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First blog post

This is the post excerpt.

As I am bumbling through this blog design process, I realize that this is no different than virtually every other area of my life: it’s not exactly how I planned it, I’m realizing half way through that I don’t really know what I’m doing,  I’m feeling out of my depth (but not too embarrassed to admit it), I’m wondering how everyone else does it and seems to make it look so effortless, and I’m thankful that people are kind enough to encourage me along the way. Technology is not always my friend, but WORDS are! And since I am nothing if not verbose, unmarried, and the parent of a male child who cannot possibly receive all the words I have to share, I am very grateful for this venue which allows me to share them with anyone who is interested. God bless you!

Brown and White, Pink and Black

A few months ago I was within earshot of a rather interesting, and a little troubling conversation between my son and his friend, who were sitting in my living room. My son, who is genetically, mostly African, and his friend who is racially mixed (I honestly don’t know what the mix is), were recounting various situations at school in which classmates were being in the least, ignorant and insensitive and, at the worst, overtly racist towards them. The final comment was by the friend who said, with a sigh and without any malice, “I hate white people.” At which point I, the invisible, forgotten parent and the only white person in the room piped up and said, “Hey! Wait just a second! I’m white!!” To which they both turned a startled gaze upon me as if seeing me for the first time as a white person (or even as a person, for that matter) , and the friend said, without skipping a beat, “Naw, you’re not white. You’re pink. We good.” OK, thanks for that, and nice recovery, by the way, but, “Yes, I’m white and I don’t treat either one of you like that, neither does anyone in our family or any of our friends or our church or our neighbors, so let’s not make generalizations about people based on skin color, since you don’t want people to do that to you… yada, yada, yada… Golden Rule…. (Picture pre-pubescent eye-rolling here annnnd… end of teachable moment. “Can we go outside?” Screen door slams. yes. sigh.)

My son was rather, shall we say, frenetic as a toddler, so, I think he was a little late in developing the cognitive ability to recognize racial characteristics. But when he finally did, Boy Howdy! Everybody knew. Every time we saw a person of color, he would shout out at the top of his lungs, “MOM! Look! (pointing, of course) That lady is brown just like me!” I didn’t know how else to respond, so I matched his enthusiasm. I would say, “I know! Isn’t that great?!” Most people would come over to high-five him or shake his little hand and say, “Hey, little buddy! Look, you’re just like me. We’re the same!” It was rather precious, except when it wasn’t… well received, but those situations were few and far between. For the longest time, he referred to himself as brown and I went with that. Sometimes, he was chocolate and I was vanilla, because I always prefer chocolate, and he always prefers vanilla. And, yes, I did let him lick my arm, many, many times. “Mmm, tastes like vanilla. Now, you taste me, Mom.” (I can assure you that sweaty, sticky, dirty little boy arm did not taste like chocolate, but, a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.)

One day, when he was maybe 4 or 5, after spending time with my dad, he came home and said, very firmly, “Grandpa says I’m not African-American.” OK… tell me more about that conversation. “He says I’m an American. I was born in America just like you and Grandpa and I’m a cilizen of America!” Yes, yes, I agree with all of those statements. You were born in Portland, Oregon, and you most definitely are an American and a citizen of America. “I wasn’t born in Africa.” No, you were not. OK, good talk. However… when he felt the need to announce this fact to random people, specifically, people who identify themselves as African American, it didn’t go over so well. The “African American” identifier still doesn’t quite work for him, even now, especially since we have friends who are from Africa and became American citizens, and thusly are African-Americans.

But, now, he identifies with black instead of brown. And, lately, I am more referred to by him (as a joke, mostly, because I flush and sunburn easily) as pink rather than white. Are we clear on that? I’m not. It’s an ever-evolving process. What I am clear on is that my son gets to define it, himself, with the loving support of his community, which is his family, his friends, his church and his neighbors. You see, in addition to all the awful, evil, violent things that are happening in our country regarding race relations, there are also wondrous, miraculous, divine things happening. There are more interracial marriages/partnerships than ever before, and the resulting children are a blend of the best of us. There are blended families of mixed races where a blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl calls an African immigrant, Daddy. There are families that grow by adoption that know absolutely no boundaries when it comes to race, ethnicity or country of origin. There are old, white, folk who were raised in a different era who end up with Asian granddaughters and black grandsons and become the proudest, most indulgent grandparents ever to bore you with pictures. And, while skin tones may be a part of our family or personal narrative, and may be an ever-morphing part of our individual identity, it does not always define our culture. Our families and communities define our culture.

