March 26, 2010

when i was in first grade i was in the school spelling bee. i had it in the bag. my biggest competition was going to be this kid whose head was enormous. for a kid's head to be that huge, he had to be packin' some serious brains. he was smart, his spelling was accurate and fast. he knew the method. say the word, spell the word, say the word again.

as the competition neared, seƱor huge-head started winning the spelling games we would play in class. i imagine him at home doing spelling drills. i was at home cutting my barbie's hair, he was spelling words like humidity. i was sneaking chewable vitamins that came in the shape of various cartoon characters, and he was timing himself spelling athletics. this was not going to be pretty.

it was time for the big night. i had envisioned myself winning the bee, taking the cup, spending the winnings entirely on malted milk balls. i gotta be honest, i thought it would come down to me and huge-head for the championship... and in a deep, slow-motion voice, i would spell something like "barbecue." and i would, inevitably, take the title.

that was not what happened. what actually happened was that i misspelled a word a few rounds in and huge-head didn't misspell anything. his brain-packed head took the prize, while my pathetic, overly-vitamined-brain laid in my mom's lap in the audience... watching him receive his handsome reward, MY prize money. i cried. for the rest of the bee - all 6 grades.

at some point my mom "suggested" that i pull it together and try to "be happy for the boy that won." i couldn't have done that to save my life. i wanted to win. i wanted him to lose. there was no collecting myself. there was no happy.

then, the boy with the alarming head started coming toward me. he was coming to gloat. he was coming to rub my nose in his victory, i just knew it. as he approached, i sort of did the shy, hide your (puffy) eyes behind your mom's leg, hoping to disappear and not have to face his heckling.

then huge-head did something unexpected. he said "good job," and he offered me half his winnings. i think he won like thirty bucks, which is basically the lottery when you are in first grade. he was going to be a millionaire, and he was offering ME half his loot. i don't know if he felt bad for me because i kept crying like an idiot, or if his parents forced him to make the offer as a pity offering, or what... but he did it. he offered to split the prize with me.

nothing makes you feel like a jerk more than looking back on your life and realizing that you actually ARE a jerk. i, of course, did not accept the prize money, and i have felt guilty ever since for secretly wishing for his demise and for fixating on what is now a probably successful, and average-sized head. i'm not sure if or how that experience changed me, but i will say that it set the stage for the understanding that people may not always be what they seem.

i think a lot of moms, myself included, are terrified of having their kids turn out like them. i used to be so scared that they would be selfish like me, overly-sensitive like me, competitive like me. lately, i have gotten to see my kids, especially annalee, become something so different than i was. i get to see her sharing her faith with kids at school, praying for them "ten times" in her bed. i get to see her cry when they struggle or fail, or when they miss a parent who has passed away. i have seen her pulling for and praying for her friends to do what is right, and grieving when they don't.

i am learning to be a little less afraid of them becoming me, and a little more intentional about helping them become themselves. someday, they will be in a spelling bee. they may win, they may lose, they might even cry themselves to sleep over losing. or they might just be the kind of kid that wins the spelling bee only to think about the wretched kid who won't stop crying. all i know, is that for now, they are shaping up to be something special, something a little like huge-head.

March 22, 2010

london bridge is falling down, my fair lady

i do not love being pregnant. i love having babies. but, being pregnant... not so much. i cannot express the relief i am experiencing now that i am no longer pregnant. but, when i was just into my second trimester and i started bleeding... i would have given anything to stay pregnant.

it was the middle of the summer, and i hadn't been outside for months apart from the car ride to the doctor, hospital or acupuncturist - all attempting (in vain) to alleviate the severe morning sickness that was slowly stopping my body from functioning properly. i was about 15 weeks along when my mom and my sister had come from michigan to help take care of my kids since i was bed-ridden and attached to a home IV. i started throwing up (not unusual), but i also felt cramping (unusual). i realized i was bleeding quite a bit and i was instantly terrified.

