Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dear Sugar: Christmas Gifts for Young Kids

Dear Sugar:

I'm a Christmas fanatic!   You can read my past posts about some of our favorite decorations and why Santa can be Black (our Santa is!).

If you're like me, your Christmas shopping is well underway.   In fact, I'm very close to wrapping up my purchases for the year!

Today I want to share with you products I recommend for young kiddos that promote diversity. These make great gifts for your own kids and for gifting to others (such as a class gift exchange, gifts for nephews and nieces, gifts for families you're buying for from an angel tree, etc.).

***Click on the graphic to learn more and to purchase***

This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Dear Sugar: Thank God for Black Moms Among Us

Dear Sugar:

I've written extensively on my need for affirmation from and communication with Black moms.  I simply cannot rightly raise my children without Black mothers.

Pride used to say:  Rachel, that is SO desperate.  Maybe even pathetic.  You are MOM ENOUGH for your babies.  You were CHOSEN to be their mom.   Just DO IT.  

Reality says:  It takes a village.  You are mom enough BECAUSE you have help from Black mothers. Because you listen to them and learn from them.   BECAUSE you do what you should, as a mom who adopted transracially, you are a BETTER, STRONGER, WISER mommy.

A few weeks ago, I took two of my kids to a lab so one of my girls could have some labwork done.  It was unseasonably warm day.  I was sweating even before I left the house despite wearing a t-shirt and shorts and blasting the air conditioning.  Bad sign.   We got the lab, and thankfully we had an appointment.  So no waiting.   I had the baby in the sling and my older daughter's hand in mine.  The tech called us back, and my daughter lost.  her.  shit.   Normally she's tough as nails.  Her nickname is Scrappy because she can outrun the boys and outplay them on the basketball court.  She is fierce and strong.

But she hates her quarterly lab appointment.   No matter how much I prepare her, remind her, and bribe her.

She began to yell at the tech, tears brimming in her eyes and spilling over onto her basketball tee. "DON'T HURT ME!" she screamed.   The tech was patient but persistent.  I tried a few tricks, reminding her she had fruit snacks (sacred in our home) waiting for her as soon as she was done.  I spoke calmly and firmly that she needed to get the lab done.  I made eye contact.  I held one of her hands.

It wasn't working.  And because I had a baby strapped to me, I couldn't let my older daughter, who was beyond being comforted, sit on my lap.   Torture.

After what felt like days, the Black woman who had been doing the intake forms came in.  She picked up my daughter, sat in the chair, and put my daughter on her lap.

My daughter, as fierce as she is, is very introverted.  She doesn't enjoy a stranger's look or compliment much less any sort of touch.  She hates attention from even people she knows.

At this point, my shirt was soaking in sweat and the baby was stirring (probably all that sweat!).  I was simultaneously annoyed, embarrassed, and sad.   I hate seeing my child scream NO (in fear, not in disobedience)---yet she NEEDS this lab done.

But you know what happened?

Though my daughter was not happy about the lab, she allowed the tech to swab her arm with an alcohol wipe (third time is a charm).   I was able to slide in and hold my daughter's hand.  The tech did her work, my daughter protesting but at least sitting still, while the receptionist spoke softly and confidently to my daughter.

And then it was done.   Over.

Together---the tech, the receptionist, and myself took care of the situation.  But it changed, it all changed, when the Black woman walked in.

You see a lot about #BlackGirlMagic.   I'm a firm believer in promoting it, empowering my girls, and pointing out all the magic in fellow Black girls and women.    But I feel like in that moment at the lab, we experienced it.

And this wasn't the first time, as I've written about before.  There have been angels everywhere, women who stepped in and helped me and my family.

If you have/are/did adopt transracially, you can't do it alone.  Nor should you.   Your kids have needs. It's your job to meet them.

Shut down the pride.   Embrace the reality.   Do it, mama!


For more on parenting Black children you adopted when you are White, check out my first book.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dear Sugar: To the "Professional"--What You Need to Know About My (Adoptive) Parenting

Dear Sugar:

This letter isn't to you today.  But it's FOR you.   Because we've all been there---the time the "professional" bestows upon us the exact wrong thing.  It might be a word.  A tidbit of advice.  And we're frustrated, angry, stunned.   So here's what you can do.  Hand that "professional" this letter.  Tell 'em what's up.  

Here ya go:

Dear Professional:

I’m a mom.   Yes, I adopted my children.   Yes, that might be clearly evident to you---or maybe not.  Yes, I’ve disclosed as much as I can on the paperwork I’ve given you about my child’s insurance coverage, medical history, and/or family health history.

