Dear Black Mother

7/9/16

Dear black mother,

When I first stepped foot onto the high wire of motherhood, sweeping my arms around a chubby baby with almond eyes and chocolate skin, I knew I would need you.  I knew you would have to teach me the best way to moisturize his skin and style his hair.  I knew you would instruct me in forming his racial identity.  I knew I would need to hear you tell me about what it feels like to be black in America.

But this?  I didn't know this.  Most of us white folks didn't, not before the age of social media and video cameras on smartphones.

Now, nearly 6 years into motherhood, I know it all too well.  But once I didn't.

I didn't know that from the moment the doctor said "it's a boy!" your euphoric cries of joy were laced ever so faintly with fear of the future.

I didn't know that when your preschooler threw his flailing body on the tile of the grocery store, tantruming in the way that every child has since the beginning of time, passerbys would be more likely to see him as a troublemaker and you as an unfit parent.

I didn't know that when his limbs grew long and his back grew high, the way my son's are doing today, that you began to think about having The Talk.  I didn't know your cognitive dissonance: how you wanted to preserve his innocence, wanted to support the many fair and level-headed police in your community, but knowing the consequences of not preparing him for the worst could be fatal.

I didn't know that was around the time he was forbidden to play with toy guns outside.

I didn't know that you had to sit him down and look at his innocent cheeks, still with a hint of baby fat on them, and tell him exactly what to do anytime he spoke with a police officer.  Hands out, stand still, don't move a single muscle, say yes sir.  I didn't know that you had to tell him he wouldn't get the benefit of the doubt.

I didn't know that when he was 13 you wouldn't let him leave the house with his hood pulled up, even if it was because he was shy, even if it made him feel safer.

I didn't know that when he got his license he would be more likely to be pulled over and more than twice as likely to have his car searched as his white peers.

I didn't know that when he experimented with marijuana the way so many teens do, he was up to 30% more likely to be arrested for possession than his peers of other ethnicities.

I didn't know that when he was shot people would use that arrest record to prove that he deserved to die.

Six years ago I didn't know that this was your reality, the background hum against which you lived out your motherhood, so steady and so constant that most days you didn't think twice about it.  It was just always there. Just as it had been for your mother. And your grandmother? Well she couldn't even use the same bathroom as mine.  It was not so long ago and roots, they go deep but we want to lop the top off the weeds and declare the soil new.

I didn't know, but now I do.

And now a few more people will know too.

//

*if you are interested in understanding this topic, I highly recommend you read this: Black Moms Tell White Moms About the Race Talk

*if you need proof that racial bias still exists in our society, I would urge you to read the empirical evidence compiled at the end of this post (the links are sadly defunct but you can copy and paste them into your search bar and it does the trick)


Alyosha's Adoption Story

7/5/16

After I hacked out Taavi's birth story and linked to Moses' birth story that I wrote in December, I realized that this blog would simply not be complete without some homage to Alyosha's adoption story too. So buckle up my peeps because here it is, the tale of my first baby coming into my little world.


//


The story begins long before our son is born.  In 2006, after a few short months of marriage, Eric was devouring The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dosteovsky. The main character, as you may know, is named Alyosha.  Pure of heart, a friend of children, sinners, and atheists, a "defender of mankind", Alyosha is the Christ figure of the novel.  His is a beautiful character, one that you can't help but fall in love with.  One night Eric has the most intense dream of his life and wakes up shaking and drenched in sweat.  In the dream he hears the voice of God speaking to him: "you are my little Alyosha".

The next day, Eric tells me about the dream.  He pauses, glancing at me sideways, shyly.  "If we have a son one day, what would you think of naming him Alyosha?  I think I'd like to.  If God as a Father speaks that over me, I would like to speak it over my son."

I move my pancake around the plate with my fork.  "We'll see."

//

On our 3 year anniversary, coming home to the island of Java after a celebratory vacation in Bali, we decide to adopt.  We put off having children throughout our missionary training school, wanting to wait until we had put down roots in Indonesia to bring a baby into the family.  And finally, after 4 months in country, we have begun the conversation.

