Monday, April 14, 2014

Around the Web: Good Reading!

On Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent's Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children...

First, I'm so honored!  I happened to stumble upon an interview on Jezebel with MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry where I saw this response Melissa gave to a fan asking about transracial adoption:

"But I've learned from talking with transracial adoption families that love is critical and important, but not enough. There are complicated issues of identity, culture, and belonging that sensitive parents must deal with, not ignore. It sounds to me like you are a sensitive and proactive parent.
We had an amazing guest on the MHP show about a year ago who is white and raising black adopted children, Rachel Garlinghouse. I love her book Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent's Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children. You can also visit her website and follow her on Twitter. Rachel is lovely and insightful and may be of help as you navigate this process."
You can follow my book on Facebook or find me on Twitter for updates!
On adoptive nursing...
Last week I participated in a Huffington Post Live segment on adoptive nursing along with two breastfeeding professionals (both adoptive mothers).  This is a topic dear to my heart and one that is increasingly intriguing to adoptive mothers.
On type 2 diabetes and minority kids...
Did you know that minority children are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes?  The disease can lead to major health complications, including early death.  Read more on, learning how to be proactive to protect your child.    
On coping with emotions while waiting to adopt a child...
"Waiting for the news that you have been referred or chosen can be incredibly frustrating, confusing, disheartening, and anxiety-inducing."  Here's how to cope, from    

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Adopting & Adapting: My Messy Beautiful

