Saturday, December 27, 2014

My favorite moments of 2014, in photos...

2014 in photos...

January: snow, snow and even more snow.

Spring took some time coming... But, boy, was it welcome! 

Home sick, but making the best of it!

Making a birthday cake.

Blowing out the candles.

Jet lagged and sunburnt from our trip to Ethiopia, but oh so happy.

Selfie with bestie

End of school days

Selfie with mommy


Dress up like Daddy

Dress up like Princesses

Happy Birthday Grandma

Merry Merry Christmas!

And a happy New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent in Darkness

L "helping" string lights...from our first Christmas together

After dinner today our family did our little Advent celebration. We lit candles, we said a little prayer and did a little reading. Then we looked for the 10 little silver bells someone (me) had hidden in the living room and used them to make a joyful noise.

I may have gritted my teeth during most of this 10 minute spiritual exercise. I may have tried not to yell in frustration as one child stood up during the reading and another wouldn't stop asking if it was time to blow out the candles. I may have rolled my eyes heavenward more than once.

Spiritual exercise- like most exercise, it can be HARD.  You have to make yourself get up off the couch and put those sneakers on. You have to focus on the long term goals. You have to get up and move, even when you are not in the mood. I, for one, have never in my life been in the mood for a run.  I have to force myself out of the house to do restorative yoga, for goodness sake. I am definitely no role model of will power. However:

 Last year we didn't do Advent. And we had a really awful Christmas. The worst, actually. Not all of that is because we didn't like 4 candles over 4 Sundays. Mostly it was because our house was a construction site and 3 of us had the flu. But... not doing Advent didn't help matters.

UU author John Taylor wrote, “If there were no Advent, we would need to invent it.  We human creatures, in spite of all that has happened to us and been done to us, are still hopeful.  Something new, something vital, something promising is always coming, and we are always expecting. Thus in Advent candles are lighted to mark the time of preparation, and with each new light our anticipation grows – as it should.  We are, after all, a hopeful people, and that hopefulness deserves a festival.  

And I think I didn't really understand the true purpose of Advent until this year. It is dark out. It is dark within. We are going through a really challenging, painful time as a nation, and as a family. I am so proud when I see the thousands of protesters across the country demanding justice for all. And I am so fearful whenever I think of my own child. My parenting has changed. When once I would have sent him around the corner to fetch something he forgot at the gym, I now insist on going with him. When once I would have let him play with toy guns, I will never. When once I would have answered his questions about police with the usual "Police are there to help you."... I now hesitate. Dark times.

Time for light. The candles we light in our home, and the electric lights we hang in our windows are not just pretty decorations but prayers for more beautiful future. They are candles of hope.

This year as in many years past I am busy with Christmas preparations. Cards to mail, presents to wrap, cookies to bake, plans to make. It can be stressful and overwhelming. I am guilty of threatening to "cancel" Christmas when my children thoughtlessly break the toys they already have. I am guilty of wishing for a quieter home when my kids Wintertime pent up energy is threatening to bring the roof down. It can be hard to look forward to the magic of Christmas when you are doing the work of Santa.

So I look to our Advent readings and reflections to help me prepare. Prepare my mind and prepare my spirit. To stay focused on the magic that is really happening... that people, all over the world, still BELIEVE that something special is supposed to happen at the darkest time of the year. At least, judging by the "very special episodes" and TV movies, and Hollywood films, and picture books and songs and stories... We all fervently, desperately wish for that magic.

And don't we need it, this year.

So come, Christmas, come!

Jump for joy! It's Christmas time!

Come Christmas!
 by M. Maureen Killoran 
No one is ever really ready for Christmas. 
If we were really all prepared: 
      If every gift we had contemplated had been obtained; 
      If every present was beautifully beribboned; 
      If all the goodies our friends deserve were baked and cooled, and stored just so; 
      If each and every person we love was gathered for our celebration; 
      If we never snapped at someone we care about, nor stopped short of being all that we could be; 
      If our minds were 100 per cent loving and our hearts were 100 per cent generous; 
They truly would be ready and truly we would not need Christmas quite so much.
So come, Christmas, most needed of seasons. 
Come with the reminder that love does not depend on Perfection but on willingness to risk connection. 
Come into the unready manger of our hearts 
That we may feel the warmth of new life 
 And give flesh to the promise of hope 
 That cries to bring healing into our world.
 Come Christmas! 
Come, Love, 
Come, Hope. 
Be born in our unready hearts 
On this silent and holy night.


A must read from Rachel Held Evans: Advent 2

A great one from Christena Cleveland : Advent/Darkness

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


I used to joke that the two most useless words in my vocabulary were "be careful." Yet I say them all the time... to my headless, athletic, fearless, nimble, precocious children.

To my black children.

Be careful.

It's not a joke anymore.

It seems that lately every grand jury announcement, every news cycle, every hashtag explosion brings tidings of death and punishment.

News of the wages of being black in America.


The wages of resisting arrest is death.
The wages of buying a toy gun is death.
The wages of playing with a toy gun is death.
The wages of jay walking is death.
The wages of walking in an unfamiliar neighborhood is death. For a black man. For a black child.

And the punishment for a uniformed man killing another man or child is... none.

I've sat with the news of the grand jury non-indictment for the murder of Michael Brown for a few days now. I've been trying to let that sink into me... and it was hard, but I did manage to push it aside a little bit, because we don't live anywhere near Ferguson.

And then today. Another police officer, another murdered black man. Another grand jury that cannot find a single charge despite there being a recording of the death. I can't push that aside, because I live here.

And so does my son.  Not by his choice, most certainly.  If a series of tragic events hadn't unfolded in a small town in Ethiopia he would still be playing under her blue sky  Safe from bullets, if not from the diseases of poverty. Safe from racism, if not from hunger.

