Wednesday, August 26, 2015

fourth time around

Somehow, last week, my baby completed her fourth circle around the sun and now she is a big, proud four year old. She talks and understands so much, and is a funny, creative, wacky, charming, big personality sort of kid.

I love her so much.

Birthdays can be interesting and complicated in adoptive families. I have a friend who adopted her daughter internationally, and they don't know what her child's actual birth date is. I know adoptive moms who were present in the hospital room when their child was born who were unexpectedly bowled over with grief for the woman giving birth, instead of the expected joy of meeting the baby who would become a son or daughter.

And for me, like many, I wasn't present or aware of my children's birthdays when they happened. My storyline intertwines with theirs, for each of them, a couple of weeks later on.

So on S's birthday this year, after cake and candles and promises of a fun party on the weekend, when she was sound asleep in bed, I pulled out her file and looked through it. I read the hospital's clinical description of her birth, and looked at the tiny inked footprints. I let my eyes linger over Apgar scores and precise time of birth, and the social worker's notes. I thought about Z, and what that day must have been like for her. I thought about the hopes I have cherished that someday S would be able to talk to her first mom about the moments in her life that only Z would be able to describe to her.

Sadness and happiness can live in good company with each other, I am learning. Life is full, to the brim, with both.

Birthdays can be complicated.

Friday, August 21, 2015

(in)visible

"She's right there" J says to the teacher's aide who is monitoring the line of kids waiting to get picked up. It is the last day of kindergarten "jump start," the practice week, where kids come and experience the teachers and routines of school for half -days before the official school year begins. 

"Look," J is jumping up and down a little anxiously, pointing at me as I walk across the parking lot toward her.  The aide has her arm out, not touching my child but obviously signaling her to stay back. She looks past me. None of the children in her line are white, and so the white woman walking toward her (me) doesn't register. 

"You have to wait for your mommy, honey," she says. Her eyes search the parking lot. I am sure she is looking for someone who matches my daughter racially - maybe a tall and statuesque Black woman with piercing eyes that match J's. I see my girl's nose wrinkle up in frustration. 

"Right there!" She says again, and I can tell that she is about to lose it. This is probably why my tone is a little sharper than intended. After all, I'm only about 8 feet away. 

"Right here!" I echo back at J, then wave at the aide, catching her eye. "I'm her mom, and I'm right here, " I say firmly. The woman drops her hand and J runs out toward me.  

"Oh," the teacher's aide is obviously embarrassed. "I didn't know what she was pointing at." I do my best to smile.

"It's fine, I get it." I turn my attention to the papers J is holding and fuss over them, over her. My big girl, who has completely rocked this week. 

We've chosen our neighborhood school for J, and we are really excited about it. It's a newly remodeled K-6 with a lot of diversity and a lot of kids who qualify for free lunch. The principal is dynamic, committed, and interesting. There is a lot going on in terms of classroom support, innovative curriculum, and blended learning. At the parents' meeting, the first day this week, Andrew and I looked around and spotted one other white couple in the room. The meeting ran over because everything had to be said twice: once in English and then translated into Spanish. 

"Are there many adoptive families here?" I asked the principal when we came to tour the school. I could see her pause, really wanting us to enroll and worried about her answer. 

"Not really," she replied. "Or, at least, not like your family. There are kids here who have been adopted by relatives, or who are in foster care situations. But I think you'll be the only ones....like you." 

So, here we go. I don't think it will take long for everyone to figure out who J's mom and dad are. I firmly believe the best educational environment for my daughters is one that is not majority white, one where they will learn the skills needed for a diverse world and have opportunities to make friends that share their racial identity. But I am acutely aware that in these environments my kids will fit in better than I do. We've been lucky so far, in this way, surrounded by people who know our story. My kids haven't had a lot of situations, yet, where they have to explain to their peers or others that yes, I'm their mommy, for reals.

But those times are coming.

This evening, after J and I pick up S from her Seattle daycare we drop by the farmer's market in our old neighborhood and then head to one of our favorite parks to eat dinner, and play. It's a great park, and full of kids on this sunny late summer afternoon. Unlike our new neighborhood, where most of the kids are Hispanic, some are Black and just a few are white, this park is dominated by Black families. The girls are quickly swept up in a game with a bunch of other kids on a  merry-go-round of sorts. I watch from a bench, aware that my kids are the youngest of the bunch. Things get rowdy, so I start to hover a bit. Because the pick-up from kindergarten is fresh in my mind, I am aware that to most of the kids on the playground equipment I am a random white lady with a mysterious interest in the merry-go-round crew. It's just my two who see their mama, watching to make sure they are safe. When I call to them to stop playing because it's time to go home they protest ("Mom!! Not yet!!") and the other kids react with shock and surprise. 

"How is that your mom?!"

"You have Black kids, what???"

