How Times Have Changed

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Today is the 13th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. That day I was “teaching a class full of innocent children,” as the Alan Jackson song says. I knew what had happened (to some extent) before I had to teach my first class because I had planning the first two periods of the day. We were instructed to not discuss what had happened with the children but to go about our normal lessons, etc. Throughout the day, students were being picked up by their parents, neighbors, etc. At the end of the school day, I went home to my apartment, just 5 minutes or so from the school. I immediately called my parents’ house because I wanted to see if anyone was there. They lived about 15 minutes from my apartment. At this point, I knew that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon and my dad often had meetings at the Pentagon so I was freaking out a little bit. Dad answered the phone and I was so relieved. My sister, who was in the Marine Reserves at the time, was also there. My mother was at a hospital with my grandmother, who had gone into the hospital two days before. I packed a bag really quickly and drove to my parents house. I stayed there for the next several days rather than stay at my apartment alone.

This remembrance of the attacks is always tied to the hospitalization and passing of my grandmother. She went in the hospital two days prior and died one week after the attacks. It was such a surreal time for me and for my family.

So many things have changed in the last 13 years, for the nation, for the world, and for us as a family. Now that E is here, my thoughts are consumed by what we will need to do to prepare him for the world he will encounter. He is one of those that will never remember what life was like before September 11, 2001. Like many of the children I taught, he will be surprised to learn that you used to be able to go to the gate at the airport with a friend or family member that was traveling and wait for them to board the plane on their trip (you were not traveling with them). He won’t know about friends or family members waiting at the gate at the arrival destination for you, rather than having to wait at baggage claim or outside at the car. He will know about the “meeting place” we put in place as a family, the place to go in case something ever happens like Sept 11 again, or some other disaster, where we have to leave home.

How things have changed…

Am I really a member of the club?

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Since E has been with us for just over 2 months now, I still have a hard time realizing that I am a mom. I mean, I know this is true since I spend every day with him rather than going to work like I had for the past 14 years. But it’s more of a head knowledge. I see this little boy in front of me every day and am sure to care for his needs, feeding him, changing his diaper, helping him to sleep, spending time playing with him as he learns new things, taking walks when the weather permits, attending story time at the local library, etc. But I just haven’t been able to wrap my brain or heart around the fact that I really am his mom. It’s just all so strange for me. Since I didn’t experience pregnancy and all that goes with that, I didn’t have the 9 months to emotionally prepare myself for this experience of motherhood.

But I also didn’t have the time I thought I would have, if the adoption had gone like I pictured in my mind. The image in my brain was that our profile would be shown and a birthmother/family would select us. We would meet her/them, spend time getting to know her/them, going to doctor appointments, etc. We might even be present at that baby’s birth, though I wasn’t sure about that. Then, we would take the baby home after the birthmother’s 30 days were up. We would have all of that time to prepare our home and our heads/hearts for what was coming. We would continue to have a relationship with the birthmother after the baby’s birth, writing letters and sending pictures to her and/or the birthfamily. But, that’s not how this all happened.

From the time we got the call until the time E came home was just about 4 weeks. We spent that time physically preparing our house. Cleaning out the guest room aka the junk room. Getting it painted. Ordering furniture. Picking up said furniture and putting it together. Getting hand-me-downs from various friends and co-workers so we had clothes for him. I had also not spent any time reading or preparing for what would be the developmental stages and “normal” routines for a baby. When you experience pregnancy, you have time, those 9 months, to read the “mom books” and make sure you and your husband/partner/whomever are on the same page, or at least have some discussions if you want to about different ideas about sleep (co-sleep, always in crib, sleep in parents room, etc.), parenting, schedules, routines, responsibilities, etc. We did not have that time, so we are trying to do that in the midst of being E’s parents and it is sometimes super hard and super frustrating for both of us.

Thus, I still can’t really believe that I am a member of this “club” of being a mother. I sometimes get asked if it’s what I thought it would be, and I’m never sure how to answer that question. I don’t know what I thought it would be. I guess I didn’t really have an image of that in my head, like I did about how the whole adoption thing would happen (of course, like I said above…that didn’t turn out to be how it happened).

At the same time that I am wrapping my head around being E’s mom, it is hard for me to now be “simply” E’s mom. There is so much more to my identity that I am struggling with keeping those other parts of me around. Obviously I love reading and will continue to do that, though some of the books I might choose will be different now. And since I am not teaching for the foreseeable future, how do I also keep that as part of my life? I have looked into tutoring for students at the local high school and at my former school. Do any other mothers struggle with this, whether of biological or adopted kids? How do you keep those other parts of your identity in your life?

