Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Anything You Can Do

There was a fairly obnoxious commercial a number of years back in which Michael Jordan and Mia Hamm battled it out on the basketball court, the soccer field and a host of other sporting situations all with the refrain "anything you can do I can do better" sung poorly over and over in the background.  While I get that the commercial was a sporting goods commercial aimed at firing up the competitive in all of us, I feel like I am living a little piece of that song in my home.

For the last few days, Josh has been really excited about taking Zeke for a walk in the afternoons, a chore which he has, up until now, usually avoided at all costs, even choosing to wash windows or clean his room rather than go. So, I've been delighted at the idea of taking a walk in the ridiculous 60 degree weather we're having this January. And I remain delighted for roughly 2 minutes into our walk.

You see my son, now a strapping and independently minded 5 year old, has indicted in no uncertain terms that he is old enough and strong enough to hold the leash while we walk. This is, of course, debatable. Most of the time it's fine, but if Zeke sees any other living thing coming towards us, he bolts for it which, of course, causes the 5 year old drop the leash and me to perform a series of poorly executed antics that include making sure the child is safely off the road and then scrabbling across the concrete attempting to grab the runaway leash before I either (a) narrowly miss being hit by a car (b) watch Zeke pick a fight with a 140 pound Great Dane or (c) (and this is the most likely) fall down.

The thing is, I'm glad to watch him learn independence. I'm happy that he's gaining a sense of responsibility and that his reasoning for wanting to walk the dog is because it "makes Zeke happy."  I in no way want to return to the first three years of his life during which he was permanently attached to my leg.  Wanting to walk the dog is a good thing here.

BUT IT IS DRIVING ME CRAZY. Seriously, it takes all of my energy not to snatch the leash away at any given moment. Because even when he's holding on tight and the leash isn't zig-zagging across the road, he's holding it too slackly so the dog gets tangled up in it or he's pulling it too tightly and the dog is literally yanked off his feet while attempting to relieve himself. Bottom line: he's doing it wrong. GASP.  Welcome folks, to one of my biggest pet peeves in the world. 

I am deeply thankful, almost on a daily basis, that I finished college before the horrific advent of group learning.  Yes, I had one or two group projects in college but those were in my anthropology classes. Of course there were group projects.  Beyond that, I avoided the leadership school like the plague because my friends who were leadership majors were constantly working with people who didn't pull their weight or didn't show up for meetings or who jeopardized their grades. Group projects: where lazy people win and uptight people slowly and methodically lose their minds.  I've often wondered if my preschool report card had a big old "F" next to "works well with others."  

Don't get me wrong. At present, I do enjoy working with my colleagues but probably this is because they are all hardworking, passionate about what they do and they generally do things "right."  But just like I cannot stand it when someone goes "in" the "out" door at Target, I cannot watch someone doing something wrong that I know I could do better. 

Which leads us back to parenting.  In five years, the sanctifying power of being responsible for the sustenance, survival and upbringing of a tiny human has caused me to deal with my selfishness, my fear, my unhealthy desire for too much personal space, my lack of trust and my need for control.  So, let's add this to the list: the need to be right.  Just as I freaked out in tap dance class when I was 6 years old and someone performed the wrong step or just as I identified with Claire this season on Modern Family when she literally spent all afternoon tracking down a security tape to prove she was right in an argument with her husband, I can barely handle my poor child innocently walking the dog.  Because I can do it better and no amount of pleading on my part will cause that child to do it right. For now.

Tomorrow, I am sure that right around 4:30, when rest time and snack time are over and we are planning our pre-dinner activities, walking the dog will be first on the list. And he will run gleefully to the little bowl on the microwave to get the leash and ask me to get the "poo-poo bag" which I will happily do.  We will put on our shoes and leash up the dog and start what will, quite possibly, be a painful walk for me.  But maybe, just maybe, Zeke's legs won't get tangled so often this time. And maybe the day after that, he won't be choked by my son dragging him down the street.  Probably, in a few months time, he won't even drop the leash anymore and my skinned knees will have time to heal.

The thing is, if I grab that leash from him he won't ever learn to do those things and I won't change.  He'll be raised by a mom who is constantly taking things out of his hands unless he can perfectly do them.  And he'll be the kind of kid who gets to college and realizes he never learned to write a check (if those still exist in 2025) or do his laundry or cook for himself.   Shame on me if that happens.

So, like I said, at 4:30 tomorrow, we'll be walking Zeke.  I'll have a smile on my face and, possibly, some knee pads on. And my child will have a huge grin on his face because he's doing something grown up and his mom is cheering him on.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

No Dumb Questions?

On the Transracial Adoption Questionnaire, a part of our adoption application, we had to answer a question about how I would handle a situation if someone approached me after seeing my transracially adopted child and asked if I had had an affair to bring the child about. I had to read the question through several times before coming to the stunned conclusion that if this is important enough to have on an application, it must happen a lot. Who asks that question of a stranger at a park? I can't honestly remember what my response to this question was, other than that I'd likely have to walk away.  What kind of helpful response could I actually utter?