The girls giggle, not sure why there is a fuss, but pleased to have caused it. I smile, and calmly say that families don't always match. I can tell they don't really believe me, but my daughters don't seem to notice.

As invisible as I felt, picking up my daughter today, I am certain that by the time school starts for real in a couple weeks everyone will know about us. My relationship to my girls is invisible until it isn't, and then we really stick out. J will be in school without me now, one of a bunch of kids in kindergarten who will have to figure out how to talk about herself and her family. 

Here we go.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Atticus

It's always hard when we realize that our heroes are flawed. Or that there exists, in some alternate universe, the possibility that they could be flawed.

I've been binge-watching season one of The Flash, which deals with this theme a lot, as many superhero stories tend to do: how to figure out who the good guy is, and who the bad guy is. What to do, when it turns out the lines between the two are blurred. There is a character that seems to be good, but turns out to have been the Big Bad all along.

I haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird in a long, long time. And, I haven't read To Set a Watchman at all.

Five years ago I read a post on Stuff White People Do, that changed the way I think about To Kill a Mockingbird in a very dramatic and devastating way. Macon, the author of the now on-hiatus blog, is lifting up a critique of the book that was levied by academic Isaac Saney in his 2003 article The Case Against To Kill a Mockingbird, published in the journal Race and Class. Saney is working off of efforts by African Nova Scotians to ban To Kill a Mockingbird because they read it as a racist book.

That's right - not the new book, where the central character is openly racist, but the old book. The one with the Atticus Finch that we all love so much.

Saney's case is basically this: yes, Atticus Finch is portrayed as noble, moral and upright. But there were not many white people who behaved in this way, in that time. Maybe there weren't any. To write a story about one fictional white man who did stand up against white supremacy erases the reality of the vast majority of white people who not only didn't resist but stood in solidarity against recognizing the full humanity of their black brothers and sisters.  Saney looks at how the black people in the book are presented and sees people without agency, victims waiting for the efforts of a White Savior. Even the title suggests that black people are useful, harmless pets. Mockingbirds. And finally, he notes that in reality it was not the heroism of white people that brought civil rights to black people, but the willingness of black heroes to march, fight, sacrifice, and risk.

When I first read that blog, and article, I agreed.

Then the last few years happened, and I agreed even more. Black men still die at the hands of white men who hate and fear them, without repercussion.

So I've been reading through the reviews, and the astonishment, with the release of To Set a Watchman. And it seems to me that while it might be hard to read a version of Atticus Finch that is openly, horrifyingly racist, there is also something that feels right about that. The first Atticus is a myth, and a damaging one. This Atticus, perhaps, is something closer to real life. This one really lived, in many, many regular white men all over our country then. And he still lives now.

To Set A Watchman sounds more realistic than it's beloved cousin. Reviewers say it is less satisfying, more disturbing, not as well done.

That's probably all true. I lost my love for Atticus several years ago. So, for me, there is something satisfying about learning that before she wrote him perfect, Harper Lee tried to write him real.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

postscript to the match that wasn't

I log in to social media today and look through the many posts from the weekend - family photos, people having fun with friends, pictures of fireworks, sunsets, cookouts, camping trips and other fun.

I linger over one photo in particular. It's a picture of a family: a mom and dad with four kids ranging in age from a teenager to a five year old. "Great 4th with the fam!" the caption reads. It's obvious that this family is related by blood - they resemble each other, and I can see elements of mom and dad in all four kids. They are all beautiful, especially the sweet littlest one, a girl with her hair braided in a crown and then up in one single puff.

Y and I reconnected on social media a little over a year ago. I found her and sent her a message - we exchanged photos of our kids and exclaimed over how beautiful everyone is. When her youngest turned five I sent a little happy birthday message, and we talked for the first time about the day I held that baby and thought she would become my daughter. I got to tell her how grateful I am for her decision to trust herself and parent her child.

When it happened, when Y changed her mind, I was full of complicated feelings. Underneath the disappointment and sadness, much quieter but just as present, was relief. I was relieved because I could see that she knew how to parent, that she was emotionally capable, and this felt so dissonant with her stated desire to relinquish. On several levels I wasn't surprised by her choice, despite disappointment. I was clear that if her choice was to parent, we would support that.

Now I look at her pictures (and she looks at mine) and I cannot imagine another way. I am grateful to see the little girl who wasn't my baby safe and happy with her mama and papa and siblings, big and strong and almost six years old.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

View


Our new place has a pretty great view. It's a lovely house, modest in size and classic in it's mid-century appeal. There's a big fireplace. But I kept coming back to it in the listings last summer because of the magical phrase "views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains." Living in a place where I can see the water and mountains without leaving the house has been really important for me this year.

