starting over

Today my oldest child started Kindergarten -- but I can't even talk about that yet. I'm still trying to keep my mind focused on how adorable he looked at his table, nametag around his neck, coloring pumpkins with the fresh crayons tucked inside his little pencil case. The thoughts of him eating lunch in a big cafeteria or walking to and from specials inside a big elementary school are too scary, so I'm trying to keep them at bay. Anyway, like I was saying. Today my oldest child started Kindergarten. I swear he was born yesterday, but in actuality he is six years old. He has two adult teeth already and he asks for privacy in the bathroom and he can read third grade level chapter books on his own, but he still climbs into my lap when he needs to feel safe and he still needs me to kiss his boo-boos when he hurts himself and in so many ways, he is still my little baby. Of course, I also have an actual baby who is still getting in her first teeth and learning the ropes of the world, like not to pick things up off the floor and stick them into your mouth. She still requires a nap on most days and still falls if she walks too quickly and she's still learning to communicate using words. After school drop off this morning, I took my baby to the mall to walk the interior perimeter as I used to do when her big brother was an infant and I didn't know anybody. It was exercise and it was air-conditioned and no one would talk to me, because I was one "hello, how are you?" away from losing my mind. (Kindergarten hurts, guys. It just does.)

Sometimes people say that I'm starting over. That Ethan goes off to school and instead of truly moving myself into this next phase of life, I instead move myself right back to square one. Diapers and feeding schedules and all of the chaos that accompanies a baby-baby, not just a Kindergarten-baby. Is it hard to move back to packing diaper bags and packing snacks and making sure the minivan is equipped with a baby carrier or stroller at all times? Is it hard to give up spontaneity for a nap? Well, yes. But harder yet is the thought of not having it at all. Any of it.

There was a great deal of time when I thought that I would never get to hold a baby of my own again. There was a large chunk of time when I thought that the two children I would have to parent would be my living one and my dead one; parenting one with attention and affection, and the other with memory and heartbreak. While my days of belly bumpdates and fetus-to-fruit comparisons died with Wylie, I would in fact get to be a parent again. It would take fight and grit and strength that I dug out of my brokenness, but it would happen nonetheless. Holding my daughter in my arms for the first time was magic, but seeing Ethan smile as he held her in his arms for the first time was vindication. It was joy again, rising up from the dead and pressing the resume button on a life that felt painfully paused. I am grateful for every minute of it. I'm grateful that I showed up to Kindergarten drop-off with a stroller in tow and smashed-up sandwich on my shirt. I'm grateful that I am waiting out naptime writing this, a load of wash in the washing machine and tonight's dinner already in the oven, and when I press publish I will return to creating tot school curriculum just like I used to do during naptimes five years ago. I'm grateful for all of it because it's real life and messiness and goodness and stepping-on-yucky-fruit after feeling so numb for so long.

I couldn't imagine starting over, either. I couldn't imagine dusting myself off and starting over in an entirely different life than the one I thought I knew for 30 years. But thankfully I don't have to. I just got to press play after a little pause.

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In the six years I've been a parent, I've always believed in following the child. Attachment is often frowned upon, although in six years I've grown used to people's eyerolls when I say Ethan hasn't been left with a sitter or that I still lay with him until he falls asleep at night. I'm used to the way people like to lecture me that I coddle him or spoil him and need to "cut the cord." I've always believed that he would tell me when he was ready to seek out a little more independence and that's been true, as he always has. Still, independence burns at my heart despite me knowing it's on his terms and happening naturally (and confidently) thanks to our attached bond.

I remember the exhausting days when he refused to detach himself from my leg or wouldn't so much as look at other children who approached him on the playground. I blinked and he became the child surrounded by a crowd of eight other children on the school playground, holding hands and laughing and immersed in a game that they created together. Before bedtime, we talk about things that made us proud or made our hearts feel good (and sad, and mad, and all the other range of emotions one can feel in a day). The other night, he remarked that he felt "proud to be Ethan" and everything in me was overcome with peace. I remember just a few short months ago when he would lament how he was terrified no one would like him or would hide the silly riddles and big thoughts that his mind would think up. Now he runs up to children at the park and asks them if they want to hear a joke and, despite stumbling over the punchline, laughs through the entire delivery. The tremendous growth and the strides he has made in finding himself have made me feel peaceful and proud and have also made me realize the intricacy of motherhood at a level I hadn't before.