i collected myself before i went downstairs because i didn't want tom, my mom and sister to panic. i think i was calm, but i am not really sure about that detail. i just said that i was bleeding and that we needed to go to the hospital right away. we left immediately and in the car ride, the bleeding got much worse. i was sure i was having a miscarriage. i was crying, and just kept saying "no, no, no, no..." tom was crying too. we sort of took turns being stable. i would panic and he would calm me down, and just when i started to believe him, that maybe "everything will be okay..." he would take his turn to freak out and i would take a shot at being rational and calm.

it was a horrific drive to the hospital. in my mind i felt like i knew i was having a miscarriage, but i never would have said it out loud. when tom called our obgyn to tell her we were on our way to the ER, he said "yes, hello. i think my wife is having a miscarriage." i couldn't believe it. i knew I was thinking that, and i knew that HE was thinking that. but i didn't want it to be true, and in that moment, i felt like saying it out loud would make it true.

we got to the emergency room and it was packed with people who were groaning, sleeping, or just waiting patiently. i walked in sobbing, checked in and sat down next to a groaning lady in a wheelchair. i waited. and waited. nobody called my name. i looked down and realized that there was blood on the bench. tom went to the desk to ask when we would be seen, saying that i was getting worse. the man handed him a towel and said to wait.

we left and went to another hospital. i couldn't believe that i was getting back in the car. i was in so much pain. i felt like i was having contractions, and all i could think of was the long days and nights that i had spent throwing up, feeling like i had the flu for 4 solid months, and how i prayed for the nausea to go away. i thought of how i couldn't even keep a sip of water down. how i felt like i was dying. and how i prayed for the pain to stop, for the slow, miserable death to come quickly.

now, here we were. on our way to hospital #2, and my prayer was coming true. god was going to grant me this one horrible wish, that the nausea would go away, but so would my baby. i felt so guilty, as though wanting the miserable pregnancy to end, had actually brought on a miscarriage. i regretted every single thought i had. every second i had wished away, every prayer for relief... i knew that i was responsible, and this was my punishment.

when we finally got into the second ER, we were seen almost immediately. i still remember the nurses asking all the questions, and their sad faces when i gave my answers. they gave that face where you put your lips together, pull them both in tight, kinda more to one side than the other. the face that says "you poor thing." the pity face. i knew what was happening. i know what bleeding this much during your second trimester means. i didn't need tight, crooked lips to tell me that much.

we waited for a while for the ultrasound technician to come in to give us the final say. at this point, the bleeding had slowed down a bit... so i had some hope. i laid in the cold, sterile bed imagining the scene that would play out in the coming moments. the tech would come in. she would search for a heartbeat, and she would not find one. she would say "i'm sorry, i cannot find the heartbeat." i pictured myself getting enraged. i pictured myself grabbing the little microphone thingy and yelling at the lady. i pictured myself screaming that "this baby was created by the god of the universe, so don't tell me that there is no heartbeat. there will BE a heartbeat." and i imagined a heartbeat. i believed that there could be a heartbeat.

about 5 minutes later, the tech walked in. she squirted the gooey stuff on the microphone and she pushed the wand into my still-flat belly. i thought of how small the baby must be in there, all alone, hard to find. she searched on my right side for a while, then slowly slid the wand over the middle, then finally down to the left side. she seemed to listen for so long. several times we heard the swishy sound, but it was too slow... it was the sound of a big heart, my heart, and it was breaking. we needed to find a tiny heart, with a quick beat.

finally, just as i had imagined the scenario going, she said it.

"i'm really sorry. i'm not finding a heartbeat."

i hesitated. just for a moment. did i believe my pretend monologue i had daydreamed about giving in this moment? did i really believe that the creator of the universe had knit this baby together in my womb? did i really believe that he could restore it's life, which had surely been lost by this point?

i did. i believed all of that. so hanging onto a hint of faith that god would restore the quick and tiny beat of my baby's heart, i put out my hand and said "can i just try?"

now it was her turn to hesitate. i think out of pity for my desperation, and that alone, she relinquished the ultrasound wand to my control. i laid my head back and closed my eyes. tears were rolling down my face, but just like she did, i swept the wand around my tummy. first on the right side. nothing. then down below my belly button. still nothing. then finally over to the left side. and there it was. that perfect, sweet, swishy, little washing machine sound.

