Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Enough Already

I haven't written anything "political" on my blog since the morning after the election. I chose that day to share my own grief, my own fears for the future of my sons. I know a lot of people shared those deep feelings of heartache along with me and continue to do so.

I watched as the next few weeks have gone by as people have torn each other apart. How people who are angry have protested or rioted. How people who are hurt have shared that hurt in public forums for the first time. How people who are elated have either stayed silent to show restraint for those hurting or have gloated in hurtful ways.

Yes, my feed is full of many types. Those who are appalled right now. Those who aren't saying anything. And those who, largely, are telling the rest of us to move on. Get over it. Agree to disagree.

Yesterday, though, I watched a video. It was of an alt-right group hosting a conference in Washington, D.C. I felt like I was watching something that had to be fake. The anti-semitic remarks, the white nationalist pride, literally the use of the following words from Richard B. Spencer:

"To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer, a conqueror...And we recognize the central lie of American race relations. We don't exploit other groups, we don't gain anything from their presence. They need us, and not the other way around...We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet...America was, until this last generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity."

To hear and see something like this, proudly broadcast, was like watching a scene from a documentary from Nazi Germany made into color. To watch this happening in my own country brought a deep sense of shame.

People have largely laughed off the comparisons over the last year that some people have made of Trump to Hitler as overblown or unhistorical - I myself quoted Martin Niemoller in a post 6 months ago about remaining silent in the face of hateful rhetoric and stand by that post.

Do I think they are the same? Of course not. I have Jewish ancestry. I remember the long, painful day I once spent with my aunt in the National Holocaust Museum and how we combed the database looking up family members to learn their exact fate. I do not think Trump is Hitler. I do not think we are on the cusp of a holocaust in America.

What I do think is that the way he has spoken about many people groups, the way he has unashamedly mocked people, used inflammatory rhetoric, refused to denounce hate groups who have supported him...I do think that that behavior has opened the door to the absolute mess we are now seeing.

People who have always existed in hateful lifestyles and opinions now feel free to do it publicly in a way we haven't seen in decades. At least not on a national scale.

And as a mother and, frankly, a human being, I am appalled. Appalled that in 2016 there is a rising tide of people joining white supremacist groups in this country. Appalled that people didn't see this coming, that wrote off his rhetoric as "mere words." Appalled by the rise in hate crimes. Appalled that the best Trump can do is say "stop it" and do nothing at all to convince us he means it. Appalled that he is more offended by the cast of a Broadway show respectfully engaging his running mate than by the words of this group in D.C.

Words are powerful, my friends. Haven't we learned that by now?

So yes, I've sat by and watched our country spew hate at each other. I've seen people say that those who are hurting are "sore losers" who just have to move on. I have wondered if I even have anything to add to all the words being thrown around. But if I don't say something, I'm not sure I can look my sons in the eyes any longer.

What in the actual hell are we moving on to? WHAT? 

What I wish I had seen over the past week was just one pro-Trump friend of mine denouncing the Muslim registry. JUST ONE.

What I wish I had seen over the past 24 hours was just one person in my feed who unashamedly voted for Trump calling for him to denounce the alt-right movement as distinctly UN-American and, frankly, more dangerous than the foreign terrorism he so clearly fears and uses to demonize large swathes of people.

What I wish I had seen since he was elected was family and friends who voted for him denouncing his choices for cabinet members, his cronyism, the ways he is already doubling back on promises he made to them to clean up Washington and do things differently.

Because the bottom line, at least according to those who voted for him in my feed, is that they found him more trustworthy than Hillary.

Really? Trustworthy?

Friends, what are our children going to see right now?

Men who have their hands raised in the same salute that Nazis made to Hitler 80 years ago?

Or a president who will come out and say "Enough is enough" and move towards the people he has alienated over the past year and a half?

Will they see us bickering and name calling?

Or a generation of adults who are willing to fight for what is right when hate is attempting to define our generation?

