Sunday, December 30, 2007

Nun Sense

So, if you've never checked out the Ask Sister Mary Martha link in my sidebar before, do it today. Her "take" on Christmas is.....just like everything else on her blog....straight to the proverbial point. Here's a link, lest my annoyingly long and cumbersome sidebar deter you.

Right Headed

I've never heard or read a more accurate description of my daughter's approach to reading than the one I will link here. Yes, I'm reading the homeschool blogs again.....who knows where it may lead:)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Map Quest

In my search for a wall map of Africa (which is still underway), I ran across this awesome site. It's an online puzzle; you're timed while you click and drag country outlines onto the Africa map. Try it. If you're like me, you'll be surprised (and if you're like me, surprised in this case will be composed of equal parts dismay and ambition) by how much you really don't know! (Except for you, Dave, and you have an unfair advantage......being Dave. [for elaboration, see prior posts which reference my brother, superhero Geo-Political Dave]).

I'll post this link to my homeschool curriculum list for future reference

Monday, December 17, 2007

Useful Waste of Time

A friend sent me the link to

a few weeks ago. They donate a certain alottment of free rice to a U.N. hunger relief program for every vocabulary word that you can define correctly. I learned a lot of words. As far as I can tell, the vocab-bee has no official end -- you can quiz till you drop if you'd like. Dave, I think you'll really like it! (hint: you can deduce a great many answers just by matching parts of speech).

Link for today

Valerie, this link is especially for you and your specialty (one of your many specialties!). It's also interesting because I ran across it on The West's blog, the very blog (connected to our church) that inspired us to consider this journey for ourselves. Honestly, it's mid-day, so I have only scanned the letter that she posted, but it struck me as very special, so I am passing it along.

Have a great day, everybody.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Kids on Our Adoption

Today, another mother mentioned how well-spoken Olivia and Josiah seem to be, making them seem so much older than the ages I quoted her. I couldn't help but think about the ways in which this adoption has aged us all. We care more....and so we are older......about more people.....older again......we have millions of anonymous loves all over the world, all of us, and we are prepared to be named family together with any two of them at any time, and they don't know us, and they may not have anything to eat, and every day, we love very old. And so my kids talk the way they do (and you should hear how they talk!).

A long time ago (months? weeks? decades?) I began to consider, for the first time, the impact of our newly adopted childrens' grieving on ALL of the members of the household; Josh and I have done our homework (okay, mostly me...I read, I bring issues before Josh, and he, intuitively, responds much better than the experts.) regarding attachment and grief and have learned so much about hope and loss in the process, but Olivia and Josiah could be faced with a brother or sister who screams and cries for hours with no discernable explanation, and I haven't done a thing to prepare them for this possible eventuality.

So, just as I was mulling over my best approach to the situation, that VERY week, Olivia stopped me mid-laundry and asked me to play with her. I said yes (laundry....Olivia.....laundry....Olivia,......hmmmmm...) of course. She said, "I want to play orphan."

I said, "Okay...." visibly thrown off-balance, I'm sure, but this is a posture she's accustomed to seeing from her mother, so she was unshaken when I haltingly asked, "how do you play?"

"I'll be the orphan," she said. "And you've adopted me, and I'm glad. I like you. I might even love you. But sometimes I get really sad because I still miss my mom, and I'm sad that she's gone, and I don't know how to tell you that. I don't want to make you think I don't like you. And sometimes I get sad, and I don't even know why I'm sad. So you have to show me that you're going to love me even if I get really sad sometimes and you don't know why."

Thank you very much, sweet Olivia.

Fast forward through countless prayers for the "new babies"....earnest, honest prayers.... to this week.

A couple of nights ago, I was home late from teaching. I still had some work to do on the computer, so I didn't make it to bed until VERY late. My usually night-comatose husband woke up almost immediately to tell me that he and the kids had had a "big night." "I think you should know about it," he said, " in case it comes up tomorrow."

"Okay," I thought, blank-brained.

"We talked about the adoption," he went on. "I'm not sure how it came up, but when it did, I asked Olivia if she was getting excited about the new babies....."

Let me interrupt to let you know how deeply invested she is in this whole process. In trying to save for the completion of this process, we eliminated virtually all extraneous memberships/activities from our lives and the lives of our kids. That meant that music classes, dance classes, etc. were all suspended for at least several months until we could be sure that our resources were sufficient to complete this process. Olivia was with me when I stopped by the ballet office to pay the last bill from last spring. I hadn't planned to "announce" the no-ballet edict at the actual ballet studio, but the question was posed, and I stood trying to explain my reasoning to a lovely administrative ballet person while my daughter melted into sobs at my side. Mother of the year I was not. After we left, I talked to her about the choice. Then I decided to try something, committed to affecting whichever outcome my experiment solicited, whatever it took. I told Olivia that I hadn't planned to stop ballet without talking to her first and that I still had time to enroll her in classes. I told her that we, as a family, were trying to cut out a lot of extra costs this fall so that we could bring the new babies home as soon as possible. ...sometimes giving up things we really enjoyed. I told her that, no matter what, the new babies were coming home and that we were going to find a way to make it happen.....that we were making these small sacrifices just to make sure we are absolutely ready when it happens so that there aren't any delays. Then, I let her choose: she could do ballet or she could forgo ballet, and we would include the money that we would have spent in our provision for being ready to bring home the new babies as soon as possible. The Nutcracker is this weekend. We aren't going because she thought that would make her very good choice feel just too sad.

SO, back to the conversation with Josh...

"She said, 'yes, I'm excited....well maybe...' and then she burst into tears. She said 'I'm just afraid that you won't have room on your lap for all four of us.' I scooped up her and Josiah and showed them how my arms stretched so far that there would always be room...that I could hug, and cuddle, and tickle...and I reached around and tickled them....four kids with no problem. We talked about that for a long time. I told her that no matter how many kids we had, she would always be my only Olivia and he would always be my only Josiah and we talked about what it meant to be completely special. Then, I thanked her so much for talking to me because my greatest sadness would be in thinking that she had to be so afraid and so sad all alone...I told her that, even after the babies come home, I want her to always tell me whatever she's feeling so that, no matter what, she doesn't have to feel it alone."

"It sounds like you handled it really well, Josh....You're a great da.."

"There's more. I asked if she had anything else she wanted to talk to me about. She said that she and Josiah were worried about something. She and Josiah, and I looked at him, and he nodded. Like they've been talking about this together, just the two of them, for awhile. She said that both she and Josiah were worried that you and I were going to catch whatever sickness might have killed the babies' mom and dad while we're in Ethiopia. And they are afraid we are going to die too. "


"So we talked about AIDS"

"You talked about AIDS?! You had a HUGE night!"

"I told them that there are a lot of sicknesses in Ethiopia that we don't have in America because there are medicines in America that stop people from getting sick. They know about vaccines, and I told them how you and I are getting vaccinated for everything we possibly can so that we won't catch any of the sicknesses that lots of people die from because of those American medications. Then I told them that one virus that a lot of people die from in Africa called HIV can only be caught in certain ways, and I told them that you and I aren't going to be doing any of the things that can cause someone to catch that virus while we're in Ethiopia."

"Perfect answer."

"You should have seen them. It looked like a 40 pound weight was lifted off of both of their shoulders after we finished the conversation."

How about that father and those kids!

To date, the biggest worry that Josiah has expressed about the new babies is that they will bite or hit him. Who knew he had such heavy concerns? And such conversations with his sister!?

We're all a little older.
I'll be glad when we can be older all together.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Livin' the Dream

Check out this family's blog -- a play by play of their Ethiopia trip. I'm not sure how they were able to upload posts from Ethiopia, but I'm so glad they did! If you'd like to know a little more about the process in-country, this blog is an excellent resource.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tooooo tired.

I just checked my own blog to see if there were any updates. (Oddly, there were none:) I need sleep.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bring Eden Home

As a mother whose heart spans continents right now, I ache for this family. Please visit their website and help in any way you can. (They tell their own story much better than I can, so I'll leave the details to them...).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Oh Whattah Night!

Do you know the word "nemesis"? My kids do, thanks to a 7th grade basketball legend passed on by my husband (the protagonist) at our 2 hour dinner tonight. TOOOOONYYYYYYY MUUUURRRRRRPHYYYYY (must growl and scowl for proper pronunciation) menaced Josh's middle school basketball career with his evil antics. I'm not actually sure who came out on top of the rivalry [at the final showdown, Tony's (TOOOONNNNYYYYY's) team won....on his birthday, and Tony apparently put up pretty good numbers of his own] but Josiah and Olivia appropriately rally around their Dad and his Schwartzenegery "You're mine. I have not forgotten," Jedi speech during a key play in their much-lauded last matchup. We listed all the nemeses we could think of after Daddy's story (apparently Olivia has a nemesis in her kindergarten class....his name is EEEEEAAAAAASSSSSSTTTOOONNNN -- don't forget to squint and scowl.) --- Luke and Darth (or is it the emperor?), TMNTs and Shredder (or is it really Crang). We talked over the roots of the term in Greek mythology and then moved on to my stories of a cross country nemesis in high school. You know, cross country never drew the crowd that basketball did in my high school....or in any high school, I'd venture. And my kids' forced interest in my painfully dramatized story about KKKAAAARRAAA WIILLLLHEEELLLMMM only served to salt that wound. But we will likely be scowling about TOOOONNYY MUUURRPHHYY for years to come. And, although I'm confident that Tony has evolved into a kind man, probably a caring father and productive member of the workforce...I think we'll hang onto that 7th grade snapshot because it's pretty fun to have a family nemesis!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Here's One I Forgot...

