Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dear Sugar: 5 Tips for the Woman on the Brink of Adoption Burnout

Dear Sugar:

This is for you, the woman on the brink of adoption burnout, from moi, a person who has been there many times over the course of the past ten years.  Yeah, that's a decade.  

If you haven't felt the burnout yet, you will.  I don't mean to be pessimistic.  Rather, I'm dishing you some truth.

Adoption burnout can result in a lot of colliding emotions (fear, anger, confusion, disappointment, apathy, frustration, hopelessness, discouragement) resulting from one's journey to adopt.  Usually one begins full of elation and bright-eyed anticipation, but as the weeks, months, even years go by, paper after paper is filled out, and all one does is wait (perhaps with major highs and lows as a result of a failed placement or referral), adoption burnout hits fast and hard.   And it's not fun.

If you are at the point where you have reached burnout, here are five practical tips:

1:  Read something encouraging.

Nothing is worse than the Internet or Lifetime/Hallmark adoption/surrogacy/nanny-seduces-husband flicks.  You need to shut off the screens and dive in to a good book.   My friend (who is an adoptee) Madeleine Melcher and I co-authored a book specifically for the hard times.  Encouragement for the Adoption and Parenting Journey:  52 Devotions and a Journal offers short, inspirational, honest chapters based in Scripture and personal experience to give you the hope you need to keep going. There's journaling space and discussion/reflection questions at the end of each chapter.  

2:  Get outdoors.

I cannot stress enough how too much indoor time is bad for you. For one, it can be so isolating to sit behind closed doors.  You need sunlight (vitamin D is a wonderful thing, friend), fresh air, and sky/birds tweeting/flowers blooming.  Go for a walk, lay on a lounge chair, or just step outside for a few minutes every day.   I promise it'll do wonders.  Better yet, take your book outside with you (two birds, one stone!).  

3:  Make a date.

I don't care who you date, whether it be your partner, a child you're already parenting, or a friend, but please make a date.  It doesn't take anything extravagant or expensive to make you feel like a new woman.  Coffee and conversation does the heart a whole lot of good.   Regularly scheduled dates (set aside one evening or morning a week) gives you something to look forward to.   

4:  Support.

Waiting to adopt can be really lonely.  I implore you to find an adoption support group and commit to attending.   A great group will have all triad members represented (adoptees, parents who have adopted, birth parents).  And before you think that adoption Facebook group will do, I want to remember point #3 (make a date), because there is NOTHING like eye contact, hugs and handshakes, and in-person conversation.    If you cannot muster up the courage (or energy) to attend an adoption support group in the moment, a good alternative is to find a counselor who understands adoption.  

5:  Treat yo'self.  

What makes you feel good?  Make a happy list and refer to it daily, because you know yourself best. Don't wait for someone else to bring you flowers or chocolate.   And yes, please make a physical list and then set reminders in your phone to do something from that list every.   single.   day.   Too many women insist on putting themselves last, which is, if you think about it, selfish not selfless.   You cannot give what you do not have, Sugar.   And it's important to create habits of self-care TODAY so that you will continue you to carry those out after you become a mom by adoption.  

Sugar, what would you add to the list?   What makes you feel good?  What helps you get out of your rut?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Dear Sugar: How to Make Baby Food

Dear Sugar:

Recently, my baby turned six months old and as if she magically knew it was her birthday, she decided it was time for a new milestone:  starting baby food!    She was exhibiting signs that she was ready:  sitting up on her own, grabbing at my food, and acting like after a bottle, she wanted something more.  

Here's why you should give baby food making a whirl:

1:  It's inexpensive.  
Before I made baby food for the first time (eight years ago), I did the math:  buy vs. make.  Even with the initial supplies I had to purchase (such as ice cube trays), it was far cheaper to make ORGANIC baby food than it was to buy ready-made non-organic baby food.  

2:  It's easy.
I promise!  Instructions below.  

3:  It takes very little time.
One afternoon was all I needed to make all the food my baby will need.  

4:  It's healthy.   
So many "kid" foods have added stuff:   food dye, sugar, salt, HFCS, etc.   If you make your own food, you have control over what goes in it.  