my baby was alive and also a warrior. i was a rock star for not giving up until i could prove it. and my god had breathed life into her that was meant for something big.

this would mark the beginning of what would become the longest pregnancy of my life. riddled with various complications, including an amniotic band which threatened to harm, deform, or even kill our baby, the pregnancy dragged on until i was 8 days overdue. my wonderful hippy of a midwife broke my water and told me "do whatever my body told me to do." and five hours later, my body told me to push. then, she came. little london claire. a perfect peach of a head, and the sweetest little piglet nose you ever saw. a fine and elegant lady, she was.

my friend erica was capturing every perfect moment, expertly avoiding any scandalous pictures. and i might have imagined this, but i am pretty sure my other friend sam leaned over and whispered "she is a masterpiece." i am not totally sure that happened, because it was all a haze at that point. but, even if i made that part up, it was true. she was a masterpiece. knit together by the god of the universe. fought for by her mother. and welcomed by a roomful of family and friends who already loved her.

matthew 15:28 "then jesus answered her, 'o woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.' and her daughter was healed instantly ."

March 18, 2010

sometimes i feel bad about being white.

lately i have been contemplating all things race and adoption. we adopted our son harper (2.5 years) when he was 10 days old. my husband and i are white, and we had two biological daughters at the time we brought harper home. harper (whose birthparents are both african-american) is very obviously an adoptive addition to our family. i have done unbelievable amounts of research on the topic of adoption, specifically trans-racial adoption. this what i have discovered: you can't do the right thing. well, at least not in everyone's eyes.

first, you've got the people who are overly-sensitive about race. (i can say this, because i am probably more on this end of the spectrum. i think that racism is still a huge issue and i think it is negligent and naive to pretend that it's not.) but, i think some people take it over board. people don't know if you are supposed to say black or african-american, hispanic or latino, person of color or person of colour. i mean... it is terrifying to be in front of someone of a different ethnicity, use the wrong language and look like an ignorant butthole. there are people who will be offended no matter what you say. when i recently described harper as a minority in our family, one woman said she found my use of the word minority disturbing. i mean... if you've got 5 pennies, 5 nickels and a quarter, i think we all know that the quarter is the minority. just means: not as many. doesn't mean not as valuable. in this case, the quarter is actually worth more... there just aren't as many of them. that's sort of how my family is too. harper's worth is not being described when i say he is a minority. in a family with three white sisters, his reality is being described.

next, you've got my personal favorite: the "colorblinders." these people are great. they just say "i don't see color," and that somehow solves the racism issue. i mean, you don't see color? with all the colorblindness happening, it's a wonder how these people get their socks into pairs. i just think it a bit naive to say you can't see differences. again, it is not about worth or value. it's about reality here, people. i can SEE the difference between blonde hair and brown hair, brown skin and cream skin, purple socks and red. to pretend we can't see our wonderful and unique differences, cheapens the experiences of people who have been discriminated against for those very differences. seriously people, stop saying that. saying you don't judge people based on color is different than saying you don't SEE color. it's foolish, and it's a lie. (*author would like to note that this does not apply to those who have an actual diagnosed colorblindness problem. she is sorry to hear that... she permits you to continue using the phrase "i don't see color." and, to make amends for her offensiveness... she will gladly fold your socks into pairs.)

in the early 90's nike launched an advertising campaign featuring michael jordan and spike lee saying phrases like "the mo' colors, the mo' better." (my brother was in high school at the time, and he wrote an award-winning essay about embracing racial diversity in which he quoted this spike lee original.) the point of the campaign was, of course, to sell shoes. but, the secondary issue was to spark some dialogue and some thought about embracing people of all colors... not to deny that we are all covered in skin of varying colors, or to intimidate each other with so much political correction that we can't speak openly about race and ethnicity.