My kids unloaded this moment on me several weeks ago, but I thought I'd mention it. We read a crazy picture book about a couple who wins three wishes in some fairyland twist of luck, and somehow the woman winds up with a sausage stuck to her nose (if I had a nickel...). We (my mom and I) asked the kids what they would use three wishes for, and here are their responses:

Olivia: "Let Josiah go first."

Josiah: "I would wish for a toy that doesn't cut you or hurt you or break." (Good luck with that one, Josiah! Have you seen the recall list lately!?)

Olivia: "Okay, I would use my first wish to wish for wisdom to know how best to use my next two wishes." (Seriously.)
"Then, I would wish for 100 more wishes." (100:Olivia, A Zillion:Amy)
"And last, I would wish to have a baby when I grow up."

There, I wrote it. Now, when I inevitably forget to remember it, I might accidentally stumble upon it during a blog day update....Whew.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Some Sweet Things My Kids Have Said This Week

This has been a big week for sweet-isms in our house. I'd call them "unforgettable," but I have been inclined to forget the most important things lately, so I thought I'd archive them nowhere...the mysterious gap in the world wide web where my blog hovers. In a world where the mouth of my life puckers almost daily against somethinger-other bitter, I thought we all might do to sample a little of this sweetness.

Here goes: Yesterday, we were standing in line at the all-you-can-eat buffet/Thanksgiving Dinner with my wonderful family-by-marriage. I struck up a conversation with a woman toting a baby (one of my favorite pasttimes...), and we talked for several minutes about our kids and the general paraphernelia of our lives. At an appropriate pause in our conversation, Olivia respectfully interjected "Excuse me." Then she floored me, "I think that you are very lucky to be talking with my Mom." Brief pause while the mother of three boys smiled and responded with polite indifference. Then Olivia finished, "because she is the very best Mama in the world." I was silenced.

Number Two: The other day in the car, Olivia and I were talking about something, I don't remember what, and I told her how happy I was that she had done or said (or maybe had not done or said....can't remember) something. Olivia said, "That's what I like best." I said, "What do you like best, Olivia?" She said, "Making you happy is my favorite thing, Mom.....and King's Island."

Third Times the Charmer: Tonight, my mom asked the kids to pray for a little girl from her church who is having extreme health difficulties. Olivia prayed their nighttime prayer tonight...mostly about Grandma's being able to smell, which she prays near tears almost every night (my mom can't smell....weird but true.) Anyway, she finished, and Josh started their new nighttime book. Then Olivia interrupted (don't you love her interruptions!? I do!), "Oh no! I forgot to pray for grandma's friend!" At which point she launched into a prayer for the little girl. After she was finished, Josiah said, "Oh daown it! (He still says about a third of his "r"S as sweet!), I fowgot to pray for hew too!" This is BIG for Josiah. He NEVER volunteers to pray. We never push prayer. We do it, and respect their opportunities to pray whenever they feel compelled, and we offer them chances to participate in our prayers whenever they're around, but it's not something that Josiah usually does out loud. In fact, the last time he volunteered to pray, he asked if he could pray a song, which each of us does from time to time. Then, he launched into a very meditative....head bowed, eyes closed....rendition of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themesong....both verses....Amen. this time, he prayed that "Gwandma's friend would get bettew and that she would have a chance to gwow up."

I love my kids. They are two of the best people I know.

Friday, November 9, 2007

OOOOoooops, I did it again!

As most of you know, I have two kids. (Scroll up...there they are.....Very sweet.) During Olivia's pregnancy, I ran across the book Your Pregnancy Week by Week, which was awesome because I didn't have the patience for the month to month updates in What to Expect when You're Expecting. The downside of the week-to-week format -- I read ahead....WAY ahead....and then I convinced myself that I was further along than I actually was. I thought I was 14 weeks when I was 12 weeks.....corrected at a doctor's ahead again....then thought I was 27 weeks at 24 weeks.....corrected at a doctor's visit......etc., etc. Instead of getting the clue and patiently enjoying my pregnancy with Josiah (or switching books), I was WORSE. I remember being crushed at 32 weeks when I had convinced myself that I was 36 weeks along and nearly ready to deliver......corrected, of course, at a doctor's visit.

Last night, I was sitting at my computer looking over the informal list on my adoption agency's forum (a few referrals this week have bumped us up a notch or two), and I looked at the column that noted "wait time for a referral." We were listed at 3 months waiting. "That can't be," I thought, amused and appalled (weird combination, I know, but you cannot believe how many days find me walking around in exactly that state of offballance emotional upheaval and mild amusement). I, of course, having been telling people for weeks now that we will arrive at our 5 month waiting mark (the magical mark, as it's the front end of our agency's projected 5-7 month wait time window) on December 3rd, having submitted our paperwork on August 3rd. HMMMMMMMmm, August 3rd, September 3rd, October 3rd, November 3rd, December 3rd......4 months....not five. I was....again.....crushed. Worse than before this time. Very hard.

By the way, the fact that the title of this post is a Britt***ny Spe$rs song is not lost on me. Although I have never heard the song in its entirety (and yes, I am bragging), I haven't been able to get it out of my head for the past 2 days. And, the title seemed, sadly, appropriate. At least my doctor didn't get to deliver the news this time! I read it on a list, in the privacy of my own living/computer/music I could look as amused and appalled as I wanted without fear of mortification or medical intervention.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Empire Strikes Me

For the last few nights, we have been engaged in the first phase of a six night Star Wars family marathon. (Don't worry, we plan to screen Episode 3 before we share it with the kids and skip the skippable parts when advisable). Actually, before we took a two night Halloween Hiatus, we had just gotten underway with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes back. The LOVED Empire, and we spent a good deal of the morning after checking out You Tube contributions to the world of George Lucas, including this link, which features Olivia and Josiah's favorite character:

I was wet-eyed through my whole viewing of this video the first time I watched it. I'm not sure if my emotion stemmed from memories of Empire Strikes Back, the first movie I ever saw in the theater, or from the hours (and HOURS) David and Karen and then later Adam and I spent in our rooms rewinding and listening to (and rewinding and listening to and rewinding and listening to) every song on Dare to Be Stupid. I had forgotten how much fun it was to be kids together...simple, fun. I remember the exileration of learning all of the words (or all of OUR I've grown older and begin to understand more of the jokes, I realize that some of the words we made up have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual lyrics) to any of the Weird Al songs so that we could perform them for Mom and Dad. Funny, too, that as I watched Empire Strikes Back for the first time in 20 years, I could hear my Dad's laugh in all of the places that I remember he found when Leia declares her love for Han just before he is immersed in Carbonite and he earnestly replies "I know." So many places in the movie made me smile thinking of my Dad.

Anyway, here's another link that is absolutely not from my childhood, but as long as we're talking Yoda, I thought I'd share a laugh I had with my own new generation of Jedi laughers.

And for Karen:

And for Grandpa and Grandma:

Apparently, there's a Yoda for everyone:)

May the farce be with you!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Donatello Found! (With Feet!)

...As I was saying....if you try, sometimes, you just might get whatcha need!

Another great coloring page clearing house:

Coloring Pages to Print

Josiah and I are surfing the web right now, looking for printable coloring pages of Donatello and a Wookie with feet (they must have feet so that we can cut them out and play paper dolls with them....the feet are crucial). I ran across this clearinghouse of coloring printables that I thought I'd share....very helpful! (links to Chewy Chewbakah....but no Donatello....Oh well, you can't always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes...:)

As always, I'll link it to the sidebar for future reference.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Here's an idea for a MOPS conversation starter:

Thanks for passing this along, Kimberly.


My Response to the MOPS Debaucle: Loving my Kids is a Walk to the Park

I joined MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) this year. I remember my first invitation to join, some 4 years ago or so. A woman in the library talked about a preschool-like atmosphere for small children while mothers congregated in another room to (and these were her exact words) "discuss a topic." I bristled (visibly, I'm sure...I've never been very good at bristling on the sly) at the idea of joining a melange of women circled around buffet-style breakfast foods to "discuss a topic," and I graciously (except for the bristling part which I had no control over) declined. Years passed, and with them 8 or so more invitations to join MOPS, each of which I turned down for one pitifully contrived reason or another. Then, last year, a friend asked me to come for a free visit to a MOPS openhouse. Well, if you've even given a cursory scan to my prior posts, you know how I feel about free things. So I went. And the women were kindhearted and authentic and vulnerable and helpful and funny, and the childcare rooms were orderly and fun and well-thought-out...and....well....I joined!

