Happy Seventh Birthday To My Heart and Soul

12947_212396985184_849055_n[1]Today is my daughter’s seventh birthday.

Last year I wrote her this letter on my blog at YummyMummyClub.ca:

I’m saying goodbye to five.

The age of five, that is.

My Baby Girl is turning six this week, and reminds me every time I call her “Baby Girl” that she is NOT a baby, so PLEASE don’t call her that in public!

I don’t remember being six, and I’ve tried pretty hard. So, I decided instead to write my daughter a letter so that if she forgets what six was like, she can refer back to this:

Dear Darling (your sanctioned pet-name for me to use in public),

I wanted to bestow on you some kind of wisdom about how *I* felt about being six, and who I was at that age, but I guess at this stage of my life, mommy’s memory bank has purged some of the clutter to make room for other, more important stuff—like everything I can stuff in there about you.

So, I’m writing this letter to you to preserve forever who you are right now, as you turn six years old. I hope one day we can read this together, laughing and smiling as we remember what an incredible little girl you were and know from what I say here that you were always destined to become the amazing woman you will be then.

At six, my darling daughter, you still see the magic in the world—hold that tight for as long as you can. Keep asking all of your questions and continue finding the universe so full of wonder.

At six, you still love me the most-est and think that I am totally awesome . . . most of the time. Hold that tight for as long as you can also, ok? 

At six, you don’t know of the awful things that can and do happen in our world—I pray every night that you never learn of them.

At six, you are so full of confidence. You are the star of your own universe—and mine—and have no inner bully to contend with. I desperately hope that never changes.

At six, you are learning to read, and doing a damned fine job of it, especially when your father and I back off and let your fierce little determination force you to sound out your words independently. 

At six, you show very little interest in dolls of any sort. My inner Feminist is doing jumping-jacks. You prefer instead to savour your hour-per-day of iPad time playing Minecraft, or building towers with your blocks, or putting together train sets—but always doing all of this in some sort of costume that is usually a mash-up of lion-sporting-costume jewellery and a hula skirt.

At six, you still adore your big brother, but have discovered that he doesn’t always want to play children’s games with you anymore, because he is now a teenager. You have adapted by gaining his attention with pest-like shenanigans. I love your persistence and your ingenuity, despite the headaches the subsequent bickering with him causes me.

At six, you still don’t know what day it is or what time it is, and don’t really care. I know sometimes this frustrates me, but soon enough you will join the rest of the world in their obsession with time and its value, so for now I try to chillax a little and not let time control me so much either. 

At six, you are becoming funny, and I love it. Not toddler cutesy-pie kind of funny, but genuinely witty and intelligent funny. This thrills me almost as much as your spectacular reading does. 

At six, you are a messier eater now than you were as a baby. I have no explanation of why this is, but I have begun to buy stock in the various stain-remover companies. Sometimes your mucky face warms my heart and is super cute and I will kiss it no matter what goo is covering it. I’m sorry that at other times it frustrates me, but I know you will eventually (hopefully) become more tidy. You have no fear of getting dirty when you play, either, as your appearance demonstrates every day when I pick you up from school. Despite my grumblings, I’m actually proud that you are not prissy, like your mama.

At six, you are such an incredible dancer. Your love of moving your body to the beat shines through in your talent and the gigantic grin puffing those delicious cheeks every time you bounce off the sofa to bust a move around the room. 

At six, you still get really torqued up when you make mistakes, which simultaneously worries me and makes me ashamed because I know exactly where you learned to be a perfectionist. You don’t need to be perfect, my darling, you already are, even with your faults and mistakes. Go easy on yourself—this is what being human is all about. I hope that lesson comes sooner and easier for you than it has for me. 

At six, you are beginning to choose outfits that don’t make my eyeballs whine, and thankfully you finally understand that halter tops are inappropriate attire in January. 

At six, you are still learning that doing the opposite of what mommy or daddy asks does not mean you are in control. Conversely, mommy and daddy are also learning that control is not always necessary for good parenting. 

At six, you think that “pretty” means sparkles, fancy dresses, shoes, and a bow in your hair. I know you are so intuitive and observant that you will soon absorb the fact that beautiful is only partially about what you look like on the outside. I want you to continue knowing how gorgeous you truly are—inside and out.

At six, you are loud, but you come by it honestly—from your father. I have no idea where you get your shouty-ness from, but I love you even when my inner ears are numb.