I, at least, know what my sons will see and hear in this home.

We will preach love. We will preach forgiveness. We will preach truth.

And preaching those things means that we will stand up and say "no."

No to white supremacy. No to the alt-right. No to appointments of people who clearly only care about one group of Americans. No to people who would attempt to criminalize being Muslim. (And to those who would argue that they aren't attempting to criminalize but just register them...please read your history books. Nothing good ever comes to those who are set apart as "other." Tutsis, Jews, Poles, Armenians, Native Americans...the list goes on.)

Unfriend me if you will. Tell me I'm being overly emotional or overreacting. I don't think having a visceral reaction to an white nationalist rally is overly emotional. I think it's human. I will not be silent, I will not be complacent.

I would much rather fall on the side of vigilance and wariness than on the side of "wait and see" on this one.

And I will not move on if it means our country will become a more dangerous, more openly hateful place.

President-elect Trump, it's your move. Are you going to keep wasting our time on twitter or are you going to speak up? Enough already.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Landing

This morning, I walked into what is now likely to be our new church for the second time. I dropped the littlest ones off at the nursery without incident and Josh and I had a little time to rest quietly and just soak in the anticipation of spending time with other believers. This is definitely a first since we moved. Getting three little people to church on time while my husband is traveling, let alone early, is no easy feat.

An older white gentleman sat down next to us. He didn't leave that semi-awkward empty seat that people usually leave when they don't know you. He just sat down, stuck his hand out, introduced himself to both of us and asked me this question:

"How did you find our church?"

I answered him honestly, trusting that what I was seeing in his church would enable him to receive what I said without awkwardness. (Some white people panic when you use the word diversity. They just do.)

"Honestly, sir, I went to the website and clicked on leadership. I saw that you have a diverse team of leaders here and that's not easy to find."

He told me that he'd heard that before and that if that's what we were looking for, we'd find it here.

I don't doubt him. One look on stage shows me a black woman on drums, a diverse choir and a range of people of different backgrounds playing the instruments. A black pastor gets up to lead a time in prayer ministry and a white pastor gets up to share the word. As we pass the peace around us, we shake hands of people older than me and younger, children, black, white and latinx.

I watch the rows in front of me who are filled with hearing-impaired people who are worshiping through sign language, their voices quiet but their joy evident. They are led by a woman who is signing the words and songs of the service and clearly loves what she does. I didn't even know they had a hearing-impaired ministry but it starts a great conversation with my son.

My younger boys are with women of various backgrounds and children who look like them and their brother.

We could fit here.

Some might think that looking at the faces of a leadership team online is an irresponsible way to choose a church. Even racist.

But here's the deal.

When we adopted our sons, we made a choice. A conscious choice that we would not white-wash their world. That we would live in neighborhoods where they might make friends of multiple backgrounds. That they would not be the only black boys in their classes. That the churches we choose, especially as they grow and learn and begin to wrestle with what it means to be black boys with white parents in a racist America, those churches would have racial mirrors for them. Leaders, men and women, with voices of truth in their lives. Friends, boys and girls, who might look like them and their brother, who would wrestle through the chaos of growing up faithful in a world that may not understand that choice.

Many people look at denomination first. Or style of worship. Or the core set of beliefs. Or the type of children's ministry available. Or the mission statement. Or the location or stance on women in ministry or centrality of communion or...well, any number of pretty important issues.

For us, those things had to come second.

And you know what?

We don't want a diversity of leadership and congregation just for our boys. We want it for ourselves. To hear from people who are different from me: who didn't, in my case, grow up in a predominantly white, middle class, northeastern town. To hear from people of different ecumenical backgrounds than my husband and I were raised in. To value the incredibly beautiful diversity of God's church both in our every day lives and when we gather with the physical representation of that church each week.

So, yes.