I used to think that my precious children were safer here. Safe with a fridge full of food, safe with a good doctor and great schools and the awesome opportunities afforded to them. Ha! That illusion has been shattered forever.

It was nearly invisible to me before we became an inter-racial family, but the day we adopted our two African children is the day that my white privilege shattered into a thousand jagged pieces.

I can feel every one right now.

There's that saying that your children are your heart walking around outside of you. My heart is inside of two beautiful Black children, walking around innocently outside of me in this terrifying world. And there is precious little my white privilege can do to protect them. The wings of that shelter grow ever tattered and thin the older they get. Our son is young still, but strong and large. He, like many 8 year old boys, has the heart of a fighter and the temper of a stinging bee. In a few years he will be 12, just like Tamar Rice, who was killed for playing with a toy gun. In a playground. By a cop. Will his killer walk free too? Or will we finally realize that All Life Matters? That Black Lives Matter? That our fears and our racism and our prejudices and our hatred are terrible, murderous illusions.

I may look white. I may have ancestors who threw up on the Mayflower. But the heart inside me is black. And right now it's bruised and broken.

But it's still beating. Because around me now and throughout our history thousands, millions of black hearts have been bruised and broken and yet still pounded. Wept. Marched. Chanted. Sang.


My prayer tonight is that more hearts will be broken open. The hearts of those who defend murderers, who accuse the innocent, who suspect their neighbors, who tell lies, who blindly hate or fear. Broken open and filled up with the love of children. Every one, every where, is some one's child. Some one's heart, walking around.

And my second prayer, is be careful.  Dear God, be careful with my heart.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

on National Adoption Month

So it's November, which means, amongst other things, that it is National Adoption Month.

There has been some talk around the interwebs/blogsphere/twitterverse/Face-dominion about the merits of "celebrating" adoption, the harm that positive-only language can do to adoptees who maybe don't feel 100% positive about their adoption, and how it might perpetuate some of the terrible adoption myths now received as wisdom here in America (and probably elsewhere).

My thoughts on National Adoption Month aren't completely formed but they are growing, as usual, in the gray areas.

One the one hand, it's always lovely to have "National Month of" that honors your particular family.  On the other hand, we don't "celebrate" adoption around here. Adoption is how our family came to be, but it's not something we bake cakes about. And, just as February's "Black History Month" isn't the only time of year we teach our children about their African heritage, adoption is a topic all year round.

Baby Lily, not so certain about this whole adoption thing.

Here are my wishes for November's Adoption Month:

1. That it teaches at least 2 or 3 more people that families formed through adoption are Families. Yes, I love my kids just as much as you love yours. Not more ("The trouble! The expense! All those shots you had to get to travel to Ethiopia!") Not less (I could never love a child who wasn't mine biologically"). Just the same.  Adopted kids are just kids.  We have to love them like crazy, don't we, or we would never tolerate them. They are terrible house guests. Imagine having someone to live with you who regularly, and sometimes purposefully, pees anywhere but in the toilet?! And then calls for you to help them clean themselves up! In the middle of the night! No, you wouldn't stand for it. So, obviously, we love our children like crazy.

2. It helps a few more families who are struggling to help their children heal from childhood trauma, attachment struggles or other challenges common to children who have been adopted.  The most damaging myth in adoption is that the simple act of signing the paperwork and bringing the child home will "fix" them. Everything is rainbows and unicorns afterwards. It's not, and most families will need support, therapy, special parenting techniques, extra help from schools and a life long commitment to growing and healing together.
      Sometimes the adoption itself is the most traumatic thing that happened to a child. It's long past time we as a culture stopped expecting adoptees to be grateful for being "saved" by a "loving family." My own children would certainly laugh at this preposterous idea. This family! They hardly ever let us eat candy and play video games!

3. It leads to at least one more child in foster care being adopted.  The original intent of National Adoption month was to shine more light on the terrible dark secret in our country that we don't properly take care of our children.  We have an orphan problem. More than one person has told me how wonderful it was that we adopted our children from 'impoverished' Ethiopia.  Little do they know how ashamed I am that we didn't have the guts to adopted from impoverished America. In 2012,  23,396 children "aged out" of the foster care system here in America. 23,396 people who will never have a family. No home to visit on Thanksgiving, no one to call "Grandpa," no one to call for advice about car repairs or that first home purchase. This is a tragedy on par with the thousands of Russian orphans confined to their cribs, or the millions of African families who are broken apart by war, poverty or disease. America has an orphan problem, and if "celebrating" adoption one month a year brings some awareness to it, then break out the balloons and cake pans!

Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan does a beautiful series highlighting children who are in need of families here in America. She often writes about foster care and adoption.

Scoopy at Scooping it Up wrote passionately about how she is against celebrating National Adoption Month.

Our own adoption agency, Spence-Chapin, now works exclusively to find homes for older children here and abroad.

More national and global adoption statistics here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A day in photos...

7:15: Morning Commute. We are not usually this smiley.
7:45AM My desk. Yes, that is a rubber ducky. What do you think a Kindergarten teacher's desk looks like?
5:30PM pre-dinner dance party, Queen Elsa in attendance.

6:20PM: Ahh OM... on my way to yoga. 

8:30PM finally asleep.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Learning to Read the Easy Way, Vs. The Hard Way

I didn't really mean to conduct a reading educational experiment in my home, it just kind of happened that way...

Yesterday Lily learned to read. As in, officially picked up a book and read the words on the page correctly READING. It happened while we were waiting for our taco dinner to be boxed up, in between a tantrum about not have chips and a tantrum about... oh I can't even remember, she throws a lot of tantrums about nothing, especially when it's dinner time and we're Friday-afternoon-tired out.

