Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reader Thoughts Wanted: Is Race Really A Big Deal?

Recently, I called my daughter's preschool. I spoke with the director about our family situation. I explained that our daughters were both adopted and were both African American. I told her that diversity is important to our family, and thus, we found her preschool to be the best option for our oldest daughter. I then requested that when she divided kids into classes for the year, that she put my daughter with other children of her same race.

I then posted on Facebook, "Called my daugher's preschool to request that she be in a class with other kids of color. Being a transracial family is interesting!"

I got several comments. One of which was that I shouldn't have done what I did. That my daughter is only two and will thrive no matter the racial makeup of her class. Another friend posted that a good educator would divide kids up racially without a request.

Hmmmmm....

I also heard from a friend, via e-mail, who, by the way, is in a transracial (biological) family. She said that by talking about race and emphasizing it, we keep racism alive. (Then I thought how my two-year-old knows she is "brown" and her parents are "pink"---and we talk about this often. Am I screwing her up?)

All interesting points.

So, I want to know from you:

Is talking about race and ensuring that our kids grow up in a racially diverse situation (be it school, neighborhood, church, etc.) keeping racism alive? Or, is doing this being realistic about the world we live in and providing our kids with opportunities?

Is race a "big deal" anymore?


I find that generally younger people (like my students, about age 18, 19, 20) don't make a big deal out of race. Twice while on vacation, we bumped into a group of college girls. They doted on both my girls (which they, of course, loved) but didn't make a single comment or ask a question about adoption, their hair, race. Younger generations, is seems, are either less experienced in racism (meaning, they didn't grow up during the Civil Rights Era), aren't bothered by transracial families (more used to it? after all, adoption is popular both in mainstream culture and among celebrities), or simply don't care to comment. I realize these are all assumptions on my part, could be geographically-linked, and are over-generalizations...but I'm just sharing my thoughts here.

I don't think colorblindness (or the idea of it) is cool. I celebrate my diverse, multi-racial family. Not only are my girls black, but they are adopted. They are unique on two levels. But is it really a big deal?

What I'm coming to realize is there is no single answer. To some adoptees, being adopted is a big deal. To some, transracial adoption is a big deal. Some grew up around lots of white people, and they weren't negatively impacted by that. Others (like in some books I've read) state that their white parents really screwed up by not exposing them to people of their same race on a frequent and intimate level.

Wow---this post is all over the place.


Just like many adoptive parents, I'm searching for answers. Shrug. Where I'll find these right answers, well, I don't know.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Reader Thoughts Wanted: "Adopted" in Christ vs. "Adopted"

I am a Christian, and I often hear fellow Christians talk about adoption in terms of being adopted by Christ. (See Ephesians 1:5). Then often I hear this Bible verse equated with Christians adopting children. If Christ adopted us, shouldn't we, as Christians, adopt? We're ALL adopted! (See this t-shirt as an example). Hip, hip, horray?

Hmmmm.....

I often wonder if this loose link, seemingly, between the two (Christ adopting us and us adopting children) is offensive to adoptees? Does it minimize adoptee loss? After all, being adopted by Christ is a gain. But being adopted as a child by adoptive parents/parent, is that not both a gain and a loss?

And does the attempt to equate Christ adopting us and Christians adopting children offend God? They aren't really the same thing, are they?

What do you think?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Random Goodness

You've likely heard this song, but did you know the music video features children who have been adopted? Kudos to Third Day. :)

In addition to blogging here and freelance writing, I'm now going to be blogging for Adoptive Families magazine! My new blow will be called "Raising a Rainbow." If you check this link, you'll see new blog posts from myself and other writers.

My newest response to many adoption questions, particularly nosy ones, is to hand the stranger either my social worker's business card and/or my blog's business card and say, "Sounds like you are interested in adoption. You can learn more here." :) It's not rude, but it shuts down a conversation that is either inappropriate, uncomfortable, or inconvenient.

Do black kids get sunburns? Do black adults get skin cancer? Yes and yes. Check out these tips.

Finally, I love when little kids notice color (and yes, I mean color, not race). A child recently said to me, "Hey. Are you her mommy?" while pointing to Miss E. I said, "Yes." She then said, "She's brown!" I smiled and said yes. That was the whole conversation. So innocent, so sweet, so honest.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reader Thoughts Wanted: Calm or Crazy?


