Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dear Sugar: Your Burning Adoption Questions, Anxiety, Gender Preference, Profile Books, and More

Dear Sugar,

Occasionally I ask my Facebook followers what they want to know about adoption, so today I'm answering some of your questions! Let's get at it!  

Q:  I have a diagnosis of anxiety and depression.  Can I still adopt?

The answer is, probably yes. Many parents-by-adoption have various health issues, whether it be mental or physical.  The most important thing is that your health issue is "controlled" and under the supervision of a medical professional.   I also think it's important that you are aware of your needs and are honest about where you are, because the adoption journey can be really mentally, emotionally, and (because of those) physically draining on a person.  It's likely your social worker will ask for a letter from your doctor regarding your health issue, which will be part of your homestudy process.   Just be honest (with your social worker and yourself)!  

Q:   I'm overwhelmed by all the adoption resources:  books, blogs, articles, workshops.  How do I choose?  

With adoption resources, I think the idea of "less is more" is false. The more perspectives you have, the better off you are as a parent. That said, I know it's not realistic for you to spend all your spare time reading adoption resources.  So my advice?  Start by reading ONE resource from EACH of the adoption triad members:  parent-by-adoption, adoptee, and birth parent.   Then once you've read those three resources, choose another three.   By making small goals (three resources at a time), you'll be more likely to actually read the resources.   To get started, here are three book suggestions from triad members:  Finding Motherhood (Jill M. Murphy)-birth mom and mom by adoption; Dear Adoptive Parents (Madeleine Melcher)-adoptee; You Can Adopt Without Debt (Julie Gumm)- mom by adoption.   

Q:  Should I have my profile book professionally created?

More and more hopeful parents are opting to have their profiles professionally created.  Most of us aren't graphic designers AND writers, so creating a book is a BIG deal.  I think the main question to ask yourself is this:  Is this profile book authentically me?   That's what's most important.  A good professional profile designer will help create a book that clearly is the REAL you.   Also, consider your budget.  Having a professional create your book comes at a cost.    At the end of the day, choose ethics.  Send out profile books that are truth-tellers, because what's at stake is SO important.  

Q:  I cannot have biological children.  Do I share that in my profile book?

It's your choice, though an expectant mom may be curious as to why you are choosing to adopt.  Just know that whether or not you choose to disclose in your book, you might be asked by an expectant mom why you are opting to adopt.  In some ways, it's easier just to put it all "out there" and "up front," since a question later (and in person) may catch you off guard.  The thing I don't want you to do is turn your profile book into a "sob story," where you pour out your story to expectant mothers and potentially induce some sense of guilt or obligation.   Your story is yours, and you can decide how to share it.   

Q: I really want to adopt a girl.  Is it OK to have a preference?  
I have strong feelings on this one---but remember, I'm only one person and my word isn't adoption gospel.   I do not agree with allowing parents to select the sex of the baby they will adopt when we're talking about domestic infant adoption.   Here's why.  One, your child might be thought to be a boy or girl and then surprise, is born and isn't what was predicted.  Are you going to back out of the match because the baby isn't your "dream" or "preferred" baby?   Two, a child isn't going to be a certain way just because he or she is a boy or a girl.  I have a daughter who loves dragons and basketball and the color blue.   She's not "girly." So if your preference is based on expectations and demands, that's not fair to the child.  We need to let our kids be who they are, not force them into a category out of selfish desire.  

Now, I have plenty of friends who did state a preference, and I believe that's their choice.  Their children are a joy.   But for me, I wasn't at all comfortable choosing a preference.   In fact, our son was thought to be a girl (surprise!) and one of my daughters was thought to be a boy (surprise again!).  I'm happy with our family:  three girls and one boy.   

I just wanted to be a mommy.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Dear Sugar: 5 Ways to Prepare Little Ones for Back-to-School (Diverse Resources Included)

Dear Sugar:
It's that time of year.  School supply aisles are packed with moms acting like it's Black Friday. They've got their venti iced coffee in one hand, a mile-long list in the other, while they push the cart with their midsection.  Their eyes?  Bloodshot.  This is serious.