So far this year, the "topics" have been limited to introductions on the first week and design and decorating on our second (because of which I have moved a couch away from a wall and plan to rehang my drapes!) far so good! Last week, our third week of ...topic discussing....I stayed home with two sick kids and missed a presentation/discussion starter entitled "Christianity 101." I cannot comment on the presentation at all, as I was enjoying the day with my children (illnesses notwithstanding), but I clearly missed the most hoppin MOPS day on record! More than a couple of other mothers from our group have made a point of talking with me about the scant discussion of material that they have all described as "heavy." Aside from some doctrine (dogma?) -laden talking points, the salient issue that everyone keeps mentioning is the speaker's insistence that we must, as mothers, evaluate whether or not our love for our children supersedes our love for God....hmmmmm. (I think that's a fair parsing of the point; I'll steer clear of the various illustrations he used to elucidate it since I wasn't there to take them in first hand.)

When my friend talked to me about the presentation and, in particular, this point, I must have looked.......stupid. That's the look I get when I'm processing. Here's how it works: I take in the incongruous statement (eyebrow curls downward), I try to comprehend it generously, giving full deference to the speaker and his overall intent (head tilts back, eyes widen and focus somewhere to the left of the person telling me the information), and then I formulate a response (eyes narrow, head shakes vaguely...almost imperceptibly): read, I look stupid.....worse, disinterested. WORSE, like I tacitly agree with the declaration at hand! In other words, my friend probably walked away from telling me about the speaker at MOPS believing that I was one of the following: a genuine ignoramus, not at all interested in what she had to say, or in agreement that a mother must somehow choose between her love for God and her children, which exist in some sort of artificial hierarchy!

SO, I'm clearing the air with this response, which it took me until later that evening to formulate and which it has taken me a full week to articulate in this post.

First of all (isn't it nice that I can't interrupt a several-screen post with a phrase like "first of all"?), let me say that I have NO problem with anything offensive. The MOPS presentation has, more than once been described as "mildly offensive" or at least "intrusive." I ache (probably visibly know how I am....) over having missed it! I love mildly offensive, intrusive things! In fact, no real transformation in my life has ever occurred without having begun as something that I had previously labelled at least mildly offensive, and I am always hungry for another transformation (my husband is not......he's good....I on the other hand....). So I began my assessment of this idea by challenging myself with it, since it grates so dissonantly against the web of philosophy and faith upon which my mothering tenuously hangs.

The thread upon which his proposition keeps snagging is this one: any assertion that loving God and loving people are opposed to one another seems either heretical or begs a redefinition of the word LOVE as I understand it. Worship, perhaps. Honor, maybe. But loving God and loving people cannot be opposed to one another. The one contains the other, like the concept "Mother" contains "woman."

If Josh came home and asked me, "Would you like to go to the park or go for a walk this evening?" I would get that stupid look on my face. I would respond, "Why don't we walk to the park?" I know there are lots of ways to get to the park; we could ride bikes, take a car, roller skate, run -- but my favorite way remains walking. I'm best equipped for it, by both inclination and ability. ............ If someone asked me "Do you love God or your children more?" I would doubtlessly look stupid (if not mildly offended!:), and I would say that loving my children is my favorite way to love God. I know there are lots of ways of loving God -- appreciating and preserving the world He created, singing in the choir, serving meals at the Waffle House -- but I LOVE loving my children. I'm best equipped for it, by both inclination and ability. It's my favorite way to love God in much the same way that walking is my favorite way to travel to the park. The one accomplishes the other; the two do not oppose one another.

If only loving my kids and finishing my school work reconciled so easily!

Apart from the fact that the speaker directed his objectionable comment to an audience full of women who have elected to occupy themselves fully with the care and training of their children at the expense of other daytime occupational or avocational interests (which doesn't seem.....nice), I think his intentions were probably good....although I wasn't there to hear the "good" part, so I can only comment on the one or two things that made their way back to me after my kids had fully recovered.

Hooray for MOPS, though! The discussion hour last Wednesday may have been flat, but the last several days have been carbonated with its repercussions. I'm not sure what this week holds, but I for one, am hoping for something REALLY "The Art of Censoring Objectionable Material from Your Children's Books," or "The 2008 Election: Vote Libertarian or Don't Vote at All." I hope the art project isn't too distracting (yes there are art projects....there was tote painting....a little stamping....and I missed mug painting...I'll not comment further.) because I'm overdue for some transformative conversation! Bring it on, MOPS!!!

By the way, I think that November may be National Chemistry Month, so Carey, if you're reading this, know that I'll be thinking of you!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Family Perspective Week: Final Thoughts

You are all wonderful. Allow me to elaborate:

David: Your thoughtful responses to this week and to my capacious posts made me so grateful for your friendship and so proud (again) to have you as my brother. Thank you for taking the time to care about every aspect of our family (and OUR family, as it grows and grows and grows). The future for Josh and I and our kids seems much less intimidating because of your consider-ate support and

Josh (AKA Anonymous): You are the most wonderful man in the world. Did I mention that?

Mama (AKA Deleted Post and Subsequent Comment): It is BECAUSE of your love and not in SPITE of it that I have grown up to love other people. Thank you for being exactly you.

Karen: Thank you thank you for "hosting" this week. You and Jeremy are going to be magnificent parents. I can't wait to mother alongside you and to continue to learn from you.

Kimberly: Thank you for being in my family. Your insights and your friendship are indispensible.

I love you all! Thanks, again, for taking time to engage in Family Perspective Week (our first annual? Shall I make t-shirts this year?), proving, once again, that I have an unmatchably wonderful family.

I will respond to those of you who shared your responses to me privately via email. Please consider yourself included in the taxonomy of thank yous, however:)

Have a great night, and please, feel free to chime in with your various perspectives whenever you have time/feel moved/can't find anything good on TV. I LOVE hearing from you.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Family Perspective Week Part 2: Okay, here's what I think...

Weird, isn't it, that I always seem to end my titles with elipses? Elipses may be the defining punctuation of my life, now that I think about it! (Weird, isn't it, that I'm thinking about it?) I lapse into elipses (how's that for a grunge/alternative band name) constantly when I write (when I'm not writing parenthetically....which is a whole OTHER pathology), and if I were to choose an end punctuation for my life, I think it would be elipses... 10 years ago, I would have said exclamation point; 15, I would have said a question mark; now, it's elipses...hmmmm.

But this post is about Transracial Adoption (though I can't imagine how anyone would guess that from my title or introductory paragraph...see why my journalism major only lasted a semester?), so I'll get right down to it. In the last post, I described the evolution of my feelings about parenting, race, and this adoption journey of ours. Now, I'd like to share some ideas that I have about the same sorts of issues. I like to divide things up, break them into smaller parts so that I can look at them more closely (see Homeschool vs. Public School, for example). I have come up with two concepts of race that hold perfect tension on the tug-of-war line between confusion and truth in my mind. I'd like to share them with you, but the caveat for embarking on this post is that if you read only part of it, the tug-of-war sways grossly out of balance. So (if you can tolerate all of the self-indulgent parenthetical asides), read the whole thing in a single sitting. Otherwise, you'll be choking on dry cereal one morning and drinking silty milk from a bowl the next.

First off,
Race is a CONSTRUCT: One of the last classes I took during my last run at school spent a lot of effort in examining the ways in which people create ideas, especially socially significant ideas like race, culture, and gender. We talked about the fact that categories that seem pretty discrete and concrete actually exist along a much more fluid continuum than our conceptions would allow. Gender was, during that course, the example that impacted me. Our professor walked us through reading and class discussion that shook apart the dividing lines between categories so broadly accepted that stick figures in skirts or slacks almost universally symbolize their preeminence. But what makes a man a man and a woman a woman? Biology? That answer seems most obvious, but consider the biological qualities that we accept as identifiers. Hormones? Some self-identified women have hormone levels more saturated with testosterone than most culturally identified men. Chromosomes? What about Jamie Lee Curtis and the better part of a women's Olympic shot-put squad, all of whom have been dramatically affected by their ambiguous chromosomes, which include the decidedly male Y attatched to their pair of Xs? That's not to say that men and women aren't different, but it does illustrate the fact that the words we use to meen "male" and "female" are more pliable than we might normally recognize, that they actually represent some combination of a whole slew of factors that may or may not come into play in every instance to which they are applied.

Did I mention that this post is about Transracial Adoption? (7 right turns do, indeed, make a left.) All of that to say that if categories such as male and female represent loose amalgamations of expectations that we drag around without realizing it, then certainly already ambiguous categories like race and tribe slip their fences.

