Monthly Archives: May 2018

My son competed in his first spelling bee

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When we first learned about the spelling bee, I was excited. Teddy is a great speller, and my parents were going to be in town, so they could come with Lydia and me to cheer him on. Teddy was decidedly less enthused. My mini me was wary of standing on stage and speaking into a microphone. I get it. In fact, in the face of just such a scenario when I was in sixth grade, I preferred to intentionally misspell a word (village — I dropped an ‘l’) during the class spelling bee to avoid the school wide affair, a story I actually shared with Teddy much to my husband’s chagrin. I wanted my kid to compete, but I totally understood if he wanted to opt out.

A list of 60 words came home, and we immediately ran through them. He spelled 57 of them correctly the first time. I put the words away, planning to quiz him periodically during the next couple weeks. Then, the day before the spelling bee, snow was forecast…and school was cancelled in advance. The bee was rescheduled for the following week. Another list of words came home (the same? not sure, actually; I didn’t compare them) and again we went through a few, although we didn’t get through all of them this time; Teddy got restless–and possibly bored. But…it turned out that the week of the rescheduled bee was also the week of testing for the upper grades, and those teachers resented giving up precious prep time to the bee. So the bee was rescheduled…indefinitely.

We forgot about it. I figured it wasn’t going to happen, and I didn’t think Teddy would mind.

Then, the second week of May, I got a text from Teddy’s teacher saying the bee was back on — that Friday. The afternoon of the spelling contest, Lydia and I and a handful of other parental cheerleaders sat in the cafeteria and watched each class’s star spellers file onto the stage. Teddy looked…enthusiastic? I was shocked. He sat quietly onstage with a dozen other kindergarten, first and second graders while the pronouncers settled in with their lists and microphones. He was speller number four in the first round. And his first word was “ship”. I smiled to myself, knowing he could spell that one in his sleep.

He strode to the microphone with a smile. (My kid? Comfortable on stage?) “Ship,” he said clearly in a strong voice: “S-h-i-p, ship”. Then he returned to his seat, his face neary split with his grin. I was baffled. Who was this kid who just stood onstage and spoke with such confidence to an audience? The same kid whose kindergarten teacher intentionally moved him to the back of the class to force him to speak up — to no avail? How could I replicate this at home?

The first round continued, eliminating a few kindergarten spellers. Round two brought “parents” — another easy word for my confident?? kid. Round three: “Awake.” No hesitation. Round four: “vacation.” Just before Teddy, another kindergartner had spelled “lotion” l-o-s-h-i-n, but my word nerd got the “tion” just fine.

It was about round five, when the first second grader misspelled a word, that it occurred to me that Teddy could actually win this thing. He hadn’t seemed baffled about any of his words, yet. And then in round 7, he got “bakery”. “b-a-k” he spelled, and then paused. And I held my breath. “e” he continued, and stopped again. I couldn’t decide whether it was better to stare at him for support or look away. But I couldn’t look away anyway. I was so tense! “r”. I was sending positive spelling vibes as hard as I knew how and doing my best to keep Lydia quiet, who, a half hour into the spelling, was hitting her wall. Finally, he finished the word: “y”, and I could let out my breath in a whoosh. And relax. And focus more on setting Lydia up with something entertaining.

And then the round was finished, and Teddy was one of two spellers (both boys) left on stage. And I just stared at him, thinking how proud I was that he got this far.

Teddy’s kindergarten teacher, who was MC’ing the whole thing, took a moment to explain the final round: if the first speller missed his word, the second speller would have a chance to correctly spell that same word. If he also missed it, both would remain in the competition and the first speller would get another word. Teddy was speller number two. The other contestant walked to the microphone. His word was “dishes.” He said, “d-i-s-h-s.” And my mouth dropped open. I couldn’t help it. Teddy was going to win. I knew he could spell dishes. And by the smile on his face, I could tell he knew it, too. Indeed, he practically skipped to the microphone. “Dishes. d-i-s-h-e-s. dishes.”

And that was it. He won the spelling bee for the lower grades. My child who loves language as much as I do, whose idea of fun is making up words that rhyme, who’s been asking me to read him road signs from the time he could talk, won his first spelling competition. I could not stop smiling. And neither could he. And his trophy. Oh my word, the thing was huge! He thought that was awesome. (He took great delight in attempting to hide it behind his back when Mike came home that evening.) And as if that wasn’t enough: the prize for first place? Nats tickets. Because obviously. How fitting is that. The only real question that remains: who gets to go with him? 😉

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Self-care means I buy myself flowers so I don’t yell at my son

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I’ve been working through a parenting workbook created by Dr Laura Markham called Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. It promises to teach parents how to use “mindfulness and connection to raise resilient, joyful children and rediscover your love of parenting.” Let me tell you, it’s been a game changer. I’ve been a longtime subscriber of her e-newsletter and I’ve read her book, but her strategies have never worked for me. Until now. Somehow, the process of reading the content in conjunction with working through the exercises has acted as a sort of parenting coach, and I’m able to implement the tools she provides.

