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Yet again…

In the past two days there have been two black men killed by police officers in two different cities in the United States. It scares the living crap out of me, as I parent Eli. As I sit here, writing this, he is upstairs napping in his crib. Everyone tells us how cute and precious he is, how adorable he is, how much fun he is, and the list goes on. These are things that people tell most parents about their children. When I take him to the playground or to the park, he plays and has a good time trying to play with other children, as he is at the stage now where he is aware of others and is learning how to engage with them. For the most part, I take a back seat and let him figure it out, as that is part of his social and emotional development. Obviously, I am physically there and am observing him, making sure he is not hurting others, redirecting when he needs it (or another child needs it), etc. But, I am becoming increasingly aware that things will be changing soon and that I will need to be so much more vigilant to make sure that Eli is not punished or whatever for things that white children of his same age/development are also doing. As long as treatment is the same, I have no problem. I will have a problem when he is singled out for the same things.

But, I also am becoming so much more aware that we will also have to educate him about how to react and what to do when (notice I said when not if) he is pulled over or confronted by police or other authority figures. I am grateful that we have black men and women in our circle of family and friends that we can seek advice from regarding this as we, as whites, have never had to worry about this sort of thing. My husband nor I have ever had to worry about getting dirty looks in a store when we come in to shop, getting followed surreptitiously by store employees, getting pulled over or confronted by police while black, and the list goes on. Yes, we will have to have “the talk” with him about this.

And don’t tell me that if we just teach him to comply, follow directions, etc. that everything will be alright and he won’t be one of those statistics. The case of Philando Castile disproves this argument (as do so many others). He was sitting in a vehicle. He was carrying a gun, for which he had a permit, and informed the officer of such. His identification was requested and when he went to reach for the id, he was shot and killed. And he’s just the latest in a long list of black men to die.

Historically speaking, “the talk” is one that has been passed down from generation to generation of black men (and women, too, though that one is probably a little different) to their sons and grandsons, nephews, cousins, brothers. I would imagine this is a similar talk that slaves gave to their children. That freed slaves gave to younger generations about how to live in a town, city, state, or country that was hostile to their new freedom. That those generations continued to give to the next ones as they lived through the Black Codes and Jim Crow, lynchings, etc. That they gave to their children during the Civil Rights Movement and achievement of the passage of the Civil Rights legislation. That those that marched, were beaten, were jailed, etc. gave to their children about what to do when confronted. That they gave to their children about going to desegregated schools with predominantly white teachers and administrators. That those generations now give to their children about being pulled over by police or confronted by authority figures. And that we and our black friends and family will give to Eli.

And please understand that I am just as concerned about other crimes being committed in the black community. I am concerned, as I have posted previously, about the enormous numbers of young black men being murdered in the streets of almost every city in the United States. I am concerned and outraged about the prevalence of violence committed by anyone and that it is viewed as a viable option – in fact the only response many times – to a problem or conflict. It is clear we have not done an effective job of showing that there are other responses to conflict, problems, arguments, etc. and that life – all life – has value. The issues are rampant and we need to find meaningful ways of confronting them and not simply wait for the government to do it. Because, really, they’ve shown that they can’t or won’t.

Here are the things young black men could (and have) been killed for by police officers:

supposedly selling “loosies” – single cigarettes from a pack – Eric Garner (which he was NOT selling)

selling music CDs – Alton Sterling – the store owner did not have an issue with Sterling selling his CDs at the store or outside of it – not a saint, but who among us is???

playing in the park – Tamir Rice – 12 years old

shopping in Walmart and picked up an air rifle off a shelf at the store – John Crawford III

riding in a car with a taillight out, with a gun for which he had a permit and informed the officer, reached for his ID – Philando Castile

And let’s give some cases where a white male was NOT shot…let’s see…

Shooting and killing 9 unarmed black individuals in a church – arrested Dylan Roof – then proceeded to take him to get some food because he was hungry

Shooting in a movie theater in CO, killed 12, injured 70 others, some severely – arrested James Holmes – did not tase or shoot Holmes during arrest

