Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Three Little Girls: an adoption story

I have this abstract, floating idea to one day write a book about adoption. Perhaps it would feature the voices of adoptees, birth families, and adoptive families. Perhaps something else entirely. The idea wiggles around my mind and I have a hard time pulling it into focus. But regardless of whether it ever takes shape, the inspiration that I had for adoption will always be the same. During this, National Adoption Month, I thought I would share the story of how three little girls influenced my own adoption journey.   

           It was the late 80’s. Our bangs were high, our socks were slouched, Debbie Gibson reminded us that our youth was electric, and New Kids on the Block taught us to hang tough. In our small, bedroom community, I was carving a childhood without a care in the world. Winters were mild and summers were sticky hot. From June until September, the boys on my street ran sweaty, bouncing from house to house, for hours. We spent long, lazy afternoons at the local pool, splashing with kids who’d trekked yards or miles to seek solace from the heat. Summer nights were often made of running through sprinklers, bouncing on trampolines, and the more than occasional sleepover.
            Maybe it was the community pool or maybe it was all the hours serving on the PTA at the only elementary school within an eight mile radius, but friendships were forged between mamas. Those relationships led to a network of kids bound together by chlorine, Otter Pops, and the nagging dread that a new school year was coming.
            Somehow, though I do not remember the details of my introduction to her, I became instant friends with a gangly girl one year my junior. I can only recall pieces of our early friendship; her hideously broken arm, achieved by falling off of a jungle gym at a backyard Vacation Bible School, her subsequent enormous cast that dwarfed her tiny body and her impressive side ponytail at my surprise 8th birthday party, her superior Barbie voice skills—especially when performing the role of Ken, and the fact that she was adopted.
            For whatever reason, I became obsessed with that last bit. Long after our parents had fallen asleep, as we laid giggling on the floor of one of our bedrooms, I would hear a nagging voice in my head, begging me to find out the details of her first life. I would try to hush the voice but, eventually, it became too much and I would blurt out some intruding question that felt innocent enough but probably sounded a lot like, “What happened to your real parents?” (Oh, how I hope not. Lord, let it not be so. I’m slowly dying inside at the mere thought that it may have come out like that.)
            She would tell me the stories. Of her parents. Of foster care. Of being adopted. And I would listen, riveted to her tale. I don’t think there was ever a conversation that ended because I was bored of the story. I think she spoke and I listened until, eventually, her narrative faded into the quiet rising and falling of our breath.
            My friend was the first adoptee I ever knew. Decades later, I would apologize to her for being so intrusive, for asking her, so frequently, to divulge every detail of her first handful of years, for wanting her to tell me deeply personal and, often, incredibly painful stories. I had felt, then, that I needed to whisper, that, perhaps, it was a secret. But I hadn’t realized the weight of what I was asking her to share with me and, as an adult, I felt guilty for how careless my curiosity may have seemed.
            She was quick to respond that I had nothing to apologize for, that talking about it was a release for her. So many years, and a great deal of maturity later, that was such a relief to me. To know that she had first kindled my passion for adoption, to know that I had served some purpose, however small, in her own journey gave me the sense that, in those early years, we had lived in perfect symbiosis. Me, presenting her with a space to share. Her, subsequently piquing my every interest in the complex odyssey of adoption.
            Nearly a handful of years later, my aunt and uncle announced that they would be bringing home a baby girl. I sat on my parents’ bed and listened to my mom chattering on the phone with my aunt. I didn’t know how infant adoption worked. I only knew that, when my mom hung up the phone, she announced that I was gaining a cousin. I welcomed that little girl with every excitement that a baby obsessed preteen could muster, which is to say that I wanted to hold her every waking moment of every day.
            Being so much older, I never grilled my cousin on how she felt about being adopted. In fact, I really never thought much about it. My aunt and uncle had a baby. And that was that. Except for one thing. In my cousin’s room was a photo album. The album contained pictures of her first family and photos of her birth. When I flipped through that book, I had this nagging thought that there was this whole other family that she belonged to.
            There was a woman who had chosen to place my cousin in another home. She gave her position to my aunt and handed over this tiny blessing wrapped in pink to be raised and loved and snuggled by someone else. And I was so grateful that she did it, that she chose life for my cousin and that she gave that life to our family. Adoption had brought me a friend and a cousin. Even though I knew the loss and had a limited understanding of the grief that would come from that, to me, it was only beautiful.
            To me, adoption was my cousin, toddling around with chestnut hair and big, wide eyes. It was my friend, now half grown, flailing wildly with me in a dance party gone bad and laughing until our sides ached. It was the little girl in an orphanage in Mexico.
            When I was in high school I went on a mission trip. Part of our time was spent at an orphanage. One day, as my peers ran through the yard playing games, I walked through the bedrooms--alone. I wondered what it would be like to grow up there, where the ratio of adults to children seemed like eleven million to one. As I walked through the maze of bedrooms, certain I was hopelessly lost, I heard a soft cry coming from several walls over. Quickly brushing through rooms of hand-me-down comforters and lone dressers--of which each child had one drawer to call his own, I searched for the soul belonging to that cry. The nearer I got the louder the cry became until I burst through a door and skidded to a halt when I saw her. She was sitting in the middle of the crib, fat tears dripping down her precious face, naked, except for the bulging diaper. She saw me and reached her hands to me. Inside, something yanked loose. The women had their hands completely full with all the other children. And me, well, my arms were holding nothing. My hands were completely free.
           In some ways, that one act of picking up that one child shaped me forever. I wiped her tears away and whispered to her in limited and broken Spanish. I tried English. She frowned. Hard.
           Her eyes were glued to my face almost constantly. I tried to get her to smile. But still, regardless of what I did, the frown. And then something happened and she giggled. The frown didn't reverse, it simply shook up and down as she laughed. I realized then that she wasn't frowning. She was smiling, upside down.
           Over the course of my time there, we became virtually inseparable. When it was time to leave, the lump in my throat felt like I'd swallowed a grapefruit. She clung to me and sobbed as they tried to take her away. I pulled her arms off of me and shoved her toward her caregiver. Then I spun on my heels and climbed on the bus. Looking out the window I saw her reaching her arms toward the vehicle, mouth open in a loud wail. I couldn't control the tears flowing down my face. It felt like someone had reached into my chest and squished my heart in his fist so that parts of it were sticking out between fingers while the rest thundered against palm. I couldn't breathe.
            In my tears I knew that I loved her.
            I knew then that I could love my own child, born not of my flesh but of my heart, instead. I knew that I could unconditionally love someone else's son or daughter. I knew that ethnicity and gender and circumstance didn't matter. I was in high school. I hadn't learned most of what I know now.
             I have loved her for many, many years now. Though we will never, ever, be reunited, separated as we are by cultures and miles and years, I am so thankful that she tugged on my heart in that crib. So thankful that, in her outstretched arms, I was granted the spirit of adoption.
            Adoption is sometimes a lot like an upside down smile. It is foster care and orphanages. It is first families making painful choices. It is grief and growth and learning to love in new ways. But it is beautiful. It is joy. It is recognizing that there is more love in the world than we can ever  know. It is a pilgrimage worth every mile. It is friendship and family. It reaches across blood and borders. It is, at times, disheveled and chaotic. But it promises to be the most beautiful of messes.