Alright, so you know WHY, and here is the HOW:

1:  Gather your supplies.  

2:  Schedule.
Set aside half a day when you have interrupted time.   Have all your supplies near by, a cup of your favorite coffee or tea, and your playlist going.   Before you begin, defrost your frozen fruits overnight in the fridge.   

If you have a friend who is also going to make food:  make a date of it.  It's more fun to work together!  One person can work on fruits, and the other veggies. 

3:  Make!  
For veggies:  I cook as directed in a pot.  THIS IS IMPORTANT: once the food is cooked, DO NOT drain the water into the sink!   You need some of the water to blend with the veggie in your blender.  This water contains vitamins/nutrients from the food, so you want to make sure add it back into the food.  

Using your blender, along with some of the water from the cooked veggies, blend the food until it's a smooth consistency.   It may need to cool a bit before blending.  

Then pour the blend into your washed ice-cube trays OR baby food containers.  If using the baby food containers, label with the dry-erase marker that came with the set. If using the ice cube trays, label your gallon baggie, pop the trays into the freezer.  And in about four hours, the food will be solidly frozen.   Gently twist the ice cube tray, turn over inside the baggie, shut, and put back into the freezer.

For fruits:   I simply blend the fruits, one at a time, and freeze in the same way.   If the fruit is too chunky to blend smoothly, just add a tad bit of water.  

Thoroughly rinse your blending supplies between uses!  

4:  Eat.

The night before, pull out whatever foods you plan to give your baby the next day.  Place in the fridge to thaw.  Voila!    

A few other tips:

-Don't make too much food.  Babies do not eat baby food for very long before moving on to more solid foods and "chunks."

-Make your own combos by mixing two different foods.  Say you have fresh banana and then the peaches you froze.  Mix them together when baby is ready.  As long as your baby has tolerated the foods individually, you can create some pretty cool "cocktails" for your little one.  

-Spice it up.  Once your baby is accustomed to plain baby food, you can add spices here and there to liven things up.  Think:  a little cinnamon in the butternut squash.   

Yes, it's really THIS easy!   And if you plan to have more than one baby, once you buy the supplies (pan, trays/containers, blender), you'll be ready to make food again when your next child comes along.   

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dear Sugar: Children's Picture Books on Belonging, Difference, and Acceptance

Dear Sugar:

Most children face times when they recognize they are different: either because they are thoughtful and reflective, or because someone points out difference to them.   Being different isn't easy, and certainly in families like mine (multiracial), difference is apparent.

We've put together a list of the best children's picture books that explore and explain difference in an empathetic and supportive fashion.  Books are powerful tools---both proactive and reactive.  Here are our favorites, and if you click on the photo, you can read book descriptions and reviews, peak inside, and purchase:

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Monday, April 17, 2017

Dear Sugar: To Those Who Are Waiting for Their Baby and Need Encouragement

Dear Sugar,

Those of you waiting for your baby, whether your first or your fifth, I get you.   I know exactly how you feel.   And it sucks. 

"Sucks" is a word I wasn't allowed to use growing up.  It was made popular by Bart Simpson, a potty-mouthed kid with a crude family.   Saying "sucks" was a big no-no. 

But it is absolutely the best word to describe waiting for a baby. 

I know.  You feel helpless.  And hopeless.  You are both tired and full of energy.   You pour that energy into the wrong places.  You know what I mean.  You're going to stalk other waiting families via their online adoption profiles.  You're going to compare yourself to them.  Then you're going to watch Lifetime and Hallmark movies where adoptions happen in a matter of two hours, nicely wrapped up at the end.  Happily ever (freaking) after.  Then you gorge on ice cream while wearing an oversized tee shirt (you wipe your eyes with) that you have NO business wearing anymore.   

And it sucks.  

Let me talk to you as someone on the other side.   Every adoption journey was hard and challenging in its own ways.   Every journey had its beautiful surprises and frightening moments.  

And every single journey, every single second and minute and hour and day and week and month and year waiting was WORTH IT.   Every tear.  Every doubt.  Every phone call.  Every "no."  It was all worth it.