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Adopting & Adapting:  My Messy Beautiful
The day my daughter was born, I wasn’t in a hospital room surrounded by nurses and doctors. I wasn’t doing any special breathing techniques, begging for an epidural, or suffering through contractions. I wasn’t holding the hand of a partner or watching the hours tick by, waiting in anticipation for her arrival into the world.
On the day Miss E arrived, I was painting my kitchen.
It was a sunny Saturday in November. My bare feet stuck annoying to the plastic drop cloth on the floor, my arms sprinkled with azure flecks of dried paint.  My husband and I sang along to the radio as we went up and down step stools and refilled our paint trays.  As usual, my husband was slow and diligent, perfecting every stroke, while I quickly and sloppily rolled paint onto larger areas without method. He would attempt to assess my work without me noticing. I’d laugh and tell him to mind his own business.  I hated painting.   
It was nearing 4:00, and we needed to clean up our mess, shower, and dress.  We had plans to see a play our friend was directing.
As we were gathering our brushes, the phone rang.
My husband took the call.  After a few moments he said, in the most serious tone, “Here.” 
Puzzled, I wiped my hands on my shirt and put the phone to my ear.
It was our new social worker.  She introduced herself and said, “The reason I’m calling is that we have a woman who gave birth to a baby girl today and is seeking to place her for adoption. I’m headed to the hospital in an hour to meet with her. Would you like to be considered?”
As soon as I hung up the phone, my husband, eyes wide, said, “Are we ready?”
It was a valid question. For fourteen months, we had been waiting to get a call saying we were parents.  We had been fingerprinted, studied, checked, and approved.  We had spent hours upon hours reading books and blogs, meeting with adoptive families, and decorating a nursery. 
We were prepared, but were we ready?
Two hours later, we were driving to the play when my cell phone rang.  I picked up after just half a ring.  My husband sped up closest exit ramp and pulled over in an industrial parking lot.
“She wants you two to be the parents. Congratulations!”
We were elated. And very, very nervous.
Three days later on the four-hour drive to meet our daughter, we considered the reality of the situation. We were mom and dad to a baby we didn’t conceive and birth. A baby we hadn’t met. A baby we were required to name before ever seeing her face or touching her cheeks. A baby who looked nothing like us. There were no stretch marks or food cravings and no ultrasound pictures to pass around the family dinner table.  
Instant parenthood. Given to us by a stranger woman who was saying the hardest of goodbyes to a tiny, innocent little girl.
Meeting our daughter for the first time was surreal.  Like a dream.   She was just under six pounds and had a full head of silky, black hair. She had large brown eyes, so dark they were almost blue, surrounded by eyelashes that are only seen in mascara commercials.  She looked up and us calmly, as if she was saying hello.
Oh, sweet girl. I’m your mom.  Well, your second mom. I cannot believe you are mine.  
I’m rocking, stroking her perfect nose with the tip of my finger while quietly singing her the alphabet.
She’s sleepily gazing at me, her eyelids heavy from a day of babyhood bliss: throwing toys, smearing banana in her afro, flipping through board books, and belly-laughing through games of peek-a-boo.
She’s ten months old today, I suddenly realize.
Ten months.
Forty weeks.
I’ve had her for the same amount of time her birth mother carried her.
My eyes fill with tears. One drop making its way to the pink blanket wrapped around my daughter’s body.
I cannot fathom losing you, daughter. After having you for ten months. Ten months of milestones and moments. Ten months of memories. Ten months of being your mommy.
My heart aches for the woman who gave my baby life.  The empathy for her loss is crushing.
I kiss my daughter’s chubby, brown cheek.
I’m sorry for all this brokenness. 
“Hi!” my two-and-half-year old greets other toddlers who are gathered around the train table at the library.  “I’m adopted!” she announces to them.   One kid frowns, another runs away to his mother, and the others just stare.
I laugh softly.
She’s so proud.  So confident. So authentic.
Just the week before, she told me that when she was little, she was in her birth mom’s belly button.
The story of adoption is beginning to come together in her young mind.
“How does the baby get from the birth mom’s tummy to the outside?”
We are cuddling in her bed, surrounded by her favorite stuffed animals.  Our knees touching under a cupcake-printed blanket. 
“What do you mean?”
“I was in my birth mom’s stomach.  Then I came out and was born.  How did I get out?”
Oh.  Ok.  Um…
“The doctor helps the baby come out.”
Oh geese.
“Do you mean…?”  I know what she means.  She wants to know about birth.  “Well, remember that girls have vaginas?  That’s where babies come out.” 
Giggles.  Her three-year-old sister sprints into the room, full force, typical of a middle child.  Not wanting to be left out of a clearly comic situation, she plops onto the bed. 
“Do babies come out of…eyeballs?” my oldest pipes up. She can barely get the words out.  Her sister hops up and down on her knees, quickly catching on.
“What about ears?  Do babies come out of ears?”  More giggles.
“Vagina!” yells the three-year-old.
I’ve lost the little control I had.
The girls begin to chant “vagina” with increasingly enthusiasm while dancing on the bed in tribal fashion.  Sister Club commences.
I don’t know whether to laugh, frown and pretend to disapprove of their antics, or shut down the party so I can get to a favorite bottle of wine.
It’s time to get one of those body books for kids.  Amazon, here I come.
“Where’s my dad?” she asks.
“At work, honey,” I remind her, moving a pot of water to the stove to steam veggies for dinner.
“No, my dad.  I want to see him.” 
“Are you asking about your birth dad?”
“Yes. Maybe I can visit him?”
“We don’t know where he lives or what his name is.”
“Well, maybe I can send him something in the mail?”
Inward sigh.
Weeks later, the culmination of curiosity blooms.
I’m getting ready to take a shower after a workout.  The baby is in the pack-n-play (endearingly referred to as the baby cage); my three-year old is reading books on the floor. 
I’m trying to find a clean towel when I feel a tapping finger on my shoulder. 
“Mom, maybe now that the weather is nice, I can see my birth mom.”
There’s a tinge of vulnerability in her voice that’s never been there before.  I know, immediately, that this is one her defining moments.  And I’m scared I’m going to screw it up.  I revert, quickly, to the only One I know can help me get this right.
Lord, help me.  This is the moment that I need to disclose more truth to her.  Prepare her little heart. Give me the words.
I sit on the edge of the bathtub and take her hands in mine. I lock my hazel eyes with her chocolate ones. A few seconds of silence pass between us. My mind flashes reminders of years of adoption education:  the importance of honesty balanced with empathy.  I feel a calming presence wash over me, unexpectedly, but quite welcome.   
I take her hands in mine.
“We would love to see your birth mother, but we have tried and she doesn’t show up. I don’t know why she doesn’t come to visits. That’s really sad, isn’t it?”
I pick her up, her chest against mine, and she wraps her legs around my waist, her arms around my shoulders, and pulls close. And we just sit there, holding each other.  Thinking. Reflecting. Feeling. The mid-morning sun streams in through the picture window, surrounding us with warmth and light.
Oh Lord, this is so imperfect. Adoption. So bittersweet. I’m her mother, but I’m not her only mother. I’m what she needs, but I’m not her everything, her only. Why must her little heart break?
Yet it’s my overwhelming honor and responsibility to help her navigate the loss, the confusion, the feelings of both joy and pain.  
And so I do.
I’m exhausted.
She just had tonsil-removal surgery a few days before.  I’ve not only been nurse to her, but have continued to be mommy to the three littles (one of whom is having an epic teething moment), promoting my book, and completing articles for my editor. Dinner options look like eggs or frozen pizza, neither of which seems appetizing.
I’ve been sleeping on an air mattress beside my daughter whose surgery mandates that she receive pain medication every four hours, overnight hours included.  I feel like I have an infant again. Spoon-feeding her soft foods, compromising at every turn, letting the house fall to shambles. 
“Mom, can I please paint your toenails?” she begs as I attempt to sneak in a five minute shower at 7 p.m.
“Oh, honey, I don’t know.” I am wishfully hoping she’ll forget the request in the next five minutes.  But I know, deep down, she won’t.
I just want the kids to go. To. Bed.
She’s a mini-me.  Oldest child. Perfectionist. Type A. Sets her mind to something, and she won’t let it go until it happens. 
Relentless, that one.
“Ok. Yes. Fine.” I pull open the nail polish drawer and assign her to choose colors while I shower.
I shower, dry off, and throw on mismatched pajamas.  We sit on an old towel on my bathroom floor, and she begins to work.
She’s chosen rainbow colors.  Everything rainbow lately. The more color, the better.
I sit quietly, observing her. Too tired to guide her in her application technique or question her color choices or beg her not to use the glitter polish because it simply refuses to be removed.
She’s thrilled that I’m complying.  She adds layer upon layer of gooey polish.  She tells me to sit still.  She requests that I find her the hair dryer so she can work to dry my toenails which pooled with wet, drippy polish that is never going to dry.
“You look so gor-ge-ous!” she smiles, proud of her work.  She stands and nods her head in approval, watching herself in the vanity mirror.
My feet rest on the now-speckled white towel, my toes bleeding neon orange, sparkly purple, Smurf blue, Barbie pink.
My daughter turns form the mirror to look at me, imploring a response.
“Great job, honey.” I smile encouragingly.
She grins from ear-to-ear and winks at me, her long eyelashes briefly kissing her cheek.
Nothing about adoption has been easy. I’ve experienced unexplainable joy and indescribable  pain.  I’ve yelled at God one minute and praised Him the next. I’ve felt both gratitude and anger toward my children’s biological families.  I’ve cried over the losses that have been emerged and the ones that lie, festering, threatening to steal joy and hope and peace. I’ve experienced so many firsts with my children, celebrated Mother’s Day, cared for my children when they were sick, celebrated with them when they’ve conquered a fear or made the right choice.  I simultaneously experience anticipation, pride, confusion, and happiness when I think about how I became a mother.
My life, my marriage, my career, my motherhood, my understanding of God and loss and joy: none are what I dreamed they would be.
They are so much more difficult and so much more beautiful.
Or should I say, brutiful?