Did you know that people who are from India living in England are considered black? Most American people don't use that word in the same way. What about the word "Indian" in America? At least two stridently distinct ethnic heritages carry that label in our country. And are Russian's Asian? Are Haitian's African? Do you see how the words we use to describe other people leak like sieves? None of the categorical qualifiers that we might stuff in the bottoms of our language are sufficient to plug their holes. Complexion? Language? Family History? Many people who would check the box next to "Black" or "African-American" on a survey line have lighter complexions than other people who identify themselves as categorically white. People from several different continents all speak Spanish when they talk to their great grandparents, friends, and business associates. And while we're on the subject of great grandparents.....consider the flexibility in your family tree. Most of us don't know our great great grandmother's maiden name, and we know even less about the minutae of her daily life or the person she perceived herself to be. Some people's worlds are rocked when their family tree changes color or shakes off its leaves. My husband's German family is actually Danish. My grandmother's mother was Scottish and not Irish. My patrilineal ancestor snuck over on a boat from England and not Ireland. What about Carlos O'Kelly? Where's that guy from? Where are any of us from? Cultural heritage and ethnically rooted traditions can bind families together, but they cannot be regarded as racial signifiers. They don't have the stickiness to do the job. They're like a pencil-scrawled post it note, passed down from generation to generation: the writing has faded, and the back just never holds.

So what is race? Just like gender (only moreso) it is a conglomeration of labels that have slowly saturated our ideas about one another. Some of those labels were scribbled on the back of the post it note passed down to you through the generations. Some seeped in between the worksheets in our kindergarten classes. Some, we made up to explain the vague trends in our own experience. Who knows? I didn't know that "Jewish" could be used as a racial identifier until recently. Ten or twelve years ago, when I went to college, I think, I first heard someone say something like "He looks Jewish" or "That sounds like a Jewish last name." I had absolutely no idea what that person meant. In my arrangment of seives, Jewish was the religion of Moses, Abraham, and Jesus, and the people who observed Purim and Yom Kippur in my high school were white, like me. They just went to a different church. There was no special look, no identifiable last name in my construct of that "race."

Add to that (or add that to) the fact that I am committed, by a lifelong faith, to the absolute particularity of every person and his or her crucial importance to the heart of a loving God, and you have nothing but a shattered reflection through which to sift for any remnants of what you (or I) once labelled "race." In such light, the CONSTRUCT, simply cannot hold.

My children will be (are being) raised in accordance with that truth. Their indispensable voices, their irreplacable selves, their inimitable perspectives...their perfect particularity in the sight of God....will always govern the way our family operates. Our lives and the love that infuses them with meaning will unrelentingly reflect our commitment to the unity that comes from absolute diversity (not the shoddily drawn diversity of arbitrary categories but the radical diversity of individual, unrepeatable souls).

There you have it. Tug of war team # 1, truth, and its presidence over our family and all of its members: Race is a CONSTRUCT. It does not exist.

And here's the second, unmistakable fact:

Race IS a Construct: It DOES persist as arguably the most powerful construct in human history. It has been used to justify war and cruelty beyond measure. It continues to dellineate neighborhoods, churches, and cafeteria tables. In its prevalence, it creates commonality. People who have been stung by the broad, stupid application of the construct, again and again, are galvanized into unity by the heat and pressure. Likewise, people coagulate into like-mindlessness and power by virtue of their appropriation of a construct in common. So, at its best, the construct of race offers people a home, a place where belonging exists before words because common experience rarely needs to be spoken. And in this solidarity, people are comforted, empowered, and understood. At its worst, the papers.

If I don't arm my children with the tools to face down the wrong-headed implications of the most powerful construct in human history, then what kind of parent am I? And if I deny them an opportunity to melt into a community where they can find ease and identity without words among people who share common experience, an experience of a construct that I will never have nor completely understand, then I will have failed my children. I have an obligation to educate, encourage, and empower my family on all sides of this volatile, powerful, hateful, ennobling construct with every tool that my own resources and the resources of my community can provide.

I don't know how we'll manage it, but I'm fairly sure that if we let these two facts slide out of balance, if either side begins to pull harder, our whole family will collapse in a filthy heap. So I'm committed to the effort, with all of my heart. And I'll trust in the miracle of being set aright and hosed off again and again by the one who created without construct and yet enabled us to create them. And I can't tell you how much peace washes over me as I end that sentence with a solid, definitive period.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Family Perspective Week!

I'd like to tell you all about my wonderful little sister: she is thoughtful, tenderhearted, and loving (sounds like I'm naming Care Bears here, doesn't it?), AND she has organized a family perspective sharing week in preparation for our adoption! Because of the weight of words like black and white, and because of the way that those concepts will be transformed and will transform our family dynamic, Karen (my thoughtful, tenderhearted, loving little sister) thought it would be helpful to set aside a week to challenge our individual ideas about race and share our discoveries with one a family. She could not have planned a better adoption gift for me if she had used all of the time and resources in the world to try. Josh and I have spent the last year and a half examining our own ideas about adoption and race and our family. We have reimagined our dinner table and our grandchildren and ourselves. We have admitted weaknesses and embarassments and developments to one another nearly every week (sometimes, every day) throughout this entire journey. Wouldn't it be bizarre for us to expect (or even hope, for that matter?) that our family would instantly evolve to a place that has taken us months and months (and months and months) to even approach as parents? We don't, but opening up a conversation wherein people can admit their perspectives without fear, where we can feel safe to challenge, confess to, and accept one another as we grow toward love together can be difficult. (Now I sound like one of those weird new greeting cards that seems oddly specific...). That's why I'm so grateful to Karen for holding this conversation for all of us.

NOW, for my first contribution to our dialogue:)

A couple of months ago, I responded to a post on a forum for Ethiopian adoption. Another mother was struggling to reidentify herself and rediscover her ideas about race as she prepared to adopt a child who would be African-American. In my response (which I tried to think through carefully, though it only got one, very caustic, reply), I shared my own struggles with the same ideas. I'm going to paste my response here with as few interruptions as possible:

What lessons our new children teach us....before they even arrive in our arms. This process (and I keep thinking of words like whiplash or crawl or hurdle as I type that phrase) compells me to evaluate parts of myself I was entirely unaware of before I "met" my children. Following your example, I am going to share my starts, steps, and stumbles in muddling through the minefield of race, motherhood, and far.

First, the decision: After a series of loosely connected encounters with the question of international adoption, [Actually, the night after Josh and I had decided not to have any more children during a conversation at the WalM*art.....and I don't think we are the only people on the planet who have ever reached a decision like this one at the Walm*art....I began to pray. I prayed for my children, and then thought to add "and for any other children that you may give to us....though you're going to have to beat me over the head with that one because I'm pretty comfortable with two." At that moment, I had an uncomfortable (uncomfortable like when I tried to mail the unsigned check to our adoption agency!) sense that if someone in our church had a child that needed a home, I would open our family...and mother(*verb*). After I finished praying, I went to the computer, where I had just received a congregation-wide email from our preacher that mentioned a blog of someone connected to our church who was adopting from Ethiopia. I opened the link (Dani and Brian West....I'll post the link to my sidebar), just to kill time before hitting the regular blogs I regularly use to kill time. Within an hour I was crying. Within two, I was purposefully sifting through agency requirements and country-specific facts.] I opened up one night to the possibility and began to surf the web.....researching. Ostensibly, I researched agencies, costs, wait times, etc. More honestly, I was researching myself. Every time I opened up a file with a photo of a family completed by adopting internationally, a blog about adoption, or photos of waiting children, I stared, searching faces, studying eyes, trying to decide if these could be MY children, my babies whose skin and hair don't resemble me....or my husband. Yes! Yes! Yes! and so we began discussions. {More accurately, I left a voicemail on his work phone, saying something like "Josh, I think we should adopt internationally. Let me know what you think when you get home."}

Second, the quest: Was I a racist? The magnificent mystery love from that first night slowly evaporated, burned off by the harsh light I turned inward to search for answers to that question. Love and hate cannot occupy a common space; mothering and racism cannot coexist. An urgency to justify my un-racist heart obsessed me. I read pages and pages of internet material by writers [of several different racial identities] convinced that caucasian parents could not adequately parent adopted children of color because the gulf (racism) could not be bridged. I have been raised around the insidious us/them mentality of latent racism, confessing equality and clutching my purse. Could I think of black people (and not just black babies) as family? I began to watch, stare really, at the black people I encountered throughout my day (my life) thinking, could you be my grandmother? could you be my sister? could you be my grown up child? could I love you like I profess that I do?

My heart exploded.