At six, you are just starting to think about the hardships of your life prior to adoption, and the hardships that adoption may bring you later in life. As much as I wish I could, there is nothing I can do to stop the inevitable moments of sadness and anger that you will experience as you grow older and reflect on the circumstances of your life that brought you into mine. I promise to be here for you if you want to talk about it, or simply hold your hand, huggle you if you need to cry, and support you through any journey you need to take—emotionally or otherwise—to find peace with your adoption legacy. 

At six, you are a miracle, a spark, a gift. 

My heart expands with each of your birthdays. 

Happy Birthday my darling Baby Girl.  I hope you have your best year ever.

This year, I feel like that’s a hard one to top, frankly. Yet, I’m going to try.

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My Baby Girl (yes, we reached a compromise that I could still call her that in private and online, just not in front of her friends),

You are now seven years old. While many of the things I wrote about you on your sixth birthday are still the same – your wit, your charm, your amazing reading skills, your messy eating, your beauty, your dance abilities – some things have changed.

You have experienced hardships this past year that I had hoped you would never know, yet you have shown your brave resilience in your triumph over these hardships. Thank you for putting your trust in me to guide you through and for helping me get through them with you.

You have also become aware of some of the horrors of our world – you have learned what guns can do, what murder means, and sadly, experienced your first taste of overt racism. My heart aches for the wounds these lessons have inflicted on your sweet and tender heart, while at the same time loves you even more for refusing to let these painful events shadow your brilliant sparkling light.

You have become even more adamant about standing up for yourself, which I applaud, even when you are standing up to me and making me silently wish you weren’t always so strong and independent!

You have learned about the birds and the bees this year. Oh, I know some parents will be shocked by that, but inquisitive, bright children who grow up hearing the words “birth mother” will obviously want to know what “birth” means sooner rather than later, and that explanation just leads to more and more questions. Thank you for being so mature about the discussion and I only hope you continue to trust me with all your questions about sex and relationships.

Your love of crafts, doing artwork and creating inventions astounds me. The creativity that flows from you is something I wish I had outside of my play with words, but I guess we all have creativity in us somewhere and I adore how you express yours.

Your conversations about adoption and your birth mother are becoming exactly what many of the books I’ve read predicted they would. I understand your very deep need to fantasize her perfection and your reunion with her. I don’t feel jealousy during these chats, only heartache for you and how heavy your burden must be.

At seven, I am seeing glimpses of what you will be like as a teen. Sometimes I am a little frightened, I will admit, but I also see a girl who takes my words about self-respect and self-control very seriously, so I trust you will keep those words in your memory when we are apart.

Just recently I let you attend a birthday party without me present. I don’t think you know how hard that was for me, but I am trying to accept that as you grow older, I will need to let go more and more. I want so badly to protect you from anything and anyone that could harm you, but I also know that taking that job too seriously can also cause you harm. I want you to have the freedom to experience the world in your own way, without me always standing in front of you with my sword drawn and shield thrust forward. You are so intelligent and brave, I know you can do things without me and be just fine.

Happy birthday, my darling Baby Girl, my Captain Sassypants, my sun, my moon and my stars. I love you to infinity and back, infinity times. xoxo

Photo: Christine Cousins Photography

Photo: Christine Cousins Photography

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My Child’s Thoughts on Menopause

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Yesterday, I was rushing around to get out the door by a certain time and as is usually the case when you’re stressed and time-challenged, the process made my body temperature increase. I removed the sweater I was wearing and said to Captain Sassypants: “Phew! I’m getting hot and sweaty!”

Her response?

“I hate to say this, mommy, but maybe you’re getting the HOT SHOTS.”

I knew immediately she meant “hot flashes” but tried to contain my laughter because I wanted to know if she knew what she was talking about. I asked her “What are the hot shots?”

“Actually, you probably won’t get them, because you know it’s when a woman has made a baby in her womb and the baby has come out and then when the woman gets older, she gets the hot shots? Well, you’re old enough to get them, right? But you haven’t made a baby in your womb, so you probably don’t need to worry about it!”

I like her thinking. Yes, I DO deserve an exemption from menopause because I wasn’t able to make a baby in my womb!

Who do I speak to about arranging this?

Not My Problem? Not Your Problem?

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I’ve just finished reading a blog post about race.

Wait! Before you roll your eyes and move along to something else you’d rather read, I have a confession to make.