Anyway... Lily learned to read, in the 3 minutes that we were sitting outside waiting for tacos.

Or, Lily started reading, because she's spent 3 1/2 years getting ready to, and she was really, perfectly ready. Which I knew, because I've been a teacher for 16 years, which is why I had a beginning reader in my purse that afternoon to take home to her. And in between tantrums, I thought, hey, why not learn to read, Right Now. And I had Daniel film her reading, because I am a teacher, and my child learning to read for the first time is pretty much the holy grail of parenting moments for me. That video was on Facebook with a whole lot of exclamation points within seconds! (!!!!)

I don't have a video of Daniel learning to read. More on that in a moment...

Here is how I knew Lily was ready to read:

1. She knows all the letters of the alphabet and most of the sounds they represent. She can say "r/r/r red, R!"

2. She knows that letters form words, and words carry meaning. She says to us, "What does h-o-i-q-r spell? She recognizes her name and she asks us "What does that say?" when we write something.

3. She can "read" her favorite story books. She mimics reading, using the same intonation and cadence as we do. She looks at the pictures to give her clues, and then either makes up the story or uses the words she memorized from listening to the same story over and over.

4. She notices print in her environment. She asks us what the words on signs mean, and what does "O-P-E-N" spell?

5. She wants to learn to read. This is the most important thing. If she wasn't interested, then I wouldn't have put that reading book in my purse. I'm not one of those parents who desperately wants her kid to be gifted. I do not have any Harvard posters up. Sure, I want her to be a doctor, mostly because she seems to be attracted to the medical profession, (and also who couldn't use a doctor in the family!) But mostly I just want my kids to be Happy and Independent.

Lily was 100% ready to learn to read, and my guess is, she will quickly become an independent reader who rarely needs help.  (If this keeps her from waking us all up at 6:30 AM on weekends GREAT.)

Learning to read for Lily is a happy stroll up a sunny hillside full of flowers.

Learning to read for Daniel was/is a vertical climb on slippery rocks.

Daniel came home to our family at the age of 5. He spoke no English. He had never been to school, except for orphanage school, which doesn't count because orphanage. He started Kindergarten 6 weeks later.

Daniel was 0% ready to read. He knew the letters of the alphabet, sure, but that knowledge existed without any context at all. His first family does not own any books or writing implements, puzzles or alphabet blocks. Those are luxuries in Ethiopia. He had been told stories, I'm sure, but never read any.  Everything, everything in his world was new and challenging: new family, new country, new name, new language, new culture, new food, new home. New, new, new. Hard.

Not surprisingly, Daniel struggled, and continues to struggle, with reading and writing.  He speaks English beautifully, but he cannot pass the test that would un-qualify him for English Language Services.  Daniel can read, yes, and sometimes enjoys reading, but it's not easy. 

Which is why I don't have a joyful video of Daniel learning to read. I could have a feature length movie of the nights we struggled through beginning reading books, me cursing under my breath every time he forgot the word THE again.  There would be plenty of drama in this video- books tossed across the room, crying and screaming, "I hate homework!" I can't do this!" It's too hard!". Lots of drama, and little joy.

At the end of last year I was deeply worried about Daniel and school. He's getting extra help, sure. He's had a series of wonderful teachers (Thank you- A, M, R and now A and C) I worried that the extra help wasn't enough. We considered hiring a tutor for the summer.

The tutoring never got scheduled. But, Daniel cut his foot on a rock, and he couldn't walk for a few days, and so we started reading Harry Potter to him. The happiest of accidents.

notice the giant bandage.

My son is now obsessed with Harry Potter
(insert gleeful jumping- because I am obsessed! Only don't tell him. Mom liking the same things is so. not. cool!)

My son is obsessed, and he's also doing better in school. His reading is a bit more joyful and smooth. There is a lot less book tossing and cursing.  There is a LOT less complaining about school and homework.

Daniel has finally caught up to Lily in being ready to read. 3 1/2 years later.  Just like her he now knows that words carry meaning. Because spells. Just like her he knows that books have special cadences and rhythms. Because magic.  He now wants to learn to read. Because I won't tell him what happens in the end.

I didn't mean to conduct an educational experiment on my own children, it just kind of happened. The results are in, and they are fairly predictable:

1. Reading aloud to your child IS the most valuable thing you can do to help them learn to read joyfully.

2. A child who has none or limited experience with books, words, letters or language prior to traditional schooling will struggle in school, for years.

Thank you, Harry Potter. Thank you.

PS: He is dressing up as He-who-shall-not-be-named for Halloween.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

um... wait, it's October?!


I assume you have all read this clever piece: Guy Apologizes for Not Writing his Blog

So in the interests of not being ridiculous I will NOT apologize, because really the world doesn't NEED to know everything our family did in September, or all the thoughts swirling in my little head, but... I'm sorry.  Somehow the act of sitting down to write became impossible the last few weeks. It's nearly impossible right now, as I am watching the oven and fielding requests for milk and I should probably be frying eggs... but, I miss writing. The thoughts in my head start swirling too fast and I can't catch any of them unless I sit down with my fingers hovered over the keypad.

So my head has been spinning quite a lot this last month. September is always exhausting for teachers and moms. I'm both, so it's not unusual for my husband to come home, and 5 minutes later find me face down on my bed sound asleep. It's pretty rough: new students, new schedules, soccer practice, ballet classes, Homework, making dinner, commuting, getting uniforms out, ohmygoodness how do we have no warm jackets?!, ohmygoodness how did you grow out of all your shoes in one week!?... The slowness of summer disappears in an instant, to be replaced by rush-rush-rush-we're late-let's go go go!!!

