4.27.2017

your white kid doesn't deserve a trophy for playing with a black doll

I'm just going to say it: your white kid doesn't deserve a trophy for playing with a black doll.

It's the strangest thing, this fascination we have as a society when white children step outside of themselves and -- gasp! -- select a black doll off of the shelves. Somehow posts about this very thing go viral on social media, sometimes even spawning into news stories about the colorblindness of children who have no problems playing with a doll with darker skin than they possess. It weirded me out when my white son was two and didn't leave home without Baby Boy, his beloved dollar store doll that happened to be a person of color. "Oh, how nice he doesn't even mind," people would say. "Children are so innocent," people would smile. All the while, I would leave very confused as to how these thoughts came to be formed in a response to what is simply a child clutching a plastic doll in a check-out line.

Can I also just point out the white-washed world we expect children of color to live in, with one black doll for every fifteen blonde dolls on any given shelf at Target? One Doc McStuffins for every Disney princess with flowing, golden locks? Do we applaud and back-pat our black daughters and sons for taking home an Ariel the mermaid doll, or for wanting Elsa pajamas?

The short answer is no. We expect our black sons and daughters to live in a whitewashed society where they should be grateful for characters like Doc, or (my personal favorite) Ms. Elaina from Daniel Tiger (she's the cutest, toots!). We expect them to be Anna and Elsa for Halloween without praise or applause over their tolerance and acceptance, because they're just supposed to be okay with the marginalization. We recently collected children's items for a shelter in lieu of gifts for my daughter's birthday. There was a huge need for dolls and children's books that represented children of color -- things to let them know that they belong, that they are a vital part of our society, that they matter. Can we think about that, for a minute, through the eyes in which a child sees the world? The insignificance they're made to feel by way of plastic dolls and illustrated picture books -- or the lack thereof?

And then there's the next inevitable news report to roll out, in which a little blonde girl from the suburbs is being praised for telling a cashier that her black doll is "just like me." There are about five days worth of blog posts and news articles that typically follow praising the colorblindness of children. "Children don't see color," people celebrate in their self-congratulatory Facebook comments that they believe to be a stark contrast from the racism of the cashier who inquired about the race of a toy. Can you see me cringing from here? Because I am.

Racism is a spectrum and colorblindness lands you on it, even if your intentions are pure and you believe that you would never let a person get away with racism. To imply that you don't see color is to imply that you don't see blackness, that you don't see the melanin in ones skin, that you see them just as white as you. To feign colorblindness is to say that you don't notice their blackness as if it is a defect, that you may notice their hair color or eye color but certainly not their skin color because it just simply shall not be spoken of. My daughter is black, and my son is white. Long before my daughter came into our family, my son's dollhouse had a conglomerate of black dolls and white dolls inhabiting it and although neither of my children are into Disney movies or characters, my son has asked me why the only person of color on Blue's Clues reruns is Tyrese on an episode about Kwanzaa circa 1998. We have a mess of white dolls and black dolls piled up on the shelves in each child's closet and I've never felt compelled to alert the media when my white son chooses a black doll to tote around for the week -- it's almost like black people live in the world, and he doesn't deserve a cookie for acknowledging that.

Sometimes, but thankfully not often, people will see my black daughter's face in our otherwise white family photograph and say that they "don't even see her color." Sometimes, but again thankfully not often, people will say how nice it is that my son doesn't see his sister's skin color. I cringe, I laugh, but I am always quick to correct them: of course he does. Her blackness, her roots, her culture and her place in the world as a black woman matter. They are crucial to her identity. I mean, it's 2017 and black women are paid 65 cents to the white male dollar. I'm not going to stick my head in the sand and pretend my daughter doesn't have an uphill battle ahead of her, a fight for validation and equality that I, as a white woman, can't even begin to comprehend despite all of my empathy. In a few years, she will walk through the aisles of a department store and see the single black dolls placed in between rows of fifteen white dolls. She will inevitably be presented with the opportunity to choose Anna or Elsa at a playdate and will look less like either of them than some of the other girls in attendance. But she belongs just as much, despite the lack of representation. And your white child certainly doesn't deserve a trophy, a Nobel prize or evening news accolades for being "tolerant enough" to carry a plastic doll resembling a child of color around with her.

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4.26.2017

stomach bug solace

The first day my husband went back to work and left me at home with two kids -- a four and a half year old and a preemie newborn -- we went to the park. It was abnormally cold outside. We were all bundled up. I wrapped the newborn up close to my chest and hoped she wouldn't freeze. It was Florida, after all, and we shouldn't be having these thoughts -- why did it have to be so cold?! My four and a half year old skipped ahead of us, bundled in a jacket and slinging a stale loaf of bread around in hopes we would see ducks. It was too cold for the ducks, but we trudged on around a lake as the chilly wind whipped us in the face. "There are no ducks," he whined. The baby cried. I wondered if she was freezing. For about thirty seconds, I resented my husband for going back to work and secretly cursed everyone in our lives who trusted me alone with two kids and no back up. We got back into the car, and my four and a half year old asked to go get a bagel. "My sister is boring," he said, staring at the tiny infant who had instantly fallen asleep once the car began moving. "She won't always be," I said.

