Tuesday, February 24, 2015


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.

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.

  • 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!)
  • 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 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  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....

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Is Open Adoption Worth It?

The other night I had a tea with a friend (who also happens to be a social worker).  I was explaining to her some of our recent open adoption struggles, and she asked me, “Knowing what you know now about how hard open adoption is, would you still have pursued it?”

Yes.  And no.

Open adoption is a bittersweet, complicated, joyful, ever-changing, and frustrating journey. We have three children and three separate open adoptions. Each situation is different.  Each child is different. Each birth parent and birth sibling is different.  And to further complicate it, there are also two other adoptive families in our ever-growing open adoption family.

It’s a lot to manage and balance. There are always mysteries, complexities, and confusion. A lot of times, it’s “fake it until you make it.” Other times, there’s genuine connection.  There have been days I’m livid and other days I’m thanking God for the access to not only a relationship, but medical history. 

I want to know how the kids’ birth families are doing.  I want to hear about their lives: their joys, their challenges, their successes, their setbacks.  I want them to know I love them.  I do love them.  Deeply.

As flawed as open adoption is, as flawed as all of us to make up this family orchard are, I’m thankful we said “yes” despite our many doubts, fears, and insecurities.

I’m thankful we have photos of our kids with their birth families.

I’m thankful for every text, phone call, and visit. 

I’m thankful for the questions that are answered.

I’m thankful for the commonality of persistence and commitment, despite the complicated feelings that adoption and life-after-adoption evokes.

I’m thankful for possibility. 

Choosing open adoption is hardly easy.  Living in open adoptions is challenging. 

Is it worth it?  The upsets? The intricacies? The frustrations? The miscommunications? The expectations?

I don’t know. 

When my kids are older, probably young adults, I’ll have my answer.   And maybe twenty years from now, if we still have contact with the kids’ birth families, they will tell me if it was worth it or not to them, too.

Sometimes I wish I could see into the future and know that what I’m doing today is the right choice.  But since I cannot, I have to rely on my mommy-gut, God whispers, and a commitment to what I think is the right thing to do.

One step at a time.

I can’t say for sure that “it” is worth it. 

But I also can’t say it’s not.

So we press on, with rose colored glasses on the tips of our noses, giving us the opportunity to look over them or through them.