Thankful

I always make my kids write thank you notes for the gifts they receive, usually for Christmas and birthdays. BE just had her 9th birthday, so we were working on thank you notes for her friends. For the first time ever, I got a thank you note. I was so happy that she was thoughtful enough to do this unprompted and that she really appreciated her gift. I’m working hard to hold onto the positive things; I spend too much time dwelling on the negative.

She needs a little work on her past tense

She needs a little work on her past tense

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The unrealized dream

Thanks to their teachers, both of my kids are familiar with Martin Luther King Jr, what he worked for, and the things he said. A few days ago, BE told us that Dr. King’s dream had come true based on this part of his “I Have a Dream” speech:

“… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

BE reasoned that because she held hands with one of her friends at school, that the dream has been realized.

J and I explained this is an important step, but that we’re not there yet. J pointed out some evidence of the problem that she could relate to. It’s a fact that in her current school, there are very not many caucasians. And, in her previous school, there were even fewer African Americans. I know J and I would both like to see an end to the voluntary segregation that we’ve put upon ourselves. And, I’d love for the kids to have this same vision – and to be part of the solution.

An unfortunate Christmas tree

For many years, I had a “themed” Christmas tree. Only star shaped ornaments in gold, silver, or white were allowed. The kids first moved in with us at Thanksgiving in 2009 and by the time Christmas came around, there hadn’t been time for them to make any of those homemade ornaments that I knew would ruin my tree. In 2010, I had a great solution – I bought them their own little miniature trees to keep in their rooms. I tried my best to make it seem like this was a favor to them – and not merely a way to keep their beaded wreaths and foam ornaments off my tree. It worked well for a few years, but this year I finally gave in. I can’t control everything, even though I still wish I could. I still haven’t caved on Santa though …

tree

Breakdown

J and I still own the house we lived in before we moved to Detroit. It was empty for a few months while we were looking for new renters. One day last month, the kids were off of school and we went there so I could paint one of the rooms.

I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy day because the house is empty and there are no toys/TV there. Plus, BE had homework. It was a disaster. BE had a tantrum because she thought her homework was too hard. BC got paint all over himself. The two of them fought constantly. It took forever to paint and since the homework was never finished, I didn’t get to bring out the laptop I brought as backup.

I had what I’ve come to think of a breakdown. I yelled, cried and had my own tantrum. And I spent the next month in a little depression. I say “little” not because it was insignificant, but because it was in addition to the existing depression.

Parenting and being married is hard. You hear that before you do either of those things. And, you’re expecting it, but it usually turns out to be hard in ways you were not expecting. Ways that are more difficult to cope with than you anticipated. And, sometimes you feel that the biggest disappointment is yourself.

Open Adoption Interview Project: Meet Camille

Open Adoption Bloggers hosts an annual Open Adoption Interview Project in which bloggers interview each other about – what else – open adoption. This year I was paired up with Camille from Embracing the Odyssey. Continue reading to learn all about Camille and her family (and don’t forget to check out her blog to read her interview with me).

You’re building a new home and you’re planning to raise Alpacas there. Why alpacas? What are they like?

Ummm…..yeah. I barely knew what an alpaca was until about two years ago when my husband, a veterinarian, suddenly shared his lifelong dream of living on a farm and raising these big-eyed llama-like creatures. He thinks they’re cute. Mmmkay dear. Maybe this should have come up sometime before we walked down the aisle?! Fast-forward to now, and we’re nearing the end of a year-long building process that will see us moving to a 50-acre farm with alpacas. And goats. And rabbits. And chickens. And the loss of my sanity, most likely!

In all seriousness, we both believe that nature and animals can be useful tools in fostering healing, empathy, responsibility, and trust in kids from hard places. The alpacas are just one part of our new home, to which we eventually hope to welcome several more children from foster care. Oh, and they can projectile spit stomach contents on people, so that’s cool.

I was recently talking to some friends about open adoption and they indicated that they would not be comfortable with this arrangement as they want to be the only mom. Clearly you don’t feel this way, as you have a very open adoption. How do you feel about being one of two moms?

