Thursday, January 29, 2015

My SWEET Life: An Unashamed Food-Terminology Blogger

There has been many online arguments/debates/bashing-sessions recently against blog titles and the calling of names which use food as a metaphor or reference regarding a person (or people) of color.
 
One blog that has been debated recently is Chocolate Hair,Vanilla Care: a popular Black hair-care site authored by a White mother of a Black child. I have also been “called out” as a person who promotes the “consumption” of Black bodies by using my blog title, White Sugar, Brown Sugar.

To some degree, I get it.  The drive to over-analyze everything.  For me, it started in college.  In my American Literature class, we would take a single line, or sometimes a single word, from a poem and spend the entire fifty-minute class period discussing its etymology, its assumptions, its possible implications.  Grad school only made such discussions go deeper, more detailed…

More draining.

Here’s what I have to say to those who are driving home their opinion that using food-terminology to describe a person, a people, a relationship as degrading, inappropriate, or insulting:

One of my own children’s birth parents (who yes, is Black) refer to my (our) child as “dark chocolate.”

Check out “I Am An African Girl” which references “we who have chocolate skin.”

Taye Diggs wrote a children’s book to empower Black boys entitled Chocolate Me!

Langston Hughes wrote extensively on food in relation to skin-color in his poem Harlem Sweeties.

Read the children’s book Shades of People, where words like “coffee” and “cocoa” are used to describe skin color and the many beautiful shades.


For me and my family:

Using food-like terminology is adding to, not taking away.  It’s enhancing and uplifting, not reducing.

Using food-like terminology is poetic.  It’s a way of describing someone equally as sweet as the food itself.

Using food-like terminology is what some Black people use to describe themselves (see above) and one another.

 I write with passion and purpose. I endearingly refer to our family as “sweet” and my readers as “Sugars” and my family as White Sugar, Brown Sugar.

Don’t like it?

While you are busy complaining and dissecting and venting and assuming the worst about intentions and transracial, adoptive parenting,

I’m living my SWEET life.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Don't Worry, Be Happy: Being an Adoptive Mama in 2015

I'm active in the adoption community.  I write and speak about adoption for a living. I am always in the middle of at least two adoption-themed books (and writing a few in my mind). I facilitate a large, local adoption and fostering support group.  And, of course, I am mom through the process of adoption, times three.

Adoption is an important part of my life.  

Over the past year, I've noticed a lot of "is this ok?" posts online from novice adoptive parents and parents-to-be, and additionally, be-all-end-all statements/responses/declarations on all-things-adoption and raising adoptees from all triad members.  Dos.  Don'ts.  Rules made and (sometimes blindly) followed in the hope of guaranteed adoptive parenting success.   

The problem with legalism is this: we are never good enough. It's impossible to keep all the rules. And rules do not guarantee success.   The following of rules makes us not too pleasant to be around. Self-righteousness, uncertainty, wavering---these can all set in.  It's exhausting to attempt to live up to ever-changing standards created others.  And it requires a focus on self and others, not on the young ones this well-intended "advice" is meant to benefit.  

As in the words of my friend Madeleine Melcher, mama by adoption and adoptee, shared on adoption.net:
 
It is my hope that as parent who has adopted, you will always listen to your own adoptees’ voice before all others. Adoption is not all black and white, and with the amount of gray involved, whether you read this book or any other relating to adoption and adoptees, understand they are glimpses of what CAN or MAY be. No two stories are exactly alike and no two people are alike. 

Yesterday, I was at my local YMCA with my three kids. My daughter came out of her gymnastics class, and I was showing her hair to a friend of mine who I often sit and chat with.  She is from Ghana, and her daughter and my daughter have the same hair braider.  I remarked how my daughter's style was looking rather frazzled and I needed to take her braids out soon.  

My friend thought a moment and then said, "You know, kids are going to be kids.  It's ok." 

And I thought, She's right!  I need to chill out!  

As a mother through adoption (obvious!) and a mom who is cognizant of the importance of hair in the Black community, I often worry about how we're perceived as a family, particularly by those who share my children's race.  I want my children to be accepted by their racial community.  I don't want them to grow up and hate adoption and feel that we, their parents, really screwed up. 

