Friday, July 30, 2010

And a cherry on top!

I've seen these award-thingys passed around the blogosphere before, but since I got this one from one of my very favorite bloggers, TG, I'm going to play this time! TG got hers from Andy, another open adoption blogger who I have a lot of respect for.

Apparently these things have rules, so here I go:

1) Thank the person who gave you the award.
I have a date with TG in about a week, to meet her in person, and I couldn't be more excited. Those of you who read here might remember her from the Open Adoption Interview Project, when I was thrilled to draw her as my person to interview. She is smart, thoughtful, and has provided me with a lot of insight into what it is like for one person, at least, to be on the first mom side of the adoption triad. Thanks lady!

2) Insert award into post

3. Name 3 things you like about yourself.

1.When my mother was here to visit a few weeks ago I was expounding upon my love for our condo, even though it is small and one-bedroom-y, and how it is the perfect place for us now, and for a long time to come and why. She looked at me and said "One thing that is wonderful about you is that wherever you are you are utterly convinced that it is the most perfect place to be." I was surprised because that statement hasn't always been true for me. But I like that right now, it is.

2.I'm not a neat freak. Not by a long shot. But in years of loving and interacting with people who are - who I appreciate - I have come to like that I don't need everything to be spit spot all the time. Could I do better at cleaning? Yes. But my dirty secret is that I kind of like a little comfortable, lived-in clutter. And I like that I like it!

3. I like that I always have not one, not two, but at least five plans for any given situation. Need options? I got'em. And if I don't just give me a couple minutes.

4. Post a photo that you love.

This is me and baby J yesterday afternoon. We were out gardening with one of our neighbor families, and Andrew came home and snapped this.

5. Tag 5 people to pass the award on to.
First let me say that TG stole at least two of the people I would have passed this along to, with herself making three. Thanks for making it hard, lady! Let's see (and seriously, no hurt feelings if you don't want to play!)

1. Debbie B. at Always and Forever Family. I've been reading Debbie's blog for a long time now and am constantly impressed with the honest way that she approaches parenting her gorgeous little Belle. She is also an inspiration to me with hairstyles! I hope I can be as good at doing J's hair as she is with Belle someday!

2. Andrea Shiftercars whose blog isn't adoption related at all but who constantly inspires me in many ways! This woman designed my wedding, people, and is currently the only person I trust to pick out my eyewear. She doesn't post much, but if I could afford (and justify) to pay someone to style my life, I'd pick her. Andrea is also the reason I started blogging, way back in my LJ day, because her writing was as stylish and compelling as everything else about her.

3. Carrie at Growing a Baby. I first started reading Carrie's blog when our blogs were pitted against each other in a contest last year. I kept reading it because she is so very honest about the issues that confront her as a stay at home mom and truly never sugar-coats the experience. Also, her kids are super cute.

4. Jenny at PhotoJJ. So if I had endless funds and zero scruples about spending them all on making asthetic improvements to my life I would hire Andrea to style me and Jenny to hang out with me every day and take my picture. (Also, incidentally, Ruthie would make all the clothes for my entire family.)I met Jenny when she started playing bass in my band and only later discovered that her true calling is behind a camera lens. If you like any of the photos I've taken of J it's probably due to coaching Jenny's given me. Her blog is all photographs of people I don't know but I love looking at them anyway. Life through Jenny's lens is always beautiful and never the same from one frame to the next.

5. Evergreen at Evergreen Baby. Evergreen was one of the first blogs I read from before adoption through the whole process. She doesn't post as much now that her little one is over a year old and keeping her quite busy, but I always go straight to her on my reader when there is something new.

That's my Friday-fun post! Look for meatier topics again next week.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why be a parent if it won't make you happy?

A couple facebook friends of mine have linked to this article a in the past few days and I can't stop thinking about it. The title of the article is "All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting." It addresses studies that have come out in recent years showing that people who are parents aren't as happy as people who aren't, and that married people who are parents aren't as happy with their marriages as their child free counterparts. The suggestion (broadly, I do recommend reading the whole thing) is that moment-to-moment there is less pleasure in the life of parents than there is in the life of people who are not parents. Parents worry more, fight with their spouses more, and even struggle with stuff like depression and negative thoughts more, these studies say. Yet, in what seems like a surprising or at least dishonest turn, parents self-report seems to be that they are happy, despite all the measurements saying they are not. These studies measured happiness moment-to-moment, a definition that makes sense in a culture that tends to be about the moment-to-moment with focus on products that provide quick fixes and instant pleasures.