Unabomber, Oklahoma City federal building bombing…I’m sure I can come up with more given time…

As I was in the middle of writing this post, last night 5 Dallas police officers were shot and killed and several others wounded in a targeted, planned attack. This, too, is not how we need to respond to what is happening. Again, the large majority of police officers do their jobs well, treat people with respect, keep their own emotions in check, and have no issues during their careers. I am in no way saying that all police officers are bad or corrupt or power hungry or abusive or anything of the sort. They do a VERY difficult job that most of us would not choose, yet they have chosen it, and do so in order to keep their communities safe and protected. And it is admirable that they do this, day in and day out, with very little thanks from the community, often being second-guessed for everything they do or don’t do. Please hear me correctly. I AM SO GRATEFUL for the police officers that do their jobs well and serve and protect us across this nation. More than words can say.

We all must come together to speak up for those that don’t have a voice. We must show them how to use their own voice to speak out. There are so many that believe they don’t have a voice or that their voice doesn’t matter because they have been systematically shown, throughout history (both their own and the greater story of history) that it doesn’t. We must remind them of the movements in history where the voices of those that were oppressed, viewed as inferior or less than, etc. were able to make change. As a white person, I must use my privilege to be an ally and an advocate for them. I should not do it FOR them, but rather WITH them. We must come together and figure out solutions to these enormously complex problems. We can not allow these problems to further separate us from each other, but use them as a reason to work towards common goals.

Some common goals I can think of right now:

– Physical safety
– Judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin (MLK)
– Building relationships with people that are different than me in order to see people as God sees them
– Having open and honest conversations with others, especially those that are different than me, in order to figure out how we can work together towards solutions, being open to hearing something I might not like, in order to do better. When you know better, you do better (as the saying goes).
– Participate in marches, demonstrations, and the like in order to show solidarity with those organizing such events, to support them, and to give action where my words are

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Orlando…

It has obviously been several days since we heard of the tragedy in Orlando. I don’t even know where to begin with my thoughts about this horrible tragedy. And I don’t want my friends and family to think that my silence for this long means that I have not been thinking about it or that I am not saddened or angry by it. It simply means that I have been thinking about it and trying to figure out exactly what to say or do about it.

First, I have many friends that are gay and I want them to know that I am saddened and angry by this event. I can’t possibly know what it is to never be able to be fully oneself in any environment, except maybe your own home. I can’t know what it is like to finally be able to find a place where you can be yourself and think that place is safe for you, only to have it revealed through a horrible event, that it is not. What I do know is that I never want to have my friends listed on a victim’s list like we are seeing as a result of the tragedy at Pulse in Orlando. I know that I need to support my gay friends during this hate crime committed against your community, our community as Americans. So to those of you, my friends, please know that I support you, am thinking about you, am praying for you, just as I am praying for those that were killed and their families and friends. Please let me know what I can do to support you and your community.

While I can not speak intelligently about the debates that are occurring surrounding gun control, background checks, or the like, it is clear there is something going on in the United States to allow these things to happen. I’m not actually totally convinced that it is solely about guns but about a culture of extremism and extreme hatred of other groups and/or oneself and carrying out crimes as a result of that hatred. We can’t look at these crimes as isolated events, either. What does looking at the mass shootings in the US over the last 20 years or so tell us about our culture? One thing it tells me is that we are very divided, more so than we might like to think. And it also tells me there is a lot more hate out there than we would like to think about. And it’s scary…very very scary.

BUT, I also believe that we have to start showing children that solving problems is not achieved through violence, that violence actually perpetuates the problems and makes them bigger problems than they actually were. We have to figure out a way to teach our children (and adults for that matter), that life has value. (And it is certainly not by getting in a fight at a kindergarten graduation ceremony at your child’s school!) Historically speaking (because you know, that’s my thing), we as a nation have had HUGE issues valuing life. We were founded as a nation of freedom and rights, but have, since the beginning, valued certain lives more than others. Men over women, white over native, white over black, and the list goes on.