Monday, April 7, 2014


You may be inclined to believe this post is about one of my children throwing a fit, shouting the classic, "It's not fair!" 

But the injustice perceived and proclaimed isn't coming from my children.   It's resounding.  And it's coming from waiting adoptive parents.

Why is it not fair?

  • You've paid good money.

  • You are better than they are.

  • You are entitled to a child.

Let me explain.

It's normal to have feelings of resentment, jealousy, anger, frustration, and confusion during one's adoption journey.  The waiting is excruciating at times.  Numbing.  Even debilitating.

I've been there.  I've stalked my agency's waiting-family profile page online.  I cringed every time I saw a couple's face with "placement" stamped across their faces.  (A family we waited alongside with our first adoption got placed not once, but TWICE, while we waited.  REALLY?!?)  I would congratulate pregnant or adopting friends and family members with a fake smile on my face while mentally cursing them and their cute baby gifts.  I threw epic pity parties.  I couldn't figure out why we were passed over AGAIN by ANOTHER expectant mother.  I think our profile was viewed over fifteen times in our first year of waiting for our first child.  

So, here we go.

Everyone around you is pregnant.  Everyone around you is parenting happily with rainbows and butterflies and shooting starts and frolicking unicorns in the background.  You are getting an ungodly amount of baby shower invites.   And all those pregnant women, they are complaining that they are experiencing nausea or have gained weight or are having a boy instead of a girl.  Or worse, your best friend is pregnant with not one, no, but two babies.  Twins.  TWO.   And your seventeen-year-old niece:  she's having an "oops" baby with her jobless boyfriend of two months.

And then there are, as I recently heard from one waiting mom, the crap parents.  The ones who yell at their kids (maybe even curse at them), who don't engage, who just suck at your definition of parenting.  And not only do they suck at parenting now, but they keep. having. babies.  The parents who have seven different babies with seven different partners.  The parents who let their kids walk around Wal-Mart without shoes.  The parents who let their kids suck on cart handles or gulp Mountain Dew. The parents who live in trailers or with Grandma or are living off government assistance.

And then there are the other adoptive families, the ones who get picked before you.  And you look at their online profiles and think, "What's so special about them?"  You analyze their personal descriptions, the photo of their homes, their weight, their clothing, their obsession with pets or outdoor sports.  You snarl.  You stamp your mental feet.   "What do they have that we don't?"

So then, since the ball is rolling, you build an ever-growing tower in which you lock yourself in so you can, of course, throw more pity parties.

  • "I've paid good money!"  My hard-earned/donated/fundraised money is just sitting.  For what?  For a service unfulfilled.  For a dream not yet attained.  For the social worker to tell me to "be patient." For family members to tell me that my time will come.  For someone to say that it must be God's will that we don't have a baby yet.  I did everything the agency asked of me.  I was fingerprinted, background checked, medically examined.  I answered questions.  I put covers on my outlets and locked up the cleaning supplies.  Dammit, I ordered up a baby, and I expect a baby!

  • "I'm better than those other parents." I don't get it.  I mean, my profile book shows it all.  The nursery is set up and decorated beautifully.  We go to freaking Disney once a year!  DISNEY!  The most magical place on earth!  I have researched vaccines and BPA-free bottles and making my own baby food  And these other parents with their shoe-less toddlers and their willingness to yell at their children in a store for all to hear...And don't even get me started on teen mothers.  Why does a 15-year-old child get to have a baby and I don't?  How is that ok? 

  • "I am entitled to a child."  Everyone has the right to be a parent.  And apparently, everyone else around me has a child except me.  I have done anything and everything to be called "mom," yet I still don't have a baby. I deserve to be a parent after everything I've been through.  And no, I don't want an invitation to another baby shower.  I hate those stupid games of "guess how big mom's tummy is." When is it my turn?!?
Here's the deal.   It's ok to have feelings about your situation.  It's normal to experience a myriad of emotions.  Adoption is complicated, it's bittersweet, it's challenging...

and here's news:  the journey doesn't end once you are placed.

You see, you have to find healthy ways NOW to deal with emotions that will resurface time and time and time again throughout the rest of your life.