I am always and ever thankful to my Father in Heaven for imprinting me with a deep curiosity about adoption. I am also so grateful to Him for giving me a spouse with a desire to adopt. Finally, I am ever thankful for the mess of infertility. For even with the desire to adopt, had we easily conceived time and time again, I don't know that we would have been brave enough or bold enough or, perhaps, reckless enough to choose this life. And I am blessed, every day, because He built my family in this remarkable way. I've heard it said that when we get married, we are better capable of understanding the complexity of the love that Christ has for His church. When we have children, we have a wider comprehension of the way the Father cares for us. I would submit that when we adopt a child, we are given a deeper understanding of what it means when we are adopted into the family of God through the accepted gift of salvation. It's truly an experience like none other. If you would like more information on infant, foster, or international adoption, please feel free to contact me. I would love nothing more than to share ways that you can be involved in caring for little ones in need. I would also challenge you to pray and ask God if adoption is a part of His plan for your life. I've heard so many people say that they are not called to adopt. But I wonder if they have ever actually asked God what He would have them do. Sometimes, He has abundant blessing in store for us and all we need to do is ask what His plan is.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sub for Santa

In the middle of National Adoption Month is World Adoption Day. According to their website www.worldadoptionday.org, "World Adoption Day is a day to celebrate family. World Adoption Day is a day to raise awareness for adoption. World Adoption Day is a day to raise funds to support families in their adoption. Ambassadors from all over the world are organizing events and parties, bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate World Adoption Day. Join us as we create a day to celebrate the power and beauty of family brought together through adoption."

They ask supporters of adoption to put a smiley face on their hand and post a picture to social media. Of course, we participate in this.


Sometimes, though, I think it's easy to find yourself wondering what you can do. If you can't* afford adoption, you might ask how you can help. Since it's World Adoption Day, I thought I'd link here to an amazing opportunity. Perhaps you don't know how you would come up with $40,000 to adopt a child, but do you have $100? If so, you can sponsor a child in foster care for this holiday season. I was told by a former foster kid that Christmas is everything to a foster child. In the middle of all the chaos and turmoil these children are experiencing, we can help bring them joy on Christmas morning. Please consider responding to the information listed below. You can make a cash donation or choose a child to sponsor. There are still several hundred children waiting to be chosen.

I posted about this on Facebook and my friends and family responded. Together, we're sponsoring 5 children. Stand with us for adoption, for foster care, for orphan care. Stand and donate to a child in need. Click here https://www.adoptex.org/get-involved/donate/subforsanta/ 



*Time and time and time again, I have seen the Lord provide in incredible ways for those who faithfully answer His call to adopt. We couldn't afford it either. And yet we did it. More than once. Because He was so very faithful to us and He used so many people to help us bring our babies home.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

This is Us and this is National Adoption Month

My blog could easily go from being a place where poignant or funny or, at least, moderately interesting things used to be written to a place where I discuss episodes of This is Us on a weekly basis. Except they wouldn't be discussions that most people would want to read because I'd be all, There's a girl named Kate and a guy named Kevin but let's not talk about them. Let's talk about Randall and Rebecca all the time! All the time.

Because listen, I do not generally identify with Kate or Kevin. There was an episode a few weeks ago where Kate got into it with Rebecca. Kate is a year older than me. I should take her side. But I wanted to slap her across the face and tell her she was a horrible person and APOLOGIZE TO YOUR MOTHER RIGHT NOW, KATE.

Then, there I was, talking about the episode with friends and one of them just gets Kate. She explained that she identifies with Kate's struggle and how authentic the show is in regard to her feelings. It didn't make me want to slap Kate any less but it made me so happy to know that they're getting Kate just as right as they're getting Rebecca. And, let's face it, the country isn't tuning in just to watch this transracial adoption storyline unfold. Some people are tuning in for that. Some are watching for Kate.

I've mentioned before that this show makes me cry but not every week. Goodness, I'm a statue. Or I used to be. I don't know, strange things make me cry unexpectedly sometimes now. But, anyway, last night's episode really got me there at the end.

It's National Adoption Month. And I know, everything single thing, every single cause, every single issue has its own month to be celebrated these days. That's okay. Because if we listen to the passionate voices on certain issues, we just might learn something. Those of us who are the passionate voices, certainly have a lot left to learn.

I watch This is Us because I find so much of myself in Rebecca and because I find so much of Matthew in Randall. I watch because Randall grows up and Rebecca gets old and I'm not there yet. I'm not to the "being a white parent of a grown black man" stage of my life quite yet. But I will be. I am so hoping that the show is getting it right about adult Randall and Grandma Rebecca and that I can learn something now that helps me then. Goodness knows its getting it right about ten year old Randall and his mom. Sometimes, it gets it so right that I'm looking around my house for signs that the screenwriters have bugged the place.

Last night, when ten-year-old Randall couldn't deviate from his Halloween plan because THE WORLD MIGHT JUST END. Matthew. The things he can control, he simply must control, and if that control is taken away, he may just explode. And if he grew up to be as amazing as adult Randall that would be pretty okay with me but I'd rather he grow up to be a little less rigid and a little less nervous breakdowny.

When the show gets the dialogue so perfectly right, I just want to celebrate. Or cry. Or both. Because, thank you, Hollywood, for doing this.

Rebecca: You're not instead of anything. You are the way it was always supposed to be.

When there's infertility playing in to the story, I think it's easy for children to feel like they are Plan B. I can see Matthew feeling that way someday, feeling like we couldn't have another biological child and so we had him. I can certainly see Will believing that we only adopted him because we'd lost his sister. Of course, neither of those things are true. They are not instead of something else. They are the children that were always supposed to be a part of this family, since before the dawn of time.

Randall: What was his name?
Rebecca: Kyle.
Randall: Kyle probably looked like you and daddy. And them. Nobody looks like me.
Rebecca: I know.

These are real conversations that real adoptive families have. Add a biological child into the mix and it's maybe even more difficult. My oldest son is my mini me. Matthew and Will are not. I've never once had someone tell me that either of them look exactly like me. The tendency is to find things that are similar and that, in its time, is good. Matthew, Will, and I all have brown eyes. So we talk about that. But sometimes it's okay to just acknowledge that we don't look alike.

As I said before, though, it was the ending that grabbed me and made those tears spring out of my eyes.

Rebecca: (talking to baby Randall) Hi, little boy. I'm sorry it took me so long to get over here. I was really nervous to meet you. See, I talked to my other babies over there the whole time they were inside of me. But you weren't there so I wanted to come and introduce myself and say hello and let you hear my voice...Oh. I forgot to introduce myself. I'm your mom.

I felt this exact way with Matthew. He was hers and then he was mine but I didn't know him the way I'd known Garrett. And so I struggled to feel like he was really and truly mine. And then I felt guilty for not feeling the exact same way I'd felt with Garrett. I was so worried that I wasn't feeling things the right way. Now, of course, I feel sad that I ever wondered if I was loving him the right way. I was just loving him a different way. A way made through adoption. I credit Matthew completely for the fact that I didn't struggle with this when Will was born. I had already had seven years of loving an adopted child. I knew all the joy before me when Will was born because Matthew had taught me.

And then, lastly, there was this gem.

Older Rebecca: (talking to her baby granddaughter) And we lost a baby and we thought it was an ending but it was also a beginning.

Just today, as I was snuggling Will before his nap, I whispered to him, "Do you know how many things had to happen so that you would be here in our family? Do you know how God worked to change my heart in so many ways? Because He always knew it was supposed to be you."

I'll keep talking about this show for as long as it keeps getting adoption right. And I'll keep talking about adoption because it is one of my most favorite things in the whole entire world. Happy National Adoption Month!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Gotcha

I hate the term Gotcha Day.

In adoption circles, Gotcha Day is used as the term for the day you meet the child you've been waiting for. Having adopted both of my children from infancy, it's not really a word I've much had to deal with in my own life. However, there are plenty of people who refer to the official court hearing for finalization as Gotcha Day. Adoption agencies, parents, lawyers, social workers, etc, use this phrase. And I really, really, really, really, really, really hate it. The kind of hatred that when I see it I shutter inside and want to scroll past whatever I'm looking at as fast as possible.