Please do not refer to me as my child’s “adoptive” or “foster” mother.  Do not refer to my child as my “adopted” child.   Do not assume my child was born drug addicted, premature, or received no prenatal care.  Do not refer to my child’s biological parents as their sole “real” parents and ask questions, unrelated to my child’s medical care, about them.  (All my children’s parents---whether they are biologically related to the children or not---are “real.”)   

When you walk into the room, if you are uncertain of the family dynamic, simply ask the adult (me), "What is your relationship to the child?"   Though if you read the paperwork before you walk in the room (see next point), you will already know the answer.   OR, ask the child, "And who did you bring with you to your appointment today?" and gesture toward me.   Either is a fair question that doesn't assume.   

Please read the paperwork I filled out first, and if you have questions that pertain to my child’s medical care, feel free to ask.   But please remember, I am my child’s mother:  even if we don’t look alike and do not share biology.    And my child is my “real” child, and all of my children, whether they are biologically related or not, are “real” siblings.  In fact, their birth siblings are their REAL siblings, too.  

If you have questions about adoption, I will be happy to give you the name of an adoption professional or organization.  It is inappropriate to ask me questions about my child’s adoption story outside of what is medically necessary to treat my child.   Even more so, to ask my children questions that are inappropriate.   Let me be clear.  Adults, "professionals" or not, should not use their size, age, and authority to bully children into answering questions that are private.  

I might do things a bit differently than most other parents.  You might see me wearing my child in a sling or carrier:  sometimes until the child is in kindergarten or older.   I might comfort nurse or breastfeed my child, who might be an infant, a toddler, or a preschooler.   I might utilize gentle parenting practices.  My child is more likely to need special therapies, including occupational therapy, for things like sensory processing difficulty.  My child might be wearing headphones or utilizing a chewy necklace or eating a crunchy snack to help him or her deal with being in a medical office.  You might see me doing joint compressions on my child.   I may practice attachment parenting, doing things such as co-sleeping.   I might practice “gentle” discipline and redirection.   I might do things that seem uncommon or unorthodox, including how I ask that my child be treated medically.   I might insist that some medical procedures be delayed or altered to fit my children's needs, especially if a child has had a traumatic past.  This is all because I’ve done extensive research on adoption (including trauma and attachment), and because I know my child best.  

I ask that you do not reign down judgment upon those choice or offer unsolicited advice.   I need your support and encouragement—and I need my child to be able to trust you when we come in for a visit.   I would love for you to learn more about these things so you can better treat not only my child, but other children who were also adopted.

Please learn about Positive Adoption Language.  You can find a list online very easily.   This means saying a child “was” adopted and not “is” adopted.  (Adoption is a legal process that has a beginning and end.)   This means referring to a child as being “placed” for adoption and not “given up” or “given away.”  I’m not trying to be the PC police, but you should know that your words matter and the things you say do impact my child.   Don't put down my child's birth parents based on things you've read or heard or even experienced.  Many children, mine included, have open adoptions with their birth families, and birth families do not fit into one mold.   

A family like mine is often "othered" by strangers.  Please do not be one of those "strangers" who is clueless, ignorant, and nosy.   Be the professional by being professional.  

I want my children to have a great experience here.  I want them to know they can trust those who care for them medically.  I want them to feel safe to ask you questions.   I don't want them feeling judged, less-than, different, or bothersome.  I don't want them to see you belittling my choices, questioning my judgment, or "figuring out" adoption through a live conversation with my family.  

I love educating others on adoption, but not at the expense of my children's privacy.   All is not "fair game," because this is my child's life and our family story---one that is intimate, complex, and bittersweet.   Yes, there is tremendous joy, but even that is private.   

Please educate your staff as well:  everyone from the person who works the front desk and answers phones, to the billing person, to the nurses, to the other doctors.  Teach them to embrace families like mine.  

Please be respectful, and above all else, as you promised, "do no harm."  

Thank you.

Love, a mom-by-adoption

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dear Sugar: I Fell In Love With A Child Who Wasn't Mine (and Maybe You Have Too)

Dear Sugar:

I fell in love with a child who wasn't mine.

I told myself not to.  

I tried to set up walls, boundaries, and guards.

But I failed.

I failed desperately, miserably, and soon enough, willingly.  

I imagined what it would be like to hang up SIX stockings on the mantle instead of the usual five.

I thought about our future trip to Disney World, when we'd board the plane, and we'd get to take up TWO FULL rows of seats instead of three on one side, and two on the other, leaving a poor stranger to awkwardly sit next to me and one of my kids.  

I created a note on my phone and listed all the baby names I loved.  I spent HOURS on that list.  

Then I slowly began buying things for the baby we were matched with.   And soon, she had an all out nursery.  A nursery without a baby.   Hopefully awkward.   Hopelessly surrendered.  

