Sunday, March 4, 2018

lost in translation...

My husband and I just came home from seeing Black Panther. (Wakanda Forever!) This film is amazing, I'm sure I don't have to tell you, you've all seen it. Wow, the magic that can happen when we give voice to non only white, straight, male film-makers! There is, literally,  A WHOLE WORLD of movies waiting to be made. I'm here for ALL of it. Also, I'm down with any kind of Wakanda themed park experience adventure... whatever. Bring it.

But this isn't really a post about a movie. There are plenty of smart folks writing about this movie. Like this twitter thread about all the African influences on the costumes and body art.

It's just that it got me thinking about something I hadn't pondered in a while- about how much gets lost in translation, especially in international adoption. I'm also reading "The Grammar of God" which is about what is lost (and changed) in the translations of scripture from Hebrew to English. Fascinating!

Back to Black Panther for a moment: There is a scene in which Killmonger takes off his shirt to reveal his killing scars... which is an cultural image actually borrowed from the ritual scarification of the Surma tribe of Ethiopia as well as other African tribes.

My Ethiopian children have scars on their bodies... not quite like the raised bumps of Killmonger, but clearly ritual scars, not the kind that occur with typical childhood injuries. Each time I've asked an Ethiopian about them, I've gotten a slightly different, vague answer. Most answers start with, it was done to help their eyes (or stomach)... and then the answers trail away as they realize that in English, they are making not any sense.

It's like it's untranslatable.

Here in America the thought that you would choose to injure or scar your child's skin for a health or cultural or religious reason is... well, it's unthinkable. * But, in other parts of the world, people see through different eyes. And in rural African communities in which there are no doctors or clinics or medicines, rituals and traditional healing are often a worried parent's only options.

My children's scars do not hurt or embarrass them. They are mildly curious about them, when they think about it. Which isn't very often. But I would like them to have some words about them, even inadequate ones, to use when they are grown and questions arise.

We have our own African adventure coming up in just a couple of weeks. We'll be returning to Ethiopia around Easter to see our family and travel a bit. Perhaps we'll find some more answers about the ritual scars on D and L, and why and how and when they were done. Perhaps not. Perhaps, like certain Hebrew phrases, there is no translation into American. We'll see...


*Even male circumcision is now under a lot of scrutiny and pressure. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

when you are not enough...

I teach children with special needs - right now I have a small class of early elementary students with moderate-severe learning disabilities, autism and other diagnosis. I love my work. It is hard, but it's rewarding and never, ever boring. (Some days I wish it was a little bit more boring.)

Recently two of my students transferred to smaller classes in specialized high need schools. My classroom wasn't able to meet their needs, and so after many discussions and evaluations and paperwork and meetings, their parents choose alternate schools for their children.

One of my assistants was getting emotional about having to say goodbye a student. She felt like she had failed as an educator because she couldn't help this child be a part of our school community. I told her, "Sometimes our jobs as teachers is realizing that we are not enough."

My advice to my assistant has been ringing in my ears a bit this week. I've definitely internalized this message as a professional. Sometimes I can't reach a kid, can't get them to behave safely or positively, can't meet their academic or emotional needs. Then I rationally and patiently (oh, so patiently) get the ball rolling to have them transferred. I'm okay with not being enough for all kids, at work.

But, as a mother... have I recognized that sometimes I'm not enough for my children?

I know I'm my children's second choice. As an adoptive parent you have to walk onto this path with your eyes open, or you will stumble immediately. If my children could choose, they would probably choose not to have lost their mother and be moved halfway across the world to live with a couple of white people. I'm okay with this.

So this week I'm working on fully accepting this clear fact: I'm not always enough for my children. 

I can't show my Black son how to grow up to be a strong, confident Black man.

But I can make sure he attends sports and arts programs with black teachers and coaches.

I can't show my African daughter how to become a beautiful, confident African woman.

But I can make sure she attends a school with African-American teachers and leaders.

I can't teach my children about their Ethiopian heritage.

But we can travel to Ethiopia as often as possible, and fill our home with objects, books, music and images from their homeland. 

L with her Ethiopian sister, 2014.

Our children come to us with their own set of challenges and skill sets. Sometimes a tennis star is born or adopted into a family of book worms. Sometimes an opera singer is born or adopted into a family with tin ears.

None of us is ever really enough for our children, no matter if they look just like us and have the same hobbies and interests and skills. We are hardwired to make connections outside of our families and to strive to move out into the wider world.

Sometimes it can be hard to admit that our children need something we can't provide. Maybe we can't supply breast milk. Maybe we can't supply advice about same-sex relationships or how to play the violin. Sometimes our kids need a specialized, high need special education with teams of teachers, therapists and specialists. It is really hard to admit that out loud. I know, I've been in those meetings.

It's okay not be enough. Sometimes our job as parents is to recognize that we need to find someone (or something) else to meet our kids' needs. And then go find it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Trusting the Mom-stinct, part 2

I'm a public school teacher. I attended public schools through high school. I'm a proud union member. I believe in public schools for all, and think that our education system should be expanded and improved and strengthened, not hemmed in by charters and voucher programs.


Our daughter attends private school.

Parenthood = it's complicated.

Last summer my mom-stincts went into red alert mode over Lily's schooling. I just could not rid myself of the pit in my stomach that seemed to be shouting at me- "She needs something different!!!"

Our daughter is a very bright, energetic and fearless child. Those are AWESOME qualities, but they didn't really jell with the traditional school that she had been attending until this year. Also, she was the only African-American girl in her grade. (and it's a big school) There was plenty of diversity- a majority of kids of color- just not her (beautiful) color. And she felt it. She was very vocal about feeling alone with her identity and she was having a hard time making good friends. Anywhere we went, she gravitated towards other African-American girls, even getting total stranger's phone numbers so that she should set up playdates with girls she met in the local park.

So, we needed a change. Unfortunately, the way that our city's schools system is set up, you really can't just go to any school you like.  Our local school is, frankly, terrible. Better schools in our area were over crowded and unlikely to take in a non-local kid.

Did I mention that this mom-stinct panic set in... last AUGUST? Uh-huh, I was a little slow on the uptake on that one.

Luckily for us, the lovely little Christian school that Lily had attended for nursery- Pre-K has an elementary academy, and very luckily for us, they had an opening in the 2nd grade.

So we found ourselves, just 3 days before school started, scrambling to take the entrance exam, fill out  forms, buying uniforms and supplies, transferring records and figuring out how we were finding the tuition fees in our budget.

Lily didn't take too well to the news that we were moving her to a new school. I believe there was some thrashing on the floor involved. But when we went to pick up her new gym uniform, and she saw the snazzy zip up jacket it came with, she was on board.

Fashion. Not unimportant to 7 year olds.

So here we are: I'm a Unitarian, public school loving, progressive education proponent hippie dippy mom sending her kid to a West-Indian, Christian, traditional, no-nonsense, uniform wearing school.

And it was, by far, the best decision we have made as parents so far.

She is thriving. She has an African-American teacher and principal. She is friends with everyone. She has zoomed up to the top of the class and loves it!

Thank you, mom-stincts. I promise to listen to you better in future.