Monday, February 27, 2012

Dear Rachel

Ok, so sort of like Dear Abby....I welcome your questions via e-mail!   I'll ask your permission to post your question (modified for length and clarity), your name and general location (only if you want), and my answer to your question.

Thank you to the numerous women who have been e-mailing me and sharing their adoption stories and questions!  If you'd like to submit a question in which you want a blog response, e-mail me at whitebrownsugar AT hotmail DOT com.      I always keep questions private unless you give me permission to share. 

So, here we go!

Jodi asked (in a nutsell):
My husband and I (both Caucasian) cannot agree on what to name our AA daughter (we are adopting from foster care), and I hope you can help.    He read in a transracial adoption book that adopted kids should be treated like any other member of the family (just like our six biological children).     I agree with this.   What we can't agree on is changing the baby's name, which doesn't start with the same letter as all our other kid's names.     The name I have chosen isn't a traditional AA name.    Is it ok to change the baby's name to fit in with the letter theme of our family and to change her name to something that doesn't sound like a typical AA name?


I'm so glad you asked this question!   I struggled with this issue as well.    I feared that naming our girls a "white" name would damage them for life.   (Yeah, a bit dramatic, right?)      I also worried that I would regret not keeping our daughter's birth names, since that is something their birth parents gave to them. 
Striking a balance is important.  My advice is to give your child the J-name as her first name, and keep her original first name as her middle name.    If, when your child is older, she wants to revert back to her original name, her middle name, she can.    She has options!    Both of my girls have parts of their birth names in the names we gave them, as we combined their first-birth-names with the names we had chosen.    (By the way, we have an E-theme for our kids, so I totally get it!)  

A name doesn't make a child "black enough" to be culturally accepted.   Cultural acceptance is complicated.   There are many things you can do to support your child as a black girl----including live in a diverse area, put her in a diverse school, take her to cultural/racial events, read books on Black history, place AA artwork in your home, learn to style her hair, etc.   

But at the very end of the day, you'll be her mom, she'll be your daughter, and a name, well, it's just a name.  :)

I hope this helps!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hair Hair Hair: Part III

Miss E's new 'do

Many of you are already aware of the fabulous website Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care.   I am honored to share with you my recent interview with Rory, the author of CHVC. I encourage you to explore her website. I promise that she will make you feel welcome! 

R:  Tell me about yourself and your family.    
My name is Rory Hadley (a pen name, to protect my family's privacy). I don't think I have anything but a brief adoption story, considering how quickly our process went. A year after the stillbirth of our son we attended an adoption orientation meeting for fost-adopt. That was October 6th, and by December 13th our daughter was home. I suppose I owe part of the speed to the fact that I'm very meticulous when it comes to paperwork, having taken 3 weeks to complete our entire packet, including fingerprints, letters of recommendation, CPR training, physicals, etc., etc.
Hobbies include painting, computers (hardware/systems administration/programming/graphic design), and perhaps crafting. I'm a fan of doing things that require using both parts of my brain; I like to be creative but I also like to be challenged analytically, so anything that exercises both of those at the same time is great. I also love to cycle and surf, although I haven't really had the opportunity to do much of those since becoming a parent. As you can probably tell, most of the things I just listed are not the most social of activities; I socialize very well in an online environment; in person I'm quite the different personality. I've always found it easier to express myself through the written word, so I suppose that's why I have an affinity for social media.
R:  Why did you start your website? Did you have any idea it would become so popular?

