Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dear Sugar: When You Try to Be Ethical In Adoption, But You're Still Human

One of my most popular posts in recent months was on falling in love with a baby who wasn’t mine. Waiting for five months to find out if the little girl I was slowing falling for would become my daughter or not was one of the hardest seasons of my life.   And I certainly made it much harder on myself---but willingly (and without regret).   Why?  Because we are an ethical family.  

Let me explain.

When I was in grade school, we had a music teacher who was very hard to please.   We had to prepare for two concerts a year:  Christmas and spring.   We would practice the songs she had chosen over and over and over and over again.   When we sang, she’d yell, “Sing louder!  I cannot hear you!”  When we obliged, she would then stop us abruptly, mid-song, and yell, “Stop screaming!”  

This went on for years.  Years.

We just didn’t know to strike a balance and make the woman happy.   It seemed like no matter what we did, even when we were collectively attentive and obedient (or so we thought), we were met with disapproval and a scowl.   We spent a lot of time just feeling terrified, so I’m certain that was reflected in our performances.  

Essentially, music, which is supposed to moving and magical and joyful, just wasn’t what I thought it would be.  

Each time we adopted, we had learned more and more and more about ethics.  We learned to lead with our minds, not with our hearts, because as the Bible reminds us, the heart is deceitful above all.  Adoption is emotionally draining by nature.  It takes a toll on one’s heartstrings, and oftentimes, one’s heart pieces (since many of us have had heart-shattering moments along the journey).    We couldn’t count on our hearts, which left us too vulnerable and too disillusioned. 
 
Relying on one’s foundation, that of ethics, is truly the way to go.  But when doing this, it meant shushing heart whispers and pushing down emotions.   That’s not healthy really either, right?  I mean, we’re still human!  

It goes a little something like this!

Elation:  We are matched!  

Ethics:  Mom has every right to parent her baby.  We will wait and see what happens.  We will not get our hopes up.  We will stay in our lane.  Respect mom’s space.   It’s not our pregnancy.  It’s hers.    
Elation:  Baby was born last night!

Ethics:  Mom may choose to parent.  That is her decision to make.  We must give her space.  We must not claim a baby who isn’t ours.  We must not call the baby “our” baby.  We must continue to stay in our lane. 

Elation:  TPR might happen today! 

Ethics:   TPR is something that is both incredibly hard and sad.  The thought of no TPR is also hard and sad.  But the sadder/harder is a mom who places who really doesn’t want to.  So we still stay in our lane.  We remain respectful.

Elation:  Baby is ours!

Ethics:  Mom and baby are now separated, legally.   Baby may experience feelings of sadness, rejection, loss.  Mom may, too.  We are trying to bond with our new baby while remaining respectful to mom and keeping our promises.

Do you see it?   Too loud!   Too quiet!    Too sad!  Too happy!  Too far away!  Too close!   Too serious!  Too joyful!  

It’s hard to find a balance that satisfies both the heart and the mind.   The emotions and the ethics.

It is very easy to become overwhelmed during a match, during a birth, post-placement (if the placement happens).   You feel like you are the tennis ball in a very strange match, bouncing between two extremes, and expected, despite that wild game, to always do the right thing, have the correct reaction, and remain sane.

If you have been in this place, or you are in this place now, know that this is normal.   Is it enjoyable to have such a grounding in ethics that you are in a state of walking the tight rope for fear of losing balance?   No.  It is not.   It is hard.  It is difficult.  It is challenging.  It is confusing.  It is frustrating.  It is exhausting.

I implore you to keep going.  And when it feels like too much (and it often will), here are some things you can do:

1:  Take it one step at a time.   I know this sounds cliché, but sometimes the future is too big and unknown and unpredictable for you to make big plans.   What is the next decision?   Take that on.   Then go to the next, and the next, and the next.  

