Friday, February 28, 2014

The Whole Story In One Place

On January 9, 2014 we brought a beautiful baby boy into our family through domestic adoption. For the sake of having it all in one place, here are the posts that tell the story of his homecoming. These were written in real time and posted after he came home with us.

Introduction - Telling the Story
Installment One - The Call
Two - On The Day We Met
Three -  Praying for Her
Four - Missing the Milestones, But...
Five - Two Days
Six - Deep Breaths
Seven - Final Preparations
Eight - Today is the Day
Nine - That Unforgettable Moment

Thanks for all the celebrating and encouragement along the way. We are so grateful for this story and what it has taught us about God, ourselves and what family really is.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Responding to the Colorful Truth

About a week ago I posted about my intention and, really, my responsibility to teach my children about ethnicity and racism. To raise them differently than I grew up, in the colorblind, mixing bowl glory of the 80's. A number of friends responded with a deep desire to learn and to start building up their own resources.  I'm sure there were people who disagreed with me, who say that talking about race is not helping anything, although none stepped forward. Most striking to me, though, was an email I received from my mom, a faithful reader of my blog and my longtime hero.

Here is what she wrote (with full permission to disclose):

"This was very enlightening.  I am sorry for raising you colorblind.  I guess it was my reaction to being raised with some prejudice.  And, to be honest, some of my choices for you in your youth were to prevent you from dealing with prejudice.  And even this year struggling a little with you possibly adopting a black child, only because I worried about what prejudice you would have to deal with.  Well, this blog has washed that fear for me.  Will there be tough times for all of you, yes.  I have even had one negative reaction but it is far outweighed by all the the wonderful comments I have received.  Who can't love that beautiful face!  Every time I look at my pictures of Nate, I fall more and more in love.  April can't come too soon for me!  I am very proud of you and I know that God will be with you every step of this new journey.  Love, Mom

Not all parents would respond like this. Not all people would skip past the immediate reaction, our tendency to be defensive or to deny and instead ask God what she could learn from it. Was I accusing her of a negligent upbringing? Of course not. She is an amazing mom and I would not be the person I am today if she hadn't raised me the way she did. I daresay most of my white friends were raised similarly in regards to race, unless they were actually raised with overtly negative racial stereotypes. My hometown was not exactly a bastion of progressive thought and conversation.

I'm so grateful for her gracious response. 

You see, my parents were kids when MLK marched on Washington. They remember Kennedy and MLK being shot and the tumult of the Civil Rights Movement. They were around during the cultural upheaval of the 60's and 70's and sported their fair share of terrifying fashions and mutton chops. But their parents were children of immigrants. Of Irishmen and Italians and Czechs and Jews who had to fight to survive in a new country, who competed for jobs with other minorities of the time. Who had to come up from nothing to raise their children. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and fought in WWII and Korea. Their world was really different, their world was very overtly racist. 

My parents were the first in their families to go to college. And when it came time to raise a family in the late 70's, they made the decision to do what made the most sense- talk about how there is no difference between white, black, Asian and Latino. That we were all created equal. And they were right, of course. The only language my mother was given for racial conversation was negative- and she chose not to live that or to pass that on. I am so grateful.

My mother may not fear the prejudice our family might encounter. And I don't necessarily fear the words that might come our way. I honestly don't think we'll experience a lot of overt negativity. America likes to pride itself on being post-racial, after all. Progressive. Healed.  

But this is what I know.

It doesn't matter what is actually said or not said out loud to us. I know talking about race with my children will not be enough. I know educating my kids will not protect them. I know one of my sons may be in danger simply because of the color of his skin. The news right now terrifies me. Like, keeps me up at night kind of terrifies me. The Michael Dunn case contrasted against the Michael Giles case and Florida's unequally applied Stand Your Ground laws. Or this crazy list of cases that makes it clear that something as simple as wearing a hoodie or driving in a car with a white girl could get you in trouble. I could post a million links to examples of why racism and unequal treatment still exist in this country. And I know there are people who will say again and again that the above cases have nothing to do with race, but I disagree and stand with those who KNOW that race is exactly what they are about. As a white woman, I've never experienced this type of marginalization and the times I've dealt with overt sexism, I haven't ever been in fear that there is some rampant and societal disregard for the worth of my life. And yes, I realize that even a hundred years ago or living in a different country might make that feeling more of a reality as a woman but in 21st century America, I do not feel endangered. Most of the time I actually feel empowered.

