Sunday, June 30, 2013

Paula Deen, the N word, and the Rest of Us

Have you seen Paula Deen's tearful interviews from the last week or so?  They come on the heels of her admission that at points in her past she has used the n word, admissions that led to her losing most of her marketing power.  I suppose it's not really so much that she admits to having used the n word as the context of the situation, one where she is being sued by someone who is alleging racism.  And when you consider how she responded awkwardly to the audible gasp that our society had at her past comments, I'm guessing that didn't help either.   (Lots of tearful interviews, stories about her ancestors not being able to cope with the loss of their slaves after the Civil War, and a strange moment where she beckoned out a black friend on public television in an attempt to show that she was not a racist.)

But seriously, the whole thing bugs me.  Why?  Because the n word comments were things said 30ish years ago?  That's one of the reasons.

But the main reason has to do with how we as a society want to look down our noses at Paula Deen and label her as a southern woman who just doesn't get it when the reality is, what she has done and said is probably no different than  the ways most of us relate to others.

You may be saying, "Nope, not me.  I would never use the n word."  And that's the rub.  This conversation is really not about the n word.  This conversation is about the awkward, unwieldly topic of race, one that leaves many white people finding themselves scrambling to demonstrate how "unracist" they are.  

My Mid West, transracial parent take on it is this:  white people are not black, Hispanic, Native American or Asian.  In general, we don't have a clue about the subtleties of race because we've never really thought about it.

Blatant racism?  We get that.  We see how calling someone a nasty word, not hiring someone because they are a certain color, or refusing to allow your kids to go to school with someone because of skin color is racist.  We don't always understand the underlying implications of subtle race infused comments.

 Perhaps it's because there are a lot of mixed messages.  Current culture allows our teens and 20 somethings to use the n word and creates this stereotype regarding black gangster culture (ie being a 'playa', showing everyone your underwear because you buy your pants two sizes two big, referring to woman as 'hos', etc..)  People aren't sure if they should call a black person black or African American but are pretty sure colored and negro are unacceptable although they aren't really 100% sure why.  In fact, the trend is to try to be "color blind", refusing to acknowledge that color exists, wondering if it is okay to point out on the playground that "my daughter is the one on the bench, sitting next to the little black boy" when that might just be the easiest way to describe where you daughter is sitting.  Even the Trayvan Martin case speaks to this as the testimony from the first day included controversy over his use of the words "crazy a$$ cracker."  White people find themselves thinking that such a remark is certainly racist but confused over how some people have claimed it's not really a big deal.  

And perhaps it's because, as I suggested earlier, it's because most white people have no reason to consider how certain comments imply certain things even if there is no real intent behind their comments.  I know personally I've never really considered a lot of that until 1. we were raising minority children and 2. we spent a lot of time interacting with a large group of Hispanic teenagers through D's soccer team.  

It's this second area where Paula Deen really fell down.  I'm guessing she has no idea that using the word "workers" instead of "slaves" when she described her great grandfather's plantation probably seemed slightly off to those in the black community nor did she understand how describing them as "like family" to her family also seemed odd.  Do I think that's because she values the slave system or is glorifying it?  Nope.  She's simply describing it from her perspective, that of a white woman whose family owned slaves, slaves whom they apparently loved.  She has no idea what her use of words are communicating or if she does, she just doesn't quite understand the depth to which they might actually be deepening the divide.  

I can think of lots of similar examples, all from people I know whom I don't consider racist.  A friend who posts political commentary online regarding the current President, including a cartoon that depicted Obama with large ears (monkeyish) and a picture of a watermelon.  His intent was to put forth a political message but instead to those who are keyed into race, it looks racist.

Comments muttered under people's breaths about people coming to this country and learning to speak English.  The intent is to make a simple statement about how we as a country should be unified behind a single language.  The implication though is that there is something wrong with speaking another language.  And it also perpetuates the assumption that someone who is speaking another language does not know English when this may not be accurate.