This year September continued into October, and I'm still waiting for the Fall slowness to appear. There is usually a little lull between the start of the school year and the Holidays. So far, it has not appeared. Maybe it doesn't exist at all. Maybe it's just an illusion brought on by a year's length of memory. Like how when I look at photos of Daniel and Lily so young and round cheeked in their first year home with us and we all look so happy and in love and thrilled to be together. And I think... awwww... look how little and cute they are! And I've forgotten how terrifying and exhausting it all was.

July, 2011

July 2014

So I guess what I'm learning is: Life moves really really fast. Life with small children moves at lightening speed. If you don't sit down once and a while to record it, woooosh! It's gone. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Roast Chicken and Comfort

Sometimes I really need to make chocolate chip cookies. During our adoption process, I made chocolate chip cookies about once a week. Towards the end, the dough only occasionally ended up being baked. (Most adopting mamas either lose 20 pounds or gain 20 pounds. Guess which kind I was?!)

A batch of chocolate chip cookies is sitting, 1/2 eaten, in my kitchen right now. Because it's September, and because it's finally not hot anymore, but mostly because it's September, and I pretty much feel like a popped balloon every night.  School starting will do that to a person.

Lately though, I've also been needing to make roast chicken. I need roast chicken when I feel like the world is spinning too fast. When my newsfeed makes me cry or want to scream. When I need to feel grounded and safe and warm. Then I make this roast chicken, and wait for my kitchen and then my house to fill up the warm smell of roasting onions and melting mushrooms and crisping chicken. And the world starts to slow down just a little. Just enough to sit and eat a plate of warm, delicious, home made food.

Since we are 1/2 Ethiopian around here, I usually end up using berbere instead of the sage, and since I don't have 2 hours to make dinner most any night, I usually speed up the process by roasting chicken breasts or spatchcocking the chicken. And I usually throw in some sweet potatoes or squash to the stuffing because then it's a whole meal (one pot!). And I usually double the stuffing recipe because ohmygod it is soooooo good. My husband and I fight over doing the dishes on roast chicken nights because the one who washes also gets to scrape up and eat the burned, crispy extra-delicious bits of stuffing from the pan, even though said person has already had 2 helpings of stuffing. I have been known to "accidentally" leave a loaf of bread out so that it goes stale and "has" to be used for stuffing. I also usually have an "emergency" ziploc back of pre-cut bread cubes in my freezer. (What? Doesn't everyone?)

Last week my cell phone was stolen, right out of my hand, in broad daylight, right outside where I teach. Sigh. Just a crazy, out of the blue, what the ?@$% thing. A replacement phone is on it's way (soon), and after the shock and anger wore off I realized how lucky I was. I still had my eyes, I still had my purse, my kids are fine, and I wasn't hurt. It was very strange to be on the "other side" after a summer of witnessing police brutality and violence. It was very, very strange to be the one giving the description that would lead to another round of young black men being stopped for questioning. It was extraordinarily strange to find myself in a police cruiser, canvassing the neighborhood for the suspect (pointlessly). Again, I was reminded of my relative privileges, and of my fears for my son, and of the fears for the son of some mother whose life offers so little that he is compelled to steal phones.

And then the world started to spin a bit too fast. And I went home and made some roast chicken to try and slow it down.

Monday, September 1, 2014

End of a Summer Fun*

* and one not fun thing

Happy Labor Day!

We are having a quiet day at the park, trying not to be hot. It's been such a beautiful summer, weather wise. We've been spoiled by not humid, not too hot days. Yesterday Mother Nature must have thought we were not truly grateful, because she walloped us with a super hot, humid, sticky mess.

Here is what we've been up to:

Cleaning up the backyard. Sweep, hose, bag up rubble, repeat. Tomorrow a fence is going to start being installed. Hooray!

Block party face paint

Ice cream. LOTS and lots of ice cream

Back to school shopping. Me, Target, and three lists. It was awesome, only the opposite of that. 

Watching a crew cut down all the dead trees and vines around our house. This really was awesome.

Lily had her clogged ear tubes replaced. This was not fun, but quick and complication free. Boy did she yell bloody murder as the anesthesia wore off. That, coupled with her persistance in tearing every last bit of equipment off her, led to a speedy release from post-op. That afternoon, we were playing in the park.

This week marks our "back to school". For the record, Daniel starts 3rd grade,Lily will begin Pre-K, and I'll be starting my 16th year teaching. Yikes!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Block Party/Police

stoop sitting

Yesterday was block party day in New York, it seems. It's the end of summer, and it's been a beautiful warm summer.

We moved to our block just one year ago, so we missed the block party last year. Our block is small, and most of the homes are owned by couples in their 40's or 50's, or older.  We are one of two white families here; everyone else is West Indian/African American. When we first moved here, I was worried, I will admit. I was worried about moving into a neighborhood where I was the minority. I was worried about moving into a neighborhood where I didn't know anyone. I was worried about crime. I was worried about how our unusual trans-racial/adopted family would be treated.

I was wrong to worry. Our neighbors have been friendly and kind. Our children have been looked after, kept safe and been handed treats to give to pet dogs. We've had to deal with some late night loud music, yes. I have been that crazy white lady complaining about the blaring music at 1AM. (Yesterday at the block party a group of old ladies passed me and said, pointedly but with smiles, "Are you enjoying the music?")

Yesterday at the block party I saw the older teens teaching my son how to do a skateboard trick. They included even the smallest boys and the oldest grandpas in a basketball game. When I couldn't find Lily in the crowd 5 people pointed her out to me.  The party started off slowly (there was rain, the block down the avenue had a bouncy house)... but by dinner time most folks had dragged their barbecue out to the front and started grilling and passing out food. Andrew and I sat in front of our home and ate some snacks and drank a beer. We were completely, utterly at ease. And I thought, not for the first, I'm so glad we moved here.