I can't tell you how or when you're wait will end.  Only God knows.  

But I am certain of this:  if you are a hopeful-parent who is diligently open to adopting ethically and in education, you are well-prepared for your future child.  Your heart is open to possibilities, and yes, even to challenges, that come with any adoption journey (including the ongoing relationships in open adoption with birth family). 

A word-of-warning:  

It is unhealthy and dangerous to go into a deep pit, stay there, stop getting educated, stop pursuing ethics (saying "yes" to any and every possible adoption out of desperation).   It is unfair to bring a baby into a fragile, shaky family that isn't prepared for the ongoing emotions and challenges that adoption can pose.    

Today, I want you to be encouraged.   God is using the wait to teach you, to give you opportunities, to develop your character, to prepare your heart.   Be open to the lessons, the learning, and the loving. 

Remember the saying, "April showers bring May flowers?"  This is you, Sugar.  Right now.  In the wait.   You are in the month of April.   A sitting duck, as they say.   But guess what?  MAY FLOWERS ARE COMING.   

Are you ready?  


If you'd like access to daily encouragement, please check out the book I co-authored, Encouragement for the Adoption & Parenting Journey:  52 Devotions and a Journal.   

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dear Sugar: Hair & Skin Hacks for Black Children

Hi, Sugar:

A few weeks ago, I wrote an extensive updated post on my kiddo's hair, because I'm asked ALL THE TIME about hair styles, hair care, and books that promote pride in one's hair!   

Today, I'm sharing my favorite beauty hacks for Black children! Here you go:

1: The versatile product. 

The challenge:  Protecting hair.

The answer:   I love these satin pillowcases.  They come in multiple color options (let your child choose).  They are inexpensive, washable, and the open-end allows you to easily slip them over car seats, booster seats, bed pillows, etc.   If we are traveling a long distance and I expect my kiddos to fall asleep in their booster/carseats, we usually have them pop on their sleep caps.   

2:  Magic crib sheet.

The challenge:  Baby girl's hair is rubbing out due to sleeping on her back (safety first!) and her hair rubbing and resting on cotton crib sheets.  

The answer:  A satin crib sheet.  I know, they seem expensive.  And with my first three babies, I was like, NO WAY am I going to pay $30+ for ONE sheet.  But with baby #4, I decided to give it a whirl since she was losing so.  much.  hair. in her crib.  Sugar, this sheet is a game-changer.   Not a single hair has been shed in her bed.  Read that?  NOT A SINGLE HAIR.  I only bought one and just wash it as needed, since I'm not looking to invest in two sheets.   

3:  The detangling/moisturizing/re-braiding hack that saved my sanity.

The challenge:  My second daughter doesn't wear extensions; her braids are all her hair.  But she has SO MUCH hair and it's so long, not to mention she HATES detangling time with a passion.   

The answer:  I clip out rubber bands, which are at the base of her box braids, with nail clippers, then I wash and condition her hair (or just co-wash, depending on the week) with the braids in.  Then about every fourth wash, I do undo the braids before washing so I can really get at her entire scalp.   This is when I do a coconut oil deep treatment, followed by a shampoo and conditioning session.    Keeping the braids in during most washings allows me to moisturize, unbraid, detangle, and rebraid one braid at a time which is so much more bearable for a tender-headed girl!    

Also, some of you may be wondering about varying the parts, since it's not healthy to use the same parts over and over.   I usually start the month with bigger braids.  Then the next time, I take one section and break it into two or three braids (for more and smaller braids), thus creating more parts and varying the parts within the section.   The smaller braids last longer.

4:  It's not just for boobies: our secret beauty weapon.  

The challenge:  Chapped cheeks, cracked lips, super dry knees and elbows.  

The answer:  Ya'll.  I'm addicted to nipple cream.   Addicted.  Make sure to buy organic.   Vaseline is so incredibly unhealthy and disgusting:  I loathe it.  Plus nipple cream is in little containers, so it's portable!   When my son was sick with the flu and breathing only through his mouth, his lips were SO cracked and tender, so every chance I got, I put nipple cream on his lips and they healed nicely.