So what do I do with this fear? I join the ranks of parents who know their kids will not get equal treatment under the law. I join the moms who have to worry about someone feeling threatened by my child's skin or cultural background and lashing out and being protected by the law in so doing. My kids will not grow up completely trusting the law like I did. I had no reason not to but they will. I listen to my friends and read and educate myself about the side of America I didn't know existed until college. I join the other white parents of black children who will always feel a sense of helplessness and anger, knowing we can't understand what our children are feeling, wanting to protect them but seeing firsthand the ways our culture is still horrifically messed up. And also knowing that there are people out there who think we shouldn't be their parents in the first place and will look at us as part of the problem.  

But you know what else I do? I run to Jesus. I do. Because otherwise, the fear and the anger, while justified, will eat me up. The stories that I've heard firsthand from friends, the things I have read on the news, these things will threaten to overwhelm me. I need Him to remind me that there is always hope. And in that hope, I pray for change. I pray that our country would wake up. That the deniers would quiet down long enough to actually listen to the real stories of injustice. That the anger and the hurt and the fear would be transformed into change. Real change. Not just change on paper, but change in hearts and attitudes. Change in assumptions. Change in legal outcomes. Change in the schools and the churches and the institutions that perpetuate the ugly. 

And as I wait in hope, I stand in voice with brothers and sisters of all backgrounds and say "When is enough enough?" 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Colorful Truth

There was a sweet moment today. My seven year old white son wanted to read a book to my 9 week old black son. And he wanted to read "The Colors of Us," a book that helped me first introduce him to the concept of a multiethnic world. It had new meaning for us this morning- he picked out which skin tone was like his and which one was like his brother's. And it was beautiful moment.

Just a few weeks ago we had a conversation about Martin Luther King, Jr. We didn't gloss over what happened to him. We talked about what he stood for and why he matters today and why he was killed. Our son didn't understand why people would hate and murder someone simply for his color and the message he brought. And so the conversation we started several years ago with him continues. Racism exists. He is going to see it. And he is going to see it even more up close because he is going to see his brother experience it. And that will make him more than see it- he will experience it himself.

You see, we started his racial education long before his black brother came home. We started it as soon as he was old enough to understand that there are differences between people, long before we knew if our adoption would bring home a baby of color. Most of us white people don't bother educating our young children about race. We take the "colorblind" road, thinking that if we don't talk about it our kids won't think there is anything different about their friends who look different from them. But the thing is, if we don't actively educate, we can be darned sure someone else is going to actively educate them or, worse, our passivity will be an education in itself. Our white kids will be raised thinking racial conversations are wrong, are racist in themselves. They will fear the deeper conversations that need to happen for true reconciliation. Worse, they might discount that racism exists at all, ignore the stories their friends of color may risk sharing with them. Make no mistake, there are differences between us- the colors of our skin are different, they are beautiful, they are made with purpose and they are in God's image. That is beautiful. Sadly but realistically, because we live in a very broken society, we are treated differently, unjustly, because of them. It's not right, it's not good and I wish it weren't true but to ignore that truth is to invite ignorance.

So our home library will continue to grow. We will read The Colors of Us and Martin Luther King, Jr's biography for kids. We will watch movies whose heroes are not white, movies that mainstream white America have ignored as irrelevent. We will read books with Asian protagonists. We will talk about black history and Asian-American history and Native American and Latino history during more than just the months that our country sets aside for their celebration and we will sing worship songs to God in as many languages and styles as we can master, remembering daily the picture of a diverse heaven in all its perfection. We will put art up around our home that reflects that creational diversity and attend festivals and performances and churches different from my own background. We will remember the sins of our fathers (and no, my family wasn't here when slavery existed but I have benefited from its legacy nonetheless) and will work actively to raise two sons who know they are loved by a God who thinks they are beautiful and of deep worth. God willing, we will raise sons who will have a voice for justice and equality, who will stand up for each other and for the deeper messages of racial reconciliation.