So, after three adoptions and an ongoing journey in parenting and adoptive parenting, here's where I stand on the issue of "It's not fair!":

1:  Recognize the thoughts and the resulting feelings you are having.  Don't pretend you aren't struggling.  Probably everyone around you knows you are struggling via your comments, the look on your face, your attitude.  If it helps, speak your experience to a trusted friend, spouse, or counselor.  For me, writing is cathartic.  Keep a personal journal or a private blog.  (But please, please, do not take out your anger/jealousy out on your friends and family members who are pregnant or parenting.  It's not only incredibly hurtful and selfish, but it could ruin relationships with people who would have been rejoicing with you when it became your turn to be a parent. This means no passive-aggressive remarks or Facebook posts!  Don't squander others' joy!)

2:  Realize that thoughts aren't always a choice, but what you do about them is.   As Christians, it's important to reconfigure.  Personal responsibility and accountability to Christ are critical, not only when you are waiting for a child, but in all life situations, and particularly in parenting!  Begin your healthier pattern now. 

3:  Give yourself some love and grace.  Wasting numerous hours relishing in fear, jealousy, anger, and judgment cloud your vision, take up too much heart-space, and hinder your ability to make the right choices when opportunities come your way.  Dr. Phil has said many times on his show that you need to replace bad habits with other habits:  healthy habits. You cannot expect to just eliminate bad habits without a healthy replacement.  I cannot stress enough (as a mother of three who waited three times for children through adoption, as a type I diabetic, and as a type A personality) the importance of exercise, de-stressing time, dating your spouse, and eating healthy.  Pick a healthy habit (or two or three!) to go to when being to slip back into a dark place.

4:  Join a support group.   Or start a support group.  I think it's so important to have a "village" of like-minded friends.  This is your safe place to vent, to confess, to rejoice, to encourage, and to educate.  This is not the place to gossip, to exclude, or to get your inner "mean girl" on.  Contributions of honesty, advice, and support will be much appreciated by all! 

5: Step away.  You know the saying, "Garbage in, garbage out"?  Be very selective about who and what you let in to your heart-space.  If you find a particular Facebook group to be overly confrontational and negative, leaving you feeling angry or drained, leave.  If you cannot handle attending ANOTHER baby shower, it's ok to decline the invitation.  (But if you do, don't make a huge freaking deal about it!)  If you find a particular place, like the mall (full of babies and moms and strollers!), triggering for you, go somewhere else.  And please, please stop reading other adoptive parent profiles and comparing yourself to them!  Give yourself the opportunity to thrive by stepping away from those things and people which don't offer neutral ground or don't fill your heart-space with good stuff.  Recognize that you aren't necessarily saying good-bye forever, but you are choosing to intentionally spend your time elsewhere in order to prepare yourself for motherhood and adoptive parenting. 

Tend to your hearts, friends. 

I believe in you.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Target and Jesus

I see it on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.  I hear moms express the same sentiments in conversations. 

The magic of Target.

Target is where moms can go in the evenings and wander about:  aimlessly, thoughtlessly, or excitedly.  We can meander.  We can glide behind our cart.   There aren't interruptions.  We can daydream.  We can buy the things on our list, those necessities for our families:  milk, diapers, and toilet paper.  Or we can load the cart with everything we don't need but looks appealing.  Or the clearance....oh, the clearance!  Or we can buy a few things for us:  a chocolate bar, a scented candle, a book, some new eyeliner, a new pair of yoga pants or sunglasses.  Or, the occasional mama with a Dave Ramsey angel on her shoulder, may buy nothing.

Target is an experience.  An escape. It offers possibility and peace.

But a trip to Target, I realized the other night, is magical for a much more significant reason.

Target is less than five minutes from my home.  Yet in that short drive, made in my gray minivan full of car seats, crumbs, and toys, I'm able to completely transform and re-focus.

First, I slide behind the driver's seat and adjust my radio.  Or I may turn the radio off for some much-desired silence.  Then I back out of the driveway, noticing the empty car seats in my rearview mirror. And then sighing in relief, because I'm missing bedtime hell. Feeling a tad guilty that I've left my husband to put three young children to bed which is nothing less than a miracle if it's accomplished.  Then I put it all---the kids, my spouse, along with my writing deadlines and chores---behind.


If it's the least bit warm, I crack the windows.

Then I wait to see what comes to me. 

I'm ready, God.   I'm listening.   I'm present.  Fully. 

I get very little "God time" these days.  Almost every Christian book and blog talks about God time and how to get it in and what it should look like and feel like.  It usually goes like this:

  • Wake up early.  Like before everyone else.  Light a candle, pour yourself some coffee or tea, and have your Bible, a pretty journal, and your favorite pen handy.  Have a seat on the floral chase you placed in front of your sun-filled bedroom window.   YOU ARE READY, SISTER

  • Confess all your sins, you sinful sinner.  You need to be desperate for Jesus.  DESPERATE.

  • Call on the Holy Spirit to get you through every uphill battle you face:  at work, with your spouse, your children, your mother, your friend, that annoying neighbor. 

  • Memorize a few Bible verses. 

  • Learn Biblical history.  Geography.  Law.  Tradition.  Characters.  Heritage. 

  • Reflect on the great women of the Bible and how awesome they were.  They were JUST like us. 

  • Write down all your praises and prayer requests.  Be sure to reflect on past praises and prayer requests.  ISN'T GOD SO AWESOME?