Andrew and I have always been basement dwellers. Our first apartment was in the basement of a house, and then we lived with my father-in-law, in his basement, and finally we bought our little condo which was also a basement unit. We have always found comfort in cave-like dwelling places, used to limited sightlines and secure in the knowledge that while we might be able to hear our neighbors stomping about above us, noise doesn't travel up quite as well. When I needed a view I could find one just a short walk from our building, in almost any direction.

A friend of mine who is a psychotherapist told me, while we were house-hunting, that there is something therapeutic about living in a place where you can see for long distances. "Something in your hypothalamus relaxes," he said. "Because your brain can see that there are no survival threats coming." That made sense to me. And after living for nine years in basements, and five years as a parent, I was ready for my hypothalamus to chill out.

I wonder what it is like to live in a world where there are literal, real, fight-or-flight, survival threats all around? Charleston feels like that, to me, and just regular everyday life feels like that, for most black people living in this country.  A woman took her eleven  year old granddaughter to Bible study and left covered in the blood of her friends after playing dead to avoid getting shot. The human being who did this hate crime is a product of the culture that I live in (and benefit from), and the culture my children live in (and I cannot protect them from it.) This is over sixty years after a bomb in a Birmingham church killed four precious children. It's been going on that long. Really, it's been going on much, much longer.

I could go on with how scary it is for me, but maybe I won't. I don't want anyone to feel bad for me, or try to make it better.  I want it to be scary, it is terrifying. Not just for me, a woman whose hope and promise for the future is irrevocably tied to the well being of the black community. It should be terrifying and scary for everyone. How can us white folk get up high enough to see that this is true? How can we see far enough to invest ourselves in a future where no one feels unsafe in church, at home, with law enforcement, in school, or simply just by being around other people?

I posted on Facebook in the days after Charleston, about how more than anything I feel terror at this world my girls are growing into. A white friend wrote back to my post, expressing her own sense of frustration and helplessness at the magnitude of the issue. But then she said "You can count on me, to be part of the tribe that continues to do the important work needed to create a world where your children are safe. I feel your mother bear pain.." I hadn't realized, until I read her words, that I had felt not just trapped, but alone.

I never minded living in basements, because I was never alone there.

Individualism and isolation are pillars of white dominant culture in our country.

I love our new home, and the view does my soul a world of good. I find it easier to be alone with myself, here, which is necessary for a priest, and no easy task for an extrovert. I talk to my girls about the view, and I watch them learn to notice where the sun is in relationship to the mountains. They are starting to identify all the different birds. They have a tribe, they have each other. They aren't alone.



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

testing

Hi internet. It's been a while since I've written anything down here, and for a long time I figured I was giving it up. But this past week I ran into somebody who read this blog back when it was a thing I did, and I started feeling a yearning to come back. It's possibly mostly nostalgia, or even more likely, ego. But I am beginning to wonder, do I have some more stuff to say, here?

Lots of things have happened in the past two years. Lots of things have stayed the same. I'm not a student anymore. I'm still a mom. I don't live in that sweet, small space with friends upstairs and on either side of us, anymore. I do live on a sweet half-acre with fruit trees and a vegetable garden and a magical forest hollow where my kids love to play on the rope swing while my spouse works on the treehouse/fairycastle/fort he is building them. We still have a cat. We also have a dog. We're still getting to know our neighbors.

Lots of things have happened in the world in the past two years, too. Lots of things have stayed the same. We still have a black president. #blacklivesmatter is a thing, a really important thing. Charleston just happened, and the sheer terror of that moment in time changed a few things for me, things I thought were already as changed as they could get.

This can't be a blog about adopting babies anymore - we are done with that process. The girls are getting older - J is starting to read - and I need to be careful how I tell the world stories that belong to my children first.  I haven't been a priest long enough to write stories about that, at least not with any hope of doing it anonymously. And eventually one of my sweet parishioners is going to find this blog. (they're very polite, probably they already have.)

But I guess I could keep on telling my story.

What do you think?



All these plants grow in my yard, which is pretty cool.

Friday, November 8, 2013

about this time...

baby J, brand new.
Four years ago about this time I was writing this post and putting myself to bed for my first night as a mother.  I can still remember the car ride, the Georgia sunshine, and the sound of my heart rattling around inside my chest in the interminable minute between ringing the doorbell at J's care home and the moment Granny Moon opened the door and ushered us in to the light filled room where Melvin sat holding the baby. Our baby.

I didn't cry that day - it was too bewildering and fast and bizarre and full of feeling for me to even touch my brain to my heart to figure out what was happening.

Tonight, four years later, I sat next to Andrew in the cafeteria of our local elementary school, S on my lap, and watched that same person, the tiny baby we held for the first time in 2009, perform a little play and some songs with the other preschoolers in her class. She stood tall and took it very seriously. She fills up my heart, every day, that magical beautiful life-changing child of mine.
we still got it. photo by JennyJ, more here if you are interested.