Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I Love My Math Man

I love that at the end of a 12 hour day of math, my husband comes home energized.

I love that I can walk around the house tidying up and find little pieces of paper all over the place with totally incomprehensible writing on them, like the little discovery on the kitchen table this evening.


I love that my husband unflinchingly admitted, well before I was a sure thing, that he watched Good Will Hunting on the eve before math exams in college to psych himself up.  

I love that it is not a completely uncommon thing for me to be woken up in the middle of the night by passionate mutterings of math equations from the other side of the bed.

I love that when we see dorky math jokes on tshirts or bumper stickers he doesn't even pretend to think they are dumb.

I love that he can call me from a three day math conference and tell me that he's genuinely having a really good time and that the talks are incredibly interesting.

I love that his math brain has translated into a phenomenal ability to play the piano and that I get to be serenaded by this talent on an almost daily basis.

I love that he's ok with the fact that my eyes glaze over when he's trying to explain some particularly exciting point from his class that day but that he continues to explain anyway.

Most of all I love that he loves what he's doing. And that he was clearly meant to do it. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Letter

For weeks now, one page of our adoption photo book has remained empty. It's this huge blank space, devoid of any writing, any pictures...and every time I pull up the book online to write in it, I freeze up. The letter to the birth parents. A succinct note that in just a few words enables me to communicate who I am, why I love my family and why I respect the decision this person is making in choosing adoption.  This has got to be the hardest thing I've ever written.

How do you write a letter to someone who is trying to decide whether or not you are the right mother for her child? Where do you even start? "Dear person who is going through one of the most painful struggles a person could ever go through...let me introduce myself?"  My consolation is that my husband's page at this point is also blank. Neither one of us has felt a particularly spectacular moment of inspiration that has led to an actual letter.

A few friends have reminded me that in the grand scheme of things this letter very likely won't mean much for our adoption. The story our book tells, the feeling a parent gets when they read it or even just a random picture of our family at the beach that a birth parent really likes could be the simple deciding factor, one way or the other.  Bottom line, they have reminded me, is that there is Someone at work over all this who will help the right parents make the decision that is best for their child and invite us to be his or her forever family.  But, being someone who loves beautiful words, who has been battling perfectionism all my life and struggles mightily and often with trust, this letter feels like it needs to be perfect. That it needs to communicate our admiration for their choice, our own humility in this process, our love for these birth parents and their unborn child while all the while feeling sincere and not cliched. Or we'll never get chosen. 

Reality is here.  This book needs to be finished in a little more than a week. We'll be sitting down with our case worker who needs to "approve" it and then we need to let that book go from computer to ink and paper (in the multiple copies needed for the agency office).   After that, we won't be able to change anything, unless, of course, we want to redo it and single-handedly keep Shutterfly in business this holiday season.  Given all our other holiday and adoption expenditures, I'm thinking we've got one shot at this. Breathe in, Carolyn.

Earlier this week I sat in our nursery with the early morning light streaming through the window.  I sipped my coffee and enjoyed the peacefulness of a room that is just waiting for a little person. A room that just this summer was transformed from an often-unused guest room to a bright and cheerful nursery. A room that now holds the promise of noise and stinkiness and the crash of toys and squeals of delight that a nursery is made for. I spent some time praying for our little one who will live here and for the parents who will make the ultimate, grief-filled sacrifice in giving her to us. Moments like that help make the words of this letter feel less important. There's really nothing I can say that can touch that deepest part of who they are that will always ache at some level over this choice.

I'm thinking I probably need way more time in that quiet, sweet nursery than I do thinking ponderously in front of my computer.  That sweet room reminds me that the words to this letter, whether important or unimportant, will come at the right moment and, hopefully, speak life and encouragement to these people who will be irrevocably tied to our family, not because I am good at stringing coherent sentences together or because I know the right thing to say but because of the grace and love of God, who has seen us through three years of waiting and will see us through this letter, too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Colors of Us

Last week my son and I started reading a book called The Colors of Us.  This book was recommended at a fantastic talk I attended recently that discussed racial perceptions in children.   We were given a nice list of books to get some good conversations going around the house. And off to the library we went.

The thing is, though, my kid seems to not notice physical differences between people besides, unfortunately, weight. (Believe me, this has definitely been commented on loudly in public settings. "Mom, is that lady having a baby?!', child says as he points to a woman who is likely no less than 70 years old with a bit of a belly. "No, kiddo, I don't think so.")  No, my child is a relatively non-visual kid.  So some people might find it strange that I'd want to point out differences to a kid who seems happily "colorblind."  I'm of the opinion that if I don't start the conversation, someone else will and that conversation might not be so positive.  I want to be proactive. And I also think that the idea of colorblindness is nonsense, to be quite honest.