In regards to my youngest daughter, Ellie, adopted as an infant, the fact of the matter is that she has two mothers, and pretending otherwise isn’t what’s best for her or respectful of the woman who gave her life. Her birthmother provides biological connections that I cannot. She answers, “Who do I look like? Where do I come from?” I provide the day-to-day, moment-to-moment mothering—the lullabies, the hair combing and teeth brushing, the story reading and doll playing.  And we both have a place.

Though it’s awkward or confusing sometimes, as an adoptive parent, I have to realize that my own comfort is always secondary to my daughter’s emotional security. Many adopted children don’t talk about their biological families for fear of hurting their adoptive parents. They suppress questions and complicated feelings. I want my daughter to feel completely welcome in expressing herself honestly and embracing all parts of herself and her story.

At first, I remember having those thoughts of wanting to be the “only” mother, but now, I feel grateful to be “one of two moms.” I love her first mother and admire the incredible sacrifice she made. I’d ask your friend to please consider that openness can be an amazing blessing. Our relationship with Ellie’s grandmother, aunt, and mother are more than we ever expected. We started slowly, with a visit moderated by a social worker from our agency. It felt silly having a third party, so we traded phone numbers and e-mails. Then, we starting texting pictures and sharing our lives. We met at restaurants or playgrounds. It hasn’t always been easy, but we stayed committed. Our relationship grew naturally, and now we consider Ellie’s birth family good friends. We visit about once a month now. They come to our home, and Ellie has even stayed the night with them.

Thus, Ellie will grow up blessed to always know both of her families. People she knows and trusts can answer any questions she has immediately. She’ll have living, breathing connections to all parts of her story.

Of course, in regards to children adopted from foster care, openness may or may not be an advisable or possible option depending on the circumstances, but it remains true that all adopted children have two families, and I believe parents should strive for as much openness and connection as possible.

It seems that most adoptive parents choose one of the following: infant adoption or older child adoption through foster care. However, you’ve done both. How did this come to happen?

This came to happen through no real planning of our own.  We’ve tried making plans, and God laughs and gives us the family we’re meant to have. Turns out, the guy knows what He’s doing.

When we adopted Ellie as an infant, we really didn’t even consider older-child adoption. We were first-time parents, first-time adopters, and honestly, we didn’t feel prepared to handle the extra challenges of an older child. We wanted to experience parenting an infant, and we had it culturally ingrained in our heads that children enter a family as chubby little babies.

Hahahaha! We crack up thinking back on that version of ourselves. The January after Ellie was born, Ian, a former student of mine, asked if he could move in with us. A few weeks later, Herdest, who worked for my husband, asked if he could move in with us while he finished his senior year of high school. So, within a month, we also became the parent-like people to two teenage guys. The boys, now 21 and 19, have been with us for almost two years, and we love them dearly.

At the beginning of this year, we started looking at available children, planning to pursue a toddler around Ellie’s age, when I came across a profile for a 17-year-old that I knew from a local community center. Ian and Herdest opened our eyes to how incredibly important family support is to older teenagers and young adults, and when I saw her beautiful smile, I couldn’t get her out of my head. Within a week, after some serious prayer, my husband and I decided that we were meant to adopt her. We finalized on Nov. 17.

Thus, from both ends of the spectrum, I can tell you that we are a blessed family.

You were formerly an English teacher. What is your favorite book and why?

Seriously, just one? I couldn’t possibly. Sacrilege! So here’s a LINK to my Top 10 for the classroom. I’ll just share one here. *sigh*

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

As a teacher, one couldn’t ask for a better book. In a few brief chapters, it includes a myriad of content standards. Also, I used this book to build trust; the simple text doesn’t overwhelm struggling readers, and the fact that the book is packed with curse words from the beginning demands attention. Once students discovered I’d encourage them to curse loudly while reading, their participation reached new heights. (I’ll tolerate a good four-letter word any day to get a kid to read.) However, most importantly, reading Of Mice and Men was the first time many kids ever truly connected with a book. Do you remember the last few pages…gripping your seat in horror as you realized what’s about to happen? Yeah. Steinbeck makes football-players cry.

You recently reviewed a book called Jesus Feminist. How do you feel that Jesus and feminism fit together?

