I’m a better mom at Target.

Last night, I took Isaac to the movies. He’d had two great days in a row at school, Ryan was out of town, and I have a cold: all signs pointing to YES! Take that child to the theater with those large, comfortable seats and darkness-welcoming relaxation after single parenting for 3 days. (I bow in awe of all you full time single parents. You have my undying admiration.) I’d considered just watching a movie at home, (a treat for a kid who isn’t allowed screentime during the week save for school work), but I’ve got this thing… I’m a far better parent out of my house than in it.

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Movie theaters demand rapt attention.

I have my moments, sure, (we’re about to sew a Dracula cape for a stuffed rabbit), but mostly when I’m home, the sirens call to me. I’m like the mom equivalent of a sailor except instead of luring me with the enticement of sex and beauty, they’re calling to me about laundry, cleaning, emailing, reorganizing, and dirty dishes. Also, there are the REALLY lovely ones who beckon with awaiting books or backlogged magazines or Instagram. You guys, they do that creepy, witchy, come-hither-finger-thing and I DO! I DO come hither! I AM NOT STRONG ENOUGH! I AM WEAK! *Admits defeat by flicking through an instagram feed of Sphinx cats.*

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Laundry. So much laundry.

It is hard for me to admit this. I know so many moms who seem to come into their own by spending time with their children in their homes. They’re crafting with them, baking with them, playing games with them, painting with them, taking sunlight filled pictures of them frolicking in meadows to post on social media and send me into a spiral of mom guilt. (There aren’t enough meadows in our schedule! We need more meadows!)

Aside from the meadows though, I do all of those things- I do. It’s just that I’m not totally present though much of it because of the F*CKING SIRENS. I spend a lot of time saying, “Let me finish this, buddy, and I’ll be right there!” And I do get right there, but I also then feel like I’d been choosing to spend more of my time with the Dyson or my child’s dirty clothes instead of with my actual child. *Exasperated guttural mom cry*

Now, to be fair, most of those things DO need to get done. Even the reading is important because I know I am a better mom when I pour some time into myself. (I’m having a more difficult time justifying the Sphinx cats…) All of those things are part of parenting and if I don’t keep up with them we won’t have any open, clean spaces in which to build Dracula’s Lair. Ninja Turtle hideout? The North Pole? Dracula is giving out presents at the North Pole while the Ninja Turtles pull the sleigh??? Honey, I’m going to finish the laundry- I have no idea how to even attempt to play that game. (Which, in itself, is a whole other reason why getting out, out and AWAY is better: I don’t know what the hell is going on in his imaginative role playing and when I do try, I get a lot of, “Mom, that’s not really how you do it.” Enter the Dyson.)

So we go out.

We go for hikes.

We go to museums.

We go get ice cream.

We go to the park.

We run errands. I actually think I may be a better mom in Target than I am in our own house sometimes. I am not kidding.

What I am saying is, if you are one of those moms who can’t seem to get herself together at home enough to be as present as you’d like, I AM TOO. I’m mostly sure this is totally fine! I don’t think I’m the most reliable source on that, but at any rate, there’s strength in numbers and I know for a fact I’m not the only one, so there’s that. No shame! Well, not really. I actually feel really bad about it. But I feel a lot better when we’re at the ice cream shop… or on a wooded trail…  or at *cue angelic choir* Target.

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Dracula Bunny. Ta da!

A time to be still and be quiet.

We had a meeting with Isaac’s kindergarten teacher this week. I’d requested one because there was some miscommunication and I needed clarification. As a mama who is also a teacher, I was approaching the meeting with my professional background combined with my mommy emotion and I can tell you from experience, this mixture dramatically prevents you from going into a discussion without defensiveness. In that moment, it didn’t matter that I believe Isaac’s teacher has been a great fit for him this year, it didn’t matter that I believed we’d get the confusion cleared up, and it didn’t matter that I knew we were all working toward the goal of supporting the same child.

What mattered was that I had concerns my child’s needs weren’t being met and I was going to fix it. It was a moment when he needed his parents to step up for him and doing so was just and right.