It only took us a couple of weeks to find our footing. Being alone with the two kids felt as natural to me as breathing, and watching them together quickly became my greatest joy.

As quickly as we found our footing, it's coming loose again as things will when change begins to happen. Ethan is almost six and wrapping up his year of preschool faster than I would like, and Carmen and I are trying to find our own routine and new normal in the hours which he is gone. It feels like practice for the fall when Kindergarten will swoop him up and force us to create a schedule that doesn't include getting him at noon. I'm not sure who will feel the impact of that loss of togetherness the most, myself or her. In the meantime, a stomach bug has kept us all home together. No preschool and no extracurriculars and no plans. Just us together, puke buckets lined with plastic Publix bags and beach towels draped across the tile. "My sister drives me up a wall," Ethan says. "She's so crazy but she's my best friend." I hope she will always be, I think and I remember that unusually chilly March morning last year when a new layer of life was freshly exposed.

I hope so much she will always be.

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4.16.2017

adoptive moms can get the baby blues, too

Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine who is also an adoptive mother. We were discussing the way society seems to believe adoptive mothers simply bounce back after baby, as if they are immune from the anxiety and the depression (and the the fear and chaos and sleep deprivation) that mothers who gave birth tend to experience. It was an a-ha! moment for me because I realized then how right she was. We had a great deal of support from friends and family during Carmen's entry into our family, and I was fortunate to escape the baby blues (this go 'round) that often accompanies new motherhood -- but not everyone shares that same luck. I've been told before how lucky I am to have the joy of a newborn without the pain of giving birth, and as someone who has also given birth I can understand the intention behind the comment.

After all, I had a c-section with Ethan that was a far cry from routine and my issues continued into the postpartum period for sometime. Of course, my husband had a nice chunk of paid paternity leave following the birth of our child so I wasn't alone at home and, moreso, I'm pretty sure we had visitors every moment of every day bringing by food, helping out. Our pediatrician was on call for all of my new mom questions and when I cried to my OB that I was feeling very depressed and anxious about breastfeeding failures, I got the support I needed -- including a handy phone number to a counselor who specialized in postpartum depression and anxiety. While, no, I didn't just have my body stitched back together when I strapped Carmen into the car seat upon hospital discharge, I still had a newborn in my care who we were just beginning to start the bonding process with. No one was sleeping, I had another child at home desperate for normalcy and my attention, and life was just supposed to snap back to where it was -- including my husband having to go back to work right away. I won't pretend I didn't cry those first few nights from the exhaustion and stress of it all, the conglomerate of happy disbelief and overwhelmed exhaustion wreaking havoc on my body.

For many adoptive mothers, the bonding begins when the baby comes home. You don't have the option of caring for the child in utero. You don't get those moments bonding over food cravings and sleep patterns, or the way the baby moves to the beat of a certain song. You don't particularly know whose baby photos she resembles more, or whose allergies she has inherited. In our case, we visited our daughter in the NICU and she still legally had a different last name than ours. Most of the nurses were understanding and knew we were adoptive parents, but there were a couple of greeters who explained in great detail we would need parental permission to visit. Ouch. You do a lot of explaining and guessing in those early days, which is really unnatural in terms of mothering. I felt admittedly very self-conscious about having to answer "I don't know" to most of the questions on our newborn check-up at the pediatrician because I was her mother -- how could I not know? I'm pretty sure I legitimately brought a family tree print-out to Ethan's first visit with everyone's allergy or ailment clearly marked. For me, as someone whose body carried a terminally ill child and who gave birth to death and then delved into the pits of infertility, I struggled mostly with wanting to feel accepted as a mother. I wanted people to stop asking me if I wanted their breastmilk -- a well-intentioned offer that read more like a reminder of all the ways my body was inferior to everyone else's -- and to stop speaking to me like I found a baby on the side of the road who I had no connection with ("do you think she knows who you are?"). There's that anxiety when the baby cries and you don't know how to calm her -- in Carmen's case, it was silent reflux -- when logic falls by the wayside and you're wondering if she doesn't accept you as her mother and what if she doesn't love you with the unconditional love that you're already pouring all over her? For some adoptive mothers, bonding is hard and bonding takes time. For some adoptive mothers, mothering begins as a routine and an adjustment period until one day it just becomes as natural as breathing -- but sometimes that takes time, and sometimes it takes work. Sometimes it causes great stress and great sadness and there is no OB who pulls you aside to slip you a little piece of paper with a counselor's phone number written on it.

For me, when Carmen first came home, everyone seemed to want to know about her birth family. While I was quick to ensure no one ever shook their heads with disgust upon the assumption she was an unwanted or discarded baby, it felt very dismissive. With Ethan's arrival, people asked if we were sleeping or eating or how much he weighed or if we needed any help with anything. With Carmen's arrival, people asked about her birth parents and were they teenagers and why did they decide on adoption and is it an open or closed adoption, anyway? For some adoptive mothers, and certainly myself, the guilt in those early days was palpable and stressful. Being bombarded with inquiries that concerned no one else but us was intense and a major trigger for my anxiety. "But how much did it cost?" people asked as I tried to let my oldest have some normalcy time at the playground. No.

