Sorry Beatles, Love ISN'T All You Need

2/29/16

I grew up with a father who should have been the fifth Beatle.  My childhood was polka dotted with references to yellow submarines and holding your hand.  One-on-one dates with him were "magical mystery tours".  You can trust that I grew up knowing that all you need is love.

All You Need Is Love.
It sure sounds nice, doesn't it?

It's a whimsical phrase to sing along with or to stitch on a throw pillow, but it sure falls flat when the rubber meets the road in real human relationships.

Maybe there are people whose relationships never hit a breaking point.  They probably endure suffering in other ways.  But for a lot of us- whether married or parenting or caring for aging parents- our closest relationships may at times be the heaviest cross we bear.  Many of us have seasons when we hear our alarm clocks in the morning and think, "can I run away from this?" before our feet have even hit the floor.  Our relationships are too painful, too permanent, too impossible.  It's not for lack of love, it's everything that love demands that we never have enough of.

Love isn't enough.  It's not all you need.

You might need counseling, new systems, a stronger support network, hard conversations, prayer, more self awareness, communication coaching, a faith community, or intentional techniques to apply.   You may need to accept the hard truth that your life was never meant to be about you.  You need love, absolutely.  But it's far from all you need.


We run into this myth not infrequently in the adoption culture; this idea that "all he needs is a loving home" or "all she needs is someone to love her".  In NO WAY am I saying that human beings don't need love, or that an orphaned child is more starved for parental love than I could ever fathom.  Love really does do miracles in everyone's life, and maybe especially in the life of a parentless child.

But what we've found to be true, both in adoption and in lives spent listening carefully to the downtrodden, is this:  the deeper the wounds, the greater the need for interventions outside our simplistic view of "love".

{Maybe the problem isn't with John Lennon's lyrics, but with our collective misunderstanding of love.}


Our family's been there, most of you already know that.  We've been there in seasons of marriage, we've been there in seasons of parenting, and heck some days we're right back there again, confused by the despair we thought we'd clawed our way out of.  But there's one thing I know now that I didn't know then, and I sure hope you know it too:

We can do really hard things.  But not alone.

You're parenting a child with needs that surpass your abilities, you're willing yourself to salvage an unfaithful marriage, you're caring for an aging parent who has become someone entirely different than who you've always known.  The possible circumstances are endless, but whatever they are, someone else has experienced them or is experiencing them too.  Find them.  Someone out there has the expertise, the resources, and the professional training to lighten this load for you.  Find them.

Your relationships are worth fighting for, and there are people out there who want to fight with you for them.  Don't give up.

Love isn't all you need.  But all love needs is you.



{Many, many thanks to Tribe is Alive for gifting my boys with these soft organic cotton t-shirts that mean so much to our family.  If you would like to nab one of your own, 50% of the proceeds go to Ronald McDonald House Charities.  Tribe is Alive is a family company (Bri & Tyler, and their toddler Ollie) out of Portland, Oregon that creates funky screen printed tees for babies, kids, and adults.  Check out their website and show them some love! And if you follow me on Instagram, be sure to enter my giveaway over there to win a tee of your choice!}

*I was not financially compensated for this post, but was the grateful recipient of two free t-shirts.  All opinions are my own.



President Obama Signed a Ban on Imports of Slavery-Produced Goods. But Why Was It Necessary?

2/25/16


Yesterday, President Barak Obama signed into law a bill that prohibits American importation of goods produced by child or slave labor.  That's awesome, right?  What negative angle could possibly exist in this situation?

Well, it is awesome.  Undoubtedly.  And it's yet another example of why I have sincere respect for our President and his desire to help people, despite the fact that we hold differing views on issues like abortion.  I believe you can find and respect the Good and True in a person with whom you disagree.  (Hold me to that if Trump gets elected.)

The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act that the President signed yesterday is a legal way to enforce a ban that was actually instituted in 1930, known as The Tariff Act of 1930.  So just to clarify, our nation should have had our hands clean of slavery-produced goods for the past 86 years.  But that hasn't been the case.  Why?

Because of "consumptive demand".

If consumer demand for a product exceeded the supply produced slavery-free, then the product could be imported regardless of the working conditions involved.