I mean, if you use it, you'll keep on doing it and that's fine. If your children really just think this is a fantastic term, then, "yay!" I guess. I'm certainly glad they like it. And, really, if you disagree, I would love to hear your positive spin on this phrase.

But, dude. Just think for a second about what other ways you use the word gotcha.

A rousing game of tag in which the person you are chasing DOES NOT WANT TO BE CAUGHT. You run just a hair faster than he does. He stumbles over a tuft of grass. You reach out your hand and with the tips of your fingers, swipe his back. "Gotcha!"

A hairy spider meanders quickly over the carpet toward you. His one intent, probably, is to devour you, piece by teeny, tiny piece. You jump up, stamp your shoe clad foot on top of his unsuspecting body, twist your toes to make sure he's good and dead and, with the tone of an evil murderer, mutter, "Gotcha."

You crouch quietly behind a door in the dark. You hear your unsuspecting victim coming up the stairs. Suddenly, you leap from your hiding place and scream, "Boo!" The victim squeals. She jumps a mile. You dissolve into hysterics. "Gotcha!" you laugh.

Someone is hanging off the edge of the cliff and you reach down. You take his arm in your two hands and hoist him back up to safety. You've saved his life. Without you, where would he be?

Gotcha is some slang term we use when we acquire something. It implies a forceful grabbing and I imagine Gollum snatching the ring and stroking it, greedily. (Look at me referencing LOTR in an adoption blog. My husband will be so proud.) It focuses on the parents' joy but turns the child into some kind of commodity, a thing to possess. Also, for every action, there is an equal opposite reaction. What should birth parents call these days? And for the child who is losing all she's ever known, is this a Lostya Day?

Gotcha Day implies that we've saved these children. Or that we've obtained them. It implies that we did something in our own power to snag them. When, really, it's God who allowed us the privilege of having them in our presence.

And you have to know that even if I agreed with the definition of the word being used for adoption, I'd hate the slang in the way that I hate it when mini marts are called KwickyStoppe. Why not call it what it is? Adoption Day. It's only one extra syllable.

What do you think? Am I wrong?

Friday, October 13, 2017

#tellyourstory

My friend, Kristin, and I were talking the other night about how deeply disturbed we are regarding Harvey Weinstein and the sheer depth and breadth of his hideous, nightmarish behavior. We need to tell our stories. We need to put faces and names to sexual harassment and assault.

This is my story.

"PASADENA--Police arrested a motel employee Wednesday after he allegedly groped two women during a breakfast buffet. 

Jose Martinez, 35, was booked on suspicion of misdemeanor sexual battery, Pasadena police Sgt. John Luna said.

Martinez was working about 9 a.m. at a motel in the 1200 block of East Colorado Blvd. when the incident occurred, the sergeant said.

He groped the lower bodies of two 29-year-old women, above their clothes, Luna said.

After his arrest, Martinez confessed to the groping, police said."

I wrote about this at the time. And, in truth, at the time, I was pretty disturbed by what had happened. However, when I wrote the story, I added in humor in some sort of attempt to make light of the situation. It's what I do. I make jokes to break the tension in my own life. It was minor, but it was NOT OKAY and it was NOT FUNNY.

In 2011, two of my friends and I spent a couple of days in Pasadena. On the first morning, I stood at the counter of the continental breakfast, waiting to make a waffle.

A male employee was going in and out of the room checking on things. He walked past me and groped my butt. My brain began to process what had just happened. Could it have been an accident? Was there any way that someone could accidentally grope a butt for that long? Was there anyway that someone could have mistakenly done something so overtly sexual? I walked up to my friend. "Maybe it was an accident but I think..."

We quickly realized that he'd done the same thing to both of us.

As I waited for my waffle to be done, I kept my butt firmly planted against the counter. When the waffle was finished, I turned to remove it from the iron. I saw him coming out of the corner of my eye. It was as though he'd been waiting for me to turn around. I saw him reach out and I felt the same unfamiliar hand inappropriately touching me in the middle of a breakfast buffet. I tensed. My nerves buzzed. At this point, I was pretty shaken. The first time I was disturbed but confused. The second time left absolutely no room for confusion.

I went to my table and told my friends, "It happened again." My arm was shaking and unsteady. Setting my waffle down, I hit the cup of hot chocolate I'd already made. It flew up in the air, sailed forward, and dumped down the front of my white pants. Embarrassed and emotional, I blurted out, "That's how worked up I am about all this." A man asked if I was burned and began to help clean up the mess. The man who had touched me, whose name I later learned was Alfredo or Jose (the news article called him Jose. The court documents call him Alfredo), came immediately over to our table.

I assured everyone that I was alright and I backed up into a corner to protect my butt from further touching. As everyone else tried to clean up the mess, I stood, frozen, against the wall. Jose/Alfredo asked me, repeatedly, if I was okay. I largely ignored him and then left to change my clothes.

I headed up to my room but, in my state of shock or panic or whatever it was, I wasn't sure which room was ours. I went back down to my friends, still covered in chocolate and asked them. As I got back into the elevator, I saw Jose/Alfredo coming toward me. I frantically pushed the button to close the elevator doors but he darted in just as the door was closing. I was 29. I should have screamed. I should have tried to jump out. I should have done something other than stand there, frozen. But I did not. I could not. I stared at the ground. His shoes were covered in paint.

I thought he was going to rape me.

The touching had been unwelcome, unexpected, unwanted, and completely inappropriate. But the elevator ride, the myriad of terrifying thoughts I had in those few seconds, was horrible.

"Are you okay?" he asked me.

"I'm fine," I said as firmly and unmoved as I could. Make yourself seem fierce. Make yourself seem bigger and braver. I squared my shoulders.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Yes! I am sure," I exclaimed. I should have slapped him across his face and told him never to touch me again. I should have, at the very least, told him that I was covered in hot chocolate because of him. I did not. I could not. All I could think was that he would stop the elevator between floors and hurt me. Or that he would wait until I was in my room and use some master key to force his way in.

He asked me my name. I have no idea why I told him. I should have said it was none of his business. I should have, at the very least, given him a fake name.

He repeated it, smiling. The door opened and I dashed out. Then I stopped abruptly, terrified that he was going to follow me. Thankfully, he went right and I needed to go left. I changed my clothes as quickly as I could and dashed back down to my friends.

"He followed me onto the elevator," I told them.

We all went back up to our room to decide what to do. We talked about our options. We knew we wouldn't stay a second night. We didn't feel safe there. Ultimately, we decided to call my dad, who is in law enforcement.

I think I somehow believed that it wasn't a big deal. Because society feeds us this lie that it's not a big deal. Because Harvey Weinstein can get away with rape and lewd and lascivious conduct for decades. Because it was only my butt. Because he hadn't assaulted me on that elevator. Because he didn't force himself into my room. The truth is that, yes, it was my clothed butt. A whole lot worse has happened to a whole lot more people. Thank goodness for my father. He knows the penal codes and he told me to call the police immediately.

In California, penal code 243.4(e) Any person who touches an intimate part of another person, if the touching is against the will of the person touched, and is for the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, is guilty of misdemeanor sexual battery. As used in this subdivision, "touches" means physical contact with another person, whether accomplished directly, through the clothing of the person committing the offense, or through the clothing of the victim. "Intimate part" means the sexual organ, anus, groin, or buttocks of any person, and the breast of a female.