But, it’s a fine line, isn’t it? This worrying we do over our kids. There are some battles we ought to take up and there are others we ought never have entered. The degree at which we choose to take arms can vary and, as someone who battles the need for control in her own life, trusting me with that of a small child means I very often pick up a sword when I should have been handing it to my son instead.

We worry over our kids. It is part of how we are created: to keep watch, to keep them safe. To protect feelings and precious bodies. To guard from hardships and struggle. We love our kids and we worry over them- these emotions are interconnected. Our primal urge is to protect at all costs and, despite how our personal opinions may vary as to where we draw lines, we are born with the innate compulsion to protect our own.

Recently, I heard a talk by the filmmakers of the documentary, I’ll Push You. The movie follows a 500 mile trek across Spain though which one friend, Patrick, pushes his buddy, Justin, in his wheelchair. They weren’t presenting about parenting, but their words had a profound effect on the moments in which I need to back up and shut up for the sake of my child.

The transformation Justin and Patrick went through made such an impact on me because I could relate to Patrick’s desire to fix, to fight, to ease difficulty for Justin because he loved him. Eventually though, Patrick realized that the best way he could strengthen Justin was to stop trying to fix his difficulties and start finding ways to support plans Justin was perfectly capable of devising for himself. As a parent, this is a continual struggle for me, this release of responsibility to my little boy; this trusting that- even at 6- he is capable of handling far more than I am often able to admit.

Recently, I was at the Columbus Museum of Art with Isaac. They have the most imaginative, inviting children’s space and one activity presented large cardboard puzzle pieces to create a 3-dimensional tree-like structure. All three trunk tables were in use and my child, the extrovert, went directly up to two children and asked if he could please help them build. The older boy thought for a moment, looked at his sister, and then said no. HE SAID NO!! Instinctively I wanted to go to Isaac, prompt him to ask a different child, tell him I’d play with him somewhere else, but I made myself stand back.

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Do you know what my child did after he was denied playtime with that bratty other little boy? He walked over to the next table and asked a different child the same question and got a yes. THE REJECTION DIDN’T EVEN PHASE HIM. It honestly pained me more than it pained him. Had I stepped in, I would have taken that away from him. I would have taken that tiny moment in time which he will never even remember but which is gradually forming his ability to handle conflict as an adult. He is receiving these lessons now and I am doing more harm than good by trying to constantly smooth the road before him. Not every road needs smoothing.

In these smaller moments, standing still seems nearly impossible. Shutting up is even worse. To be clear, there are certainly appropriate times for standing up for our children, but I’m reluctantly realizing how many times I also need to be quiet, watch from the sidelines, and hope to God I’ve been adequately equipping my child to feel empowered to sleuth answers independently.

Honestly, when it comes down to it, my fear is not even that my child can’t overcome adversity. I have every faith in my tiny powerhouse of a boy that he is capable of feats far beyond what I could ever dream up for him. My fear is that I cannot and should not single handedly fight his battles for him and furthermore, I can’t face the self-centered lie that I would even have the capability to do so.

Yes, my son will experience trials and tribulations. Yes, some will be massive and others trivial. In the end though, Isaac’s battles are not all mine to fight and by trying, I risk victimizing my son in his own story instead of stepping back to give him the space to live into it. I am learning the hardest thing for me to do as a mother is to pray for the wisdom to instill in him strategies to fight, to overcome, and to persevere while I cheer him on from the sidelines. God, GOD, I hate that so much because it makes me feel helpless and out of control, but I also know this to be true: I want to empower him to be the hero in his own story. I want him to be an overcomer and a fighter- for all the right reasons. I want him to be strong and resilient. To feel capable and in control of his future. I am raising a strong man and I want this to be the message he hears loud and clear from me:

You are loved.

You are strong.

You are resilient.

You are capable.

You’ve got this.