It's starting out a joke or giving an opinion and feeling like we must preface it with "Now I'm not racist..."  (Although there are certainly times when perhaps the joke is racist.)  It's feeling like after we have been critical of someone who is of a different ethnicity than ourselves that we feel the need to point out our connection to others who are the same ethnicity but whom we are friends or whom we respect.  All of that seems innocent enough.  But the reality is to those who are looking at race through different glasses, it comes off as weird and uncomfortable, like we as white people are completely incapable of dealing with race successfully.

I am not saying that this is an us versus them issue, where white people are wrong and minorities are right to be offended.  I am not saying the opposite, that minorities need to step up and not be so easily irritated.  What I am saying is that a lot of us could do ourselves (and Paula Deen) a favor by stepping off of our highhorses and admitting that talking about race is a daunting thing and that sometimes, words are not as incriminating as we think they are.  We all have said things we wish we wouldn't have.  We all have accidentally offended someone who is different than us.  And we all should be given grace for those moments.

You can read another opinion as to why Paula Deen's "racism" doesn't matter as much as we think it does via Jim O Shea at The Huffington Post.  (Great post on how our actual action or inaction perpetuates racism and racial inequality much more than our words do.  Jonathan Kozol eque if you are an education junkie...)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Question of the Tummy

"Mom, did you want to have a baby in your tummy?"

The first time I heard this question a few months back I paused a moment and wondered how on earth to answer that question honestly.  Because this pregnancy was a surprise and has been a challenge in a lot of ways.  I would never want to give any of my children the impression that they or a sibling was unwanted.  But the truth is that prior to getting pregnant, I had not been sitting around dreaming up names for a new baby or wistfully imagining life with a new baby.  So I hodge podged some answer together and hoped it was sufficient.

But then yesterday, the same child asked the same question again.

"Mom, did you want to have a baby in your tummy?"

That prompted a flicker from the lightbulb in my head and the thought that maybe the question was not about me.  (Gosh, how quickly I make it all about me!)  That perhaps this question was about a little person who was processing this pregnancy in a different way than me.

"Hmmm....sounds like maybe you are wondering if I wasn't happy with the kids I had?   Like maybe I wasn't happy that the kids I had grew in someone else's tummy?"

This brought out a quick shake of a head, a little too quick to be an honest response.  

"Are you sure that you aren't wondering if Mama was wishing for a baby that grew in her tummy?"

That prompted a sheepish look and a half smile, a response that seemed more truthful.

Oh how to explain that we chose adoption, that each one of our kids was a very personal response to the question of "how to make a family."?

"You know, we chose to do adoption.  Not because I couldn't have a baby that grew in my tummy but because we knew there were lots of kids who needed families.  And if we knew that there were kids who needed families and we had love to give those kids, then it seemed like the right choice to adopt a kid."

"You decided that?"

"Me and Papa decided together because that's how it works when you are married."

"Oh.  But sometimes you argue."

And yeah, now we're on to a totally new topic....

Friday, June 28, 2013

Quick and Easy Updates to the Backyard

Pinterest ideas really do come true!

Loved these two ideas from there and thought they would be just dandy for adding to the kids' play space in the backyard.  (Pardon my terrible timing in terms of picture taking.  The shadows are just awful in these pics.)

Stepping stones spraypainted and  turned into a hopscotch path

Road constructed in the rock pit made from bricks and yellow duct tape
(I thought they were very nice until Kenson told me they looked like rocks with tape on them.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary...

