Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mother Bear

Yikes.  It happened.  I responded without thinking.  A few days ago, my daughter, Ellie, saw a photo in a magazine of a little girl with a perfectly coiffed afro.  I've always been a little hesitant to fix her hair in this style for fear that others would think that I don't properly care for her hair.  We decided to try it yesterday and Ellie loved it!  My wonderful friends and family all responded with encouraging and complimentary remarks.  At dance class this evening, two 6 yr old girls ran up to us and one of them pointed at Ellie and said, "Your hair looks funny!!" Then she and the other girl snickered to themselves. Kate and Ellie looked shocked.  At first I was planning on ignoring them, until the girl loudly began to repeat what she had said.  Feeling that familiar "mother bear instinct" rising up in me, I said, "I think her hair is beautiful and soft. We need to use our words to say KIND things to each other."  The girls looked stunned and ran off to find their mothers.  The hurt look on Ellie's little face about killed me.  I reassured her that daddy and I think her hair is gorgeous, and that God Himself picked out the color and texture of her hair.  I reminded her that God even knows how many hairs are on her head!  How amazing is THAT thought?  I feel badly that I wasn't more gentle or instructive towards the girls who were mean.  This mother bear is crawling back into her cave.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Brown Skin

My daughter, Kate, once said to me, "Mama, a girl at school said that I'm black, but I told her that I'm BROWN not black!" I assured her that she was correct, but I also tried to explain why the term "black" is used by others to describe her skin and why my skin is described as "white". My smart little girl said, "But you're not white.  You are sort of a pink or peach with blue stripes!" (my veins!) The more I thought about the terms, it actually dumbfounded me.  After doing some research, I discovered that the use of colors to describe race was first noted by a French scientist in the late 1600's.  He created the color classifications of: yellow (Asiatic), brown (Malaysian), black (African), white (European), and red (Americas).  I've heard from African-American friends of mine that some in the "black community" regard the term "black" as a sign of pride and strength.  Others see it as a derrogatory term and are offended when it is used.  Langston Hughes wrote a short piece called "That Word Black" and it cleverly describes all of our culture's negative connotations concerning the word "black" compared to the uses of the word "white".  He suggests that in his language, it would be reversed, for example, being "whitemailed" instead of "blackmailed", etc. To complicate the issue of "identification by color" we have learned from our Haitian friends that in Haiti, people are described as being different shades of black: reddish-black, yellowish-black, mulatto, etc.  It is with great joy that I can show my daughter people of all shades, sizes, and shapes as a proof that our God has a limitless imagination and that all of His creation is beautiful.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

What the Girls Have Been Up To

Ellie turned 5 and begged to wear a church dress to school

Their first dance recital ("We get to wear REAL LIPSTICK?!")

Back from church on Easter morning with their brothers

Ellie begged to have a Cinderella cake

Kate and Mark at the "Father/Daughter Dance" at school

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Walt Disney & Racism

My daughters and I watched one of my favorite childhood movies, Walt Disney's "Pollyanna," yesterday.  The girls loved the story of an orphan who goes to live with a rich aunt and transforms the town with her joyful attitude.  During one of the scenes where the camera pans out for a shot of all of the townspeople, it struck me that there was not a single black person in the entire town of hundreds of people!!  I was dumbfounded.  As the girls continued to watch Pollyanna and her unique, single-race town celebrate a festival, I contemplated some of the Disney movies I grew up with and loved: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Swiss Family Robinson, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Parent Trap, Toby Tyler, Old Yeller, etc. Shockingly, there is not a single black person or person of any color, for that matter.  A search online revealed that this has been a sore spot in the black community for quite some time.  It was only in 2009 that Disney gained some sense and released "The Princess and the Frog".  My daughters are very aware of books, movies, toys that feature black people, so we make every effort to choose these things accordingly.  The girls love the princess movies; Ellie loves Cinderella and is looking forward to a Cinderella birthday in March, so we aren't going to ban Disney from our house.  I'm glad that we live in a day and age where this Disney-style racism is improving, although I don't see us making a trip to Disneyworld anytime soon.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

While You're Hibernating

As the icy winter winds rage outside and we are holed up in our home, I thought I would take the time to mention a few things that we have found to be helpful in our adoption journey.  The first is a free language program that we found online called Byki.  They have a wonderful Haitian Creole program designed to be user friendly and good for all levels of language skills.  My kids even used this interactive site and had a lot of fun learning Creole (hey, it's more fun than your mom making you study flashcards!)  The website is http://www.byki.com

The other great "find" we would recommend is the book  Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child by Patty Cogen.  I happened upon this book while at my library and what a help it has been!  I wish I'd read this book before we brought our daughters home; it would have helped explain a lot of the behaviors and issues with which we dealt.  Most recently, it helped us understand why one of our daughters likes to obsessively pick at things like her lips, teeth, dry skin on her hands, etc.  We were baffled as to the source of this behavior until we read in Cogen's book that this is an example of self-soothing behavior common to international adoptees.