Third, harder questions: Questions that weren't really questions at all but truths that flattened me. I had lived a lie. I fought for equality and cherished friendships, but I kept words like "they" close at hand.....little racist safety nets should I be rebuffed or rejected. I flailed about inside myself, loving children I had never met and hating myself for loving so badly all of my life. The big question: would I whip out my racist "they" (from the back to the front of my heart) on hard days with my children?
Suddenly, peace: the floor broke.
I fell through. God smiled, and I learned, from my children, the love and connectedness that has made me ALIVE and has stilled and invigorated me. There are no words for this stage in the process for me. [I typed that last sentence on the forum in a moment of efficient, maybe evasive, delerium. Of course there are more words! Sometimes, I have described my efforts to investigate my race and my heart as an elevator. On the top floor ...the floor near my eyes and mouth.....I say and see...or at least I say that I see....the right things. Children of God. Multiplicity as a miracle. Individuals as infinitely particular, etc. Floor two, the level that lands me right at the center of my heart, is a nightmare. Distances I hated to admit. Stereotypes I never wanted to believe I believed. Smallminded stupidity that I couldn't acknowledge.....I thought....if I were going to continue with this adoption. I kept pushing the up button. Finally, I resolved to open the doors to level two, face whatever I found, and trust God with whatever followed, even if it meant ending our adoption. That's the moment I described before with the phrase "the floor fell through," and I really did feel like God was laughing (with me? at me? at least near me.) I had just tried to tell him that the Red Sea was too deep or a mustard seed too small or a minivan just too expensive (wait until I tell you all about that one!). I felt like I had fallen into a warm sea. And people were not scary; they were all small, like me, and swimming in the same big sea. Brothers and sisters. FAMILY. Ideologically, I have always wanted to believe that family.....big, boundless family, was possible. Now, I was soaking in it!] Along the way I have toiled over other issues, the particulars of mothering (empowering without terrifying my children...caring for them properly...etc.) and of mothering a child born to and loved first by another mother....a mother I would learn to love as I continued to sift through my fears about adopting. [See She's my Baby's Mama] I'm not afraid of what I'll find anymore when I look inside. I run deeper than I would have ever learned had it not been for my children.

I have a million (or so) more thoughts on this topic that I hope to contribute to our dialogue this week. Thank you, Karen, for organizing this week, and thank you, everyone, for participating.

By the way, I think we should have a family perspective week every year, guided by developments in all of our lives. Think about it (perhaps we should have a family perspective week to gather everyone's thoughts about what it would be like to have an annual family perspective week....perhaps).

Light a Candle 2....the update

By the way, the nice man I spoke to when I called the Indianapolis Opera to ask about discounted tickets to the Sunday mantinee was busy...too busy to take the time to listen to and investigate my whole "That nice boy at the information desk named Patrick suggested..." ....and "we just got our days mixed up....." .....and...."Olivia has so looked forward to another Mozart Opera....." SO he interrupted me to offer us COMPLIMENTARY tickets (complimentary $95/per seat tickets!) to Sunday's matinee of The Magic Flute. We saw it!!!!! It was beautiful. We are blessed beyond measure! (Did you pick up on the fact that I love free things? Here's a motto: "Got something free? Give it to me!" Do you think there's any chance that one will end up on Lawrence Fishburn's wall? I'll keep working on it...)

As Long as I'm Quoting People......

I've run across this prose poem a handful of times this year, and it still gives me pause. Marianne Williamson (who is okay) wrote it, and Nelson Mandela (who, of course, rocks) quoted it just before he first took office.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us;
it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

If I'm going to be unoriginal, I might as well do it richly, right? (I saw this quote, aptly abbreviated, in Akeela and the Bee this evening.....we have free Sh*wtime this week on cable...I'm not sure if I'll sleep at all, but it is fun to watch movies!, because it's free.) Here's the Akeela version, for those among you who prefer it distilled.....

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.

I like this efficient version. I like to read it aloud. I like, then, to imagine that I could write something inspiring too....something that might also one day hang on Lawrence Fishburn's wall.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Light a Candle

Adlai Stephenson said of Eleanor Roosevelt "She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness" .....approximately (the quote is in a children's book CLEAR OVER in the kitchen). We read that quote yesterday after poring over about 6 books on the late first lady during an improvised unit study surrounding the movie Annie (I call it a unit study because Obsessing-over-every-vaguely-interesting-detail-related-to-anything-which-gives-us-pleasure is entirely too long a label). I turned to Olivia and gushed, "Olivia, I hope one day someone could look at my life and say something like this about me, don't you?" She answered instantly, "What are we waiting for mom? You would rather light a candle...than....swallow the night....or something." Then we both busted up laughing and went back to Eleanor (who really had a difficult childhood, and was FDR her cousin or something?).

I can't spend 20 minutes sentimentalizing about dishwashing detergent and then go to bed without telling at least mentioning the fact that my daughter, daily, lights my candle for me. Tonight we fancied up and went to see the dress rehearsal of The Magic Flute (Olivia loves the opera). She has been looking forward to this date forever (in the way that a 5 year old understands forever.....maybe in the way that any of us understand forever)....and so have I. We hurried to the performance hall, arrived early, and found out that the dress rehearsal was LAST NIGHT. It was a long drive. We spent money we should have saved. No opera. Olivia cried. I nearly cried. Poor Patrick at the information desk almost cried. After about 4 minutes of grieving and then 3 more of regrouping, I remembered Eleanor, and Olivia and I resolved that, after a quick trip to the bathroom (and 10 or so more apologies from me about my mis-schedule) we would salvage our date and light a candle instead of sitting around cursing the darkness. ("What's cursing again mom?" "Complaining or sitting around saying really bad things about your situation instead of doing something to change it." "Oh yeah; let's light a candle.") So we left the auditorium and saw a pack of sorority girls (women?) with painted faces and balloons in their hands. Needless to say we followed them for a time. Olivia thought they were clowns, and I was open to anything that would help to drag our date out of dissappointment quicksand. Then I saw a mom with four kids exiting a minivan with a purposeful look on her face. I distracted Olivia from the clown processional long enough to accost the woman, fill her in on our tragic date, and ask her what she had planned for her own kids. Her comments led us to a rehearsal of the Indianapolis Children's Choir, which we surreptitiously attended and LOVED. Then, candles lit, we left the campus. We were so close to the Indianapolis Museum of Art that, in spite of the late hour, I told Olivia we could stop before we headed home, and she jumped at that one. So I darted across a couple of lanes (sorry, Dad) and we surveyed the whole of African art in about an hour. Now, we know a good deal more about incorporating the beautiful into everyday life, and every docent in the wing knows about our Ethiopian adoption thanks to a VERY proud big sister. We both declared the evening one of our best dates ever, and we told the story of The Magic Flute (as best we could remember it.....somehow, we managed to forget how the actual flute played into the plot, but we did not forget the crazy bird man!) all the way home. She will be very tired tomorrow in school....all that candle lighting wears a body out. What a great kid.

One Great Thing

I learned something wonderful today. Cascade Complete, the $6 dishwashing detergent that promises to clean your dishes without ANY prewashing......DOES!!!!!! I sprung for the high end soap figuring that, on the off chance that the stuff really worked, I would bask in the unwound joy of having countless extra hours this year because of the time I save in NOT washing my dishes before placing them in the dishwasher (and, better yet, avoiding the bitter post-dishwasher soak and rewash of the 30% of the dishes with crud firmly baked on by the dishwasher sanitation kiln....a lovely tomatosauce glaze).....OR I would chalk the three additional dollars up to relatively cheap lessons learned and move on (and the $2.99 Electrosol). But it works!!!! I have washed two loads of dishes today....the first was loaded last experimental run with the new detergent after a detergent dry spell that yielded mountains of disgusting (DISGUSTING) crusty dishes. I challenged my new soap and my new soap met that challenge!!!! My bowls are clean -- completely clean -- every crevice of every fork is sparkly, and there is no disconcerting crud on the edges of my spatulas that must be manually scraped into the insinkerator. They are clean. So I tried the pots and pans....havens for blissful dishes of dinner and unbudging growths of visible bacteria colonies.....ALL CLEAN. I cannot describe the unspeakable happiness that warms me everytime I open this dishwasher (my first ever). Who invented this stuff? What is the procedure for recommending someone for canonization as a saint? This discovery rivals the introduction of Zout to our laundry system (that's right, JJ! Pass it on!) I'd ask the Cascade people (saints?) to pay me for this gratuitous recommendation, but I'm not sure there's a budget for mentioning a product to immediate family (the sole demographic that comprises my blog audience). Thanks, anyway, Cascadians......You are (sniff) wonderful.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


If you've read my posts about sparkly shoes and the conspiratorial folder (Homeschool v. Public School), you have probably inferred that I have spent the better (or worse) part of my life clawing up the smooth face of other peoples' approval. Today it finally happened. Signed, sealed, and delivered to my home, I got approval. Approval from the government of the United States to adopt up to 3 (but we're only requesting 2) "foreign-born orphans" into our "immediate family." I'd have to say, I'd happily sacrifice a revision of my whole junior high experience for this flavor of approval.....MUCH sweeter. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. We are WELL on our way....and now the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security agree!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