I want my kids to take pride in their looks, talents, gifts, and quirks.  I want the content of their character to shine radiantly, from the inside out.  

I also want my kids to be kids. To run and play and dance.  To try a hundred things and a hundred more.  To relish in the beauties of today and not worry about tomorrow.  

I don't want them to be reduced or confined based on someone else's rules.

Though I take my job as a transracial, adoptive parent seriously, I am recognizing that I (and many, many others in the adoption community) sometimes put too much emphasis and too much importance and too much priority on the experiences and opinions of others.  And this can be detrimental, not beneficial to the child.  

Children should have one job: to be children.  

And parents, well, no matter how our children come to us, no matter what challenges we face, and no matter the color of their skin, their ability, their gender, or their age, we need to give ourselves permission to enjoy parenthood, applaud our own strengths, listen to our gut instincts, and listen carefully to our children.  

It's impossible to receive beauty and blessings when our fists are clenched, when we are tense and trying and grappling at "rules." But when our hands are open, open to learning with limits, open to hearing what our children say and valuing that over the stranger online or the stranger we cross paths with at the store, open to enjoying our lives as parents honored to raise our children, we can receive.  

The beauty is there, waiting.  

So Sugars, where are you today: fists or open-hands? 

Give yourself permission to be discerning in whom you listen to.  Give yourself permission to receive.  Enjoy the precious children you have been entrusted to raise, nurture, and love.  

Be happy.  

You are your child's greatest teacher.  

Teach happiness.  








Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dr. King, My Son, and Me



I always knew I was different.  I never really fit in anywhere or with anyone.  I always felt like a bit of an outcast, even when I was surrounded by friends.  I was never first at anything.

The only trophy I've ever owned was one my mom bought me for Christmas when I was in grade school...because I wanted a trophy so badly.

I played on a sports team one time in my whole life, and I was captain of my 8th grade volleyball team.  But I should clarify.  I was captain of the "C" team.  There was the A-team, the B-team, and then us, the C-team.  The 8th graders who would play 5th graders from other schools.  I'm pretty sure I was given the captain role because of my leadership skills and my ability to accept people and be nice, not because I had any athletic ability.

I loved to sing and dance, but I was a terrible singer.  I landed the role of a dancer in my high school's production of Grease, and scored a dance solo with my friend (and my birth hospital room-mate!).  I was a random fairy (I think yellow?) in A Midsummer Night's Dream.  I tried out for chorus in sixth grade.  I was denied access.  Rejected.    I had seven years of piano lessons, and I hated every minute.  I can now play Mary Had a Little Lamb by heart.  I cannot read music.  Money wasted, Mom.

I really wanted to be cheerleader or on dance team, but I had never had a dance, cheer, or gymnastics class in my life.

I didn't really have a core group of friends. I wasn't athletic.  I wasn't fashionable. I couldn't sing or dance. I wasn't funny. I was a rule-follower. I didn't have money.  I believed in being nice to everyone, but in return, not everyone was nice to me.

In college, I worked two to three jobs a semester to pay my tuition.  I am not disgruntled because of this.  I appreciated money, because I worked so hard for it.  I paid my own way through college, and I came out debt-free.  But working so hard in both my jobs and my education left little time for making new friends, going out, or joining clubs or organizations.

In essence, I was always inching toward another goal, but never a passion or purpose.  I knew I wanted to write, but what?

I really didn't blossom until I got out of college.  First, I got married and moved away from home. Second, I started teaching college English.  I was twenty-two and most of my students were eighteen. Some of my students were older than me, some by over thirty years.  It was mind-blowing, humbling, and scary.  Really scary. Third, I was super sick for a year-and-a-half and found out at death's door that I had a forever disease: type 1 diabetes.

It was upon my diagnosis that I knew we would adopt.  And so began my heart's journey toward becoming a family of three.

November '08, my first daughter was born.

November '10, my second daughter was born.

And then two years and two months later, my son was born...

On my birthday.

 On Dr. King's birthday.

This event brought some of my wanderings, my lost days, my uncertainties, full circle.

