Thursday, March 5, 2015

Happy Anniversary, Come Rain or Come Shine!


Today marks the two year anniversary of my first book Come Rain or Come Shine:  A White Parent's Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children !  


From the Amazon description:

Are you prepared to adopt and parent transracially? Transracial adoption can be a daunting and exhilarating journey. At times you feel incredibly isolated and lost. However, with this conversational and practical guide in hand, you will be able to adopt with confidence and parent with education, empathy, and enthusiasm. Whether you are new to adoption, a seasoned adoptive parent, or you are an adoptee, birth parent, or adoption professional, COME RAIN OR COME SHINE will enhance your understanding and appreciation for transracial adoption. The book contains extensive resource lists, discussion/reflection questions for adoptive parents, and advice and research from experts in the adoption field. Recommended by MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry: "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." (from Jezebel, Melissa Harris-Perry Answers Your Questions, 4/6/14) Over 1,000 copies sold!



To all my book supporters:  THANK YOU!   I'm very proud of the book and thankful for the numerous readers who have shared their stories with me.  Blessings to you as you adopt and parent your children!

Monday, March 2, 2015

March Madness: Why I Despise This Month



Nine years ago this month, I was told the best and worst news of my life.

Nine years ago this month, I spent five days in the hospital, two of which were in the ICU.

Nine years ago this month, I was told my disease had no cure.

Nine years ago this month, I hit rock bottom.

Nine years ago this month, my life changed forever.

Type 1 diabetes isn't the "end of the world," though it very well could have been the end of my life.

I was sick for 1.5 years without a diagnosis.  I saw five medical professionals who failed to diagnose me properly.  I was guessed to have anorexia.   I was depressed, emaciated, fatigued, numb, hungry, thirsty, scared, and angry, particularly angry at God.

The day my husband took me to the ER, I was on my death bed.  I was in a state called Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) where the body is essentially being eaten alive by itself:  toxic and deadly.  I was shaking from being cold, I was 97 lbs (I'm almost 5'8" tall), I couldn't drink enough fluids, I could barely breathe.

Upon having my blood tested, we learned my a1c (an average of one's blood sugars for three months) was 16.9 (a normal a1c should be below 5.7).   My a1c was so high, it's not found on any a1c charts. My average blood sugar over the three months before D-day was around 400.  A normal blood sugar is between 70-120.   According to the Mayo Clinic, I was gravely ill.

It was on day four of my hospital stay when I caught a glimmer of hope.  As a nurse talked to me about my new life of counting carbohydrates, dosing insulin, and checking my blood sugar 8-10x a day, she asked us if we planned to have children.  We said yes, and she went on to talk about diabetes and pregnancy.

I stopped listening.  Because a word popped into my mind, so powerfully clear.  Which, after having 1.5 years of blurred memory and serious illness, was a bit of a surprise.  That word was ADOPTION.

You'd think after nine years with this disease, I wouldn't let March take me back there to that dark place of fear, anger, confusion, and hatred for the disease that haunts me daily.   But every March, I find myself feeling anxious, emotional, gray.  I can't shake the seriousness of knocking on deaths door, of the blessing of a second chance to live, and of the reality that diabetes is here to stay.

Ironically, as I was leaving the hospital, Daniel Powter's song Bad Day was playing on the radio:

"You kick up the leaves and the magic is lost/They tell me your blue skies fade to grey/They tell me your passion's gone away."  

Then a few years later, Her Diamonds by Rob Thomas came out.  I cannot listen to this song without bawling.  Thomas wrote the song about his wife who copes with a chronic illness (lupus).    He sings,

 "And she says, oh/I can't take no more/Her tears like diamonds on the floor/And her diamonds bring me down/'Cause I can't help her now/She's down in it/She tried her best and now she can't win/It's hard to see them falling on the grounds/Her diamonds falling down."

There are so many songs that have brought me hope in dark times, these two in particular:




This March, as with every March, I'm fragile.  I'm shaky.  I'm off.  But I remind myself that this disease gave me three incredible miracles, my babies, and God's not finished with me.  Every single hardship has presented me with a springboard to greatness.

And spring is coming.  It's almost here.  I've got this.   

"I'm trying to hear above the noise" 

(Need You Now, by Plumb)
















Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#SameTeam

I'm writing this with a sigh.  A blissful sigh.

Last month, Steve and I went to the beach.  Alone.  For over three days.