I recently had similar conversations with two friends, both adoptive mothers. Drumroll.....

Are we to live the life we want, which for me and for many people, is a calm, happy, predictable life with two point five kids, a house full of goodies (food, electronics, etc.), beach vacations, and two fabulous cars in the driveway? Or, are we to live life to the max, even if that means adopting many children, some of whom will likely have special needs, having less money for the fun stuff (like a nicer wardrobe, eating dinner out a few times a week, fancy cars, a lovely home, etc.)?

I don't believe God wants us to live an easy life. I don't mean to imply that he wishes for us to be unhappy. God is the ultimate example of love and peace. However, all Biblical characters faced many trials in their lives including facing some pretty fierce deaths. Yet, they seemed to have inward peace and joy. Mary "pondered" many things in her heart, yet she gave birth to a child who would face an excruciating death, a child who would spend His life as an outcast. He would be misunderstood, abused, gossiped about, and ultimately, murdered.

I am embarassed to admit that sometimes I get really caught up in the little things in life. I get pretty pissy when things don't go as I planned. Even little things. I act so childish at times---impatient, easily angered, moody. (I try to always blame it on my blood sugar swings, but I know it's not always true). So, with my two children, my lovely home, our lack of debt, our rather comfy life full of organic groceries and beach vacations, there is one thing that REALLY doesn't fit into my pretty, perfect life plans: a lot of kids.I know I talk about this a lot, but my heart ACHES for the kids in foster care. The kids who want the bare minimum (it seems to me in my middle-class life): a family to love them and provide them with the basics---food, shelter, an education, health care.

Check. Check. Check. Check.

We can provide a child all that and more. We have SO much. We are, even though we don't always feel like it, incredibly wealthy in many areas of life.

I can't imagine my girls without the basics in life. Can you picture your children floating from place to place---sometimes places where there is atrocious abuse, neglect, lack of running water, no electricity? Where going to school isn't enforced? Where dirty clothes are acceptable? Where food might be spoiled or non-existant? Where a bout of RSV isn't treated?

I shudder at the thought.

The other day I saw a YOU TUBE video that said 100,000+ kids are free for adoption in the United States. This is a must see video.

I feel strongly that Christians need to do so much more than push anti-abortion/pro-life messages and start doing something to help the kids in the system. There are many options. Become a birthday buddy for a child in foster care, become a child's advocate or mentor, donate unused household items and clothing to an organization that helps kids in foster care, or....

become a foster parent or adoptive foster parent.

GULP.

God doesn't do things in a little way. God does big things, significant things, life-altering things.

And shouldn't we follow that example?

So, readers: What's your thoughts on the idea of "calm or crazy" and/or "go big or go home"?

-----

After typing this post, I found this article which is very well-written. It talks about the Christian's duty to take care of orphans in foster care. GULP.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!


I'm thankful for my girls' biological fathers who created beautiful baby girls.

I'm thankful for my own father who raised me to be passionate and committed. He came straight home after work to give his family his time and energy. I always knew I was beautiful, smart, and awesome, because my dad was there to tell me so!

I'm thankful for my father-in-law who loves me as if I were his own daughter.

And, I'm abundantly blessed to have my husband (of almost 8 years!) who is everything I admire and love---dedicated, patient, thoughtful, loving, and strong. He's a wonderful father to two baby girls.

In honor of Father's Day, I encourage you to watch this hilarious rap video on what it means to be a modern dad.

Happy Dad Day!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Vaca Photos~Outer Banks of NC (May '11)

Wild horses on the beach. Beautiful!


Baby E sitting up and enjoying some sun and sand.




Wild horses on the dunes of Corolla beach. Miss E kept saying, "I ride the horses." But getting within 50 feet of them can cost one a major fine and the offender is kicked off the beach! Yikes! So, I guess all we get are these pretty photos and the memories. :)





My girls watching the waves. This picture overwhelms me with joy.



Miss E enjoying the feel of the sand and surf. We bought her a swim cap to protect her hair from sand adventures.



This photo is in our living room.



My girls and me watching a sunset over the sound.




Sunrise photo from our beach house. My husband gets credit for this. I get up at sunrise for NO reason. :)


We enjoyed some alone time on the deck while our girls napped in the beach house.