I hope these are things that may prove helpful to you.  Now go bundle up and keep warm!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Good Hair

Important Tools in our Arsenal

Examples of hair accessories my girls love
 (on a satin pillowcase--you'll need satin sleep caps and satin pillowcases to protect their hair from damage)


One of our many containers of beads with a couple of bead threaders (greatest invention in haircare!)

My kids attend 3 different schools and my husband works at a high school, so at 3:30pm each day, an army of germs collected from our entire county marches through my front door.  It's been a particularly sick winter for my family, made more complicated by the fact that my immune system is still rebuilding after last year's chemo onslaught.  Since we've been sniffling and recouperating indoors, I thought I'd tackle the issue most adoptive moms toss and turn over at night.

In the black community (I say "black" and not "African-American" because my daughters are "Haitian-American") hair is a very important subject.  I really had no idea how involved this issue was until I watched the documentary movie "Good Hair" by Chris Rock.  I highly recommend you see this movie!  It opened my eyes to the history, emotional/self-esteem issues, and beauty of black hair.  Knowing how important this subject would be, I took particular enjoyment in creating hairbows, flower clips, and headbands for my daughters impending arrival.  I spoke to African-American women whose hair I admired and asked for the names/numbers of really great AA salons.  I studied hair products and had an afternoon tutorial from a fellow adoptive mom doing her daughter's hair.  When the crowning moment came that my daughters were sitting in the bathtub of our Miami hotel room, looking up at me with their sweet expectant faces....I (ahem) folded.  I was scared to comb their hair for fear of damaging it.  Never in their lives had anyone used "product" on their hair, and very little maintenance had been done.  When we returned to Indiana, a very kind woman who owns a salon came to my house and showed me how to wash, condition, comb, and braid my daughters' hair.  She also put beads in their hair for the first time and you should have seen the look of sheer delight on their faces as they shook their heads to click their beads together!  Another friend of ours, who is married to a Haitian, gave me some lessons in braiding, twisting, brushing, beading and took me to an AA hair supply store.  It was so much fun oogling over the aisles of rainbow beads and shiny hair balls in every size and shape! 

Some very basic things to know: AA hair needs the addition of oil, you do not wash their hair every day, braids can stay in for weeks. You will get suggestions from everyone as to which hair products to choose (there are whole blogs and websites devoted to this), but suffice it to say that the basics you will need are: oil (we use olive oil), conditioner for AA hair, shampoo for AA hair, a leave-in conditioner, and AA gel for braiding/twists.  You can find these products at Target, WalMart, Sally's Beauty Supply, and any AA hair supply store.  The hair tools we use are pictured above.  These are all things you expectant moms can buy while you're nesting.  I would also recommend you find a good AA hair supply store and start your bead collection!  We use plastic craft boxes from WalMart to separate our beads.  I have added some of the hair websites I look at for inspiration, product knowledge, etc. to the sidebar of this blog.  Each girl's hair is different and until you actually have your hands in your daughter's hair, you won't know the exact blend of products she will need.

An example of twists and beads
A happy client!

After discussions with African-American friends, I now understand that especially in the AA community, a child's hair is a reflection of the care and love they are receiving at home.  For this reason, I never let my girls leave the house without making sure their hair looks pretty.  In one of my proudest moments, an African-American mother stopped me in the store and asked where I got my daughter's hair done.  I was beaming with happiness when I told her that I had braided her hair myself!  A Haitian woman once told me that the bond that develops between a mother and daughter during the long hours of hair care is an ancient bond....one to be cherished and developed.  It has been a true joy to care for my daughters' hair; one that we enjoy together.  I am still learning how to do different braids and styles and am, by no means, an expert in this field.  Still, I hope to encourage you to grasp the importance of this issue.  (It's not ALL serious....today I put hearts in Kate's hair for Valentine's Day!)

