Twin Kindergarten Panic: I Feel Everything and Nothing

IMG_20180828_203653.jpgEveryone keeps asking me how I’m doing after sending the twins to kindergarten. The truth is that I don’t know. I’m in shock. As I am obviously a very wordy person, it shocks me that I’m in shock but can’t explain it. How do you feel, everyone wants to know. How do I FEEL? I feel everything and I feel nothing. I can’t explain it and I know I just need time to process. My husband tells me to write it out. As always, he is right. My brain usually feels clean and neat after I write.

I FEEL OVERJOYED TERRIFIED EXCITED GRIEVING CELEBRATORY MAUDLIN FROZEN CONFUSED RELIEVED GUILTY NERVOUS LIKE A BALLOON THAT MIGHT FLOAT AWAY BY ACCIDENT.

Oh, and did I mention terrified and nervous?

And thank you for asking.

I know I’m not reinventing the emotions wheel here, folks. But you have to admit that sending two children away at the same time doubles the feelings that other mothers have. Then we add in the worry about an older child who is switching schools but doesn’t adjust well to change. And don’t forget special needs and mental health stuff stirred into that pot of worry. Three children in a new strange place. It’s a lot. IT’S JUST A LOT OKAY?

When I taught kindergarten, there was one mother who needed an ambulance on the first day of school. She had so much trouble separating from her child that we had to call 911. I guess she thought she was having a heart attack. Was her heart panicking or was it breaking?

At the time, I was not yet a mother. I’ll be honest – I thought she was being ridiculous. I had no patience for crying parents whose tears were contagious to their children. In retrospect, however, I see things through a different lens.* Like my current self, she was an older mother, who had probably struggled to conceive this only child for many years. He was probably a miracle baby. Maybe even a “rainbow baby” born after the storms of miscarriage and loss. Like my current self, she probably had an anxiety disorder that crippled her. She was probably ashamed that she couldn’t control her feelings that day. Like my current self, her son had some special needs. Special needs that probably terrified her when they were in the hands of a stranger. And unlike my current self, she had the additional burden of being a single mother, whose husband had either died or left. I don’t remember, but I do remember that her son was all she had.

I want to deeply, sincerely, profoundly apologize to that mom. And to all the other parents that I didn’t understand. Yes, I was a professional that day. I technically didn’t say or do anything wrong that day we called the ambulance, but I want to apologize for my silent judgement. I know now that she wasn’t being dramatic and she didn’t want pity. She genuinely could not control her pain and worry. Her son has probably graduated college by now. I don’t even remember his name. I actually don’t even remember if he was my student, or belonged in the kindergarten class next door. It doesn’t matter. I was wrong to judge.

Last week, I had a panic attack at my children’s open house at their school.

And, yesterday, on the first day of school, I lingered thirty seconds too long and made Twin B start to cry.

I did both those things. Yes I did.

The first thing, the panic attack, was not under my control – or at least I’m trying to convince myself of that fact. The latter thing, staying too long, was an error and I should have known better. I have no patience for my mistakes here.

That panic attack at open house really hit me like a truck. It blindsided me. My anxiety has been semi-well-controlled lately, but I expected the first day of school would be hard for me. Harder for me than for the kids, anyway. But open house, the week before school starts? Why would I expect that to mess with my mental health? We were just there to hear a speech about school rules, meet their teacher, see their classroom and whatnot. Standard procedure, right? My subconscious didn’t think so.

The principal was speaking, and I had two children to the left of me, one child to the right, a mound of paperwork on my lap, and about two hundred dollars’ worth of school supplies under my feet. Suddenly I felt that familiar cold claw start to clamp down on my heart. My heart felt frozen and squeezed to the point that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My heart was working too hard and my lungs weren’t working enough. My children were nervous enough, and I desperately didn’t want them to notice my unwarranted panic. I want to protect them from the world – but sometimes I just have to protect them from my own brain. I dug my nails into my sweaty palms until the skin started to tear. I bit the insides of my cheeks until I tasted blood, to distract my eyes from the tears they were trying to spill. I tried to breathe slower and tried to remember all those things you’re supposed to remember but can’t. I couldn’t hear the principal. I could only hear my own blood and adrenaline pumping.

Then I jerked to attention, as the teachers lined up the students to take them to see their classrooms. The parents were to remain seated and continue listening to the principal. Twin sets of bright eyes, so different from each other, looked at me. “Momma, do we go now?” one of them said. Moms are the best actresses in the world. Yes, I said with a normal voice. “Will you still be here?” the other one said. Yes, I promise, I said with a calm voice that sounded alien to me because it didn’t match my brain, which was screaming. Their four eyes were nervous, but they turned and obediently but very slowly walked toward their new teacher and out the door, into their new world without me.

Instantly I was on the operating table, fading in and out of consciousness. One twin was already out of my womb, and I was experiencing being separated from that child for the first time, ever. The second twin was being pulled out and was not breathing. I was experiencing a panic for that child, like I had never felt before. A mother’s fear. A primal thing. I wasn’t in the school gym. I was in a cold operating room and my arms were tied down and I was more helpless than I’d ever been in my life.

I tried to remember what my therapist always said, “If you’re replaying your trauma like a movie in your head, just try to move ten rows back.” She wisely knows that you can’t stop it. You can only try to wait it out – but maybe with a little more space.

My oldest child was still sitting beside me. He would start third grade at this school next week. I had to stay here, stay present, stay quiet, for this sensitive and precious boy. He didn’t ask for this. He doesn’t deserve a mother like this. But guilt won’t help stop panic. I feel like my conscious brain was slapping the face of my subconscious brain. STOP IT. GET IT TOGETHER. THIS CHILD NEEDS YOU NOW. ALL YOUR CHILDREN ARE HEALTHY. YOU DON’T DESERVE TO GRIEVE SOMETHING THAT HAS A HAPPY ENDING. (I didn’t say my conscious brain is always right.)