I've always wanted to adopt and Eric is open to it too, so we spend a month praying about whether to have our first child biologically or through adoption, the idea of children languishing without a loving family sitting heavy on our hearts.  With no lightning from heaven to direct us, we eventually settle on adoption because, well, because we want to.  After looking at dozens of countries and their requirements (adoption from the U.S. foster system is not a possibility when you live on the other side of the world), we finally commit to Uganda after finding it was one of the few countries whose stipulations we actually met.  (Age, length of marriage, no need for documented infertility or residence in country, etc.)


Eric installing something necessary for gas safety before the American social worker came from Germany to do our home study.  (Ex pat adoption is no walk in the park.) That's our Indonesian house helper looking on and yes, that's our entire kitchen (the sink's behind her).

Ceremoniously installing a smoke detector- a requirement for a U.S. home study and an anomaly in Indonesian homes.  Beside me is our drinking water that we replaced every few days. Behind me is our washing machine (we line dried everything) and the door to the bathroom (i.e. squatty potty and bucket bath area).

A copy of our finalized home study, though I can't remember why our names are covered in this photo.

In less than a year we have our home study and immigration paperwork complete.  We mail it in to our adoption agency while on a short visit home to Dallas, so excited for the next step: being matched with a child, a darling little girl aged 0-2 whom we would name Evangeline.

Instead, I sit in the kitchen of my in-laws house and read a very different email to Eric out loud.  The agency says they have received our paperwork but there are currently no girls in the orphanage who have not already been matched with a family.  Our options are to wait for a girl, for them to look at orphanages outside of the one they work closely with, or to consider a boy.  We discuss it and I write back immediately, telling our case worker that we'll need a day or two to think about it.

It was supposed to be a girl.  All year we've been talking about a girl.  People have even begun giving us pink gifts! But I don't want to wait. Is it wrong to ask them to look at other orphanages? They said they could. But is it wrong when there's a boy right there, waiting?

In the meantime we take the train with Eric's family to a used bookstore.

We walk through the double doors and I thank God one more time for air conditioning.  I make a beeline for the parenting section, eager to feast on the stacks and stacks of resources usually denied to me in my native tongue.  To my delight, there is one tiny shelf specifically devoted to adoption.  Hungrily, I scan the spines until I see one that makes my heartbeat stop.



With eyes the size of saucers, I carry the book like our priest carries the Bible during Mass: gingerly, reverently.  I find my husband, the love of my life, and wordlessly, I hold the precious manuscript up before his face.

His eyes grow just like mine have.  He laughs.  I laugh.  We hug each other tight.

It's a boy!

//

Four months later our plane touches down on Ugandan soil.  We've come from Indonesia and we roll suitcases with most of our worldly possessions inside.  We won't go back after this.  We, a new family of three, will move back to the States to begin life together.  Eric is going back to finish his undergraduate degree and then get a Master's.  A new chapter of life is unfolding for all of us and we feel the weight of it hanging heavy.

Goodbye to our best friends and beloved teammates. Goodbye to the dream we thought we had.  Hello to our son. Hello to a future that is still a blur.

The car is stuffy but the views are splendid.  Our driver points out sights now and then and bears with our ignorant questions.  I comment on how it reminds me of Kenya and he is clearly miffed.  They are very different, he maintains.  Eric squeezes my hand and we share nervous smiles.  45 minutes until we meet our baby.  30 minutes.  15 minutes.  We're here.


As if in a dream, we enter the modest house.  Sounds of life pulse everywhere: toddlers eating porridge, nannies conversing in beautiful tongue, an infant protesting a diaper change.  They begin to lead us into the baby room, the room that holds our future, and I pull back Eric's t-shirt to stop him.  Give someone your phone to record it, I whisper-beg. He complies, she presses record, and we pass the threshold of the door.  We pass into new life and a Something that we could never have envisioned.  I become Mother and he becomes Father and this orphan baby sucking formula in a bouncer, he becomes Son.

