Recognizing color

In my experience, the most meaningful, revelatory conversations happen while we're washing our kids up in the bath. Maybe it's because it's the only time they get to themselves free of stimulus so they are more apt to ponder. Maybe it's the proverbial washing away of the day's worries--whatever it is, I appreciate hearing their insights during bath time. This time as Nate washed K up, I busied myself in the kids' rooms putting clothes away and arranging their books while I listened to Nate and K's conversation unfold.

"I wish my skin was white," she told Nate.

"Why do you wish that?" Nate inquired.

"I don't know," she responded.

To be honest, I didn't hear the rest of the conversation because I immediately began taking inventory of all we did or didn't do to make her wish this. She only has one brown Barbie among a sea of white Barbies; she has one brown baby and two white babies. Characters in the books she has: all white. I immediately felt terrible. All of the stuff we have for her has been acquired in the form of gifts from others--which has been a huge blessing, but it finally occurred to me this weekend that these gifts scream of whiteness. There are only few times in my life where I have been the minority, and each time was uncomfortable. Moving into a new home in a new part of town with a new family of a new skin color...I cannot imagine how awkward she must feel at times. I feel terrible that we didn't think and plan for this.

On Friday I showed my sophomores this TED Talk video from a Nigerian writer (it's embedded below) as they begin to identify the single stories they think people assume about them so they can write pieces that speak back to those stories and reveal who they really are. In the beginning of the lecture Adichie explains that all of the stories she wrote when she was a small girl featured white characters drinking ginger beer playing in the snow and talking about the weather--none of which she actually knew of but had learned about through all the books she read since most of the books she had access to were British. She mentioned that she did not ever see herself in literature as a young child. Sandra Cisneros (one of my favorite writers) also talks about this very concept which is why she wrote The House on Mango Street so she could finally see people like her in books. I don't want K to ever feel inferior because of her skin color...I want her to love her deep chocolate skin and her kinky hair...I've got some work to do.

So, today I spent a good chunk of time online researching the best books for African-American girls and made a trip to the library to find books with main characters that looked like K. I brought home a stack for both kids to read through. After the holidays, I think I will swap out some of her white dolls for darker skinned dolls and invest in more books with kids like her. It's not huge, but at least it's a starting point.

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Adjusting to a new identity

I've debated whether or not to write about this or not, but I figured that writing always helps me process things (and this "thing" needs processing) and my writing could help others process similar situations. So...here goes:

I'm done teaching at Burke on December 19th. After lots of praying, I resigned from my teaching contract so I can be more available to my family. It was obviously a hard decision. For too many years I've let my identity be my career (which is very exhausting by the way), so adjusting to my new identity as a mom has been tough. I wish I was one of those people who could do her job, be a loving wife, and parent well. When I come home from school, I'm wiped and have little left to give to my family. So instead of being stressed out for the rest of the year or complaining about it, I just resigned. My teaching certificate was not negatively impacted since I'm not leaving to teach in another district. Instead, I will sub in the Writing Center at Metro Community College until I can get on regularly in March. I am planning on subbing in two districts here in Omaha, and I might adjunct a class in the spring to keep my resume from becoming stagnant. Finances will be tight, but we'll make it work.

I told my kids today at Burke and will tell another group tomorrow--my kids tomorrow will likely not bat an eye, but I had a group of kids today that was pretty upset :( It's hard to leave kids--as much as I want to say that teaching is just a job, it's really not. Teaching is so much more.

I have 14 days left in the classroom. I'm actually feeling pretty good about the decision; I'm sure it will be different when I start packing my boxes, but for now--I'm at peace because it's one we made with great care. Until December 19th, I'll be going gangbusters grading kids' work and packing boxes looking forward to a more free schedule...

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Protecting My Marriage

My favorite wedding pic...
I've been thinking a lot lately about marriage. We've been married for about eight and a half years, and in this time we've watched quite a few of our friends' and acquaintances marriages crumble. Each time we hear of another couple we know separating or divorced, I just get so sad. There's no other way to describe it.

It's no lie: Marriage is hard. The first three years of our marriage were rough as we struggled to figure out how to be grown ups (we were both young) and how to be married. I was in my third year of college and Nate in his first year of teaching, so we had no money; we were insecure ourselves and insecure in our relationship with each other. Quite honestly, I think I expected my marriage to fail, so when times got tough, divorce seemed like a solution. It was always a passing thought, but there was one argument in the parking lot of the Columbus Hy-Vee--I don't remember what the issue was, but I mentioned divorce out loud to Nate through sobs. I didn't ask for a divorce or anything, but I said something like, "Maybe we can't fix this..." but we did. We dug our heels in the metaphorical ground, and screamed and cried it out. And in the car that night, we decided that divorce was not an option for us. Some will argue with me, label me as idealistic, and throw out "what if" scenarios. Our marriage has never been perfect. We've hurt each other (sometimes deliberately), we've been tempted, we've been unkind, we've been torn apart by grief, and we've been confused, but I simply refuse to give up on my marriage. I've thought a lot about why our marriage hasn't ended in divorce. I keep coming back to these qualities:

