The Realities of Trans-Racial Adoption

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Every so often, parents via adoption are confronted with their own complete and utter inadequacy. Oh sure, biological parents are too, I know, but I’m talking that extra layer of baggage that our children carry around that we must also deal with regularly – the hurt and pain of their pre-adoption experiences that never leave them, no matter how much we love and care for them.

Two nights ago, Baby Girl awoke and without getting into the minutia of the situation, ended up having a typhoon-sized temper tantrum at midnight that lasted a full hour and woke up our entire household, if not our entire street. Yeah – THAT kind of tantrum.

It’s interesting in retrospect to analyze how her behavior reflects so much of what I’ve read in adoption psychology books, yet somehow in the moment – I am completely unable to see that, nor am I able to draw on my research about how to deal with her adoption/attachment-related behavioral challenges.

So, of course when the tantrum started, instead of recognizing that she was feeling fear and insecurity related to recent circumstances that were putting her in touch with her pre-adoption experiences, all I saw was a bratty little kid looking for attention at midnight and waking me and the rest of the family up to get it. So I snapped. I shouted at her and grounded her from TV – which is a consequence that punishes ME far more than her, trust me. I threw up my hands and enlisted Huzbo, even – who did the same thing as me.

Well, we quickly found out the next night that our strategy stank, when Baby Girl woke up at 1am and proceeded to behave in the exact same way as the night before, despite how much shit she had gotten into.

I began to throw out threats of more severe consequences, which only served to both upset and incense her further. Huzbo was far more furious than the previous night and it was in the middle of this complete shit-storm that I realized something: her behavior was not something she was trying to do against us. She was attempting to reach out for help to deal with feelings that she did not have the skills to verbalize for us. The threats we were throwing at her were not intimidating to her – we were giving her choices, and when given the choice between watching TV or receiving love and assurance if she could get it via screaming and crying – she would always throw TV to the wolves.

I suddenly remembered a line I had read somewhere:

It’s usually when they are behaving in a way that it’s hardest to love them that they need our love demonstrated the most.

So I crawled into bed with the screeching, snot-nosed cyclone of hurt that was my daughter and held her. Oh, she resisted at first – she’s a fierce little example of the “flight or fight” response that many children who were adopted demonstrate in stressful situations – but she soon calmed and I was able to speak gently with her and give words to the overwhelming feelings she was having. When she began to weep and her little body sagged down onto the bed beside me, I knew I had done the right thing and had made the correct assumptions about the sources of her seemingly unacceptable behavior.

Flash ahead to yesterday morning, where I was putting her hair in pigtails for the dance class she was going to. Out of nowhere came this question:

“Do you wish you had gotten a white baby in your tummy instead of me?”

(WHY do they always ask these kinds of questions when you’re either in a public bathroom or in a hurry to get somewhere?)

I assured her that even though I had tried to make a baby in my womb before we had started our adoption journey, it was not because that was my preference, but because it was just what parents usually did when they wanted to have a child. I attempted to make her understand that it wasn’t about what I wanted more – that it was simply what most people do, yet I’m not sure I succeeded in convincing her she wasn’t a consolation prize in my efforts to become a mother.

Never a child to leave it at just one zinger, she followed up with:

“Would you have liked it better if I had white skin?”

I got down on my knees and looked her in the eye and told I would NEVER want her to have white skin, because if she did, she wouldn’t be my Baby Girl. That her beautiful black skin was a part of who she is, and that we did not care what colour skin our child had when we were deciding to adopt. I assured her that we didn’t love her DESPITE of her black skin, but BECAUSE of it. That we embrace the differences between her and us, but we also feel a very deep connection to her that we might not feel if she had white skin, because she would be an entirely different person. I assured her that if we had wanted a white baby so badly, we most certainly would have adopted one.

This seemed to appease her, as she went off to dance class with no further questions, but the conversation has been sitting in my mind, rattling the cage ever since then.

Do white parents experience their children asking them if they’d prefer their kids to have black skin?

Of course not.

Do bio parents experience their children raging in the middle of the night because they are feeling a hard-wired pain that occurred when they were separated from the mother who gave birth to them?