It was early January.  We were coming down off Christmas-crazy (and three of our five family birthdays).  The living room had been stripped of it's holiday cheer and returned to normal, except with many more toys sprinkled all over the floor and furniture.  I was in the midst of writing book #3, submitting new articles to various publications, doing chores, managing my disease, getting the girls readjusted to being back in school, and wiping my son's nose 1500 times a day.   My younger two weren't sleeping.  One due to teething, the other due to a still-undiagnosed sleep issue.

We were tired.  Burnt out.  Blue.

We were bickering.  Trying to remember WE ARE ON THE SAME TEAM (but failing).  Surrendering to life.

And here in the Midwest, we knew winter was just getting started.   Every day was the same:  gray skies, chilly temperatures, cloudy.

I had the revelation that we should go to the beach.  "We" being just Steve and I.  So on a whim, I told him my idea.  Within three days, we had flights and a room booked, a rental car on hold, and we were buying things that Florida people need, like sandals.  We secured child care (my parents). We were cautiously optimistic.  We held our breath hoping that no one would have an epic bout of illness.

The days leading up to our trip were full of anxiety and planning and trepidation.  Was this actually going to happen? 

It did.

We had the most blissful time.  We ate what we wanted, when we wanted.  Lunch at 2:30?  No problem!   Margaritas at noon on a Sunday?  Why not? Ping-pong on the beach at 9 p.m.?  Sure! Laying on hammocks and star-gazing?  Done!  Sleeping until 9:00 in the morning?  Yep!  Browsing a bookstore without telling someone "no touching" or "stop licking the floor"?  Check! 


One day, as we walked leisurely along the shell-floored shore, we passed by a family who appeared to have adopted two of their children.  I mentioned to Steve how unremarkable we are without our kids.  Invisible to others. Normal.  Uninteresting.  No double-takes, no questions about our authenticity, no "your kids are soooooooooooooo cute" comments that make us squirm and make our children uncomfortable.


Part of the reason our trip was the exact opposite of our everyday lives is because we didn't have to worry about keeping our little ones safe, alive, fed, bathed, and semi-happy.  But the other reason is that we weren't spotlighted when we saw another person or family.  We were just a pasty-skinned couple on vacation, not an "adoptive" family who, by our presence, must indicate that we have some incredibly interesting, complicated, mysterious life wrought with a history that would make for a great Lifetime movie.  Or maybe Hallmark.  


Our vacation gave us perspective.  It gave us renewal.  It gave us time to reflect, plan, and simply just BE.  We read.  We laughed.  We bickered a bit about things that didn't matter (because that is what married couples like us do). We were spontaneous. We were relaxed.  


We were just us, but not pre-kids us.  The vacation wasn't about going back to an earlier state of being or identity.  It was about getting re-grounded in who we are now ("old married couple") because we are parents:  more empathetic, more educated, more empowered.  


Getting away from "it all" provided us with the space we needed to think, to reconnect, and to consider.  It was wonderful. 

So if you find me sniffing a seashell or wearing short-sleeves in winter so I can keep an eye on my very slightly tanned arms, just know that I'm keeping vacation in my heart for as long as I can.








Friday, February 20, 2015

Make Your Home a Reflection of Your Family

When it comes to transracial adoption:

Love isn't enough.

Love doesn't conquer all.

But love, of course, is important, crucial, vital.  It's life-giving, confidence-inducing, foundation-building.

(Shout out to Christina Romo, the Not So Angry Asian Adoptee, for her Huff-Post adoption article boasting of similar sentiments!)

There are several things that are very important when adopting transracially (all of which are detailed in COME RAIN OR COME SHINE: A WHITE PARENT'S GUIDE TO ADOPTING AND PARENTING BLACK CHILDREN):

  • Having a diverse group of friends.  Real friends.
  • Seeking support from your child's racial community in areas you are struggling in: hair care, for example.
  • Living, worshiping, playing, working, and educating in a diverse community.
  • Raising your child to be a child of color by engaging, on a regular basis, with people of your child's community and being educated on issues that affect your child's racial community.
  • Standing up to injustice.
  • Being open and honest and empathetic with your children about adoption and race.
One way to support your child racially is to make sure he or she sees faces like theirs within the home (the place where he/she will spend a lot of time and it will be their "soft place to fall" at the end of every day).   

My children LOVE seeing someone who is, in their words, "brown like me."  My kids are very proud of their brown skin and their intricate hairstyles.  We've made it a priority to make our home a place that reflects our love of our multi-racial family.  