Although I had been blogging privately (for family and friends) for years, I actually started Chocolate Hair / Vanilla Care for no other reason that it was just easier for me. I am frequently being questioned by other adoptive parents when out with my daughter about her hair and how we got it to be so "long and healthy." I can't really squeeze everything there is to know about natural hair into a fifteen minute conversation, so I separated the hair-related information into it's own blog so that I could chronicle that aspect and give people a place to go when our public conversation inevitably ended. I know I always leave those situations remembering things that I had forgotten to mention, and perhaps they leave with more questions than answers. Now I can give people my web site and Facebook page so that they can come "hang out" with us.
As for why it is so popular, I can't really say. That would probably be a better question for my readers. I just try to provide helpful information, and it's not just about hair; it's about adoption, about parenting, about simple joys and sorrows, all the things that make our family what it is. And because we are a transracial family, there's probably a little bit of something for everyone who comes to the blog. Some people read for the family info, other's read for the hairstyles, and some just want to check out photos. I love that there's such a broad appeal; I feel that brings a diversity to my readership, which I think makes the blog and Facebook page all that more interesting.
R:  Who is a typical CHVC reader? Why do you think your blog is so popular?
There isn't a typical CH/VC reader. And that's what I love about my readers, everyone is so unique! We have racially and ethnically diverse readers from all over the world who actively participate. Not everyone is a parent; some readers have children, some are maintaining their own natural hair, some are caring for siblings, and others are just reading because they're interested and want to support what we're doing.

R:  What does your blog offer that other blogs, websites, and books do not?
Wow, I guess I just have to say that what makes us unique is, well, us! Our family. We are all characters in the story of the blog, and that includes, but is not limited to, hair. I feel like I know a lot of my readers on a personal level, and I know that they know me! There's a lot of love in this household and I thought it was important that the blog be about "the whole picture" of our family, not just hair information. Information only is awesome, but there are plenty of reference books and blogs out there that are great to visit to look something up quickly. I've tried to make a point to make the blog a pleasant place to be, a place you can come and hang out with us as family, not just a sterile how-to manual. Not to say that that's what all the other blogs are, by no means do I mean that. I just feel that our blog is special because I think my family is special (like every family) and we all have something to share and learn from one another.

R:  When Steve (my husband) and I speak to prospective adoptive couples, many are fearful of being open to a black child because, well, "THE HAIR!" If you could offer some advice for those who have such fears, what would it be?

As a motorcycle-riding tomboy, I am probably the furthest thing away from a girly-girl. I do nothing with my hair, and never really have. So if I can do hair, anyone can do hair! Lot's of things scare people away from caring for children. Some people are terrified that breastfeeding won't work out for them. Others have never changed a diaper. The truth is, everyone is a beginner at some point when learning how to care for a child, and hair is no exception. You research and learn what your child needs and then you try it out. You find a system of changing diapers that works where both you and your baby aren't screaming your heads off, and your golden. The same is true for doing hair. It's not something that comes overnight, but it's nothing that's really that big of a deal. Seriously. Ask my husband. Short of doing the actual styles, he can do anything with our daughter's hair, from ACV rinses to to plaiting. And in a pinch, he could probably do some styles to.

R:  What is next for you? Have you considered writing a book? Speaking at conferences? Will you adopt again?

I'm barely keeping my head above water, so thinking about all of these questions is a little overwhelming! LOL We do speak on occasion for adoption agencies, but that's about the extent of it. I would be open to other ideas if they came up, but I'm not actively pursuing anything other than what we're doing right now. We do have plans to adopt again. No doubt we'll be blogging all about it when it happens, so my readers will likely not be the last to know. ;-)
Some of Rory's favorites:
Special thanks to the very busy Rory for her insight, inspiration, and awesome blog! 


Read my guest post on Rory's blog today

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tough Stuff: Would the Perfect Mommy Inside Me Please Shut Up?

Being a mom of two babies is tough.  Really tough.  And I know many of us are doing it.  I have friends with many more children, and some of those kiddos have special needs.    Then there's work, dishes, errands, car breaks down, pay the bills, what's for dinner?, must read the Bible because that is what good Christians do, give husband a kiss, make some phone calls while kids scream, vitamin D deficiency woes this winter---must get outside, exercise, maybe baby has a food allergy---must research, visit Grandma, bake cookies for child's school party....