This is as weed free as my garden will probably look.  It's taken awhile to get things up and going due to the cold temperatures this spring and needing to get a spot prepared by putting in a fence and getting rid of the weeds.  I actually love the space we have now.  Right now I have about 12 tomato plants, 12 pepper plants, 3 hills of cucumbers, 2 hills of zucchini, 2 rows of beans, and 6 cabbages.  I have an old iron headboard that I'm going to put my beans.   I purchased some beans and planted others from seed and the purchased beans all died so I need to replant before I stake the headboard in.  The space really just about the right size for what I need.  The strawberries will go in a separate bed on the other side of the house as will the potatoes.  (You don't want to see the mess that is the other side; it's a slightly sloping fenced area where we originally though we could put the garden but decided it was too shady.  It is a muddy, clay mess most of the time and has become the catch all for stuff like an unused patio table and rolls of black edging materials.  It's just plain ugly over there.)  D made this cute little gate out of a screen door.

I also have a pie crust lattice glider that will go off to the right side.  I actually had an old glider that I was hoping to refinish but I found a new one online and decided it would probably cost me just as much to refinish my old one.  So I sold my old one and am just waiting to get it delivered to the person who bought it. I'm hoping to add some rhubarb on the left side and then a shrub of some kind behind the glider on the right.  The bed next to it has oak leaf hydrangeas, a Japanese maple, and hostas planted in it so some of that will kind of overhang into the glider area too.  Love that our house is looking like a house with a real yard!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day Basketball

D decided we needed a basketball hoop a few weeks ago, and he got it up just in time for some hoops on Father's Day.  For Kenson, it was the perfect way to spend Father's Day.  As D was tucking him tonight, his good bye was actually "Thanks for playing basketball with me!"  So score for a little boy who is over the moon and for the dad who made it possible.

Definitely a good way to spend the afternoon today!

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Now, Zachary Zugg took out the rug
And Jennifer Joy helped shake it
Then Jennifer Joy, she made a toy
And Zachary Zugg helped break it

And some kind of help is the kind of help
That helping's all about
And some kind of help is the kind of help
We all can do without
(From Shel Silverstein's Helping)

When I was little, we had a record with this poem set to music.  I think I need to find it for my 
daughter.  In the last two days, she has cleaned my windows with Spray and Wash, wiped my
 laundry room floor with Windex, and filled the fabric softener dispenser with detergent.  "But I
 was just trying to help..."  I know, dear, I know.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Yes, We're Conspicuous-Please Don't Be Rude

When we visited my friends in Minnesota last month, there was a good chance we would arrive before my friend, Hilary, was back from a doctor's appointment.  She had left her older two boys at home so she showed them our family photo so they would know who we were if we showed up on the doorstep.  Her oldest was a little unsure of all of this and was afraid of making a mistake in regards to letting strangers into their home.  As my friend was telling me this story, we soon found ourselves laughing because really the odds of there being another family like ours is pretty slim.  In other words, we were going to be the only white adults standing on the step with two black kids and a Chinese kid who was missing a hand.  Hearing us described like that was pretty funny.

Because sometimes our differences and unique traits are pretty funny.

And sometimes, it's not.

Sometimes the questions and comments wear on me a bit.  Which is actually kind of unusual for me because I'm a pretty "open boundaries" person.  But sometimes, just sometimes, I get weary of the answering and replying and educating.

I think probably what bothers me most is when the question or comment seems to showcase a person's lack of social skills, situations where it almost borders on rude.  Often it's kids who say something.  I am an elementary teacher by trade; I understand how kids operate.  So I'm not sure that it's me denying grace to a child.  I think it's more about lacking age appropriate behavior.

Of course, there are probably moments where I am just a little more sensitive to the comments and questions too, times where I am tired or stressed and just don't feel very graceful.  And maybe that was the case this week.  I don't know.

But this week I found my night interrupted by irritation as three different children loudly drew attention to Zeke's hands.  We had a special event at church, a camp out where families could bring tents, roast hot dogs, play games, do some family devotional time, etc..  As Zeke and I were sitting visiting with another friend and her daughter, a child who does not know our family came over.  She noticed Zeke's hands and wanted to know what happened.  I gave my standard response of that being how he was born, that his hands didn't grow all the way when he was in his mom's tummy.  The child then replied that that was weird.  I gently said that weird wasn't the best word to use, but that different was a better word.  To which the child said "No, it's odd."