  • Pour your heart out to Jesus.  Keep tissue handy.  You'll probably cry a lot.  Now, dab your eyes.  It's time to shine! 

  • Begin your day spiritually prepared and fulfilled.  Smile.  You are going to have a GREAT day!

I read these things, and I laugh. I don't mean to mock.  I'm sure some of these methods and routines work.  But they aren't the reality of 99% of moms I know.

A few months ago, I was part of a Bible study.  It actually ended up being more of a mom-confession time:  our needs, our struggles. 

I talked about my frustration with Christian female writers who tell us what we should be doing to have the best spiritual lives EVER.   A mom of three boys said something that I replay in my mind often:

Don't you think God knows how crazy life is with young kids?  Don't you think He's ok with how we are? 

And I thought, could it be true?  I mean, you know that saying that God loves us too much to leave us the way we are.  

How can He change us, work through us, and give us what we need when I'm not lighting a tulip-scented candle, reflecting on all the fulfilled prayer requests, and starting the morning off bright and early with an all out sob session?  

I think the danger is that we are never enough, in anything in life.  There are always ways to improve.   So when we read what a good Christian mother should be, we fail, every time.  

And I wonder, who came up with the standards I explained above?  And who in the world thought it was a good idea to perpetuate them?   And why do we, everyday Christian moms, believe in them even though we aren't ever going to be able to do them all?

My spiritual life is not going to fit into a box.  I refuse to contain myself and God into standards set by others. 

(I know, I know.  We should mature spiritually.  We shouldn't be spiritual babies.  (I've been a Christian for 23 years.)  Yet we should have faith like a child:  open, trusting, accepting.   I know the verses. I grew up in church.  I hear these verses echoing in my mind.   But whose to say that spiritual progress isn't being made. Perhaps progress comes about in simple ways, everyday interactions, and divine intervention where God sprinkles grace and blessing and peace upon us even when we aren't sobbing for it?)

My Jesus-time occurs the most:

---In the heat of moments when my kids are driving me nuts, or ask me a really tough question, or a friend shares with me some scary health news, or I read a story about a missing child:  I utter urgent prayers to God.  

--Reading my kids a story, usually from The Jesus Storybook Bible.  No, it's not a fancy "women's Bible" with a pink leather cover in the latest trendy translation.  It's a Bible with colorful pictures.  Yes, it's for kids ages 4-8.  And believe it or not, quite meaningful and encouraging.  

---On the way to and from Target.  

I'm rarely anywhere alone.  I always have a child with me, uninvited, in the bathroom.   Half the nights, my middle child is sharing our bed.   I'm being touched at all times:  tugging on my pants, pulling up my shirt, tapping my shoulder, hugging my leg. 

On the short trip to Target, with my windows cracked open, with my van easing down side roads lit by streetlights, I talk to God.  Or I listen to God.  Or I just be with God.

I sometimes listen to our local Christian radio station.

Or I drive in silence. Waiting for whatever God will bless me with.  An urging.  A thought of encouragement or conviction.   An idea.

Or I pray for what is heavy on my heart.

Or I just relish in the fact that I am His, and He is mine.  (And it dawned on me the other day that despite all of life's ups and downs, I'm built on God, and this has sustained me for as long as I can remember.  God is why I'm able to persevere, to have peace when circumstances aren't peaceful.)

After shopping, I load the van, shove my cart into the corral, and plop my tired self into the driver's seat.  

And I start the care and drive home, enjoying more quiet time with just me and God.

And I'm refreshed.



Ready for what will come next.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Free to Be

They are unhindered by what they are supposed to be.  They don't have cutesy, endearing names given to them by their owners.  They are not owned.  They aren't caged in by fences, gates, or barns.  They aren't forced to eat a particular diet, wear saddles, or be trained by professionals.

Instead, they are deemed wild.  They eat from the land.  They enjoy water and sand and grass.  They run. 

In essence, they are free.

They are beautiful.

They are who they are.

When we first saw the wild horses while vacationing in The Outer Banks, we were in awe.  There they were, right in front of us.  They gazed at us with confidence and grace.  

I am not an animal lover by any means.  But I was bathed in the utmost respect for these animals.  Seeing them is unforgettable.  

I want for my children what every parent seems to claim.  We tell our kids:  You can be anything.  You can do anything you set your mind to.  The world is full of endless possibilities.

We encourage them to dream by asking, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

My three-year-old says:  an alligator.

My five-year-old says:  a teacher, a police officer, and an artist. 

They are young enough, happy enough, and imaginative enough to feel that anything (and everything---perhaps having three careers or one career as an animal---huh?) is obtainable.

But stereotypes get in the way.  They make things messy.  They put up fences, roadblocks, and mountains.  Stereotypes are powerful teachers, and they are everywhere.   They come from those closest to us and our children:  family, friends, teachers, neighbors.  They come from the media who loves to perpetuate the most sensational stories (and make ordinary stories sensational).  They come from bloggers who are eager to voice their opinions and see how many likes and re-tweets they can get.  They come from kids' movies and television shows and books and toys.  (Don't get me started on "Black" dolls.)  

When my daughter was a little over two, she became obsessed with owning a pair of swim trunks.  Recent playdates with friends and cousins, all of whom were boys, piqued her interest.  The trunks the boys wore were graphic and colorful.  And they didn't dig into (or slip off) her shoulders like annoying girl swimsuits. 