Things to think about…

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Since E has come home, we have been consumed by caring for him, feeding him, changing his diapers, getting him on a routine, putting him down for his afternoon nap, putting him to bed, etc. Yet I have also been reading a lot on a group I joined regarding transracial adoption and the issues that can bring up. Some of the things that have come up (and will come up in the future) are related to him being adopted in general, but it is more obvious that he is adopted since we are white and he is black. Here’s a list of things that we’ve had to figure out or are working on figuring out as we move forward in this whole parenting thing.

(1) Hair and skin care – what products to use on his hair and skin, chemicals or natural products for the hair, how often to bathe him, what lotion to use on his skin, etc. We have figured out some of these things (bathing has nothing to do with his race, but simply that he is a baby and doesn’t need bathing quite as often as adults…), and others we are still working through (using coconut oil on his hair presently)

(2) “Caregiver”/”Babysitter” assumptions – I have had to deal with a few of these when taking E out to things like story time at the library or taking a walk in the neighborhood. It is difficult for me to hear these things, but I have become more bold in simply saying, “Nope, I’m his mom.”

(3) How to answer questions related to his adoption – lots of people ask these questions, including family, and I totally know they mean absolutely nothing by asking them, but simply want to know about him and his background. Where was he born? Why did his birth parents “give him up”? And similar questions…For us, as his parents, it is difficult to know how to answer some of these questions for a variety of reasons. One is that we simply don’t know the answer to the question. Two is that we feel like it is his story and he should be the one to decide to answer the question or not (obviously when he gets older and knows his own story), but since he is still a baby, we want to be conscious of not divulging too much information to others before he is able to understand (the whole idea of people knowing more about him than he does about himself). We are still processing and thinking about how to answer these questions politely and respectfully, both of the person asking the question and of E.

(4) Dealing with looks – Sometimes, actually most of the time, I can deal much easier with the people that simply ask the questions rather than those that simply look, see that we are white with a black baby, and (I interpret) have a reaction simply by their facial expression or body language. For example, we were at a family reunion for my mom’s family and my cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. were there. Many of my cousins have children and one of these kids asked us “why is his skin that color?” He is 6. My cousin apologized for his asking the question, but I was actually glad that he did just come right out with it and ask. It gave us the opportunity to explain adoption in terms that my cousin’s son could understand. I explained that B (my cousin’s son) was in his mommy’s tummy before he was born and that E was in another mommy’s tummy, not mine. But that mommy couldn’t take care of him and so we are taking care of him as his mommy and daddy. He seemed satisfied with that answer. But, this is one of those rock and a hard place situations with the issue listed above. I want people to ask, rather than giving a look (my interpretation), but then we have to figure out if and how to answer the questions.

(5) School issues – Though this is a long way off yet, we will have to deal with this eventually. How do we work through the issues with things like school assignments that might be about family heritage, family trees, story of my birth, where do my traits come from (eye color, hair, nose, dimples, height, etc.)? Do we preempt with the teacher at Back to School Night or in some sort of email or conference? Or do we wait and see if there is such an assignment and then have a conversation with the teacher? Additionally, do we have a conference with the teacher(s) to show that we are E’s parents, we are involved, that he’s not “one of those kids” whatever that means, etc.?

I’m sure there are more things I will add to this list as time goes on…

What does it mean to raise an African-American boy?

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The recent events that have taken place that have been in the national spotlight as well as more local issues such as the curfew in place in Baltimore, the incidence of crime in my local area, etc., have made me really contemplate what it actually means to raise an African-American male. My husband and I are white (for those of you that didn’t know that!). I was raised in the same area (relatively) that we now live in and it is a pretty diverse area, in all ways (economically, educationally, racially, etc.). My husband, being a male, can help to teach Eli about what it means to be a man, generally. Yet, there are things that neither of us have experienced that Eli needs to be prepared for and taught about. One of the things that I have thought about is having positive male role models in his life, particularly African-American males. This way, those men can have a positive influence on Eli’s life and can mentor him through situations that my husband and I have no idea how to help him through. Another thing I am trying to do for Eli is make sure his library of books is filled with books that show him the possibilities available to him with positive African-American characters and that have positive messages about adoption. I also want him to learn about his culture and history, which, as a social studies teacher, should be something that comes natural to me, but I will need to be intentional about it, rather than just, “Oh! That looks like a cool museum to visit…”

If any of my African-American friends have ideas or suggestions about other things to do to help E in this regard, please comment. Also, should we refer to him as African-American or black? What is the “correct” terminology?