2:  Take a break.   It’s hard to take a step back when you’re in the midst of trying to stay balanced.  But moving positions (taking that step back) gives you fresh perspectives, rejuvenation, and space to breathe and just be.   Remember that Bible verse where we’re commanded to “be still” and know our place?  

3:  Take on change.   Remaining stagnant IS a decision, and it does have consequences.   You can either create the change or be part of demanded change.   As a type A control freak, I want to be the change.  The initiator.   The decider.  

4:  Take the opportunity to experience the joy that comes with change.  Whether there’s a change in your openness with your child’s birth family, a change in your openness to adoption situations, or change in the way you educate yourself on adoption, there is joy to be had.  It’s there waiting to be discovered.   So many of us fear change, seeing it as our enemy, when really, change offers gifts that only come with embracing rather than shutting out.   Change is inevitable anyway, so why not go forth in joy? 

There is no guidebook on how to strike a perfect balance.  Each adoption is so different.  Each person is different.   You can remain forever committed to ethics in adoption and still have a heart.   

Wherever you are today, you will not be tomorrow, because being ethics is an upward journey of empathy, humility, and strength.   And at the very heart of everything is a precious child, one who is relying on the adults in the situation to make the best choices possible.  


You can do this.  You have done this.   Just sing a little louder, or a little quieter, whatever is best.   

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Dear Sugar: Hair, Oh, Hair, and Skin, Four years and Two Kids Later

Several years ago, I wrote this post that became my second most popular blog post ever.  To this day, I get the most questions about hair and skin care routines.   So:  ask and you shall receive!  

Here is an update on the kiddos’ hair, product recommendations, storage, hair resources, and more.  Fair warning, this is a long post, so I tried to create headings so you can read what applies to you and what you're most interested in, and I also included a lot of links so you can easily find the things we're using:   

1:  My oldest.



My oldest daughter has 4A hair: shrinkage, tight curls.  She gets her hair professionally braided every month:  beaded cornrows with extensions.    In her hair, I use a spray consisting of jojoba oil (1/4) and aloe vera juice (3/4); this is put in a cheap-o spray bottle found in the travel-items section at any store.   For the leave-in (the moisturizer I put in before she gets her hair braided), I make a mix of shea butter and coconut oil (refined, because I don’t like the smell of coconut).   When her extensions come out, her hair is STILL moisturized.  (For those new to Black hair, we use the LOC method:  liquid, oil, conditioner.  Some use the LCO method:  liquid, conditioner, oil.  Experiment and see what works for your child.)

I wash her hair with shampoo and conditioner once a month, when her extensions are removed.   I moisturize her scalp when the extensions are in with the spray I described above.   
  
I know some parents-by-adoption do not want to pay the money to have their children’s hair braided, especially white parents who might be a bit shocked by the cost involved.  Furthermore, some parents prefer to do hair themselves for bonding and convenience.

I think it’s great for a parent-child to bond over the act of doing hair; however, I also think it’s important that our children have relationships with people of color, and one way foster relationships and instill cultural values is via the hair-styling process.  And obviously, you pay the stylist.   (We tip 20%, always.)    
 
We usually trim both girls’ hair twice a year.  Beads and bands can damage hair-ends.  And swimming certainly can take a toll on ends, too.   Trimming involved sectioning hair off into small sections, using my (sharp) sewing scissors, placing the hair end between two fingers, and cutting just above the sides of my fingers.   I might snip a ½ inch to an inch depending on the damage to ends.   I know this is hard for some parents to do because growth can take a long time, but it’s important to keep hair healthy and strong.    If trimming the hair yourself makes you nervous, see a professional.  

2:  My second.



My second daughter has 3B hair: fine and long.  She’s tender-headed and doesn’t like when her hair is “big” (aka:  free).  She’s pretty athletic and doesn’t like her hair interfering with her activites!  So we only do free hair for family pictures or special occasions.   Her go-to style: box braids with beads or Gabby Bows on the ends; this usually lasts us about a week.   We use several different products, as I’m not currently committed to one.  We’ve used Mixed Chicks leave-in, Organix coconut leave-in, Curls (smells like cake---yum!), and currently we’re using Cantu.  I almost always do her hair.
      