Unprepared: Walking into Adoption (Day 28 of 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days series)

“I was unprepared. I was unprepared for fostering, for the adoption following it, for the open adoption which unexpectedly blossomed, for raising an African American son as a white woman. I was unprepared for all of it. I didn’t know what we were getting into despite my prolific reading on the subject. Adoption caught me by surprise.”

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You can read the rest of my piece for Portrait of an Adoption‘s 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days series here. In their words, “In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fifth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.”

I’m honored to be a part of the narrative.

 

Here’s what not to do during a tornado.

Last night we were issued a Thunderstorm Warning as Isaac was heading to bed. He asked if we were going to have to go to the basement like we did a month ago during a Tornado Warning. He was strangely excited about the possibility considering that during the tornado threat I’d handled waking him up out of a dead sleep by scrolling Amazon Prime for their free movies and settling on The Neverending Story. I’d grossly underestimated the terror factor of this movie thrown into a mix of a 5 year old and a dark basement in the middle of the night. After the tornado warning was over and we’d been about 20 minutes into the movie, I spent the next two hours putting my child back to bed because he was more scared of the creepy puppetry than the threat of tornadic devastation.

When I was little, I was horrified of tornadoes. I can remember sitting in my elementary school classroom and staring out the windows at broody, dark clouds, wondering if my stress stomachache was bad enough to warrant heading to the bathroom where my classmate Tracy was incessantly peeking over the stalls and laughing manically, an act which my teacher never seemed to take very seriously. Weirdo.

Growing up, my mom did not play around with a tornado warning. I can remember needing to go down into the basement and, like mother like daughter, grabbing our irreplaceables. It was fortunate that we never experienced a tornado because I was always too angsty to actually locate the irreplacables and generally ended up with whatever was closest to me when the sirens went off which I distinctly remember one time including one of those roller balls to soothe bug bites. We were also made to put on our shoes in case we had to walk over shards of broken glass and wood following the damaging winds and, though this still makes logical sense to me, it was not until I was married and Ryan mocked me for days that I came to understand that this is not something everyone does in a tornado warning. Ryan, as it turns out, doesn’t even like to go DOWN to the basement during a tornado warning which makes me so nervous that it is a good thing my mom-brain kicks in or I’d end up in the basement alone with my husband and son chillin’ upstairs while I hold tight to a lampshade or hairdryer.

Storm Face, 11:00pm. My husband and son upstairs sleeping, oblivious to storm raging on the other side of the slider door. Don’t worry guys, I’ve got it all handled. I charged my phone, got a lantern ready, and have bug spray. No, I mean, our irreplacables.

 

On mom memes.

Hey, my little Mamas! I want to talk for a second about this meme (Ryan calls them mimi’s) floating around my feed that reads:

I am a mom. My house is always loud and messy and that’s ok. Because one day it will be quiet, spotless and lonely.

Mamas. Mamas. I know it sounds like this is reassuring and that it acknowledges your struggles, but bear with me for a second. Let’s break this down:

Part 1: I am a mom. My house is always loud and messy and that’s ok. 

Ok, can we stop trying to define what it looks like to be a good mom? The ugly truth is that this is only a meme because having a messy home is something that:

A) you feel embarrassed about because you’d rather it not be that way (“I’m somehow failing because I can’t keep my house clean.”)

or

B) someone has mom-shamed you into thinking you should be embarrassed and you feel the need to defend yourself (“I don’t really care about my house being clean but ____ tells me this is bad.”).

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(This is okay.)

Maybe your home is messy because you don’t honestly have time to clean even if you wish you did (valid) or maybe it is messy because you don’t really find it to be something that is worth spending your precious energy on (also valid). You are a good mom because you constantly strive to make decisions that put your children first and that may include setting aside housework and it may not. THAT is why you’re a good mom. That’s the headliner. All of those little choices are like the footnotes. I feel better about life when my home is organized, but that is my truth. Admitting that doesn’t make me a crappy mom any more than yours being messy makes you one. We all make choices as to where to focus our energies; let’s start spreading the truth that we are good moms because we get up everyday trying over and over again and not in defining ourselves by our messy or organized homes.

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(This is okay, too.)