Translation: if Americans want it badly enough, we should be able to get it.  No matter who it crushes.

I live in Iowa and can barely even imagine the ocean right now, through this haze of February snow. But I have created a world in which I can walk right in to Red Lobster, have a plate of fried shrimp shoved under my nose in 15 minutes, and never once wonder where it came from.  Meanwhile, there is a mother in Thailand crying herself to sleep every night because her oldest boy was taken to work on a shrimp boat three years ago and she hasn't seen him since.

Too bad, mama.  'Muricans gotta eat.

Of course, most of us don't know these things and we would be horrified if we really did.  The problem isn't that we are evil people living evil lifestyles: we're not.  But we are accustomed to getting whatever we want, when we want it.  We are comfortable within a culture that never asks how things are made or where they come from.

This bill that was passed might end up inconveniencing us.  It might spoil some great dinner plans or result in a wedding band that is less than exactly what you wanted.  But in doing so, it might also mean unjust systems are forced to be reconfigured on Thailand's shores or Ghana's mines.  I'm hoping we'd all say it's worth it.

The unsettling thing about all of this is that this loophole has existed since the oldest of us toddled the earth, and we knew nothing about it.  It's not that we were eager to reinforce the institution of slavery, it's that we didn't stop consuming long enough to ask questions.  And this new ban only pertains to slavery and child labor; it does nothing yet to address unsafe working conditions or unfair wages.  Think of how many human beings will remain unaffected, but at severe risk.

The idea of knowing exactly where all of our purchases are made, and under what conditions they are produced, is a revolutionary one to most of us.  But more and more, with headlines like these, we are seeing that it's a necessary revolution.

Our family has wrestled with this issue for years and in some ways we are doing much better than when we started out on the journey, but in some ways we are doing worse.  We all have some hard work to do.  But the more we discuss it and hold each other accountable to the resolves that we make, the closer we will creep to a more just world.

//

If you're interested in taking tangible steps towards a more ethical presence in the world, here are some small suggestions:

  • plant a garden and eat everything that you grow
  • buy food at local co-ops, farmers markets, or directly from farms 
  • if that's not possible (and it's not financially for us) buy food that is in season in your area. Many grocery stores are starting to advertise which of their products are local.  Keep an eye out.
  • purchase clothing and home goods from companies that are explicit in their ethical standards
  • buy clothing secondhand
  • buy anything secondhand!
  • buy furniture and big-ticket items that have been made in America
  • do with less
  • do with less
  • do with less
  • curb your cravings. Remind yourself that you are not entitled to everything you decide you want.
  • watch The True Cost documentary
  • pay attention to your own consumerism, recognizing the emotions that are often behind it
You might also be interested in these related blog posts I've written in the past:

Why I Won't Use Stitch Fix (some commenters had helpful caveats in that one!)

Your turn.  What are some other tangible things you have done or have thought about?  Let's inspire one another!

*If you share this directly from here to Facebook, a graphic unrelated to the post will unfortunately be displayed.  If you actually share the post straight from the blog's FB page this shouldn't happen.  I apologize for my lack of tech skills, thank you so much for sharing at all(!), and will heartily accept if you want to build me a new website! ;)


Should White Families Celebrate Black History Month?

2/21/16

February is Black History Month, and clearly I'm rollin' in on the late train here but I wanted to say a little something about it.  And let's just get this out of the way right up front: yes, I am that white woman who has adopted a black child from Africa and now won't shut up about racial injustices.  I'm such a cliche.

Now that we've said hi to the elephant in the room, how 'bout that question up top?

Yes.

The answer is yes, white families should celebrate Black History Month.  Will doing so look the same for Caucasians as it might for African Americans?  Maybe not.  It doesn't have to look any particular way at all; what's important is that there actually is an intentional time that we as a society review the ugly, painful parts of our history and also (don't leave this part out!) seek to understand both how it continues to affect our present, and how to move forward together towards restoration.

(I'm focusing on families with children, mostly because that's my own season of life right now.  But I hope you can adapt this for whatever your season is too!)