Back-to-school is a time many of us moms have a love-hate relationship with.  We get all soft, feeling sad that our "babies" are going to be getting on buses and spending their days with someone who is not us.  On the other hand, the sibling wars, the "sharking" (yep, that's a verb) around the pantry for snack #26 of the day (and it's only 10:15 a.m.), and heat waves---we are just DONE.  OVER IT.

Going back to school can be especially hard on younger kids.  An abrupt and extreme change in their routine, meeting a stranger who is now the authority (teacher), making new friends (hopefully), and all the transitions (bus, classroom, cafeteria, gym) can be overwhelming and exhausting.

And it's hard on us mamas, too.  My kids all start school at the same time (this year at THREE different schools), but they arrive home at different times.   And then there's the after school meltdown...which I really do not want to even think about right now, so let's move on.

This isn't my first rodeo, so here are my tried-and-true tips to help you and your littles ease back into the school year:

1:  Get diverse toys and books.

Two weeks before school starts, I gather up books from our home library to read to the kids.  This helps them get into the school-year mindset.   Each of these feature diverse characters, reflective of my children's schools.   (Click on the book image to learn more.)

2:  Play school.

Oh my goodness, do kids love to "play school."  Take turns being the teacher, do workbooks and art projects, and just have fun.  You can also pull out toys, such as the Melissa and Doug or Little People school bus sets.  We also love the eeBoo Create a Story cards:  the back-to-school version.

3:  Get the gear.

Shop for a first day of school shirt (online; because no one is going to the store right now).  Buy new lunch boxes.  (We do NOT buy new backpacks every year---too expensive!  But we do get one new piece of "gear" each year.)  This year Pottery Barn Kids is offering some diverse character school gear products (yeah!) that we're loving such as the ballerina lunch box, mermaid lunch box, Peanuts lunch box, and the Disney princess lunch box (Tiana included!).

4:  Create a countdown calendar.

Create a calendar two weeks before school starts.  Have the kids alternate putting stickers on the days as they pass by.   A visual reminder is helpful for kids (and mamas!).   The dollar store often has diverse character stickers.  

5:  Plan an after-school routine together.

After school is a REALLY hard time for us.  Talk to your kids about what helps them relax and refresh.  For us, we have a snack ready for the kids as soon as they walk in the door from school. And when I say snack, it's really first-dinner.  My kids are so hungry after school.  Make sure the snack is balanced (protein, carbs-including lots of fiber, and healthy fat) and has different textures (crunchy, smooth, soft) which helps meet sensory needs.    Great options include an apple with peanut butter and a Greek yogurt tube, a small sandwich and a piece of crunchy fruit, a homemade smoothie (sipped through a straw) and whole grain dry cereal or veggie chips.   Additionally, after snack we go outside (if possible) where the kids pick an activity.  My oldest prefers to sit and read or create art with sidewalk chalk, while my middle two kids (who are more active) enjoy riding bikes, playing catch, or playing with the hose.   If we have to be indoors, I let the kids play a dance or sports game on the XBOX or play downstairs (we have plasma cars).    It isn't unheard of for my kids to be in their PJS right after dinner.  Sometimes changing clothes just makes a person feel better!

How do you prepare your kids for heading back to school?  Let's chat on Facebook!  

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dear Sugar: 5 Questions for LaTasha Booth, the Frugal Fit Girl

Dear Sugar:  

Today I'm introducing you to LaTasha (Tasha) Booth.  She's basically Wonder Woman's sister!   I'm completely amazed by her passion and accomplishments, and I love her commitment to empowering fellow women. 

Rachel:  Tell me about yourself.  

Tasha: I'm originally from New Jersey but now live in Tucson, AZ with my husband, Scott who is in the Air Force. Scott has 2 daughters who live in Chicago with their mom but they come visit us a few times a year.

I do A LOT of things! By day, I'm the Health and Well Being Director for 2 YMCAs. I manage the fitness facilities, instructors, class schedules etc. And by early morning, evening and weekends, I'm a Virtual Assistant and Pinterest Strategist.  I help Bloggers, Authors, and Online business owners with all of the little but important things on their "to do" lists.  Then, by "it's Sunday night and a need to write a blog post for Monday", I'm the blogger behind "The Frugal Fit Girl".

I hold multiple certifications in Personal Training, Group Fitness and nutrition but, my degree from Messiah College is in theater. I worked professionally in musical theater for over 10 years before I decided that it was time to do something else.  

