Sunday, January 31, 2016


From Chaitra Wirta-Leiker @Beyond Words Psychological Services:
"Speaking as an adoptee, adoptive parent, and psychologist - here is what I often say to foster/adoptive parents in my workshops:
"I want you to think of something very personal and close to your heart, something you don't share with many people. 

And I want you to imagine that when you walked into this room today, everyone knew "that thing" about you. 

They knew just from looking at you. 

And not only did they know, but they felt that this gave them the right to ask you questions about it, and tell you how to feel or what to think about it, even if they had never experienced it in the way you had.
And this happens over and over and over again, every place you go...How would you feel? What would you want to say? What would you wish for?"
Now you have an idea of what it's like to be a transracial adoptee.  Let this sink in.  Let this guide your interactions to be more compassionate."
As a mom, I struggle with knowing how much to share about my kids.  I tend towards being an open boundaries type person.  I tend towards believing that things hidden in the darkness often only oppress us and weigh us down, that there is light and freedom in truth telling.  

But where do my kids' stories fit into that?  I want them to be proud of who they are and sure of their stories.  I want them to not be ashamed or feel less than.  I want others to recognize that adoption is a beautiful, hard, messy, beautiful thing.  Yet, those things cannot happen at the expense of my kids' privacy and identities.  I would never want my children to be known mostly as "adopted from Haiti" or as "former orphans." 
 Even if people don't see that as the defining characteristics of my kids, there are still moments where people invite themselves into my kids' space with questions about their birth families, about their histories, about the why's and why nots.  I don't think anyone means harm; they are mostly just curious and interested in my kids.  
Questions and conversations aside, my kids, simply because their skin colors do not match mine, are instantly recognizable as different, as having a part of them, a very personal part of them, that is unique and special.  There is no escaping that everyone knows they were adopted.  And while I would never want my kids to hide any part of their story, I can certainly understand why there will be moments when they just want to be invisible.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Just Another Afternoon with Zeke-Ten Fingers are Overrated

"Mom!  Look at my carrot!  It's so skinny!"
Don't need ten fingers to use a vegetable peeler, as evidenced by the piles on the floor.

Don't Need have super handwriting!
I think this might be Zeke's first letter.
I'll let you all decipher the invented spelling.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


It's funny how parenting will give you whiplash.  Earlier this week, on Tuesday, I was so proud of my three big kids.  Two days of no school often means bickering and fighting among the three of them.  So on Tuesday, day number two, I was so pleased to hear them showing concern for each other and a selfless love.  It started when we went to Walmart and Conleigh wanted to spend some money in her piggy bank on a candy bar, money that she had forgotten she had already spent.  With no money to spend, she pouted a bit and was out of sorts.  As we headed out to the car, Kenson quickly told her she could sit in the front sit, something he only did because he knew she was upset.  Then while shopping, I told Conleigh to grab a bag of chips to have with our lunch.  She rushed to find the Lays Plain Potato Chips because those are her favorites.  As she circled the display with those in hand, she asked if we could get Doritos too which happen to be Kenson's favorite.  I told her that we were just getting one bag and she decided to swap out the Lays for Doritos.  Later that day, Conleigh headed to a friends and Kai was napping so Zeke and Kenson headed out to sled, sharing our one sled.  They were using our backyard which is slightly sloped but pretty small, especially when you consider the fence.  Kenson ended up sledding into the fence, hitting his face right on the pole.   After lengthy consolation, I managed to convince him not to give up on sledding and suggested they try in a different spot.  Kenson told Zeke that they could try a new spot and he and Zeke headed that way.  As they walked away, I overheard Zeke, who had been sledding the whole time Kenson and I were talking, telling Kenson that he could go first and have a whole bunch of turns since he had missed sledding because he got hurt.  It's rare that in parenting you get multiple occasions to see your kids being tender with each other.  Guess that was just setting me up for this Thursday when I heard them playing Simon Says in the back of the van, including the direction "Simon Says eat your boogers."

Friday, January 15, 2016

Soul Stuff

"We were minutes into lunch, saying our hellos, figuring out our favorite Mexican dish to order, and then she asked me.

“How is your soul?”
It was said in a way kind of like you would ask someone “how is your family?” or “how is your new job?” only there was so much more to it. It was a beeline to my heart. In a cut the crap, not interested in meaningless small talk, let’s choose to be real here and now kind of way. It was gorgeous. "
Gosh, I love that question, written by my friend, Kimberly.   
"How is your soul?"
If ever there were a question to ask our friends, that's it.  And if ever there were a question that, when asked, had the ability to make us feel bathed in love, that's it.  It's just too good of a question not to share.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Noun, Verb, or Both?