As I said in the post, I feel that an honest look at the life of Jesus and his interactions with women reveals that he was himself a feminist. Jesus treated women with no less kindness or consideration than the men in his life and affirmed their importance to his work. In my opinion, feminism is the belief that each woman should be able to use each of her gifts to the fullest of her ability. Since I believe all gifts and talents come from God, if we limit a woman’s role in the world, we are limiting her ability to serve and fulfill her God-given calling.

Also, if we are serving God, should we not care about justice in this world for all of our brothers and sisters? Many current issues—rape, human trafficking, domestic violence, genital mutilation—are often classified as “feminist” issues, but in reality, these are problems that demand our unified action as Christians.

Can explain the title of your blog “Embracing the Odyssey?” Your tag line at the end of your posts is “find the joy.” What does finding joy mean to you and how do you do it?

One of my favorite blogs is Kristen Howerton’s “Rage Against the Minivan.” Shortly after we adopted Ellie, we purchased a Honda Odyssey, but instead of “rage”, I found myself adoring my new “mom-mobile.” Also, on my journey to become a mother, I experienced infertility, a miscarriage, and a lot of heartache and uncertainty. When I first started blogging, Ellie was strapped to my chest, and I was overwhelmed with the joy of my life, however different than originally planned. I started thinking about all the twists and turns life throws our way, and how sometimes, you just have to embrace what you cannot control. Sometimes, you have to dig hard to find the joy, such as during times of loss, and other times, joy floods down from heaven….like little baby breaths on your chest or the huge smile of your newly-adopted teenager.

In one of your posts, “Thoughts on Babies …” you critique the idea that Christian women are valued for their ability to have children. Did you ever feel this way yourself – if so, how and why has your opinion changed? If you’ve never felt this way, how have you managed to keep an accurate perspective on what does make you valuable?

This post came after reading Rachel Held Evans book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Great read! Basically, there are many Christian leaders out there who teach that motherhood is a woman’s “highest calling.” Which, you know, kinda sucks if you’re infertile or just not interested in having children.

In my early 30s, I know few people my age who aren’t parents, and I can understand how it’s easy for women who are not mothers to somehow feel “less than.” When I was experiencing infertility, I certainly felt “out of the club” on more than one occasion. It’s hard to separate our worth from cultural expectations.

But RHE writes: “As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling is to follow Christ.”

Amen. I believe that as a woman, my service to God does not depend on a working uterus or on raising children. It’s a high calling, but not more important than any other.

As a woman, I’m valuable because I’m a child of God. When I feel like a complete failure as a mother because my toddler scratched another kid or my teenager is in a crappy mood or one of the hundred other times I want to give up every day, I remember that I’m not God to my children. He has a plan for them outside of my control. I will love them and do my best to protect and guide them, but at the end of the day, my worth can’t be tied to them.

As mentioned in an earlier question, you consider yourself a feminist. Some people would argue that feminism and stay at home motherhood are opposed. What is your opinion on work (in and out of the home) and feminism?

I’ve worked in and out of the home, and both present a unique set of challenges. Neither one is better or more important than the other. Each woman must choose what is best for her and her family, and we have no right to judge what works for another. In my interpretation of feminism, a woman should be fully supported to be amazing in whatever role she’s in at the moment. Wiping noses and tiny bottoms? You go, girl! Cancer research at St. Jude? Rock it! Baking a casserole for a sick friend? Fabulous! Preaching and teaching God’s word? Shout it, sister! I think it’s entirely possible to be a stay-at-home mom and a feminist at the same time. After all, right now, I’m choosing to be home. For true equality, we must have the freedom to choose our path. 

What is the hamster dance song – is there a YouTube video?

Hah! I was trying to figure out where you came up with this question, then remembered the random list of “likes” on my About Me page. When I was in college, a roommate gave me a small, robotic stuffed hamster that played that song, and my Westie, Kenobi, went absolutely psycho nuts. Now, I can play the song, and my Sheltie howls. Something about this song and dogs don’t mix. It’s weird, I know, but the song never fails to make me smile. You can find it here: http://originalhampster.ytmnd.com/. Apparently, there’s also a www.hamsterdance.com.