But it also hurts. Because this weekend, he went into the kitchen and made both of us lunch. He carried the clothing from the dryer to the couch and "folded" the towels before putting them into the linen closet. He asked for privacy as he washed up before bed and reemerged in his pajamas without even needing me to lay them out for him onto the bed. He turned down a trip to the museum on the start of his last week of summer to instead spend a day at his gym camp.

And these are good things. They are wonderful things because he has found his confidence and himself and he is growing! He is thriving! He is becoming the child he is meant to be at his own pace. He is excited for the future and letting me know that he is ready for more independence now, at age six. These are wonderful things! And they are the outcome I hoped for when I first cradled his newborn body in my arms and promised him I'd always be here, that I'd always be by his side, that we would nurture attachment and my job as his mother would be to follow his lead. But they still hurt because in all the ways he is ready, I am not ready.

I am not ready to drop my oldest child at Kindergarten despite the fact he is eager to see his classroom and meet his classmates, who he refers to as "my new friends." I am not ready to kiss him goodbye and watch him, backpack strapped to his back, walk into a classroom in elementary school. But he is, which he lets me know each day, multiple times a day, as he opens his organizer bins and double (triple, quadruple) checks that he has socks or clean underwear ready to go for his carefully planned out first day outfit. I am not ready for him to turn 7, or 8, or 17 and drive a car or have his heart broken or any of the other milestones that are to come. But I was not ready for him to turn 2, or 3, or 6, and still he does and still I follow him, letting him know I'm here as he should need me. Because that's my job, in all of its glory and sadness, and there is no better job in the world than to be his mommy.

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almost but not quite yet kindergarten

Every so often, I make a promise to myself to write more. I don't feel quite like myself in times when I don't write, but it gets complicated. Sometimes it's weird knowing my words are read by people I actually have to see in every day life (and when they don't like what I say, I get the awkward grocery store cold shoulder) -- or by people whose children my kids have a desire to play with. As Ethan gets older, I have to protect his privacy more than in the good old days of his tot schooling and potty training when his milestones were cute and universally understood by new parents everywhere. He is my number one support system when it comes to writing ("you should write books about Carmen and I, mommy") but he's also six. Still, writing gives me this feeling of peace that is unattainable anywhere else. I joined a boot camp, I've been slowly committing to decorating rooms in my house and staying on top of my laundry, but nothing compares to putting words and feelings down. There are just so many big feelings here, dying to come out.

Summer is basically over. I'm taking this extra hard because Ethan starts Kindergarten soon and I'm pretty lousy at changes in routine. I bought Carmen a shirt that says "say yes to new adventures" and cursed myself out under my breath as I tossed it in the cart because hello, I'm a hypocrite. New adventures are terrifying and scary and should be avoided at all costs by embracing sameness and hiding under the covers to avoid reality. Just me? Ethan is pretty stoked about Kindergarten and doesn't really seem nervous whereas I wake up at three in the morning having panic attacks about having to send my precious baby to a gigantic, actual elementary school. There are things that I don't like to admit to myself, and one of those is that unlike me, Ethan loves the idea of a class and being a part of a team. He's also pretty good about giving things an honest try, which is a quality I severely lack. So far his only apprehension has been that PE is a part of the curriculum (see? He is my child!) but he's even accepted that he may enjoy it after all.

Today, I cleaned out the drawers in a filing cabinet that has been stuck in a corner of our tot school classroom since we began, when Ethan was just 16 months old. I spent an hour bawling my eyes out as I combed through the artwork and projects that we had spent five years making. Ethan loved sitting with me and going through his old drawings and projects but "I'm not sure what you're crying about, mommy. I'll still make art at Kindergarten and when I get home, too." I try to explain to him the depths of a mother's love and pride and the bittersweet feeling that is a child growing up and becoming more independent, but he's six and so he doesn't understand. He hugs me and assures me that if I want to make him lessons and trays, he will humor me and do them so I don't have to cry.

I'm a little bit of a mess. That's nothing new. Time hasn't really made me bolder but regardless, children get older and I'm doing my best to put on a brave face and be convincing in my cheering from the sidelines.