Recently, I took my son to North Portland at his request because he wanted to go to a real black barber. He’d been asking every black male in Vancouver with a haircut he admired, and I mean EVERY one, even strangers. They all said the same thing: you need to go to North Portland. So we headed to the epicenter of African-American (I’m white, I use the PC term) culture in Portland, Martin Luther King Boulevard, on a Sunday afternoon and began searching for a barber that was open. White me, my handsome, young, black son who looks four years older than he is, cruising around in our decidedly “mom-mobile”-looking, old SUV. After one hit and miss, we were referred to a place that was open and took walk-ins and my young man was able to get a killer haircut from a bona fide, black barber. Afterwards, I wondered what his response to this experience would be, if he would be more or less comfortable being in a room full of black people (this rarely happens to him), and if he would be drawn to, or repelled by the particular (and kind of odd) situation in which we had just found ourselves. His observations impressed me and made me very proud. He felt that the only other woman in the room (the wife of the barber) was dressed immodestly, that they had conversations in front of a room full of strangers that were too personal in nature, and they used language that was inappropriate to use in front of a child. He liked his haircut very much. They were very nice to him. “But, can we try another place, next time, that would be more… professional?” Absolutely!  We’ll keep trying till we find the right one.

The values of HIS culture, our culture, that have nothing to do with the color of our skin, held true in this situation: to respect women (and for women to respect themselves), to conduct yourself with dignity and professionalism when you are at work or in public in general, to be gracious and thankful, but make wise choices in where you spend your time and money. O.M.Gosh! Did the nagging, lecturing, harping, and yes, sometimes yelling and screaming, “Did you hear what I just said?!” actually get through? In this moment… maybe. He’s only twelve. I’ve still got plenty of time to ruin him. (Or, I’ll keep nagging, lecturing, harping and maybe I could try to cut back on the yelling and screaming.)

Maybe, an entire generation of mixed families, however they come to be; by marriage, by birth or by adoption, are building a culture that has nothing to do with their skin tones (or better yet, are embracing ALL their skin tones) but going beyond that, can stand on a culture of which the values are respect and dignity and graciousness and kindness and thankfulness. It’s a tall order, a noble calling, and, I’m not gonna lie, most days I feel like I’m failing. But, I’m trying. And I know an African-American dad and a white mom who are trying with their white daughter and their bi-racial sons. I know white parents who are trying with their Asian daughters. I know many interracial couples who are trying with their bi-racial kids. I know many adoptive parents who are trying with their kids. And let’s not forget the unsung heroes: families who are all of the same race and/or ethnicity who are raising biological kids who do not know, nor will they tolerate racism, because their parents brought them up that way, some of them breaking the patterns of racism with which they were raised.

Lest you think that I’m unaware of the state of race relations in our country. Stop right there. Lest you think my son and I haven’t experienced racism. Stop right there. I am, painfully, fearfully aware and I try to make my son aware without causing him to be fearful – it’s more than a fine line, it’s a razor’s edge. He has, we have, experienced racism – some situations still too raw for either of us to share publicly. But, I have hope. There IS hope! And if you need to be introduced to ‘hope’, I know them, personally.

Love is Risk

 

 

 

The Only Parent

As in so many other areas of life, I defy demographics in this title. I didn’t adopt till I was over 40, I am a white woman and I adopted a child of color, and I adopted as an unmarried person. So, my contemporaries are empty-nesters and most of them are grandparents. The parents of my son’s friends are often twenty years younger than me. We are a trans-racial family, my son is an only child, and I am the ‘only parent’. I try not to call myself a single parent because that term is used to describe an entirely different demographic: a divorced parent sharing custody with their ex-spouse, an unmarried parent sharing child-raising responsibilities (or not) with the child’s other parent, or a parent raising their child or children after the death of a spouse. I came into parenthood knowingly, willfully on my own. For a long time that simple fact made it difficult for me to ask for help. “I asked for this. I took this on.  I did this. This is my situation to deal with, and no one else’s.” But, of course, sheer desperation brings humility and, well, I’ve gotten over that. For those of you who are part of the village helping to raise my child, let me just stop right here and thank you.