It's been a poop week at our house.  Not sure why.  Just so you know it's also been a week that's spoke to my love languages ie the love of words.  Ever wondered why you cannot use dung as a verb?  As in when your mom asks what your brother is doing downstairs, why you cannot reply "He's dunging."  And lucky me!  I hit the gold mine when a few days later, one of my kids who has been dealing with constipation issues told me they were going to the bathroom to stool.  Poop and it's synonyms...not as interchangeable as you'd think.

Monday, January 11, 2016

My Say

I read this today and found myself relating a lot to this reader submission from Rage Against the Minivan, What I Want You to Know About Being a Teacher in a High Poverty School.  Maybe our schools aren't quite the same but I've definitely been in that position where people hear where we teach and pause, maybe even give a quizzical look with arched eyebrows.  I know the questions that come with that well.  Our district is different than the writer's school in that we are a very mixed district, where we have a lot of immigrant kids, a lot of kids learning English, a lot of poor kids, all sitting next to kids who have very "white" middle class backgrounds, who were raised on farms, whose parents are nurses and mechanics and small business owners, all sitting next to kids whose parents are lobbyists or college presidents or doctors.

So if I had to answer that question of what my years in our district have been like I'd say that it's having your heart sink a bit when you hear that the third grade sister of one of your students, the sister who seemed to appear out of nowhere is now here because she was old enough to walk across the desert.

It's watching a fist fight break out on an indoor soccer field, hoping our team doesn't get thrown out for fighting but still feeling proud because when our kid was right in the thick of it, one of his teammates pushed someone from the opposing team.  That's something you'd never normally cheer for but just this once, you do.  Because it's the first time you've seen a white kid have the back of one of his Hispanic teammates.

It's having your heart swell a bit when one of your former first graders, who by all standards has the odds stacked against him, who started out needing help with reading, reads to you as a seventh grader, showing off that he is now one of the best readers in his grade.

It's never knowing if that kid without the coat, if that kid wearing too tight and too short pants, if they are defying their parents, making a fashion statement, or just wearing the only clothes they have.

It's smiling because my kids (the ones who live in my house not the ones in my class) know what pupusas and menudo and lengua tacos are, even if they aren't brave enough to try the last two.

 It's sitting at parent teacher conferences and sharing the story one of your students wrote for his writing exam, the story he wrote about his parents' birth country, Vietnam, and seeing his dad smile and tell you their story, all of it, from being boat people who landed in Canada to meeting his wife and getting married and having kids.

It's knowing that some of our kids came out of war zones like Bosnia.

It's hearing colleagues tell you that they have to hurry outside because one of their student's mom is dropping off tamales for them, just because.

It's helping line kids up outside on the first day of kindergarten, watching moms and dads entrust the school with their babies, seeing a variety of faces and knowing that all those moms and dads are basically thinking the same thing, no matter their ethnicity.

It's having a child tell you that the houses the Indians lived in, the ones made out of sticks, that those look a lot like the houses they lived in in Burma, before their mom walked to Cambodia to give birth to their little sister.

It's wondering how on earth you can do right be every kid, knowing our building holds a child who spent his summer vacation in Europe touring places like the Louvre, another child who has probably a hundred books on his bookshelf, another child who has no bookshelf and shares a mattress on the floor with his sister, and another child who came to kindergarten not knowing how to use scissors, how to write his name, or any of his letters and numbers.

It's finding yourself frustrated that there aren't enough resources to keep kids in school when going to work seems easier, to really figure out if it's a language issue or a learning disability issue especially for that high schooler who you know can't read, to make sure that every kid gets a shot at college if that's what they really want.

It's waiting to write names on desk name tags and textbooks because if you do it even a week before school, you will have to redo probably 5-6 of them out of your class of 20 due to students moving in and out of the district.

It's knowing that you didn't set out to be in this place but believing that this place is a great place to be.

That's probably what I would say if you asked.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My Village

If you are white...

Not the type of words I would normally start writing with.

But nevertheless, if you are white and if you believe that it takes a village to raise a child...

If you are white and you believe it takes a village and you are part of my village, would you take the time to read these two posts?

Two White Girls Get Black Dolls For Christmas via Rage Against the Minivan
To the White Parents of my Black Son's Friends via Amusing Maralee

Then hear my words.  I try not to borrow trouble.  I try not to buy into hype or what cultural
issue seems to be trending right now.  I do not want my kids to be paranoid, to doubt the motives of others, or to make assumptions.  But I do have worries about my kids, worries that other people in my village might not have.

I worry about things like my kids learning what the n word means and then having peers who think it is acceptable to listen to music that glorifies the word.  For the record, my kids are well aware of our country's racial history.  I am not worried about that part.  I am worried about my kids feeling like they have to go along to get along because that's just what their friends are listening to.  I worry about the way in which high schoolers use that word within their vernacular, where again my kids will probably feel this pressure to go along to get along, to not say anything or rock the boat.