Never.

Do trans-racial adoptive parents ever feel guilty that they brought a black child into a white family?

Often.

It’s a tough, heart-kicking job we signed up for, as trans-racial adoptive parents. I’m not sure we knew back then how agonizing it would be at times.

But I wouldn’t change it for anything, because at the end of the tantrum and questions – I’ve got the most remarkable, tough, strong, joyful, happy, intelligent, gorgeous, stubborn little person who calls me “mommy”.

Sadly, my Baby Girl is the one who has so much more to contend with.

 

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5 Tips For My Stepson As He Starts High School

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My stepson starts high school tomorrow. He asked me the other day how high school was for me. At first I was going to give him the quick-and-easy “Great!” story to encourage him and bolster his courage, but fake optimism has never been my style, so I gave him the long version.

High school was hard. That was twenty-nine years ago, so I can only imagine how much harder it is today. In fact, I don’t really have to imagine all that much because social media has made a giant two-way mirror for parents to sit and watch all that goes on in high school and have the living shit scared out of us.

Not because I worry about my stepson – he’s a good kid. I worry about all those *other* demons prowling the halls of his and other high schools. I thought maybe I should give him a few words of advice, so here it goes:

1. Be yourself. Do NOT change who that is to try to please ANYONE, or to try to be accepted into a group of people of ANY sort. If they don’t accept you the way you are – screw ‘em. They’re not worth it. Don’t waste time wishing you could be part of the “cool” group – you probably won’t be, and that’s actually better. There’s less pressure, less stuff to worry about. If you don’t want to have that drink or smoke that whatever-that-thing-is, then don’t. What you wear, eat, listen to, drink, smoke or do in your free time does NOT make you cool. Nobody else defines what’s cool except you, unless of course your definition includes illegal activities or substances – then WE will define for you pretty damn quick what is NOT cool. That being said – you don’t HAVE to be like your parents – it’s ok to be separate from all of us, just don’t toss out the good stuff we’ve taught you.

2. Be kind. Yeah, I know. It’s getting a bit Kum-by-ah in here, but it really is important. I know you’re not the type of person who would do or say mean things intentionally, but don’t follow the crowd if they are doing or saying mean things. Stand up for the underdog and if you see someone who looks like they might be hurting in any way, ask if they’re ok. Encourage people and set an example of how to be an all-round nice guy – they don’t always finish last.

3. Be honest. With others, but mostly with yourself. If you need help with something – get it. If you don’t like something, say so in a respectful way. If you have a romantic interest in someone – show them or tell them that you’re interested. Lying only hurts everyone involved, including you, and kidding yourself is still a form of lying!

4. Be prepared. High school can be shitty at times – don’t let that get you down – it’s temporary (but if it does get you down a lot – please tell us or a guidance counsellor so we can help you deal with it). It can also be fun and rewarding, if you let it. Be open to trying new things. Be ready to do well at the things you know are coming like tests, exams, projects and homework. Do your best and try your hardest, even if that means hard work and missing out on something more fun. Sure, the first year is a bit of a throwaway, but then it gets more serious and while I agree that it’s absolutely ridiculous that you need to decide at your age what you want to do for your entire adult life, neither one of us is empowered to change that, so you will need to bust your ass to get into a good university and get a PH.D in some field that will negate me needing a huge pension.

5. Be open. High school will teach you many lessons and while I wish it weren’t so – some of those lessons will suck. Lest you think this message is just one big warning about how crappy high school is – be open to all the fun that you are going to have also. Each day you can get up and be afraid or worried and pessimistic about what your day might do to you, or you can wake up and feel like you are open to some fantastic experiences and finding the joy. Thankfully you are generally a happy person, so keep that up, keep doing what you love and be open to trying new things that you might also love.

I love you, bud.

You’re going to kick high school’s ass because you’re brilliant, funny, kind, considerate, and just all-round awesome. You’ve got everything it takes to have the best four years of your life.

I hope you do.