We bend down low before him.  Hello Alyosha, I whisper.  I'm Mama.


June (in 7 Quick Takes)

7/1/16

Linking up with Kelly again!  Lookin' a little something like this:


Refill, please.

1.  Life is more or less becoming normal again and Taavi is 6 weeks old today! I can't decide if it feels like he was born yesterday or like he's been with us forever.  Super creative with the momisms, though, that's for sure.

Currently he's sleeping slightly longer stretches at night (often 5 hours at the beginning and downhill from there), starting to give us sweet little smiles, gaining weight and losing hair.  Nicknames so far are Tav, Tavers, Tavster, and The Tavster when we're really serious.


2. I mentioned that Eric was traveling to New York in my last QTs.  Well he's had a busy June because just two weeks later he was at a liturgy symposium at Notre Dame.  Since I'm still a bit of a motherwuss about solo parenting quite yet, my in-laws drove up from Texas to help out while he was gone.  Their help was amazing and I was so thankful.


3. The day after he returned home, I left for a quick day and a half at the Finding Your Fiat conference in Illinois.  I drove up and hotel-ed with my friend Kayla and got to feel all footloose and fancy-free with only The Tavster in tow. (see? so serious.)

The organizers and speakers were phenomenal and it really was a beautiful experience. I waked away feeling newly challenged in my spiritual life and yet refreshed at the same time. Perfect balance.  Huge bonus: I got to finally meet some of my favsie bloggers and fellow BIS writers, Nell and Colleen and Laura and Bonnie. And hello, Jenna, who brain-mothered Blessed is She. And so many Instagram buddies too!

Did she snap a single, lone pic?

... moving on...

4. Might a low-quality framer of me and my brood work instead? Perfect.



I'm a babywearer fo lyfe.

(I like to thug it up sometimes because nothing says "hard ass" like having an infant tied to your person.)

That sling was made by Kaitlyn at Lily&Mama, and though I understand she's taking a break from sewing right now she is a fantastic writer and I always appreciate her blog words. (I'm looking at you, "2am prayer for my babies".)

5. A friend and I have started swapping kids one day a week, her 3 for my big 2.  She works as a PT on her day and I... well I sit on the couch on mine.

(d, d, d, de-fense! - I also keep Taavi alive and attempt to be a freelance writer, so not a total couch potato. But maybe a half.)


Anyway turns out having 6 kids (two of which are babies) is not as impossible as I once thought.  In fact it's kinda downright enjoyable.  Fancy that- children multiplying joy rather than depriving us of it.  We have so much to learn about freedom, don't we?

6. Hey that got a little serious there.  This is just a Quick Takes post after all.  Back to the frivolous! How about a product rec?

Sweet, sweet Nell sent this baby powder to celebrate Taavi and I'm obsessed. You guys, it smells like an amazing herbal tea. No lie. Nell's beloved sis owns Brooklyn Herborium where this and a zillion other incredible products are made.  Peruse the website and try not to swoon!

7. I hope you have a happy 4th weekend with lots of chillaxin! We'll be grilling with some friends- unless she has her baby before then, because babies > hot dogs.


How to Travel With Kids Without Losing Your Mind (a guest post by Anna Hargett)

6/22/16

Shannon here! Today I'm excited to introduce you guys to my friend Anna Hargett.  Anna's blog, This Perfect Mess, is one that I go to when I'm looking for marriage and family inspiration that's actually enjoyable to read.  I love her writing style and her sense of humor is my love language.  Today's post is true Anna form- both useful and hilarious.  I'll be carting it around in the back of my mind come July when we attempt our first big family vacation. With a newborn.  Because we so sane, y'all.  Give it up for Anna and be ready to smile.


Family trips sound good on paper and look precious in the photos, but somewhere in the reality of the actual vacation it becomes clear that even though you would not hesitate to throw your body in front of a moving train for these people, if you have to be in a room with them for one more minute you just might die.