How do we do it?  How do we make it?   How do we stay sane?  Or maybe it's that we are just insane and have accepted it.  :)

A few months ago I was greatly struggling with taking care of my girls.  I was very unmotivated, burned out, exhausted.   Pair this with my diabetes (which is exhausting on its own) and the end of a semester (papers to grade!!!)...and well, I was just BLAH.   

Then I talked to a friend who told me that her kids were driving her bonkers, so much so that she put one in a time out just to give herself a break.    She said one day she even left the kids in the living room, went and sat on her porch, and just told God she needed some strength and patience and energy ASAP.      (Ahhh, I'm not alone?  I was happy to hear that I wasn't the only one feeling a little crazy.  And I am so thankful to my friend, Miss J, for being honest about her struggles!  I felt empowered to share my own).

I truly forget that I'm not alone, that I don't have to be super-mom, super-wife, super-housekeeper, super-teacher, and super-writer on my own.      I do recall one mom telling me that she just prays to God daily for strength when she is exhausted and scattered and restless, and I remember thinking, "Um, ok.  Or you could just put on your big girl panties and deal with it."  Yeah, I know.  That's not nice at all.   But that goes to show you how pro-DIY I am.  It's a deep personality flaw of mine...

But, there is no way that one can DIY through life.  It's just not humanly possible to do everything the right way in one's own strength.   Something has got to give.

That's where two things come in:
1:  God.
2:  Giving up on doing it all.

Point #1:  Psalm 23: 2-3 talks about God giving peace, rest, and restoration as HE leads.    Psalm 27:14, "Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart;..."  Psalm 34:4, "I sought the Lord, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears."   Psalm 34:17, "The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles."   Psalm 29:11, "The Lord will give strength to His people; The Lord will bless His people with peace." 

Point #2:  It's not our job to be all.   Psalm 23 demonstrates to us that the Lord is to be all:  protector, fulfiller, calmer, leader, restorer, comforter, preparer, anoiter, giver.   Should we strive to be Jesus' "hands and feet" on Earth?  Yes.   But we should try to be anyone else's savior (or our own)---physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.    Therefore, it's ok to let go of this Proverbs 31 woman idea and just be who we are called to be right now, today.   It's better, I think, to do a few things well (raise our children, manage our households, be a good employee) than to try to do everything at 50%.    I've been working hard this year to say "no."  "No" to writing opportunities that don't pay me and/or that I do not feel motivated to take part in.   "No" to extra play dates or watching a friend's kid if it really isn't good for my family that day.    "No" to turning down a moment when things could be fab (like when my daughter asked to paint, I let her, it was a HUGE mess, and it was so fabulous!!!  That took a lot for me to say ok to that big of a mess!)    "No" to rushing through life instead of spending a few extra minutes cuddling my kids in my bed and listening to their imaginative ramblings.

I admit, I don't love a lot of Christian literature. Some of it seems anti- modern woman---and many of these books are written by women.    However, I have found a few books helpful in my journey to understanding my priorities, my place in my home, my role as a mother, etc.:

Chasing God and the Kids Too (Cheryl R Carter)
Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World (Joanna Weaver)
Growing Grateful Kids (Susie Larson)
Read the Psalms.   Fabulous stuff! 

I'm currently reading The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson, and I can't say if I do or do not recommend it at this time.  However, I can say that there are tidbits of information that have resonated with me thus far.

I also encourage my readers to check out my favorite blog, Passionate Homemaking.  Here is a fabulous post from last month.  

What I'm getting at is yes, there are ways to make life easier/better on one's own.  But there are some moments all you have is your insane self, crabby/crying/inconsolable/unreasonable children, and God.   God can grant you the peace to take the next (right) step.  

Isn't that life?  Just one step at a time?

In the midst of my type A brain, I hear God whispering, "Slow down.  Say no to what doesn't matter.  Say yes to possibilities.   Accept what is.  Give up what isn't possible.    Be still.  Know that I am God."

And there, I find peace.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Book Winner!

Jodilee0123!  Congrats!