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A Life Is A Life

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I’m sitting in LAX waiting for my delayed flight home from a really good two week holiday with my family, but my heart is heavy.

For the past couple of days, I’ve watched the flurry unfold on TV and social media from the shock and dismay over Robin Williams’ alleged suicide to the platform for public awareness and support of people with depression and helping them with suicide prevention.

Bravo, I say. It’s about time. I still consider my own past dealings with depression a dirty little secret I rarely discuss because of the stigma of shame that used to exist for depression sufferers.

I too loved Robin Williams as an entertainer. A love that started with the “Nanu, nanu, Mork from Ork” antics of an 80’s sitcom, all the way through his career.

Yet, my heart is hurting for a different reason.

My heart is breaking for a different man – one who didn’t go to Julliard and didn’t have the world wrapped around his waggling, slapstick finger with his talents. A man who perhaps made a mistake or two, or was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or simply was born into the wrong skin colour in the wrong state.

Michael Brown was an unarmed man, who according to some eyewitness reports, had both hands raised begging police not to shoot him when he was ignored and shot repeatedly to death anyway.

Where is the media frenzy about THAT, I ask?

Don’t misunderstand my intentions here.

BOTH of these stories warrant media focus.

BOTH of these men deserve recognition.

BOTH of the underlying causes for these tragedies are worthy of public outcry, awareness and support.

It’s just that ONE of these stories is not like the other.

ONE of these stories is about a black man who didn’t want to die but was murdered anyway, presumably because of the racist beliefs of the police officer that shot him, in a state that was once a hotbed of racism.

Am I making assumptions here that haven’t been proven by the “police investigation pending”?

Youbetcha.

Are my assumptions based on historical fact, hard evidence and my own awareness of countless other black men and women who have been discriminated against, some murdered as well?

Youbetcha.

I’m really happy that the public opinion of depression and suicide is shifting. I’m relieved to see the stigma that was once attached to mental illness dissipating and a social tenderness developing towards sufferers of these conditions.

But what I can’t understand for the life of me is why the media and society in general keeps turning a blind eye away from the blatant racism that is occurring in law enforcement and the judicial system? Why don’t these tragic episodes also receive the same media focus and empathy?

Oh sure – the networks and newspapers have all done their due diligence in cursory coverage of what happened to Michael Brown, it hasn’t been completely ignored.

But how many more innocent, unarmed black men or women will die before the world decides that their burden also deserves the same sympathy, empathy, assistance and support as celebrities suffering from addiction or mental illness?

The world at large may be content with the facade of a “police investigation” used to buy time for construction of a careful patchwork quilt of excuses and explanations, but I’m not. I know how this story ends. The same way it did for Trayvon Martin. The same way it did for Jonathan Ferrell, a young black man who was seriously injured in a car accident and managed to get to a nearby residence and ring the doorbell to ask for help but was shot and killed by police summoned by the homeowner who only saw a bloody black man at her front door. The same way it did for so many other black men and some women who have been murdered with flimsy or no excuse, whose names you wouldn’t recognize even if I did share them here.

When are we going to stand up as a group of people called humanity and voice our disagreement?

One love, people.

One love means equal treatment for ALL people. It sounds great in theory and is certainly an aspiration, but we just aren’t there yet.

Instead of being satisfied with the bullshit cover stories fed to you by law enforcement and judicial agencies, broaden your support and understanding to include people who are discriminated against.

Racism is every bit as painful and tragic as depression and mental illness – let’s stop accepting it as one of society’s remaining dirty little secrets.

 

I Like Big Jokes, and I Cannot Lie

There sure are a LOT of songs on the radio these days that aren’t really suitable for children, aren’t there? One day I’m going to write a post on all of the child-inappropriate pop songs that I’ve had to explain to Baby Girl, but for today, I’m going to only discuss the gem by Sir Mix-A-Lot called “Baby Got Back.”

Love it or hate it, for those of us like myself who have got some serious junk in the trunk, the opening line of “I LIKE BIG BUTTS, and I cannot lie!” has become a bit of an ego-boosting anthem. It has always put a smile on my face, even though the rest of the lyrics are sexually gross, objectifying and misogynistic.

