Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why My Son Knows About Charleston

One of my favorite scenes in the Harry Potter series takes place toward the end of the fifth book. Harry, who has already had multiple heartbreaking losses in his life, has just lost his godfather. He is raging, he is sad, he is numb. And Dumbledore, his mentor, finally shares with him the truth of Harry's story. Who he will have to be. Why he has been targeted by the most evil wizard in mankind. Why he lost his parents. What he will need to do to overcome that evil.

And he shares why he, Dumbledore, waited so long to tell him. Over and over, he goes back to the same thing. He just felt Harry was too young to know, too young to understand, to carry the burden. That he, Dumbledore, didn't want to cause him the pain of truth.

And Dumbledore then admits this was a tragic mistake. It never feels like a good time to share the truth of tragedy. But if you don't tell the truth, you can never understand. You can never fully process the gravity of that fight against evil. You can't prepare yourself.

This is why I told my son about Charleston.

This is why, when I finally had a moment alone with him, even after we had been laughing and joking and I was loathe to "spoil" the moment, I told him.

I told him about Dylann Roof, about his hatred and his gun. I told him about the 9 people who died at a church bible study and about the people who played dead to survive. I told him that there are more people than we realize who believe these same things that drove him to this act of violence. I told him that sometimes I don't sleep at night because I worry that his brothers will run into these people at a younger age than I am prepared to handle or that the people they run into will have gotten so far along in their anger that they will be behave like Dylann Roof did last week and my sons will be harmed. His brothers. Friends of his that are black. They will be treated differently, hated, and those who parent them will have bigger fears than the average American parent.

This is why I told my son about Charleston.

Some might say he was too young. I guarantee you that parents of black children are telling their kids about this. That it's just a part of their narrative and how they explain life. Can my son not take 10 minutes out of his summer to be serious and hear about the reality of what it is like to be black in America?

What if, each time a new tragedy occurs (and let's face it, it feels often these days), I deemed him too young? Not ready to understand. Not able to handle the burden of knowledge. What then happens if the first time he hears about it is from someone who agrees with Dylan Roof? From someone who doesn't see the problems our country has with race? What then? Will he come to me with questions about it? Will he believe the lies on some level?

What happens if I don't arm him with the truth and let others do the talking for me?

This is why I told my son about Charleston. And why I told him about the Holocaust. And about the Trail of Tears. And...and...and.

I don't want him sitting in some history class 8 years from now hearing a watered-down version of the truth. I don't want him to grow up with the luxury of ignoring race. I want him to know, right now, what it means to be a white ally.

NOT because his brothers are black.

But because he is a human being who happens to have black brothers and will end up seeing firsthand the racism that most white people can choose to ignore or explain away.

Like most 8 year olds, he took it in. He asked some questions. Who taught that boy to hate that way? His parents? His friends? What is happening to the families of the people who died? Are they sad? Will that man go to jail forever?

He expressed his sadness, his frustration, his own hopes that things will change, his desire to speak up for truth, his own fears for his brothers. And then we prayed for the families.

And then, in typical kid fashion, we moved on to talk about the fun he had at camp that morning. He's a kid. He's resilient.

But I want him to know. To start being an ally now.

And silence will never accomplish anything when it comes to this particular battle. Except, of course, the kind of silence that comes with listening well to the story so we can be better allies.

That is why I told him. And why I'll tell him next time. And, frankly, why you should tell yours.

Maybe we can raise a generation that isn't colorblind and understands the realities facing our nation. Maybe this will be the generation that will finally, finally, see the change that must happen for us to move forward as a nation.

I don't know. But I do know this - I will not, as God is my witness, be a part of raising children who have no clue. I want more for them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

To Those Who Stare

To Those Who Stare,

I know you saw us today.

White mama, black boy.

In some parts of the country, that's no big deal, but in Wisconsin? Well, let's just say I don't see a lot of us out and about.

I know you saw us. We are conspicuous on our best days.

But on our worst days? Like today?

Like when I was trying to walk along at the zoo and encourage my son to come see the bears and he was pulling on my backpack and screaming at me because he desperately wanted the bottle he assumed I had inside, even though he had just finished one?

Or when he dropped down in the middle of the path, blocking your way to get to the giraffes and threw his head back in sheer rage on the concrete to see if I'd react because I offered him a snack?

Or how about on the zoo playground when he wanted to go play and I let him, which for some reason today, precipitated yet another loud meltdown.

Because let's be honest. He is loud. Impossible to ignore. The angry tears running down his face. The screeching and flailing about. The complete disruption of all conversations in a 15 foot vicinity.

I know he looks 3. I know he was drinking a bottle. He's actually only 18 months and did you know that adopted kids often have major attachment issues with their bottles and our pediatrician has said it's fine for him to drink it? Probably not. I didn't know that and beat myself up for months when I couldn't get him to give it up. I have to battle every day to NOT feel guilty that he still needs it so much, like it's some mark of failed parenting.

Maybe you are already a parent and your kid has never behaved like that - my firstborn never did, especially in public. So you stared in pity or amazement. This is a whole new ballgame for me, you know. I used to stare at people who behaved this way, too.

Or maybe you don't have kids yet and you have lofty ideas of how you will parent and figure I am one of those moms who never disciplines or gives in to everything or doesn't care that her child is disrupting the world. I assure you I cared more that he was screaming than you did. I'm reading the books, I'm seeking wisdom from those who have been there. Some days none of the strategies work and you just have to soldier on.

Maybe you are having a good day with your own spirited child or are past this stage and looked on with well-worn knowledge of what I was going through. A few of you said something softly of the sort as you passed by us. Thanks for that. Most of the time, this feels really lonely. And embarrassing. Today, yes, it felt embarrassing to cause a spectacle everywhere we went.