Why take the time and effort to incorporate this into your February home life?
  • You can ensure that you know exactly what your child is learning on the subject.  Simply assuming that their school is covering it is really not enough: on one hand, it may not actually even be covered at all and on the other, it may not be done well or thoroughly.  And if you are white and you homeschool, it could be easy to accidentally miss completely without an extra dose of intentionality.  One gaping hole in educational curriculum is that it tends to abruptly end in the 1960s, as though slavery and segregation had no long term effects on our country.  As parents, it's our job to fill in the blanks.
  • Children are more likely to believe that a topic is important if they see that it's important to you.  Many parents try to raise "colorblind" kids by simply avoiding the topic of race altogether.  This has proven ineffective.  Children are human beings: they see differences just like the rest of us, and they need guidance in how to process those differences.  If equality is a value to you, your child needs to hear you talk about it just like they need to hear you talk about faith and morality.
  • It opens a discussion on race and invites the child to share any concerns or confusion they may have.  Your kids are intuitive; they can tell when a subject is taboo and they'll often keep their questions to themselves to avoid a social faux pas.  They need a safe space to ask their questions without fear of judgment or ridicule.
  • It forces you to do the uncomfortable work of asking your own questions about the state of racial equality today.  In the past year, this issue has been increasingly brought to the forefront of our national attention.  However it is far too easy to quickly slap down an opinion sticker and give it no further thought.  It is healthy and necessary for all of us to continuously ask questions about how our collective past is affecting our present, and what we as individuals can do about it.
RESOURCES

This post helps answer when to start talking about troubling history with your kids.  (We have not yet gone past general equality and prejudice with our 6 year old.)

That same author has a recommended book list, mostly picture books with some more advanced ones as well.


And Pinterest is full of other book lists as well.  This one from my Children's Books board is a compilation of books specifically about slavery.

If you don't know where to start, look no further than the good ol' internet and your local library.  And remember, it's not about doing it perfectly or having the answer to every question.  It's about creating a safe space for open dialogue to hopefully produce a greater sense of justice and empathy in our children.

Before You Judge That Mom at Wal-Mart

2/16/16

I've been wide open in this space about the realities of early trauma on a child's brain, and all the terrible and beautiful ways that it can affect family life.  When we first began walking that path we knew no one in real life who was on it too.  I relied on blogs to be my teachers and my friends and until we made those invaluable real-life connections, those bloggers were my lifeline.  So it feels only right to now use my words to help other parents feel less alone, and also to help other friends, acquaintances, neighbors, church members, etc. understand better how to love and support families who struggle this way.

That being said, I am a mama before all else and my primary job is to protect my children.  I try to form words that both help foster understanding and also maintain Alyosha's privacy.  I don't always hit the sweet spot, but that's what I shoot for.  Recently I went back through the archives and deleted a few posts that I wrote last year, things I needed to say to make sense of my own pain but probably best not left up for the big wide internet to read for all time.  It's a constant discernment process.

Last week I wrote a post here that was caught by a special needs parenting page on Facebook and that circulated quickly.  I think I may have literally felt my heart getting warmer as I saw my feeble words connect to parents in situations just like mine, but at the same time nothing like mine.  This wasn't an adoption group, it was a smorgasbord of parents of every diagnosis (or lack thereof) under the sun.  And I was overcome with gratitude and pride to be counted among them.

Mary Oliver said, "There are things we can't reach.  But we can reach out to them, and all day long."

I hope the following words can help you reach out to the suffering of your neighbors.


*

I am a mother of a child with special needs that are not obvious to you.

She's not in a wheel chair, nor does her body show any physical signs that you would recognize.

She can walk and talk, laugh and cry.  She looks very "normal" to you.

But my child's needs dominate our life.  We have invested all of our money into treatments, therapies, and diagnoses.  We have taken on learning special needs parenting as an additional full time job, because traditional parenting practices don't work in our world.  We have forfeited the family vacations, social engagements, and community involvement that we always dreamed of because they simply have disastrous effects on our precarious rhythm.

Our life is beautiful, but it's incredibly hard.  I don't have much time for self care when I'm just trying to keep the world on it's axis: I look older than I am and chubbier than I should.  My love for her is what spurs me on, and I keep my sanity by taking it one day at a time.

Today we need groceries.

We enter the doors of Wal Mart and slowly the store closes in on her.  The lights are too bright, the people are too loud, she can't fix her eyes on anything because everywhere she turns there is something new to account for.  She panics, throws herself on the floor, and wails.