Part 2: Because one day it will be quiet, spotless and lonely.

Oh my word, I meant what I said in Part 1, but I really need you to listen to Part 2. Listen to me, Mamas. This sentence just depresses the crap out of me and I want more for us! Someday, yes, our homes may be quiet and they may be spotless with the extra time we have to clean. (Or they may not be since, let’s be honest, some mamas just hate cleaning and- recap- I ain’t judging you for that!) But please dear God, let us NOT be mamas who look down the road and expect loneliness! I want more for us!

I am sure I will miss my son desperately when he is grown and gone, but I am not just a mom. It is part of my definition but not my entire story. I am a woman with hobbies and passions and a husband and I’m seriously hoping that life after my child is grown is filled with new adventures and opportunities that do not require me to sit at home alone in my clean and soundless home. Women of the past, present, and future, are capable of doing amazing things and raising children is only one of our feats. Let us not forgo ourselves in raising up our children! I want my son to be able to look at his mama when he is grown and see a woman who always loves him deeply, but who is also strong and willing to learn new things, still enjoys date nights with his dad, and continues to pursue her own passions because this is the type of woman I want him to be looking for in a partner. Right now so much of my life centers around him and that is good and right, but when he is old enough to be searching for whom and what he desires to center his own life around, I don’t want my world to implode. Someday our home may be childless, but permanent loneliness shouldn’t have be a requirement of that change.

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I’m banking on dates down the road which don’t require paying more on a sitter than we do on our actual date.

Listen Mamas, you just keep making choices that work for you and your family and if another meme makes you think you’ve got to validate your truths on a topic the world would like you to be mom-shamed over, you shrug it on off. You can be a good Mama as well as a powerful woman and it isn’t asking too much to cultivate both sides of that truth.

Mother’s Day for the rest of us.

A year into my infertility, I went to church on Mother’s Day. I had no qualms whatsoever, but about 20 minutes in I realized how horribly I had misjudged the effects of Mother’s Day when your  journey as a mom doesn’t fit society’s pre-defined role. I was held, sobbing, after the service by a mom who got it: who’d walked before me and said she’d been praying for me throughout the service. She knew what I hadn’t foreseen and her recognition of my unexpected and unprepared for grief was a blessing for which I wasn’t even aware that I needed.

This Mother’s Day, allow me to pass on her blessing by recognizing the unconventional, the grieving, the hopeful mamas in all of their beautiful, painful, and honest forms…

I see you mama, you who have been trying and trying, poking and medicating, charting and waiting. You who melt onto the bathroom floor when you recognize another month as a wash; when you have to tell your other half that it didn’t work. Again. I see your grief and I recognize you as the hopeful mama you are and so deeply desire to become.

I see you mama, you who suffered a terrible loss after carrying your child for all of those 9 months. You, who visit the shore or tiny gravestone where you lay your baby down. I recognize you as the mama of the children who are physically with you- and the one who isn’t.

I see you mama, you who have a family of tiny, precious embies. I know there are many who can’t see those little embryos as your babies, but they have never walked in your shoes and they do not understand how you could cherish something so small. I recognize you as the protective mama I know that you are.

I see you mama, you who have miscarried. People rarely grasp the magnitude of the grief felt when a child, for whom you were the vessel, doesn’t arrive how you’d anticipated. I recognize you mama, and how deeply you love and how carefully you carried that child.

I see you mama, you whose child was carried by another whether by adoption or surrogacy. I see the genuine joy in your face as you watch your baby grow up and I also recognize the pain that comes with never having had the chance to cup your baby’s foot as it protrudes from your own swollen belly or, perhaps, missing out on entire months or years of your child’s life. I recognize you as a real mother, as carrying a child in your womb is not the defining characteristic of a mama.

I see you mama, you who were the first and whose child is now being raised by another. I know that you are overlooked and undervalued as a parent. I recognize you as a real mother regardless of how your story has played out.