And one more thing. I don't claim to be an expert in any of this. I am learning right alongside my children. I was raised colorblind and it wasn't until my young 20's that I began to think about any of this. I will stumble along the way, I will need gracious and patient help from friends who understand more than I do about all this.

But there is one thing I do know.

If we never say anything, we will only teach them silence. And silence has proven again and again that it can be just as damaging as overt hate.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Lessons From The First Month

During our long wait for this adoption to become reality, there was always one large fear I had- getting through the infant months again. The first time around, I was a sleep-deprived, raving lunatic. I really was. You can ask my students. I give them full permission to totally trash my ability to be creative, sympathetic or even mildly intelligent when on campus. I was a hot mess.

Consequently, as we've prepared for everything, I worried about doing this part again. The sleepless nights, the crying, the being touched by someone ALL. DAY. LONG. I am 7 years older this time around and I wondered if I could hack it. Could I even haul myself out of my beloved (and, frankly, warm) bed 3 times in one night? Would my kidneys start to shut down if I didn't take in the appropriate caffeine:water ratio each day? Would I be as emotionally insane as I was the first time? Would I feel like a failure when I couldn't give my older son what he needed because of time and personal limitations during this phase? Oh, the list goes on. My perfectionist side collides with my ability to retain guilt for long periods of time and what comes out is pure ugly. Worry, apprehension, fear, self-doubt. All the things that really aren't particularly helpful in life, let alone when a new baby is a part of that life.

And so it's been one month. One month since he came home. A month filled with fantastically terrifying diapers(this kid can clear a room), little sleep and the remembrance that no, you never go outside without spit-up or feces somewhere on your body. It's actually physically impossible to smell nice during this phase.

But here's the thing. At some point during the 30 days of our final wait, I told myself to calm down. To trust. To remember what the Lord has done in me since Josh was a baby. To take things in a laid back fashion (and yes, I can hear any and all friends who have ever known me well falling out of their chairs laughing at the thought of that). I decided to go into it with a strong attempt to lean into God and leave the worry, apprehension, fear and self-doubt in the past. To treat this as a new thing. To not expect this child and the experience raising him to be the same. After all, I AM 7 years older and while my body may object to the routine, I've grown up a lot in that time. I hope.

So what have I learned in this one month?

(1) There is a time and place for being caffeine free. Here and now is not it.

(2) Not all babies scream all day long. Also, not all babies need to be held all day long. Also, not all babies take 2 hours to fall back to sleep every time they eat at night. Who knew?

(3) I can actually spend midnight feedings in a state of expectation, rather than despair. I can pray for other friends who are probably awake with their own babies all around the country (and that number is not small) rather than mentally computing how many hours total I am actually getting that night. It turns out if you don't know the actual number, you are more alert anyway.

(4) My 7-year-old is exactly the kind of big brother I thought he'd be, thoughtful, helpful and patient, and that fact has filled me with more joy than I even anticipated. His first questions when he walks in from school every day? "Where is Nate and can I hold him?" We should've hired a first grader the first time around to help out around here.

(5) The amount of grey hair I am growing is directly correlated with the number of hours I have slept in any given night. I swear to you, I can SEE IT growing. But it's ok. Grey-haired mamas are cool, too.

(6) If I remind myself every morning that if I only accomplish feeding, burping and changing that little guy - if the laundry stays dirty and the dishes undone, if I can't even manage a shower- then I still will have done enough and am able to stay surprisingly sane.

(7) The only foolproof way to lull this baby to sleep is to sing him Lauryn Hill's version of "His Eye is on the Sparrow" from Sister Act II. I am not kidding. Halfway through the first line, he visibly relaxes.

(8) Middle of the night spousal communications have reached insanity levels around here. Apparently we are both delusional and are taking turns shouting, jumping and careening into unseen objects in the dark.

