Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Making (a) room

With a new baby on the way someday in the who-knows-exactly-when future, Andrew and I decided it was more than time to get moving on the baby room/family room re-decorating scheme. You may remember that my brilliant friend Andrea outlined a design plan for us a while ago. Okay, over six months ago. In our defense we've been busy, moving slow.

So - I thought it would be fun to highlight the way our "bedroom" has changed over the four years we've lived here.
Here we have its very first incarnation, in 2007. I was quite proud of the dark blue accent wall, and and our Ikea bed with storage underneath. Note the cds (since ripped and discarded). In fact, I think the only piece of furniture in this picture that we still own is the kids' armoire from Andrew's childhood bedroom. It's currently in the closet and between you and me internet, its days are numbered. 
Next we started getting ready for J, and the first step was the addition of my baby cradle, made by my dad when my parents were expecting my older brother. Note we'd found a piece of art we liked for the wall, and acquired night stands. 

Here's the view of the other side of the room. Looking back, I can start to see our current incarnation forming in this picture - the painting by Megan Myers, the drum and a couple of the little toy pieces are all still with us. 

We eventually ditched the cradle for a crib, and finally even ditched our bed and moved out to the murphy bed so we could have our own sleeping space. We switched some stuff up - with most of the stuff on the walls - picture and art wise - from the bedroom going to the living room, and the fun bungee rocking chair from the living room coming to live in the bedroom.
Still, it seemed like we didn't live in this room as much as in the rest of our home, which was a shame because square footage wise, it's over a third of the total space. 

Part of the reason for this was likely that J sleeps in there for fourteen hours a day, but I also felt like there was some wasted potential. Andrea's vision was the push I needed, and I started to make plans. And we're finally getting there.

May I present - our kid/play/sleep/family room:

I used IKEA picture ledges as front facing bookshelves, and we decided to hang our his and hers guitars on the wall for easy access, making that corner a fun play corner for all of us. Andrew picked out some of his favorite records to display as well, which helps us feel like the room has something for us grown-ups as well as some rock n roll flair. The futon, also from IKEA, is a place to cuddle and for grown-ups to sit, as well as somewhere for mommy to crash on those nights when J just can't make it through without someone in the room with her, or for both us big people to sleep if we have guests on the murphy.

 The adorable alphabet sticker is from Blik, and pretty much the rest of the furniture is IKEA. Shocking, right? I think eventually the doors are going to come off the closet and some sort of organizational system will be installed that includes space for the futon to be embedded in there. This will make way for a big girl bed for J, and the crib will go to the new sib. But that's a ways off.

We've been in the "new" room for a couple weeks now, and so far it's just exactly what I wanted. The bright colors make the most of the sunlight from the single window, and the combo of J's reading chair, the futon, and the bungee rocker make it a comfy place for adults to hang out too, especially while supervising playtime. The kitties love it too, and I once again have to do a sweep at nap and bedtime to flush them out.

All in all this transformation was pretty inexpensive, done over time, and I'm very happy. The room feels more like home, and more ready for eventual double occupancy. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

our new it baby (doll)

On Saturday afternoon J and I trundled off to IKEA with good friend and neighbor Sarah to do a little shopping. IKEA is always an experience - for those of you who've been there the store is a little bit like a maze, a labyrinth, or if you are more familiar with the layout a choose-your-own-adventure. It is very difficult for me to get out without spending at least $100, however, so I try to visit infrequently.

This trip had clear parameters. I had made a list in advance of the must-have items to put finishing
touches on our J's/J+new baby/family room, which we've been redecorating over the past couple of weeks. I also wanted to check out the toddler beds, and get a couple things for the living room. Sarah needed to visit lighting. Given this, I had a pretty good idea what shortcuts we could take to get to the important areas without getting sidetracked in kitchenware or rugs.

We couldn't avoid the children's section, however, and that was how we came to be standing in front of a bin full of these
baby dolls trying to figure out why they didn't have any black girl babies available. There was what appeared to be a girl doll on the display shelf, wearing a soft pretty dress, but none were in the bin for purchase. It took me a few minutes of sorting through the bin (which also had white and asian dolls) to figure out that the doll in the dress was the same doll as the one in the bins - just in different clothes.