In the reality of racially segregated New York, we had a stark choice before us last year. We could not afford to buy anything in the one or two multi-racial neighborhoods... the ones that provide the backdrop to "Girls" or "The Cosby Show." We could afford to live in either an Asian neighborhood, a white neighborhood, or a black one.  Either we are all the minority, Andrew and I are the minority, or our children are the minorities. The choice was easy. We choose to move into a black neighborhood. Our children, adopted away from a black country, growing up in a mostly white family and a mostly white church, deserved to be the ones who fit in where we live. Luckily for us, the neighborhood we choose also had a good train, nice homes and a decent park nearby.

I'm so glad we moved here. Because I have learned over the past 3 weeks of watching the news from Ferguson in horror, that I am inadequate to the job of raising my black son. I cannot find the words to teach him how to deal with the police; how to be safe in a country that seems bent on killing him or locking him up.  But my neighbors can.

Last night, just as the barbecues started to glow and the plates of food started to get passed around, the cops arrived. They parked at the end of the block. One small boy rode up on his bike yelling, "The police is here!"  I hid my beer. The two officers walked, not aggressively, up the block to speak to the DJ/block captain. It turns out, the block party permit had expired at 6PM. This time, there were no problems. The cops moved on, and we all hustled to take down the barricades and move the toys and basketball net out of the street. The music was turned down.  I took the kids inside for their baths, thinking.  All those neighbors, even the smallest kids, knew exactly what to do when interacting with the cops.  Stand still, talk quietly, smile.

When it is time, and the time is coming soon for my son who is growing tall so fast... When it is time for "The Talk", I know who to ask. All I have to do is look to my neighbors.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I don't know what to say


I know there are some people who are wondering 'what is everyone there so upset about!?' There are people who are disgusted by the looting and protests in Ferguson. People who somehow, incredibly, think 'he must have deserved it.' 

To those folks, I say, then please come to my house and explain it to my young black son, because I'm having a hard time doing so. 

Yesterday on the way home I had the news on in the car. The Michael Brown story was retold. Daniel asked me "Who is that? Why did he die?"

Many, many words got stuck in my throat. I try not to lie to my child. I also do not want him, at the tender age of 8, to be afraid of the police. I do not want him, at the tender age of 8, to be scared of or hate his own brown skin. He already wants to be "white like you." 

So I told him, through tears I tried to hide, that the police in Missouri made a big mistake. That a boy died, and his friends and family are very upset because the police did not say they were sorry. *

* This child- size version of events isn't so far from the truth as I understand it. A police officer made a big mistake, somehow believing that an unarmed 18 year old was dangerous. The people in the streets of Ferguson chanting "No justice, No Peace",  are demanding accountability, answers, and due process. 

Then my son asked me (showing how a boy who loves superheroes mind works) 

"How do bullets kill you? 

What do they do? How do they get inside you?

And, "How could the police make that mistake? Why don't they just say sorry?"

And my words failed me. I don't want the words "bullets" and "my child" in my head at the same time. I have too many terrifying images of other mothers' sons in my mind's eye. Bullets ripping through them, their bodies left in the street for hours. It is far, far too easy for me picture my son in Michael Brown's place.

I have learned, as mommy to a black son, some very hard lessons. And more, I'm sadly sure, will come.

When he asks if he can bring his water gun to the park, I hesitate.

When he wants to ride his bike around the block alone, I freeze.

When he asks what they are saying on the news? why am I crying over my Facebook feed?.. my mouth is dry.

I'm having trouble finding the words to help him be safe while also holding his head up high. I want him to be a strong, proud black American man. I also want him to stay alive.

We live by the myths in this country that everyone is treated fairly, justice and punishment meted out equally, rewards given to those who work hard. They are such lovely myths. So many of us believe in them, despite so much evidence to the contrary.  Life is not fair. Justice and punishment not meted out equally. Rewards come to those who are lucky and born into privileges.  At what age do we dispel these wonderful, wholly untruthful stories for the Santa Claus tales they are? What stories do we tell instead? That is my work as mommy to these children: find the stories that will uplift and inspire them to live up to their amazing potential, while also helping them navigate the tricky, sometimes dangerous world we live in. 

I wonder what the end of this Ferguson story will be. I'm praying, I'm praying that it ends with more justice, with more wisdom, with someone saying, "We made a mistake. We are so, terribly sorry."

What would you say?

What DO you say to your black child?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

this crazy state

Yesterday I went to the post office to pick up a package. I stood in line between a woman talking on her cell phone (the woman happened to be Muslim), and an older man grumbling about the wait. (The older man happened to be Jewish.)

The grumbling man went over to some grocery bags sitting under a table next to us, and nudged one of them with his foot. The woman on the cell phone spoke to him sharply, saying those were her bags, and why was he touching them with his foot!? The grumbling man grumbled that he was just checking to see if it was a bomb. The man and the woman argued for a minute. He insisted that she not leave her bags under the table. "It could have been a bomb!" and the woman complained about him touching her groceries. Finally the woman went back to her phone call and the man went back to grumbling about being in line so long.

So this is the world we live in. We think grocery bags on the floor of a sleepy post office in a sleepy little part of the city might contain a bomb.  (Never mind why nudging a bomb/bag with your foot would be a good idea in the first place...) This is the world we live in.

This is why I hate the "See Something/Say Something" ad campaign that the police department has been waging at us for the past decade.