1. We realize our need for a Savior, so we share a foundation in Christ that drives our decisions and sometimes, our actions (we both could use some improvement in this area!).
2. We have fun together. One of the things I love about my husband is his sense of humor and fun-loving personality. We don't do a great job of going or getting out, but we laugh a lot. Even if we're just doing mundane housework at home or watching a stupid YouTube video, we manage to find ways to laugh by being sarcastic.
3. We talk. Too many couples don't find time to talk honestly, and we struggle with this at certain points each year. When our communication decreases, the tension increases, so we try to touch base with each other. We talk after school, as we're getting dinner ready, after we put the kids to bed, and as we fall asleep. These chats aren't always sit down, face to face talks that last a long time. Sometimes they're phone convos, sometimes they're short. We make do with the time we have. It's not always convenient or comfortable, but we realize it must be done.
4. We try to be honest. This is the most difficult for me, I think. I'm not a pathological liar who likes to keep secrets from her husband, but because I'm a thinker and a dweller, I will run things over in my head for weeks wondering if what I have to say will upset or hurt Nate. I'll come up with five different ways to talk to him about whatever it is I need to say instead of just saying it, so before I can even get it out, I've exhausted myself. Then when I do finally say something to Nate, I'm often at the end of my rope. I'm learning to be honest and open right away with Nate (he's a forward person, so he doesn't struggle with this quality very much!).

Nate is a swell dude.  He prays for me when he's not praying with me, he makes me laugh, he's supported me 100% in every decision I've made, and he does dishes. But even being married to a great guy takes work to make it right because sometimes, our spouses can be downright annoying (like right now, he's snoring loud enough for the neighbors to hear and farting). Our marriage is far from perfect, but we will continue to work to protect our marriage.


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Reflections from a tired momma

K's arrival to our home seemed rushed and a bit unplanned. It was a delicate situation for various reasons, and K didn't find out she was moving in with us until the week she moved in. Nobody really explained to her what was going to happen and why it was happening. So, we had lots of explaining to do when she moved in. We noticed that she was not very expressive--she didn't say how she felt about the situation, she didn't ask questions, she didn't ask about her foster or biological family. She would just get kind of a blank stare whenever we talked about it. Towards the end of week two she told us, "I like y'alls house. I get to play in the living room and y'all cook good." It was her first display of expression--I wanted to hug her, but I didn't want to freak her out because she hadn't been affectionate with us (though she would try to touch strangers' hair or jewelry and give them hugs...).

It's been a little over five weeks since she moved in, and she's opening up more and more over time.  She's expressed a fear of being adopted--mainly because she's afraid of the judge. She told us a few weeks ago that this is the first time she's ever had her own bed. She's asked questions about her birth mom and foster mom and has accepted the truth very well. She has taken to Nate a lot quicker than me--she's never met her birth father before, so Nate is the first male to be in her life. She calls him dad sporadically and she tells him she loves him at night. But it hasn't been so easy for her to make the transfer that I will be her mom. She calls me mom 5:10 times, and she's only returned my "I love you" with an "I love you too" once...and it was mumbled and uncomfortable. If I'm being honest, this is really difficult for me. I understand that it will take her a while to trust me because the "moms" in her life have not been trustworthy. I understand that she has been hurt by these women, but it's a hard pill to swallow. 

****

For the past few days J-man's been talking an awful lot about police officers, asking questions like, Why do police officers ask people to put their hands up? What happens if someone doesn't put his hands up? Why do police officers point guns at people? Tonight the questions continued in various forms. I know J's bio parents have a history with law enforcement, and he's seen his fair share of violence. When he first moved in, he told us lots of stories involving violence, arrests, and his birth parents. I've learned with J and other foster kids to let them talk and ask questions, answer honestly, and then use it as a moment to ask my own questions. So tonight I asked if he had ever seen his birth dad be arrested. I knew the answer to my question, but I wanted to give him an opportunity to talk about it if he wanted to. 

"Yeah," he said hurriedly. "And, and [he stutters when he gets excited] the cops were pointing a gun at the house like this" he blurted as he kneeled on his chair and mimicked holding a shot gun or a rifle. "I don't know why they were pointing the gun at the house," he said curiously. 

"Well, did your birth dad have a gun?" I asked. 

He said that he didn't have one, so I explained that sometimes when police officers are called to a house, they don't know what's going on inside, so they have to be ready to protect themselves and the people around them just in case the people inside are doing something really bad that could put others in danger. J explained that the cops took his birth dad to jail. 