I took this photo while my husband drove our SUV on the beaches of Corolla. Stunning!



Steve and Miss E enjoying the water.



WOW. I couldn't believe I saw the word "Colored" to refer to Black people! Gulp! Apparently, this group is raising money to renovate this old school---for what purpose, I'm not sure.
Here's the school.
Miss E watching the planes. She LOVES transportation vehicles---trains, planes, buses, and, of course, ice cream trucks!
I took this photo of me in Steve's sunglasses. He had to pose many times, as the sunglasses photo became my photography session for the week.



Our family LOVES the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Great restaurants, friendly folks, lots of great sights (wild horeses, lighthouses, The Lost Colony, beaches, shopping, and more). There's also the Wright Memorial and The Dunes (where you can climb these massive dunes and watch the sunset and the kites). This is our fourth or fifth time (???) to the Outer Banks.






Some tips:



  • Go before Memorial Day. The rates are way cheaper and, bonus, it's significantly less hot. The temperature was about 75 every day and partly sunny. And, not many kids are out of school yet, so many families have yet to take the vacation (meaning it's less crowded everywhere).



  • Stay ON the beach if you have little kids, not a few blocks away. It's a pain to haul all the kids stuff as it is. Plus, bathroom trips and snack runs are easier when you are on the beach.



  • See the sights. There are so many cool places to visit. I'd have to say that seeing the wild beach horses was, by far, the best part of our trip. But, you need to rent a 4 wheel drive vehicle and be smart about beach driving. You can also go on a guided tour with your family.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Author Interview: Adoption Perspective From an Adoptee and Her Birth Mother




I read Jessica Lost in a matter of two days (and that's with two babies!). Every nap, every spare moment, that book was in my hands. Upon completion, I did some online digging and found a way to contact one of the book's authors. She immediately responded and agreed to an interview.

I rarely read a good adoption book, and I've read well over one hundred adoption books. Most books are fluffy, artificial, and one-sided (the adoptive parents' side). Jessica Lost is raw, heartfelt, and the best part, the authors do not claim to have all the answers.

So, I am honored to introduce my readers to Jil, the co-author of Jessica Lost.

Tell me about yourself. (Your job, your personality, and, obviously, your connection to adoption).

I live on the upper west side of Manhattan with my husband. I have two sons, ages 28 and 21, one in college and one in graduate school. You can tell by the ages of my children that I’m no longer young. But I’m not quite old. Middling, I guess. I’ve worked my entire career as a copywriter, for ad agencies and at magazines like New York, People, and Parenting. Since last year I’ve been freelancing and also working on a second book.

I was adopted at the age of five months through Louise Wise Services, a Jewish Adoption Agency that is no longer in business. My adoptive parents had registered several years before—waiting for a Jewish baby, even in the 1950s, took quite a while. I don’t ever remember being told I was adopted, but I always knew I was. When I was four, we adopted my brother, and I remember going to pick him up from the agency and the visits from the social worker after he came home.


In "Jessica Lost" you write (p 205), "For adoption to work---to really work, not just to be a bandage over a wound----we must acknowledge the wounds, mourn the losses, and open them to the light, and accept the scars” and then later, “Giving birth is a simple process, but in the end there’s nothing simple about it. Biology may be destiny, but it’s a hell of a lot more powerful than any of us give it credit for.” Many of my blog readers are adoptive parents. I'd like to know, what is the best and worst things an adoptive parent could do in terms of talking to their children about adoption?

I regret that I’m not more of an expert in this area. My family handled it so badly, that I probably only know all the wrong things to do. I wish my mother could have been more comfortable talking to me about adoption but she was so threatened, so scared. It would have meant a lot to me to be able to talk about it with her.
Of course, honesty and openness are the fundamentals. But parents want so badly—understandably—for their children to be happy, that to open the door to what may be painful emotions or uncomfortable discussions can be very hard. And I can only imagine how much an adoptive parent wants to believe that everything is okay, that their family is happy, that their child is happy.


But sometimes believing is really just pretending, as it was with my family. Acknowledging pain is hard, but it’s the only way to get through it. I think having books around that talk about adoption at the child’s level is a great way to start the discussion and open the door for questions. Of course, any question a child has about his or her adoption or birth family should be answered, even if the answer is, “I don’t know, but I’ll try and find out, or help you find out.” And I think it also helps to acknowledge that the questions and the discussion can be difficult. If a parent can be honest and direct enough to say, “This can be hard for us to talk about sometimes but that’s okay, we’ll keep trying,” it can defuse a lot of anxiety.