The odds of there being a bomb in a grocery bag under a table in a post office in a quiet neighborhood  (or under your subway seat or next to a garbage bin) are ridiculously slim. In fact, I don't know of any instances in which this ad campaign has led to an actual bomb or threat being reported and stopped. I know it was led to countless false alarms and terrifying waits for parents picking up kids, as it did to me last year.

I'm reminded of this great New Yorker cartoon, published in the months after 9/11.

We are all properly terrified, thank you.

I remember well the days after that one terrible day. I remember being told to "help the economy". Go shopping! Don't let the terrorists win! We would have done anything for our country then. We would have done anything for each other. We lined up by the thousands to give blood those days, even when we knew there was no one who needed it. But, instead of being told to help, we were turned away. Go shopping! And be scared. Be scared of your fellow passengers, be scared of white powder, of packages left by mistake in train cars, of anything "out of the ordinary."

Which is why we now have old men and harried shoppers arguing in post office lines over imaginary bombs, and we take our shoes and nearly everything else off to board a plane, and we have suburban police departments with tanks and machine guns.

Oh if only we had been all told on 9/12/01 to help each other. To sweep the dust off our neighbors' sidewalks, to gather at our chosen place of worship, to have community picnics or to visit the sick.  Instead we were turned away at the blood banks and sent to the mall.  Now we are collectively in debt, both material and spiritual.

Congratulations. The terrorists won. We are all completely terrified. Weapons drawn, we stare at each other over police barricades and imaginary bombs.

I have a fantasy of how that interaction in the post office might have ended... I imagine that the woman hung up her phone and laughed at the grumbling man's fear of bombs. That she picked up the grocery bags and showed him the fruit inside. Laughing, she offers him a pear, and smiling now, the man accepts, and takes a sweet bite.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Things that make me want to move to Ethiopia.

 Lately there has been a lot of bad news coming out of Africa. The tragic Ebola outbreak, the political instability in Egypt, ongoing wars in Sudan... There is a lot of bad news all over, it seems. But the news coming out of America is what is breaking my heart right now.

And making me pause a little bit longer on the "maybe we should just live in Ethiopia" thought than seems logical. Something I've thought about before.

It seems like America is pretty stuck. We're stuck in the blame the victim mode. Stuck in the 'War on Drugs'. Stuck on the "poor people deserve to be poor" mode. Stuck on the "guns protect us" mode. Stuck on the "black boys are dangerous" mode.

When we initiated our adoptions from Ethiopia, we went to lots of trainings. We read a lot. A LOT.  And a key part of the training was to prepare to have The Talk with our black son. Not the sex talk, the 'surviving as a black man in America' talk. How to keep out of trouble, deal with police at a traffic stop, not get into trouble at school.  How to be perceived as "safe" while black. I started having this talk with my son when he was 6 years old.  But now, I realize, there's really not much point these talks.

Because it seems like even if he was on his "best behavior", even if he was a good student, and stayed away from drugs or gangs or dangerous neighborhoods, he could be shot.

He could be trying to make a couple of bucks.

He could be in the toy section at Walmart.

He could be hanging out with friends.

He could be going to the store for an iced tea.

He could be killed because he is black, and therefore a threat no matter what he is doing.

selfie, age 5

And here's the thing: I think the police are stuck too. It seems that overly aggressive, brutal and violent policing methods specifically targeting African-Americans are rampant in many places across the country, including our home town. We moved into a mostly African-American neighborhood a year ago. I have lived or worked in 7 different neighborhoods in New York (middle class, working class, wealthy, immigrant, mixed up and in-between) and I never seen so many cops around. We pass a cop car, or 3 or 8, at least every day just driving home. I was pulled over for the first time in my life (for rolling through a newly installed stop sign) in this neighborhood.  I, as a white woman, am not in danger, but I tell you, it's very anxiety producing to see so many cops so often. And I don't think, for a minute, that there is more crime in this neighborhood.  Just more black people.  The police never seem to be doing anything, just hanging around waiting.

The theory is that if the police stop small crimes, big crimes won't have space to develop. Kind of like weeding. In practice, though, it means that cops hang around in "certain" neighborhoods.  They've got data to file and quotas to fill. The cops have a metaphorical gun trained to their heads about getting the numbers up or down in the correct columns.  They are looking for trouble, and wouldn't you know, they find it.  So we end up with neighborhoods like mine and like St. Louis filled with cops and neighbors and mistrust and fear.  Mistrust and fear leads to violence and senseless death.

Why is this? "All cops are racist" is too simple an answer and doesn't make much sense anyway. All people are racist, to varying degrees.  Racism is an inescapable part of our culture.

I think it's because we keep trying to solve the problem of inequality with the wrong methods. We try to solve inequality with education. As if learning to read better and early eliminates children's need for a loving, stable family, a safe home and nutritious food. We try to solve inequality by fighting a "War on Drugs".  Fighting against drug abuse with mass incarceration (three strikes, mandatory minimums, etc) is as futile as trying to carve the wind.  We try to solve inequality by "eliminating the welfare state". As if by magic, poor folks will be able to find jobs, affordable quality child care and affordable housing because we "cut the apron strings".

I worry about affordable, quality child care and I'm a tenured professional! 

We are throwing weapons at a problem, and all we are ending up with is a pile of weapons. A police state, jails filled up with black and brown folks, a fake "educational crisis", a society with a safety net made up of moldy lace.

The problem is that not everyone has the same amount of money. The problem is that it's the same folks who have all the money who also have all the political clout and control over the media. The problem is that most of the folks who have most of the money are white, and have been since we arrived here on three Spanish ships.

I'm praying for us to get unstuck. I'm praying we start trying to solve the actual problem we have: unequal access to resources and opportunity. I'm praying that cops realize that they have been pushed to use violence and aggression to solve a problem that is not their responsibility and perhaps, doesn't really exist.