As a Christian, it bothers me that we are not doing more to stand up for those that are hurting. Where have we, as a large group, been when children have been abused, whether verbally, mentally, emotionally, or physically? Where have we been when children are neglected? Where have we been when those that are oppressed have been oppressed? Oh, don’t get me wrong…I know there are people and groups amongst the Christian community that have been fighting for and working for and with those children, oppressed, and so many others. But, as a community of believers, we are called to love one another, to love our enemy (I’m NOT saying that our gay friends and family members are our enemies), to help those in need, to speak up for those that are unable to speak for themselves. We must show love to those around us that are hurting and that are needing help. We must show the world that love is ultimately what matters, not hatred and division. We must unite as human beings against those that would seek to tear us apart and divide us from each other. And it’s ok to get angry at events like the shooting (hate crime) in Orlando. Jesus showed his anger. Showing our anger is not being un-Christian. But we must show our anger and use it to do something positive in the wake of such a terrible tragedy. The lives of the men and women killed in Orlando mattered, not because they were gay, not because they were joining their gay friends/family for a good time, but simply because they were human beings and mattered to God/Jesus. They should matter to us, too.

What do you think we can do, actively do, to respond to a tragedy such as this?

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Pinterest Fails!

Pinterest is great for finding ideas for things to do with Eli, especially on rainy days like the one we had this morning. The first idea we tried today was to cut up pieces of pipe cleaner and put in a bottle. Then, use a magnet to move the pieces around. So, I got the pipe cleaners we purchased at the dollar store several months ago and picked out one of each color from the package. The ones we had were really long, so I figured one of each color would be plenty to fill the bottle and still have room for moving them around with the magnet. I cut up the pipe cleaners into the pieces and then I gave Eli the bottle and showed him how to put the pieces in the bottle. This worked well and helped him practice his fine motor skills. The point of the activity was to use the magnet to move the pieces of pipe cleaner around. This is what did not work. Now, grant it, we did not have any magnets except for the ones on the refrigerator. I figured those would work fine when we started this whole thing this morning. It. Did. Not. So, I either need to get more powerful magnets to use for this activity, use a different bottle (would the plastic bottle affect the magnet pulling the pipe cleaners?), or just make it an activity of putting in the pieces and taking them out.

The second pinterest fail today also used the pipe cleaners. This was also a fine motor activity. You use pipe cleaners to make a “tree” and then have the child put buttons onto the branches of the tree, practicing fine motor skills of threading the cleaner through the button hole. So, this failed on multiple levels. I had no issues creating the tree, save that my pipe cleaners had none that were brown (ugh) so I used black instead for our tree. Once our tree was created, I had to figure out how to make it stand up. Since it has no weight of its own, it would simply fall over. So I found a small plastic container to stand it up in and then used a small towel to fill in so that the “tree” would stand up. I had several buttons from my scrapbooking supplies so I pulled out the ones that were large enough for Eli to hold and also had button holes that were large enough for the pipe cleaners to thread through. It ended up that I had about 20-25 buttons for him to use for this activity. Definitely not enough to put in the plastic container around the “tree” to give it any weight to make it stand up. I showed Eli how to thread the buttons onto the branches of the tree and then had him do it. This was the fail. He just didn’t get the whole idea of having to hold the pipe cleaner branch and then threading the button onto the branch. Oh well. I tried.

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This thing called parenting…

Prior to being a stay-at-home mom for the past two years (well…a year and a half so far…), I was a middle school social studies teacher for 14 years. And I had a good handle on adolescent development, learning styles, how to teach certain things, and on and on. I would venture to say that I had a relative basic knowledge of early childhood development but since it was not the focus of the age group I was teaching, it was filed in the back of my mind.