I think many people wonder and never find their life's purpose.  They never get confidence (and simultaneous discomfort).  They never find that place where they are both scared and excited. They never feel passion and drive.  They never get something far greater than a tarnishing trophy.

But I have been blessed to find the sweet spot.  God sure took His time showing me.  But I know, looking back, He was preparing me along the way.

First, He never let me fit in because He wanted me to learn empathy for those who don't fit in.  For those who society tells are less-than, second-class, strange, different.

Second, He made me earn what I really wanted.  Nothing has ever been handed to me.  I worked long hours in college.  I made sandwiches, changed diapers, and shelved books.  I spent holidays seasons behind a counter and in front of a cash register.  I've cut vegetables, delivered food, mopped floors, taken out trash.  Every time I saved up money, it was wiped out by another set of brakes for my faulty car or another bill from the college.  But I always had just enough to keep going.

Third, He didn't bless me with talents and gifts that weren't meant to be mine.  The things I wanted wouldn't have brought me to a place of openness and readiness to His will for my life.

And He gave me a really, really meaningful and promising birthday.  To be born on the same day as someone was driven, as life-changing, as ground-breaking, as dedicated as Dr. King...it's overwhelming to me.

And then to bless me with a son who shares this same birth date, it simply confirms to me that God has a sense of humor and a purpose.

What my thirty-three years has taught me is this:

It's ok to wander.  Wandering is learning.  Wandering is seeking.  Wandering is gaining.  It can be painful, confusing, and scary, but it's necessary.  Very necessary.



Wandering is preparing you for something great: in the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons, and with just the right amount of fear mixed with certainty.

I'm open to my purpose evolving over the years.  I'm embracing new opportunities.  I'm also open to closing doors in order to have the freedom to open new ones.   And I've been so blessed so far.  A children's book, an adult book, speaking to Web audiences and radio audiences and television audiences, writing for some incredible websites like Scary Mommy and Babble and My Brown Baby and adoption.net.  Mothering three incredible children. Being Superman's wife.  Living in this messy, complex world as a daughter of the Creator and Savior.

I'm proud to share Dr. King's birthday.  Each January, we watch his "I Have a Dream Speech," and I always feel a strange sense of kinship and pride.  I'm very thankful my son arrived on January 15.  He wasn't late or early.  He was just on time.  He was born on a blessed day.

For my children, I pray that they are able to patiently wait for their day. Their purpose.  Their sweet spot.  And I pray I can nurture them and encourage them and support them as they wait for their day...their January 15th.






Tuesday, January 6, 2015

With Every Goodbye You Learn

Goodbyes. 

One of my kids greatly struggles with them.  I wonder if this is due to adoption and having to say goodbye soon after leaving birth mom’s body, the place where she was comfortable and safe for nine months. And then saying goodbye to birth family members after a visit or a phone call, not knowing with the limited understanding of a child if “hello” (or when “hello”) will happen again, despite my reassurances and promises. No matter how much stability and security and consistency we, her family, provide, there’s the memory of a heartbreaking, life-changing goodbye. 

Or if it’s because, like me, my child possess the quality of strength, which often comes with being guarded and self-protecting in order to endure.   Goodbyes mean saying “no” and “yes.”  Yes to letting the person go.  No to another moment with them to laugh or chat or play. 

Or maybe it’s that goodbyes are endings.  Endings are scary.

When I was a teenager, I came across a poem by Veronica A. Shoffstall in one of the infamous Chicken Soup anthologies from the nineties.  It became my teenage angst anthem, but as I got older, it took on new meanings, more depth, and rang more truth.  This is called “After A While”:

After a while you learn
the subtle difference between
holding a hand and chaining a soul
and you learn
that love doesn’t mean leaning
and company doesn’t always mean security.
And you begin to learn
that kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises
and you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes ahead
with the grace of woman, not the grief of a child
and you learn
to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground is
too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down
in mid-flight.
After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns
if you get too much
so you plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone
to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure
you really are strong
you really do have worth
and you learn
and you learn
with every goodbye, you learn…

I was reminded of this poem recently when I found myself caught in a storm of colliding feelings and thoughts, all adoption related.

Recent issues and incidences reminded me of similarly desperate, angry, confusing, and painful times from the past.  