For shampoo and conditioner (and we very rarely shampoo), we are currently using Organix coconut.   It’s affordable, it smells nice, and it gets the job done!  

With this daughter, I remove her bands with nail clippers and any hair accessories, wash her hair with her braids IN (because she has SO much hair that washing free hair is a complete tangled mess), and then take the braids out, detangle, spray and moisturize, and re-style.   Once every 4 washes, I take the braids out to get at her scalp better, but this is really hard on a tender-headed kiddo!  

She has a lot of baby hairs, so I use a cheap toothbrush (usually the ones they get free at the dentist) and gel.  I put a dollop of gel in the palm of my hand, rub the toothbrush in it, and then comb her baby hairs down with the toothbrush, adding gel as needed.  She's recently been taking on this task herself!  

3:  My third.
My son has 4C hair, and we keep his hair in a short fade and have it cut at the Black barber shop just two minutes from our house.   We detangle, moisturize with Curls, or and use a sponge to coil his hair.   I’ve seen some fabulous longer hair styles on boys, but my son is very active and a sensory seeker, so he wouldn’t sit to have his hair styled, nor would the style remain kept for very long.  Short hair is definitely the way to go with him.  I co-wash his hair 1-2x a week; because of his sensory seeking, he doesn't shy away from putting things in his hair or rolling around outside!  

4:  My youngest.

At only five months old, her hair is pretty long, and is a 2C!   We detangle and moisturize with Curls and the style with a barrette or headband.    This is a tough age.   Babies who sleep on their backs can rub out a lot of their hair, which we’re definitely seeing right now.  Also, car seats, pack-n-plays, etc. can rub hair out too.   It is just a stage, and parents need to remember that a baby’s safety is the priority.  Hair will grow back in! 

Another struggle of ours right now is that she LOVES her binky and when saliva gets trapped between her binky and her skin, it’s causing discoloration.   Though there’s no way to completely prevent this (except take the binky away, which we will NOT do), we have found that nipple cream (yes, like the kind moms use when nursing) is incredible.  It’s safe for digestion (obviously!) and doesn’t contain all the nasty chemicals that Vaseline does.   Nipple cream is great for very chapped lips (in winter, especially) and on chapped cheeks too. 

Product storage:
 
We continue to keep hair products organized with shower caddies.  They have several deep sections, perfect for holding combs and product bottles, and each child has his/her own.   I also love that it has a handle, so it’s easily carried.    Additionally, the durable plastic never breaks and holds up to being wiped out or washed.    

When we travel, the caddies to with us so the products remain upright and organized.   They sit nicely in the bottom of one of the large 31 bags. 

Bows and headbands are in jewelry organizers hung in the closet.  The clear jewelry pouches make it easy to keep pairs of matching bows together.  And headbands stay put by straddling compartments with the ends tucked into the compartments.   This helps headbands stay visible and hold their shape well.  I like to buy these at TJMaxx or Marshall's for $8-$10 each.  They are double-sided, so they hold A LOT of hair accessories.  

Beads are in large baggies by type.  All our jumbo beads are together, all our medium sized beads are together, all our Gabby Bows are together, all the ballies together, etc.   We used to separate by color and size, but it got to be too many containers, they got dropped and mixed up, and it was just too time consuming to sort in this manner.  

Protection:

When my girls were younger and their heads were smaller, we used sleep caps from Africa Sleeps.  They lasted SO long.  We still have caps from four years ago.  Now that their heads are big enough, we use the cheaper satin sleep caps.  

When swimming in chlorinated (such as a hotel) pool, my girls wear a tight sleep cap with a swim cap over it.  This keeps most of the water out.   Using a swim cap alone does more harm than good.  The material rips at hair.    When they swim at our house in the summers, we don’t use swim caps.   Honestly, the girls hate them and we don’t see many kids wearing swim caps anyway.  