The woman who gave the talk I attended quoted a statistic that 75% of black children have talked openly about race in the home by the time they enter kindergarten and only 25% of white children have. I'm not sure where she got her stats but, honestly, that stat on white kids struck me as high. Maybe I'm pessimistic about white people and racial conversations, but I'm glad the stats show that someone, somewhere is having them and I want to be sure that Josh is comfortable talking about this and is taught healthy attitudes and language from a young age.

Do I have all the answers? No. But I want him to know from a young age that this is a good thing to talk about, that there is deep beauty in the differences he sees.  Or doesn't see yet, but will.  Do I know what I'm doing? Not necessarily. Do I feel completely confident that everything I say is being said correctly? No. However, I'm hoping to continue my own education in this area even as I educate my son rather than letting fears or misgivings keep me silent. It's very likely that his little brother or sister will not share his ethnicity.  I'm excited about that but I also know that that means another type of education that I need to be ready to provide, for both my children.  Transracial adoption is not meant to be trendy. It's hard stuff. It will mean many more racial conversations in our family than in the average white family.  I look at that as a positive thing.  So many of us who are white have the option to not think or talk about race - we don't have to because it feels like it doesn't affect us. But people of color do not have that option.  For many, their race is a very real part of who they are and it affects what their day looks like.  If we bring a child into this house who is not white, I want to be ready to help that child understand that there are still systems and structures and people out there who will judge him based on the color of his skin, that this country is still amazingly far from racially reconciled.  And I don't want my children to know only the hard stuff, but also that white isn't "normal" and that the "colors of us" are all beautiful and unique. 

So we will continue read this book and many more like it. It has already led to some fantastic conversations about his own race and background and it has changed how he is coloring his coloring books.  To be honest, it's pretty boring to always use that peachy color when you're coloring in people, anyway. Branching out in our crayola box has added a lot of fun to art time around here.

I look forward to more ways to figure out our world together.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hindi and Portuguese and Mandarin, Please?

I've never been a huge fan of kids music. Sure, I enjoy the average sing-a-long with a group of little kids as well as a good campfire song, but when it comes to listening to music in the car? Nope. There were certainly things I was willing to give up when I became a parent but singing at the top of my lungs and car dancing were not on that list.  Happily, it seems my child may have inherited this deep joy of personal abandon in the car.  It seems that as long as I play a song that has electric guitar and a sweet drum beat, we are all set. He even requests songs with electric guitar solos which means we get to listen to plenty of 80's music while he air guitars it in the back seat. Yes.

This week, we have moved into a new genre of music.  Those who know me probably know that I love to listen to music written in different languages. I have tried in vain for several years to convince my child that listening to music he cannot understand is, in fact, very interesting, but until now he didn't buy it.  Then Chris Tomlin put out a version of a song we've known for years that has different verses being sung in Hindi, Indonesian, Spanish, Portuguese, Zulu, Afrikaans, Mandarin, Russian and English.  Now, I instantly loved this song and put it on when we got in the car this week. It starts in English, so Josh didn't automatically ask me to change it to an English song. And then he kept listening.

If you haven't heard it, here it is.
How Great is Our God World Edition

Just a few days later, the only song we have listened to in the car is this song. Over and over. And our interchanges have sounded like this.

Josh: "Mom, what language is that?"
Me: "Um, I think Russian?"
Josh: "From Russia?"
Me: "Yup."
Josh: "Mom, what language is that?"
Me: "Um, I think Mandarin."
Josh: "Where do they speak that?"
Me: "China."
Josh: "Ok, so now I want to learn Hindi and Portuguese and Mandarin, please. I like that one, too."

Seriously, I am wondering if this kid is going to be some kind of polyglot, he's so interested.  The obsession with the song tops off a month during which we have been disallowed to read books with our own boring mid-atlantic accents but have been pleaded with at rest and bedtime to "please read that in a French accent" or "how about a Brooklyn accent today, mom?"  My child has never been particularly visual, but what he lacks in that, he more than makes up for in his auditory interests. We cannot now go into any store without him asking me several times where different people are from when he hears them speak.  Sometimes rather loudly. I am thankful he is still so darn cute or people might misconstrue what he's asking.

As for me, I love that he's so interested.  We came home the other day and I convinced him to listen to a song in Cherokee after which we ended up having a really lengthy discussion about the migrations of people over thousands of years, who Native Americans are and a somewhat awkward conversation about what happened to them when people who look like our family came to America.  No one wants to teach a 5 year old the word "genocide", so we'll save that particular lesson for a little bit later. 