"Is that when you went to Aunt C's [his foster mom before us]?" 

"Yeah," he said in between bites of rice, "but I didn't get to go with the police. I asked them if I could, but I went with two guys instead." And as quickly as our conversation started, it ended as he changed topics like five year olds are known to do. J has been with us for over a year, but tonight reminded me that his trauma is deep. 

As I reflect on all of this tonight, I am pissed that parents could neglect their children. My heart aches when I think about all my babies have seen and been through. If I could transfer all of that to me so they could be trauma free, I would. I feel inadequate to help them through all of this in a loving and patient way, and I feel tired. The tantrums, the out of control, over the top behaviors  (while all justifiable considering what they've experienced), constant redirection, etc. etc. have just worn me down and left me feeling...well, tired, I guess. My whole body feels it. My arms and back ache, I'm not motivated to run or cook, and all I want to do is eat cereal. When I talk to some people about this, they kind of brush it off and say things like, "Yeah, parenting is hard." I recognize that...I do...but what bothers me about statements like this is that I don't think people (unless they've been foster parents themselves) really understand how hard it is to be in our shoes. I don't want a pat on the back or an award, but what I do want is acknowledgment that our situation is different and complex and difficult. I guess I want my feelings to be validated--which sounds lame now that I've just typed it. I know this stress is worth it--but parenting two children with backgrounds like ours is just tough...and tiring. 

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Do I hear five dollars? Five dollars?

Author’s Note: It’s been a while since I posted any of my personal writing that goes beyond thought spewing or a chronicle of life’s happenings, so I took time today to work on a poem to get it ready enough to be posted on my blog. This is the second draft of a poem I wrote after my grandma’s auction last month. It’s not perfect yet; it needs at least one more round of revision. I didn’t think her auction would be difficult, but, apart from the funeral, this day turned out to be the hardest part of saying good-bye to my grandma.

Do I hear five dollars? Five dollars?
Unfamiliar with the narrative behind each item
the auctioneer held out each thing or box up for grabs
and simply spit out descriptions and dollar amounts to start the bidding

Lining one room in the exhibit hall at Ag Park in Columbus were
rows of banquet tables, 35 total tables separated into sections--
knick-knacks, kitchen items, antiques, toys, electronics, books, glassware
each table piled high with Corningware, brass figurines, china,
stuffed animals, pots and pans, VHS movies, toys, baskets, afghans, and other trinkets
One smaller room connected to the larger exhibit hall contained furniture
Appliances and antique chests and chairs and benches and upright radios
stood like soldiers around the tables
and a 1961 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 was parked in front of it all
gleaming white, hood propped open for passersby to examine
an American flag stuck proudly in its antenna hole
and the doors open displaying the car’s maroon leather interior: flawless
Strangers and a few distant relatives and family friends filed in and rifled through boxes
turning things over to examine and then dropping the items carelessly back in boxes
making lists of what they’d bid on

I weaved in and out of the aisles thinking of the memories attached to each item
the apple peeler---
that peeled the skin from Red Delicious apples--
a luxury our parents denied but grandma gave into
the multi-colored afghans---
my cousins and I layered on the living room floor,
enough to make us feel like we were sleeping on a mattress
sleepovers at grandmas watching
The Sound of Music, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, Lion King, and others all on VHS
a cast iron skillet---
grandma used to teach Shantelle and me how to fry an egg
7 years old, pieces of shell stuck in the yolk,
the eggs scrunched into an accordion
as we made our first attempt at flipping an egg.
Corningware--
that held orange jello salad, deviled eggs, tortilla roll-ups,
cranberry jelly in the shape of a can, and instant mashed potatoes at every Thanksgiving.
A clear coffee mug--
the only mug I ever saw grandma drink from,
coffee, hot water, or a little boxed wine.
I moved to sit on the side with my kids resting next to me,
coloring quietly in their notebooks unaware of the significance of this day
and I watched the items disappear from the tables and into the hands of strangers
the remnant of my grandmother fading
and suddenly I found myself desperate and frantic to hold something of grandma’s
My legs wobbly, my hands shaking, I hurried to the row of kitchen items
Where’s grandma’s clear coffee mugs? I asked a cousin, my voice breaking
She reached into a nearby box and withdrew the only clear coffee mug left

Do I hear five dollars? Five dollars?
Unfamiliar with the narrative behind each item
the auctioneer held out each thing or box up for grabs
and simply spit out descriptions and dollar amounts to start the bidding
and strangers and a few familiar faces held up numbered slips of papers
and carried away the apple peeler, afghans, skillets, and Corningware
back to their homes where the items would take on new narratives
but the clear coffee mug rested safely in my bag

After the auction ended, and the stuff in new homes,
I slowly sipped my coffee from the clear coffee mug
watching my kids play the night away
Mom, that’s a weird mug, my son quipped as he pumped his legs on the swing
My voice steady, I replied It’s from Great Grandma Kush
and satisfied with that answer, he went back to his swing
another sun setting
another day gone.