I worry about interracial dating and who my kids will marry.  I worry that while my friends may have no issues with my son or daughter as their child's prom date, that their parents or grandparents will not be so inclined.   I, of course, want my kids to marry someone who loves them deeply, who loves Jesus most of all, and I could care less about what color that person turns out to be.  But nonetheless I worry.  I worry that my kids might be "too black" or "too white" for their future relatives.  I worry that my kids' experiences as black people will be so different than their spouses that it might be an issue of division.

I worry about my son, especially, leaving the safety of our bubble.  If you know Kenson at all, you know he is a sensitive, respectful, rule following kid.  But I can't exactly tattoo that information onto his forehead.  I do not daily fear for his safety but I do wonder and worry that he will find himself judged first on his size and then on his blackness.  How will he fair in a more metropolitan area, away from me?

I worry because the reality is racism is not dead.  (Just read any news story on-line that has a racial component to it.  The comment sections are full of hateful, awful comments.  It's easy to say they are written by people whose opinions do not matter.  But the reality is even if I can dismiss those opinions as uneducated, fueled by the anonymity of the Internet, and unworthy of my reply, those opinions still exist.)  I worry because people, all people, have to make snap decisions and judgments and it's very hard to do so without injecting race, gender, and appearance, things that may work against my kids.  I worry that someone's snap judgment may be harmful to my kids, that someone may not intend to harm my child but may do so anyway.

I want our village to hear my worries and not dismiss them.  I want my village not to say "Your kids are great kids and no one would ever treat them badly because they are great kids."  I want to hear people in my village say "While I personally have not experienced racism, I will not pretend that the potential for racism does not exist."   I don't know what the answers are; I'm not even sure that I agree one hundred percent with the writers of the blogs I've just shared.   But I do know that not thinking about race, not stretching to think through a variety of perspectives, that these thing don't move us as people forward.  As the mom of brown kids, living in a world who shuts out those conversations would make me feel like my village was on a peninsula, jetting out into the ocean, battered by the waves, eroded by the wind, alone.  Today, I'm saying thanks for those who believe that our little house, in the middle of a village, matters.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Hyper Vigilance

"I close my eyes and sleep but my ears are always open."  Those words sum up the idea of hyper vigilance in so many ways.  It was said by a little girl, trying to explain her anxiety to her mom.  Hyper vigilance is a by product of anxiety, especially anxiety caused by trauma.  It's the idea that one has to be aware of his surroundings at all time, as a way to protect against something bad happening.  It's actually not even just about something bad happening; it's about something unforeseen happening, something that makes you feel out of control.

In our family, I used to just think one of my kids was very perceptive.  I used to think this child was sensitive to things and noticed more than most.  But as I've learned more about trauma, I've come to see it is not that.  It is my child's mind working to protect themselves either from a calamity or just from the unknown.  It means my child hears everything.  (For my child, I think that is especially true at night, when they hear every sound and easily wake when they hear those sounds.)  But this kiddo also overhears just about every comment said in our house.  (While somehow managing to completely tune out the directions about putting away the toys.)  In new situations, it means an intense curiosity that manifests itself as investigating the environment.  It's constantly picking items up to see what they are, endless questions about what is inside of closed drawers or why there is a box hanging on the wall at the doctor's office.  It's darting eyes that move quickly to survey a room or jumping up from the waiting room chair, repeatedly, in order to walk the room and observe what's there.

It is one reason why anxiety creates issues with focusing and concentration.  A brain that is consumed by staying safe interrupts itself repeatedly, be it a question asked aloud or thoughts that linger in the mind.  A brain that is dealing with thinking about maintaining safety and the status quo cannot let go of the minutia so the smallest details be it an annoying tag in a shirt or a lawn mower outside of a window cause a shift in focus.   It has to be, in some ways, exhausting.  I think a lot of times, my kiddo is somewhat used to all the "noise" anxiety creates.  It's just a part of life and my kiddo doesn't know any other way.

Thankfully, most of the anxiety is well enough hidden that we are not facing concerns at school regarding attention or behavior.  That said, my current gig is mostly being a stay-at-home mom but my pre-kid life involved working full time as an elementary teacher.  From time to time, I find myself subbing in a variety of classrooms and it's easy to wonder about the kids sitting in front of me.  So many typical tough behaviors could be symptomatic of anxiety and hyper vigilance.  Incessant chatter, asking redundant questions, appearing to be spaced out, constant fidgeting and movement, being easily distracted-all of those could be ways in which anxiety and trauma are affecting a child at school.