You walk down the aisle looking for Raisin Bran.  You take one look at her, flailing on the ground, and at me, crouching beside her.  You roll your eyes and mutter under your breath, loud enough to ensure being heard by the woman in the red coat who just wants her oatmeal.  You walk away, feeling smug that your own children knew they could never pull that crap.

You walk away in a huff and I don't love my daughter any less.  I haven't lost an ounce of compassion for her.  But you have chipped away one more piece of my hope for connection with the outside world.  You have built up one more wall between my already isolated heart and it's longing for community.  You've ripped a hole in the fabric of our humanity, so I hope that's some damn good Raisin Bran.

*

I am a mother of a child with special needs that are not obvious to you, and I caused them.

For much of my life I was sexually abused by a relative.  When I finally ended up pregnant, everyone called me a slut.  I was still just a kid: I was so scared, so ashamed.  I had no one to trust and no one to talk to.  I drank away the pain as often as I could for 9 months.

My son is four years old now and I'm still young, but I've grown up fast.  I didn't know how to be a mom those first few years, and I made a lot of mistakes that I regret.  But now I'm taking parenting classes and getting counseling for myself.  I have a full time job; I work hard.  I love my son like a mama lion.  I love my son the way that you love yours.

But my baby, he had a rough start.  He had the deck stacked against him and I would give my very life to go back and change that, but I can't.  We move forward, together.  I will give him a better life and I will give him a chance but I can never give him a brain that was perfectly formed in utero.

Today he has a cough so I will give him medicine.

We walk into Wal Mart at the end of a long day of work and day care.  We are congested, he hasn't been sleeping well, and we are hungry for dinner.  I know this errand is asking a lot of him, but what choice do I have?  I watch the father picking up diapers on his way home from work.  What I wouldn't give to have someone share the load.  I am exhausted.

He's been whining since I picked him up, and I understand, but my head is throbbing.  I practice implementing responses and techniques I learned at parenting class on Monday.  I am strengthened by my own work, so foreign from the way I was raised.

Finally I find the right medicine and as I reach for it he reaches out too, taking a generous swipe at the entire display and sending dozens of bottles flying.  I can't take it anymore: I yell.  I don't yell much these days, I'm proud to say, but this time I do and you are there to witness it.  Why couldn't you have been there when I was taking deep breaths and mustering up stuff like, "I know that you feel sick. Mommy is getting medicine to help you feel better soon!"  That was only 3 minutes ago.

But you saw what you saw.  You shake your head and turn on your heel, declaring to everyone that "some people shouldn't be allowed to have kids".

Or maybe you didn't say it out loud.  Sometimes I hear it so clearly it's hard to tell.

*

"If we have no peace, it is only because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."
- Blessed Mother Theresa


Blink (for the parents of the different kind of kid)

2/8/16

They say childhood is gone in the blink of a parent's eye, but shell-shocked soldiers don't often blink.  Time doesn't budge, the earth may well not be rotating, and they stare saucer-eyed into a future that feels too much to bear.  It's a terrifying thing, to be one of the wounded ones when you always fancied yourself among the most capable.

I became a mother half a blink before my son's first birthday, and for each one that came after that I could have sworn there might have been ten.  Friends around me affectionately bemoaned the growing up of their own little ones and I sat, hollow, silently praying that mine could get to it a little bit faster.

No one loved their child more than I.  No one.

Kathryn Kruger Photography

But also, none of those friends had wrapped their arms around hypervigilance because letting go could spell disaster at any given moment.  None of those moms calculated safe distances in public places because there was no telling when the unbearable anxiety would push their toddler to attack a random passerby.  None of my friends cried at the kitchen table because every single meal resulted in dinnerware being thrown all over the room by a child who was "old enough" to eat.  None of my camrades lost feeling in their hand for weeks after a particularly terrified bite.

I never blinked, and time never passed.

The hardest part about parenting a child who (due to nurture or to nature) is wired differently isn't the therapeutic techniques or the adjustments you have to make to accommodate their needs: it's the ominous pool of time before you accept that you have to.  It's those gut-wrenching, life-altering dark waters of looking for solutions and asking for diagnoses and desperately piecing together clues from the past.  It's unintentionally willing your child to be something other than just who he is.