Here's a photo tour of some of the literature, art, toys, and textiles around our home.


















Monday, February 16, 2015

5 Things Strangers Keep Saying to This Mama of 3


I’m a mom of three young children, ages two, four, and six.  I eat, breathe, and sleep all-things-children. That is, when I do sleep and eat.  Not only do I have three young kids, two books published (and one on the way) to be marketed, a house to maintain, an adoption and fostering group to facilitate, but also an autoimmune disease that requires 24/7 management.   And then there’s my steadfast husband of eleven years, the one who always gets my leftovers, which frankly, isn’t more than a peck on the cheek and a “your it” high five the minute he walks in the door
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Life is chaotic, beautiful, overwhelming, and rewarding.  Some days I laugh.  Some days I yell.  Some days my only consolation is an over-priced, lukewarm latte and knowing I get to watch Millionaire Matchmaker when the kids go to bed.

On the rare occasion when I round up the kids, load them in the minivan, and head to my local Target, I can predict with precision what strangers will say to us as we make our way up and down the aisles. I’m already a bit on-edge when we arrive, since the whole reason for the trip is that the only food we have left in the fridge is one egg and some last-Christmas chocolates.  As I round an aisle, I see her: the grandmotherly-type who holds my gaze a few seconds too long. I just know she’s going to utter one of these five things:

They grow up so fast. Treasure every moment.  Yes, this is said to me while my toddler rips open a box of tampons and throws them like confetti and his sisters giggle hysterically. I guess I should throw up a victorious and energetic fist and yell, “Carpe Diem!” and snap a photo of my bundles of joy for Facebook, but really, I just wish it were legal to drink margaritas while shopping in Target. 

You have your hands full!  I guess I could be nice and say something Hallmark like, “If you think 
my hands are full, you should see my heart!” while cupping the faces of my three little ones.  But really, I just want to say, “Thank you, Captain Obvious!”  And my hands, they are full, full of the tampons I’m frantically picking up off the floor.

Wow! You have a lot of kids! I could smile and say, “The more the merrier!” but I’m too busy trying to keep my son from sticking one of the unwrapped tampons up his nose while his sisters proceed to yell, “BAGINA!” (aka: “vagina” in preschool world) and, “Tampons go in BAGINAs!”

They will be off to college before you know it!  I sure hope they go to college.  Then they can get a good job and pay me back for all the tampons they wasted. 

You are brave! I never took all my kids to the store! Brave? I’d like to think “crazy” is a more accurate description. And unfortunately, all my servants and nannies have the day off, so I have to buy groceries and feminine care items myself.

To be fair, I know that these ladies are trying to bestow experience and gentle advice, as well as encouragement and compliments upon me.  They see themselves in me. They remember the hard days of wiping noses and bottoms, kissing boo-boos, giving baths, toilet training, teething, growth spurts, and discipline. But they look back and recall what really mattered most: snuggles, milestones, and quiet “I love yous.”
Tr

Some day I hope to slow down enough to really reflect on the beauty of a small hand on my cheek, sticky kisses, and midnight cuddles, but for now, I’ve got tampons to pick up. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Part-Time Homeschooling: Why and How We Do It

Homeschooling is becoming an increasingly popular decision among parents.  These parents are eradicating homeschooling stereotypes: the mom in the long denim skirt (with the badly permed, long hair) and socially awkward children.  Today's homeschooling parent is educated, creative, and cool (think tattoos, organic-grocery-buying, and field trip expert extraordinaire).

One reason I have grown to know so many homeschooling parents is because, as mom by adoption, I befriend a lot of adults parenting children who come from hard places.  The children's difficult pasts don't yield to schooling that requires a lot of sitting, standardized tests, and large classes: seven hours a day, five days a week.  Plus homework.  Plus little flexibility.  Plus a sometimes lack of diversity (in age, race, and ability).  