So it was rather ironic when today, driving in the car, this particular song came on and I instinctively turned it up and crowed out the opening lyrics in my shouty-singy voice.

I immediately realized the folly of this action. With Baby Girl listening intently in the back seat, I was prepared for questions along the lines of “Why does he like big butts, mommy?” and “What does he mean by that?” which are the usual awkward queries I have to field as a result of banishing kid-diddys when she was only two.

Instead, I got a treat – an unexpected peek at her emerging brilliant and subtly sarcastic humour:

Does the guy singing this song know you, mommy?

The layers of humour buried in that statement made me proud, despite the fact that she was basically telling me I have a fat ass.

There was an intentionality to her humour that signalled her growing awareness of the world at large and how to make fun of it.

Sometimes her comments strike me in the worst possible way. Like the time she told me my bum makes a wave every time she touches it. THAT was unintentionally ego-crushing.

Or like the time she was splashing around in the bath and I had disrobed to grab a quick shower simultaneously. She sized up my nekked carcass and matter-of-factly stated “You look nice with your clothes ON, mommy.”

Not “nicer.” Just “nice” – because “nicer” would have been an obvious insult.

I may not like my butt being the butt of so many of her jokes, but I do know she is quickly learning what makes me laugh.

And I love it.

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Thanks for reading my blog! Feel free to share it, and if you’d like to hear more from me, slide over to the right side of your screen and “Like” my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter and subscribe to get my latest post in your email inbox – yes, that’s right – stalk me!

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The End of Lunch for Summer?

If I had a dollar for every time in the past week I’ve seen someone post on social media “Only X more days of making school lunches!” I’d be able to afford a caterer to make those lunches.

It seems that there is an epidemic of parents who really loathe making school lunches.

Here is what I have to say about that:

Is making a lunch each day such a big price to pay for six hours of free babysitting?

I think not.

And I’m not apologizing for that.

My first problem with this widespread whining about lunches is that the majority of school-aged children are fully capable of making their own lunches, people!

Yes – even my six year old daughter can slap some meat on bread, place a yogurt, apple, some carrot sticks and a drink in her lunch box – it’s not rocket science. If she needs help, we are usually in the same house as her to provide assistance or supervision.

Sure, if you want to heat up leftovers or cook something fresh, then perhaps six might be a bit young for that, but these are not lunch menus that happen every day in our home at least, so there’s no reason why children can’t at least help with their own lunch preparation regularly, if not make the entire lunch themselves.

Responsibility is good. The only way a child learns responsibility is to actually have it assigned to them.

Now, let’s talk about the bigger problem here:  all of you parents celebrating the end of lunchbox-filling – what exactly do you think your children will be eating throughout the summer between the meals of breakfast and dinner? Do you have some kind of special lunch-free summer arrangement with your child’s body? I ask this because my children actually eat lunch all summer long, not just during the school year. Sure, those lunches don’t have to go in a lunchbox that is currently so disgusting-looking that I would lose my appetite if I had to take food out of it to eat, but I signed up for the parenting plan that stipulated THREE meals a day. So I’m perplexed about this anticipation of school ending to have a break from making lunches. Do you parents in this category have a special summer lunch-maker service? Do your kids simply not eat lunch in the summers, their hunger under contractual agreement to make your life marginally easier for two months?

I am genuinely confused by this impending joy for a life without lunch-making. Do you people understand that when school is done for the summer, and you apparently don’t have to make lunches for two months – your children are at home with you ALL DAY for two months???

I love my kids, I really do, and I enjoy spending time with them, but if the only thing I have to do to have some time alone is make a lunch, or simply supervise or assist the making of a lunch – I’ll take the lunch prep with a smile on my face.

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Happy, Happy, Happy

A few months ago, I began to keep an online Happiness Jar. The idea came from one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert, who often shares her fans’ pictures on her Facebook fan page of crafty DIY Happiness Jars containing their daily writings about what made them happy.