Beauty-on-the-go:

My girls each have a small “beauty” kit in their school bag:  hand sanitizer, a mini bottle of lotion, lip balm.   I encourage them to use what they need to throughout their day.  

I carry non-scented lotion in the car and in the baby’s diaper bag.  

The kids all have satin pillowcases over their booster seats.  They are inexpensive and easily washable.  (We use the same ones on their bed pillows).  

Skin moisture:

We have tried several different lotions for the kids.   One of my children has eczema which can be aggrevated by certain products (since eczema, allergies, and asthma go hand-in-hand for many kids).  Some brands we like include Avalon Organics, Jason’s, Burt’s Bees.   Straight up coconut oil doesn’t really work.  I feel like it doesn’t absorb well and it does leave skin a bit greasy.   We also like the Sugar Plum Fairy (sparkle) lotion from Africa Sleeps, though it is seasonal (Christmas, usually.  So when you buy it, be sure to get a few before they go out of stock).     

We are more picky about the ingredients in lotions than hair products, simply because skin is a person’s largest organ and it essentially “drinks” what is put on it.    The more natural, organic, and green, the better.   Though arguably, the healthier lotions do not work as well as the tried-and-true products.   We tend to err on the side of caution and believe “pay for it now or pay for it later.”   Healthier products are more expensive, but not putting lotions on the skin that have hormone-disrupting qualities may pay off in the future. 

Hair picture books for kids:

Reading books about hair is SO important.  The more we can affirm our children, the better.  Here are our favorites:  

And of course, who can forget that incredible Sesame Street segment I Love My Hair?  We know it word-for-word! 

Overwhelmed?   Take a deep breath!  If you’re new to Black hair or you are preparing to adopt a Black child:

1:  Talk to your friends of color.   Get tips, ask for demonstrations, product recommendations, etc.  You can also ask what styles are age appropriate, and geographically appropriate, for your child. 

2:  Take your child to a Black hairstylist.  Get professional help!   

3:  Do your research.   YouTube and sites dedicated to Black hair are helpful.  Pinterest, too!  I learned to cornrow watching YouTube, because I couldn’t get it just watching a friend do it live.  I needed a video to re-visit many times.  

4:  Do not feel like you need to be a professional or aim for the most intricate styles.  Simple styles and healthy hair are more important than you focusing all your energy on intricate styles while neglecting hair health.   Also, not all styles are meant for your child’s hair.  Black hair is beautiful and versatile.   Knowing your child's hair type can help you determine appropriate styles.  For example, my second child's hair doesn't hold styles for nearly as long as her older sister's because her hair has a looser curl and her hair is silky and fine.  

5:  Nail down a routine.   What helps your child be able to sit for a haircut, a detangling session, a styling session?  Make it as fun as possible.   Have special toys in the tub just for hair washing time.  Let the child help you pick out her hair bead colors/patterns.   Offer to let the child watch a favorite movie or play a favorite game while you style.  And don’t shy away from offering rewards and incentives, because they usually work!    Do hair when you have the time, patience, and energy.   And you are NOT a failure if you opt to have it professionally done.  Remember, having a Black man or woman do your child's hair is an excellent opportunity.  

6:  Practice, practice, practice.   For me, because my kids have pretty different hair types, practicing on a mannequin head, which some parents do, wasn’t helpful.   I needed to do MY child’s hair.   Practice really does make perfect.  



I post our kids’ latest hairstyles fairly often on Instagram, so keep up with me there!  

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dear Sugar: How to Have a Family Reading Night


Last month, my husband and I decided we needed to put something on the calendar for our family each week that involved connection and calmness.  

This is NOT easy to do with four energetic kids.   And definitely not in the evenings when it seems that “all hell breaks loose.”    