1 month wtih E!

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I can’t believe it’s already been just over one month since we brought E home.  It’s hard for me to remember life before he was here.  There’s been a lot going on since we brought him home, though.  My MIL was here from out of town for the first week and she stayed with my parents.  We also had some construction going on in our house as our upstairs bathroom was getting remodeled so that was a bit overwhelming when we brought E home.  I eventually got to the point where I asked my husband to call our contractor and tell him I needed the bathroom finished as soon as possible.  The adjustments to having a baby in the house, with all of his paraphernalia, plus the remodeling of the bathroom was just more than I could take.  My husband stayed home with E and I for the first two weeks that E was home, helping us to all get connected to each other and helping me to get adjusted to this new life.

It has already been just over one month since E came home and we’ve both figured things out together.  He had to learn that we (my husband and I) would take care of his physical needs, but also his emotional needs.  He had been in the home of a family that our agency calls “interim care.”  This places babies/children in homes (rather than an orphanage/institution) between them being discharged from the hospital (newborns) or while they are not living at their birthfamily’s home (older children).  Anyway, E had to get adjusted to us, our home, the smells, sounds, etc. after having been in the interim care family’s home for just over 1 month.  He also had to experience the loss of that interim care family.  It was really hard for him (and for us).  It took a few days for him to realize that he was no longer in their care and wouldn’t be going back there and he had some inconsolable days.  Thank goodness my husband was still home with me those days and we could switch off with each other.

After those first two weeks, my husband returned to work and I have been home with E as a stay-at-home mom since.  We are on a good schedule for feedings and napping during the day.  He is eating about 5 ounces every 4 hours and he usually will take a short 30-45 minute nap about 1 1/2 to 2 hours after eating.  During his wake times, he likes to hang out in his swing, bouncy seat, or on his play may, but definitely wants to be where I am.  So I have to be engaged with him.  I have taken a bunch of his toys and books, etc. and made bags for the different days of the week, mostly so I don’t get bored with reading him the same books or playing with the same toys with him, but I think it also helps him to see different books and toys.  Some toys and books stay out all the time, because he likes them a lot and it offers some consistency for him.  We also try to take a walk each day, if the weather allows.  Additionally, I have found a class at the local library on Tuesday mornings for babies.  Many of the same people are there each week and some people are new each time.  It helps me get out of the house and interact with other moms, see other kids and know what to expect at different stages.  It helps E to have social interaction with other babies and toddlers, and we learn songs, stories, etc. together.

E smiles at us (and others) a lot now.  He reacts to our facial expressions and likes engaging with us.  E is making more sounds now, other than crying, to communicate with us and express his needs.  We are working on his ability to grab items and swing/reach for items.  He’s had his regular doctor appointments, including getting his most recent round of shots, to which he had almost no reaction.  He cried out in pain when they were given, but didn’t have any lasting effect (no swelling, extreme crying, etc.).  We can’t wait to see how he develops over the next month!

E is here!

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I have wanted to write and post something since the beginning of June, around the second week or so, but have not been able to for a variety of reasons. In order to ensure the legal issues surrounding this placement would not be impacted negatively, we were instructed to not publish anything on social media, this blog, etc. We have shared with a few close friends and family members, but have tried to limit (as difficult as that is and has been!) it to verbal communication with those people. So, here it is:

Yesterday, July 7, my husband and I took placement of a super cute and sweet little boy! We will call him E. To help everyone understand exactly how we got to this point and were able to bring him home, let me take some time to review the process.

Almost 2 years ago, when my husband and I decided to pursue this process to create our family, we had been through a lot of difficult times both emotionally and medically. In determining exactly what our issues were in not being able to have biological children, we both had to undergo numerous medical tests that definitely felt like an invasion. At least that’s how they felt to me…it is such a strange thing to have to submit your body to these different tests and such to try to figure out what is happening when what is supposed to happen (or at least what we think our body is supposed to do, naturally) isn’t happening. So, after all of that and figuring out that we would not have biological children, we made the decision to go through the adoption process.