When the officer arrived, he was so kind and caring. He said that what we described was minor sexual assault. I do not bring up the fact that he said "minor" to in any way imply that he made light of the situation. Rather, to hear an on duty officer who wasn't my father describe the incident as assault was simultaneously overwhelming and relieving. He gave us the option of pressing charges. At that point, wanting to be free of the situation, we opted for a stern tongue lashing by officers in uniform. Ultimately, we just didn't want this to keep happening to other women. We watched the scene unfold from our window. More cops showed up and, suddenly, Jose/Alfredo was being cuffed. We found out later that the officer had pulled surveillance video from the buffet. He said that what he saw was so obvious and so predatory in nature that an arrest must be made. One of the officers who had arrived on the scene, a female, commended us for calling. She said that all too often, these things go unreported. She said we did everything right.

I credit my dad. When I would have otherwise been way too afraid to speak up, way too worried about confrontation, way too embarrassed or timid, he gave me courage. I never saw the tape. I only felt what I felt. But, later, the district attorney was very disturbed by the footage she saw. She wanted a punishment more severe than we ever would have thought in those first few minutes.

It was only my butt. But it was unsolicited and wildly inappropriate. I stood with my back against things for a long while after. I became much more aware of my surroundings. The fear that he was going to rape me, the thought that I would be powerless to stop it if he tried, those feelings stayed with me for a long time. Still, I sometimes feel uneasy when I'm on an elevator alone with another man.

People are wondering why these young Hollywood women didn't speak out at the time. There were two of us. We were 29 year old wives and mothers and we didn't exactly know what to do or say. He was a motel employee. To expect young and terrified women to have stood up to a Hollywood mogul when they think that they're the only one is unrealistic.

We must first create an environment where women (and men) are not afraid that speaking up and speaking out won't make things worse. Until then, individuals in positions of power will continue to get away with horrible atrocities. Perhaps, in order to create such an environment, more people need to tell their stories. Perhaps then, the world would be forced to listen.

#tellyourstory

Think what you want of Megyn Kelly but this is a good and short watch. And then, if you're feeling like getting worked up, read the comments. So many of them blame the women. So many. What can we do to change this narrative?





If you hate Megyn Kelly, watch Anderson Cooper instead.



The link to the article about our encounter can be found here.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Memories That Mean Something

As has been well documented in this particular space, I'm not a crier. I almost never just sit down and have a good cry simply for the sake of crying. If people are around--forget about it. As I've said before, if you've seen me cry, you're in a rather elite group of people. Even my current television obsession, This Is Us, doesn't make my eyes spring a leak in quite the same way that it makes the rest of the world. I love it, don't get me wrong. It's perfect and poignant and almost always spot on, but I've only choked up a handful of times.

Last night's episode did me in. I mean, I can't even talk about Randall's character without losing it. "My whole childhood, I felt split inside." And then teen Randall, "It's like a ringing in my ears and, uh, it quiets down sometimes. It can quiet down so much I almost forget it's there, but then, there are sometimes where it's so loud, I just feel alone." I was basically a wreck thinking about my boys.

But that's not even what I want to talk about. I want to talk about Sylvester Stallone.

"So it's a funny thing, when you think about it, time. Your sister sings a couple of bars of Rocky and for a split second I can smell the ring again. And then she tells me that when you were little kids, you watched a lot of my movies, and I'm thinking for a moment about my kids when they were little. The messy hair. The matching pajamas and all that stuff. And I swear to you I can see it all so very clearly I could just reach out and touch it. In my experience, Kevin, there's no such thing as a long time ago. There's only memories that mean something and memories that don't."

I thought about Kate. Which is weird. Because I don't really have any memories of Kate. I never saw her running down the stairs in her pajamas to see what Santa had left under the tree. I never heard her voice or danced with her or snuggled her into bed. I never saw her kick a ball, climb a tree, or twirl in a frilly dress. My memories of her are mostly painful.

But even those excruciating memories mean something. I see it all so clearly I could just reach out and touch it. Her tiny body in my arms feels like yesterday. The way I could feel every nerve buzzing when I heard that she was gone forever. The sound of my own heartbeat banging loudly in my ears. Trying to get off the phone because I thought I was going to die, right then, and I needed to do it alone.

I visit her grave and sometimes I say hello to a soul that isn't there, wipe the dirt off her name, and get back in the car. And sometimes I want, inexplicably, to dig her up, cradle her once again, and breathe life into her dry bones.

My friend recently lost a baby to stillbirth. She asked me if I would share some of the things we did to honor Kate. In the course of our conversation, I said, "Thank you for asking me. I don't pretend to know what it is like to give birth to a stillborn baby and I really appreciate that you just look at me as a mom who lost a baby. Not a lady who got too attached to a kid she never carried."

She replied and said, "I think of you as a mom of a stillborn. Not like that's your label. But it's part of your story."

And really, it meant the world to me to have her say that. In her own fresh grief, she accepted my long time ago sorrow. That's not an easy thing to do.

It's in the ebb and flow of grief that we learn to live. Like a surfer waiting for the next wave. Life is calm and serene and full but we know that the pulse of the ocean will bring another swell. On a birthday. When someone else experiences unfathomable loss. When Sylvester Stallone says that there is no such thing as a long time ago.

It was three years ago that I first heard about this birth mother who was pregnant with this baby. To some, three years is a long time. In those years I have loved and lost and loved again.


I cannot tell Will's story without telling Kate's. Two hearts. One birth mom. Sister. Brother. And a mama who isn't sure that there will ever be a day where grief doesn't surprise her in the strangest of places. My hair is tucked behind my ear the same way. My face, somehow, looks the same even though the circumstances could not have been more different. Devastation somehow filled with hope that the Lord would fulfill the promise He placed in my heart. Joy filled with sadness that he would never know the sister who first stole my heart. These are memories that mean something.


It's a funny thing, when you think about it time.
Your sister sings a couple of bars of Rocky, and for a split second I can smell the ring again.
And then she tells me that when you were little kids, you watched a lot of my movies, and I'm thinking for a moment about my kids, when they were little the messy hair, the matching pajamas and all that stuff and I swear to you, I can see it all so very clearly I could just reach out touch it.
In my experience, Kevin, there's no such a thing as "a long time ago.
" There's only memories that mean something and memories that don't.

Read more: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=this-is-us-2016&episode=s02e03

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Pygmy Antelope

I have an eleven year old. I used to blog about him here, when he was little and said hysterical things. I remember his chubby baby hands and his adorable baby voice. Daddy went to work and, for a minute there, it was just him and me all day long. I didn't work outside the home. There weren't any other kids until he was two and a half. I don't remember how we filled the days but there must have been a great deal of playing and reading. He took a nap or, at least, a rest, every day and I blogged a lot about life back then.

More children came. Preschool started. Then he went to kindergarten and first grade and second grade and third grade and fourth grade. Life barreled along with soccer, swimming lessons, homework, kid's club, scouts, and so many other things. I blogged less and less until it seemed the old fishbowl was just a thing I used to do.

But this first born of mine is pretty fantastic. He's always been one of my most favorite people on planet earth. He's an average kid in so many ways. Pretty average at sports, he makes up in heart what he often lacks in physical ability. A good student, but he's not a card holding member of the Genius Club. I doubt he'll graduate valedictorian or get a sport's scholarship to college. He's a loud mouth with more ego strength in his index finger than some people get in a lifetime. We're constantly telling ourselves that if we can harness all that confidence for good, he'll make a fine young man some day.

He's playing football right now. He plays down an age group because he's a miniature human. Even playing with ten-year-olds, he's one of the smallest. Even playing with ten-year-olds he made the B team. He didn't care. He shrugged off the disappointment, assuming he's right where he's supposed to be. He has a work ethic that won't quit, the heart of a lion in the body of a pygmy antelope.


He is small but he has all the confidence in the world. He made student council--a position he had to interview for. Last night, he earned his Tenderfoot rank--which required a Board of Review that he had to request himself. He's soaring so high above grade level in reading. He carries on conversations with adult strangers and experiences zero anxiety. He chooses to be a leader. The school librarian recently told me, "He is so kind. I do not know him very well, but I know that he is kind." 