But it’s been four weeks, and it’s going shockingly well!    So here’s how we did it:

1:  Chose a day.

For us, it’s Wednesday nights.  No one has any sort of activity.   And we mainly picked it because it’s the middle of the week (Hump Day) and a pick-me-up is necessary.  It also tends to be a night when most of us are emotionally stable (meaning it’s not the Monday blues or the Thursday-crazy-get-stuff-done-before-the-weekend).  

2:  Set a few rules.

For us, Family Reading Night doesn’t happen until dinner is eaten, dishes are taken to the sink, the kids are bathed, teeth are brushed, and they’re in their pajamas.   And clothing for the next day has to be already chosen.  The must be completely ready for bed.

Our other rules:  no electronics, no apps (even “educational” ones), no movies.   Not even books-on-CD.   

3:  Setting.

We opted for our living room.  We have a new, huge plush rug that’s perfect for sitting and playing and reading.  The kids bring in their sleeping bags so they have a set place to sit.  Plus sleeping bags are great for snuggling and relaxing.   We turn off the overhead lights and stick to lamps and our screened-in porch bulb strands for light.   We may or may not have our jazz playlist on.  

4:  Have your supplies ready.

Earlier that day, or the day before, gather up everything you need to make your night successful.  (An alternative is to have a designated basket, box, or storage bin that holds your supplies.)   We opt for the following:
  • BOOKS:  These include library finds from the week and/or themed books for the month.  For example, since it’s Women’s History Month, we gathered picture books focusing on women.  Make sure you have books for everyone’s age and interest:  board books, picture books, chapter books, etc.  For sensory-seeking kids, lift-a-flap and touch-and-feel books are helpful. 
  • FLASHCARDS:  Touch and feel, educational (such as these Black history) cards, learn-a-language, etc.     
  • LITERACY GAMES:   An alphabet floor puzzle, matching pairs, story cards, letter magnets (used on a cookie sheet), etc. 
  • LOVIES:  These can be dolls, stuffed animals, etc.  They can be used to act out stories OR are simply there for cuddles.  Some of our favorite African American dolls include Peter from The Snowy Day and the Corolle dolls (this one is adorable!) because their quality is excellent and the dolls are realistic looking.   
  • LIGHT SOURCES:  You may or may not have flashlights for each child.   For us, this is more of a distraction than a help.  If you have a fireplace, lighting that for ambiance would be lovely.  Other options include kid-safe lanterns (my son has a Thomas the Train one) or battery-operated candles.   
  • “WORK” BOOKS:  Word-search (pick these up at the dollar store) and Mad-Lib books.   Be sure to have washable markers on hand for these, since you’re likely sitting on the floor and might get marker on clothes, rug, or skin.  Our favorite markers are the multicultural skin-tone markers by Crayola, though I'd use them for art and not just to mark words on a word-search book.  
  • SENSORY:  For kiddos with sensory needs, have what they require nearby:  wiggle cushion, chewy necklace (these are our favorite due to durability and affordability), fidget toy, skin brush, etc.   You can use Playdoh and letter stamps as a sensory-friendly literacy activity.  
  • SPECIAL SNACK:  We have chosen not to do this, as our reading time is right after dinner and the kids’ teeth are already brushed, but if you want to, include a simple, delicious snack that’s easy to clean up.  I suggest a homemade trail mix or popcorn, made in advance, and spill-proof cups.  

5:  Time frame.

Decide how long you’re reading time will last.  We decided as long as things were going well, we’d continue, but as soon as child #1 started melting down, it was time to wrap things up.   If our time was only 15 minutes, so be it.  If it lasts an hour or more, great.  If we have to stop fairly early, you can always have older kids move to their rooms and continue reading while you put younger kids to bed.   

It’s important to note that we have opted NOT to take away this time as punishment.  Again, if a child is melting down, then that child needs to head to bed and the other kiddos can continue activities in their rooms.  