An Adoption Update

I realized this afternoon how long it has been since I updated news of our adoption progress (the ostensible purpose of this blog!). I have something to report, in fact. Last Friday, Josh and I were officially fingerprinted at USCIS, the final step in our application process with the US government to petition for our adoption....pretty big news, actually, for all of us. We celebrated a very merry unbirthday for the new babies, together all day. (I should clarify the "very merry unbirthday" reference, as I realize it is a peculiar family holiday. One of our children has a birthday very close to Christmas. In order that her "special day" not be entirely subsumed in the fervor of the season, we instituted the Very Merry Unbirthday. At least once a year, we surprise each kid with a day of devoted celebration. We arrange our plans around an event geared toward the interests of that particular child, and, after waking her with a loud and badly rendered version of the tea party song from Alice in Wonderland, we shower her with attention, affection, and the planned surprise outing. The only stipulations we restrict ourselves to when planning a VMUB are 1. Every immediate family member must be present for the day in its entirety. This stipulation often requires that Josh take vacation from work...I think he looks forward to the unbirthdays more than the kids do actually. 2. No gifts. Very merry unbirthdays are exclusively for celebrating together, an activity that often requires little if any expenditure {a HUGE bonus}. We still celebrate birthdays wildly, but I think we have all grown to anticipate and appreciate the unbirthdays as staple family holidays. I have to think it would be very cool to wake up every morning of your childhood knowing that it could quite possibly be your very own Merry Unbirthday! {I really like to think that, anyway.} As the kids get older, they love being in on the planning and secret-keeping for each other's unbirthdays. In fact, I often have to reign them in from instituting daily VMUBs by invoking rule one so that Daddy won't be left out of the festivities -- they have found a loophole, by the way, in very special brother day or very special sister day. These are days that they plan and orchestrate on their own for each other...very sweet, though they often last only until shortly after anyway....We made Friday a first Very Merry Unbirthday for our two kids who are far away, devoting our day to celebrating and appreciating them and the depth they already bring to our family.) After our stop at the immigration office, we headed to the art museum to take in art created in Ethiopia. Finding, however, that the museum opens much later than it used to, we headed to Grandma and Grandpa's house for a visit before having dinner together at an Ethiopian Restaurant. All in all a powerfully fun and eventful day and another milestone (maybe a half-milestone....they have those, now, in Indiana, you know) as we continue moving toward completing our family.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Laughing out loud

After laughing out loud and in tears for the last 15 minutes as I read this story of one woman's visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (where we will pick up our babies in a few months), I am taking a minute to add another link-related entry to this blog. You must not miss this one!

I'm going to post it quickly so that I can read it again before I shut down for the night.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The British Invasion ---- A Homeschool Curriculum Link

Oh how I love this BBC site! We love the primary science and math arenas, but there's so much to explore. I hope it's helpful. I know it's fun!

As always, I will link it to my sidebar so that it will be available forever and ever.

Ethiopian History and the Christian Church

I have run across a few sites that detail the history of Ethiopia and its longstanding relationship to Judeo-Christian traditions of faith. I thought these sites might interest some of you (I'm thinking of you in particular, Grandpa M.).

I'll link them in the sidebar as well for later reference. I love you guys. You are the greatest family (and friends) in the world. Thanks for taking the time to read and keep up with our adoption (and for tolerating all of the other crazy things I write about along the way).

Monday, September 10, 2007

Homeschool vs. Public School

Perhaps I'll revise that title later; it sounds like I'm heralding a steel cage deathmatch between two opposing groups of kids. I'm not (I'm NOT). I've been revisiting a longstanding debate between myself and.....myself: me vs. me (much more boring than my aforementioned wrestling intimation....but much less ethically volatile). Where to begin.... Do I start with the sometimes glorious sometimes grueling (mostly pretty terrific) year of homeschooling my kids that I only recently wrapped up with a preschool graduation ceremony at grandma's? Or should I begin with the school supply aisle at Targ*t last month, where our public elementary school list "outed" us in front some of our favorite fellow homeschoolers?

I'll just give you my lists...the nebulous coagulations of pros and cons and what?s that I've never organized into lucid bulletpoints.....never...until NOW.

What I love about homeschooling:

1. Spending time with my kids. If you've met my kids, then I don't need to elaborate on this one. In case you haven't, imagine hours spent pretending to be....any number of real and fictional characters....while hiking in the woods....sharing grapes, water, mudpies, and knock knock jokes much funnier than the ones that actually make sense....then add my kids to the scene and you have a fairly accurate rendering of the better part of our afternoons together.

2. Learning whatever interests them....and me. As it turns out, I love science and history: two facts that completely eluded me during my years of studenting (it SHOULD be a verb). As it turns out, they love EVERYTHING, with an emphasis on all things attached to a story, song, or bug net.

3. Field trips. I've said it before (is there a more arrogant introductory clause in the English language? I seriously doubt it), I am a terrible stay-at-home mom (so I'll balance it with a little self-effacement). I require the perspective of an apple orchard, or a stage, or a creek, or a museum, or a zoo, or a factory, or a festival, or a creek (yep, there it is again, we love them that much), or a park, or a tree, or a sky, or a library to keep me from going berserk (see my previous post wherein I describe the calculation with which I anticipated conversations with visiting mormons for further elucidation of this point).

4. Scheduling and unscheduling our days. I love poring over lesson plans, unit studies, children's books, and educational theories until my eyes burn and I have no feeling in my feet only to wake up WHENEVER WE WANT TO the next day and implement the very best of what I've learned with fantastic students or drop it all and celebrate Bat Day.

5. There are a million or so other things that we loved -- enough, at least, that I thought the bulk justified an open-ended numbered point. We love the seamless continuum across which we turn our loves into our lessons and our lessons into our loves. Josh and I get to play to our strengths, and I think we are all stronger for it.

Things I don't love about homeschooling.

1. Failing, failing, perpetually failing. Here's one glaring example: I planned a year of activities geared to address each day of creation across the span of seven months(so we would spend a month loosely discussing light, one on water and the sky, one on land, dirt, rocks, sea, plants, seeds, and climates........and there it stopped. No "etc." Who knew day three was so rife with educational potential? We didn't do half of the hands on exploration that I had planned for the first three months, and after a full year we were still jostling around in day three.) Some of you more generous readers (hi, mom) are thinking "that's not failure," but I bought wall-length charts of the human skeletal and digestive systems! I organized our entire children's library by their relationship to the days of creation! I planned science experiments, display posters, and literature-based unit studies that we never even broached! I bought wall-length charts! WALL-LENGTH charts! And it turns out we just really like dirt and plants! Who knew!

2. When they love school, they love me. When they hate school, get the idea. I am the one urging them to finish their projects, put away their markers...with lids...when they're finished, and stand for our closing song (oh, we HAVE a closing song, and an opening song, and transition music.....transition music planned to coincide with the relevant aspect of the day or creation we are discussing.....who can blame them for being annoyed?) And when I (also annoyed by my own anality [it OUGHT to be a noun]) failed to communicate the central idea of a lesson or the phonics concept or mathematical principle or logical structure during a given school period, I often failed, too, to love them effectively in the process. My patience waned, frustration mounted, and occasionally someone cried. It stunk. Some days, it really stunk.

3. Balancing passion and pressure. This point relates less to the time I spent with my kids, directly, and more to the interaction that I maintain with the homeschool community at large. The passion we share for enjoying and educating our children drives us together. The pressure to represent is overwhelming. And in case the nineties-rap jargon (you know how I love love love 90s rap) turned homeschool verb(al) seems confusing, I'll take a minute to unravel "represent." What's your curriculum? Is she reading? Phonics or whole language? TV or no TV? Latin yet? Music class? Art class? Ballet? Do you test? Co-op? If none of these questions resonates with you, think freshman year, "What's your major? Did you rush? Are you ready for finals?" or Fall semester, senior year: "What are you going to do when you graduate?" Or for you preacher-readers (hi, dad), "emergent or traditional? saved or baptized? gay-friendly or homo-phobic?" (as a side note, however, I need to point out that, although I referenced my father when I prefaced the religiously-oriented hot-button topics, I can't imagine that any one of these questions would cause him the slightest alarm or that he would venture into a discussion about them unless one of his kids needed a sounding board during a personal crisis....and it would have to be a crisis. He's not particularly religious, in the strictest sense, and RARELY engages "issues" of religion.....unless we make him:). Exhausting! And if it's exhausting for ME to have to represent, imagine the trickle-down effect on my kids! (Emotional Reaganomics!)