A friend from my life group, a white woman with one Chinese child and one Taiwanese child, is constantly asked if her children are brother and sister.  "Ah yes", she says with a warning tone in her voice "they are in the same family, aren't they?" Most people ignore the tone and reply with that oh-so-hurtful of adoption questions "Yes, but are they REALLY brother and sister? You know what I mean."  Yes, she does.  She knew what you meant the first time.  And her children really are brother and sister just as much as any other siblings would be. Genetics aren't the basis of reality here.

Our culture suffers from an idolatry of bloodlines; a practical worship of the biologically constructed family.  Sadly, I think this is true even in the Christian church, a place where our own understanding of our adoption into God's family should be at the forefront of informing how we see human families. Several books I've read have set aside chapters to deal with this issue; that people who are outside of the world of adoption can often look into it and see families that have chosen to be together but who must not be as "real" as their own family, a family created the "old-fashioned way." Is it really possible to love a child who is not "yours," they wonder.  I've even gotten the question, "Aren't you afraid you'll love Josh more than an adopted child since he's "really" yours and your adopted child won't be?"  This way of thinking betrays a culture that is obsessed with the biological definition of family.

Probably once a week someone makes the casual comment to me "You know you'll get pregnant the second your adoption goes through."  With increasing frustration, I stare in disbelief at these people or greet the statement with silence on the phone.  First of all, I don't know that I'll ever get pregnant and if I did know that, what would it change?  Are they saying that I'll only really be happy about this adoption if I get to have another biological child in the end? Or that somehow getting pregnant would be the better way to continue our family and we're settling for something that is not as good, something second best? We've all heard the "success" stories of people who've adopted and then gotten pregnant - believe me, people love to tell me these, but statistics say that only 5% of people who struggle with the type of infertility we have end up getting pregnant after adoption. Only 5%.   I've personally heard many more stories of people who have adopted and pregnancy has not ultimately been a part of their story- the thing is, it doesn't have to be a part of their story to be a success story for their family. This idolatry of bloodlines leads us to think that there is inherently something "better" about the biological parent-child relationship than the adoptive one. Adoption is always plan B or a desperate grab to be parents when your bodies haven't cooperated. Why else would you choose it? It's less than. 

 This way of thinking is a flat out lie. And it causes people to ask dumb questions.

Some people will make the argument that the biological family is more natural, that adoption is not the best thing for a kid. On one level, I agree.  Of course the best thing would be for all children to be born into a family and be able to stay there, to not be separated from their biological family and have to deal with the grief of loss their whole lives.  In a perfect world, a world unbroken by sin and suffering, every child would have the joy and security of being born into a perfectly intact and healthy family to two parents who are completely prepared and equipped to care for them.  However, it goes without saying that we do not live in a perfect world.  Adoption is a humbling and redemptive way to understand God's love for us and that he can build beautiful families, real families, out of the ashes of loss and hopelessness. 

I'm sure you can hear some frustration in this post. I am frustrated for my friends and the questions they've had fired at them, questions about the realness of their family relationships, about the race of their children, the depth of their love for each other.  I'm frustrated that people constantly tell me that once I relax and adopt I'll have more babies. I might, I might not; it's irrelevant to our adoption story.  One thing that would be easy to do is to come up with clever and witty and angry retorts to these questions that would put people in their place- but I'm certain that's not what I'm meant to do.  Is there a way to phrase responses that will help people see the hurtfulness behind their questions, help them face the often flawed assumptions they have about adoption without attacking them?  Is there a way to ask a question in response that will target that inherent idolatry of biology with which many of us struggle? To challenge the false notions of race and adoption and family in our society? Or would a challenging response merely be a selfish retaliation?

I'm asking God these questions right now, before we start getting the crazy, racially loaded, infidelity-assuming questions we're going to field. Before I'm asked by a random stranger if I slept with a black man who was not my husband to produce the child at my side. Before I'm asked how much my baby cost. (Seriously, it happens.)  I'm asking God these questions now because I do not trust in my own ability to answer in helpful, non-reactive ways that might encourage the asker to treat the next adoptive family on the playground with a little more sensitivity. Only God can help me respond to hurtfulness, ignorance and just plain dumb questions with grace, truth and love.  In my own power, this would just get nasty.

God will see our family in all its realness- I'm relying on Him to help others see it, too.  And to help me forgive them when they don't.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Power (and Agony) of Pride

Just last week I read an article about a newborn baby who was found in a cardboard box in a suburban neighborhood outside Philadelphia. Just hours old and with its cord still attached, it was left somewhere that, presumably, the mother hoped it would be found. The journalist writing the story speculated on why this parent wouldn't have taken advantage of the safe haven laws and dropped the child at a fire or police station or the hospital.  Of course, I began to speculate too. And to be frustrated. And, ultimately, to turn to pride.  I, of course, would never do such a thing.  I, of course, cannot even fathom that someone else could do such a thing.  I, who have dealt with three years of infertility, deserve the pregnancy that was clearly so unwanted by this other mother. I, I, I.