6:  Goal.

What, at the end of the time, do you hope to accomplish?  For us, as I stated earlier, it’s to connect and calm down, as well as focus on literacy.  By not allowing electronics, we promote eye contact, listening, creativity, and focus. 

During story time, we ask each child what he/she would like to do, being open to change.  On our first night, our oldest chose to do puzzle pairs and then move to a Mad Lib book.   My son opted to do a letter puzzle, and then flashcards, while my other daughter picked story cards; then when they were done with these, they wanted to listen to me read several LoveMonster books we chose at the library.   The baby played nearby or was held by one of us.   Sometimes we worked with the kids (reading or guiding through activities), while other times we were observers.  

Give it a whirl, Sugars!  And please let me know how it goes, what you tried that worked, and anything I should add to my supply list. 

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links. 


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Dear Sugar: Life is Full of Surprises

Today's post is by Natalie Brenner.  Natalie is a full time work-at-home mom, photographer, and writer.  She's currently working on a memoir on loss, grief, and grace-in-Jesus.  Natalie has a son by birth and a son by adoption who are a little more than four months apart in age.  Natalie, her husband, and her children reside in Portland.    Read more about Natalie and her family on her site.


Adoption was the means we chose to grow our family, even before we tied the knot.

We weren’t too surprised when two years had passed and I was not pregnant; I have autoimmune diseases and a list of diagnoses:  a broken body.   Sometimes our bodies just don’t work the right way. 

As we emailed back and forth with an adoption consultant, sifting through the multitude of paths to becoming a family for a child through adoption, we decided domestic infant adoption was our first path.

Surprisingly and suddenly two lines resembling a positive pregnancy test appeared and the gift shocked us; we had yet to sign papers instigating the adoption process and wanted to take special care that we “spread the babies out,” so we halted the process of adoption. Too soon, we said goodbye to that tiny baby first conceived in my womb. The surprise of the blood was gripping, halting me in time, shaking me to my core; I was not ready to say goodbye.

Papers were signed, expectancy declared yet again, and we were on the official journey of domestic infant adoption.  I was surprised by how weighty the wait became, how intense the “presenting” was, how much information we were given about expectant mamas making an adoption plan. I was surprised at how people rallied around our adoption journey, bought our t-shirts, donated to our garage sales, and supported us in big, tangible ways. I was surprised how a village of people so easily wrapped their hearts around a baby we had yet to meet, waiting in anticipation right there with us.

I was surprised to see those two pink lines again, 6 months into our adoption journey.  But I wasn’t surprised when we knew in our hearts, we were going to still adopt, even if that meant we had two babies ridiculously close in age. I wasn’t surprised that our hearts had wrapped around a baby we had yet to meet, a family we had yet to meet, and adoption as a whole.

20 weeks into this second pregnancy, a mama had just delivered her son and chose us to be his parents. I was surprised that my pregnancy didn’t phase her, that she just knew we were to be his.

As he was placed in my hands by his first mama, I was surprised at how natural it was to hold him there and stare into his almond eyes, to become his mama. I was surprised at how my soul wrapped around him so easily.

I was surprised how beautifully he fit into the Moby wrap, nestled right on top of the growing baby bump which was his brother. I was surprised by wondering how in the world my heart would be able to love another baby with the intensity that I loved our first born: was there enough room in my heart to love my second born this big?

I was surprised that my heart did grow, that I loved my second born differently but just as much. Our bonding and meeting were hard, pain and tear-filled, but I loved him big. I was surprised at how right it felt to have two babies so close in age, joining us in two different ways, but neither less than the other. Neither more ours than the other. I was surprised at how my mama heart truly and genuinely loves them both entirely as mine.


I have been perpetually surprised along this journey. But the surprises are what make the journey unique.  Some of the surprises may be hard and difficult, pain-filled even, but the surprises bring sweetness, too.


What surprises have you uncovered along your way, Sugar?