Really?  Not only have you just said in front of Zeke that his hands are weird and odd but you also have kind of chosen to ignore the adult who has suggested that your words were not kind.  I again said that different is a better word and reminded her that she probably wouldn't like it if someone said her glasses or hair were weird or odd.

Later, there was a similar situation as another girl (from the same family as the first child actually) was sitting beside us and loudly said to her mom, "He was born that way!"  Her mom had no idea what she was talking about and I found myself in this awkward moment of either making the mom ask the question about what her daughter meant or basically holding up Zeke's hands for everyone to see.  I choose the first option.   Mom quickly tried to soothe things over by bringing up a story about someone she had known with no arms.

Then when we were making Smores, another child (same family) loudly asked from several feet away "Why are his hands like that?"  Innocent enough and not usually something that offends me but after the third time in like an hour, I was kind of done.  I suppose in all situations it was probably a lack of social awareness of how you are not just asking quietly but really drawing a huge amount of negative attention to someone you don't even know that bothered me most.

I know they were just kids, with no real malicious intent.  But it is still hurtful and irritating.  And it begs the question what should we as parents do to teach our kids how to interact with people who look or act different than us.

First, my honest gut reaction is that it's not so much about what we as parents say to our kids but that it is instead much more about what our kids see in us.  One of the biggest blessings my parents gave me were opportunities to interact with a very diverse group of people as I was growing up.  We did not live in a racially diverse area but my parents still exposed us to a lot of socially diverse situations.  My dad worked with a group who supported mentally and physically disabled adults so that these adults could live independently.  My parents and grandparents helped to organize and run a food pantry for area farmers affected by the farm crisis of the 1980's, a food pantry which serviced all sorts of people from the elderly on down.  My parents also both worked for the department of health and human services in a variety of positions including teaching independent living classes to teens aging out of foster care and supervising families who needed help with visits and parenting.  In all of those experiences, there were many times where my brother and I tagged along as my folks worked.  My parents did not shy away from the many unusual "clients" whom they served.  They never acted like they were better or like certain people were dirty, poor, unstable or abnormal.  For me, it was just pretty normal to be around people who maybe were a little unusual.  From a little old lady named Maude who used to frequent the food pantry, all made up with rouge and slightly off kilter lipstick and a too short wig that showed her gray hair to a mentally challenged adult named Butch who would come with us to the county fair to look at the animals, all while occasionally yelling swear words because that's just kind of how he related to things, my childhood was full of a cast of characters because my parents loved people just as they were.  When we as adults model love and kindness even to people who stick in our craw or people who just seem a bit off, we are teaching our kids invaluable lessons in how to interact with someone who is not just like us.

Second, I think there is much to be said about how we interact with our kids once they notice someone's differences.  Shushing the comment is really not a great response.  It teaches our kids in a subtle way that differences are kind of an off limits, awful thing that we should sweep under the rug.  Overcompensating for our kids is also not a great response.  Loudly telling a story you know about someone who had a similar difference or loudly proclaiming how awesome the difference is really just make people feel awkward and also sends the message that we have to be overnice or full of fake compliments towards someone who is different, that we cannot be genuine with such a person.