Meaning, dear police officer, if you see my son 10 years from now, browsing the toy aisle and playing around with his friends, I pray, I pray fervently, that you will smile at him and keep walking, because you know,

he's not dangerous.

Playing impromptu coach to a group of 3 year olds. He wants to be a gym teacher when he grows up.

Friday, August 8, 2014

How To Eat An Elephant

one bite at a time.

Obviously. :)

This is what a dear friend reminded me when I fell into a whining despair over this:

What we liked to call the Zombie Apocalypse playground.

Because what I envision my backyard looking like is a little something more like this:

yup, if you just squint really hard, my backyard looks like this...

So it is important that I remember that this was once the view from my kitchen window. 

Midway through renovations our garage was a "storage site". Please notice the 1/2 dead plants.

What doesn't come across in these photos is the smell... which is decidedly CAT.  Did I mention that I once saw a possum wandering through the backyard? And that we found a termite "family" living in the garage?

So lately I've been doing google searches like this:

How do you keep stray cats from pooping in your plants?

(Quick Answer: With diligence, hard work and perseverance you might be able to persuade them to poop elsewhere, temporarily.)

Are you allowed to burn brush in your backyard?

(Quick Answer: NO.)


(Quick Answer: Shudder. But, they do kill rats. So... there's that.)

I am a wealth of information. Thank God for Google. And for the pest control specialists, tree removal service, fencing contractor, cable guy and telephone guy who have all paid visits to our house in the last 2 weeks. We finally finished tearing down that termite infested, humongous garage, and now we are dealing with what remains: 1/2 a broken fence, four dead trees, a whole bunch of rubble, tangled wires and mysteriously, a giant pile of broken glass.

The good news is: Not all of our potted plants died. Possums rarely come out during the day. And, that garage floor that we can't afford to have removed right now is going to make an awesome basketball court.

This afternoon our backyard looked like this:

Which, is like, at least 1/2 an elephant's worth of progress.

Someday I'll have my Zen garden. This summer we are going for a safe place to shoot hoops, and maybe grow a few flowers. 

So come on over! We are about to set up the barbeque!...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fun with Screens

We arrived home this weekend. The kids ran in the house and hugged and kissed their father. Then they ran to the desk and hugged their screens.


The spell was not lifted, the curse was not broken, the addiction was not overcome.

They still love their screens. A Lot.

We were nearly screen free for a month. But a few days of bad weather and a bad cut on Daniel's foot prompted us to let them have some movie time. Plus we HAD to to watch the Harry Potter movie after reading the book! Right!? So it was not so much a screen-free month as a screen- lite month.

We are back to trying to hold the line on the screen limits. Hopefully, the screen drama will not rage out of control any time soon...

This morning the kids took a device down to their playroom so they could listen to music. Later I found about a hundred new photos on it... Here is a sample from their impromptu photo shoot. ;))

Looks like they've found a new creative outlet...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Where are they from? And other adoption conversations with strangers...

Last week I took Lily to a local botanic garden. While she was clamboring all over the Children's Garden, an older woman caught my eye and said,

"I hope I'm not assuming... but is your daughter adopted?"

"Yes, she was born in Ethiopia." I replied with a smile.

"I have a daughter, who is black, and adopted. She's now, oh, 45 years old." She smiled wide, and I smiled back. Then I said, leaning in a bit,

"Did you always have people asking about her hair?"

The woman laughed and said, "Yup. My daughter was just saying to me, 'Mama, that's the one thing you did wrong. You didn't keep my hair tidy enough!' You always have to keep her hair nice and neat."

We chatted for another moment, and then moved on.
thumbs up for our neighbors swing

Later, an older man approached us as Lily as exploring the Fairy House Forest, and asked "Where is she from? Haiti?"
No, I said, she was born in Ethiopia.

We chatted for a minute, and before walking on he made a point to get Lily's attention and say, soberly, "God Bless You." Lily shrugged at him and skipped away.

The man driving the shuttle bus to the parking lot admired Lily, and said, you look just like my granddaughter!

The attendant at the ticket booth said, "What a beautiful family you have."

A woman in the cafe laughed and said, "What about her hair!? I bet you can't do a thing with it!"

My mother, after being asked "Where is she from?" while escorting Lily to the beach snack shop said to me, "Do you get asked these kinds of questions all the time?!"

Yes, I said.  Being an obviously adoptive family means fielding lots of questions and stares, pretty much all the time. I find it doesn't bother me, most of the time.  Most of the time I take questions from strangers as an opportunity to educate folks. I didn't know they don't speak English in Ethiopia, either, until about 4 years ago. I didn't know how to braid curly hair either. Sometimes meeting someone in a park or garden or beach is a lovely opportunity to make a connection.  It's fun to talk with some one who is also "in the club." Occasionally someone has said something rude, but usually out of ignorance, not malice. ("Where is their 'real' mother?", or "Is their mom dead?" or "I couldn't adopt, I don't know how you do that.")

I'm happy to have some kind older gentleman say "God Bless You" ponderously.  I'll take all the blessings I can get.

Being an obvious adoptive family means that I am very conscious of what we look like and how we act when we are out in public.  People are going to be looking at us; the least I can do is have the kids in clean clothes.  I die a thousand tiny deaths when the kids act up in public. Because now I'm "that white mother with those adopted kids."  And sometimes I'm that "tired white mom with those out of control black kids."