I don't often give out parental advice in this blog, but listening to these songs has opened up a world of discussions for us. Discussions on race, ethnicity, language, culture, geography and who God is in the midst of all of those things. It's been pretty sweet.  I have delighted in seeing him truly start to learn to appreciate the beauty of different languages and am excited to see the way this continues to play out. He cannot wait to begin to learn to speak some of them. 

For his sake, I hope he has more natural talent in learning languages than either of his parents.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Different Kind of Normal

There seem to be a few different camps from which people come in the adoption world. Those who have wanted to do this for forever and are completely convinced of what they are doing. Those who always vaguely thought it could be a cool thing but figured they'd see about it after having a few biological kids. Those who never gave it a thought, never assumed they'd have to and are now faced with the choice of either pursuing adoption or not becoming parents.  There might be others, but those are the three with which I've had contact. 

In the first two camps, it seems like there's often this romantic view of adoption. This beautiful picture of how God has loved us and adopted us and wouldn't it be awesome for us to bring a child into our family this way, a child who otherwise would likely have an awful life?  There's sometimes not really any understanding of the amount of grief an adopted child will have to work through, perhaps a callous view of birth parents and a subconscious assigning to them the label of "irresponsible", and an oversimplified understanding of what it will take to parent a child whose life story is, as some adoption books call it, a "different kind of normal."  

If you've followed my blog, you know we probably fall into that second camp. The couple who was never totally convinced we planned to do this but had it vaguely on the radar, who loved the theological picture of adoption and thought that this could be a really great way to grow our family...someday.  When faced with years of secondary infertility, however, adoption was thrust into a very stark light. It became something that wasn't just a romantic possibility, but a very present reality if we wanted to see our family grow.  Suddenly, it became very important to really know what this entailed - to break out of some of the romance and really see what it will take to be good adoptive parents. One the one hand, to be reminded that there is most certainly something incredible and beautiful and deeply theological about the process. On the other hand, to be faced with statistics and trainings and books and articles all geared towards preparing us for that different kind of normal. How to talk to your adoptive child about his or her life story and birth parents, how to answer blatantly ignorant questions on the playground or at the mall about the demographics of your family, what type of openness to choose, whether to interim foster the child you adopt or go with direct placement and, of course, the particular challenges and opportunities with transracial adoption.

It seems like everyone has an opinion on these issues. Many people have audibly breathed a sigh of relief that we are going with an infant adoption because "the child will bond more easily with you."  Maybe so, maybe not. Everyone wants to ask the question about transracial adoption but many people don't have the words to put the question to us.  A lot of people have questions about the extra challenges of the teen years in raising a child who is not your own race in a country that is highly racialized.  How do you help them form identity? What will you do if they resent you from taking them from their "culture"? These are questions we have heard and questions we have had to wrestle with as well.  The thing I've learned is that many of the stereotypes I had about adoptive children and parents are false and much of my own ignorance seems to be pretty widespread. People have lots of concerns, but a lot of them are often based on hearsay or the assorted story they've heard in the news.  But how many of us, unless we're actively pursuing this, have really read the literature?  I certainly had not.  Especially not on the topic of transracial adoption.

The topic of transracial adoption is really one for a series of posts. It is loaded. There are advocates, there are proponents. There are transracially adopted children who would testify that this was a great experience for them and others who would atttribute a lot of difficulties in their own life to having been brought up in a "white" home but not being white themselves.  The fact is, there are differences in raising a child of another ethnicity than ours- not differences in how we will love them or what we will teach them about life, but things we will need to be aware of about who they are, what society says about them because of their ethnicity and what challenges will face them as they grow that our white son may never face. In fact, in going the route of adopting a child of color, we will have to go through some very specific trainings that adoptive parents adopting a white child will not have to do.  Clearly there are big differences, even in a world that often likes to talk about the beauty of the melting pot or "all God's children" and then say that love will cover over anything we could possibly do wrong.

Like I said, this topic alone could and likely will be, a series of posts in the near future.

For now let me say this:  parenthood is full of surprises and unknowns.  You don't know who you'll get from your own uterus and you don't know who you'll get from another woman's.  This process is teaching me to hold some expectations very loosely and to cling to certain truths all the more tightly. 

Our family will be a different kind of normal- we have no idea of knowing what that will look like despite all our trainings and adoption plans and intentions.  We just know it will be. And that that different kind of normal will be beautiful, hilarious, painful, nerve-wracking and unexpected, just like making a family has been up to this point.