We look first at that leadership page. And if the church at it's very core isn't reflecting what we hope to see in the larger congregation, we don't bother. We are a multiethnic family. This is a non-negotiable.

Will it mean that we might be in churches during the course of our lives that we don't 100% agree with.

YEP.

But since that has pretty much always been true of any church we've joined because my husband and I aren't the same exact person with the same exact beliefs, we've been there. Done that. And finding a community that loves God, loves others, strives for truth and justice and looks like our family is enough for us right now.

We don't need perfect theological alignment to dive in.

So, after almost five months of trial and error and visiting and praying, I think we may be landing.

And friends, it cannot come soon enough. This introvert is just about out of Sunday morning visitor small talk.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Reclaiming the Mommy Wars

At some point last year, I was in a very low place about my parenting. Exhausted, short-tempered and largely without joy.

OK, if I'm honest, I feel that way more than I should.

But on that particular day, I recognized what was happening. I was buying into the facebook picture of parenthood. The happy, smiling children dressed in immaculate outfits that, while they look expensive, were somehow bought on clearance at a fair-trade, environmentally responsible store. The ones with kids eating out and not losing their minds in restaurants and pictures of 10 hour road trips with patient kids who would prefer to live in their carseats than anywhere else. The parents who were well-groomed and confident of every single parenting choice they have ever made.

You know the feeling. Your life is full of mess and noise and chaos and children who believe that carseats are the actual lap of Satan and everyone else is frolicking in a field of unicorns.

And the comparison causes you to lose heart. To feel like each choice you make is wrong. That you are no good at this.

I SO OFTEN feel that I am no good at this, friends.

And add in the mommy wars? Perpetually being told that there is a better way, a healthier way, a Godlier way...a WHATEVER way, that you aren't doing?

And we can drown. We can just drown in unmet expectations, in fears, in being unable to see our own strengths and recover from our own failures.

So on that day, I chose to do something else than just drink coffee, put in my earplugs and wish my kids would use their words. I was a part of an online moms group. Mostly, we shared about life online with each other. Occasionally we would meet up and do something if it could work out all the crazy alignments of naps and moods. But on that day, I just asked a few simple questions.

What do you excel at as a parent? What's hard for you or an area you need growth?

And then watched as people commented. As we rejoiced in what other people were good at. As we felt better about the areas in which we struggle when we heard that maybe other people do, too. We cheered for each other. We laughed. We were together in this thing.

Do we agree about everything in the larger sphere? Nope. I'm sure there are vast differences on what we think about vaccines or breastfeeding or school choice or religion or even who we just voted for in this election.

But, friends, we don't have to let our differences destroy us as parents. I can rejoice that a friend of mine loves the baby stage and thrives on her children needing her while I usually just feel exhausted and overwhelmed by touch and noise when they are little. And she can rejoice that I can put on a pretty awesome dance party for my kids once they learn to walk even if she is embarrassed to even attempt the electric slide.

It doesn't have to be a competition. It can be a chance to rejoice.

So, today, I don't know how you're feeling.

I don't know if you are discouraged or comparing yourself or feeling DONE with this parenting thing. I have been there, oh, how I have been there more times than I would like to remember. Maybe you are flying high on a parenting win. That's awesome. I love it.

No matter where you are, let's take a moment to share.

What do you excel at? And what's hard?

And then let's sit back in wonder and joy as we see the vast gifts and passions of those who surround us shared in a way that can, actually, only make us better at this crazy thing we call parenting.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tears in the Dark

It is 6 am in the morning.

You were up at 4:30 again because of the time change. I tried to rock you back to sleep but you were having none of it. I put you back in the crib and couldn't help checking the election results. I was way too tired yesterday to make it past 10 pm and went to bed nervous but hopeful.

I pulled up the screen and my heart flew into my throat. It happened. It actually happened.

And as I lay in the dark, now wide awake, listening to you protest your return to the crib, I tried to wrap my mind around the world you are growing up in.