I don't have much spare time but, when I do, I love going to Sunday Brunch with Scott. And watching reruns of CSI Miami while cuddled on the couch with our dog, Stanly.  Fitness is super important to both me and Scott so we try to make time for the gym and compete in several Spartan races each year.  

Rachel:  What is the goal of your blog?  What do you think your life's purpose is? 

Tasha:  I started The Frugal Fit Girl because I wanted to show women that it's possible to work towards saving for the future and getting out of debt while still living a healthy, balanced, fabulous life.  I've been a couponer for years and for so long people would say "oh, it's impossible to save money while eating healthy" well, I'm here to prove them wrong!  I want to empower women to gain financial freedom so that they can do the things they want to do instead of just doing the things they HAVE to do because of pay check. 

My life's purpose is definitely to make a difference in the lives of people.  I love making people see how beautiful the world around them can be.

Rachel:  What is your single most important tip for someone who wants to be more frugal?  And you say "frugal" instead of "cheap."  What's the difference?

Tasha:  My single biggest tip is to start with a budget.  People are often afraid of the word "budget" but all it means is "a plan for your money". And if you don't have a plan, I guarantee you'll get to the end of the month and have no idea where most of it goes!  So many times there are "money leaks" in our lives that we aren't even aware of. For example, a couple months ago, I was doing my budget and I realized that I had 3 or 4 monthly subscription services that I was paying for but not using.  I cancelled them and immediately freed up almost $200 per month!  

I use the word "frugal" instead of "cheap" because I don't advocate for NEVER spending money. I just advocate for spending money where it matters to you.  Scott and I love to go out to eat on the weekends and love 
getting my nails done (it just makes me feel more put together and professional) . If we were being "cheap" we'd probably cut those things out of our budget because they're definitely wants not needs. But we've decided that they're important to us so we make it happen by making it a line item in our budget.

Rachel:  You also are committed to fitness.  For someone who really wants to "get fit," but feels overwhelmed by all the advice, diets, resources, etc., what would you tell her?

Tasha:  Like most things in life, we over complicate fitness.  For most people out there, it's just a matter of "eat less and move more". Now, when I say "eat less", I'm NOT talking low calories, that just slows down your metabolism which is exactly the opposite of what we want! I mean, eat less of the wrong foods. If you can't pronounce the ingredients, it's probably made in a lab, not grown on a farm.  More real foods, less fake foods.  For exercise, find something that you love to do and do it consistently.  That can be dancing, running, walking...whatever! Just move! :)

Rachel:  You seem to focus on empowering women to become stronger, healthier, and happier.   What's your secret to living a happy life?  

Tasha:  My secret is that I believe in creating the life I want to live.  A few years ago I went through a huge life change.  I got a divorce, moved across the country, changed careers. I left everything behind except what fit in my car. It was crazy and scary and lonely. But now, on the other side of it. I see so much peace and love and the opportunity to live the life that I knew was possible.  Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be afraid to have the hard conversations. And don't be afraid to create a life you love!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Dear Sugar: 5 Burning Adoption Questions, a Q and A

Dear Sugar,

I get a lot of questions about adoption, and today I'm answering some of them!  Let's get at it.

Q:  Do expectant parents see the hopeful parents' homestudy?  Should they be able to?

In my experience, the expectant parents (or birth parents) do not see the homestudy. The reason being, the document is intended, for the agency's purpose and for legal reasons, to show due-diligence happened and to prove that the family IS qualified to adopt.

It's my opinion that the birth parents or expectant parents should NOT be able to see a homestudy. This is not because we, as hopeful/adoptive parents have something to hide, but because SOME of the info in the homestudy is very personal and detailed and again contains information that we consider "private" to almost everyone in our lives.   (For example, our parents and close friends don't know our yearly income.)  Likewise, I believe that expectant and birth parents have the right to keep certain details of their lives private.

That said, I believe in honesty and disclosure.  The expectant parents should ask any questions they want.  It is up to the hopeful parents if they disclose answers to those questions, whatever they may be.  I think expectant parents should have the information they want and need to make an informed choice, which varies parent-to-parent. I believe agencies should foster communication between the expectant and hopeful parents, guiding them on what is and isn't appropriate to ask.  If the agency is ethical, this isn't an issue.  