There are many terrific books that adoptive parents could read to help them understand the psychological affects of adoption. Although they might seem a bit scary, since they do tend to focus on the negative, they can be informative and enlightening. And perhaps if the adoptive parents cannot bring themselves to talk about adoption, they can find a “safe place”—in the company of a therapist, close friend, grandparent, or another adoptive parent—that can help them open up.

As I'm sure you know, adoption has changed in many ways since you were placed for adoption. Open adoptions are common. What is your opinion of open adoption? (I thought about open adoption a lot as I read your book).

I believe anything that sheds light is better. Open adoption seems less like pretending to me, which is what the closed adoptions of my time were. Even the concept of “closed” seems negative—like something hidden or shameful. There’s a fascinating book called “The Baby Thief,” a true story about a woman named Georgia Tann who basically invented the modern system of closed adoptions, not because of any social good, but to cover up the fact that she was stealing babies from poor or unmarried women, powerless women who often spent decades trying to find their vanished children but couldn’t because records and birth certificates had been sealed.

***SPOILER ALERT***In the book, you write of your birth mother's death. If she could see you right now in the moment, what would she find? What do you think her response might be?

I wish more than anything that Faith, my birth mother, could be here to be part of the excitement and joy of seeing this book in print. We worked on it a long time—almost ten years off and on—and it was such a dream of hers that it be published. She was a writer and had published several books, but this one was very special to her. She was here, at least, to see it sold, to finish writing it, and to know it would be published soon. I know she would be very happy for me, and proud, and excited. And as wonderful as this experience has been, and as terrific as the response to the book has been, it would be so much more wonderful if she were here to enjoy it with me.


As an adoptee, what is the most hurtful question or comment you have faced. How did you respond?


I think the most painful question I’ve heard—and I’m sure many adoptees have heard it—is, “who are your real parents?” There are many people who can’t imagine that your “real parents” can be your adoptive parents. But I have never met an adoptee who would consider their adoptive parents as anything other than their real parents, even those who had a difficult relationship with them. My adoptive mother and I had a very rocky relationship, but she was my mother, my real mother, one thousand percent. And the fact that people didn’t understand that was hard for me to grasp. I don’t think I ever found a great way to respond, other than to explain, over and over, that these were my real parents, fully and completely. To some people, biology is the only way to evaluate relationships and there’s no getting past that.


Finish this sentence: Adoption is...

…so many things…and some of them seemingly in opposition to each other: Life-altering. Challenging. Wonderful. Profound. Amazing. Beautiful. Painful.

If there's anything else you'd like to share, such as your next project, how you can be contacted, etc., please share!

I’m happy to share. I’m working on a YA novel right now, about a girl whose father, an English teacher, is very ill and wants to share his love of books with her. He gives her a list of books to read—the books he believes should be read to call oneself a full human being—and as she works her way through the list and shares her responses with her father, the books themselves begin to affect how she sees the world, her family, her friends, her father’s illness, and her place in it all.

Other than that, I also write poetry, take Italian (I have a fantasy of living in Rome someday), think about taking yoga but never quite do it, do volunteer work, cook (a lot), read (a real lot), knit, and try to “cultivate my garden.” If anyone would like to reach me, they can contact me at jspicariello@gmail.com.



Jil, thank you so much for your insight and for having the courage and conviction to write your book. You will touch and change many lives for the better!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mommy Break

What makes you feel happy, content, and revived?

Make a list. Seriously. Do it right now. :)

For me it's:

tea: chai, peppermint, fruity of any type

music(or "muse-mick" as my daughter pronounces it): I listen to different types of music based on my mood. I got the most fabulous Motown CD for $1.60 at Hallmark last month. :) We dance to it in the kitchen all the time.

baking: a favorite cookie recipe (which always involves chocolate!)

eating healthy: hummus and veggies, lots of water (stay hydrated!), mango smoothies with lime juice and agave nectar (yum!), fruit

exercising: It does so many good things for me, and I love feeling tired and sore after a great workout.

sleep: enough quality, sound sleep does wonders for me. I've made changes to my room like made it really dark.