What I’d like to do is discuss two sides of this only-parenting coin. I want to be frank about the challenges that it presents and what I think are some actual strengths.  I hope it will be insightful for those of you who are two parent homes so that you can a) appreciate each other as team-mates, and b) support only parents or single parents that you know and love. And I hope that it will be an encouragement to others like me who defy demographics (the few, the proud, The Only Parents!) and the many single parents out there, doing it on their own, most of the time or part of the time.

I was sitting alone, as usual, on the bleachers in a school gym, watching my son play basketball when I overheard a conversation that I couldn’t avoid. A woman sitting courtside with her daughter was approached by a friend who said, “Are you here all alone?” (insert exaggerated sad/pouty face here). The first woman, who obviously was not alone (she was with her daughter), responded, “Yes. Brian’s fishing all weekend. I’m doing the single parent thing, running the kids around to all their games, keeping it all together.” (insert sigh of great heroics, here). If this were a TV show, this would be me, freezing the scene and stepping in for narration:

  1. Being home alone with your kids for a weekend, or a week, or even months, does not a make you a single parent or only parent. And frankly, it’s insulting to the REAL single/only parents who are doing it year after year. If you have a spouse, significant other or other parent who is contributing to your home and your family in any way – financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually… you are not a single parent. I understand that there are parents who travel for work, are deployed in the military, work odd shifts, or are simply disengaged, but until you have been the sole provider for your family and the only adult that is responsible for them, don’t put the label on like you’re putting on a hat. Please. If you have a parenting partner who supports you and your children in any way and whose presence is missed when they are absent, by all means take a moment to tell them you appreciate them.

Another sports venue (are you picking up on a trend? sports are a big part of our life): my son is aging out of parks and rec sports and I am having a conversation with another mom about how, although my son is a natural athlete and because he is ADHD, really needs to be in sports, we are unable to do club sports, or even after school sports. I work full time. I am the only parent. I cannot transport him to and from practices two, three or five times a week from 3:30 to 5:00pm. This mom happens to be president of the PTO of my son’s school. She peppers me with questions: Well, what about car-pooling? Have you talked with other parents? Have you asked your neighbors? Do you have family members who are available? Yeah, no, no, no, NO! Stop! Just stop!

2. Don’t give advice, or try to be part of the problem-solving process unless you are willing to BE part of the solution! I’m what you call lower middle class. I live downtown, not in a suburban cul-de-sac where everyone has 2.5 kids and all the moms know each other. The few neighbors I knew were retired and were not up to shuttling around a hyperactive 4th grader. My parents, at the time, traveled a lot, and the rest of my relatives work full time like I do. And, since I work full time, the only time I get to go to my son’s school is when I am required to be there for parent-teacher meetings or 504 reviews, and I don’t exactly get to connect with other parents then. Here’s a thought, Ms. PTO Pres: since you have the access and the connections, maybe that conversation could have gone something like this. “I might be able to come up with a couple of families whose kids are participating and would be willing to carpool. Give me a week and I’ll get back to you with more info.” Well, THANK YOU! That is so helpful! The logistics of managing a family and a home with only one adult takes some advanced problem-solving skills. Please don’t assume that we haven’t already worked our way through all the obvious options and come up empty-handed. Please DO offer resources that we don’t have; time and transportation are biggies. If you have a parenting partner who tag-teams with you through weekly sports practices, music lessons and busy Saturday game schedules, please let them know how much you value their team work.

It’s summer time, and my Facebook feed is filled with photos of all the fabulous things that all y’all are doing for your vacations, or even just the fun things you get to do with your kids while they are out of school for the summer. I’m happy for you, really I am. But part of me grieves when I look at these pictures. (Social media is a blessing and a curse, is it not?) First, I have to work all summer. Every summer. If I’m lucky (and this summer I’m not) I get one week off. Second, I have to scramble, scrape and beg everyone I know to keep my too-old-for-daycare child busy while he’s not in school. Yes, he can stay at home, alone. But how many days out of 60+ do you want your 12 year old loafing around the house playing video games, texting his friends and watching God knows what on Netflix and YouTube? Or worse, wandering around town looking for trouble? I start waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night in April, worrying about summer.