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It's 5:03 a.m. and Carmen is barreling down the hallway holding a metal whisk in one hand and a plush baseball in the other. "Bruh bruh! Bruh bruh!" All the white noise machines in the world won't be able to stop her shrieks from waking up her brother, but still I try. "He's still asleep. He has to get some sleep, he has camp today." I redirect her to the living room. To the doll house. To the play kitchen. To her bedroom. To a pantry full of crackers and a refrigerator full of cheese and anything else she wants, oh my god, just take anything, as long as I can get five minutes to put on my pants and let Ethan sleep until at least 7. But she won't put down the whisk or the baseball. Not for anything will she put down the whisk or the baseball or give up her determined trek to the end of the hallway where her big brother (somehow) sleeps with the quiet humming of his white noise machine permeating from underneath the closed door.

Last week, Ethan invented a game called whisk ball where Carmen pitches him the ball and he whacks it with a whisk. The rules are still quite unclear, but they both run the bases (mulch, leaves and twigs found in our front yard) around the driveway together and then start again. Every evening in the lull after dinner and before bathtime, Ethan grabs the whisk and the ball and Carmen is right there at his feet eager to play. It's a little like magic, in those moments, even though the tired is usually burning at my eyes. Sometimes it still feels surreal to look up from where I'm sitting on the front doorstep and see these two playing their beloved game together, the laughter, the "I love you's," the nicknames. It's become normal, by now, the two of them and the chasing and the feeding and the chauffering and the classes and the naptime and the schedules. The newness has worn off and every day life becomes just that: every day life. At 5:03 a.m., as I'm chasing a wide-awake toddler down a hallway as she clutches a whisk and a baseball, it's hard to feel the magic over the exhaustion.

We made it to 6:50 a.m. without waking up Ethan, but soon he rolls out of his room with bedhead and a yawn. "Why is Carmen yelling?" He sits on the hall floor and wipes the sleep out of his eyes. She's yelling because she loves you, I think. She's yelling because she loves you so much and because her heart is so happy when she's with you and because she so very much cherishes the memories you make together. It's in the middle of these thoughts that I am able to feel the magic. These two. Despite the exhaustion and need for Starbucks and inability to find two minutes to put on a clean shirt, despite all of it, this is my greatest dream come true over and over and over again. Each time the whisk hits the baseball and two children collapse on the driveway in fits of laughter, it comes true again.

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I had all of these big plans for summer. That's how it always goes, right? Places to go, things to see and all that. Ethan, on the other hand, simply wanted to attend camp at his preschool. I understood his heart, of course. He is sad to leave his preschool and summer is for playing with your friends, which is what he gets to do at camp. The beach is still the beach in the fall, the zoo is still the zoo, the museum passes are valid all year -- but his preschool friends? Well, in the fall they all disperse to their respective schools and for many, that means Kindergarten. Like most things, Ethan is taking this short period before Kindergarten in stride (and I am not at all, like usual). He is excited to meet his teacher and see his classroom and while he says he is a little bit nervous, I am trying to follow his lead. This is just the next phase in the adventure.

Sometimes I feel like my kids are this mature, wise example that I'm supposed to follow. I'm clumsy and tripping and screwing up, but they've got this living thing down and transition from milestone to milestone without flinching. (And I fall on my face trying to follow them.) Carmen wakes up from her afternoon naps calling "bruhhhh bruhhhh" from her crib, knowing that it's just about time to pile into the minivan and pick him up at preschool. The sunniest part of my summertime is watching her face light up when she sees him on the playground.

We've been making the most of this summer, despite the chaos. The hypogylcemia and the hospital stay and the flu and all of the other nonsense that decided to tag along for a little bit. Mostly it's been hot, and mostly we've been spending time together trying not to melt. With the fall will come more regularly scheduled posts, and tot school, and routine...and Kindergarten. (Remember when I created this blog the day I learned I was pregnant with Ethan? Yeah, me too.)

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turning 6 is awesome: ethan's lego themed 6th birthday party

Ethan had his sixth birthday party this past weekend. He asked for a Lego theme and (because I'm his mom, duh) was very hands-on in the planning this year. This was his first year in school, and so he had so many friends to add to the guestlist. Having a summer birthday is hard because you never know if your school friends will be in touch or if they'll be traveling, but he was so excited that so many of his friends from school showed up to party. Our venue was My Gym in Coconut Creek, Florida, as it is year after year -- it's our home away from home and you can't beat a My Gym party (we love you, Mr. Lee!). Instead of the Lego-printed plates and decorations, I tried to recreate my own primary color scheme and go from there.

