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.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

So we've had a couple kids for almost a couple years now...

In a little over a month my little S will be the same age as J was when our baby was born. Which is nuts to me. We didn't start saving J's clothes until S arrived, because we have other kids in the building to pass them on to and we didn't know if we'd have another kid, or when that kid would arrive. When the baby arrived, of course we stopped passing things down and started saving them for S. She's wearing those clothes now. Almost every day S is in an outfit that was pioneered by my oldest, especially now that summer is almost upon us and the weather is starting to overlap.


S is more of a climber than J and as a result has been graduated to a big kid bed far sooner than big sis. Keeping a 21 month old in a toddler bed is a bit of a challenge, but it's working. What's harder to wrap my mind around is the lack of a crib in their room. When I'm not being driven insane by bedtime I'm reveling in the sounds of sisterly conversations (they have conversations! with each other!!) that collapse into giggles as soon as a parent sternly opens the door.

So. Almost two years into having two kiddos, what I have learned?  Here's some stuff that so far has been true for us.

The second kid does not get as much attention as the first one did. This was my big fear, one of the top things I fretted about before baby S arrived and in the weeks after we brought her home.  I remembered so clearly the many nights when J was a new baby that Andrew and I stood, stunned by the miraculous beauty of her presence, and watched her sleep. I remember how every time she cried I felt as if my heart was being ripped bodily from me and how I could do nothing except for abandon whatever I was doing and go make it better for her. It wasn't like this with S, in part because I was quicker to remember what different cries were about and how to respond and in part because it is just hard to spend a lot of time staring at one sleeping child when there is a toddler screaming "MOMMY C'MERE!" at you. However, the end result of this was not what I feared. S as a baby was more sociable, independent and content than her bigger sister was - a combination of nature and nurture, but still. Now as a toddler she can easily out-charm big sis to get the attention she wants from anyone, something I try to keep my eye on. Turns out babies don't need all that worship and adoration. (and she still got and gets plenty, just not to the degree only-child baby J did)

The first kid doesn't get as much attention as before either. This is a pretty good thing. The first time J hit her baby sister I was full of conflicting emotions.  J was my baby, and I'd never been as furious with her as I was when she smacked....my baby. But as she learned appropriate ways to interact with her new sib and I learned appropriate ways to set boundaries I observed some pretty awesome stuff from my toddler that I never would have discovered if she remained an only child. J was actually a great help during the early months of baby S. She was willing to spend time alone looking at books or watching a tv show while I helped baby sleep. Her social skills skyrocketed as she realized that Mommy and Daddy were not the only people who could meet her needs for social interaction - she became adept at commandeering any visitors to our home as her special guests within moments of them stepping inside.  She welcomed her baby sister into her bedroom and learned how to go back to sleep when woken up without any help from us. She's grew up a lot and having a sister has been a big part of the how and why of that.

It's good to have a sister.
Now that S gives as good as she gets J has someone to learn how to fight with who is always around and never gives up. They're learning how to play and conspire together - well enough that I now know to find them immediately if things have been quiet for more than five minutes. It's a sure sign that they're up to something they both know is not Mama-approved. They're a powerful pair when they decide to team up. Yes, sometimes I despair of the squabbles and frequent tears.  My daughters are physical people and we're working on using words not bodies to express ourselves. But if I ever doubt their attachment all it takes is some other kid on a playground or over to visit giving S trouble. J is fiercely protective of her baby sister.

It's also good to get a break from your sister sometimes.
At Seattle's Comic-con this year it just so happened that one day Andrew was there for part of the day with S while I did some things with J and another day he took J without the other two of us. Both days we each had a fantastic time with the kiddo we were one-on-one with. It's a no-brainer probably but that's when I realized that the girls were ALWAYS together - either home with me, Andrew or both of us or at daycare together or off to grandma's house together or being babysat together. They sleep and nap at the same time. With the exception of church where J is in Godly Play and the baby's in the nursery they never get a break.  We've been making a bigger effort since then at giving them breaks from each other and having some quality one-on-one parent time and it pays off with happier kiddos the rest of the time.

We're getting better at this.
We don't waffle around as much. We have clearer ideas about what to do and when to be flexible. We understand that this too, whatever this is, will pass and sometimes that's a relief and sometimes it's sort of sad. Relearning all this with S has reinforced our faith in it being true for J, if that makes sense. Right now, for example, S wakes up every day between 5 and 5:30. No matter what time she goes to bed.  When J was her age and had sleep issues it felt like THIS WILL NEVER END. Now, with S, I'm not happy about the situation but I'm very aware that it will eventually pass. She'll sleep later and better when she's gotten through whatever developmental milestone she's working on. And knowing that about her reminds me that the same is true with J, even though when she hits a rough patch it's likely something we haven't seen yet.

So yeah, I'm stunned to think that in a few weeks J will have had a little sister for as long as she didn't have one. And that from here on out I'll be more experienced parenting two kids than I was with just one. Experience isn't everything but heck, it's not nothing either.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day

these are a few of my favorite things

I've been feeling like an extra lucky bug lately, and especially today waking up to a Mother's Day collection of my favorite things - orchids (which I inevitably kill but love nonetheless), coffee, peppermint+chocolate and all the TOS Star Trek movies on Blue Ray.  Spoiled. Rotten.

Mother's Day is complicated for many of us, not that important for some, dreamy for others and just awful for a few. We don't all have our mothers, we didn't all feel loved by our mothers or get to know them, and not everyone who wants to become a mother gets to. And not every mother gets to keep her children close - children are lost to adoption, death, miscarriage, and if we are lucky then someday we lose them to adulthood and all the risks and trials and separations that come along with that.

My brother and I always try to go big on Mother's Day with our moms and grandmother.  Mostly this is because I'm the organizer and I'm crap at remembering birthdays - if only I could arrange for Hallmark to declare my parents' birthdays a holiday and bombard me with emails and billboards reminding me they were coming maybe I'd do better at it. So I want to win at something. But we are overly, richly blessed with motherhood, Ben and I, and I don't want my mother, stepmother, or my Gran to ever think we don't know it.  I lucked out with my Mother-in-law as well.  Not everyone marries into mother-in-law relationship as easy and fun as what I've got. So in the middle of all the complicated stuff I have no problem celebrating all my mamas.

And there is one more mother for whom I am grateful and want to celebrate today, whose motherhood is complicated by a loss I can't imagine, a loss that ultimately made me a mother. The girls and I will sit down every Mother's day and talk about their first mom, make her cards, send her something. And as much as I love my girls with a fierceness and depth that shakes me to my core at times I will continue to pray that someday nobody will have to face the choice, and loss, that Z did.

Wherever you are - mother or not, with your child or without her, with your mother or without her - I hope you find peace, and that you are able to give and receive love today.