I was amazed at how my perceptions of the same doll were shifted by putting it in "girl" clothes. (And here I thought I was enlightened in regard to gender!). In the end I couldn't resist and I let J pick out a doll to take home as well as a pack of clothes for it.
I am really impressed with this very affordable doll and its packaging, I have to say. It is soft and cuddly, washable, and lightweight enough for J to tote it around with her without getting tired. It's brown all over (she has one "black" doll that inexplicably only has brown plastic hands, feet, and head and then a body of stark white cloth - so confusing, and not something that was obvious before it was out of the box) and soft all over. The sets of clothes for the doll all include boy-ish and girl-ish options for the doll as well, so it can be whatever the person playing with it wants, and that can change.

J hasn't named her doll yet, and probably doesn't care whether it is a boy or girl doll. But I'm happy to have found this "it" doll - in a world where many dolls come bearing pink or blue outfits,and gender specific names it's nice to find one that leaves so much room for imaginative play. Not bad for ten bucks.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Transracially Adopted Child's Bill of Rights (Revisited)

Longtime readers may remember a little series I used to do here on the blog, reflecting on the Transracially Adopted Child's Bill of Rights, a document adapted by Liza Steinberg Triggs from "A Bill of Rights for Mixed Folks," by Marilyn Dramé. I started this project in the months before we were matched with J, and continued it a bit after her placement. My initial goal was to write a blog reflection on each item in the list. Recently I thought I would look back at these, maybe pick it up again and finish. I looked back at the list, and noticed a theme with what I have and have not written about. Here it is again, with links to my reflections for the ones I have written about:

There are a couple different ways to look at my progress through this list so far. One is that I made it a little over halfway through the list, became a mom and didn't finish it. And there's truth to that. But I also look at the list and realize that the further down the list I get the more pursuing these rights for my transracially adopted child leave the world of intellectual exercise and reflection and enter the world of me getting outside my personal comfort zone to make something happen. And by "something" I mean making sure that my kid gets the chance to know, love, be loved and be formed by people who share her race and racial culture.

I would hazard a guess that this is one of the most difficult things for white adoptive parents of non-white kids to figure out and make happen. I was recently added to a facebook group that is focused on the discussion of racial issues and as I read through the posts there I was struck by the number of white adoptive parents who mentioned in passing how their adopted child was the only person of color in their town/neighborhood/school/social circle.

This has been a challenging arena for me as well. I feel pretty lucky that Andrew and I started our parenting journey already connected to a couple of amazing and supportive black families, people we count as friends and neighbors. But after J arrived I found myself questioning my desire to spend time with them, and to intentionally "make" more black friends. Was it fair, I thought to myself, to pursue a friendship with someone because I want to expose my child to that person's racial culture? Is it fair to J not to, just because I feel uncomfortable? Are there ways that this can happen organically and if so, how?

I don't think there is a simple answer to that question.

So this fall I am going to tackle the final seven on the TAC bill of rights, and share my reflections on them here. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

choosing two

I hung up the phone with my brother feeling emotionally exhausted, but better than I had when I had called him almost two hours prior. Ben and I are pretty different, and once again our fundamentally different ways of operating had caused tension, hurt feelings, and some of the trademark passive-agressive behavior that has been a family legacy for what I can only assume is generations. That, at least, is something my brother and I share.

Because we are so different the stories that our families tell about us are different stories - Ben is like our parents: quiet and calm, conservative, introverted with his feelings and protective of his personal time and space. I am, well, not like anyone in my immediate family. I am like my "crazy" aunts (I have one on each side): outgoing and dramatic, a risk-taker, a liberal with her heart on her sleeve, overcommitted and sort of into everybody's business. Our stories depend on each other - they define each other to a certain degree. There are things that I like about them and of course things that are painful to me. The story I tell about myself isn't quite the same as my family's story about me. This is the nature of the stories families tell - good or bad we use them to measure change in ourselves and in our family members and to have some idea of what to expect from each other. My family's story about me is one of the biggest sources of pride and of pain in my life. I'm sure yours is the same. I have a suspicion it just works this way for most of us.

So my sibling and I have been trying, for most of our adult lives, to do a better job of caring for each other. It's hard work, but incredibly rewarding. We've become allies and friends in addition to the sibling dynamics good and less-good we still have, may always have, as a result of sharing a childhood. As a second born child I was literally unable to imagine a life without my big brother. Now as adults we get to choose to spend time together, involve each other in decisions and big questions, and do what all siblings ultimately must do together - deal with our (beloved!) parents together.

About this time last year I became taken with the idea that maybe we would have one child, just our J. This wasn't something I'd ever considered before. Given my place in the birth order the idea bordered on blasphemy for me. If my parents had considered it I wouldn't exist! But I was putting some time into thinking about living small, and conserving energy. I started to wonder what else might be better, smaller. I floated the idea by Andrew, who felt pretty positive about it, typical first born that he is. So I tried it on for a while.