Please e-mail me at whitebrownsugar AT hotmail DOT com with your first and last name and mailing address. 


More giveaways to come!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Giveaway: My Hands Sing the Blues

In honor of Black History Month, the author, Jeanne Harvey, of My Hands Sing the Blues is giving away one autographed copy of her book to a lucky WSBS reader!

R:  Tell me about yourself and your family.

JH:  I’m living my dream come true to be a children’s book author! I’ve wanted to write books for children since I was a girl. I’ve had a number of jobs along the way (roller coaster operator, attorney for high tech businesses, literacy and library volunteer, and most recently, middle school Language Arts and Writing Workshop teacher). This year, I’ve rejoined the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) docent program, and I give tours to student groups which I really enjoy. I actually was inspired to write MY HANDS SING THE BLUES when I gave tours at SFMOMA of an amazing Romare Bearden exhibit organized by the National Gallery. Kids loved his art! I could barely get them to move on to the next painting because they were so drawn to the vibrant images of the collages and the stories that each painting told.

When I’m not giving tours at SFMOMA, I’m usually at home or in one of the many libraries or coffee houses I frequent where I’m writing, writing, writing. If I’m at home, my sweet dog, Lucy, a black Lab, is at my feet keeping me company (or nudging me to tell me it’s time to get moving and take a walk).

I live in Marin County, just north of my favorite landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge, with my husband who has been a big supporter of my writing since we met in college. We have two sons in college, and they too read my work and give me great suggestions.

R:  How many books have you written? Why write for kids? 

JH:  I’ve written many books for children, picture books and novels, but some need to stay in my files because I view them as stepping stones to where I am now. It’s been a long road for me to get published which made it all that more exciting when it happened.

My first picture book to be published, ASTRO THE STELLER SEA LION (Sylvan Dell Publishing) was published in 2010. It’s based on a true story of a stranded Steller sea lion pup that was rescued by the Sausalito-based Marine Mammal Center. Astro bonded to people and kept returning to people each time he was released in the ocean. He even joined a school’s walk-a-thon! When I read about his story in my local newspaper, I thought, here’s a perfect story to share with kids. A case of fact better than fiction. I love writing for children because I get to relish the things kids love. And, as a children’s book author, I get to be around kids and share my books which is such fun! When a child tells me that he or she loves my book, it’s truly the best feeling. One teacher told me that a girl who had trouble reading liked my book so much that she memorized the story from reading it so often. I feel very honored to be able to touch a child’s life in that way.

R:  Books featuring African-American characters are hard to come by. Why did you choose to focus your book on African Americans?

JH:  Yes, I agree that we need more books with African-American characters. I was inspired to write this books because of Romare Bearden’s amazing art. His art tells stories not only about his childhood, but the African-American experience in a way we can all seek to understand. I wanted to share his art and his life story with more children through a book about him.

R: Sum up your book for my readers. Why will their kiddos enjoy it? 

JH:  MY HANDS SING THE BLUES tells the story of the childhood journey of Romare Bearden from Charlotte, North Carolina, to shimmering Harlem, New York City. As part of the Great Migration, his family moved to escape the terrible Jim Crow laws, and his family home in Harlem became a center for Harlem Renaissance artists, writers and activists. I wrote the story in a loosely based blues format (three line stanzas with rhyme and repeating phrases) because Bearden loved and was greatly influenced by blues and jazz. He not only had musician friends, but he could hear the music right from his studio in Harlem. When I read the book to children at schools and libraries, they connect to Romare leaving his wonderful great-grandparents, and the excitement of a train ride. And I enjoy going wild with the train sounds included in my text (and I even bring a wooden train whistle). And kids absolutely love Liz Zunon’s illustrations which are truly amazing!

R:   What are you working on next? 

JH:  I’m working on several books. I like working on one book, then putting it away and then coming back to it with fresh eyes. I enjoy writing narrative nonfiction biographies and finding a creative way to capture a theme about a person’s life. So I’m tackling a couple of different artist type picture book biographies. And, I’m also trying my hand at a few humorous picture books — I think having our exuberant spontaneous college sons home during the holidays put me in a rather silly mood. And silly can be great fun to write!