Every day it is a sheer act of hope to even leave the house and risk this kind of spectacle. Believe me. We already don't go to restaurants or enclosed spaces and probably won't for a long time. I thought the zoo was a safe gamble and today I was wrong.

Whoever you are, I know you saw us. I know you saw our horrible day. I know you saw me on the verge of tears, at the end of my rope- we made it out of the parking lot before my own were pouring down my face in that kind of ugly, choking cry that I probably have only ever experienced a few times in my life, my child laughing maniacally in the back because he thought I was laughing really hard. Or, at least I choose to believe that's why he was laughing. I have to.

Because this wasn't our only day like this.

It has been months. The good days are few and far between right now.

And to those who stared at us, it's exhausting. His behavior and your stares.


Possibly for us it's just the perfect storm- he has a new baby brother, he's getting teeth, he's been going through his terrible twos about a year and a half early and this mama only got 4 interrupted hours of sleep taking care of his little brother last night.

I have to hold onto hope that maybe tomorrow will be a better day. And sometimes it is. That maybe next month will be the month he has some new developmental milestone that ushers us into an occasional age of reason. I see glimpses of how it will be some day. I have to remind myself that the things that make parenting this toddler so difficult - his perseverance, his exuberance, his sheer will to accomplish what he wants - some day those will hopefully be strengths of his when he faces a world that will try to mold him into its own broken image.

So, please. If you want to stare, go ahead. I get it, it's like trying to look away from a car crash. But maybe offer a smile. Maybe offer a small word of encouragement. Or just take your look and then look away and let us be.

This whole parenting thing can be hard enough without us shaming one another with our eyes.

Thanks for listening.

From an exhausted parent who deeply loves her spirited boy,

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Years of Yeses

This is going to be short and sweet because, well, everything is these days.

These days we are chasing a non-stop 18-month-old, sometimes with a 3 week old bouncing along in our arms, praying we aren't doing him irrevocable damage by subjecting him to all the chaos of our lives.

These days a lot of people look at us in public and say "How old are they? Woah, you've got your hands full, don't you?"

These days, as is necessary in this particular phase, our life revolves around making sure our oldest gets to school and soccer practice and gets that daily snuggle he still needs even while we balance keeping the toddler from drinking from oily street puddles and making sure the newborn stays fed and dry and has no one poking him in the eye.

But twelve years ago, these types of days were a distant dream. Something we could pretend to imagine but really have no idea of how all-encompassing, how overwhelming, how fulfilling and exhausting they would would feel all at the same time.

June 7, 2003, Leaving our wedding reception
But twelve years ago we knew one thing: We were saying yes to each other forever and yes to whatever would happen for us and to us in the meantime.

That meant we said yes to becoming parents and then crashing our way through the "two working parents" childhood of Josh and all of the "ships passing in the night" that that meant for us at the time.

November 3, 2006, Josh is born
That meant we said yes to a hard year of struggling to communicate and having to remember why we said yes in the first place when he had a tough spell around the five year mark.

That meant we said yes to struggling through the loss of our second child, through the ensuing fertility treatments and years of infertility and eventual death of that dream.

June 14, 2013, Leaving NC for WI
That meant we said yes to years of training and home studies and invasive questions about our sex lives and parenting and family relationships to pursue adoption.

That meant we said yes to my husband starting a new career and moving from friends and family and starting over twice with new schools and churches and relationships and rhythms to our lives.

That meant we said yes to putting my own career on hold when we brought our second son home from foster care last year and to continuing to stay home for a bit longer now that his younger brother is here, too.
January 9, 2014, Nate joins the family

It means we will say yes again to whatever comes when this post-doc is finished in Wisconsin, we will say it together, we will move again (most likely) and we will start up life again somewhere new, hopefully for the long haul.

May 13, 2015, Jayce joins the family
It has meant saying yes over and over again to each other. To remembering the "I wills" of our wedding day. To remembering that before the dog and the boys and the guinea pigs and all the moves and changes, we said yes, first and foremost, to each other. To a covenant of life together no matter what. To putting our marriage before our children so that our children will be parented by parents who unashamedly love and honor each other and are, therefore, better at loving them.

So today, as we celebrate 12 years, we do it with puffy eyes and exhausted bodies. We do it with full hearts as we watch our sons run around the backyard, playing soccer, laughing and crying after worshiping with our church family this morning. We do it as we look at each other knowing that there will not be a big fancy dinner out this year. There might just be a quiet, miraculous hour tonight when all 3 are asleep at the same time.

I suspect that we will just sit together and soak it in. Maybe with a glass of wine or a margarita. Maybe we'll hold hands and just sit and remember the yeses. And maybe we'll just fall asleep on each other's shoulders.

I hope we do.

Because as much as marriage is the hardest work in the world, it is worth every second. And the thing I want my three boys to know most of all as they grow up, besides the fact that God loves them more deeply and truly than we ever could, is that their parents made a promise to love each other and to love them, even on the days where love doesn't feel good. That our yeses as husband and wife put each other first in a way that will hopefully trickle down to their own understanding of what it means to have a true partner some day.

So, I'm just going to say it at the end here because it needs to be said outright and boldly.

I love my kids. And I will give them everything I have.

But they are not the center of my universe.

God is.

And it was before Him and many witnesses that I promised all the yeses to my husband, including giving him all of me. Before, during and after our kids are long gone from our home.

May God always grant us the energy to remember that and not let the chaos of the daily or the tyranny of the urgent (read, toddler) distract us from that fundamental promise that formed our family in the first place.

Happy 12 years to us. I look forward to the next yes, the next adventure with the most generous, patient husband a woman could ever hope for.