He has befriended a student who struggles socially, sitting somewhere on the autism spectrum. This boy adores my son and is doing really well having Garrett beside him. In my drama class, I often ask the students to pair up. The other boy instantly stands next to my son. Perhaps Garrett would like, from time to time, to be paired up with someone else. But when asked, he shrugs his shoulders. "It's okay, Mom," he tells me. "He's comfortable with me and I don't want to leave any man behind."

He wants to be in the military when he grows up. Many mamas try to steer their precious boys away from such a career. But my son, at 11, doesn't want to leave any man behind. I can't imagine a better man to stand by on the field of battle. And I have all the confidence that he would run into enemy fire to drag a brother out of harm's way. 

He is average in so many ways. But he is also amazing. And as I think back 12 years, to a time when I was begging and pleading with my Lord for the gift of a child, I have to smile because this precious child is worth every second of the wait.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

What Will Their Verse Be?

"The arts must be considered an essential element of education...They are tools for living life reflectively, joyfully, and with the ability to shape the future." -Shirley Trusty Corey

There's a problem. It's a problem that has its roots in the general idea that arts have no place in education, that they're not to be valued. In college, I did a research project on multiple intelligences. There are students sitting all day long in a classroom, practicing spelling and math through rote learning, that are kinesthetic learners who would thrive by moving around. There are students who learn best through naturalistic approaches, students who would really, really learn if they were taught through music, and others who learn best in groups. We cannot cater to every learning style in every classroom, of course I know that. But when we give our children an opportunity to learn in a way not typically represented in their day to day lives, we open up the door to reach them on an entirely different level.

Some people assume that my classroom is play time. I assure you that it is not. It is teaching students, from five years old to nearly middle schoolers, to work together, to encourage one another, to be brave and bold. I am attempting to cultivate an environment where students shed inhibitions and realize, maybe for the first time, that they can stand in front of their peers and speak. They can be creative without fear of failure. I am teaching playwriting and storytelling, dramatic structure, character analysis and SO MANY MORE STANDARDS, y'all. And I'm teaching students not to be afraid of their own shadows. In this day of technology and screens and computers and iPads, I'm teaching them to look one another in the eye and CREATE SOMETHING TOGETHER.

Innovation comes from original and creative thinkers.

Theatre is every art form rolled into one brilliant attempt to tell the next story. It is dance and music and visual. It is technical and verbal and organized. It is not practical. Who among us will make a rich living through drama? No. It is not practical. Neither is algebra. For who among us is using that on a daily basis? I certainly am not. Oh sure, there are many jobs that require algebra. Most of us are not doing them. We find our niche. We embrace the things we love. Who are we to tell a child what that will be? Who are we to tell them that math and science and language arts are more important than theatre or visual arts or music? Who are we to value the core subjects as instruction and everything else as disposable? Who is to know when we might be teaching algebra or spelling to the next Van Gogh, the next Bach, the next Stanislavski?

Please, I beg of you, do not tell your children that the arts are not valuable. In fact, they are invaluable. Your child may think and learn and grow in a typical classroom environment and may never, personally, see the value in a class like drama. But I assure you, so many of them do.

"...the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote Whitman, 'O me! O life!...of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless...of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer. That you are here--that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?" -Dead Poets Society



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Trash Collector

My 15 month old son has a compulsion to throw ALL THE THINGS away. To be fair, he has no earthly idea that the trash disappears and never, ever comes back. He just thinks the large plastic tub is another storage bin. Still, I've opened the lid of that can to find:

Dozens of packets of oatmeal
Matchbox cars
Water bottles
Sippy Cups
A box of aluminum foil
Dish towels
(partial list)

One day, in the not so distant past, our wee broom and dust pan disappeared. "Where could it be?" we four asked one another in confusion. It's a dust pan and broom. It does not grow legs and walk away. We searched high and low, low and high before declaring it gone forever. There was simply nowhere that an object of its size could be hidden. Will must have thrown it away. I have no idea how many other items have been tossed without my knowledge. 

This past weekend, with my parents visiting, Will disposed of three of his beloved Weebles (the kind that wobble but don't fall down). We searched in cabinets and under furniture. We dug through bins of toys and drawers of clothing. At one point, there were four adults and two elementary school children simultaneously hunting for Willy, Winston, and Wendy Weeble. One of those elementary aged children claimed to have looked in the trash can not once but twice. However, upon an adult searching the receptacle, the missing Weebles were discovered. This was splendid good news because the Weeble family and their tree house just happen to be at the top of the list of Will's most favorite toys.


My mother suggested a locking trash can so that nothing too terribly important got hauled off to the dump. My brother and sister-in-law have one so she knew just what to look for. Off we went in search of a wastebasket that was smarter than my toddler. She texted my sister-in-law. "Where did you get your locking trash can?" My sister-in-law replied, "Tessie or Will? I'm guessing Will." You don't have to live near family to have a finger on the pulse of their circumstances. Also, they have a two-year-old. She said she'd gotten it at Walmart or Target. We couldn't find any locking cans at Walmart but Target didn't disappoint.


Meet my new trash can. 

Will is HIGH energy. He's into everything. He screams like a crazed banshee when he doesn't get his way and I've told many a teacher that he's going to be the kid who needs his own private desk in the corner and, maybe, Ritalin. I'm joking. Maybe. I hope. But the thing about that kid is that he has a mechanical mind. I know it's a weird thing to notice about a toddler but he observes the way things work. He watches his brothers do things. He tries to copy them. I recently discovered that he knows how to unscrew bottle caps which I happen to think is COMPLETELY NUTS for a kid who doesn't even regularly say, "Mama."

That kid marched over to the new trash can. He tried to open the lid and inside I laughed a maniacal and somewhat evil laugh. "Muahahahahahahaha!" His grand plans to throw away ALL THE THINGS was foiled at last. Will dropped to his hands and knees. He peered, quizzically, at the foot pedal. He looked behind and beside the trash can. He stood back up. Examining the lid, he ran his hand around the lip. Then he placed both hands on the locking latch and pulled. That happens to be the exact way to open the trash can. He is mighty but he is still quite small and even the bigger boys have to pull pretty hard to get the lock to open. Will was unable to muster enough force to actually succeed. But I'm convinced that, had he been strong enough, he would have figured out that trash can in approximately three minutes.

This leads me to believe that he will grow up to be a mechanic or an engineer or a rocket scientist. But, it is ENTIRELY possible that he wants to be a trash collector.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Atatood

Who's to say how my youngest child will turn out. Right now he's fifteen months old and has more energy in his smallest toe than I have in my whole entire body on a good day. He's a nut case and I'm, quite frankly, a little concerned about what all that energy might do some day. Burn the house down by accident? Maybe.

But, the other two are a little more settled in their ways. And Matthew has a tendency to be quick tempered. Over ridiculous things. This is almost always a result of being over tired. At eight years old, the child still occasionally needs a nap. Garrett hasn't needed a nap since he was two years old so it is true that you cannot parent any two children the same way. 

On Thursday, I asked Matthew to go read. This is a school requirement and I had already recorded his minutes in his daily planner. I will spare you the details but suffice it to say that an insane amount of football coupled with being back in school caught up to my kid. He FLIPPED his lid. The meltdown was immediate and...a little crazy. 

I fully implemented the "you just wait until your father gets home" tactic. In the end, he lost screen time until he could earn enough points to get it back. He was given a list of ways to earn points. Most of them involved doing chores. One of them was writing me an apology note. He wasn't given any help with spelling or content. He brought me a note, folded and taped into a third grade version of origami. 

Dear mom, Sorry for my bad atatood. Next time i won't get mad. I will not flail my arms and huff and puff and blow up. I will never act like this again.