My best friend's dad and my sister collaborated on these awesome wood cutouts. Ethan was so excited to have them at his party!

The favors were primary color play-doh tubs with custom Lego mini-figure shaped cookie cutters, which I ordered from Etsy seller Cookie Cutter Supply. I packaged everything up in bags that I morphed into Lego bricks with the help of a craft hole punch.

I had the banner printed on Vistaprint. The cupcake tower and the cake stand were both inexpensive Amazon purchases that I painted and decorated with Lego Duplo blocks. My sister drew the Lego faces on the two glass jars (the held hummus and ranch) that I had also painted yellow. Ethan built the napkin and silverware Duplo structures and I love that he added his own little touch to everything! For food, we had pizzas delivered but I set out an array of snacks in different primary colored bins and containers.

My sister donned a Lego Ninjago costume for the first half hour or so of the party as a special gift to Ethan. All in all, it was an awesome (see what I did there?) party!

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"Don't worry about the worst case scenarios."

I was told this four times within the first three hours we had been in the emergency room with Carmen. Machines beeped and buzzed around us, kids cried in stereo and I was holding the body of a toddler unrecognizable as my own. Carmen never stops -- "she has no chill," her big brother will say -- but in the ER, she was laying still in my arms, drifting in and out of sleep. The doctor came in to either deliver results or calm me down. She dabbled in a little of both. I quickly identified myself as the mother of a child who lost one baby already to a fatal heart defect and immediately, everyone understood that I knew that worst case scenarios can and do happen. What no one else could understand was the pit in my stomach at the prospect of it happening again.

Around me were mothers who listened to the doctors orders about their child's febrile seizures or stomach viruses with clarity and understanding. In my daily life, I refer to these parents as naive. Not in a bad way, either. I was naive once and I miss it all of the time, especially during those times when my child is laying across my lap hooked up to machines and tubes and catheters. I miss the ability to not panic, to stay calm, to wait to see what the doctor says in order to find a treatment plan. Instead, where my second baby should be sits my ability to replace calmness with the sight of the room in a funeral home reserved for children-sized urns and coffins. The crowded room with the gray carpet and cheery fluffy teddy bears stuck upon the shelves next to ceramic baby blocks and angel wings, a short perimeter to walk while deciding which box should house your child's remains forever. "She's going to stay in the PICU," explains the doctor but not without sitting by my feet and staring me in the eyes in hopes to zap up a little bit of the devastation I'm screaming into the room. I feel numb and cold and then the cheerful endocrinologist walks in and everyone is giving me a speech about Nick Jonas being a diabetic, too, and look at him. Look at Nick Jonas? This is the best we can do for parents who are just told their child has a 90% chance of being diabetic but the official diagnosis will come in the morning, but don't panic, because Nick Jonas.

We are admitted to the PICU and this is when Carmen comes back to life, and by two a.m. they have to close her into the PICU crib like a cage. A kind nurse with a gentle spirit rocks Carmen for me so I can pee and splash my face with water and shovel a fistful of contraband -- Pringles -- into my mouth, thanks to a friend who made sure I was equipped to adequately eat my feelings in the hospital. The morning comes and diabetes is taken off the table. Thoughts of Nick Jonas in all of his glory have been replaced by a suggestion it may be epilepsy, and I am flung into a whole new world that has no celebrity spokesperson. "They even have dogs! Kids love dogs," offers a nurse trainee and I resist the urge to throw Carmen's entire breakfast tray at her face.

Moments later, they are strapping electrodes on my child's head to test for epilepsy. The doctor is cold and quick and won't answer my questions. I promise myself I will eat Doritos from the vending machine later if I don't google epilepsy. "She might not die from it, you know, there are safety precautions in place," says the doctor on his way out the door. She might not die from it, I think, is the new Nick Jonas.

The next day they take epilepsy off the table and the cold doctor is again replaced by the cheerful endocrinologist who believes it is ketocic hypoglycemia. It ends up being a correct diagnosis. We are moved from the PICU to the regular peds floor, which means Carmen can walk the halls and play in the playroom and I can have visitors. I never want the visitors to leave. "Get some sleep," my mom would say before she left and I would resist the urge to throw myself in front of the door and beg her to not leave me. "It's my son's birthday soon," I would tell the nurses as they came in, "we have to get home." Some nights her sugars were low, but not as low as they were the morning she couldn't wake up at home, and I'm told I'm going to be shown how to test her sugars at home. I can't even put my own earrings in because I'm too squeamish, so I prematurely just cry.