I read articles and blog posts every day about race. That’s not my confession, but I just need to frame my admission so you understand the full effect.

As a white parent of a black child and a member of humanity, I take my responsibilities to her and them very seriously. I do whatever I can to learn as much as I can about racism and to understand what being black is “really” like, if there is such an explanation.

I cannot give my daughter “blackness” (I apologize if that term offends some) because I know nothing about being a person of colour and how those differences play out in my daily existence. I’ve come to feel that I don’t just owe my daughter my support and understanding; I owe it to all of the men and women who deal with racism. So I read and learn. I keep my mind and my heart open.

When this particular blog post was shared in a trans-racial adoptive families group that I belong to, I opened it with the same curiosity and interest I do with most articles about race.

Except this one was different.

Not in the content – oh no. Sadly, I’ve read many posts about micro-aggressions similar to this one, and even worse, more overt racist words and actions.

Nor was the writing or the author different than others I’ve read. Some posts are angry, outraged bursts of indignation – as they should be. Some posts are sad, quiet, introspective pleadings for change – also as they should be.

This post was different because it caused me to have an epiphany:

Twenty years ago, I would not have understood what the problem was in the situation that the man encountered at the cafe. I might not have even read the post, but if I had, I certainly would have dismissed it with a casual “that’s HIS interpretation of what happened” in the same dismissive way you invalidate your partner’s feelings during a fight by saying “Well, that’s YOUR opinion!” AND I STILL WOULD NOT HAVE CALLED MYSELF RACIST. 

That’s called white privilege, for those who don’t recognize it. It’s not something I’m proud of, yet society raises most white people with a blanket of blindness to their own privilege and ignorance. I still have so much to learn and understand.

Now, I share this confession with you not because I’m looking to pat myself on the back in a “look how far I’ve come in my racial awareness” way, but because after I finished reading the post, I realized that so many other people will read it and have the same reaction that I would have had 20 years ago. Some of them even left comments saying so.

So what is my goal here?

I guess if I can encourage even ONE person to look at their own responses and recognize their own white privilege and see past it to validate someone else’s experience, even if they have never experienced something like it themselves, I’ve accomplished something.

Go ahead and laugh. Mock me, if you want. I still won’t give up on the concept that one day, hopefully in my daughter’s lifetime, we will live in a world where people are not judged by race, gender or sexual orientation.

“I don’t want to become a hashtag.”

This line from the post slayed me.

How many white people worry about that?

Awareness is the first step towards change.

Justify Myself

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I went to a movie alone today. In the middle of the day. On a Friday. I’m not sure why, but this makes me giggle to myself. It feels a bit…decadent, almost.

Despite my giggling, for some reason on the way there, I felt like I needed to convince myself of reasons why it was perfectly acceptable to do what I was doing, so here they are:

10.  I didn’t really want to do my “To-Do” list today anyway.

9.  The movie was only showing at one set time today, so I didn’t have a choice.

8.  There are fewer people at midday movies. In fact, there was only one other girl in the theatre with me, which completely eliminated her as a Suzy Seatkicker candidate . Bonus that she was a front-row sitter, as I am a 2nd- last row sitter, so I didn’t even have to listen to her snarf her snacks. She was also thankfully not the type to talk to herself, because annoying chatter during the movie really pisses me off.

7.  I was craving popcorn for lunch.

6.  I needed to get out of the house. There are only so many conversations I can have with three cats.

5.  The novelty still hasn’t worn off of how many varieties of diet pop are available to me in those funky self-serve pop machines at my local theatre.

4.  Ok, I admit it – I had nobody else to go with. Not that I tried really hard to find someone, but I did ask my brother who works nights and sleeps during the day.

3.  I needed a reward for cleaning, purging and organizing my daughter’s toys and books almost all day yesterday.

2.  I like seeing movies alone. I don’t have to worry about someone asking me dumb questions, laughing at inappropriate times in the movie’s plot, singing along loudly with the soundtrack or worse – trying to initiate a conversation with me during the movie.

AND, with a Letterman-style drum roll, please: the Number One reason why I went to a movie alone in the middle of the day on a Friday?

Because I could.

On Raising a Cup o’ Kindness Instead

IMG_0652 - CopyI know a girl, a girl called Party – Party Girl.

This was my theme song for many years – probably too many.