Obviously there are sweet moments too: the look on your child's face the first time he sees the ocean or the can't-catch-your-breath-from-laughing card game around Grandma's dining table. We travel with our kids to make memories, to escape our routine and to connect with them through new experiences. 

It won't all be perfect, but there are some things we can do to ensure we come home with the same number of brain cells we left with.


1. Lower Your Expectations
Your family trip to Disney World is not going to look like the family on the commercial taking a trip to Disney World. Commercial Family is a little too happy, way too clean and none of their children are shoplifting or licking all the exhibits, so obviously that is not real life. It doesn't mean that Disney is not a magical place, it's just not a magical place 100% of the time. A good tactic is to approach a family trip the way you would a new Star Wars movie: if you go in expecting it to be terrible, chances are you will leave pleasantly surprised.

2. Communicate
Remember that first trip to the beach you took with your 10 month-old and you were so excited to sleep in each morning while your husband got up with the baby? And then, of course, you'd take a long family stroll down to the pier and eat at that quaint little cafe? Except you forgot to mention any of your plans to your husband and unfortunately he is not a mind reader, so he was quite baffled as to why you threw a flip-flop at his face when he decided to spend 3 hours by himself at the gym. Ahhh, fun times.

Everyone has their own idea of what family vacation looks like and if these ideas are not discussed, a full-blown flip-flop war might erupt. Really think through the details of each day and communicate your expectations with each other before the trip. Some questions to consider:

Who is going to wake up with the baby? Who will make the kids breakfast? What are we doing for mealtimes? What is our budget for eating out? What will naptimes look like? What special activities are you hoping to fit in? Are you expecting any alone time? What will the bedtime routine look like?

If you are traveling with/visiting extended family members, make sure to include them in the discussion as well. Sometimes people unaccustomed to dealing with the whims of toddlers on a regular basis may forget the importance of putting breakables up high or that an 8:00pm dinner reservation will result in heavy sobs (and the 2-year-old won't be happy either).

3. Be Prepared, but Flexible

There are a million tips and tricks to make traveling with kids less stressful; I won't go into detail here because that is what Pinterest is for. It's important to be prepared, but don't stress yourself out. You might spend several hours and many dollars putting together individualized travel packs to entertain your kiddos and then find they prefer to pass the time playing I Spy. You may pack 18 different outfits for your 4-year-old and then have him insist on wearing his Batman costume every single day as well as on the flight. When I had my first child I made darn sure I had a fully stocked toddler travel bag or three; now, after three children, I generally just throw handfuls of Cheerios towards the backseat and hope for the best. Turns out, we manage to get there either way.

4. Find the Blessing in the UnexpectedThere has never been a family trip in the history of family trips that has gone completely according to plan. Things will go awry because being on vacation does not make you immune to life. There will be sunburns and traffic jams and the awful realization that you forgot to pack that one swimsuit that makes you look super skinny.

However, just as in life, you can choose your attitude about the inconveniences. You can scream "I told you so!" at your blistered kid who ignored your sunscreen instructions, or you can show grace and spend some time inside together.

You can beat your head on the steering wheel, muttering curse words under your breath or you can say a prayer with your kids for those involved in the accident causing the backup.

You can mourn the loss of your skinny suit or...take a deep breath, this one's a toughie...get in the pool anyway!! Play with your kids! They'll remember you, not your cellulite.

There will be unexpected bumps in the road, but in the grand scheme of things are they really a big deal? Our purpose as parents is not to take our kids on fabulous trips and craft perfect memories. Our purpose as parents, I think, is to demonstrate to our children how to love God and love others. Our attitude about the unexpected will reflect what's in our hearts. It's easy to be happy on good days, it's a choice we have to make when our day takes a turn for the worse.


Let's take our kids somewhere this summer: to the mountains, to Grandma's house, to the fro-yo shop down the street.

There will be good moments and there will be bad moments. The good moments will become great memories and the bad moments, well, they'll make great stories. Eventually. ;)

//

Follow Anna at her blog, This Perfect Mess, and on Instagram (she rocks a mean Insta game).

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