As I think about this article I can't help but look back on the last month of my life, and my own experience of parenting. In some ways, I can see what they mean. The past month of our home life has been characterized by sleep issues and what feels like giant decisions about how to deal with those issues. In May baby J began waking at night, taking longer to get to sleep, and fighting naps. We tried a number of different options to get us all sleeping well that didn't work. In the past four weeks Andrew and I have had more heated discussions than usual (what passes for "fighting" in our relationship) have been more irritable, and I have definitely been less "happy." Which makes sense for a family that is generally sleep deprived and cranky, and for parents who are receiving tons of mixed messages about what to do. Our society is full of opinions on how to manage sleep, there are literally HUNDREDS of books on the subject and the main camps are quite vehement in their views. Your baby needs you when she cries and your sleep is less important than her comfort, one camp claims. A child needs to learn independence and be able to self-soothe, says another. Both camps (those are the main ones although there are other opinions) in their most extreme views claim that failing to care for a child's sleep the way they suggest will permanently (permanently!!) damage the our child for the rest of her life. No wonder we weren't happy. Lack of sleep plus pressure to make a choice plus fear of judgement equals some serious stress. Ask any parent these days and they'll tell you that stress is familiar. So - does that mean that the article is right, and parenting is failing to make us happy? A couple responses come to mind:

1. I don't think parenting is supposed to make you happy. I've read more books on parenting, been to more classes, and had to justify my desire to parent to strangers more than most of the parents I know. I don't recall ever claiming that I wanted to parent because it would make me happy. In fact, I don't suppose I really expected that it would. Why? Well, because that's not what intimate relationships are ultimately for. Shocking, but I didn't engage in marriage because I expected that it would make me happy either. Most of the big projects in my life have by certain ways of measuring had the effect of making day to day living more complicated (trip to Russia as a monolingual teenager! Marriage! Home! School! Band/Tour/Performance! Baby! Vocation!) Of course, I wouldn't be who I am without those experiences - I didn't mind the complication and stress because the work was good work. It formed me in good ways.

2. I think about the relationships in my life, especially the most intimate ones. The choice to love another person is rarely a recipe for absolute daily pleasure and contentment. Some relationships are built with the luxury of stepping into them for pleasure and out of them when things aren't fun. But "intimate" and "close" aren't words that describe those relationships. There are a few people who I walk with in sickness and in health, rich or poor, better or worse. These people, these intimate beloveds of mine, when they are unhappy? So am I. And guess what? I don't always bring sunshine and light into their lives either. Sometimes I am the unhappy one and they - my family, my husband, my inner circle of dear friends, and yes my baby girl - they are the ones who walk a less pleasurable path so that I am not alone.

3. The thing about babyhood, childhood, and adolescence is that it's hard. The choice to be a parent is the choice to become family with a person (without dating first) who is embarking on the hardest and biggest of tasks - starting a Life. Being a parent means choosing to re-live babyhood and childhood and adolescence with all the bumps, bruises, heartaches, limitations, triumphs, glory, innocence and sunlight. More than that it is an opportunity to walk with another human being through all that, as her guide, protector, guardian, teacher and, if you are lucky, good sweet friend. It is not for everyone.

4. Parenting isn't something that everyone should or needs to do. I feel that if as a culture we were as supportive of people who don't want kids and celebrated those lives in the same way we do folks who do want kids than perhaps people would take the choice more seriously. Similar to marriage, I believe it is possible to have a full, beautiful, complete life without parenting children. For some, life might even be better that way. Parenthood shouldn't get pitched as something that brings, in and of itself, happiness because it doesn't. And as a parent who has several friends who are not parents, I can speak for how wonderful it is for my daughter to receive love, attention, and care from adults who are not distracted by their own children!

All that being said - for some crazy reason I would rather struggle through months of sleeplessness than go more than a couple hours without my baby. But we didn't have to. What did we do about sleep? We did our job, as parents, and though it wasn't easy it was successful. We're all sleeping now. Which means at the moment we get the joy and the fun.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Closing Social Distance

One of my classes last quarter was focused on building community in multi-cultural contexts, and this is what I wrote for a project called Closing Social Distance. The assignment was designed to help "break assumptions and move toward empathy." I thought its content was relevant to this space so I am sharing it here, a bit modified for this context. Keep in mind that this was a project done over the period of a couple weeks, not anything resembling actual comprehensive research.