Friday, January 11, 2013

3 Years

Tomorrow will be the three year anniversary of the earthquake that resulted in the death of my daughters' biological mother and forever changed their lives.  It's beyond the scope of my understanding how God orchestrated the miraculous rescue of Kate and Ellie and delivered them from being abandoned orphans in the poorest country in the world. 

One of the saddest things we experienced with our daughter, Kate, was telling her about the death of her biological father two months after she arrived at our home.  My husband just held her as her little body shook with sobs.  You can't imagine how painful it was to see her experience yet another great loss at such a tender age.  How thankful I am that she was curled up in her daddy's protective arms and not alone on the streets of Port-au-Prince experiencing the loss with no comfort.  It baffles me to look at my daughters now: healthy, happy, surrounded by loved ones and consider where they would be now if God had not intervened.  Three years....wow....time is flying by.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Trip to the Ballet

Auntie Jessica with Ellie and Kate

Kate with her ornament souvenir
"Mama!! It's the Sugar Plum Fairy!!"

A few weeks ago, my mother, sister, and I took Kate and Ellie to see "The Nutcracker Ballet".  The girls have been taking ballet since the fall and they are in love with ballerinas.  We listen to the music from "The Nutcracker" at home and they've watched a production of it on video numerous times.  It was a fun afternoon at the ballet.  They had a live orchestra, explosions, glittering costumes, live animals, sword fights, and the enchanting Sugar Plum Fairy (en pointe, of course).  The audience was filled with lots of little girls dressed in their Christmas dresses.  Kate and Ellie gasped when it actually "snowed" on the audience!  Afterwards, we attended the Sugar Plum Fairy party where the girls got to eat Nutcracker cookies and meet the cast.  Kate was deleriously happy to be up close to *real* ballerinas.  They loved receiving souvenir ornaments of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince to remind them of their special afternoon.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

One Day

Waiting to enter the courtroom

Listening for our case to be called
Last week, we celebrated a joyful morning because we went to court to petition to have our daughters' first names changed.  Each adoption is different, but in our cases, it was cheaper and faster to wait until our daughters were in the U.S. to have their first names changed.  Ideally, we would have liked to complete this final step last year, but delayed it until my cancer treatments were finished.  We've been waiting for a LONG time for this special day!  Mark and I were very nervous, as all adoptive parents can sympathize with, because we're so used to things going wrong (or is it just in Haiti??) We brought every document and adoption file to be on the safe side.  The judge before whom we appeared was very kind and approved our petition.  Kate shook the judge's hand several times (I think she was impressed by the robes!) and Ellie was soft-spoken, as usual.  It was great having our sons present and able to experience it because so much of their sisters' adoption process happened in Haiti or in the piles of paperwork we completed.  We are so relieved to close the book on all of our adoption paperwork!  A fellow adoptive mom called this day their "One Day" because they looked forward to "one day when we are legally a family".  This was our "One Day".....a long-awaited answer to prayer.

My mother came for support and to photograph the event

Shaking the judge's hand after the ruling

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Personal Remarks

Not long after my daughters arrived from Haiti, we encountered the first of hundreds of interesting remarks made to us.  I was standing in line juggling my four children and groceries at WalMart when an employee demanded, "So are they sisters?" I replied, "Yes, they are sisters," to which she said in an exasperated tone, "But are they BIOLOGICAL sisters?"  I've never understood why people feel comfortable questioning complete strangers about the intimate details of their lives.  I simply can't imagine asking someone about the circumstances of their birth while sorting fresh produce from diapers in the check-out line.   As Alice said to the Mad Hatter, "You should learn not to make personal remarks; it's very rude."  People have asked me: why we adopted, how my daughters' parents died, if their parents were as "dark-skinned," why my daughters have brown lines on their teeth (a result of severe malnutrition,) if they are glad not to be in Haiti anymore (?!?), etc. Please don't misunderstand me: I love to promote adoption whenever I can, but when it's in the presence of my young daughters, I prefer to protect their self-esteem and feelings. My children are carrying around the enormous weight of a new culture, new country, new language, new family and grieving the loss of their parents.  Being a poster child for adoption should not be something they need to deal with.  I will sometimes ask my older daughter, "Do you feel like sharing a little of your special story today?"  Occasionally Kate will nod her head and I will use the opportunity to tell a vignette from our family's journey, but the focus is always to make her secure and joyful about her "story." 
As my kids ask, "So what's the moral of the story?"  To borrow from Lewis Carroll: (Alice) "I don't think...."  (Mad Hatter interrupting) "Then you shouldn't talk."   Choose words carefully.