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Hey! I have two kids

It hit me tonight that I have two children. It's a little late for the revelation, I realize. But I guess I've been so overwhelmed with scheduling doctors appointments and therapy sessions and helping K and J adjust to school and a new family that I haven't really taken much time to think about it all. I don't really know what it was about tonight that sparked a sudden epiphany. Maybe it was because Nate was gone at a show choir competition, so I parented solo (quite the handful with two five year olds!). Or maybe because tonight might have been the first night that the kids did not fight at all...it really was quite amazing. They talked about school in the car on the way to violin, they laughed through dinner, they wrestled and giggled underneath the kitchen table, and K helped J cut his hair tonight while I stepped out of the room for literally 30 seconds. I've always wanted two kids and for so long, this dream felt out of reach. All of the struggles with infertility and our failed adoption have been worth it though I never thought they would.


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Seeking wisdom

"The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty" (Proverbs 27:12). 

I'm reading a book right now called The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands because my curriculum specialist at work send me a message one day stating she heard about the book and that it's one she wants to read and thought I'd want to as well (you'll see the irony in this later). She's a pretty stellar person, so I took her word for it and just ordered the book. Plus...I have been feeling overwhelmed for the last year--but especially so the last three months; I figured a little outside perspective with making smart choices wouldn't hurt. The book is written with a Christian perspective and is grounded in scripture, which I appreciate. The writing is a bit cheesy at times, but the woman's (Lysa Terkeurst) insight is practical, wise, and backed up with truth. It's left me thinking and praying a lot about making smart choices.

In May when I signed my teaching contract and agreed to teach a grad class through UNO and continue my stint as a co-director for the Nebraska Writing Project and signed Jon up for a weekly violin lesson for the entire year, I did not know we'd be welcoming another child to our home. Had I known that, I probably would have made different choices.

Terkeurst writes, "A woman who lives with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule will often ache with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul. An underwhelmed soul is one who knows there is more God made her to do. She longs to do that thing she wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about" (21). I rarely wake up in the middle of the night; I sleep like a rock. However, throughout my day I daydream about what it would be like to have more time to be a mom--to spend as much time on my children and family as I do on my job and on other peoples' kids. I enjoy being a teacher and find fulfillment in it, but in the past year and three months, I've just felt torn between my job as a teacher and my role as a wife and mother. Terkeurst challenges her readers to think about and plan for how we can pursue these dreams of ours that we push off because of our busy schedules.

Later in the book she brings in the verse from above, Proverbs 27:12. She quotes Andy Stanley on his description of prudent men and women; he explains that prudent people "[...] 'understand that today and tomorrow are connected. [...] They ask what I refer to as the best question ever: 'In light of my past experience, and my future hopes and dreams, what's the wise thing to do?'" (74).

This book and my quiet time with God is making me think a lot about making a wise decision for my job. A wise decision for right now and a wise one for the future. I'm stretched to the max right now, and I'm not sure what I can give up. I'm tired of feeling guilty for working and guilty for not working. I'm tired of feeling like I should stay in teaching and remain a co-director and take advantage of every career opportunity offered me because of other peoples' expectations of me. I will be scaling back on my commitments with the Nebraska Writing Project, but I'm not sure that will be enough. It's not a huge time commitment or stressor for me, but it's the only thing I can scale back on in this moment. I've got a teaching contract until May and this grad class lasts until December 2nd. While the grad class does take me away from my family on Tuesday nights, I enjoy my time there. The biggest stressor in my life right now is my job as a teacher. It's the commitment that is the most frustrating, the most time consuming, the one I can control least, the one that gets most of my attention. Even though I'm taking 4 weeks of maternity leave, I'm still bombarded with emails and expectations of things to do while I'm supposed to be taking care of my family.

At the end of the chapter I just finished, Terkeurst advises, "What's a decision you are in the midst of making? Chase it down. If you do this, where will it most likely lead? And then what? And then? Keep going until you walk it all the way out" (74). For the past month the decision I've felt in my gut that's begging to be made is whether or not to keep teaching. Should I keep teaching throughout this year? Should I attempt to break my contract because of the recent change in my family? Should I stick it out and not go back next year? I don't want to sabotage my career, but more than that desire, I don't want to be pulled anymore from my family. I don't want them to deal with crazy, stressed me--I don't want them to get what's leftover of me at the end of a day. I've been praying about this, filtering through peoples' advice, and seeking counsel. I want to be prudent--I want to consider today and tomorrow to make a wise decision. If you're of the praying persuasion, please send up a few requests for wisdom on my behalf. And if you have prayer requests for yourself, send them my way.

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