We chose to go through an agency rather than pursuing private placement for a variety of reasons. If you are investigating adoption, there are a myriad of different options for you, so I would simply suggest that you investigate those options to find the right one for you/your family. So, back to our story…we worked with a Christian agency. We first had to attend an information session to figure out exactly what this meant. After attending the info session, we decided to wait to fill out the application until after I had finished my Master’s. Once I finished that, we filled out the application paperwork and submitted it. Then, we were interviewed by a social worker at the agency. Once that was completed, there was more paperwork to fill out such as the contract with the adoption agency, financial disclosure forms, self-reported medical history, etc. We also each had to have a physical with blood test results sent from our doctors to the agency. In addition to that, there was a fire department inspection and health department inspection of our home plus a visit to our home by a social worker from the agency. We had to submit letters of reference from several non-family members as well as our church. Once all of this was submitted for approval, the agency requires that we attend training classes. These classes were once a week for about 2 months or so. These training classes had homework including reading several books and writing book reports to submit to the social worker. While going through all of these training classes and filling out paper work, we also were asked to make a profile book (essentially a digital scrapbook) about ourselves that would be shown to birth families making plans of adoption. Two copies of this were ordered, printed, and sent to the agency so they could have them ready to show.

We completed all of that, and were approved. Once approved the agency has “waiting families” meetings about once per quarter. Families are asked to attend at least 1 per year, not only to learn the information that is provided during the meetings and meet others that are in your same or similar situation, but to show your continued interest in pursuing adoption. The average waiting period for families for this agency is two years!

Over the time period that we were waiting, we received several phone calls about children that needed a family. It was SOOO hard to be given just a little bit of information and then have to decide, usually within 24-48 hours, if we wanted to continue in the process. With each of the calls, we ultimately said no and the agency found other homes for those children. We believe that those children are in the families that God intended and planned for them to be in all along.

Even after all of this, and waiting for almost two years, we received another phone call from the agency. I was on my way home from a long day at school and was stuck in traffic when my phone rang. I just thought it was my husband calling to let me know he was on his way home from work, but when I answered the phone, it was definitely not his voice. It was our social worker from the adoption agency. After exchanging some pleasantries, she asked a few questions. Based upon my answer to those questions, she provided some additional information asking us to prayerfully consider whether we would want to pursue this to the next steps. As soon as I got home, I ran around the house trying to find my husband, finally finding him in our back yard filling the lawn mower with gasoline so he could start mowing the lawn that afternoon. I gave him all the information that I had been given and asked him to contemplate it while he was mowing. ;-) After some discussion that evening at dinner, we decided to pursue the next steps in the process. After speaking to our social worker the next day, we received a bit more information regarding the birth family, etc., but nothing that would cause us to stop the process. We then scheduled a visit to meet the little boy. At that point he was about two weeks old.

The visit was about an hour with my husband, myself, and the little guy. After that hour or so, the social worker and interim care provider came in and gave us some information about his habits, likes and dislikes, etc. as well as answering questions and so on. We scheduled a visit for the following week. All of this was happening as school was ending for the year, so the timing could not have been more perfect. In addition, I had requested a voluntary transfer to a high school this upcoming year, but never heard anything regarding that transfer. I’m convinced that it was all in His plan for this to happen exactly the way it happened. We visited again with E the following week and scheduled the third visit the next week. We also scheduled placement for July 7. In the midst of all of these visits, we started preparing our house for having a baby in it, including cleaning out and reorganizing. We also put together a registry at a local store and tried to find the different products that worked well for us and that we would need to have to bring a baby into our home. Doing all of this in less than 4 weeks was just a bit of a daunting task!!!!

But it was all worth it to be able to bring this cute little man home yesterday. We will not be posting pictures until we are cleared by the agency to do so. So, you will have to wait to see him. Sorry. :-(

I do want to give a HUGE shout out to those that have helped us along the way by providing support, sounding boards, friendship, etc. And an enormous thanks to Jessica, Amanda, and Christy for all of the hand-me-downs! We could not have done this so quickly without all the things you have provided from clothes, to burp clothes, blankets, toys, a crib mattress, etc. THANK YOU!!!!!!!

Letter to Gubernatorial Candidate

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In Maryland, we are in the midst of an election year for our state offices including governor. Our current governor, Martin O’Malley, has served his two terms and will thus vacate the governor’s mansion at the end of this term. The way elections are structured in Maryland, the primary election serves to determine the candidates for each political party and you can only vote for candidates in the political party for which you are registered. Thus, an independent could not vote in the primary unless an independent is running. (There are some offices that are not determined by political party such as board of education races) In my house, we get the literature for both of the major political parties because I am a registered voter for one party and my husband is a registered voter of another party. Anyway, one of the candidates has been putting out many ads about his plan and ideas about what he will do once in office. Some of these ads will sound good to most people that aren’t involved in any of the industries or areas that he is talking about. Yet, his soundbytes are simply that…soundbytes. Obviously, I take issue with his ideas about education. I can’t really speak to his other issues intelligently, since I am not involved in those areas or professions. Then, I came across this letter to the editor in the Baltimore Sun. And she hit the nail on the head. Here’s my version:

To Doug Gansler, Democratic candidate for Maryland Governor:

Your recent ads detailing, or rather providing soundbytes, for the plan that you would attempt to implement upon your election to the office of Governor of Maryland have me asking questions, though I’m sure not the questions you intended. First, how much experience do you have in education as a classroom teacher? One of your ads states that, in Maryland, we have “some of the best schools in the country, but also some of the worst.” This is followed by your supposed solution to this problem being putting skilled teachers in the classroom rather than teachers that simply have seniority. On the surface, this seems like a great idea. After all, we all want our children to have teachers that know what they are doing, have a certain level of knowledge, ability to employ different methods of teaching in the classroom, continue their own professional growth, and I could go on. But these buzzwords of “skill over seniority” are simply that…buzzwords. How exactly do you propose to determine an educator’s skill? Is it something that you can measure using some system of metrics? Oh, wait! That’s what we’ve been dealing with this year so that we can say we are following the requirements of Obama’s Race to the Top. I was one of the teachers at my school this year that was chosen to be evaluated using the new system. But do these systems really take into account what I, and numerous other teachers in Maryland’s public school systems, do day in and day out? Can you take everything about teaching and boil it down into some numerical system? We are not teaching robots, we are teaching children.

Tied to this is your statement in a more recent ad that I’ve seen several times over the past few days, that you support “merit pay.” What is your definition of merit pay? The way that I understand this is that the pay of a teacher would be tied to the grades, test scores, etc. of the students in said teacher’s classroom. If this is your definition of merit pay, how do you make allotments for a teacher that teaches Gifted & Talented, or above average, children versus a teacher that teaches children that are performing below grade level? How do you make allotments for a teacher that teaches a class of 5-8 students such as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher or special education teacher versus a teacher that teaches 100-150 students in a specific subject? This would be equivalent to paying a doctor based on the number of “cures” he/she is able to prove. Thus, an oncologist would not receive as much “merit pay” as a “pediatrician.” How does that make any sense?

Children come to us, in the public school system (and private, too!), with a variety of backgrounds, levels of home support, abilities, learning styles, needs, and the list goes on. A typical school year in Maryland is 180 days that schools are open, while a typical school day is 6.5 hours. This does not take into account if a child has a history of absenteeism or tardiness, thus missing out on instructional time and support in school. We are expected to teach the children in front of us in meaningful, research based methods, providing assignments that measure if a student has learned the material, and if they haven’t, making sure to go back and reteach them until such time as they have mastered that skill or material. For the students that do master the skills or material, we are expected to provide enrichment and increased rigor so those children continue to learn and grow in their understanding and knowledge. Many times these students are in the same class, requiring the teacher to also employ various methods of classroom management (which we should do anyway) in order to be sure all students have a safe learning environment. The teachers that are worth their weight are doing all of these things in spite of the added expectations placed on us for writing Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) and participating in the new evaluation systems. We are collecting artifacts to upload to show, or rather prove, that we are practicing professional responsibilities, doing our own professional growth and learning, planning and preparing for the students, new curriculum demands, and the list goes on.

During school hours, besides teaching the children in our classes, we are allotted “planning time.” However, this time is often actually used for participating in various team meetings (grade level, subject/content area, etc.), parent conferences and/or student conferences rather than actually being able to plan lessons or even grade student assignments. So when do we do that? After school hours whether at school or at home. Time we are not compensated for, but time we use in order to be sure we are providing feedback to students about their learning, plan effective lessons using appropriate curriculum resources (or finding them!) and following pedagogical methods proven by research.

What do we do in the summer with all that time off??? Yep, that’s right, we just sit around the house all day, eating bon bons, and catching up on our soap operas. Don’t believe me? GOOD! Because in reality what we are doing during the summer is often writing curriculum, researching our new curriculum (if we know ahead of time that it is changing), participating in continuing professional development (as if we have time for that during the school year), planning the next year’s school calendar, activities, field trips…I could go on. And that doesn’t count catching up on our own personal lives such as scheduling and going to doctor’s appointments that we can’t schedule during the school year so that we don’t have to write sub plans and take time away from the children.

So, Mr. Gansler, I would like to take this opportunity to let you know that I will not be voting for you during this election. Until you can answer the questions above and address these issues, I can not give you my vote. You clearly lack an understanding of the issues affecting teachers today and therefore, lack the ability, in my opinion, to lead the state of Maryland and its public education systems through this quagmire.

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