3. Summers are the ULTRA challenge for the only parent. One summer-stay-at-home parent with ambition for a niche business (yep, I’d pay for big kid care), or a vision for ministry could impact the lives of dozens of young people and families in their community; shuttling those ‘tweeners’ to youth events, sports clinics or day camps, or just offering to let my kid be your extra kid for the summer and hang out, watch movies, go to the pool, pull weeds, pick blueberries, or play age-appropriate X-box games. Some of the sweetest words to this mother’s ears: “He was great. We love having him here. He’s just like one of our kids. You can bring him any time. ” You are now family. And when my child has no father and only one set of grandparents, I’ll take all the extra family I can get for him. There are places I will not go and things I will not do simply because it would be unwise to do so for a woman alone with a (challenging) child. For reasons I do not understand, or don’t want to know, couple parents rarely invite single parents to be part of their group activities. We have never been camping, never been to Disneyland, rarely been in a boat, or on a mountain, mostly because I didn’t have the funds, the connections, the resources or the gumption to venture forth, just the two of us, for parts unknown. Had we been invited to be part of a group of families, it might have been do-able. Any other single or only parents out there want to form a co-op for summers and vacations? If I had the time, I would organize it. But, I don’t have the time, of course. Because I have to go to work. Like now. For those of you who have a stay-at-home parent partner, one who works part time, works from home, has a flexible work schedule, or is off during the summer, stop what you’re doing right now and say, “Good grief! What would we do with the kids this summer if you weren’t here with them?! Thank you!” And those of you who have a great partnership worked out for vacations with one who plans, drives, navigates and schedules, while the other wrangles, herds, nags and nurtures (or maybe you split it 50/50), be extra grateful for the opportunities that teamwork makes possible. Your children are the richer because of it.

My brother has two daughters who were adopted from China, both are exquisitely beautiful in their own way (says the unbiased aunt), and as different in temperament as night and day. I have heard my brother and sister in law say on many occasions, regarding many everyday life situations, “Her dad has to do that with her. We just butt heads. It doesn’t go well if I try to help. I just leave it to him.” or, “That would her mom’s department. I just can’t even be involved. She gets too frustrated with me.” My brother and his wife are a very unified team in parenting, yet they each bring their own unique skill set that really creates an effective team.

4. When you are the only parent, it’s all on you. If you butt heads, if you get frustrated, if you don’t see eye to eye or have trouble communicating, if you are at wit’s end and feel like you may do yourself or your child bodily harm if you keep at this task a moment longer, there is no tag-team, no pass off, no relief in sight. This is it. It’s just me and if I don’t do it with him, it’s not gonna get done. And, guess what? Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the homework just doesn’t get turned in (and yes, the grades may suffer). Sometimes the child just doesn’t get a shower (for several days at a time). Sometimes he wears the same shirt for three days in a row because I have run out of reasons why he can’t wear the same shirt for three days in a row and there is no one else to come up with a better argument. Sometimes he has tater tots and ice cream for supper because that is not the hill I’m willing to die on tonight. One last time: If you have a parenting partner who tag teams with you, picks up where your resources have been exhausted, has a skill set that completely amazes and mystifies you (You LIKE math? Hallelujah!), or connects with your child in a way you cannot, please take a moment to let them know how valuable they are in raising your children.

Now, let’s flip that coin over, shall we? In addition to the many challenges of parenting alone, I have come to appreciate some of the unique strengths, at times, advantages, in being the only parent. For those of you who are going it alone, I challenge you (as I do myself) to look for these positives as you parent:

  1. Your focus is on your child (or children), exclusively. This can be rather important at a certain stage or time in your child’s life, especially if your child has special needs. I believe that single or only parents are sometimes uniquely qualified to care for special needs or high maintenance kids. A marriage or partnership takes time, energy and work and that takes away from the resources you have to give to that child. Has it occurred to you that God planned it this way all along? What if you, alone, are the BEST thing for your child?
  2. Parenting alone eliminates a LOT of drama and disappointment. Who is picking my son up from school? Me. Who is taking him to his doctor’s appointment? Me. Who is going to his basketball game on Saturday. Me. Who signs him up for the youth event? Me. Who decides he doesn’t get to go because he got into trouble at school? Me. Who meets with his teachers and creates an educational plan? Me. I agree to only that which works with my schedule. I commit only to that which I know I can manage. I never worry about him being let down by someone who promised something and didn’t follow through because I AM THE ONE WHO FOLLOWS THROUGH. And I have only myself to argue with about whether I’ve made the right decision about disciplining him. Parenting alone can be very… simple.
  3. You have the opportunity to become both parents to your child (or children). If you are a natural comforter-nurturer, this is your opportunity to develop your fierce protector side. If you are a bad-a** warrior, this is your opportunity to develop your sensitive, sentimental side. You are bound to become a more well-rounded person and a better version of yourself.
  4. You will be pushed and challenged beyond what you ever imagined, and you will find God to be more faithful than ever before. When there is no spouse or partner to fall back on, there is only God to cry out to in your time of greatest vulnerability. You will hear yourself say, “What are YOU going to do about YOUR son?” because your son has no other father but a Heavenly Father and you must trust in His goodness and mercy for both of you. Yes, child AND parent! Isn’t that all any of us can do? Reach for Mercy?