The time we had a sweet boy in our care for three weeks.  He and my oldest child became artificial twins.  He was the sweetest child: smart, craving affection and praise.  Cuddling him, nourishing him with healthy foods, and watching him explore the park...all beautiful, vivid memories.  I would have kept him forever, but he was not ours.  When the social worker left with him, a piece of my heart left too. 

and you learn
to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground is
too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down
in mid-flight.

There were the times our profile book was shown and the answer was “no” or even sometimes “yes,” but the yes didn’t come to fruition.  I prayed fervently for those babies and their mothers while feeling the weight of my own desires to become a mother.

and you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes ahead
with the grace of woman, not the grief of a child
 
The times I walked into a courtroom to listen to a judge award me an official stamp of motherhood while a birth parent was exiting the building, stripped of her title. 

After a while you learn
the subtle difference between
holding a hand and chaining a soul

I recall having to explain to one of my children why seeing birth family wasn't an option and  feeling my heart burn with anger and sadness.  The inequalities, the injustices.  It’s NOT fair, I screamed to no one.  Have mercy on my daughter’s tender spirit, I mentally begged the person who withheld due to personal pain and lack of understanding and life's messiness. 

After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns
if you get too much

Adoption is never easy.  I have long described it as bittersweet and complicated. There are moments of extreme joy and there are as debilitating, soul-shaking lows. Most of the time, we just simmer in normalcy. But that can change in an instant. It does change in an instant. It will change in an instant.

Lately I’ve had some awful thoughts and conflicting emotions, some warranted, some not. I’ve run through dozens of scenarios, possibilities, regrets. My imagination, as a writer, can run wild. My husband is the practical one, keeping me grounded. As I grapple with loyalty, betrayal, confusion, anger, and grief, I rely on what I know to be true. 

I'm reminding myself of who I am and of my foundation.  I'm reminding myself that I'm human and humanity involves complexity. I can't be Miss-Positive-Adoption-Educator-and-Parent-and-Proponent-and-Bestower-of-Ethics-and-Grace-and-Compassion-and-Understanding at all times. That's ok.  I give myself permission to "go there" but not stay there.  Some self-nurturing and self-indulgence is sometimes necessary for healing.  

so you plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone
to bring you flowers.

So tonight as I write this, I want you to know something.  

Sugars: Today may be bleak.  You may be struggling, aching, grimacing, faking, regretting, reflecting.  But as Shoffstall taught me years ago, and is still teaching me now:

And you learn that you really can endure
you really are strong
you really do have worth
and you learn
and you learn
with every goodbye, you learn…

Goodbyes are often not easy, comfortable, comforting, or assuring.  They can be incredibly difficult. But they are necessary. 

Whatever goodbye you are facing today, I pray that you are able to anticipate a "hello."  


Sleep well, Sugars.  Tomorrow might just be your day. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Birth Family Blues


Happy 2015, Sugars!

Today, I want to share with you a revelation I had at the end of 2014.

We have three open adoptions. These have been very bittersweet, challenging, and beautiful relationships.  We are never sure what will happen next.

At times, I have deeply personalized the things that have happened and have been chosen by my kids' biological families. I think this is mostly because anything that happens with/to/because of my kids' biological families is something that can or will effect my children.  The other reason is, I'm a type A lady who thrives on control.  When things don't go well and according-to-plan, I'm not a happy camper.  (Just ask my husband.)

Certainly, not much in adoption is within my control. Over the past almost-eight years that I've been part of the adoption community, I've thought, Lesson learned! But my lack of control is a lesson I keep re-learning and need to keep being reminded of.

Toward the end of 2014, when a few things came up in our open adoptions, it dawned on me that this whole adoption thing is always going to be complicated and messy and ironic and faith-testing.  Time doesn't heal all wounds. The truth doesn't always set you free.

And because of this, and because I'm in this interesting position of being a mother to three children who have other mothers and fathers and siblings, and we're this big, complicated, intertwined forever-family, I'm going to have to figure out a better way to deal than to get angry, jealous, fearful, confused, and anxiety-ridden.

And I'm going to have to model good behavior and a proper heart-set for my children.

