Letter to the President and 50 Democratic Senators

To: The President of the United States and the 50 Democratic Senators that urged changing of the Washington Redskins name

Re: Columbus Day as a federal holiday

In the past two years, there has been a surge regarding a name change for the Washington Redskins NFL team. As a lifelong Washington Redskins fan, this happens every few years and we’ve come to expect it, really. However, in the past these efforts have not really gained much traction or have been pursued through the court system and have been thrown out for a variety of reasons. What is interesting and ultimately ironic in the most recent push is the involvement of you, as President of the United States or Senators.

This is ironic to me because you have apparently found it necessary to weigh in on the name of the Washington NFL team, but do nothing regarding Columbus Day, observed on the Monday in October closest to October 12, or make legitimate efforts to correct the outrageous acts committed by the United States government regarding the Native American tribes now living on reservations, mostly in the western United States. While Christopher Columbus’ journeys to the New World resulted in the discovery of this large landmass of the Americas as well as the islands of the Caribbean, it also led to the mass destruction of various Native American tribes due to the enormous influx of settlers from Europe and the economic interest that the various countries thought they might find. Christopher Columbus himself and his sailors were also responsible for significant atrocities committed against the Taino people, one of the native civilizations living in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and various other islands of the Caribbean. As stated above, Columbus’ journeys led to a large migration to this new land mass from Europe. People left Europe for a variety of reasons, whether for religious freedom, economic gain, to get out of jail, or to simply start a new life. While some of the new settlements worked well with the various Native American tribes and civilizations that they encountered, many did not. This pattern continued as the colonies gained more territory and settlers, needing more and more land and becoming more and more greedy for the natural and mineral resources they were finding. The United States government simply followed this pattern, forcing many native people off the land they had known for centuries and onto reservations, many times with other groups that they were enemies of, and with significant economic and cultural differences (Indian Removal under President Andrew Jackson), after the discovery of gold in Georgia (and other places). After forcing these tribes onto reservations, massacring others, engaging in wars against others or inciting wars between various tribes, the United States government continues to ignore the plight of the Native Americans in this country and the issues they face including alcoholism, drug addiction, lack of education, lack of economic opportunities, and the list goes on.

Please do not respond to this letter by listing the various pieces of legislation you have voted for or signed into law regarding the Native Americans. Please also do not respond by telling me that changing the name of the Washington Redskins would be a significant step in recognizing the cultures of the various Native American people groups. A more significant step in recognizing the cultures of these groups and admitting the wrongs that were committed against these people would be to stop having Columbus Day as a federal holiday and instead, follow the lead of places like Seattle and Minneapolis, cities that now have “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

As a former social studies educator for 14 years, learning about other cultures is one of the most important steps in coming to a broader understanding of the human experience and what unites us as people. It also helps students, and ultimately their parents, grandparents, etc. to have a more inclusive worldview. We need to tell the entire story of history, both positive and negative. Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day would be a step in this direction. Additionally, it does not need to be a “federal holiday” which would imply that government offices would be closed, banks would be closed, and mail service would not function. Rather, it could be a day that the politicians serving in the United States Congress could go to these areas of the United States, especially if one exists in the home state of the Congressperson, to truly get an understanding of the issues facing these people and gain a better perspective of how to help resolve them. It could be a day that school children learn about the indigenous cultures in their local area, presently or historically, and the contributions and achievements, characteristics, etc. of those groups.

Respectfully submitted

Home again

This past Thursday through Sunday, two of my girlfriends and I went to Boston.  It was a good trip and we did A LOT of walking around the city, taking one of the trolley tours around the city, walking the Freedom Trail, eating at some good restaurants, doing some shopping, etc.  It was my first time to Boston and I definitely want to go back to do things I didn’t get a chance to do, go to some museums and such that we didn’t get a chance to go into, and so on.  Definitely on my list of places to go back to.  My two girlfriends thought I did very well for my first time away from E for so long.  I would text my husband and/or mom during the day and ask how he was doing or ask them to send me a picture of him.  But, I did not do this all day, every day.  It was usually one or two times during the day, mostly in the afternoon or evening.  My husband did a REALLY good job with him, making sure to stay on his schedule for feedings and naps, etc. and that made it much easier to come back home on Sunday and stay in the regular routine this week.  My mom helped to babysit Friday afternoon while my husband played golf with a buddy of his (first time he’s been able to golf in several months).  E will be four months old on Friday!  I can’t believe it.  It’s crazy to see how much he has grown in the time since we first met him until now.  More about that after his four month check-up on Friday.  :-)

My First Time Away

Tomorrow two of my girlfriends and I will be traveling to Boston, a city I have never been to before.  I’m excited for the trip and for spending time with these two friends, also former co-workers.  Since I am staying home this year, I don’t get to see them nearly as often as I used to.  And this will be the first extended trip away from E.  I stayed the night last Friday at my parents’ house while my husband and E stayed at our house (about 30 minutes away from each other).  My husband will be home on one of the days to take care of E and my mom will be helping out in the afternoon of the other day while my husband plays golf (since he took the day off work anyway).  The afternoons are generally easier since E takes his afternoon nap for about two to two and a half hours after eating lunch and playing for awhile.  I’m not as worried about E since his days are pretty routine and as long as he is fed, has a clean diaper, and gets some attention and play time, he’s happy.  I’m more worried about how I’m going to handle being away for that long.  We’ll see…

How Times Have Changed

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?

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…

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?

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?