But then the time comes when she is able to be unhooked from her IV fluids for 24 hours without it affecting her sugars. We are given a feeding schedule from a dietitian, and the endocrinologist calls us in a glucometer. I practice the finger pricks on my husband and we are sent out into the world with a list of times to test her sugars at, all night long. All. Night. Long.

My husband and I haven't slept in two weeks and I think my body has just adapted to the sleeplessness. My phone alarm sounds at 2 a.m. and we roll out of bed, a routine in place, washing hands and waking up a baby that just wants to sleep. If her sugar is too low, we have the daunting task of feeding her until it rises -- yes, feeding the toddler who just wants to go back to sleep. Some nights this is easier than others. Some nights we are awake from 2 a.m. until 4 a.m. because she is just so confused as to if it's morning or not or why she's being forced to eat yogurt or drink a smoothie or juice. Once you let yourself fall back to sleep, it feels like seconds before the alarm sounds again. And repeat (and repeat and repeat).

She is doing well, and (not to jinx it) hasn't had an issue with low sugars for the past two days. We recheck with the endocrinologist on Monday. Life has morphed into normal, or a new version of it, one with scheduled snack breaks and blood sugar tests. I'm still trying to adapt and figure it all out, day by day, with lots and lots of coffee in hand. It's summertime, and we're soaking up the sunshine as best we can.

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mother's day

Mother's Day rolled in with it's (thankfully broken) promise of all-day thunderstorms and accompanying chaos. We made it to the beach before nine o'clock in the morning, thinking we would have to beat a rainstorm that never actually ended up being more than looming black clouds on the horizon. We ventured to a beach just minutes away from where Carmen was born, and it was hard to not think of the woman who will always bear the c-section scar from the surgery that pulled my daughter from her body. I certainly couldn't answer any of the cutesy Facebook questionnaires about peeing when I sneeze or epidurals or if "daddy" was in the room during my delivery (also, no thank you on that heaping helping of heteronormativity), but none of that is what it means to be a mother. In my own heart, birth is the least of what makes someone a mother and that much is apparent in the day-to-day moments that come with mothering Carmen. Yet a little over one year ago only minutes from where Carmen splashed in the Intracoastal yesterday, another woman had only her birth to claim her motherhood.

Life and all of it's intricacies, all of the constant remolding we go through to be humans -- some days it's all more apparent than others. Perspective shifts and feelings that tap at your heart but for which you have no adequate words to explain to others.

Sometimes I pee when I sneeze, but the cause of that is not my son born via c-section as much as it wasn't my daughter born to another woman's body. It was thanks to the delivery of the child who died and was born nearly three years ago on a date that is creeping up quicker than I'm ready for. My wedding anniversary and also the day that we said goodbye to the baby who never got to come home with us. Motherhood -- it simply cannot be defined in saccharine Pinterest quotes or graphics about coffee consumption. Motherhood throbs deep inside my veins and defines who I am despite the journey that spun me around until I was too dizzy to really answer that for quite some time.

My babies. These babies. These beautiful, fierce world-changers with their laughter and stubbornness. I can't get enough of them.

They are joy. They are peace. They are love. They are my motherhood journey, the roots that hold me in place.  photo signature_zps5tftxxmn.png


grabease: baby's first self-feeding cutlery set

I was first introduced to Grabease when I saw these adorable self-feeding utensils for toddlers tagged in a photo on Instagram. Carmen never liked being fed and has always preferred to feed herself, but usually with her hands (or by shoveling fistfuls of food in her mouth, let's be real). Typical silverware is too large for tiny toddler hands, so I assumed I would just deal with her heaping handfuls of self-feeding and the mess that accompanies it all -- until I discovered Grabease. Grabease utensils are recommended by occupational therapists and designed to promote self-feeding in toddlers. Each set comes with both a fork and spoon, each with an ergonomically designed handle for a natural vertical grasp. As a total neurotic mom (or shameless helicopter mom, you decide), I also want to point out that I love the choke protection barriers that make it impossible for little ones to swallow or choke themselves with their Grabease utensils.