There was a lot behind my love affair with only-child-dom. I resist the idea that any child should be part of a checklist, or that any big decision involving family building should be. You know the checklist: husband (check!), house(check!), kid #1(check!), kid #2 (pending...),etc. I have this sneaking suspicion born of my six years in child welfare research that there are a few too many people who become spouses or parents more because there is pressure to make and achieve a list like this, and less because they feel truly and specially called to the big work that is marriage or the big work that is parenting. And given my place in the birth order I resisted the idea that a second child come into a family simply to provide a sibling for the first born child, or with any less deliberation, care, and loving thoughtfulness than the first. Finally, I felt the only way to truly choose a second child would be to fully imagine and embrace the idea of an only child. Just as Andrew and I were not less-than as a family unit before J, neither was our cozy threesome deficient or incomplete pending the arrival of one more child.

This went on until fall, when two things happened. First, I found baby M's name. Let me explain. J's name is a name that Andrew and I have had since before we were married. It came to us, oh I don't know when, but sometime when we were still in giddy-in-love-dreamland almost all of the time we were together. Before we even decided we wanted kids we knew that IF we had them our first daughter would have this name. It was the only name we ever both felt 100% confident of, though of course we eventually had a boy name picked out as well. So despite us both being reasonable people on some level when she showed up and was herself and our J it felt like fate. In early November last year I found the name M. I told Andrew and for the first time ever he seemed interested in a second baby. It was the right name. Despite us both being reasonable people it felt like fate.

The second thing that happened was that we went on vacation with Ben and his family. I watched his kids with each other. They're a little over two years apart. And I watched us, Ben and me, with each other. And I watched my mother, who was with us, watching it all. I think it was then that I decided. I want that for J. And I want it for M. We are complete without another child but we'll be even more complete, have even more opportunities to love and learn and grow and tell stories with two.

I'm not sure that the vacation had quite the same effect on Andrew as it did on me. But that's not my story to tell. Suffice to say that was late November and by the end of 2010 we had submitted our second adoption application. We knew our little M(or whoever s/he turns out to be) was out there.

Monday, August 1, 2011

remember this day

Parenting a toddler is challenging. This is not a surprise. What I am learning about toddlerhood is that it's hard, frustrating to be a person with clear ideas and desires and only imperfect methods of communication at one's disposal and no final say even if mommy or daddy does understand what is being communicated. I knew this intellectually coming into this, and now I understand it in a whole new way.

But less expected are the perfect moments, the perfect days. Yesterday was one of them - a dreamy and quietly spectacular just-us sort of morning followed by the perfect afternoon. I took J to our city's Episcopal cathedral for morning mass. It is a huge echoing box of a building and she thought it was wonderful. She huddled close to me while taking in the height and breadth of the space. She pointed excitedly at the stained glass windows, the organ, the altar table. She whispered in my ear "up, up" when she wanted to be picked up to see over the pew, until she discovered the kneeler and then "dow, dow!" so that she could stand on that and "mama" so quietly while patting my shoulder and flirting with someone in the pews behind us. After mass was done she greeted all my friends there with a cheery "hi!" and as we drove away she shouted "bye bye cha! BYEEEEE!"

After church we drove to our neighborhood coffee shop, where they know us now and get my double-tall americano with room and J's side of fresh fruit ready as we are walking in the door. J walked next to me, greeting the barista and dancing to the music playing over the sound system while I paid and added my sugar and cream. She was totally at ease. I felt so grown-up, having a coffee date with my girl. We took our treats outside and J was happy to sit in a big person chair next to me at our table and munch on her fruit while I sipped my beverage and we talked about our day so far.

"bye bye cha!" she commented, and I agreed that we had left the church.

"ra! ra!" she observed, her way of barking like a dog, pointing at the bowl the shop leaves out with water for its doggie patrons. J made the sign for drink,and pointed excitedly down the road.

"oh, I see the dog!" I replied. "I wonder if he is going to take a drink from that bowl. He did, and we were both very excited. As we chatted I found myself grinning like I'd won the lottery. I felt sort of silly until J demanded "dow!" and trotted over to another table to pick up some keys another customer had dropped. She handed them to the bemused woman, and came back. "Up!" I kissed my sweet dear girl, realizing again that every moment with my daughter is a gift, and that sometimes (many times!) parenting is just as sweet or sweeter than the dreams I cherished in the months before she joined us.