But I can't.

So I padded quietly back down the hall and picked you up. We sat in the rocking chair, wrapped in a blanket together. I kissed your sweet, dark curls and let silent tears fall on them.

I am so sorry, little boy. So sorry.

So sorry that America isn't a safe place for you.

So sorry that sooner rather than later you are going to experience hate.

So sorry that you, my beautiful boy, are not going to be seen for who you are but for the threat you could possibly be.

So sorry that I can't protect you.

Even as you finally fell back to sleep and now lay peacefully ignorant of the way the world has gone mad, I can't stop crying. I don't know how to tell your brother when he wakes up. I don't know what he will hear today as he goes to school. I don't know how his friends of color will be treated today in the aftermath.

I know I should be saying something like "my hope is in the Lord" and my kingdom is not of this earth. Those are true statements.

But at least for today, I am going to mourn. I am going to lament with my friends who feel less safe today. I am going to choose to be kind and patient and not act in fear because I will not go low.  I am not interested in debating or arguing today.

I am going to continue to teach my children to love today. And do my best to do the same.

And starting tomorrow, I am going to pick myself back up and work my hardest to make sure that by the time my black sons are old enough to understand, things will have changed.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Those Business-Minders

Last week, I chased my youngest up and down the sidelines as my oldest ran in his school fundraiser. We cheered, we threw snacks, we dazzled onlookers with our delightfully cheerful mother-son relationship. (Because, you know, it was one of those days with very little screaming so I had a smile on my face and he was going full-on dimple.)

As happens just about every time I am in public with one of my two younger sons, I was approached by a total stranger.

Said stranger felt perfectly comfortable assuming he was adopted and asking me where he was from. (Some days I dream about asking people how they conceived their biological children just to illustrate how inappropriate their intrusive questions are. If I continue down the route of my current grumpiness, this will happen soon.)

I shared, tersely, that he was from the United States and tried to make it clear that more questions about his story weren't particularly welcome. I don't know this person. And his story is his own story to tell if and when he chooses it. Given that his only three words at this point are Mama, Lawnmower and Elmo, I don't think he'll be sharing any deep thoughts on his adoption any time soon.

She went on to share that she knew someone else who had adopted three kids because of infertility.

And then she said this:

"Later, she got pregnant with triplets. We like to say that since she saved three kids' lives, God decided to give her three more kids to reward her."

Me: ........

At that painful and horrifying moment, my youngest decided to attempt to make a break for it out onto the track with 100 running fourth graders, so rather than respond, I sprinted off after him assuming I should intervene and prevent his imminent trampling injury.

But.

Holy Crap.

Friends, let me make some things abundantly clear because, frankly, there is a whole lot of really seriously awful shit in that statement.

(1) People who adopt children are not necessarily (and possibly rarely) saving someone's life - the stories of why and how adoption happens are as varied as your own biological children's birth stories. Adoptive parents are not heroes any more than biological parents. God does not look down upon them with some kind of special favor and say "Wow, you are really an extra special kind of human; Well done, Creational Me." This kind of thinking is why the adoption industry is fraught with corruption and why birth parents are frequently villified or mistreated and, horrifyingly, ignored as a part of the adoption triad. It's saviorism and it's inexcusable.

(2) God does not work this way. He does not play our game of "let me be awesome and see how God gives me good stuff in return." Infertility is a serious biological issue that causes tremendous emotional ramifications for those who suffer it. And it is only one reason of many that someone might think of adopting, to be honest. Thinking that God would reward someone with a biological child because of her willingness to adopt is flat out blasphemy. My God is a God of grace who gives good gifts when He chooses to. NOT because we have done something to earn or manipulate them into being.