To the WHY:

What you need to know about me:

  • I taught college English for eight years.
  • My in-laws are both retired educators/administrators in the public school system.  
  • My husband and I were both educated in the public school system and we attended state universities.  
  • My oldest is in half-day public school.
  • My middle child is in private preschool two mornings a week.
  • And...we part-time homeschool.
We decided to part-time homeschool for a few reasons:
  • As a former educator, and as my children's first/most important teacher, I wanted to have a heavy influence in their educational experience.
  • I wanted to teach my children things they wouldn't get in public or private school (such as an emphasis on Black history, Bible verse memorization, etc.)
  • I'm a big believer in free play.  We can homeschool for about an hour a day, and then my girls have time to ride bikes, play with toys, create art, etc.  My kindergartner has been playing in the sunshine, reading books, have a snack with her sister, and creating art for hours by the time the bus that would typically be bringing her home at 4:00 in the afternoon goes by.  
  • I can tailor my teaching to their individual needs and desires.
  • I can give them one-on-one attention. 
  • As a mom, I was feeling that I wasn't doing enough teaching of my own kids:  teaching them about the Bible, teaching them certain subjects, etc., so I would randomly, in a wave of guilt, try to teach them on X subject.  The lack of consistency and a plan made me feel more guilty and discouraged.  Homeschooling is a way to be organized, consistent, and purposeful.

To the HOW:

Homeschooling options can be overwhelming and shake a person's confidence.  However, the perfect time to give homeschooling a whirl, from my experience, is when children are young.  They are typically eager to learn, embrace free play, and are more receptive to learning from mom or dad.   

Tools we utilize:
  • workbooks.  I really like Explode the Code and Handwriting Without Tears.  My go-to book for teaching my kids to read is Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  We also like the Curious George and Brain Quest workbooks.  (Kumon books aren't my favorite, but I do utilize a few).  We also buy workbooks at the dollar store.  I'm a big fan of clean, simple workbooks without distracting colors, though most of the dollar store books are pretty colorful and tend to be based on Disney and Fisher-Price characters.  A few of these more colorful books are ok. 
  • puzzles.  We love Melissa and Doug puzzles!  There's world and US puzzles (think history and geography) and alphabet and number puzzles (for recognition and identification).
  • story cards, matching games, bingo games, letter matching
  • window markers and sidewalk chalk  These are great for "workbook" type work done on a window or sidewalk/driveway
  • magnets.  We made a killer magnet board using a Goodwill frame (spray painted it purple) with a custom-cut piece of magnetic metal super-mega-glued to the inside.  It's 3'x4'.  We use our alphabet (put them in order) and number (do math problems) on it, as well as fun magnets like animals, vehicles, etc.  (see magnet board hung on the left-hand wall?)
     
  • art supplies.  lots and lots and lots of art supplies.  our favorites are plain paper, kid-safe scissors, washable paint, canvases, stickers, coloring books (here is one my favorites, as an adult!), beans (for gluing onto paper), crayons, markers, Melissa and Doug scratch art, yarn, and colored pencils. 
  • math press-down board.  My kids adore this toy I found in clearance at Home Goods.  They play with it in the car all the time!  It's a great non-electronic toy.
  • counting objects.  These are great for math skills, identifying colors, categorizing, and understanding patterns.  Plus, they are just fun to play with!   This set I've had since I was in grade school, and we love using it for art and math.  When my oldest with struggling with math, we got a $1 clearance set of multi-colored unicorn figurines (her favorite!) and her attitude turned around instantly!   
  • books, books, books, books
Our overall focus:
  • Each month, we pick one Bible verse to memorize that matches the month's themes.  For example, this February, we are focusing on Valentine's Day, Black History Month, and babies (since my sister's baby is due).   I pull books from our personal library that focus on these things.  We read a book a day from the stack, plus additional books at bedtime and on the day we only read books.  This focus helps us not be overwhelmed, gives us the same thing to start off with each day (Bible verse and talking about our themes), and helps us select what books/videos to utilize.




Tips:
  • When we can take our schooling outside, we do.  This means homeschooling on the porch, identifying words/numbers in the driveway with sidewalk chalk, collecting objects from nature to stamp-paint or create nature bottles, etc.  I'm also realistic.  After the girls have been at their schools that morning and after lunch, we try to go outside and ride bikes for a bit before sitting down to homeschool.
  • Have a designated space for school, and make it attractive and organized.   Be sure to put homeschooling items you don't want your kids to get into on higher shelves.  If it's not a place you want to spend time in, why would your children?  Paint the room/area a fun color, hang up some kid-friendly art, and have a great table and enough chairs. 