So one afternoon, we're at Gymboree, and my daughter fixates on a pair of blue pirate swim trunks.  As she's rubbing the fabric between her fingers, a store employee approaches us.  All smiles, she dotes on Miss E, and then says, "I bet pink is your favorite color!"

I try not to roll my eyes.   I say, "Actually, she loves orange."

Employee to my daughter:  "Oh, you don't want those swim trunks!  There are some cute swimsuits over here..."

Me:  "She really wants a pair of swim trunks."

I recall when Miss E started dance class.  She LOVED to dance.  At home.  In stores.  While waiting in a line.   And people would remark, "Oh, she loves to dance!"  Sometimes followed by, "It's in her.  Black people are so good at dancing."  It's in her?

Some of my most eye-opening experiences with race and stereotypes came from my students.  Throughout my nine years of teaching, I had several students share with me, in person or in writing, their experiences.   One day after class, an African American student shared with me the story of a recent sorority party she was intending to attend.  The them of the party was BET or CMT.  My student was the only Black girl in her sorority, and she expressed her hurt to me when her sisters said, "Well, obviously you'll be going as BET."

Another student of mine, an eccentric Black girl who loved funky earrings, rock band t-shirts, and bright-red lipstick, shared in class that she was tired of feeling like she had to fit into a particular mold because of her race.  She said she's been made fun of for majoring in drama and for not being, in essence, Black enough. 

I'll never forget my first semester of teaching.  I read a paper written by a Black female who shared her lack of fitting in with others in her neighborhood.  She wrote that she was often referred to as "Oreo" (Black on the outside, White on the inside) for her love of reading, for attending college, and for "sounding White" when she spoke.

But the ostracizing often doesn't begin and end in the same place. Students would find themselves disliked by one group and also disliked for the same reasons in another group.  Some felt they weren't "enough" of one or the other, leaving them in constant limbo, uncertainty.  They had to prove themselves to different people at different times, as if they were always on trial.  

Now, I know some of you are thinking "sticks and stones." We need to just reject words, be ourselves, love ourselves, and not care about what other people think. 

It's a great idea. But even the most confident of people sometimes let the questions, the assumptions, and looks get to them.  And children, in particular, are so vulnerable, because they really are sponges, soaking up the good, the bad, and the oh-so-ugly, even when we parents work hard to protect them, instill confidence in them, and encourage them. 
My girls are yoga fans.  Their former nanny is a yoga teacher and got Miss E hooked.   Then Miss E got Baby E to do poses.  Then I bought them yoga cards which further inspired them to practice.  Then in January, some White chick with some sort of personal complex about herself and people of other races, decided to write a blog post that spoke volumes.  She infuriated many people (rightfully so) with her message.  Look girls.  Look to Misty Copeland.  Look to female African American golfers.  Venus and Serena.  Gabby Douglas. 

We listen to all types of music here.  The big band/swing station is fun when we're playing toys.  We listen to contemporary Christian because the music is clean and the kids know the music from church.  Nothing makes us move quite like Beyoncé.  We love the authenticity and charm of Ella Fitzgerald.   And we are also country music fans.   I've introduced my kids to Darius Rucker and Rissi Palmer:  both brown-skinned country artists. 

My son loves baby dolls.  He kisses their faces, hugs them tight, stares into their eyes.  (IKEA and Corolle and Alexander Dolls make African American boy dolls.)  And his snowsuit, it's magenta.  Like BRIGHT magenta.  Because why would I go buy a brand new $30 snowsuit when he'll wear it like three times before outgrowing it and the season changes?

My girls are huge fans of all-things-transportation.  The louder, brighter, and more flashy, the better.  The trash truck, school buses, and police cars are so fascinating that when the girls see them, they shriek in excitement.  They also love construction sites, dinosaurs, and Superman.   Yet, the "girl aisles" of stores are cluttered with princesses, purple/pink/glitter, dolls, and toy shopping carts. 

The issue doesn't end with what is available.  There is so much lacking.  So much omitted.  Dark-skinned people in popular media. Positive representations of Black boys and men.  Clothing for young girls that depicts messages of intelligence and drive.

My main problem with stereotypes, whether they are based on gender, race, or something else, is that they send my children a powerful and very dangerous message:

That they should rely upon society's belief of who they should be instead of on God's plan for them.  Instead of loving their talents, exploring their worlds, making new friends, and relishing in new experiences, they should conform to a very small set of standards that secretly serve to hinder them, cage them in, and command them to submit.  

I have no idea yet what God has in store for my children, but I know one thing for certain:  there is something in store.  There is a plan.  There is a path.   And I pray as their mother that I am able to teach them discernment, guide them through rough patches, and encourage them to be the incredible person God has created them to be.

And above all, I want them to know that when they are in relationship with Jesus, there is freedom.

Romans 12:2:  
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

5-1, 5-O, Somebody Call the...