In April, Mike traveled more than usual, and the weekend before one four-day trip, I was feeling particularly anxious because I don’t do well alone with the kids multiple days in a row. (I’d never make it as a military spouse with my husband on deployment; well, I would, but I’d have to get help!) But I got prayer at church the morning before he left, and I made a plan to work through some of those workbook exercises every morning Mike was gone.

I’m happy to report, that first day was the beginning of a two-week streak of no yelling on my part. And I think a major component was the topic I happened to be working through that week: self-care. Dr Laura talks a lot about keeping your own tank full so that you can be compassionate toward your children. I’ve read about this concept several times in her e-newsletters, but in the workbook I had to write down what self-care would look like for me. And then I had to think through and write down what obstacles keep me from indulging in these practices. And then I had to make a plan to do them anyway. Another exercise encouraged me to set an alarm on my phone every hour to remind myself to check in and ask myself what I needed in that moment. I certainly didn’t do that every hour, but I did it more often than I ever do, and it helped me reset.

Recognizing and meeting my own needs is not easy for me — I’m a 9 on the enneagram; we are notoriously terrible at figuring out what we want in general, never mind deep soul stuff — but when I took the time to do so — and gave myself permission to splurge when what I needed required a purchase — I felt so much more in control of my reactions in –ahem — challenging situations. Instead of reacting in anger, I could take a moment to calm myself. And in that moment, often one of two things would happen: I’d either realize what was happening wasn’t that serious (so I’d keep myself from blowing up) or, if it was a big deal, a logical consequence would come to me (so I’d avoid declaring a consequence that did not match the crime, which I’d later have to either rescind or implement, neither of which are appealing).

Another shocker was how my calm had a knock-on effect with my son. He feels injustices intensely and reacts in ways I would consider out of proportion, but pointing that out in the moment obviously isn’t helpful. Typically, I get frustrated by what I perceive to be his unnecessary and drawn-out intensity and respond accordingly. But when I was able to maintain calm, I noticed he seemed to tap into that and his outbursts lessened in intensity and duration: win-win! I did so well all week that when Mike returned, I felt like I could’ve handled the weekend alone, too!

I’ve since relapsed a bit, but I’m still trying to be intentional about practicing self care. A few things I’m trying to make a habit of:

  • Buy flowers every week because looking at them on my counter makes me happy. I’ve never been one to splurge on a colorful bouquet because it seemed such a frivolous expense, but I’ve realized it’s worth it given how much joy I get from it.
  • Exercise at least 10 minutes every day.
  • Read my daily devotional.
  • Read a good book rather than scroll through social media feeds.
  • Wear rose scented perfume. In thinking about the things that make me happy, I realized that, while I love the smell of roses, I don’t have anything with that scent–no body lotion, body wash, perfume, nothing. Then, the week before Mother’s Day, the paper had an insert advertising perfume — one of which was Amazing Grace ballet rose by Philosophy. So I told Mike I was getting it for myself. And I’ve been enjoying it every day since.

White privilege and talking about racism

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A few weeks ago, I attended a seminar featuring a panel of adult transracial adoptees. Three of the four panelists led breakout sessions, and I chose the one who most resembled our experience: a black man who’d been adopted as a baby by white parents. He didn’t have an agenda for the session; rather, he opened it up, inviting us to ask him anything. I had so many questions, I didn’t know where to start, so I waited, content to eavesdrop on the rest of the room. During the course of the conversation, which is sort of what the session turned into, the adoptee’s wife offered her two cents. I don’t remember now what inspired her to contribute, but I’m still thinking about what she said. She was not adopted, she grew up in a black family, and she said one of the things that most shocked her when she was learning about her husband was how his family had never discussed racism when he was growing up. “We discussed racism every day,” she exclaimed, “because something happened every day to talk about.”

I immediately identified with the adoptee’s parents. We don’t discuss racism very often because we have reason to bring it up only when a racist incident the country has deemed particularly egregious fills our twitter feed. And then, we don’t always talk about it with our kids, with the perhaps misplaced intent of sheltering them. She pointed out that if something isn’t mentioned at home, kids won’t ask questions. If they hear about a topic at home, they’ll know it’s safe to talk about. It’s something we’ll need to be intentional about, since we don’t experience the everyday microaggressions so many black people endure.

  • I ask for the code to use the Starbucks bathroom and the barista gives it to me without batting an eye.
  • When grocery shopping with my 3-year-old, I sometimes grab a single serve snack, open it, and give it to her to munch on without ever fearing I’ll be accused of shoplifting.
  • I’m never assumed to be the nanny, despite that my children are a different race than me.

I know that is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what black Americans experience.