I’m no Martha Stewart, but I have my hands on my laptop for many hours a day, and I thought perhaps using my blog’s Facebook page would be a good way to start conversations with people about happiness. I’d share what I was happy about each day and invite others to do the same and perhaps create a small positive energy movement.

Initially, it was a great conversation – people were responding every day and sharing their pieces of happiness, just like I had hoped. Then that slowly died off, and every time I posted MY Happiness Jar entry, you could hear the crickets chirping away. Nobody even “liked” what I was saying.

This started to bother me a little. Then a lot. I felt like I was failing at spreading a positive message. I started to worry that I was “annoying” people and that nobody gave a rats. So I stopped sharing my daily Happiness Jar entries for a while.

Until the proverbial lightning bolt hit me.

The purpose of MY Happiness Jar was not to make anyone else happy.

It was about preserving MY bits of happiness. It was about MY desire to have a higher awareness of the positive parts of MY life.

It was about having a place to go to look back on the happy things in MY life if I ever needed some inspiration in a dark time.

It was NOT about anyone else.

So I started again.

Sometimes people share, more often they don’t. The crickets still chirp on a regular basis, but I have stopped giving a shit. Especially because when I re-started posting my daily Happiness Jar entries, I wrote a brief version of the above and had some pretty incredible comments – people telling me that MY Happiness Jar entries often inspired them, even if they never responded to my posts with their own statements of happiness.

So I am learning to refocus.

There are days when it’s damn hard to think of ONE happy thing, trust me.

Like today.

Today, I could tell you about how I’ve had a barking cough for 6 days now that obviously has decided to never leave. I could tell you how that cough combined with the stress of having to whip DD in and out of 4 costume changes with a 2-song time limitation twice yesterday and once Friday night have attacked my neck and shoulder with clenched muscles to give me muscle spasms that made sleep almost impossible despite my exhaustion last night. I could tell you how my 14 year old cat decided to poop on my bathroom floor because I wouldn’t get up at 3am to feed him. I could tell you about the laundry I did last Monday that’s still folded in a basket upstairs waiting to be put away because I was also at a conference for 2 days last week and have had no time to do anything resembling housework.

I could tell you a whole bunch of other crap that makes me weepy, crabby and a little bit stabby.

But happiness is a CHOICE.

I want to be happy. These negative things are all a part of life – every life – not just mine. Without them, I’d have no benchmark to compare the good stuff to. Yes, life has some unhappy moments, situations, times, but even on our darkest days, there is always at least one little thing that was good – the taste of a delicious dessert, the smile on a child’s face, the friend calling to see how you are doing.

I could dwell on all of the rotten stuff I listed, OR – I could tell you about all the people who told my daughter what a fantastic dancer she is at her recitals yesterday.  I could tell you about how every time she stepped out on that stage – 4 times per show for 3 shows now – my eyes filled with love bubbles that I had to breathe deeply to contain, or risk falling apart with the absolute love and pride I felt. The pure bliss of fulfillment, remembering how only a few years ago, I had convinced myself I’d never be a mom watching my child live out his or her passions. I could tell you how Huzbo, with his six left feet, actually agreed to dress himself up with neon colours and get up on that stage with other dads to shake his groove thing in the “Dancing Dads” part of the dance school’s annual recital, and how it made both of our kids laugh out loud with pleasure. I could tell you about how a beautiful, sweet compliment on Facebook from my best friend put a gigantic smile on my face last night when I was so worn out.

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My Happiness Jar can be half-empty, or half-full. It’s all a matter of perspective. I am the only gatekeeper of what goes into my mind and affects me.

Sometimes it’s hard to choose half-full, I completely agree. It’s human nature for many – myself included – to be pessimistic or negative. It’s often easier to let your inner bully crawl into your sacred mind space and take away your joy.

Optimism and happiness sometimes require work. Sometimes that work is extra-hard due to illness, and professional or medicinal help is needed – that’s ok, too. Whatever works – nobody should ever be faulted for choosing happiness and doing whatever it takes to get there.

So today, I choose happiness.