So much so, in fact, that at the ripe young age of 44, I had a hard time envisioning a New Year’s Eve saying goodbye to 2014 without a party of some sort. In all of my years since I was a teenager, I’ve ALWAYS had some sort of party-ish plans for the farewell of one year and the welcoming of the next (except of course the year my dear nanny passed on December 29 and I was too sad to celebrate.)

Last night was a BIIIIIIIGGGG stretch for me. The only plans I had were to watch two movies and have dinner at a restaurant that was NOT offering a party environment.

I’d be lying if I said I was excited about it. I wasn’t. I was irritated. Annoyed that my plans seemed so boring. I felt lonely that all of my friends had plans with family or other friends, or were sick or didn’t want to go out. I did.

I didn’t want to embrace a New Year’s Eve that didn’t include food, friends and plenty o’ booze.

The first movie we saw was “Wild”, the title ironically taunting me in opposition to my evening’s plans. I was agitated, bored by the slow pace of the film, and glad when it ended. I wondered how I would be able to sit through a second movie immediately after.

Thank goodness “Foxcatcher” was so riveting, and held my tense, anxious attention for the full time it played. It finished at 9:30, at which time I had made reservations for a 3-course late dinner.

I never made it to the restaurant, feeling a lack of both hunger and motivation after the movies.

I was in bed by 11 pm, a homemade grilled-cheese sandwich standing in as my festive feast. I alternated switching between the three major televised celebrations, observing over a million people reveling in sub-zero temperatures, simultaneously envying their fun and exciting party atmosphere while also feeling thankful that I was not freezing my ass off outside with them.

A few times before midnight, I felt myself nodding off, but managed to watch the ball drop before I switched off the lights and promptly fell asleep, more sober than I’ve been on New Year’s Eve for almost the past three decades.

I woke this morning surprised to realize that I wasn’t full of disappointment over my bash-less beginning of this new year. I am at peace. With both my lack of festivities last night, as well as with myself and my life.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the lack of bedlam as I opened the door to this new year will extend to a lack of fuss and drama throughout the entire year. Maybe my previous methods of ringing in the new year have been an indicative influence on the type of year I was going to have.

I sure hope so.

Cheers to change in 2015.

My Parting Gift to 2014

new-years-eve-2015-583216_640It’s the last day of 2014, and like many, my initial reaction to that statement is “THANK GOODNESS!”
However, I’ve also noticed that I’ve abandoned my online happiness/gratitude jar over the past few months, which have been some of the hardest months of my life, never mind 2014.
Is there a correlation?
Who knows, but I think rather than end the year dwelling on all the negative that 2014 brought, I’m going to lay down a few things I’m grateful for and happy about, in the superstitious hope that doing so will welcome in 2015 with some positive vibes.

1. I am grateful for my parents. I don’t know what I’d do without them. You think that once you become an adult and have a family of your own, you stop needing your parents, but as it turns out – I’ve needed them more than ever. I’m lucky to have parents who are such selfless, forgiving people who taught me to communicate openly and honestly. I’ve seen the very dark side of no communication, and it ain’t pretty.

2. I am thankful for my friends. Hard times often determine who your “true” friends are, but I am so very grateful for the support of those who have been there for me.

3. I am so blessed to have my daughter. Every day she teaches me so much and motivates me to be a better person.

4. I am happy that I have a luxurious home to live in and cupboards full of food. ALL the time. I have clean running water in my house and I have a car to drive me wherever I want to go. I live a life that so many people on our earth would love to live, even with my first-world problems and “hard” times.

5. I am so glad that I live in a country that is relatively safe, where I and others can worship however we choose, vote democratically, and love who we want to love without fear of persecution.

6. I am happy that 2014 has taught me some valuable lessons, most of them about having respect for myself and about learning to stop allowing others to have far too much influence over how I see myself. I’m not perfect, but in 2014 I allowed too many people to diminish my self-worth. I’m done with that.

7. I’m grateful that I’ve come to realize I am far too old for the drama and passive-aggressive games that others try to engage in. I am going to continue being myself, striving to be as kind as I can and keep trying to rise above the ridiculousness of others. There will always be wolves in sheep’s clothing, but I can simply ignore their shenanigans.

8. I’m thankful I still have hope. Hope that I will continue to learn important lessons and grow as a person. Hope that I will continue to build old relationships with those I care for and who care about me, as well as find new people who see the good stuff I offer. Most importantly, I have hope that 2015 will be a better year.

Happy New Year! I hope 2015 brings everyone exactly what they want it to bring.

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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