So instead of worrying and over-thinking and critiquing (as social media encourages us to do...and then that carries over into how we treat others in face-to-face interactions) and muttering (SERIOUSLY? or the not-very-Christian "WTF?!?"), I'm going to do this more:

Pray for my kids' biological families.

and

Offer them sincere encouragement and compliments.

Because all my emotions regarding the choices they make and how that might impact my kids ends up being ALL ABOUT ME, producing nothing of value.




I feel like my revelation is so simplistic, yet praying and encouraging are the two most sincere, promising, and productive things I can do, for both my children and their first families.

I hope that whatever you are yearning for in 2015, whatever God is telling you to do, and whatever you know to be right, you have the courage, peace, and strength to do it.  Nothing outside of His will for us will truly succeed or make us happy.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Opportunity Needed: On Target, the New Annie Movie, and Representing Black Girls

Several years ago, I babysat a child who was behaving rather badly.  I tried all my tricks ranging from threats to hugs to bribery, but nothing worked.  The child simply refused to get it together.

The child, in a fit of rage, turned to me and said, "I need an opportunity!"

The exclamation has stuck with me for years, as I'm parenting, as I worked with my students at the university, as I dealt with difficult customers in some of my other jobs, and most recently when I took my daughters to see the new ANNIE movie.

One of Annie's songs is called "Opportunity."  And it's resonating with me today as I share this article with you, a piece over at My Brown Baby, which focuses on Target's Annie clothing advertisements in their stores which feature not a single brown girl.




For a hundred reasons, this bothers me.

The greatest is this:  my girls deserve to be represented rather than dismissed, ignored, and pushed aside.

This is one reason I wrote BLACK GIRLS CAN: AN EMPOWERING STORY OF YESTERDAYS AND TODAYS.  Because Black girls and women CAN and DO great things and should be recognized for it.

And we sure don't need any more messages of BLACK GIRLS CANNOT, whether that comes from an advertisement, a tv show, a book, or anything else.  

Monday, December 1, 2014

Very Merry: My One December Blog Post

It's December!  One of my favorite times of the year is Christmas.  We decorate, we bake, we shop, we wrap, we read, we smile, we celebrate, we eat, we lounge, we listen.  It's sparkly, magic, miracle. It's joy, peace, and hope.  It's blessing after blessing.  It's family. It's remembering and looking forward.

When Steve and I were first married, we put up a tree that was decorated in coordinating glass, silver, and gray ornaments. It was balanced, symmetrical.  It was tidy and well-planned.

As the years passed on and the children entered our lives, our tree began to evolve.  We added ornaments from our own childhoods, plus ornaments gifted to our children.  Ornaments symbolizing first Christmases and favorite activities and characters. We began to display several Black Santa ornaments and brown-skinned angels, grinning each time our kids exclaimed, "That one looks like me!"








 Our tree went from silver and gray to a palate mirroring the rainbow.

In essence, our tree became symbolic of our family:  non-matching but more beautiful than it was before.

This year has been one of incredible blessings for our family.  My oldest started kindergarten, my middle child started preschool, my son turned one (and is almost two!).  We started homeschooling the kids (part-time).  I published a second book, wrote for both Scary Mommy and Babble, shared part of our story on Portrait of Adoption, got re-published on abc.com, went on NPR and Huffington Post Live, and continued to write for adoption.net.  I found out that Melissa Harris-Perry recommended my first book!  And I'm happy to share that my first book has sold over 1,000 copies!   And Steve and I successfully went on a date every month (except October).  That's huge, ya'll, when you have three kids!  We visited our kids' birth families twice, and we spent a fabulous week at Disney with Steve's parents.

We have so much to be thankful for.

2015 will no doubt be a great year!  Exciting things are coming, including my third book (co-authored with a really fabulous writer).   Meanwhile, I'll be getting my Christmas on, doing a daily devotional with the kiddos, baking cookies, wrapping gifts, and relishing in the celebration of Jesus' birth and the promise that starry night offers us all:



And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  ~Luke 2:10 (emphasis mine)

I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas.  I hope this season has you looking up and relishing in the best gift: a savior.  Thank you for using a few moments of your precious time to read my blog.  I'll be back blogging in January.