5:  Healthy skin on-the-go.

The challenge:  School, extracurriculars, daycare, summer camps, and day-traveling. 

The answer:   Create mini beauty-care kits for your children's backpacks and for your car.   This should include lip balm (buy in a multipack to save money), lotion (again buy in multipacks for a better price), and anything else that helps your child.  For example, my kiddo who struggles with anxiety (which manifests itself in the form of stomach aches) carries little organic ginger or peppermint mints in the kit.  (Buy the ones without artificial sweeteners or colors and again, multipacks are always cheaper.) We also keep hand sanitizer in the kits and for kids who need it, small fidget toys and ear buds (to cancel noise in situations where auditory sensory issues come up).   

Don't go buy a special bag.  Just find some of those freebie cosmetic bags you get, for example, and label it with a permanent marker with your child's name.    Be sure to remind your child it's there and what it is for, and emphasize the importance of taking care of one's body!   

I'd love to hear what you're hair and skin hacks are!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.    

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dear Sugar: Yes, We Celebrate Gotcha Day

Dear Sugar:

Let's start with this:  Yes, our family celebrates our kids' Gotcha Days.   

Before you start tweeting me, hold on.  Hear me out.

Three and four and five (plus) years ago, we didn't celebrate our kids' Gotcha Days.  I as adamantly opposed.  We had read on many forums that it was wrong to do so.  I mean, it was, according to the Internet, essentially celebrating the severing of a birth family, and anyone celebrating such a day was certainly a clueless imbecile who coated adoption loss in cotton candy and glittery butterflies.  
Then two years ago, I was having a heart-to-heart with a friend who is both an adoptee and a mom-by-adoption.   I told her, of course we do not celebrate Gotcha Day!   And she said something that blew.   my.    mind.   She replied:   "Um, why not?"

She shared how her mom made a big deal out of her day.  Presents. A special outfit.  A nice meal and dessert.  A day of just celebrating her beautiful, smart, talented, kind self.   It was as close to a birthday celebration as it could get.  And guess what?  SHE LOVED IT.   

And I thought, have I been denying my kids something really cool? To alleviate some sort of guilt?  To attempt to be super respectful of birth families with whom we love dearly--even though they had never voiced that celebrating the children and their adoptions was wrong?  

Silly.  Silly Mommy.   I really didn't have a good reason other than someone I don't know and will never meet told me on the Internet that Gotcha Day is one of the ultimate adoption sins, and committing means I'm a heartless beast.  

So I asked my children, would you like to do something special to celebrate your adoption?  It would be the anniversary of when we finalized your adoption, when you became a Garlinghouse forever. What do you think?  

The answer was an overwhelming, resounding yes.   

And so I swallowed my doubt and said, ok.   I marked their adoption finalization dates on the calendar.   On their days, we gave them a small gift and made a special dessert.  

And they, like my friend, LOVED it.  They spent their entire days grinning ear-to-ear, reminding everyone around them it was their SPECIAL DAY.  

So here's where I'm at:   I'm totally open to the celebration changing, going away, or becoming bigger and better.   I'm open to whatever each of my children needs and desires, individually.   

You know why?  Because as my friend Madeleine tells us in her book Dear Adoptive Parents, What You Need to Know Right Now From an Adoptee, we need to do our job.   She gives us "permission slips" to BE the mother and father our children need.   That's what being a good parent is:  meeting the child's needs.   (Please, please, please, read the book.   I cannot tell you how much I learned from her words, how encouraged I felt, and how refreshing it was!)  

So I'm going to keep doing that.  I'm going to consider, of course, the experiences of others. Absolutely.   Had I of not done that, we wouldn't have considered celebrating adoption finalizations in the first place.   And I'm going to do the job I was chosen to do:  raise my children, encourage them, support them, listen to them, empathize with them, and love them for exactly who they are.   And of course, we're going to celebrate their fabulous selves---without worrying anymore about what is "correct" and instead, what is right for each child.   