And then I became a parent. And even though I do have a somewhat basic understanding of early childhood development, it was pretty clear, pretty quickly that I have no idea what I’m doing. As a reader, I tried to prepare myself for this parenting thing by reading several different books in addition to the ones we had to read for our adoption parent training classes. I also realize that not everything in the books is going to apply to every child or every parent. We all have different parenting styles just as students have different learning styles. Even my DH and I have different ideas about how much freedom to give E as he learns and explores the world around him. So, we’ve worked to try to figure out how to make it all work based on our parenting style(s) and E’s personality, etc.

But here’s what I’ve also learned in the 17.5 months E has been home with us and we have been parents…Everyone is just doing the best they can. It’s so easy to think you know that you wouldn’t do that with your child, or you wouldn’t allow your child to behave like that in public, or your child would be potty trained by that age, and the list just keeps going on and on. BUT, you have no idea the other issues going on in that family’s life. You have no idea if the child has other issues that cause this behavior and that mom/dad is doing what they can given the circumstances. You have no idea if the child’s issues are merely behavioral or are a manifestation of something else such as some trauma they have suffered, a medical problem (whether physical, mental, etc.), etc.

So rather than making judgments about the child or parent, based on what is happening in the here and now, maybe we should be more supportive of each other. When a child is having a meltdown in the middle of the store, offer a smile to the mom/dad that is dealing with it or quietly ask mom/dad if you can do anything to help them. More often than not, they will say no…but they will know that you were at least being supportive rather than judgmental. And maybe they won’t feel so self conscious about themselves as parents or about their child’s behavior/issues, etc.

While there are definitely differences in how you parent a child that has special needs, whether physical or otherwise, a child that was adopted, or whatever, we are all in this parenting thing together and we could all use the support of each other.

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What a difference less than 20 miles makes

There is only a little over 17 miles between my house and the location where our church is meeting, a school in the community that our pastor was called to serve and plant a church.  You wouldn’t think that less than 20 miles would mean such huge differences.  But it definitely does.

Where I live, there is a schedule of school repairs, maintenance, and new buildings.  There is a rotation of painting the schools, putting in new lockers, making significant building repairs (though currently some would argue about this point…but that’s a different matter), cleaning and/or replacing tile/carpet/flooring, etc.  The school that our church is meeting in hadn’t had any interior painting in at least ten years!  There are lots of small repairs to be made, in addition to bigger issues of replacing old flooring, etc. There are issues like one of the faucets in a girls bathroom continuously running, or a one-stall bathroom near the front entrance of the school having no light, no lock on the door and holes in the wall behind the toilet.

The school I formerly taught in (in the same district as where I live), while it did not have many windows to the outdoors, save for in the science wing addition that was completed while I was a teacher there, is bright and has wide hallways, inviting spaces and classrooms, a well stocked and used library (we were consistently at the top of the district’s list for number of books checked out and number of students checking out books) with a library/media specialist on staff (this is true of every school…elementary, middle, and high)…Where our church is meeting, the school had no librarian on staff until this year (what?!?), has almost no windows to the outdoors, and is very dark with narrow hallways.  I have not seen classrooms other than over the summer when everything was pulled off the walls and packed away so I can’t speak to how the teachers make them inviting spaces for learning during the school year.  And this school seems to be one of the better schools for the district (different than where I live).

Think about this school as a learning environment and as a workplace. How does working in an environment such as this help you to do your job well? And this doesn’t take into account the other stresses that come with being a teacher. This district claims that they spend the most per pupil of any district in the state. And on paper, that is true. But where is the actual money going? Based on evidence at this school, it is not going to paying for repairs and facility maintenance, it is not going to the salaries of teachers and other school level staff, it isn’t paying for each and every school to have a school librarian or a usable library where students can actually check out books, it isn’t paying for new textbooks or other resources for teachers and students to use in the classroom. In this kind of workplace with this lack of support from your district level staff and higher ups, what would make you want to spend any additional time there or doing your best and most effective work? While teachers get into teaching to help their students and have the best of intentions when starting out, you can pour out into others, even your students, only so much before you need someone else to pour into you. And it appears that even the administration can’t pour into the teachers because the administrators are just as defeated as the rest of the staff.