I see you mama, who are missing your own mama. You who are grieving the loss of the woman who raised you up, comforted you, was your support system. I don’t need to, but maybe you need someone to give you permission to not have to fake it through this holiday acting like you’re fine when you’re not. I’m so sorry for your loss.

To all of you who deeply desire a child, those who are mamas though unconventional means, to the mamas whose children have gone before you, to all of you who experience some level of sadness over this holiday: I recognize you in sharing your experience. If you are in a place where the grief is raw, may you be blessed by a woman who sees you and comforts you this Mother’s Day. Alternatively, if you know this grief but have walked in it long enough to have tamed the intensity, may you be wide eyed in recognizing the woman who hasn’t. May we bless each other through our shared experiences and recognize mamas in all of our many forms. Happy Mother’s Day, to ALL of you mamas.

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Dear teacher of my ((adopted)) son.

Dear teacher of my son,

My name is Sara, and I should tell you first that I’m a teacher too. I want to tell you that so I’ve got some credibility for what I’m about to say. I know how hard you work and I know how much it exhausts you. I know how there are at least a couple of kids in your class who make you turn your back and make a “Dear Jesus, come quickly” face to the wall. I also know how there are some kids who just get right into your heart and literally make you cry over their stories. I have these kids, too. I’m worried that my child is going to be one of these two for you.

If my son drives you up the wall because we are honing his bossiness into leadership, please be patient. If my son makes you do a lot of those deep, dramatic sighs because he feels everything really BIG (like his mama), please help him to temper his emotions into words. If my son acts impulsively out of frustration, YOU CALL ME. But seriously, help me to raise my son in the way he should go and dig deeply before you make a judgement call. See, because I’m his mama I worry about the studies on boys, (particularly black boys), in school. I know what people mean when they hear that I teach in a high poverty, urban school and ask, “Do you have mostly black students?” My son is not naughty because he is black. He may be naughty sometimes, but that’s because he is a stinker-child and not because of his skin color.

On the other hand, if my son’s history in foster care makes you pity him, please stop. If my son’s early life experiences make you go easy on him, please don’t. If my son’s having been adopted makes your heart leap, please remember that there are some truly painful aspects of adoption and it isn’t a perfect solution. I’m telling you this because I don’t want my son to get special treatment. If he is struggling in something, I am begging you, push him as hard as you would push a child who still lives with his biological family. Please don’t go easy on him because you’ve read the research about how early trauma affects children. Please don’t knowingly nod your head if he is having a difficult time grasping something and write it off as a side effect of his history. I have the same expectations as any other mother. I left much of your back to school questionnaire blank because I’ll wait to tell you pertinent information if the need arises, but I don’t want you starting a full year with my son and your mind already made up. Trust me when I say that I never forget what my son has experienced, but that hasn’t stopped us from setting the same high expectations we’d set for him if he hadn’t.

I know how hard you work, I do. I know that you get families in there all the time asking you to watch over their child in one form or another and I know how honestly impossible it is to meet all of the requests made of you. I would just really, really, from the bottom of my heart, like to ask you to see my son as a teachable, beautiful, original child. I want the same things as all of those mamas who carried their children and it would be an immense relief and blessing if you could see those things for him too.

Sincerely,

Isaac’s mom

PS:

If you could please talk to your administration about getting this form changed, I’d greatly appreciate not having to mark myself as “other”.

School Registration

 

One year.

As of tomorrow, it will be exactly a year since Isaac’s first mom unexpectedly passed away. We are going out to the cemetery to meet up with some of his other family members for a bit after work. I haven’t told Isaac yet because he processes deeply and I’d rather him mull over it for the hours before as opposed to the days before. Navigating death with a 5 year old is strange and our circumstances make it stranger.

When his granny called me a year ago tomorrow to tell me, shock immediately turned into grief. I felt sad that a friend had died, but sadder that my son’s mom had died. He was four.

