we’ve managed to restructure the school week, Monday through Thursday, so that the kids have more organized free time to be outside playing in the backyard and exercising. We are happy to be together in a house with a yard and two kids who get along and play well together.

Do you have special plans for Mother’s Day?

We already have so much family time right now, but I’m still excited to spend time with my family on Mother’s Day. I’m looking forward to maybe going on a bike ride or having a dance party as our special Mother’s Day activity.

***

Marcella White Campbell is the Marketing Director at Be’chol Lashon. She previously worked with Silicon Valley startups in parenting and education spaces.

Marcella White Campbell with husband Greg, son Noah, and daughter Maia. (Be’chol Lashon)

Where and with whom are you sheltering in place?

I’m quarantined at home in San Francisco, CA with my husband, Greg, daughter, Maia (age 20), and son, Noah (age 15).

What is something you’ve learned as a mother of children who are learning to navigate multiple Identities?

I’m Black and my husband is white. The way that I think about and experience race is very different from how my biracial Black and Jewish kids think about and encounter race. When Maia was born I remember thinking to myself: What am I going to to tell her about race? What messages do I want her to receive? Listening to my kids talk about their experiences is so important because there are some aspects of their identities that I don’t have to grapple with myself.

My experiences with race are rooted in what my grandparents experienced in the Jim Crow South. I share my kids’ great-grandparents’ experiences with them so they understand this history is personal. Passing down history is a very important responsibility to me. It is important to ground them in a historical framework so that they understand what it has been like to be Black in America. But I’ve also learned to listen to my kids. They are forging their own way as they learn to navigate their own world.

How are you navigating pandemic life with your children? What insights have you gained?

It’s been a long time since we’ve all been inside together. My kids are older and usually out there living life. Maia was away in college at MIT before this started, and Noah is 15 and in high school. They’ve both become much more independent than the two year old and seven year old I used to plan the day for.

During this time I’ve been learning about who my children are and who they are becoming. I find that I struggle a bit with my instinct to try to nudge them into schedules and activities. I’m learning to create space for them to evolve and grow into who they are—people with independent opinions. I’ve been connecting with them through mediums that give them comfort. Maia and I hang out together and binge watch TV shows that she thinks I’ll find interesting. Noah loves to share new music with me, and sometimes we play video games together. I do my best to meet them where they are.

Do you have special plans for Mother’s Day?

This Mother’s Day is going to be very different for my family—no brunch, no hints or guidance on what gifts to give me. I’m looking forward to being pleasantly surprised by my family’s creativity.

***

Molly Mdaka is an educational specialist and instructional coach in San Mateo’s Union High School District. She creates resources to help teachers find ways to reach and engage all learners.

Molly Mdaka with husband Siki and daughters Maya and Talia. (Be’chol Lashon)

Where and with whom are you sheltering in place?

I’m sheltering in place at home in Pacifica, CA with my husband, Siki, and our daughters, Maya (age 9) and Talia (age 7).

What is something you’ve learned as a mother of children who are learning to navigate multiple Identities?

I’m Ashkenazi and my husband, Siki, is Black South African. Our daughters Talia and Maya are biracial, and they are at the age where they have begun to explore race in the context of color and notice inequity. Talia and Maya go to Jewish Day School. It’s challenging sometimes to have conversations with them about their identities because some of their experiences are painful, and as much as I want to make it better for them, I can’t. It’s hard to live in a white world where people are often oblivious to their biases and assumptions and how they affect the people around them. I talk with the girls about how they can advocate for themselves.

Siki and I make an effort to expose our kids to diverse families so they don’t feel alone. We try to instil in them an understanding of Jewish tradition and stay in contact as much as possible with their cousins in South Africa via Facetime. Last year when we visited South Africa, the girls were able to see where their father grew up. It made his stories there much more real to them. I’m sure the girls will end up teaching us more about their identities than we have to teach them.

How are you navigating pandemic life with your children? What insights have you gained?

We have very socal kids and like to be social ourselves, so it’s been hard for us to be distant from our friends and colleagues. Trying to work and teach the kids is challenging even for me as an educator. I’ve learned you can’t sweat the small stuff. So what if an art project didn’t get completed? Sometimes you just need to get some air! We’ve been going on walks together as a family, and I find the more exercise we get the better everyone feels. Spending this time together has really helped us connect as a family, and it’s been really nice.

Do you have special plans for Mother’s Day?

I don’t know what Mother’s Day will bring, as Siki is usually the planner. But if I could have anything, I’d just want an hour or two to myself.

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