My girls LOVE the police.  They own a power-wheels-ish police car (complete with sirens).  They own dress-up police hats, badges, handcuffs, walkie-talkies.  They are totally obsessed with Dierks Bentley's song "5-1 5-0" ("somebody call the po-po")---because it references the police.  A year or so ago, we called our local police station and asked if we could come meet with a female police officer so the girls could ask her questions, to which the station sent an officer to our home where she spent an hour playing with the girls and talking to them about safety.    They were, of course, enamoured.  And then there were the other police visits to our home---when, once again, the 911 app on my cell was accidentally pushed, and the police are required to respond even when I assure the dispatcher that there is no emergency.  The girls wait by the front door, thrilled to see the person in the blue uniform approaching.   (Sigh.)

Two weeks ago, I attended a community meeting with one of my three littles in tow.  There was a police officer present whom my daughter kept sneaking glances at over my shoulder.  After the meeting, I asked my daughter if she would like to say hello to the officer, to which she said yes.  We spent a few minutes talking with him.  He knelt down to my daughter's level and asked her how old she was and talked about his own three-year-old.  My daughter was thrilled to be so close to an officer and to engage with him.

Later that night, I was thinking about how much my daughters enjoy the police.  To them, police catch "bad guys" and keep people safe.  They respond when there are emergencies.  And in our community, the police are usually seen at fun kid-booths at local festivals, handing out stickers and giving the little ones high-fives.   They encourage the kids and their parents to visit the station at any time to take a tour and greet officers. 

But my kids are Black.

And the media teaches all of us, police or not, that Black people are to be suspect by nature, to be feared, to be questioned, to be untrustworthy until proven otherwise.  And the more "gangsta" or "thug" the person looks, the more they should be suspect, especially if they are males, especially if they have darker skin, and especially if they are with one or more other Black males.

The police readily greet my children right now.  Part of it is that they are young children.  They are well-dressed, with their hair done and their sparkly shoes on.  They are smiling.  Part of it is that we, their parents, are White.  We are the privileged race who, contrary to brown-skinned people, are given the benefit of the doubt:  we are trustworthy, we are safe, we are boring and hardly noticeable, we are non-confrontational.

But what about ten years from now?  Fifteen years from now?  What about when my kids are driving or riding in a car with friends?  What about when they are at the mall?  What about when they stop at a gas station to load up on junk food that mama won't give them at home?  What about when they are simply walking down a sidewalk through a neighborhood where they look like they may not belong?  What about when they are trying to purchase a belt at a department store? What about when they are headed into a college classroom or into a job interview?  What about when they are simply sitting in a car in a parking lot listening to music? 

As I type this post, I recall the morning I spent lifting weights in front of the television, my three beautiful children occupying themselves with toys, while I watched Katie Couric conduct several interviews about the Jordan Davis case.  Tears streamed down my face.  I could hardly breathe at times.   The boy in the pictures could be my child one day: guilty of being black in America...and shot for it.

A few weeks ago, I dressed my one-year-old son for the day. I pulled an adorable red-striped thermal top over his head, gently guided his arms into the sleeves while he grinned at me.   I then sat him on the floor and went to wash my hands after changing his diaper, and I came back to see that my girls had taken the shirt's hood and pulled it up and over my son's head.  They giggled as he nodded his head back and forth while smiling, enjoying the sensation of the hood on his soft hair.

There he was.  A bright-eyed little boy, sitting on the floor of his bedroom with morning sunshine streaming through the windows and placing happy patterns on the floor.

And it hit me that he was a black boy wearing a hood.

And my mind flashed-forward to what that could mean when he's fifteen.  Or twenty.  Or twenty-five.  And what if he didn't live that long because someone found him suspect simply because of a hood and his skin color?  

I'm angry.

I'm disturbed.

And I don't know how in the world I'll be able to protect my children from real, raw, terrible dangers that lurk everywhere.  I don't know how to keep them safe when they are considered suspect for being brown.

Will the police who are so kind to my children now, be the same officers who pull my kids over in a few years?  Who question them at the mall?  Who arrest them out of fear and personal bias? 

Will the people who compliment my oldest's hairstyle, who smile at my three-year-old skipping through a store without a worry in the world, who can't help but gently touch the cheek of my bubbly, one-year-old...will these same people be so admiring, so kind, and so approving and encouraging when my children are ten, fifteen, twenty?   Think of the jurors who didn't convict Jordan Davis' murderer with first degree murder, because, gulp, some of those jurors somehow identified with the killer's reasoning and justified his actions----because, let's face it, no one is colorblind and race is always a factor in any situation.

I don't want anyone to be colorblind (Nor do I want people to continue to tell me they are---because they are liars).  We celebrate race.  We appreciate race.  We recognize race. 

I do want fairness. Justice.  Chances.

I want my children to have what I had growing up and what I have now:  equal opportunity.

I want their lives to be valued.

I want them to shine.  

I want them to flourish.

I want them be who they are, even if it makes other people uneasy.

I want them to be proud Black people who know their history, who feel confident in their skin, and who don't feel they have to code-switch, clothing-switch, music-switch just to appease others.

I want them to be free.

Adults who are parenting children of color carry heavy hearts, because we know that each time another child's face flashes on the news, another victim of injustice, that we aren't immune.  We aren't special.  That we can talk to our kids, that we can empower them, that we can take precautions...

but our kids aren't free.  

And we fear they never will be. 

So we hold our breath, we pray, and we beg God to keep our children safe, because we know the world cannot be trusted.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Diaversary: How the Worst Day of My Life Handed Me Hope

Today is my eight-year diabetes diagnosis anniversary.