4. Which brings me to number four: homeschool weird. There, I said it. I don't think the socio-psycho-pop-cultural-iconifiers have constructed an esoteric label for this one yet, but it's a very real phenomenon. Somehow, the pressure to represent (see number 3)mingles with the overarching sense of failure (see number 1), yielding an environment in which homeschool weird is likely, if not certain, to take over. I don't buy the "lack of socialization" explanation for HSW, for a couple of reasons. First, most homeschool students have a broad and active peer group in their communities and churches. Second, I think the factors that contribute to the HSW phenomenon are so obvious and so obviously unrelated to issues of socialization that I'm surprised they are still discussed so frequently in tandem. Here's an example of the petrie dish in full effect. I have attended a number of homeschool plays, concerts, and performances at which the performance anxiety in the audience is as high or higher than that which is on stage. The sense that lines misspoken, a blip on the public school screen of parental concern, reveal some amplified failure to educate or support by parents whose days and often nights are spent thinking acrobatically of ways to educate and support their children oppresses the otherwise joy-filled atmosphere of a homeschool gathering. Which is why, in the homeschool dyad, it is quite often the parent and not the child who winds up HSW. Some families manage to skirt the issue entirely, finding a glorious middle ground between hyper-intensity and inattention that makes for remarkably close, loving, and enviably educated parents and children. And I need to point out that HSW is not an altogether pejorative term! Some of my favorite people are HSW. I, myself, am branded many different types of weird and am secretly proud of most of them. The danger, for me, that forces this point into the second category rather than the first rests on the fact that I think my personality is exactly the kind of personality that could contribute to the most damaging kind of HSW, where the kid, my kid, feels that a parent's success or failure rests squarely upon his ability to spell really tricky words or to properly assess a logical fallacy. NO BODY needs that kind of pressure. (I am seriously doubting that I'll be invited to speak at any homeschool gatherings on this topic, but it has been a part of my own deliberation, so I thought I'd pass it along).

I'm going to have to abbreviate my public school comments as it is very late, but I'm going to give it a whirl.

Things I love about public school.

1. The pledge of allegiance. I have no explanation for this one. In fact, in a rigorous, ideological debate, I'd probably fall closer to the platform of the anti-pledgers. But I love it. I love the standing up, hand-over-the-heart solemnity of the whole thing. I love feeling like I'm a part of something as big and important as "liberty and justice for all." Throw in a little "My country 'tis of thee" before we are seated, and I'm so full of the untrammelled national pride of youth (before discontent makes you say that stuff with a sneer) that I'm ready to write a treatise or run for office or something. I think you only get the corporate resonance of the language and the broad range of its application in public school (which is why we never did it in homeschool.....our thin three voices couldn't drown out my sneer.....and we already had the whole opening song seemed like overkill).

2. THAT teacher. The one who notices and reaffirms the talents and aspirations that your parents have cultivated and encouraged since birth (or, in a couple of cases I can think of [not you, mom...parents of my friends] gifts that parents may have been completely blind to). Somehow, in the language of this teacher, this third party observer, your potential sounds true and you begin to chase it down. I love teachers who challenge and inspire individuals rather than categorically educating their students. There are tons of them! Ask your public school graduate friends, and most can name at least one.

3. School plays, field days, sports, dances (yes, dances....think of my 90s rap affinity, and you just about have the picture), academic teams, competitions, clubs (although, I never really did clubs....they didn't make sense to me without performances or competitions...I'm too much of an extra-curricular capitalist, I guess), choirs, bands, and ALL of their AWARDS days. I eat this stuff up.

4. Report cards and tests. (And right about now you're thinking I should elaborate on the phrase Public School Weird because what else would you call that?) I love knowing what's expected and then knowing where I stand. I love it.

5. The system. I love participating in a predictable system that, given time and attention, can serve your every inclination. Do you want to learn? There's a way. Do you want to do as little as possible? The system allows for that. Do you want to cross-list courses and achieve as much as possible with as little effort as you can manage? There's a system for you! The public school system is (or at least has historically been) pliable and a student with supportive parents has almost no greater ally than a predictable educational system.


Things I don't love about public school

1. The conspiratorial folder. You are 5 or 6 or 7. You believe that your teacher loves you, has taken you into her confidence as a partner in learning and fun. You have grafted her into the thin tree in your inner nursery of trust alongside your parents and favorite grandparents and a couple of aunts, and then, WHAM, in walks another teacher, and she whips out the conspiratorial folder behind which she is most certainly scoffing at you, maligning you, mocking the class, discussing your bad habits, or berating your parents. WHATEVER she is doing, she is making a dramatic gesture of excluding you by holding up a notebook or a folder that conceals her words but not her adult-ish, whisper-masked scornful tone....sometimes it's held so carelessly that it doesn't even hide her animated, almost assuredly snide eyebrows! You feel isolated, violated, and excluded. And here's a weird thing. Some teachers are so surfeited with kid-culture that they whip out the conspiratorial folder around parents. I've seen the thing used at PTA meetings, in conferences, at orientations, all of which involve only adults. On what planet is it deemed acceptable to overtly exclude other grown ups for the purposes of whatever teacher-speak cannot be accomplished outside of the context of that impermeable folder? It's not....ever! I hated it as a kid, and I hate it now....and I hate it for my kid.

2. Lunch, recess, and student elections. After a whole decade of movies devoted almost exclusively to disassembling the tenuous social strata of public education (think Goonies, Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club, Can't Buy Me Love, Sixteen Candles, Lucas.......etc.), the "youth of America" remains unphased. Lunch tables are unmistakably demarkated; hallways are minefields. It's a feudal state. I'm not sure I was a serf (look at me pulling out the medieval terminology I learned in 5th grade....there's nothing I learned in public school that I didn't learn in either 5th or 6th grade....ask my parents; they'll back me up on this one). In fact, I think the problem was that I wasn't sure where I belonged. I bounced from landowner to serf to sub-aristocracy with uncomfortable ease (that's the oxymoron that could caption my entire high school career)....I never really landed, but I'm not sure that anyone ever did. Maybe if we had tackled the Molly Ringwald movies a little sooner....

3. Checkmarks, punitive writing assignments, revoked recess privileges, names on the board. I hate crap like that. Give me a good old-fashioned trip to the principle. Or demerits. Or detentions, or something. AHHHHH, the system. The system, I can handle. It's the renegade dictatorial classroom strategies that wear me thin.

4. THAT teacher. If they can build, they can also destroy. For my husband, it was an elementary school choir teacher; for my Dad, it was, first elementary PE and then a long string of English teachers; my mom had several of them in grade school; and mine was a first grade teacher. The parts that these teachers break off never grow back. And so my husband won't sing in front of people, and my father won't dance, and my mom carries around innumerable scars, and I am earnestly self-conscious and mathematically awkward. And lots of teachers break lots of kids. Just ask any of your public school graduate friends; they can almost all name at least one.

5. The heavy girl in the sparkly sneakers. I hung out on an elementary school playground with my son the other day during a kindergarten recess in the early part of the second week of school. Three girls ran over chasing some boys in an ill-defined tag game. A few steps behind, an overweight little girl tried to find her way into the game. The most vocal of the tag-players was oblivious to her presence. In fact, it was tag-player number three that the hopeful little girl was addressing. "Hey, can I play with you?" Pause, "Hey, can I play?"......Again and again, until finally #3 turned to the little overweight girl with an irritated expression and some surreptitious muttering before looking for approval to Tag leader #1, conventionally cute and well dressed, and recommencing her ambiguous role in the game. The heavy girl looked down and shifted her weight back and forth in pink, sparkly sneakers. I didn't want to cry until I saw her shoes. I've bought sparkly shoes of all kinds. One year, I was given $20 or something for my birthday, and I went to the mall...the MALL, and stretched the $20 at a sale in some boutique-y store to buy 4 sweaters. You can imagine how cool I must have felt (and, with some perspective, you can probably imagine how "cool" my sweaters must have been at 4 for $20...they had short sleeves). I just knew that my time on the periphery was over, that with these sweaters, I could break through into the mystical ring of belonging that I kept bouncing off of. Of course it didn't work, for various reasons (not the least of which were the sweaters themselves, I'm sure.....4 for $20 at the mall....short sleeves....short sleeved sweaters), but it was worse than before. I kept looking down at my meal-ticket tops expecting the situation to change...expecting to feel important like in my dreams....and the rebuffing was more painful because of my uniform.....I stared at my sweaters the way this little girl looked at her pink sparkly sneakers. And they gave her courage; she tried again, "Can I play too?" This time she called out as the #3 girl began to run away, with a vaguely sympathetic but still annoyed look of disdain on her to more amorphous tag, I guess, increasingly aware of the threat that sparkly shoes posed to her own position in the tag game.....fearful, I guess, of her own not-belonging. But, wide-eyed, the heavy girl with the sparkly shoes followed, calling after her again and again the same, steady unrelenting question, "Can I play?......Can I play?".....Until finally, the teacher blew her whistle and the kids began to fall in line, the little girl shuffling to her spot, her eyes, confused, glued to her sparkly shoes. A few days later, my son and I were parked in the car line waiting to pick my daughter up from school, when I saw the little girl again, lined up with her kindergarten class on the way in from recess. They were lined up alongside a brick wall, and the little girl had both hands up in her hair, clutching strands on either side as she faced the wall, kicking it again and again with her sparkly pink shoes....fierce and bitter...while other children filed past her, until a teacher finally told her to get back in line. All of this during the second week of Kindergarten!