If there is anything I have learned from parenting on my own it is grace; grace for others I may have previously judged (so many of us are just surviving day to day), grace for my child when he does not meet my expectations, and grace for even me, when I feel like I have failed in parenting, most importantly, grace from God who understands how frail and flawed I am and through the saving power of Jesus, doesn’t hold it against me.

Grace and Mercy to you, Parents.  ~ Love Is Risk

 

 

 

Naming My Blog

I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a blog for a couple of years now, and of course, the first question that came to mind was, what would I name it? I’ve come up with some pretty good blog titles. For those who know me, or just others like me whose lives, children and homes are less than perfect and don’t see any reason to pretend otherwise, I think you’ll catch on to the trend. Here are a few of my favorites: This Wasn’t What I Had In Mind But Let’s Just Go With It, I’ve Learned to Live With Plan B (or C, or D), Failure Is Always an Option, Stumbling Along With Grace, Laundry and Dishes After Midnight, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Someone Is On My Last Nerve Again (and that someone is you!) Good Thing He’s Adorable, I Dream About Naps,’ Stop Biting the Dog’ and Other Things You Never Thought You’d Hear Yourself Say. (Feel free to play along at home.) But when it came down to it, I wanted to at least try to be a little more introspective. Isn’t that the purpose of a blog? The phrase came to mind: Love is Risk. This was my mantra when I was in the process of adopting my son. When I began my laborious journey, I swore that I would never enter the foster/adopt process with a child who was not free and clear for adoption. It was just too risky. How could I take custody of a child with the intent to adopt that child, knowing that they could be taken away and given back to the birth parent(s)? I would be ruined. It would be like death. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I did.

You see, children die every day, don’t they? One can hardly bear the thought of it, but they do. But people still keep having children with every intention of raising them to adulthood. Just as marriages end in divorce, yet people still keep getting married all the time, fully intending to stay married for the rest of their lives. Friendships come to bitter ends, yet that doesn’t stop us from continuing to reach out to new people that come across our path. Our beloved family members pass away, but that doesn’t keep us from loving and cherishing them in the present. Or, at least it shouldn’t stop us. But sometimes… sometimes it does. When we’ve been stunned by loss, disappointed, taken advantage of, used and abused, one too many times or the stakes just seem too high. I would be ruined. It would be like death. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. But what if we never did. What if we never opened our hearts to that kind of love again? In what kind of condition would that leave the world? Everyone protecting themselves. No one ever having a child, having a spouse, making a friend, or caring for another human being in a meaningful way. We would be zombies. Even if we could be ‘good’ people, we would be dead inside. It would mean nothing.  “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” I Cor 13:3

One of the strangest, and, I’m just going to be blunt here, most ignorant things anyone has ever said to me about adoption (and there have been many who have said it) is this: “I could never adopt. It’s just too much of a risk. You just never know what you’re going to get and how they’ll turn out.” And this is how I wanted to respond and never did until now: Whether your children are adopted or biological – there are no guarantees. I know people with biological children that are drug addicts, in prison, or have taken their own lives. I also know those who are stellar human beings. And sometimes they are in the same family. The same for adopted children. You see, they all, WE all are people of Original Sin and Free Will and to love us is to risk having your heart broken again and again, but worth doing every time. The alternative would leave us lonely, friendless, orphans, without families or homes.

Again, I’m going to be blunt (are you picking up on a trend?): my adoption story is not movie material. The adoption itself was a long, and difficult process (with moments of miraculous sprinkled along the way) and being a parent to my son has been the most brutally challenging time in my life. And he’s only twelve! We haven’t even gotten to the teenage years, yet! But opening my heart to loving him, and continuing to do so again and again, is the most Christ-like thing I have ever done in my life. I’m beginning to wonder if that was what God had in mind all along.

Love is risk… if you do it right.