D-Day, 3/24/06, was the day that brought me, simultaneously, the most relief and the most anger I've ever experienced.

I had been sick for 1.5 years.  Unquenchable thirst.  Dire hunger.  Extreme weight loss.  Chronic fatigue.  Continuous sinus infections.  Depression.  Tingling in my feet and hands.    I had every single classic symptom of type I diabetes.

I saw five medical professionals (some of them multiple times), all of whom failed to do a simple blood sugar test that would have given us the answer. 

On 3/24/06, I came home from my annual gynecologist appointment.  I was exhausted, as usual, and very, very thirsty.  I had just guzzled down some sort of orange shake-thing I purchased at a drive-thru window.  Then I took my shoes off, laid down for a nap and slept for hours.   I woke up to more thirst.  I gulped down two large glasses of juice.  And, as it always did, my stomach grew bloated in a matter of seconds from consuming so much liquid so quickly.

I was having an increasingly hard time breathing.  It felt like my lungs refused to fill with air.  

I called Steve (or did he call me?---I cannot remember many details and events from that 1.5 year time period)...and he wanted to call 911.  I refused.  I told him it was probably just my childhood asthma flaring up from the inconsistent weather conditions, winter giving way to spring.

He said he was coming home.  (I'm pretty sure God told him it was time.  Something was going down.)   We hung up, and I fell right back to sleep.  

Steve arrived home and insisted we head to the ER. I told him I would go after he got me more juice.  He did.  I gulped.  We left.

I was admitted to a private ER room very quickly.  Nurses took multiple, large blood samples from both of my arms.  I begged them for something to drink and a blanket, and another, and another, until they ran out of blankets.  I was pissed.  Where was my drink?  And why didn't I have an oxygen mask on to help me breathe?

Finally, a doctor burst into my room, papers on a clipboard in hand, and reported the words that would change my life.





In the following days, I was told by multiple hospital staff members that I should be comatose or most-likely dead. 

I was experiencing a miracle.

But I sure didn't feel very heavenly.

The following days involved a lot of horrible moments and interactions.

Blood draws every hour.

Heart monitor.

Fluids running through my veins that felt like ice mixed with glass.

Sympathetic looks.

Pathetic looks.


Horse pills. 




Automatic blood pressure cuffs that squeezed my tiny arm.

Two roommates.  One who tried to sleep-walk and cried out to her dead husband.  Another, an obese woman, who puked non-stop and then left because her insurance wouldn't pay for another night.

People sending me "get well" cards ( if you get well from a forever-disease) and flowers (I'm allergic).  People asking to visit.   I said no.  No. No.  Leave me the hell alone, in my hell. 

Oh, except a few family members and a friend who came and rubbed my feet.  Makes me tear up just thinking of that humble act.  My feet, they felt like they were asleep for two weeks straight...and that foot rub brought so much temporary relief.  Feeling a non-medically guided hand on my skin was one small victory. 

The lab nurse with the super-long, stringy hair---the hair the drifted across my tender, bruised arms at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m., all while I listened to roommate #1 cry out to her dead husband while I paged the nurses to warn them that she was threatening to walk out and how bad that catheter was going to hurt when she managed to propel herself over the side of the bed.

There was day #3 (or #4?) when my first diabetes nurse educator came into my room.  A woman I instantly trusted because she wasn't too skinny, nor was she overweight.  She had a kind face, gentle eyes, hair just a little bit wild enough to make me like her.  She talked about insulin, and needles, and carbohydrates (and counting them---dammit, I hate math!)... And then she realized I wasn't listening.  I was curled up in the fetal position, covered in sticky plastic things that would alert the hospital if I tried to die on them, wearing a ugly, stiff hospital gown made for Goliath.  I was angry.

Stupid diabetes.

Stupid long-haired lab lady.

Stupid GP who failed to diagnose me despite seeing him 16x in 1.5 years.

Stupid faux diagnosis claims. 

Stupid needles.

Stupid roommates, torturing me with their sleeplessness and hauntings.

Stupid flowers that smelled like a funeral.

Stupid hospital décor.  Salmon and mauve and sea-foam green:  What the hell kind of color palate is that?

Stupid food trays with fruit cocktail in syrup, and stiff, luke-warm ham (I hate ham!), and DIET soda and DIET Jello.  Sugar-free anything tastes like Windex.

Stupid insulin that smelled like nail polish remover.

Stupid nurses who talked to me like I was five years old and wrote their names in red marker (the color of blood) with bubbly letters on my room's dry erase board.

Stupid doctors placing glossy type 2 diabetes brochures on my bedside table.  Those brochures with their stupid smiling models who looked nothing like type 2 diabetics---slim, tan, mountain in the background.   (Hey, docs.  I have type I.  But thanks for noticing).


The CDNE smiles just enough that I don't want to punch her in the face.   Then she says, "Do you two plan on having children?"

And all the sudden, I'm listening. 

"Yes," Steve and I say simultaneously.  

I prop myself up in my bed.  All 97 pounds of bones and skin.   Talk to me. 

"You still can, you know."  She smiles encouragingly and proceeds, happy she finally said something that got my attention.

But I'm done listening.

Because a single word pops into my mind.  

And I know, immediately, without an ounce of doubt or fear.  



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