Giveaway Item:  One autographed copy of My Hands Sing the Blues

Begins and Ends:  Begins now, ends at noon (central time) on Feb. 16th.  Winner's name will be posted on Feb. 16th.

How to enter (enter up to 5x):

1:  Become a follower of this blog, and leave me a comment stating you did so.

2:  Share this giveaway on Facebook, your blog, or Twitter, and leave me a comment stating you did so.

3:  Become a fan of my blog on Facebook.   Leave me a comment stating you did so.

4:  Leave a comment telling me how you plan to celebrate Black History Month in your home.

5:  Leave a comment stating what you liked best about Jeanne's interview.  

Good luck! 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Valentine's Day: Show Yourself Some Love

I'm a big believer in taking care of yourself first, because taking care of you means you can better care for others.  You can't give what you don't have.   It's the whole airplane oxygen mask idea---that you have to put it on yourself first before you can best serve the person next to you.  

Here's some self-love inspiration:

  • Commit to giving yourself some alone time every day.   Even if it's just 15 minutes or so.   Read a book.  Take a nap.  Pray.   Breathe deeply.  Do some yoga poses.    Flip through that trashy celeb magazine.  
  • Exercise.   I know.  I know.  Everyone says they don't have time to workout.  But the truth is that if you don't exercise now, you will pay for it immediately (you won't sleep as well, eat as healthy, or de-stress as much) and later.  Exercising isn't just good for you.  You are modeling healthy behavior for your children.  Find an activity you love and do it.  I love walking outdoors and weight lifting.
  • Give up the things that are no longer bringing you joy.  I used to take every writing opportunity that came my way as I was building my writing resume.   No more!  I also used to scrapbook, but then realized I was beginning to dread it.  Now I'm researching alternative ways to display family photos.  Delete shows off your DVR that you no longer love watching.    Now you have time to find a new hobby that you do enjoy!
  • Go out with girlfriends.  A girl-date brings me so much joy and a much-needed break.  Don't worry about being fancy, unless, of course, fancy is your thing.  Find a place to meet that is local and affordable.  Great conversation and a little something to eat is all you need!
  • Simplify that which is complicated.   For example, create a meal-rotation plan if you are overwhelmed with meal-planning each week.   If you truly cannot keep up with household chores, consider hiring some help.   If running errands with your kids makes everyone miserable, hire a sitter for a few hours a week so you can run errands in peace and take a break from parenting.  
  • Stay hydrated.  I am terrible about following this advice, but I realize that staying hydrated keeps me full and gives me the energy I need to tackle each day.     I love herbal tea (warm in the winter, cold in the summer).  
  • Date your husband.  It's so easy NOT to go on a date, because it take so much effort---find a sitter, prepare the kids for the evening (meals, lay out clothes, plan an activity like a movie), wear something decent (maybe even sexy?!?---where are those clothes?), and then go out.  Then try not to talk about kids, bills, and family drama.   Yikes!  The pressure!   But you know it's worth it when you actually do it.  :)   Investing in one's marriage is important and sets the tone for the entire family.
  • Date yourself.  It is so easy to forget who you are when you are a busy wife and mom.     Purchase a book like this one, fill it out, and have fun!   
  • Crank some tunes.  It's amazing to me how music can set the tone for the day or change the tone of a bad day.   If my kids are being especially unruly, I give myself a gift and turn on some music that brings them joy (and distraction!).    If I'm needing a pick-me-up, I turn on some of my favorite songs and dance with the kiddos.   If you're serving a Mexican meal, play salsa music.   
  • Decide to put God first.  This is VERY hard for me, because God isn't this demanding and needy being like one of my kids.   He's not in my face begging for attention, a sippy cup of water, or a diaper change.  ;)   But it's crucial that we put on the "whole armor of God" if we're going to be the best possible self.
Show yourself some love this Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hair Hair Hair: Part II

Miss E and Baby E have very different heads of hair.  Miss E has curly, dry, easily tangled hair that is fun to style (or not---because who doesn't love a good afro?).   Baby E has fine, silky, slightly curly hair that is too short to do much with at all.     Both girls will grow up battling their hair and trying to identify with black hair culture.