 

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln

 

Thanks for reading my blog! Feel free to share it, and if you’d like to hear more from me, slide over to the right side of your screen and “Like” my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter and subscribe to get my latest post in your email inbox – yes, that’s right – stalk me!

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The Quest to Scratch the Seven-Year Itch

This *may* or may not be, the couple described in this post.

This *may* or may not be, the couple described in this post.

I have a story to tell you.

It’s a story about a woman who’s been married for seven years now, and while she may feel a bit itchy at times, she’s proud of the fact that she would never go looking for someone else to scratch that itch.

Yet, that itch remains.

Because the dude legally obligated to scratch that itch is not doing so as often as he should.

She loves him – most of the time.  She likes him – some of the time.  They are fortunate enough to have overnight babysitting every other weekend for regular date nights.  These dates are usually dinner and a movie, and on one of those dinner dates recently, the woman decided she would broach the subject of her itch.  She thought that maybe giving some compliments would motivate her man to return the favour, thereby making her feel a little sexy and desireable – which goes a LONG way to helping scratch an itch.

She suggested they dine at the restaurant where they first met, and by some cosmic happenstance, they were seated at the exact table they had sat at on their first date, although the dude, of course, had no recollection of that.

She began with what she thought was a VERY flattering compliment:

“You are sexier now than you were the day I met you eight years ago, sweetheart”.  (This is a really hot compliment for a dude who can, at times, be rather obsessed with his aging appearance – to the point where he asks for Botox as a Christmas gift.)

To which the dude responded with…nothing but a cursory “I am? Thanks!”

No return volley, no quasi-compliment, not one flattering comeback.

The woman counted to ten, because she was adamant that this date night was not going to end in a fight like many of them had lately.

“Uhhh, don’t you think when someone pays you a nice compliment, it’s gentlemanly and romantic to say something nice back to them?”

(The woman admits that she was fishing, and that it’s probably a sign of her vast insecurities that she wanted – needed – the dude to return a compliment, but she had decided at this point that hearing some compliments were going to help sooth her itch, and she wasn’t about to let his denseness prevent that from happening.)

“Oh!  Uhhh, yeah – you look lovely!” was the husband’s response.

The woman was put out.  “Lovely” was a word used to describe your mother’s Easter bonnet, or your aging auntie’s rose garden – NOT the word you used if you wanted to get into your wife’s pants and wanted her to want you to do so.

So the woman told him just that – she wanted him to come up with something a bit more passionate than “lovely” to let her know he still found her attractive.

To which the dude replied “You really do yourself up well!”

Now, despite the fact that the woman felt as though the man was really telling her that she was mutton dressed up to look like spring lamb, she patiently explained to him again the folly of this non-compliment, and gave him further instructions to compliment something specific about her looks.

“You have really nice lips for kissing, and great hair”.

Now the woman was feeling better – these were parts of her that weren’t painted on or gussied up with expertly-tailored clothes!  Yet somehow she needed just a bit more – after all, she was feeling really itchy and needed confirmation that her man was still even interested in being her itch-scratcher.

“That’s more like it!  Now, can you compliment something below my neck?”

Quite frankly, the woman knew she was skating on thin ice here, because she knew that before meeting her, the dude was not generally drawn to women who had such generous curves in the bottom-half of her pear.  Yet, she also knew that there were at least a FEW attributes south of her chin that were worth noting, and she felt that her husband owed her the effort of mentioning them once every couple of years.

“You have great boobs!” the dude enthusiastically replied, thinking he was acing this examination.

“What’s so great about them?” the woman prompted.

“They’re nice and small!” he exclaimed triumphantly, with his hands shaping cups the size of half oranges.

Despite the man’s rare appreciate of non-Pam Anderson sized bazoongas, the woman interpreted this as another non-compliment, applying the man’s love of “small” to her rather “not small” derriere and legs.

At this point, the woman gave up.

She is learning to accept that perhaps scratching your own itch may be the best approach after all.

 

 

Thanks for reading my blog! Feel free to share it, and if you’d like to hear more from me, slide over to the right side of your screen and “Like” my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter and subscribe to get my latest post in your email inbox – yes, that’s right – stalk me!

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