First off, I am contemplating only spelling attitude this new way. From now until forever. For the duration of my life. Second, I nearly died laughing about the huff and puff part. Once I recovered from that, I moved on to the little bit about how he would never act like that again. Idle threats, friends. He certainly will act like that again. And when he does, if you think I don't fully intend to present him with this note, you'd be dead wrong.

I love that kid. I do not love his quick temper so much but if he can just learn to harness his atatood, that kid is going places.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Crazy Season

Once again, I'm here weighing in on the racism debate. I wish I wasn't. I wish my kids were going to turn into adults who were judged only by the content of their character. Not terribly long ago, our son was told--by another boy his age--that he wasn't allowed to drink from the same coffee pot as "the white man."

Some calm, non over reactive digging unearthed the fact that this boy had seen Hidden Figures. Unaware of the fact that it had taken place in another time period, the boy took it as truth for today's society. This is precisely why we need to dialogue with our children constantly. We cannot assume that they understand context. I cannot stress this enough. Beat a dead horse if you have to. Make sure your children understand. Clearly, the boy was sorely mistaken. I do not believe he was a tiny little racist.

Still, the fact remains that, while I hope it was addressed with the boy, there was never any further discussion between the boy and my own son. Embarrassment, the assumption that it was all said and done, or some other reason entirely, prevented a genuine apology. I'm sorry, I was really confused would have sufficed. I tell my son that the boy didn't understand, has been spoken to, and now knows that, in today's society, everyone can drink from the same coffee pot.

And like I said, I highly doubt the kid hates black people. But do you think it felt personal to my son? He was called out, in front of a group, and told that he couldn't drink from the same pot as White Man.

When it comes to our bonkers country, I do believe that there is racism on every side. I absolutely believe in calmly trying to figure out if the issue at hand is actually racism or some kind of catastrophic failure to communicate. It's a crazy season and we are trying our best to navigate it with our family. I've heard and seen things that hurt me, personally, for my kids and for my country.

And still, my goal, as I have said before and will continue saying, is to teach my own children to love. Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven."

My husband and I seem to spending every night discussing all that is going on racially in our country right now. He recently wrote about it in our church newsletter. These thoughts are just his two cents and, obviously, there are a million ways to approach this issue. What I do know is that if we try to match hate with hate, if we respond ugly, we gain no ground. We must respond to hate and ignorance with Love. We must shed Light onto darkness.

Crazy Season -- by Troy Bassham


See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Ephesians 5:15-17


It seems we have entered another round of the crazy season.


Divisions--political, racial, and otherwise--dominate the news and much of social media. A cycle of anger and response (creating reciprocal anger and response) spins faster and faster leaving a wake of confusion and damage. It reminds me of when my washing machine is out of balance, loudly thumping and banging around the laundry room, threatening to fall over and spill all of its contents.

So what do we do as believers? How do we respond to the crazy cycle?


I’ve thought about this a lot because of the recent and racially fueled rhetoric. Clearly, I have a dog in the fight. My family is white, black, and biracial. I love my family. I hate racism and all of the damage it has brought across continents and centuries. I don’t like having to have conversations about why my son was called the ‘N’ word at a recent softball game. Maybe it does help our family to have a deeper understanding of what it means to live as Christ’s followers in a world that is far from Him, but it is distasteful nonetheless.


Even more importantly, I love Jesus who died for people of every nationality and pigment of skin. I want to represent Him and His values.


...How do I respond when the world seems to have gone crazy? Here are just a few ideas. They are not new or poignant, but I hope they are helpful when the news seems even worse than usual.


Step One: Refuse to play.
What I’m not saying: I’m not saying to ignore real issues. We certainly need to stand up for what’s right and true. But we need to respond with maturity, both spiritually and emotionally. I remember a Christian relationship speaker talking about the ‘crazy cycle’ that can happen in marriages. A perceived offense leads to a response in anger which creates another response in anger . . . and on and on it goes. The cycle only stops (in a healthy manner) when one person realizes what is happening and decides to stop playing. Instead of responding in kind, we need to determine a mature response to move toward resolution. To quote the 1980s movie Wargames, ‘the only way to win is not to play.’


Step Two: Affirm what is right.
In the middle of angry back and forth banter there are going to be many gross generalizations and faulty narratives being thrown around. Often we can get caught up trying to debunk falsehoods and we forget to affirm the things which we think should be evident. Make sure you spend at least as much time speaking out for what is good. Sometimes what we stand for isn’t as obvious as what we are against (which is easy when there is so much sin, darkness and pain in this broken world). We need to make sure we are shining the light and not only fighting the darkness. For example, even if you think someone has leveled a false accusation of racism, make sure you take the time to affirm that God loves people of all races, creeds and colors and our response as his followers is to try and live in like manner.


Step Three: Be the Light
I kind of just addressed this. We live in a broken and sinful world. It has been so since the fall of man and will continue in like manner. Until Jesus makes all things new in His glorious final victory we will be witnesses and ambassadors in a less than ideal environment. Do not despair when it looks dark. Rather, be of good cheer and boldly shine the light and love of Jesus.

“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6


Step Four: Pray
Actually this is step one, two, three, four and fifty-two. Pray. No crazy season comes upon us that has taken God by surprise. No difficulty has come before us that God cannot handle or work through. We need to remember that we are in a spiritual battle:


For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12


While we are we unable to fight the battle on our own, we can be greatly encouraged by remembering that Jesus has already won the victory. He has overcome. Pray then, as God calls for His people to do.


These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33


Remember that this crazy season will pass, another then another will come. It is the reality of living in a broken world. Let us not be baited or distracted. Do not despair, but think of how we can live as light and witnesses for our Lord and Savior. It may be that as the days grow dark we have the opportunity to reflect Him more clearly. And we have the firm hope that these days will one day pass because Jesus is coming back to make things new and make things right. Maranatha!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Teach Your Children About My Family

I wrote a post about how I feel, about how I really just want to teach my children to love their neighbor, about how God is love, about how we should all be better than all of this, but I couldn't express my heart with words.

I couldn't make my fingers say what my soul sings about love. I couldn't give narrative to the way I felt when I woke up this morning--having had a nightmare about racism, remembering the tears streaming down Matthew's dream face. I couldn't explain the way my eight-year-old son taught me about love and acceptance when, after explaining Charlottesville to him, he replied simply that, those people are not loving their neighbors as themselves.

I just don't have an answer for how we fight racism. But it starts with educating our own children.

Biracial.


White.


Black.


Biracial.


White.


Biracial.


Black.


Brothers.


Brothers.


Brothers.

 

Brothers.


This family is everything. We are black and white and mixed and love. No one boy has my heart any more than another. Biological. Adopted. Black. White. Biracial. 

Sons. 

Period.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The N-Word

I didn't grow up with a great deal of racial diversity. Home was a small town in southern California, northeast of the city of San Diego by about 45 minutes. Predominantly Caucasian, we had a fairly substantial Latino population but, beyond that, there wasn't much representation of minorities.

I don't remember much at all about my early education on slavery, segregation, and racism. I'm sure I learned my fair share in a classroom, surrounded by all my white peers, hearing about the Civil War and Martin Luther King Jr. Then, just as now, we tapped briefly, told the white students a few highlights of black history and moved on. My parents must have educated me further because I can remember, for forever, knowing that there is a VERY bad word that we NEVER, EVER say. I feel pretty confident in guessing that there wasn't a lesson in my mostly white school about not saying the n-word.

I can never remember saying it. Not to someone, not in the privacy of my own bedroom just for the sake of saying it, not ever. As a child, that word was, to me, the most angry and evil thing imaginable. Somehow, I had to have been taught. I had to have had, instilled in me, the idea that the n-word carried a weight, unforgivable and inexcusable. I struggled through The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird--loving them with an affection that continues to this day, but wrestling with how we might adequately remember a piece of our American history without THAT piece.