Unfortunately, many of the methods teachers use to manage behavior in a classroom can actually increase anxiety.  Clip up charts, color coded behavior charts, calling out a student in by dressing them down, and behavior charts that focus on performance and rewards are just a few examples of things that can actually increase anxiety for kids.  Because those things shine a spotlight sometimes in a very public way on the child, that creates more anxiety and the potential for increased behaviors.  No one wants their peers to know they have failed and even in situations where the failure is not public, for many kids, it is still a source of shame or guilt  that creates a cycle of anxiety, failure, shame or guilt, increased focus on performance, followed by increased anxiety.  One of my children was certain that the reason their math class had not earned ice cream for good test scores was because of their poor performance on the tests.  My child assumed that no one else was struggling and week after week, made it about themselves and their failures.  This child did not have the perspective to see that it was not their test scores alone that were preventing the class from reaching the goal.  This child finally told me that months after the school year ended.  (Even as a teacher, I was shocked to hear my child's internalization of the test scores.)  Certain management techniques can also be highly performance or outcome based which assumes that a child is in a place of logical thought, where they are able to think through what will happen when they do action "a"."  The issue for an anxious child is that when the brain is on overdrive, they are not thinking logically.  Their brain is flying by the seat of its pants, flying high and fast with no regard to losing a recess or earning a sticker.

Anxiety is not a license to behave poorly.  It is simply one piece in considering why a child is acting the way they are.  If we as teachers and parents know the why, then we are better able to individualize our response to that child.  I would never pretend that teaching a class full of little people is easy.  (It's not.  I would dare say that in terms of a job being mentally challenging, teaching small children is right up there.)  Nor would I purport that I have all the answers.  (In terms of finding a magic bullet, parenting and teaching are the same in that no strategies work for all kids, at all times, and there is a lot of distance sometimes between what is ideal and what is reality.)

But I do think there are a lot of little things that teachers (and parents) can do to help ease anxiety and refocus hyper vigilance.  Ironically, a friend shared this article (Taking a Different Approach to Behavioral Problems in School:  Trauma Informed Classrooms) with me today.  I had actually written the first part of this post last night but seeing this article encouraged me to share a bit more on the educational setting part of it since so many of my friends are teachers or work with kids.  The article is a bit soft in terms of providing a lot of tangible ideas so I thought I'd throw out some of the things I use be it at home or at school.

For distracted kids, it's little things like moving closer and providing a gentle touch, asking a child to look at you and repeat what you said, asking that child to hold your hand and squeeze your fingers, making that child the "helper" in the moment, or giving a child the freedom to fidget be it by standing beside the desk or with a stress ball.  For a child who is quick to talk, it might be giving them a stress ball to squeeze 10 times before they respond, working hard to not accept any answers in your classroom until you've mentally counted 10 seconds off which sets up a pattern of predictability that a child can trust in terms of discussion, or intentionally positioning "that kid" next to you so you can gently touch their arm or leg to remind them to wait.   For kids who putting forth a lot of negative talk or backtalk, it's asking them to stop, think, and reword what they just said.  (And if they don't know what to say, it's teaching them that.)  For kids who are on the edge of having a melt down, it's paying attention to the the signs of having a bad day or a bad moment and then heading it off with a break of some sort.  (I once made an arrangement with our PE teacher regarding one of my kids where I would send that child to the gym with a note saying that this kiddo just needed a break from the classroom and to send him back to me.  It gave an overextended 6 year old a 3 minute reprieve from the demands of the classroom in a way that didn't call attention to him.)  It could be reducing the amount of work that is in front of the child, encouraging them to do 5 problems instead of the 20 on the worksheet, knowing you will come back and do the other 15 when the child is feeling better.  It could be switching gears completely and telling a child, you'll work on it later.  It could be simple asking them if they need a drink and letting them go get one, even though you just took a drink break ten minutes ago.  At home, it's often completely switching gears and getting out of the moment.  It seems like those are the times we watch tv or read a book or cook together.  It is also prevention, knowing that anxiety feeds off of  the unknown.  You can eliminate some of the unknown by posting daily schedules, starting lessons or tasks like grocery shopping with what is going to happen and how you want them to behave, being aware of needs connected to hunger including recognizing that the sudden bad attitude may actually be a growling tummy, and creating flexible routines that are not restrictive and controlling but that are more like the bough of a pine tree, stiff and strong yet able to bend as the wind blows.  For all kids, it's shoring up their belief that they are safe and loved, focusing on relationship.  In a classroom, it's greeting them each morning and asking them questions about their lives.  It's noticing their new shoes or their new haircut.  It's remembering the names of their sibling or their dog.  At home, it's spending more time with that child, cuddling more, rocking even when they don't fit in the rocking chair, and telling them positive statements about who they are and their strengths.  It's letting them sleep near you, holding their hand while you sit at church, and making their favorite meals.

The reality is most teachers and parents probably know hundreds of more tricks that will work if they just think about it.  Key components include reducing the unknown, slowing down the brain so it responds instead of reacts, increasing felt safety through reassurance, relationship and connection, and focusing on if there is an unmet need.  What strategies are on your list?