Which is why, when at the end of our month at the beach, at the end of our two day car ride home, at the end of our patience and our clean clothes and our ability to sit in the car,  it was tough to walk into the diner.  Lily's hair, braided so beautifully by her teacher before we left, and kept mostly sand and damage free for a month by my inexpert hands, was free. She was sporting a gloriously wild and beautiful Afro, slightly smooshed in the back from sitting in the car.  I didn't even think about it until we walked (sweaty and cranky and in need of home) into the diner and I saw the African-American hostess and her neatly coiled hair and I realized... oh *#$%, Lily's got "white momma" hair.

When we adopted our kids I made a vow, perhaps a silly one, to never let my daughter have "white momma" hair. (Meaning, under-moisterized, tangled, un-braided, I-don't-know-what-to-do-with-my black-daughter's-hair, hair.) Thank God for the internet and Lily's patient kind teachers, Lily's hair is well maintained and usually braided or styled carefully. I take a lot of pride in it, and hair time takes up a good portion of our weekly schedule.

A few weeks ago an African-American woman stopped me at a carnival and asked me how I did Lily's twists. That was huge for me. HUGE.

So here we are in the diner, in all our end of vacation, didn't-have-time-to-braid-hair-at-the-motel glory, and all I want to do it shout. "I know how to do hair! We ran out of conditioner and patience and as soon as we get home I'm going to do a hot oil treatment!"

Thankfully, that proved unnessary.  No dirty looks were cast in our direction.

And as soon as we got home, I did a hot oil treatment and braided her hair into a mini-mohawk, as per Lily's request.

So the next time you see an obviously adoptive trans-racial family, go ahead and say "What a beautiful family you have." and add, "nice hair."

in all her natural glory

Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Survive a Vacation with your children...

bring your babysitter with you!

hahahahahaha... just kidding. But wouldn't that be great!?!

We are just finishing up a long stay at a family beach house. We are very, very blessed to have this beautiful place to get away from city life, and it has been a gorgeous month.

However... I am also really, really happy that the kids are starting camp on Monday morning! I will be dropping them off with a big smile, a hearty wave and a relieved "See you in 8 hours kids!!!"

Because let's be honest: a vacation with your children is not really a vacation. It can be lovely fun, but it's not exactly a loll around on your beach towel reading for hours kind of thing. As soon as you get all comfortable on your beach towel and open up that book you've been dying to read... some little person who's well-being you are responsible for needs to use the bathroom, or is hungry, or has fallen and scraped their hands, or is desperate to show you the dead crab they just fished out from the ocean.

You will never finish that novel.

Here are my tips for enjoying yourself while vacationing with kids.
demonstrating their excellent restaurant manners

1. Keep It Simple.  Food = Simple. Activities = Simple. Wardrobes = Simple.

Pretty much every day this month we got up, ate some toast or cereal for breakfast, put on our bathing suits and went swimming. We went to the beach.  Or we went to the other beach. Or the lake. Or the swimming hole.  Then we ate some sandwiches, fruit and carrot sticks for lunch. Then the kids ran around or played ball or rode their bikes or we went swimming again. Then we ate nachos for snack. (Daniel is a HUGE fan of nachos. We went through 8 bottles of salsa this month. 8 large bottles.) Then we went up to the ice cream parlor and got some ice cream. Then we started cocktail time dinner (spaghetti/mac n cheese/rice and beans, repeat), read some books, and went to bed. When it rained we visited the local library, or they watched movies on the computer or played in the attic. There were occasional trips to town to visit the five and dime and the grocery story for bribes toys and more salsa. Sometimes we put ourselves through hell went to a restaurant to eat. Other than that, it was peanut butter, nachos, ice cream and spaghetti. Bathing suits and bikes.
super excited to have taught his cousin how to make his favorite treat!!!

2. Try to keep the adult:child ratio balanced. 

My minimum for a vacation is a 3:2 adult:child ratio. That way, one person watches the kids, another one is cooking/cleaning/doing laundry/running errands, and the third person gets to relax. Keep rotating, and for at least 1/3 of the time, you get to relax! And, you also get the fun of fighting with the other two folks about who is spending more time doing chores and who is getting away with too much relaxing. It's just really not a family vacation without that argument.
swimmin' hole. no fear.

3. Keep Stocked Up.

You may have little people to keep alive, but this is still your vacation. So, stock up on your favorite vacation treats! We always have a ready supply of good strong coffee, chilled white wine, cocktail mixers, and sweets. My pants are bit snug, but my spirit is loose.

4. Put them to bed early.

Lily has been heading up to bed around 6:30PM this month. Daniel is in pajamas by 7:30PM.  Yes, it's light out til 9PM, and yes the neighbor kids are still out riding their bikes... but no matter. Bedtime! By 8PM, the house is quiet, and I have time to pour myself another glass of wine herbal tea and enjoy my vacation. Lily will be climbing into my bed by 6AM to wake me up, and by 7AM the house is a unholy noisy mess again.  The day time is theirs, the evenings are mine.

If you don't put them to bed early, how will you ever finish that novel?
It's all about the ice cream.

5. Relax the rules, but not all the rules.

One thing I want my children to learn is that whether we are on vacation or at home, we are a family who helps each other out. So, since I still need to cook and do laundry, the kids still need to do chores. Tables must be cleared, toys picked up, garbage taken out. There has been a fair amount of grumbling about this, but not too much louder than the grumbling I hear at home.

On the other hand, it is vacation. So yes, you can eat ice cream every day. And yes, we will get that ridiculous toy from the bargain bin that will probably break in 5 minutes but be glorious, if brief, fun.  Yes, you can have nachos for breakfast. Yes we will listen to that ridiculous song on the radio, again.

And yes, we will take you to the lake to swim for 4 hours. I need to tire you out, anyway, so I can get you to bed early and start enjoying my vacation.

How do you survive enjoy family vacations?