It's demanding answers that you'll likely never have.

It's seeing other families doing exactly the things you always imagined of your own, except your family can't do them.  It's comparing your child to someone else's and then drowning in self-loathing for doing so.  It's the Ugly that you've never seen fly off your hands or out of your mouth, and the realization that you aren't who you thought you were.

Kathryn Kruger Photography

That time is the hardest.  But it will pass and when it does, you will stop caring so much about having words for it or answers to it.  You will realize that this is just your life together, and for God's sakes you don't want to miss it.  You will figure out how to make it work; you will even figure out how to laugh about it.  You will look at yourself and you'll notice how much less your judge others.  You'll notice that you give people the benefit of the doubt.  You'll notice how much more you listen and how much less you talk.  And, miracle of miracles, you will be thankful.

You will blink.

And that child?  He'll grow.  It won't happen overnight and hard days will still come, but the scales will start tipping in favor of the good ones.  He'll find a rhythm and you will too and when you start to sync up together it will be the sweetest thing you've ever known, because you both did the hardest work of your life to hear that music play.  Your child will grow and will exhibit self control and compassion and hard work and bravery and you will think Good God, I might not be screwing this whole thing up after all.  And it will be true.


//


Alyosha turned 6 on Saturday and every time I think of it too much I cry.  For the first time, I can finally say, "where does the time go?!"  He is one of the most spectacular people I have ever known, and it is my great honor to be his mother.  Happy Birthday to my smart, kind, generous, brave little boy!


//




Of Being With

2/1/16

We were running errands in my dad’s jeep.  They were walking on the side of the road: a mother and three small children, all younger than my eleven years.  We stopped, because my parents never could do otherwise at a time like that.  The adults exchanged words.  My father’s face was so soft.  We squeezed together in that red jeep, squeezed like family, like friends- like strangers.  The children were quiet but I was happy; I was so happy.  How I loved to play shepherdess, even then.

We drove to a shelter and the children pulled out the few toys they had held on to through God knows what.  I sat down on the rug and we played Barbies while the grownups talked and eventually left us there, safe, to go to the store.  Nothing happened, really.  I didn’t ask what had taken place that day, I didn’t tell them that Jesus loved them: we just played Barbies together.  And maybe it was the first time in my life I tasted the healing wonder of just sitting beside one another, but it wouldn’t be the last.

When my parents said it was time to go, one of the girls put a tiny pair of doll shoes in my hand.  Keep them, she said.  A gift for you.  I didn’t know anything much at the time of dignity or of humility, but somehow I knew enough.  I said thank you.  I knew that all of her earthly belongings fit in a duffel bag today, but I let her put them in my hand.

I kept those miniature pink high heels for years.  Years.  Why?  The encounter, though certainly impactful, didn’t exactly merit that degree of commemoration, as though the trinkets were some sort of family heirloom.

Maybe I kept them because I sensed they were forming me into who I really was.  Through cheerleading and boyfriends and high school drama, the shoes sat in a silver heart case with cheap velvet lining on my bedroom desk.  Maybe as I searched and searched and tried and tried and medicated and cut, I kept them there to say, “Somewhere, I do know who I am.  Somewhere, I do know what I believe.”

I’ve always been a black and white thinker and incongruities frustrate me.  But in my teen years, incongruities were all I had and they drove me right to the psychiatrist’s office in my midriff baring t-shirt and baggy jeans.  I knew it was all a lie.

At some point, I just threw the Barbie shoes away.  Maybe the beauty I thought I saw in them didn’t really exist, or at least not for me.  For a split second I had thought I fit there, cross-legged on a slightly stained rug, knowing I couldn't solve your problems but that maybe I could cushion your fall. I thought I had tasted the possibility of Incarnation, of Communion.

But time told me no, I wasn’t that anymore. Maybe I never was.  
I chose the lie.

Deeper and deeper into despair I fell, until I was the needy one.  What grace there is in finally being completely broken.  Only then can we really know the truth: that you sprawled out beside me on this ugly rug is the only thing keeping me going today.  And if there's anything that matters in religion or morality, it's that.  The lie is always there for the taking, but so is the Truth.

(source)

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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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