If your child does point out someone's differences, my suggestion would be

1.  Encourage them not to point.
2.  Acknowledge what was said in a quiet, normal voice.  A simple "Yes, I see that too." is sufficient.
3.   Then take a moment to model how to love someone.  You do not need to have a conversation right then and there about the difference.  That moment is not the time to teach about Down Syndrome, missing limbs, transracial adoption, why people use wheelchairs, or any other difference.  Instead, demonstrate how to make a new friend.  Saying words like "Yes, I see that too.  But really he is just like you so why don't we go say hi." is a much better way to teach your kids how to handle differences than launching into a conversation about the actual difference.  It teaches them to respect the boundaries of others, that people are not obligated to explain their personal stories, the whys of their lives to strangers or acquaintances.    Follow your hello with an introduction, and if it's another child, an invitation to play.  Easy peasy, you've just taught your child a huge lesson.
4.  If your child continues to want to know why the other person is different, I would still suggest not discussing it right then and there.  If you can get your child to accept that you will talk about it later, I think that's the best option.  Once you're in the car or at home, you can bring the topic back up and have a heart to heart about the specific situation.
5.  If your child just won't let it go (which is sometimes how it goes), then take a moment and ask.  If your child's questions or comments are just not acceptable, then rephrase the awkward with an appropriate question like "She is just so curious as to why you are using a wheelchair.  Do you mind sharing?"   Hopefully, after a few minutes of small talk and some genuine interest in the person rather than their difference, it now feels more acceptable to ask and the person will not feel quite so singled out because of their difference.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Brokenness, Redemption, Anxiety and Joy

One of my bigs has been struggling the last few months.  One of my 6 year olds has suddenly morphed into a moody teenager who is often angry or sad, screaming or yelling, over the tiniest of things.  Because much of the last few months have seen D off coaching, I've been the one who has bore the burden for dealing with all of that.   The more I try to pull the child closer, saying with my words and actions "Your heart looks like it needs filled back up.", the more the child pulls away, the more the child tries to hide and retreat away.  And like many adoptive moms, I've found myself facing the giant elephant in the room question of "Is this normal kid stuff or is this somehow related to loss and trauma and grief?"

This morning, while reading through Lysa Terkeurst's devotional for Unglued, she shared a bit about her own struggle with anxiety, specifically related to the broken relationship she had with her father and the lifelong impact that wondering about her father's love had on her life.  It's a struggle many adopted kids can empathize with.  Even if it's not a day in and day out struggle, I think there are many adopted kids who would say at least once in their lives, they have wondered about their birth parents' love for them.  Lysa shared two truths that I will be praying for my child whose heart seems so wounded lately.  She reminded me that

brokenness is universal but so is God's redemption.  

Oh, I've known that truth!  But I needed to hear that again,, that in the moments where my child's brokenness (adoption related or not) seems to be dominating, God is still present, wanting to redeem those moments.  She also shared a verse from Psalms 94.

"When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul."  (Psalms 94:19)  

It's a verse that is easy to pray and easy to share, a way to bring God's Word to light as both my kiddo and I deal with a heart that is anxious yet acting angry or hurt.

Hope for the moments, refreshing for the soul...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Drumroll Please...Here's the New Haircut!

Doesn't he look so much older?  D took him to the barber who may have actually helped us out by telling Kenson exactly how to take care of his hair.  He said Kenson's scalp was dry which was probably true as his hair was in locs which I was trying to grow out a bit and we had been on vacation prior so in general, I wasn't taking great care of it.)  So he recommended a cream to D and told Kenson to put that on it once a day and to brush it with a boar bristle type brush every time he ate.  Perhaps having someone else tell him that will be much more persuasive than simply Mom nagging at him to take care of his hair.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Starting Trimester Number Three

I'm finishing up week 27 of pregnancy and heading into week 28 this week so I think that technically puts me in the downhill stretch of trimester number three.  I had a doctor's appointment today which included the blood glucose test for gestational diabetes.  Seeing as I was overweight (actually in the obese category if you follow any of the online charts which I think is totally bonkers), maintaining a healthy pregnancy has been something I have been a bit concerned about.  That said, my blood pressure has been great thus far (a little high on my previous visit but my doctor said it was only high for me not something to be concerned about) and I passed the glucose test today easily.  My weight gain has been minimal; I don't think I've hit 15 pounds yet.  So a big yeah for things going well.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Weddings by Conleigh

We attended a wedding tonight which apparently got Conleigh thinking about planning her own such event.  She plans to have a high class affair as she plans to serve hot dogs with buns and Mountain Dew.  (Can you tell she never gets Mountain Dew so that apparently is very appealing?)