When you bring home a baby you gave birth to, you bring home a baby into your home and settle yourselves into your own routine and schedule. When you bring home a baby through adoption, you have to clear your calendar for post-placement visits and finalization dates. One time in particular, I had to rush Ethan home from art class as he wailed he wanted to stay because we had to rush home to meet the social worker. And then you wonder if your house is clean enough, if they're going to mark you off for your lack of laundry skills or the banana peel browning on the kitchen table that you overlooked. You're going to wonder if they can tell you haven't been sleeping or if they're going to take your dirty yoga pants and mom bun as a sign you're failing at motherhood because you just can't look as put together as you wanted to for this occasion. You're going to have to answer questions about your relationship and life and children and make sure you have clear answers from the pediatrician with the baby's measurements and vaccination records. You just want to pass every test because you love your child so much, you do, and you don't want anyone to doubt you.

I was fortunate enough to have friends who put together a Meal Train for my family and so we were fed for those first couple weeks -- but from my research, not all adoptive mothers receive that level of care. I had missed a dentist appointment that I forgot about in the chaos of the adoption process and, when the receptionist called to scold me and reschedule me, I blurted out we just adopted a baby and I'm so tired and sorry. She was quick to point out that I didn't have the baby so my mind should be a lot sharper. She meant it as a joke, but I wasn't laughing -- and I found a new dentist, too. I began to quickly fall behind in Ethan's schedule, with his lessons and classes and playdates as well as his homeschool activities. There was a lot of pressure to bounce back, snap back, integrate myself back into everyday life because my body wasn't healing. I was apologizing a lot in those days and beating myself up with what I thought were failures but now I see was just normal life with a newborn in tow. Because a newborn is a newborn, no matter how the baby came to be.

When there's no OB appointment to follow up with every few weeks, there's no one to ask how you're doing or notice your tears. There's no one to ask how your mental health is. There's no one looking out for the warning signs of depression or anxiety in adoptive mothers as there are in women who have just given birth. I've come to realize that adoptive mothers spend a lot of time trying to remind people that they're mothers and those early days are no exception but somewhere in the exhaustion and chaos and diapers and bonding, you don't have the words for your feelings. Sometimes you're just sad. Sometimes you're just scared. Sometimes you wish you had a village huddled around you as someone who gives birth has, reminding you that you just brought a baby home and to be gentle with yourself -- and asking how they can help, if you're eating, if you're sleeping and if you're doing okay.

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easter 2017

Is it totally weird to say, as a completely non-religious person who doesn't even hail from a Christian family, that Easter is totally one of my favorite holidays? It's true, though, at least since becoming a mother. There's just something fun about setting my alarm to ensure a before-the-kids wake up and hiding plastic eggs in the yard to be found by an excited basket wielding child. There's something fun about making baskets and all things bunnies and chocolate, and then seeing them all through the eyes of a child as well. I also like that Easter is far more chill than the other holidays, at least at our house. Last Easter, Carmen was new and laid on a blanket in the backyard while Ethan busily hunted eggs around her. This year, I was sure she would be walking by the time Easter rolled around but although she's so close, she's not quite there yet. Still, Ethan had a blast hunting for eggs in the yard alongside his crawling companion. They just fit so beautifully together, these two. I love their love.

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4.15.2017

easter baskets: ages 5 and 1

I meant to have this post up days ago but, like most of my big ideas, that sort of flopped -- or at the very least, fell victim to the kind of chaotic schedule that accompanies two small children. Alas, it's the night before Easter and the plastic eggs have been stuffed (shout out to Bitsy's Brainfood for my sugar-less alternatives!) and the baskets are finished.

I like to try to keep as much sugar and junk out of the baskets as possible just because there is so much sugar circulating around at all of the parties, classes and events leading up to an actual holiday. The last two years, I gave Ethan the joy of a chocolate bunny as my one sugary exception. For the most part, I like to stick with simple basket themes: things to do, things to wear, things to read. Here's a little peek at what is waiting for the kids tomorrow morning!

Carmen, age 1:

Inside Carmen's basket, you'll find:

  • A new t-shirt (Cat & Jack is life, am I right?)
  • Haba brand wooden rainbow clutching toy
  • Two board books
  • Monkey Feet moccs
  • Box of Ella's Kitchen organic snacks
  • Joovy Pengoo straw cup
  • Battat keys toy
  • Green Sprouts first toothbrush

Next up is Ethan's basket, age 5 (*gulp* almost 6):

In Ethan's basket, you'll find:

  • LEGO Easter chick building set
  • Lush Rainbow Fun and golden egg bath goodies
  • Three new beginning readers books
  • New hat
  • Tickle Me Plant seeds
  • Seedles Wildflower seed bombs
  • Tie-Dye kit (from Amazon)
  • Pals Socks -- mismatched socks because "it's fun to be friends with someone who is different." I'm obsessed!


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