None of this analysis is designed to be even-handed. Not everyone experiences school, at home or elsewhere, the way I have. Not everyone listens to Pink Floyd's The Wall with their matriculating Kindergartener, assuring her that her teacher will certainly encourage and appreciate the unique and special person that God made her to be, but that the song illustrates the pull toward conformity - the insistence that children become the same, like bricks in a wall that ultimately keeps people apart - sometimes engendered by the social circumstances of school and validated by some teachers.......not her teacher of course because her teacher wants her to become the unique and special person that God created her to be......but some teachers. Our three year old danced around the house for days yelling out "How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?" We are, in some ways, unique. In other ways, we are not.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Adoption Update -- Short but VERY very sweet

It's official: we have updated our files with immigration and our agency to allow us to bring home TWO young siblings instead of one infant. That's right....two. We are (ALL) very excited.


We will continue to wait for a referral (which is estimated to take between 5 and 7 months), and we are still waiting, in the meantime, to finish our fingerprinting at USCIS.

Our agency advised us to include the greatest number of children we could possibly be open to accepting when we first submitted our CIS forms (we put 1-3). What we didn't realize at that point (while we were still committed to adopting only one child) was that your homestudy has to match your CIS forms or the number you include on the form is irrelevant. Our homestudy agent sent the addendum at our request last week, and we are on our way! I give you this boring logistical part of our exciting news in case you are preparing to begin your adoption process: be sure to request that your homestudy and CIS forms both reflect the greatest number of children you would consider the first time, as changes are more difficult and are sometimes expensive. You can always work with your agency to designate a lower number (as we have.....our documentation certifies us for 3, but we are requesting 2).


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Another Blog to Visit

At the risk of appearing blog-eager, I'm going to post a second entry tonight because I really want to share a blog entry I ran across when I was surfing (web-surfing, not metaphorical, spiritual surfing) last night.

I'll link the whole blog to my sidebar (listen to me, sounding like a tech-savvy girl of the 21st century! Ahhhh, the power of a template), but this entry is a must-read.

Stay away from Animal Planet!

You may not even have to read this blog; the title really says it all. Yes, as you've doubtlessly surmised, this entry is about Motherhood. Would you like me to elaborate? You don't have to twist MY arm (you don't even have to grab it firmly.....not even an idle arm-mangling threat will be necessary)! I'm always up for elaboration. Where to begin? How about with the Naked Mole Rat (always a popular starting point).

Our favorite show to watch as a family is called Fooled by Nature (Animal Planet, 7:30 on weeknights where we live). One of the episodes contained a segment on the Naked Mole Rat and the bizarre phenomenon of its single queen fertility dynamic. Apparently, all mole rats are born physiologically fertile; females ovulate, males.....spermulate. It seems like a friendly and pleasurable colony structure. Enter the Mother. In each mole rat colony (and they do live in underground colonies, like ants or bees), one female asserts her dominance over all of the other little mole rats through physical abuse and emotional manipulation (seriously), making all of the other little mole rats, certainly all of the little female ones, too stressed out to procreate. Indeed, her oppressive behavior halts their reproductive capacities entirely; females cease to ovulate....etc.. Here's a little blurb I've cut and pasted from an informational site online devoted to the fertility of mole rats:

The naked mole-rat lives in colonies of between 100-300 animals, but only the 'queen' reproduces, suppressing fertility in both the females and the males around her by bullying them. Dr Faulkes said: "The queen exerts her dominance over the colony by, literally, pushing the other members of the colony around. She "shoves" them to show who's boss. We believe that the stress induced in the lower-ranking animals by this behaviour affects their fertility. There appears to be a total block to puberty in almost all the non-breeding mole-rats so that their hormones are kept down and their reproductive tracts are under-developed. "Currently, we think that the behavioural interactions between the queen and the non-breeders are translated into the suppression of certain fertility hormones (luteinizing and follicle stimulating hormones). In the non-breeding females this has the effect of suppressing the ovulatory cycle, while in the non-breeding males it causes lower testosterone concentrations, and lower numbers of sperm. In most non-breeding males, sperm that are present are non-motile. "The queen also seems to exert control over the breeding males, so that concentrations of their testosterone are suppressed except when she is ready to mate." However, this stress-related block to fertility is reversible. When the queen dies, the other non-breeding, highest ranking females battle it out for dominance, with the winner rapidly becoming reproductively active.

As you can well imagine, this segment catapulted me into the gnarly brier patch of mother-guilt. Could my maternal intensity really cripple my children? Are they, in a sick irony of post-Freudi*n human drama, actually stifled by my diligence and fanatical concern? My head begins to swim as the thorns begin to snag on bits of recollection and realization: there are the violin practices, and how about when I tried to "teach" Olivia to write the letter g (or was it the number 8.....oh my was both!), and Josiah, sweet little Josiah with his inverted pronouns yesterday! But animal planet wasn't through with me yet.

Next came this bit on the Ladybird Spider, who apparently lays a mess of eggs and then nourishes them with hundreds of nutrient-rich blobs secreted throughout her masterpiece web, which she NEVER leaves, in spite of its absolute seclusion from light and interaction with all other spider-amiable species. Finally, since her creepy, translucent brood is still just one meal shy of the strength they will require to make it in the outside world (a world, you recall, that she hasn't seen since she entered the breeding phase of her brief life-cycle), she nestles all zillion of them together beneath her spider body, wraps them in a final, fatal embrace, and they proceed to eat her until she dies. They feed off of her blood and sinews (I'm not actually sure if spiders have sinews, but if they did...). They brutally (and it WAS brutal; I saw it!) consume their still living mother. Here's a little bit that I found online about it:

Once inside her burrow the female never leaves. The male only comes out for a couple of weeks in May, during breeding time. Female ladybird spiders are dedicated to their young, laying up to 80 eggs in a cocoon and nursing them until they hatch in July or August. The mothers feed the young on regurgitated food and then they themselves become a meal for the hungry spiderlings. It takes 3 to 4 years for the spider to reach maturity.

Now for a whirlwind of self-conscious regret and grotesquely overblown isolation. Am I a Ladybird Spider? I have written or read nearly nothing that wasn't assigned to me since I started....breeding. My musical tastes in the last five years have covered the Raffi-Wiggles-Veggietales spectrum (with a little obligatory Mozart thrown in from time to know, for their intellect). Rare, now, are the hours I used to share daily with Amy and Emily, Bob, Van, and Ani. I've managed to retain Rich Mullins and Patty Griffin and have picked up Sara Groves and Mindy Smith, but even so. I begin to feel my lifeblood ebbing and my sinews snapping. Exercise, HA! Showers, surreptitious. Make-up...well, I was never really a big make up wearer, but now I may never have the opportunity to give it a legitimate chance! The "honeymoon" months after Olivia's birth were especially lonesome, with Bob Barker and whatever unsuspecting Mormons that I could hijack as my only adult conversation (and hijack them I did! I had cups of water ready, the door flung wide, and two chairs cleaned off and strategically arranged whenever I spied a pair of well-dressed men toting backpacks and Bibles working our block. My mother used to call time and temperature 83 times a day just to hear a grown-up voice.....I had Price is Right and the Mormons.) They rarely had a chance to stumble through their concern for my spiritual well-being before I began my own copiously-rehearsed Welcome Mormons spiel. And after I was blacklisted by their congregation (having commandeered the afternoons of 4 "elders" over the course of several weeks), I started to keep an eye always peeled for the less recognizable Jehovah's witnesses. I bear no ill will against the Mormon religion as a whole for abandoning me during my darkest days. My husband and I still use the phrase Mormon-nice regularly (as in, she's not just nice, she's Aretha-cool, or Beck-weird, or Mother-Theresa-Good.....see, we're inter-denominational in our hyperbole). They had to do what they had to do. But I was clearly in solipsistic despair.....suffering from what one magazine freelancer called "isolation without solitude," a perfect description.......of the LADYBIRD SPIDER. Would I end up like her, a mere shell of a formerly magnificent, vibrant creature, cannibalized by her beloved?

Perhaps I was just taking this all too personally....(hmmmmmmmm)....

I found comfort.....nay, enlightenment....where we all find it eventually, in the arm-waving admonitions of a flight attendant. As I mulled over the mole rat ladybird spider predicament, I was struck by the memory of the sharp-gesturing, impeccably-groomed stewardess on my recent flight home from visiting my brother and his family. She said, sagaciously,

Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the bag over your own mouth and nose before assisting children.

I realize her direction was lofted toward all hundred or so people riding on Northwest flight whatever that afternoon, but I couldn't help but think that she, my guru, my sensei, meant those words especially for me. I don't have to suffer as a Ladybird Spider or nag and destroy like a Naked Mole Rat; I just have to mother with the very best of all I have to offer, and I cannot mother if I cannot also (occasionally) breathe.