(3) And speaking of biological children, why is a biological child the ultimate gift? Her statement makes the assumption that the happy ending exists because they ultimately got pregnant. I cannot state enough how frustrating that way of thinking is. How hurtful it would be if my son could have understood what that woman was saying. "See...your mama brought you home and God was so pleased with her good works that he finally gave her what she really wanted." So many people during our own years of waiting on adoption would say "Oh, you know that once you bring that little guy home, you'll finally get pregnant." Um, no, we don't know that. And whether or not it happens that way for anyone is completely beside the point. Our children are our children - all three of them are amazing gifts to us. We are happy with our family's story

If I had known this woman better, I might have attempted to walk back over and share all this with her, once I got my speech (and toddler) back. But, more than likely, I was never going to see her again and when your toddler is attempting to eat dirt as a hoard of older children run by him, you concentrate on that and just move on. You sigh internally and hope the next stranger who approaches you just tells you your kid is cute and moves the hell on.

So friends, when you see a family that maybe looks a little less "typical", it's ok to just smile at them and say "hi." It's ok not to ask intrusive questions. It's ok to just be a normal human who minds his own business. My guess is if you eventually become friends with that person, he or she will open up a little more about their family's story. Just like you might about your own.

When, you know, you have a relationship that invites that kind of intimacy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Letter to My Firstborn on His 10th Birthday

To My Son,

Ten years ago on this day, I remember two things.

One, being absolutely starved and just wishing you'd be born already so I could finally eat again.

November 1, 2006
Two, being completely overwhelmed when you were placed in my arms. No words, no thoughts...just staring and wondering how it was possible that this tiny human was finally here.

And now, today, at 9:44 am, you turned 10.

What a ride it has been.

You were born in Virginia, came out of your shell in North Carolina and came into your own in Wisconsin. Now we are full circle and it's been, at least from your perspective, the hardest year of your life. You left all that was familiar to you, crossed the country with two very angry, very loud, toddlers. You searched unsuccessfully for friends during the longest summer of all our lives. You have struggled through your first bad teacher for a few months now.

But all that is beside the point.

I don't tend to wax too sentimental over the baby years. I have loved watching you grow and learn and become this phenomenal human. But there is something about this milestone that has got me thinking, pausing.

You, my son...well, where do I start?

You have the best giggle of any kid I have ever met. Your smile lights up a room. Your beautiful eyes are full of curiosity, full of kindness and hope. Your heart aches with those you love when they feel pain and rejoices with anyone who is happy. You play soccer fiercely and even though you aren't the biggest or the fastest kid on the team, you practice hard and you give your all. You read books about science before bed and want to grow up to solve global warming. You write books in your spare time and draw schematics for your Lego city. You consider it your responsibility and joy to keep your little brothers laughing and you make up better games for them than I ever could.

You are jocky and nerdy and funny and kind and sweet all at the same time.

The time is coming, though, when it won't be so easy to be kind. When choosing that road might render you uncool. When erring on the right side may mean you lose friends. When defending the humanity of your brothers gets you called names. When working hard at your schoolwork and wearing glasses might put you in the dork category.

When being unashamedly you will no longer be as easy as it has always been.

Son, don't let them change you.

Laugh when you think something is funny. Dance if your favorite song comes on. Play with any kid you want, whether or not the "right" label precedes his or her name. Continue to see girls as playmates, as humans with brains and brawn and creativity. As friends, not objects. Care deeply about justice and love.

Even when no one else does.

You won't look back in your twenties and wish you had tried harder to be like everyone else. You might, however, look back and wish you had the guts to be yourself, no matter the cost.

So, my beautiful boy, happiest of birthdays.
Ten years old!

I am not choosing the sentimental route, the route of wishing you were still little and I could hold you close. The truth is, I count it a joy and privilege to watch you grow each day. What I love and long for is to see you experience joy, right here, right now. To give me hugs if you want but to let go of you when I need to because it's best for you.

You have made me prouder than I ever thought possible.

Keep being you.

Fierce, loyal, funny, smart and kind.

And never apologize for it.

Love,
Your Mom