Q:  Is it OK to change my child's birth name? 

What did you agree to with the expectant parents?  That's really the only question you need to ask.  If you made a promise, keep it.   I believe re-naming an infant CAN be different than re-naming a toddler, preschooler, or older child.  

Personally, we co-named each of our kids with their birth families.  We used their preferences/chosen birth name for the child along with our preferences/chosen name.  I believe this was a way to honor everyone and create a beautiful name for each of our children.  

Q:  The primal wound theory:  yay or nay?

I don't believe there is a "yay or nay."  The primal wound is different for every adoptee and their individual circumstances and story.    I know adult adoptees who don't believe in the primal wound, yet I also know adult adoptees who do.

As the (adoptive) parent, I believe our responsibility is to know that SOME adoptees struggle with the "primal wound."  Thus, if we are educated on it and are proactive in meeting our children's needs, that's what matters.

It's not up to us to declare if the primal wound is real or not.  That's not our call to make.  

Q:  Language like "our birth mom" or "our baby" before the child is born is supposedly a no-no in the adoption community, but I find it endearing.  So what do you think?

"Our" claims ownership, and you don't own the expectant mom and child.  If/until placement happens, the baby is hers and she is her own.   I understand that some hopeful parents find "our" to be endearing.  It's a way of stating connection and affection.  However, I personally find it inappropriate. And remember, a woman isn't a "birth mother" if/until she places a baby for adoption.  Until then, she's an "expectant mom."   Words matter.

Q:  I want to breastfeed my child, but I'm not sure I want to discuss this with my social worker or an expectant mother.  Thoughts?

My belief is that when a child becomes yours, the parenting choices are also yours to make.  You do not need "permission" from anyone.   However, adoption, especially open adoption, is an experience and commitment to respect, grace, and disclosure.   I don't think there is a right/perfect answer; however, I don't think you should lie.   If your social worker or expectant mother asks you if you intend to breastfeed, and you do, than say so.  If you aren't committed, say that.  But at the end of the day, once TPR and revocation is over, you as the mom have to make parenting decisions:  many of them.  This is what makes you mom:  making those informed decisions based on what you believe is best for your baby.  I share my nursing journey here and here, if you'd like to learn more.  

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dear Sugar: Ten Things This Mama of Four Ain't Got Time For

Dear Sugar:

I have four children.  That alone should cause pause.  I do not have time or patience for the following:

1:  Any events where only one of my children is invited.

2:  Parties (online or in person) where women are trying to sell me crap I do not want, need, or like.

3:  Diets, including no-carb or low-carb, keto, vegan, or drinking-shakes-only.

4:  Listening to complaints from grown women about petty nonsense.  

5:  Drama.  Put on your big-girl panties.  

6:  Outings for the sake of the children that mean I will sweat profusely among a large crowd of strangers for several hours while making small talk with said strangers who want to discuss all-things-adoption while two of the four kids have epic meltdowns over needing another snack even though we ate sixteen minutes ago.  (Think, zoo in July...thanks but not thanks).  

7:  700 ultra-expensive children's adult-directed activities that only make all of us want to have an epic public meltdown.  Just say NO to over-scheduling.  

8:  Flakes.  My carefully-laid plans are just that: carefully laid.  When I manage to get my rear out the door, dressed as a semi-normal and functional human being, that's a BIG DEAL.  If you flake on me: girl, bye.  

9:  Extra anything.  I don't want papers, I don't want freebies, I don't want crappy junk in my house.  (Just say NO to free Dum Dums from the bank teller.)  

10:  Healthy brownies.  NOBODY actually likes brownies made with vegetables.  Eat a real damn brownie, and we can be friends. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dear Sugar: My Honest Review of Ancestry's DNA Testing

Dear Sugar:

The (short) story:  I wanted to run a DNA test on one of my children to see the ethnic breakdown. 

The before:  I’ll tell you, I was choosing between 23andme and Ancestry.  The reason I went with Ancestry?  We tried 23andme a year ago, and their customer service sucked. I ended up returning the kit for a full refund.  Also, I’ll be honest that advertising got to me.  I used Ancestry because they’re the sponsorer of one of our favorite shows, Long Lost Family, which features stories of (mostly) adoptees and birth families reuniting. 