As book-lovers, we've picked up several fabulous titles surrounding the subject of hair, as well as some videos:

I Love My Cotton Candy Hair

I Love My Hair

Fancy Nancy Hair Dos and Don'ts

Ella Kazoo Will Not Brush Her Hair

The Hair Book

Happy to be Nappy

Happy to be Nappy and Other Stories of Me (DVD)

Sesame Street's I Love My Hair segment

We also try to purchase black dolls that have natural-looking hair (not straight and silky!).    A friend of mine gave one of these dolls to my girls this Christmas.      A great place to shop is Etsy where sellers will often customize dolls no extra charge!    Check out babychickie and LeenGreenBean.

What are your favorite hair resources for your kiddos? 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Documentary on Skin Tone/Color

I can't wait to see this documentary.    As the mother of two brown girls who have very different skin tones (Miss E's skin is medium in tone while Baby E is quite dark), I think I'll get some insight into what issues my girls might face within the black community and society in general.   I've already seen it with some adoptive families who are open to a white child or bi-racial child, but not a full African American child.  People fear those who have dark skin, and the darker, the scarier, apparently. 

Have you faced colorism with your brown kids?  Talk to me!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Education vs. Diversity

We live in a diverse area consisting of whites, blacks, and Hispanics.   Our elementary schools are equally as diverse.  

Problem:  We live in a failing school district.   And from what we’ve heard, it’s not only not-great, but it’s one of the worst in the entire state.

So, move, right?   But to where?  

Surrounding areas are either

a---better educationally, but are drastically less diverse

b---much more diverse, in much worse school districts.

So you might be thinking, what about private school?    Even less diverse.   Like my daughter would be THE black girl.   Or maybe one of two.  Not good.

(Funny side note:  when I ask parents or teachers of private schools how diverse their school is, they usually say, “Oh, it’s diverse.  There’s two black kids in the school.  Oh and one Asian girl, too.”   Yeah.  Ok.    Great.)

As a college teacher, I fully understand the impact of a student who is ill-equipped for college due to his or her lack of a good K-12 education.      But I also understand, from the little research there is on transracial adoption, that the kids who feel most resentful of their parents and most struggle with racial identity and confidence are the ones who were “the” black/Asian/Hispanic kid in an mostly white town or school.      

So what wins?  Diversity or education?   What is more important?  

We still have two and a half years before Miss E can go to kindergarten due to her birthday.  She’ll be nearly six when she can go.   We have time to decide.  But some things just aren’t going to change---like the general racial composition of our town and nearby towns, or the failing school districts vs. the well-to-do/successful ones.  

I know I’m not alone in my concerns.  While white parents of white kids brush off my worries (particularly when I ask how diverse their child’s school is) saying, “Kids don’t notice race” or “Your child will be fine,” transracial families are rolling their eyes in annoyance right along with me.   I know I’m perfectly right and normal to worry about diversity vs. education.    I don’t want my daughters, by default, to be “the cool black girl” in their school.

What to do?  What to do?

I’m anxious to hear from you.   What do you think is more important----diversity or education?   Do you find yourself in a similar predicament?   What will you do?   Would you (have you?) ever move a great distance to find a diverse and good school for your kids, or is that going too far?    

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Black History Month!

Yay!   I love February.   Lots of pink and red and chocolate....naturally, plus it's Black History Month!   This website offers some great printable coloring pages (with captions) for your kids.   Better yet, share them with your child's teacher so the whole class can enjoy learning.

Here is an interesting blog post on race to get you thinking!

And here are our family's Black History Month traditions/tips