Oh, and we do not, in fact, call it "Gotcha Day" for a few reasons. First, I hate "gotcha."  It's creepy. It's like sneaking up behind someone and grabbing them while yelling "BOO!"   No.   We call adoption days, "Adoption Day," because it's simple, it's direct, and it is what it is.   The end.   I know some others prefer to call it Family Day.   

Take it from Madeleine:  Whatever your child wants and needs is what is right.  

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dear Sugar: When You Feel Helpless About Race, Adoption, and Politics

Lately, I’ve grappled a lot with feeling helpless and hopeless.  Race relations in America are awful.  One glace at my Facebook newsfeed makes me want to climb under my bedcovers and hibernate for the rest of…oh, the next four years.    

Certainly, parenting children of color who are getting older, moving from the public’s perception of being cute to being suspicious, is weighing on my heart.   The election has certainly revved up a lot of people, many in not good ways.  

I’m a work-from-home mom with four kids.  I cannot just pick up and go to a big rally, protest in the streets of D.C., volunteer.   I’m grateful for the opportunity to be home with my kids, but because of my choice, motherhood is my (all-consuming) ministry.   Between these four walls is where it all happens.

So what can I do?  How can I be an activist when the immediate needs of caring for four children consumes all of my time and energy?  

I know many of you are in the same boat, whether you work outside the home or not.  You have kids, a full-time commitment to being at home or outside the home, and perhaps a spouse and home to take care of.   And you, like me, are in a fog of anger, discontentment, frustration, and loss.   What can I do?  What can be done to make any difference? 

As I read book after book, skim newstories, and write articles, I feel a stirring in me to do more, to do something bigger, something important and impactful. 

Then it dawned on me the other night.  I AM already doing what I need to do:  I’m grappling.

Grappling means a commitment to change and growth.  Grappling means rejecting what is now because tomorrow will hopefully be better.   Grappling means dedication to raising kind, confident children.  Grappling means dancing with hope.   

A few months ago, I partnered with an Etsy company.  I had discovered the shop and found a beautiful home d├ęcor tile that I knew I needed.   I craved a reminder that I was doing the right things and that activism starts at home. 

Sugar, I hope you find the place where you feel you are making a difference.  And perhaps like me, that place is the incredible honor you have right before you:  raising your family with the values that will continue to create change long beyond this moment.  

Keep on grappling.   

Monday, April 3, 2017

Dear Sugar: Five Easy Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month With Children

Hey, Sugar!

April is National Poetry Month!   I feel like every special month or holiday is a great opportunity to teach our children about Black history.  Too often, Black history is reserved for February (Black History Month).   Take advantage of the special months and holidays, opening the doors for your children to learn.

Here are five easy ways to celebrate National Poetry Month with your children:

1:  Buy poetry books featuring children of color to have on-hand year-round.

Here are our favorites!  Click on the photo, and you'll be taken to Amazon to read reviews, peak inside the books, and purchase.

2:  Create posters/art featuring African American poets or their poems.  

This is a great activity for a child of any age.  Older children can do online research on poets, while younger children can listen to you read a book and illustrate either the poet or one of the poems.   If the poet is living, see if you can e-mail or mail the child's art, along with a letter.  You never know! You may get a response.  And don't forget to use your multicultural markers!  

3:  Use words to create poems.

Either buy magnetic poetry sets, or simply go DIY by writing words on index cards, spreading them out on a big, flat surface, and start creating your own poems.  Easy!  Fun!  

4:  Write a haiku.

Writing a haiku seems simple, but it's really quite challenging! Tackle subjects that are silly or serious.   Have children generate their own topics, or throw topics into a container and let kids draw a topic to write about.    Haiku poetry is also great for artwork.   Have children illustrate their own haiku, or shuffle and distribute the poetry, allowing children to illustrate someone else's poem.   This is a great way to talk about interpretation!   You can even distribute the same haiku to all kids, allow them to illustrate, and then talk about the differences in their artwork.  

5:  Play the Rhyming Game.

My children love, love, love doing this.   I say a word, and they take turns coming up with as many words that rhyme with it as possible.   This is a great bedtime or car game for young-ish kiddos.  My kids even like playing the Rhyming Game during bathtime.    

How do you plan to celebrate National Poetry Month?

-This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.