From the first moment I presented her with the Grabease, Carmen seemed to know just what to do. Lately, Carmen is at that stage where she mimics what she sees us do and that includes use utensils to eat. At first she was a little frustrated that she could not get the food onto the Grabease fork, but after a few tries, Miss Independent was totally getting it. It was really cool for me as a parent to watch her successfully feed herself dinner with her own utensils!

We've always had some issues with Carmen and her weight. Having been born a few weeks premature, we had a hard time getting her to cross the threshold from underweight to normal weight. Throw in the fact she is just too busy to take time to sit and eat, mealtimes were a little bit of a struggle (and a whole lot stressful). Grabease -- and the thrill of letting her independence blossom -- have totally made meal and snack times fun for Carmen. She loves learning to use her Grabease to feed herself and will polish off an entire plate of strawberry slices if I include her Grabease fork along with them. "It's exercise for her brain," as my five year old says.

We are loving Grabease around here -- and are really, really excited to get the opportunity to offer a super-exciting giveaway, too. 15 winners will get the chance to win their very own set of Grabease for their toddlers!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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adoption isn't a punch line

"That's it, I'm putting you up for adoption," joked the mom at the playground splash pad with her on-purpose messy ponytail to her unaware toddler, sharing a round of uproarious laughter with her friends. Just a few feet away, my two children wandered into the splash pad: my son, running in excitedly but cautiously, and my daughter, still crawling but far more adventurous and less concerned with safety. I felt my stomach tighten to the point where my knees felt weak under me, and I felt the familiar feeling of heat flush into my cheeks. I tried to discreetly stare at them, to assess the faces that looked nice enough and yet could be so unintentionally cruel. It wasn't the first time I'd heard adoption as the butt of a joke, and it sure wouldn't be the last time. "My sister doesn't look anything like the rest of us," a mom at the library joked to her friend, "so when I'm mad at her, I just tell her she's adopted."

I have heard people make racist jokes, likely because I'm white and they have no idea that my daughter is black, and they wrongfully assume that such jokes are funny if no one in the audience is impacted firsthand. I wholly reject that ignorant theory with everything within me. Racism, rape, misogyny -- these things aren't funny, regardless of the experiences of the person listening to your joke. The same goes for adoption. The pain and life-altering turmoil and sacrifice that my daughter's birth parents had to make aren't a punchline to some silly joke that does nothing but perpetuate the stigma that one must be defective, somehow, someway, in order to be placed for adoption. Adoptees grow up bearing the brunt of a lot of that stigma, sometimes believing themselves that they were unwanted, unloved, not good enough. Older children sometimes believe that they did something wrong, something bad, something that warranted them placement -- and I can't blame them, because these are the jokes we hear on a regular basis. The notion that an adopted child is loved less than a biological child -- that learning of ones adoption is an insult -- has been perpetuated a thousand times over in the memes I've seen pop up on my timeline last month alone.

I'm not an adoptee, but I am an adoptive mother. I know that in my daughter's brief year of being a part of our family, I've gotten countless stares and inquiries over the fact she looks different from the rest us. I am sure that soon she will feel the stares herself, and internalize the comments from well-intentioned strangers who are eager to know in the inner-workings of our family dynamic. I am sure that in her quest to know herself, as all adolescents go through, she will find a more intricate path to trudge through than most. And if she had been a little older that day at the splash pad, I can only imagine the way that stranger's joke would have held onto her heart and not let go.

Adoptees aren't throw-away children. They aren't children who were unwanted, or unloved. I can empathize with the ache in my daughter's birth mother's heart that she will have to live with for the rest of her life, and sometimes this is what I think about when parents make jokes about placing their child for adoption over a tantrum over a cookie or broken toy. I think of the battle that my own family fought to get to the point of bringing our daughter home with us through adoption -- the pain, the tears, the moments of feeling like our lives would forever be incomplete. I think of the struggles my friend faced in multiple failed adoptions before bringing home her beautiful daughter, and the level of heartache there that most people will never be able to comprehend. I think of the infertility treatments, the needles jabbed just to the side of my belly button, and the physical pain that paled in comparison to waking up with a half-broken heart and empty arms each morning. And I think of my daughter and the other adoptees just like her -- innocent, loved beyond measure, just trying to exist in a world that turns the very essence of who they are into a joke.

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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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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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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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