(9) When you only own one pair of flannel sheets and live in an arctic tundra, there is no good time to wash them with a baby in the house. You need full adult nap preparedness at all times and you may as well burn your cotton sheets for all the warmth they provide.

(10) I will fail. My husband will fail. My son will fail. WE WILL FAIL. And Nate will still love us. There is no such thing as a perfect parent or family. God in us is good enough.

(11) It turns out that I actually DID grow up some over the last 7 years. I can see the comedy in this phase, the grace I need each day. I can lean on God for help as I attempt it a lot better than I did the first time. Phew.

(12) What everyone said is true and I'm glad I didn't doubt it. This was worth the wait. And this is beautiful- adopting a baby, bringing this little guy into our life, feels just as full, just as difficult, just as overwhelmingly heart-achy as did having a biological baby 7 years ago. There may be a difference in their needs and their personalities and a difference in how I handle the chaos, but he is as fully mine as is my firstborn and has been from day one.

That, my friends, is a crazy, mind-boggling thing, a thing that makes me even more amazed at what God has done in adopting us as His very own, and yet it seems the most natural miracle in the world.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

These Ordinary Days

They say those first days home with a new baby are a blur. Certainly, I have trouble remembering Josh's early days. All I know is I had never been that tired and that achy in my life. Labor recovery and a tailbone injury added to sleep deprivation and a fussy baby is not a good recipe for the making of good long-term memories.

This time around, though, things are a little different. This little guy has already done the super newborn sleep crazy thing. He has already done the eating every two hours and the unable-to-be-put-down-ever phase. Before he came home, he was sleeping 6 hours a night in a row. We had really hoped that would stick but apparently uprooting a baby who has bonded with one family causes some interruptions in that type of progress. We're ok with that- if we need to hold him a little more, reassure a little more often, it's worth it. He will eventually be as comfortable here as he ever was there. More so.

But this whole newborn in the house without labor recovery thing? Hello, perk, nice to meet you! Having not been sleep deprived for months leading up to this, having not done the most aerobic workout a person can do leading up to this, not getting used to nursing and all the pain and soreness that comes with that- all these things are pretty golden, I'm not gonna lie.

But the reality of this child actually being home?

It's really quite surreal. When you wish for something long enough, envision hard enough, wait painfully enough, you can never quite imagine what it will actually feel like for that deferred dream to come true. To walk around a corner and see a little baby in your husband's arms and think, oh right, he's here. Forever. We're not babysitting again, we're not practicing on someone, we're not visiting. He is home.

And with the home comes all the normal. The sleep deprivation, the learning of routines, the sore arms from holding a 16 pound baby all the time. The excitement of packages and flowers and meals arriving by delivery and tons of texts and emails and phone calls and rejoicing. The constant laundry and smelly diapers and ordinary days of crying and sleeping and tummy time and spit up. The older brother getting used to sharing parent time with the younger one.

Because that's the thing- the extraordinary moment of the bringing home is quickly moving into ordinary days of new life. And it's not a bad ordinary- it's an ordinary we've wanted for a long time. And if I'm a little loopier, a little more forgetful, if I need grace to remember to reorient my idea of productivity, if I struggle to form normal sentences after talking to only a newborn all day and accidentally ask my 7-year-old if I changed his diaper yet, this is the new normal. The new ordinary here.

And you know what? It's hard and tiring and frustrating and all the other challenging things that life with a new baby are. It's tense conversations between two married and exhausted people, it's short tempers all around and a dog who is not adjusting well to moving even further down the totem pole. It's being trapped inside due to an abnormally frigid winter and slowly going stir crazy.

But the new ordinary is also pretty spectacularly good. It's smiles and coos and laughter and reading and brothers bonding. It's gratefulness and sweetness and treasuring of new memories being made. It's venturing out occasionally with the ergo and slowly meandering through target just to get out of the house and answering questions from random people about who is this little guy strapped to my chest.

It's hard, it's good and it's slowly feeling like reality.

It's life.