Is it all bad at this school where my church is meeting? No. There are definitely positive things happening at this school. Here’s a start:

(1) They have a librarian this year whom we have helped by organizing the fiction books by author’s last name and type of book (picture books for younger students on the bottom of shelves with chapter type books on the higher shelves), so now the children can check out books to read at home or use for school projects.

(2) They have started a PTO this year with several parents getting involved and serving as president, vice president, and secretary.

(3) They have had several events to get the community, parents, and students involved such as an Open House event before school started, Back to School Night, a fall Trunk or Treat event, and events for each day of American Education Week.

(4) Many hard-working teachers that do their best with limited resources and time to teach the children in their classes.

(5) A committed community member that serves every day during the three lunch shifts in the cafeteria as the lunch monitor and runs an after school program.

And I’m sure there are other things that I haven’t included in this list…

But here’s the thing…there is MUCH work to be done here in this community that we are serving. To be sure – there are needs in the community in which I live. BUT, it appears that by addressing the needs at this school less than 20 miles away, we will have a more significant impact on the teachers, students, parents, and community there. And let’s be clear…we are not doing this to receive a pat on the back or a thank you, though those are nice to receive. We are doing this for the kingdom impact it will make…maybe not tomorrow, next week, next month, or even next year…but as we help pour into the staff, the staff can pour more into their students…a domino effect so to speak.

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Reflection on National Adoption Awareness Month

As it is the last day of November, I thought I would post a reflection about the daily (ha!) Facebook posts I did during the month and how that turned out.

First, let’s be honest here…shall we?  I definitely did NOT post articles and such every day.  As much as I wanted to post, life just kind of got in the way the way it does when you have a toddler running around, church stuff throughout each week, plus the beginning of the holiday season, a sick toddler just after Thanksgiving, and the list goes on.

However, the links I did post didn’t really start any conversations the way I hoped they would.  I understand that people that aren’t intimately involved in the adoption triad are being confronted with some of the more complex issues and that it may take a bit to process some of that.  Even those that are involved in adoption from whatever perspective often have a difficult time when first dealing with these sorts of issues.

Essentially, it is a beginning for many of my friends and family to even read the articles that I did post.  And it is a beginning to a lifelong learning process for us as we journey through this parenting adventure.  Here’s to hoping that next year’s posts generate more conversation.  Thanks for reading!

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November – National Adoption Awareness Month

November is National Adoption Awareness Month and Sunday, November 8 is referred to as Orphan Sunday and is the focus of services at many churches across the nation.  Prior to our own journey through adoption, I probably would not have really even known about this month being NAAM or Orphan Sunday, as the churches I have been involved in over my life have not done anything to be part of this movement or to focus their services on the idea.  Obviously, all of that has changed through our adoption of Eli.  On my facebook page, I have chosen to post a link each day that focuses on some aspect of adoption.  Thus far, the articles have been pretty short and non-controversial, at least in my own mind.  The point of doing this is to hopefully inform people that are not intimately involved in adoption (through being part of the triad, working in the field, etc.) and to maybe open up a discussion.  This has not yet occurred.

While we often hear about adoption through the voices of the adoptive parents (such as myself), it is important and vital that we also listen to the voices of the adoptees, especially those that are now adults that can help us, as adoptive parents, understand the perspective of our children.  By reading material (books, blogs, etc.), viewing videos/movies/documentaries, listening to interviews, finding adult adoptees in the local community and developing relationships with them, we #flipthescript to privilege the adoptee rather than the adoptive parent.  This is not to say that the perspective of the adoptive parent is not important or valuable; it is.  But it is definitely a different view than the adopted child will have and in order to be a better parent, we must understand the child’s perspective.  We must also understand that the child needs to develop their own story and voice.  There are definitely things that we don’t share with most people as they are not privileged to know those details unless Eli decides to share those when he has the ability to choose to do so or not.  What is most important for us is that we parent Eli well, both from a simple parenting standpoint, but also the added complexities of a transracial adoption.