For my Closing Social Distance project I decided to do work in a part of my life that has been generating a lot of internal dissonance for me – interacting with my neighbors when I am out and about in my neighborhood with my J. I live in a neighborhood which has a population that is roughly 40% black (both African and African-American). Andrew and I made an intentional choice to live in the here years ago because we wanted to live somewhere racially diverse. When we started our adoption process in a program that mostly placed African-American infants I began to do a lot more work on raising my own awareness of my racial heritage and engaging the issues around white privilege that I needed to. Among primary motivators for me in doing this was the hope of having a family where racial identities, though diverse from each other, are routinely discussed, critiqued and explored. One of the first things I realized as I engaged this work was that my economic and social position – the factors that in basic ways enabled us to adopt J – were in part results of the white privilege my husband and I enjoy. I have found that I experience some anxiety about this now when I am out encountering my neighbors, especially black folk who I do not know personally, and J is with me. I decided to examine the assumptive set I was carrying to see what might be causing this anxiety and see what I could do to test those assumptions.

The assumptive set I have when encountering black people as a white woman with a black infant in my arms starts with the assumption that they will see my whiteness and my privilege before they see my motherhood. It continues with the assumption that this will evoke resentment. These assumptions are followed by a fear that the people who share J’s race will not legitimize me as her mother, and anxiety that my race will do permanent damage to my daughter’s own development as a black woman.

In order to challenge these assumptions I decided to keep track of the interactions J and I have with people we do not know in the neighborhood and to do a little research with black people who are our friends. When I am out walking with J almost every black person we pass makes a comment about her, or about us. On an average afternoon jaunt, taken 3-4 times a week in good weather, we pass anywhere from 3-6 people who I read as racially black. I kept track of these comments for a couple weeks, and after reviewing them realized that they were overwhelmingly positive statements about J. Once or twice someone has questioned my relationship to her (“where did you get that baby?” or “is that your baby?”), but this is rare in comparison to the number of comments on how healthy or beautiful she is. White people we see in passing rarely comment.

I also queried two friends of our family who are black about they way they feel about the racial difference in our adoption. One, who was adopted by a mixed-race couple and raised in a mostly white environment herself, told me that she doesn’t always approve of white people adopting black children but she thinks that our efforts to live in a racially diverse area are important and make a difference in how she perceives our adoption. The other friend, not an adoptee, was surprised that I even asked or that I would ever assume that he would question our decision to adopt. His attitude was that I had “taken in one of our own” an action that he perceived as one of alliance with his race against white privilege.

The biggest learning for me out of this project was that once again, with the best of intentions, I had assumed that a diverse group of people would have a monolithic response to my personal choice to adopt transracially, simply because they share a racial designation with my child. My fear of being perceived race-first (white person exerting privilege to obtain a black child) resulted in an impulse to also perceive others race-first. The reality was that the anxiety and fear was coming from me, not from the individuals in my life or my neighborhood who share a race with J.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

it's all happening so fast! (or, a blog post about my baby that may not be interesting to anyone but me. But that's why it's called "my" blog!)

*photo by Grandma

In the course of the past weekend J added two very important skills to her interpersonal communication toolbox: waving and flirting. Three words: look out world.

The waving seemed like an accident at first - she likes to flop her hands around randomly and has engaged in that activity for what seems like a long time now. We were visiting Andrew's grandparents and they waved at her and she arm-flop-waved back. I smiled and oohed and sort of thought it was an accident. But no, on the ferry the next day as we made our way home to the city she was a-waving at anyone whose eye she could catch!(and she is quite eye catching!)

The flirting came from a game we've been playing at home a lot - we call it close and far. One of us will hold her and swing her close to the other parent's face and shout "close!" and then pull back and yell "far!" She loves this and shrieks with laughter every time. I have found playing this game is a good way for her to engage people she doesn't know well and/or feels nervous about. They become more familiar but she is safe in my or Andrew's arms the whole time. Lately this nervousness has applied to any man who isn't Daddy. The fear-factor makes it even more exciting and the close-far game makes Bobo or Pop or Grandpa less scary and more fun. So now she will look at any new person, shriek, and then look quickly away and laugh her little tush off. It's hilarious and never fails to melt whomever is the object of her game.

I know that all of this is her little brain figuring out how to initiate and manage contact with other people. It is fascinating to watch - at least to me.