These stories usually serve to throw me into a bit of a moil. To ask questions about justice and fair play and God's love. A wise man recently asked me how I was feeling about God's love for me in this struggle and I answered that I wasn't struggling with his love as much as his justice. He pointed out that they were pretty much indistinguishable. Ouch.  So, as my soul has been chewing on that, I stumbled across this story and immediately felt all my justice nerve endings prick up. I began to believe that deserve I something. That I, more than someone else, am good or right or better.  And that I don't have the capacity for neglect or irrationality that that birth parent who left his or her child in a box has.  I began to believe again that I can somehow earn something in this life. Somehow make myself into a person who deserves something good.  And that, my friends, is a dangerous thing.

Many of us have heard something along the lines of the following phrases: "You guys really deserve this. You're good people." Or maybe the similar but opposite sounding, "You don't deserve what you're going through. It's not fair."  And although I would say on the surface that I don't agree with the type of statement that connects my situation to how well I've behaved, my heart often acts like I do and even probably yearns for it to be true because it feels controllable. Wouldn't it be easier if I could just earn my way to having the life I want?  Act a specific way, believe a specific thing and be rewarded?  

The reason this way of thinking ends up being so dangerous is because I begin, again, to rely on myself. I begin to think that I am good, that my default person is unselfish and deserving of all the good in life that I long for.  I begin to pridefully think of myself as better.  And I think of the world as this divided place, where the good people deserve good things and the bad people deserve nothing.  On my worst days of believing this, I even believe the bad people deserve bad things.  And then, when I've been "good" and things don't turn out the way I hoped, I'm thrown once again into disappointment and blame.  Aren't I good enough? Haven't I done enough? What did I do wrong? I, I, I yet again. 

Some people have suggested that I just avoid these kinds of news stories altogether but like most people I tend to be drawn to stories of tragedy in the media and, sadly, they just aren't hard to find.  So, rather than choosing avoidance in this particular case, I think the better strategy would be to let God make this a point of change for my soul.  To help me read articles like that and rather than reacting in judgment and pride, to ask Him to help me see that mother through his eyes. To see the desperation that led her to make that choice, to wonder about whether she would even have known about the safe haven laws and to see the care in her decision to wrap the child in a blanket and leave him somewhere he'd be found quickly so he could survive like he did.  And to see myself in God's eyes, as in just as much need as anyone else of a God who is loving, forgiving and gracious when I don't deserve it and who patiently sticks with me even when I act like I do deserve what I've been given by Him.

Hopefully that view would help me to more faithfully boast in Him and less often resort to the agonizing "I" that so often plagues me.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lots of Love

You know you're getting old when you find yourself in a discussion over Christmas with your family members and find yourself describing to them the "younger" generation. And don't include yourself in that description.  Just a few days ago, my mother, aunt, husband and I found ourselves marveling over the propensity of those younger than we are to abbreviate everything. Totes. Obvi. Skedge. Presh. All the IM words like SMH, BTW, etc.  The list goes on.  I don't presume to be an expert on all of these and often find myself shaking my head in total bewilderment when I read facebook statuses of those younger than I, completely unsure of what they've even said.

But as we were discussing all this, the following interaction occurred, which made me realize I'm at least doing a little better than the baby boomers:

Aunt: "I thought LOL meant "loads of laundry" for the longest time.  Why were all these people always telling me when they were doing their laundry?"
Mom: "I thought it meant lots of love?" (clear confusion in voice)
Reed: Until when?
Mom: Well, until just now. 

Yes, friends. My mother has been on facebook for several years now and only this past week learned that LOL means laugh out loud. She really and truly thought that her friends were just offering her words of love whenever she wrote something crazy. I love my mom.  Needless to say there was lots of laughing out loud in response to this revelation.  Of course, once you have a conversation like this, you reassign meaning to words. So, the rest of the week we would constantly just grab her arm and sweetly say, "Lots of love, Mom, Lots of love" when she did something funny.

The thing is, though, and I know I'll sound even older writing this next part, I really miss when people spoke in full sentences with actual words. I do. I don't want to have a conversation with somebody that sounds like a text message. I want to be able to understand what people write on their walls. Maybe this means it's time to get out of the college world and hang only with people my own age, but that doesn't really appeal. I love these young people(I may have just sprouted a gray hair saying that last sentence). But I can see why my parents were so frustrated even with my slang when I was a teenager.  It just sounds awful. It really does.  Most likely the number of times my friends and I used the word "like" before we said anything else caused my mom to secretly lock herself in closets and scream her head off to relieve the tension. ("Like, what's wrong mom?")

I realize this is a losing battle in our culture.  I will still stubbornly spell out most of my words when I text. Let's be honest, it's not like shortening my words would somehow magically make me fast at texting anyway- I'm pretty much a lost cause in that area.  I will still read books that use SAT words and most likely cringe when I hear or read the word "presh." Mostly, I will willingly relinquish any membership I have to the "youth" of today and resolutely plant myself alongside my fellow generation x'ers.  Once you're closer to 40 than you are to 20, it's just time.