I researched newborn photographers and pediatricians.  

I prayed.  I prayed for peace.  For certainty.  For others.  For myself.  

I counted down.  Date after date, milestone after milestone (in the journey that seemingly was never ending).   This helped me believe I had order, control, and organization.  

We chose a name from the list off my phone.  But I couldn't say her name aloud.   Because then she was "her" and "the baby."  

We walked around with a little secret growing in our hearts.   And sometimes we let the secret slip out.   We were expecting.  Maybe.  Sort-of.   We shall see.  And hope.  And dream.  And fear.  And doubt.  And glow.

I knew the risks.  The possibilities.  The heart-makes and heartaches.   I knew my fantasy could crumble at any minute.  

I stood grounded in ethics which collided a thousand times a day with my heart-pulls.  I learned they could co-exist, but it was uncomfortable.  And scary.  Very scary.

I loved and loved and loved bigger and bigger, knowing that there was a risk (the elephant in the room) of shattering, disappearing, and losing.  

I knew that the nursery I had lovingly put together could remain empty forever.  

I bought little shoes and diapers and picture frames to fill.  

Yet I kept every single receipt.  That little pile of papers, clipped together neatly, tortured me.

I listened to God tell me, one day when I was finishing up a workout, "Stop waiting for something to bad to happen."  Then I told God that wasn't possible.  Then I questioned if it was my own helpless illusions that spoke to me or if it really were God bestowing some fatherly-ness upon me.

I nested.   I organized a closet here.  I straightened up the books there.  I purged and sorted and tidied. I needed something to do with my energy and neurotic tendencies.  

I remember now, on the other side of the Wait, one of my favorite quotes.  I find comfort in it.  That despite the risks, I loved and loved well.  I loved a birth family (who was not yet a "birth" family) and a baby.

"'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." ~Alfred Lord Tennyson

I am thankful that I loved and loved big.   It took courage, it took steadfastness and commitment, it took unclenching, and it took faith.  Immense faith.  

I am guilty of doing the thing I said I would never do: I fell in love with a child who wasn't mine.

But now she is mine.  And I'm grateful that I can tell her, I loved you before I knew you, before I held you, before I heard you.   I loved you big--even though it was hard.  Even though it was scary.   I fell in love with you, I prayed for you.  I loved you in the ways I could, in the place I was in, and I am thankful that I took the risk:  the risk of loving at the risk of losing, because it was better than not loving at all.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Dear Sugar: 3 Questions to Ask Your Kids After Reading an Adoption Book

Dear Sugar,

Happy Adoption Month!

First, I'm going to posting daily adoption book suggestions on my Facebook page this entire month, so please join me!

We own a ton of adoption books, and I love reading them to the kids.  It's so important to have copies of these books in your home so that you and your children have access to them at all times, pulling out just the perfect one depending on your child's needs and stage in their adoption journey.

First, there are many, many children's adoption books out there, but I've got to tell you, I don't love all of them.   Some are too fluffy, some are inaccurate (generally speaking and/or to our family's story), and some are just plain old boring.   I don't know about you, but if I'm going to read a book to my kids, I want to enjoy it with them!   So here are some of our favorite adoption picture books.

Of course, the BEST adoption book is the one you create for your child, a Life Book, where you detail their personal adoption story.   My kids LOVE their Life Books!

Now, after you read your child the story, I suggest these three questions:

1:  How do you feel after reading this book?  

Sometimes kids have a hard time thinking beyond sad, happy, and mad.  I highly recommend these Todd Parr Feelings Flashcards as a tool to help your child express their accurate feeling in any situation or circumstance.  They are a heavy cardboard material and thick, so they work well for little hands.

2:  What's one question you have about adoption?

This may require some promptings such as:  what do you wonder about your birth parents?   Whatever your child's question is, my theory is to meet their words and expressions with education, empathy, and empowerment.  

Remember, kids are total masters at coming up with more than one question at bedtime, so prepare yourself.   Sometimes we do discuss multiple questions, but sometimes I tell them, when they are purposefully procrastinating, that we will table the discussion until tomorrow when I will be more than happy to respond to their questions.

3:  What was your favorite part of the book?  

Let them choose.  It might be a quirky detail in an illustration like one my daughters.  It might be a poignant moment in the book.

A mama-by-transracial-adoption who has been a mentor to me over the years once shared with me:  bring up adoption to your kids.  Don't wait for them to come to you.  Create opportunities to discuss adoption with honesty and empathy.  

I'm very thankful I have her in my life and have followed this advice.   Being proactive (vs. reactive) always feels good and lets our kids know that we CARE and we are open to their thoughts and feelings.

You've got this, Sugar!