I caught the kit during a 20% off sale.  Seemed like a great deal at first, until I realized there’s a $10 shipping fee tacked on.  I only saved $10 off the normal price, but $10 is $10, right? 

The spitting:   I cannot even.   So I had to be SO patient and firm and encouraging.  You’d think ¼ teaspoon of saliva isn’t that much.   A kid like mine can produce that very quickly when arguing with a sibling, but on-demand, by mom, and into a vial?  Um, no.  It took us 45 minutes to get the sample.  And I pulled ALL the stops.  I had the kid “spit” at a bug outside.  I had said child “spit” by making big farting noises.  I encouraged child to “spit” loudly and quietly.  I had even had child “spit” by first swishing the mouth around.    The vial does come with a funnel you screw into the top, so it catches more saliva than if the funnel weren’t available.

I’m pretty sure I produced more saliva, like 10000 times more, than my child did during the process. Kid was miserable.  I mean, kid tried REALLY hard.  But 45 minutes of anything besides i-Pad time or swimming is too long for any young kid.   The only good part?   When there’s enough saliva to fill to the line, you get to remove the funnel, screw on a cap full of blue solution, and SHAKE.   My child LOVED the ten-ish seconds of shaking.   And, of course, the jelly beans I promised when finished.

The mailing:  Easy.  Register the kit online and then mail in the prepared packaging by dropping into any USPS box.  It was very easy to follow the directions.    After I registered, I got to state the name of the person (I used a fake name) and how much I wanted made public (basically nothing).   I found the permissions to be very up front and easy to navigate and understand.   Breeze.  

The arrival:  Ancestry e-mailed me when they received the kit.   Gave me peace of mind.  I had visions of my child's saliva going to some medical research facility and being used Henrietta Lacks style.   Which, if you haven’t read the bestselling book or seen the recent HBO movie, do it.  And just remember, you control how the sample is used and what info is published, so don’t freak out. 

The wait:  Oh did it feel like it took FOREVER to get the results.  Then I'd get all hopeful when I saw a message in my inbox from Ancestry, only for it to be another promotion or update that WAS NOT our results!   To be fair, I'm a pretty impatient, demanding person, so I can't blame Ancestry on this one.  They did say results take 6-8 weeks.

The results:  On a Saturday night, I got an (unexpected)e-mail that we had the results!  (I figured results were only sent M-F.)  It was not as climatic as I thought it would be.  The ethnicity results were not what I anticipated.  However, it was still really cool to save the results for our child and to know, via cold-hard facts, what the truth is vs. taking birth family's word for it.  Not because they birth family was dishonest, but because they themselves didn't have a full history and a lot of information!  The breakdown provided comes in the form of a pie-graph, as well as an explanation and a world map with highlighted regions.  

Repeat?:  Would we do it again?  Yes. Waiting was the hardest part (isn't it that way for everything in life?).   I'm not so interested in learning about my own history (I know I'm Polish and a mix of Irish and American Indian), but two of my other children have also taken the test, and we're waiting on the results.   It's definitely interesting to learn about one's origins, and I think for adoptees in particular, knowing the "once upon a time" and the beginning can be even more meaningful and important than for the non-adopted person.  

Have you used a DNA service?  Which one?  Was it helpful?  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dear Sugar: 9 Adoption Books to Own Before Your Baby Arrives

Dear Sugar:

If you're waiting for your baby, can I just say I'm so over-the-moon for you?  I know exactly how you feel:  a mix of anticipation, elation, joy, and fear.   I've adopted four children, and each time the wait was incredibly challenging and surprising.  

One way that you can get ready for your baby is to start a home library.   As an avid reader and fan of children's books, I've compiled this fab list of the books you need to put in your child's library.

Why fill the library now?  

1:  It helps you nest.  To actively be buying and arranging things for your future baby helps you prepare your heart and mind.  

2:  Practicing reading the books now helps you be able to articulate and discuss adoption with your child from their earliest days.   (Think:  practice makes perfect.)  

3:  You will be *slightly* busy once your child is in your arms.  So getting ready now leaves room on your plate for the more pressing things later:  snuggling your baby!     

Happy reading, and happy waiting.   I'm cheering for you!  

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.