I've wondered if my intense aversion to this six letter word was somehow born of a subconscious, God-given foresight that, one day, I would be the white woman trying to grow the black boy to manhood.

I have said the n-word. I've said it as calmly and as matter-of-factly as I can manage. I have said it because I have instructed my son. I have told him that he will hear it, that people will say it to him and about him, that it will appear in literature and history. We have talked about its use in pop culture and within the African-American community. It was not easy for me to say because in such a small word there is so much history and heartache, so much degradation of an entire people group--a group in which my son belongs. It is pointedly inflammatory and I highly doubt that it will ever be free of its connotation of intimidation and oppression.

"The word n-----, you see, sums up for us who are colored all the bitter years of insult and struggle in America." -Langston Hughes The Big Sea

An online dictionary begins with a usage warning and lists the word as extremely disparaging. It's warning says this, "The term...is now probably the most offensive word in English. Its degree of offensiveness has increased markedly in recent years, although it has been used in a derogatory manner since at least the Revolutionary War...Extremely Disparaging and Offensive represent meanings that are deeply insulting and are used when the speaker deliberately wishes to cause great offense. It is so profoundly offensive that a euphemism has developed for those occasions when the word itself must be discussed, as in court or in a newspaper editorial: 'the n-word.'"

Saying it--in painful lessons to my son--did not prepare me for the look on his face when it was used last night. I might have dared to hope that he would not be only 8 years old. I might have hoped that it would not come from an older, white boy.

"Mom, I have to tell you something," I've never thought I'd seen the color drained from the face of my perfect, brown boy. Something was wrong. His whisper, when I went to him, was barely audible. "A boy said the n-word."

Every nerve, from the top of my head to the tip of my toes began to buzz. I calmly asked him to point me to the one who said it. He was, maybe, 12 or, perhaps, 13. Older than Garrett. Old enough to know. I found myself feeling thankful that it hadn't been a, "Hey you, n-----!" or "Get outta here, n-----!" Instead, the boy had asked my son if he knew what it meant.

I have no idea what his plan was or what he hoped to gain or make Matthew lose in the exchange but, after Matthew mumbled, "yes," the boy said, "It means you're black." My son, who is usually almost deathly afraid of new people and circumstances, whose default when threatened is always flight and never fight, apparently looked this bigger white boy in the eye and said squarely, "Stop." And then he came to find me.

Perhaps the boy didn't assume that the white lady coming to talk to him was related to the brown boy he'd decided to instruct in the ways of oppressive language with more than two centuries of historical baggage. I instructed him more perfectly. Calmly, but with fire in my eyes. We. Don't. Say. That. Word.

We, little white boy. You and me. We are not guilty of past atrocities but we are responsible for our actions and our words. We can remind the black man, with one six letter word, that there was a very long time in our history when he was forced to be less. When that boy said that word, when he told Matthew that it means he is black, what he really meant was that there was somehow a clear distinction between him, the scooter riding punk kid, and my son. And that the distinction "clearly" placed the white boy on top of their social order.

Let me be clear. I am not calling the boy a racist. (Nor am I calling RACIST on everyone who has ever said that word.) "Racist" is not a word to be thrown around lightly or tagged on to someone without serious consideration. He is a kid. I truly do not believe that he hates Matthew and wanted him to suffer. I do think he is operating from a place of severe ignorance. Please, if you are in a position of influence in the life of a child, teach him that there's a word that carries a punch he doesn't want to throw.

I firmly believe that it is only through conversation and awareness, forgiveness and love, that we can even begin to bridge the racial tension in our country. I will always be the white mother of a black son. And I will always do whatever it takes to see that he is given every opportunity to rise.

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave
I rise
I rise
I rise.
-Maya Angelou

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Spaghetti Goo Debacle of 2017

I think I was a teenager when my mother made the now infamous orange chicken. I have deduced my age simply because, before about the age of 13, I detested Chinese food and would have automatically hated that we were having it for dinner. Sometime, around late middle school, I swiped a bite of her Panda Express in the food court at Parkway Plaza and the rest is a history centering on a pretty intense love affair with take out Chinese.

My mom, excited to make something in her own kitchen that resembled the culinary expertise of Panda's signature dish, served up orange chicken. Except, I feel like we all should have known, when the recipe called for actual orange juice, that this was going to be an epic fail. And, truly, if I remember correctly, it tasted like I'd taken a plain chicken breast and submerged it for half an hour in a glass of O.J.

It was not good. I can't remember what we ended up eating that night but it wasn't the Orange Juice Chicken my mom had made. It was a night that will live in infamy. My mom is a good cook. In all my years of eating her meals almost exclusively, I can remember things that were not my particular favorite but through no fault of her own. I just don't really like meatloaf. The orange juice chicken, I am thoroughly convinced, was the fault of the recipe, not the chef.

It's been nearly 14 years of married life and in that time, I have made dishes that I wouldn't make again. Things that, say, weren't our very favorite. But normally, even if there's a person who doesn't like something, there's a Matthew around who will gobble it up with starvation level enthusiasm. Give it to Matthew, he'll eat anything. It's finally happened. I've had my Orange Chicken Experience.

I unknowingly signed my life over to football for the next three months. (Stay with me here.) This is particularly curious because I also signed my life over to the Jordan School District, Beverley Taylor Sorensen Arts Learning Program, and Utah's Alternate Route to Licensure. I am not sure how to divide my life so that everyone gets the appropriate parts but one thing has become abundantly clear. Something has to give. And that something is dinner.

I can't actually not make dinner but I thought that I might be able to simplify things a bit moving into this fall. I already love my crock pot like she's a full fledged family member but I've decided that it's time to up her status to full time cook. I'm planning--if I can get my act together--to freeze a couple dozen meals and throw them into my crock pot (who is rapidly reaching a status whereby she will need a name) for our particularly busy days. My boys have been practicing football almost every day for two weeks now and not getting home until 7:45 or 8:00. I decided that today would be a great day to use my crock pot and have dinner waiting for them when they got home.

I wondered if you could cook spaghetti in a crock pot. It turns out that you can (according to the Internet) and that you cannot (according to my family). I found a recipe that was basically spaghetti ingredients plus water. How could you go wrong with that?

I placed the spaghetti noodles in the bottom of the pot. I drizzled some olive oil over the top (to keep them from sticking to each other, supposedly). Next went the sauce followed by the water and then the meatballs. The recipe said to cook the dish on low for five hours but my crock pot is a tricksy little minx and she is apt to scorch anything I give her enough access to. I knew my crock pot spaghetti wouldn't need five hours. I planned to cook it for about three, turn it off, and warm it up just before the boys got home.

I checked it once. It looked like hard noodles floating in tomato juice. I became a skeptic of this spaghetti's ability to woo me. I replaced the lid and ignored it for awhile. The next time I checked on it, I was excited. The water had soaked up and it looked like delicious sauce and meatballs. I took a spoon to stir it. To my horror, the noodles had turned to what can only be described as goo. They had mushed together. What I was looking at were a few meatballs sitting atop one big blob of starch.

Troy had gotten home about an hour earlier and was working from our home office. I went down and explained that dinner was ready now. More than ready, really. And I'd just go ahead and feed the boys a very early dinner before their practice. I explained that we were eating Italian Goo for dinner. His look was one of...cautious trepidation.

I tossed the bread into the oven to crisp and dished up bowls of fruit because I didn't want those noodles in the pot for another minute and I didn't have time to toss a salad. A few minutes later, I called the family to the table. Because there was bread, my two growing boys wouldn't touch the pasta (if it could still be called pasta in its nearly liquefied state). I took the first bite.