reading: my Bible is the best place to start. I love a great book I can't put down which is usually an adoption-related memoir or some chick-lit.

watching a very few select tv shows: The Tudors (love the drama!), Brothers and Sisters, The Office, Parks and Recreation (Love Rob Lowe's character---he plays a health nut who says "literally" constantly and it sounds like "LIT-er-ALLY"). All these shows are watched when the girls are in bed. I have a two-year-old who repeats anything and everything.

nights out with girlfriends: whether it's shopping, dinner, or a play date (which has to count due to my very limited amount of girlfriend time).

sunshine: I have never liked the outdoors very much due to heat and snakes. I grew up in the Midwest and in the country. But I haven't seen a snake in the eight years I've lived in the St. Louis area. The heat is still here, but I've adjusted to it. I now take the girls outside in a blow up-pool and we spray each other with the hose. Cool as cucumbers!


Now, what makes you not feel good but that you continue to do?

For me it's:

too much time on the computer: hurts my neck, strains my eyes, makes me tired.

crappy TV: I DVR shows that I like but don't LOVE---waste of time.

too much dessert: I LOVE dessert. Diabetes keeps me in check most of the time.

not enough dates with my husband: We could go out more, we just need to try harder to make it happen!

staying up too late watching crappy tv: Puh-leeze.


Think about which "not good" activities you can replace with activities that rejuvenate you.

Figure out how to better manage your time. Put the kids to bed earlier, hire a babysitter, have a designated mom's-night-out every few weeks. Do what you have to. Be the best woman you can, and you'll end up being a rockin' wife and mommy, too.


And, model for your children what it means to set priorities for yourself. Our actions speak volumes to our children.


I'd love to know some of the things you do that make you happy. Details, please!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Reader Thoughts Wanted: Fascination

People are fascinated with our family. In the past day alone, I’ve been asked fairly invasive adoption questions such as the age of our children’s birth parents, why we chose open adoption, why our children were placed for adoption, etc.

I’m good at answering these questions in a way, I hope, that educates and informs, but is always respectful of my children and their birth parents’ privacy.

I’m not sure if it’s adoption alone that is fascinating to the every day person. Maybe it’s that we are a transracial family. Maybe it’s the open adoptions we have.

My day is just like every other mom’s day. I get up, take care of my kids, work, do errands, do chores. Go. Go. Go. Maybe catch a minute to post on Facebook or flip through a magazine. Do some more chores. Think about maybe having a hobby one day. I don’t think during these moments, “Gee! I guess I should make dinner for my black, adopted children.” ;) There is nothing magical about our everyday lives.

I wonder when or if the spotlight will ever shift to someone or something else.

If you sign up to adopt, you sign up for the spotlight, especially if your adoption is obvious, such as the case of our family.

However, I just wonder why it’s ok to ask so many adoption questions that are deeply personal when other questions, equally as invasive questions, would generally not be asked. I feel sometimes that being asked, “Why didn’t Miss E’s parents keep her?” is the equivalent of me asking someone how much they weigh.

A friend of mine recently had a baby, and we were discussing the personal and (think about it) incredibly odd questions a pregnant woman faces. Are you dilated? (Um, is the circumference of someone’s cervix really necessary for you to know?) How much weight have you gained? (Do you EVER ask a woman that? Come on!) Or, judgemental questions about breastfeeding, bottle feeding, co-sleeping, drugs or no drugs during the birth, etc. It seems like how kids come about is somehow a free-for-all topic. Shrug.

I know that whenever people ask about adoption, I have a responsibility first and foremost to my girls. But I also feel that we chose this life, and therefore, we chose to open ourselves up to questions, however they are phrased. How we respond is critical, because our girls are listening and learning.

Readers, what adoption-related question most bothers you? How do you respond? What are your thoughts on the public's fascination with your family?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Reader Thoughts Wanted: Pregnant at 16

My husband and I have discussed, in light of watching many episodes of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, what we would do if one of our girls came to us and was pregnant at 16.

For me, I believe I would support my teen in parenting. I honestly can’t say that I would advocate for adoption knowing the heartache it causes a biological mother and the loss it creates in an adoptee. Perhaps that sounds strange coming from an adoptive mother...

Knowing what you know about adoption, how do you think you would react if your son or daughter came to you at age 16 and said he/she was expecting a baby?