Later in the conversation, a white adoptive dad asked whether black people have an identity outside of oppression. He wanted to expose his kids to a positive identity and it seemed the African American sense of self was rooted in slavery and Jim Crow, and he wondered if he was missing something. He took a while to articulate his question, patching together his thoughts as he spoke them aloud, and when it was clear what he was asking, there was a beat of silence, and I waited for the explosion.

The adoptee and his wife offered examples, attempting to reiterate how oppression was so much a part of daily life, but all I could think was how the question had so much privilege behind it. We who haven’t experienced walking-while-black or driving-while-black or waiting-for-friends-while-black can look at the hundreds of years of oppression in African American history and dismiss it with a simple, well sure, but that’s not now. What do you have now? We want to tell our kids about the rainbows and butterflies. We don’t want to dwell on all that negative stuff.

When Mike and I took the kids to the opening weekend of the National Museum for African American History and Culture, as we walked through the lower floor exhibits, we had a chance to share some of that negative stuff with our kids. Standing in front of the gruesome picture of a slave ship, we tried to explain how Africans were taken from their villages and packed like sardines in the bottom of the ship to make an arduous trip across the Atlantic only to emerge as property expected to bend to their masters’ will. It was so disturbing to look at that picture. And then solemnly gazing at the auction block, we pictured kids taken from their parents, but had the privilege of deciding that story could wait another day since both kids were hitting their wall.

A week or so after the seminar, I was waiting with Lydia at the bus stop on the way to her preschool and an older black man who’d helped me lift the stroller onto the bus a few days previous greeted us. He told me he had a granddaughter a little older than Lydia. And then, gazing toward the past, he said, “They killed my grandson. He interned in the mayor’s office. They shot him nine times.” What words can you offer then but, “I’m so sorry.” And then — awkwardly, thankfully — the bus pulled up, and we got on and he of course was left with this tragedy invading his every day while I was just left saying prayers for his family and for my own son, that he wouldn’t meet the same fate, and wondering how to prepare my kids to face racism when I’ve never experienced it.

So far, our experience as a transracial family has been only positive. Our kids get attention from strangers because they’re adorable and delightful. But I know as they get older, that will change. Awareness is half the battle, so I’m thankful to have this brought to my attention now, so I can work on being more intentional.

 

 

 

The other question I get about adoption

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In recent weeks, I’ve been discussing adoption a lot. First was with a friend from church who is considering adoption with her husband and wanted to hear about our process. They have one child biologically and are ready to grow their family. Her main question is one that I always find difficult to answer–and only recently have I pinpointed why. She wanted to know what I wish I would’ve known at the beginning of the process. In the last six years, I’ve learned a lot. And much of that is stuff they don’t teach you in the adoption training process. But inherent in the question of what I wish I’d known is the assumption that I would’ve done things differently had I had at the beginning the knowledge I’ve gained over the years. And there’s nothing I’ve learned that would’ve (a) been a deal breaker for building our family through adoption or (b) prepared me for the issues unique to adoption that we would face. In fact, you can’t adequately prepare for raising adopted children. You just deal with what comes when it comes. Just like with bio kids. And that’s the insight I had recently: no one asks parents who birthed their own children what they wish they’d known. Because everyone understands that no knowledge could change the hardwired desire to have children.

Following that discussion, another friend from church asked to connect me to a couple who were considering adoption and wanted to hear about our experience. That conversation underscored my realization that what I provide people who are starting this journey is not so much advice but a sounding board, the listening ear of someone who has already done what they are considering. And resources. My prayer from the time we brought Teddy home has been that the Lord would provide the resources I need when I need them. And that prayer has already been answered many times. I’ve discovered a lot of valuable sources of information over the years that I’m always happy to pass along.

So during my most recent conversation, I did just that. I was at the playground after picking up Teddy from school and a pair of grandparents was there with their grandchild. The grandpa (“gaga”, as he was affectionately known by his grandchild) sat next to me and we exchanged pleasantries. When he noticed which children were calling me mom, he deduced adoption and proceeded to share that his daughter and son in law were embarking on that path. So as someone who’s been through it, I shared from my toolbox. And he took notes. And I felt helpful.

So I think the next time someone asks me if there’s anything I know now that I wish I’d known before we adopted, I’ll answer no, but that I’ve definitely learned a lot during the last six years.

This is a lifelong learning journey. And I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned with people along the way.

A few of my favorite resources:

  1. In Their Own Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption by Rhonda Roorda
    This is hands down my favorite resource. It offers valuable insight on how white parents can best parent black children.
  2. Adoption Learning Partners
    I’ve probably done a dozen webinars through this organization.
  3. Black friends. If you don’t have them, seek them out. If you do have them, strengthen and invest in those friendships.
  4. White friends who have also adopted black kids. Nothing quite like a friend who’s on the same journey you are whom you can text random stories and they get it. Even better, friends who are farther along in their journey whom you can ask advice.