Great Scott! It was horrible. I am not one to say Great Scott but if ever there was a Great Scott level of amazement, it was this. How could something so common as spaghetti taste so horrendously awful. It looked like wallpaper paste and tasted worse. I began to laugh. However, not wanting to sway my children's opinions (Matthew will, quite literally, eat anything including fish eyes), I tried to pass off my mirth for something else entirely.

Troy tried it. If his eyes could speak they would have been leading the spaghetti revolt. I very quickly spelled out (my children can spell but if I do it fast enough, they get confused) that it was inedible. We both began to laugh. Soon, we were shaking so hard that Will, having no idea what was so funny, began to join in. His laughter only elevated the situation and soon, tears were streaming down my face. The stuff was, in a word, revolting. Strangely, our 14 month old was chowing that mush down with wild abandon. It was the first time I'd ever given him a fork and he was enjoying smearing sauce ALL over his face so it's hard to say whether he enjoys eating wallpaper paste or whether he enjoyed the general merriment of the meal.

The boys still hadn't touched it. I gently encouraged them to take a bite and then all but forced them to PUT THE BREAD DOWN AND TAKE A STINKIN' BITE ALREADY! Garrett was the first to do so. The moment the pasta touched his tongue, he allowed his mouth to hang open as if to caution his taste buds against any further engagement. "I don't like the pasta!" he moaned as it sat, like a lump, on his tongue.

For the record, Matthew didn't like it either.

When Garrett finally managed to swallow his initial bite, he told me how much he hated it. Feigning offense, I said, "Well, that's rude. Tomorrow night you can make dinner." To this, Troy replied, "Please?"

As we ate meatballs and bread and fruit, for some reason, which I will never understand, Troy took another small bite of the gelatinous starch. "It's not that bad," he said. "If we were with the Donner party, I'd eat this before I ate the other people." I'm so glad my husband would eat my meal before resorting to cannibalism. He told me he was glad that I hated it too because he wasn't sure how he'd have eaten the whole bowl if I somehow thought it was good.

There was, literally, zero danger of that happening. The night shall go down in history as, probably, the single most hysterical meal I've ever had with my family--and we didn't even eat it.

I blame my crock pot who tried her best but is just too hot for her own good. Much like the poor woman who served up Orange Juice Chicken, I do not blame the chef for the Great Spaghetti Goo Debacle of 2017.

        (After we pilfered for meatballs.)

Friday, August 4, 2017

You Never Know When You'll Need a Blanket

We always keep a small blanket under the seat in our van. Maybe it's because I read a book about a guy who was trapped in his car at the bottom of a ravine for weeks. If that ever happened to me, at least I'd have a blanket. When I was packing up the car to go to Tahoe, I saw that there was an extra blanket under another seat. I almost took it out but decided that I didn't need the space and it could stay. But I pondered that blanket for a solid minute before making a decision.

It's inexplicable, really, why my toddler decided that sleeping was optional on our recent trip. He's been sleeping through the night for more than 10 months so I'm not sure why he woke up--more often than not--in the middle of the night, shouting, "Ah duh!" If we ignored him because, no, son, we are not all done with our sleep at 3:15 am, his pleasant conversation turned to hysterical sobbing.The walls were paper thin. You could clear your throat in the next room, with doors closed, and everyone heard it. My mom and I had full conversations through the shared bathroom wall as we did our hair. So leaving him to "cry it out" wasn't really an option. Unless we wanted two grandparents, two parents, two brothers, and a dog crying it out in their own beds as they endured the shriek of the banshee.

At first, we thought it was because he was in our room with us. Perhaps the curtain we'd hung from the cabin's roof wasn't fooling him as to our whereabouts. So we played musical rooms and moved him into his own space. A couple of times, we gave him a bottle, hoping he'd grow weary as he quietly guzzled his pre-dawn snack. This wasn't really a solution though. He hasn't needed a bottle in the middle of the night in many, many moons. Sometimes he'd snuggle up to us and be just about asleep when, "Bing!" he'd sit straight up and grab a nose or squeal in delight that we were still there.

One particular night, Troy had gone out to the couch with him. After an hour had passed with Will fussing or wailing or full on summoning any nearby coyotes, I went and got him so that Troy could tap out. I'd been lying in bed, not really sleeping anyway.

I tried all my tricks. With Will, I've developed an almost fool proof way to get him to sleep. It works at least 9 times out of 10. On this particular night, as I bounced and rocked and gently swung--simulating an experience that can only be described as hopping on the top of a working washing machine while riding in the back of a school bus--he stared at me with wide eyes, letting out a cry every once in awhile.

"That's it," I thought. I'll take him for a drive. We have never once taken Will for a drive in the middle of the night with the intention of getting him to sleep. Come to think of it, I'm not sure we've ever done that with any of our children. I texted Troy, in case he woke up while I was gone, letting him know that I was out driving. I put my glasses on and grabbed the keys, closing the door behind me.

That's when I realized I didn't have my wallet and that I probably shouldn't drive around the lake at what was now 4:15 in the morning without it. I went to put the key into the cabin doorknob when I realized that I'd grabbed the wrong keys. I had my key ring, which did not possess a way to get me back inside the locked cabin. I stood, tired and confused about what to do next.

I thought about knocking but no one knew I'd gone outside. I assumed I'd scare the crap out of anyone who heard me. In the light of day I can't say that I really care much about scaring the crap out of my husband or my parents but, for some reason, in the middle of the night, this seemed like a mean and potentially dangerous idea. I imagined them jumping a mile--thinking everyone was safe in their beds and being very worried about who was rapping on the door at an inhuman hour. Or, perhaps, they'd hear me, whisper about what intruder was attempting to rattle them in the dark of night, and finally open the door and clobber me with a rolling pin before realizing who I was--their only daughter, his beloved wife.

One thing was for sure. I wasn't standing out in the middle of the Sierra Nevada mountains before dawn. Those mountains are deadly--ask the Donners. I will, probably, meet my death at the paw of a bear because I am not actually afraid of them and have been known to follow them for photo opportunities. But, I was standing out in the open with a small crying child and I feel like that is infinitely more tempting for a bear than a lady with a camera.

I buckled Will into his seat and decided to forego the wallet. It took nearly 45 minutes of driving before Will fell asleep. His shrieking escalated to war time loud and I was slowly losing my tired mind. I drove around the neighborhood. I drove from just north of Carnelian Bay to Tahoe City and back. Three minutes before I got back to the cabin, he fell asleep.

And because I didn't know that he'd transfer if I tried to move him, and because I was still worried about terrifying the whole house, and because I knew I had those two blankets in the back, I decided to stay in the car. I covered up the now snoring baby. I reclined my seat. I tried to sleep. And I could not.

Sometime, just after 6:00, I managed to drift off. At 7:00 my alarm went off so that we could meet my brother's family for breakfast. Will awoke with my alarm, poked his head around the side of his car seat and grinned the sweetest, happiest smile of delight to discover himself in such a situation. Sleeping out in nature, the way God intended it. Sort of. Except, not really. That's the trouble with that kid and it's going to be the death of me (unless it's the bear). He is the wildest of wild men, getting in to trouble wherever he can find it. And I don't expect him to grow out of that any time soon. But his smile can literally reduce to mush even the strongest of mamas.

I texted my own mama. "Are you up yet?"

"In the bathroom, doing my hair," she responded.

"Can you let me in? I'm on the porch."

Her bewildered look when she pulled that front door open was hilarious. Everyone wanted to know why I didn't knock. It was hard to explain in the light of day. But it was okay. We'd camped out in the van. The baby had slept. And I'd burrowed under the blanket I'd apparently left there for a reason.