I grieve that she:

– doesn’t get to hear how he is THIS CLOSE to riding his bike without training wheels

-misses the intense concentration he musters to practice piano

-can’t cringe at his froyo store concoctions- always the gummies- or sneak bites like her mom (Isaac’s granny) does

-isn’t here to see how much her daughters adore their little brother, and he them

 

I grieve that he:

-can’t ask her the questions that have formed/are forming/will form for her, many to remain answerless

-won’t hear her praise him

-isn’t able to see the way she always looked at him

-has experienced such a staggering level of loss before he’s even entered school

 

I grieve a lot about her being gone.  I know that there are things that she could have provided him that I just can’t. We’re able to provide him with much, thank God, but there are some things… I just can’t.

The REAL Santa is white (?)

Shortly before Christmas, my son and I were talking in his bed at bedtime. Isaac adores Christmas. (We are currently in the midst of a heavy Christmas song detox period. Last year we didn’t implement one and ended up with a child provided, Christmas-themed soundtrack until Easter. *shudder*) At one point in the bedtime conversation, Isaac said (as a statement of fact), “Mom, I know which Santa isn’t the real one. The brown one.”

I know. It WAS as awful as you’re imagining you’d feel.

It scored near the top of my list of “Hardest Things to Hear as a Parent”.  There are many instances in which I’m hyper aware regarding race including: when my son is the only face of color in a room, when books we read have no children of color, when comments are made regarding race that are inappropriate for my child’s ears, and on and on. The primary reason the Santa comment left such a resounding smack was because I hadn’t seen it coming. You know why? BECAUSE I’M WHITE.

When I attempt to make some sense of the current race discussions, it is so hard to wrap my mind around the issue because I just can’t see it the same way as someone who is black. I readily admit that. Despite that I agree there exists a serious issue regarding racial inequalities our country, I think it is important to admit that I cannot possibly know the depth of that issue because I don’t experience it first hand on a continual basis. But for the people who say that they just don’t see a problem, or that it is being blown out of proportion, I present Exhibit A: my child’s Santa remark.

Like a tiny window, I could see that here was a specific instance in which I hadn’t assumed this to be a confusing concept for my child because I had assumed the same conclusion my son had reached: Santa is white because everywhere I see Santa, he’s white. I never questioned an alternative because my brain never classified it as something that needed to be challenged. I didn’t see it as an issue because it was never registered as one; it was just assumed to be fact. Santa is white because I am white because I am surrounded by a world that tells me that white is what is accepted. How must that feel for my son who is black? I suddenly had this awful realization that if I had accepted Santa’s race so readily, how many other things have I unwittingly filed as truth merely because I was never afforded the opportunity to challenge it? Rather, society never offered me an alternate view to consider. (As an interesting side note, the original St. Nicholas was born in Turkey, so he most likely WAS darker skinned. Considering this post is centering around Santa, I will refrain from stepping onto my soapbox about how Jesus’s skin would most likely have looked. *cough* Not white. *cough*)

I sometimes struggle to take seriously the pieces written by other white writers regarding the struggles minorities in America face in which they align themselves with the minority in a way that seems to be speaking FOR that group. I think it is ignorant for me to assume I can ever truly know how that experience feels and I think it is some form of ignorance, or at least indelicacy, to think that I can explain how it must feel to be discriminated against as a black person. On the other hand, I think that we have every right, and duty, to push society’s envelope when our personal experiences challenge the status quo. The brown skinned Santa discussion? It blew what I considered my open mind. What you think you believe isn’t always truth; just because it may not be an obvious disparity to you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Can we at least be honest in admitting that?

Our new Santa.

Our new Santa.

PS- Shortly after this discussion, I burned rubber slamming on the brakes in front of an art gallery downtown that had a light up black Santa Claus in its window. I asked them if I could buy it, was told no, told them my story, and suddenly it was mine.

Isaac introducing his animals in the box sleigh to Santa.

 

Also, a beautiful friend made a special Christmas Eve delivery from Santa of a personalized book about Isaac and  Santa (brown skinned) as well as a brown skinned Santa figurine. We packed up all of our Christmas decorations yesterday and that was the one thing Isaac asked if we could keep out all year. It is on his nightstand.

Isaac's new roommate.

Isaac’s new roommate.