i am a tall, brown-haired, heterosexual, white, christian woman. i'm a youngest child, a child of divorce. these things are not a matter of better or worse, they are a matter of my reality and if i'm honest they do define a lot of who i am. i cannot speak for what life is like as a man, a muslim, a homosexual, or as a small black boy in a white family. i raise the question: what might it be like for him, now and down the road. i ask, not because i love him differently than i love my daughters... but, because i love him so much i feel obligated to acknowledge that his life experience will be different than my daughters' and sometimes it will be harder. i think i would be doing him a disservice if i were to take people's advice and treat him the exact same as my biological kids. i tried using the same eczema cream and it fried off his tiny baby mustache. HE IS NOT THE SAME! nor should he be!

today, when playing a board game with harper and marlie, she gave him a gamepiece and said "here harper, you'll be blue." he pulled up his little pantleg and pointed to his skin and said "noooo, i be browwwn." then, he looked at me proudly, flashed a huge smile (showing just the bottom row of his teeth), he raised his eyebrows once and said "harper handsome." he's also proud to tell you that he is adopted, just like jesus was adopted by joseph, and that he has handsome brown skin, and that the bottom of his feet are pink. he'll tell you that i am his forever mama, but that he has a birthmama too. my girls can't say any of that. they. are. different. to pretend otherwise wouldn't only be ridiculous, it would be sad.

i'm glad we adopted, and we are going to do it again. (yes, that will make five kids in all.) i am glad harper is "browwwwn" and i'm glad he thinks that it's handsome. i don't care if people think that "black children belong in black families." i think that in a perfect world children belong in the home with BOTH of their biological parents... but until we live in a perfect world, i think children belong with whoever is willing to love them, believe in them, and take the time to make them feel good about who they are... similarities, and yes, differences.

March 13, 2010

confessions of a d.b.m.

i forgot my baby in the car.

it's true. i opened the door to the van, i unbuckled harper (2) and helped him climb down onto the sidewalk, while i got marlie (4) down and helped put her backpack on. when i looked over at harper, he was playing with the automatic locks on my door. he hadn't ever touched the buttons before, so i explained to him that it wasn't okay, because we could get locked out. (wouldn't that be just a nightmare.)

then i closed the door and walked them both into preschool to drop marlie off. (end scene. cut to parking lot, zoom in on silver van.)

little london claire is sitting quietly (like a lady) in her infant car seat. just 8 weeks old. i left her in the car. i know, i know... that is a common mistake for a scatter-brained, sleep-deprived, new-mother-of-four. but, that isn't even the worse part. the part that makes me a d.b.m. (or dead beat mom for those of you who aren't family members) is that i didn't realize that harper hadn't just pushed the locks, he also rolled down the passenger side window. so, london was not only alone and unattended, she was also cold and available for burglary. (fade out, return to scene of me dimly walking back to the van like an unaware simpleton.)

i slid the van door open and realized what i've done. my heart sank. now, since i just ran in and ran out, she was neither too cold, nor had she been burgled. but, it was still one of the worst parenting-lows in 6 years of motherhood.

i have had some pretty crazy low-points in 6 years. i once threw my daughter's breakfast out the window on the highway, because i felt obligated to follow through on (what should have been) an empty threat. i said "if you do that again i am throwing your waffle out the window." she did it again, and i frisbeed that waffle right into the median. low point.

even lower than that, was when we put our oldest daughter, annalee (now 6, but 3 at the time) on a sort of privilege lock-down because we believed she had repeatedly been picking at holes in her wall that had been patched and painted over, then lying about it... swearing it wasn't her. only recently (3 years too late) did we realize that when the walls or the floor in that room are pounded on, the dried spackle starts to crumble and work its way out on it's own... leaving, what appears to be a small, freshly picked-at hole in the wall. super-low.

when i got to the van and inspected for signs of frost-bite or attempted baby-napping, london opened her eyes and she smiled at me. so forgiving are our little ones. it blows my mind how often i can fail them, and how much they still love me. i hear people talk all the time about how god loves us like a parent loves a child, but lately i am feeling like maybe god loves us like a little child blindly, and unequivocally loves her mama.