A rare opportunity

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to do something most adoptive parents never get to do: I went to my kids’ foster home. For a year and half, BE and BC lived with the L family, not too far from where we live now. We’ve been fortunate enough to keep in touch with the Ls all these years, and one of the kids’ foster sisters recently invited us to a birthday party for her 1-year-old daughter.

I was ecstatic to see where the kids lived and I took a lot of photos of the house and the rooms. I did take photos of the kids with their four foster sisters and foster parents too.

I was fascinated by the people who were at the party. A good number of guests were former foster children themselves, now grown up with children of their own. The L family has been doing foster care for more than 20 years, and CL, the foster mother, estimates that she has had more than 100 foster children. I would love to interview her for this blog someday – the whole family is so unique that I just want to capture their perspective on family and life in general. Hopefully I’ll have a post on this in the future.

There were so many emotional moments for me during the party. I just felt so thankful that my kids had such a great family to take care of them. CL and I got emotional as she remembered rocking and feeding Brendan – she was pretty much his first mother. We’re so fortunate that we’re still in touch with the Ls and that the kids have such a large family of people who love them (including members of their first family of course).

fosterfamily

BC and his foster dad

Foster care is like chemotherapy

I recently met someone who works to help former prisoners re-integrate into society. I asked her what she would change to improve the system. In response, she talked about the need to provide basic things for young children, such as food, housing, and education. I’ve been interested in the importance of keeping young children with their families as often as possible, so I was excited to see how two different causes – recidivism and reducing foster care rates – could be similar. 

In July, Michigan Radio, an NPR station, ran a story about the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, which has been operating in Detroit’s Osborn neighborhood for several years. Apparently, the neighborhood has an incredibly high rate of child removal. Although the focus is on Osborn, the Center also serves families throughout Wayne County. The Center provides free legal and social work help in order to keep kids out of foster care. It receives referrals from the Department of Human Services when a child is unsafe because of some unresolved legal issue.

Vivek Sankaran, the Center’s founder explained: “In all the cases we deal with, there’s no doubt that the parent loves for and is providing proper care for the child. But there is sort of a third party that may be interfering with the parents’ ability to provide care for that child.”

Since the Center opened in 2009, none of the children it served entered foster care. And of those already in foster care, 95 percent were adopted or reunified with a family member.

In an attempt to explain the reality of being in foster care, the article’s author wrote, “Sankaren compares foster care to chemotherapy. It’s there for very serious cases when you need it, but it has drastic side effects.”

I really like this comparison because it’s shocking enough to draw attention and succinct enough to be memorable. Plus, I think it’s accurate.

It would be great to see more programs like this, and apparently, other states are looking into it.

Why school diversity is important

As Detroit Public School (DPS) students, my kids are a racial minority. However, DPS does have more diversity than most people realize, making it about as racially diverse as the surrounding suburbs. However, my kids’ school (and I suspect other DPS schools as well) have an upper hand when it comes to socioeconomic diversity.

In my opinion, this type of diversity is just as valuable as racial diversity, and is non-existent in many schools. I recently read a USA Today article about this issue.

Here’s an excerpt explaining why (in the author’s opinion), socioeconomic integration is important. I would also argue that diversity of any type improves learning.

“Education researchers know that one of the best ways to improve public schools is through socioeconomic integration. It isn’t just a matter of pooling economic resources, it’s about sharing human capital. When advantaged families attend public schools, parents with influence gain a greater sense of urgency about improving things. Their own children’s learning is at stake. When problems arise, they get involved and make sure problems are fixed.”

I do have an issue with the above statement,  because it implies that economically disadvantaged families care less about their children’s education. However, it does reflect the unfortunate reality that people with more money have more power.

According to the author, integration will happen once parents change how they make decisions about schools (although I would argue, the problem and solution are much more nuanced in Detroit, and perhaps everywhere).

“Most parents don’t look up schools’ test scores and staff profiles. Instead, they focus on perceived class and racial composition, as Jennifer Holme described in Harvard Educational Review and Kimberly Goyette corroborated in Social Problems. Parents put much weight on their peers’ decisions, so it’s necessary to create a critical mass of families committed to integration.”

My question is, how do we create this critical mass the author suggests? In part, it involves overcoming prejudices, which is not an easy feat. If you have an idea, please let me know!

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