  • Choose a few subjects to focus on, especially when the kids are young. Our main three subjects are: math, handwriting, and reading.  
  • Pick a day a week where you just read books together. 
  • Pick a day a week that you don't homeschool, because you are going to need flexibility!  Use this day when someone is sick, when you have a lot of work to do at home, or you just don't feel like doing school!  
  • Wear play clothes.  Buy washable supplies, but know that learning isn't always going to be tidy.  Put your children in clothes where you aren't going to fret over spills, pen marks, etc.
  • Utilize homeschooling to spend time with your children.   There are many ways to teach a child to read, for example, without electronics.  Nothing is more magical than sitting a child in your lap and reading a good book (and it promotes attachment).   There's something to be said for delaying a lot of screen time for little ones.  
  • Get creative.  I love to bake.  Baking is a fun activity that teaches little ones all about math (volume, fractions, etc.), following instructions, reading (the recipe, ingredient lists, etc.), and patience.  And it's so yummy!  
  • If you are schooling multiple kids, games and puzzles can be a great way to let the kids learn together.  My girls take turns calling letter BINGO, they put together huge floor puzzles as a team, and my oldest can help teach her younger sister.   
  • Give yourself and your children grace.  One of my life mottos, as a recovering perfectionist, is PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION. 
  • When it comes to workbooks, don't assume that just because a book is labeled for a child of a certain age or grade level, that that particular workbook is right for your child.  It's always best to physically flip through the workbooks you want to use and then order them from the cheapest place possible (which is most likely Amazon).   
  • When something isn't work, stop doing it.  Adjust.  More forward.  
  • Do what works for you and your family.  For us, it's part-time homeschooling while utilizing our local public and private schools.   Homeschooling isn't all-or-nothing.
  • Join FB homeschooling groups, in-person groups, and befriend experienced homeschooling parents.  
  • Keep in mind that one of the perks of homeschooling is time together and building relationships, not just getting educated.
  • Pinterest.  (No explanation needed for this one!)
Affordability:
  • Buy supplies at the dollar store.  Another great place to get supplies is the "add on" items from Amazon.  (From the Amazon site:  "The Add-on program allows Amazon to offer thousands of low-priced items that would be cost-prohibitive to ship on their own. These items ship with qualifying orders over $25.")
  • Ask for supplies for Christmas and birthdays instead of loads of plastic toys. Also, ask for gift cards for places like Amazon where your children can order books.  
  • Utilize your library.  We rent movies and get the latest books (and old favorites) for free.
  • Home Goods, TJMax, and Marshall's (all part of the same company) have awesome prices on books, Melissa and Doug products, Eeboo products, art supplies, and more.
  • The day after a major holiday (Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Halloween) go to your local stores such as Target, Micheal's, and Hobby Lobby to stock up on clearanced art supplies.  You can use the items right away or store them for the next holiday.  Likewise, go to bookstores the day after a major holiday to get 50% off or more on holiday-themed books for your children.
  • My local FB swap and sell site always has dining room tables/chairs for sale.  We picked up our homeschooling room table and chairs (very sturdy and in good shape) for $40.  Because we got such a great deal, I don't worry when things spill or scratch.   



Monday, February 9, 2015

No i-Pads, Adoption Burnout, Stop Saying These Things to My Kids, Silence in Response to Ignorance, Popular Adoption Sayings That Make Me Groan, and more...

Hi, Sugars!

I've been crazy-busy-swamped lately.  I have the adult acne breakout and a dwindling chocolate stash to prove it.

You can read Why My Kids Didn't Get an iPad for Their Birthdays (Again) over at Babble, Disney's parenting site.    Maybe some of you can relate to my iPhone addiction?

I've also been writing for Scary Mommy.  My latest piece is 9 Things I Wish People Would Stop Saying to My Black Children.  Whew.  The comments on that post are polarizing...to say the least.  What do you think?  (And if you haven't read it yet, check out my Scary Mommy article shared by Huffington Post Parents:  We're a Real Family, Thank You Very Much)

I've also been contributing regularly over at adoption.net.  I want you to know, if you are experiencing adoption burnout, you aren't alone.  Silence is one way to respond to racial ignorance in adoption.  Do you have any popular adoption sayings you cannot stand?  Here's a list of mine (and why they are EW!).

The best news...

My third book is coming out this spring (co-authored with the talented and wise Madeleine Melcher).  Madeleine is a mother by adoption (x3) and an adoptee, as well as an adoption profile creation specialist, and author.  And let me tell you, there is nothing else like our book on the market.  It's the book I wish I would have had in my hands when I started on our adoption journey over seven years ago.   I CANNOT WAIT TO SHARE IT WITH YOU!     The encouragement you will receive from this book is going to be mind-blowing, invigorating, and necessary.  

Back to mothering my three baby sugars and polishing the manuscript!  And figuring out what's for dinner....and sorting laundry....