I never did feel all the way better that day. The anxiety lessened but it didn’t leave. I faked my way through the rest of the open house and the rest of my day. I sobbed at night. I told myself that I would try again tomorrow.

Four days later, I am dropping my twins into their kindergarten classroom for their first day of school. This time, my husband is with me. My third-grader has already insisted on walking to his classroom alone. My husband is a deep well of calmness. He is contentment, not excitement. He is logic, not panic. Despite all that reasonableness, he is also the only person on earth who is feeling what I’m feeling right now. These are our babies. Babies that are a miracle of modern science. Babies that almost didn’t survive.

My husband is my rock. He is my bravery.

We watch the natural chaos in the classroom. There is one boy standing in the middle of the rug alone, sobbing, like a lost kid in a movie. The teachers bustle about, kind and sensitive, but also trying to get business done. We watch Twin A calmly walk to his cubby, hang his backpack up in an orderly fashion, put his nametag around his neck, walk evenly to his assigned desk. He never looks at us. We watch Twin B wander in circles around the room, eyes getting wet, looking lost, pleading with us telepathically. His wandering becomes faster and more ….lost. He has forgotten everything the teacher told him during open house. I already know we have overstayed. He stumbles over to me and actually asks me for a kiss. I kiss his soft cheek and breathe his baby smell that somehow never left and I want to scoop him up in my arms and run away. His teacher tries to pull him off me and says, “We’re fine” as he starts to cry. My conscious brain knows she is right.

I am in the operating room. He is my baby. He isn’t breathing. His tiny body responds when his father whispers in his ear. They intubate him and whisk him off to the NICU. I wake up a couple of days later, in the dark, arms tied down, intubated myself, unable to speak, and I don’t know if he is alive or not. Eventually I will meet him, but it will be three weeks before I can even change his diaper.

My husband gently pulls my hand. I try to snap back into this classroom, into this moment. I try to “move ten rows back”. I try to remind myself that my baby survived. He is strong and healthy! Look at him! I let go of my crying baby. I don’t cry this time. I realize that I’m glad I’m not the teacher. I remember that I’m alive. These feelings, whether good or bad, mean that I’m alive. I intertwine my clammy fingers with my husband’s warm fingers and we walk down the hall and out of the school.

No one calls an ambulance.

How do I feel? I really don’t know.

But thanks for asking.
******

 

*Please forgive any errors in my memory.

The “Where’s Your Mom?” Microaggressions

It happened again.

People who know us forgot that I was his mother.

IMG_20170303_171030I am white. My son is Black. This is a tremendous invisible burden for him. Being asked to explain yourself or justify yourself as an adoptee is called “narrative burden.” It’s not fair to him, but it is his albatross.

Every.single.time. we are out in public together, something small happens to make us feel “othered”. These tiny things add up, especially for a young impressionable child. “Microaggressions” is a term I have recently learned, and, while it applies to race, I think it may also apply here to transracial adoption.

Yesterday, after Cub Scouts was over, I was following my son out the door. We were close together. Another mother (who knows us) stopped my son from exiting and said, “Wait, where’s your mom?” WHILE HE WAS TALKING TO ME. I firmly said, “I’m his mom” and brushed past her quickly.

Last week, as I was checking my three sons into the gym daycare, the woman at the desk (who knows us) said, “How many children today?” while looking at only my Black son. WHILE HE WAS HOLDING ON TO ME. My white twins were probably doing cartwheels around us, but she wasn’t looking at them. She was looking at my Black son, who was touching me, and basically asking if he counted. I sternly said, “I have THREE CHILDREN.”

The week before that, I took my son to his school’s book fair. He chose his book, and we walked together to the cash register. I was right behind him in line. We were the only two in line. The teacher (who knows us) added up the total, and then said, “Where’s your mom?” WHILE LITERALLY MOVING HER BODY TO SEE AROUND MY HEAD. I followed her gaze over my shoulder and noted that she was looking at a Black family across the room. I said, “I’M his mom” while shoving my credit card in her face.

Yes, each of these things may be small to you. Yes, each of these things can be explained (“whitesplained”) away. Yes, each of these things might be understandable. Until you put yourself in my son’s shoes. Until you realize it’s cumulative. Until you realize that it happens every.single.time. Until you realize what that would actually feel like to be him.

It’s not fair. It’s a heavy burden. It’s a cumulative effect. It’s one more way the world makes him feel like an “other.” It’s just one more way he may feel he doesn’t belong. He’s getting old enough that this burden bothers him, but he’s not yet old enough to want to answer anyone himself. We talk about these things. I try to give him the language he will need, and the choice to answer when he’s ready. Right now, he is introverted and uncertain about everything. Wouldn’t you be, too?

These microaggressions are probably why he doesn’t want me to eat lunch with him, or chaperone field trips. Unlike white/non-adopted kids, he is asked by peers and adults alike basically to explain himself. No child should ever have to explain why he belongs with his own family.

We know the “colorblind” mentality didn’t work. It was a failure. It is not the goal, either. It is well-documented that children do better when diversity is acknowledged, voiced, and celebrated. Yet white people stubbornly hold on to that “I don’t see color” crap. If you don’t see color, then you WOULD see that he was wearing matching t-shirts with his brothers. If you don’t see color, then you WOULD see that he was holding my hand. If you don’t see color, then you WOULD see that he was calling me “momma” and talking to me and holding onto my waist. You would have already noticed and remembered that we are a family. If you don’t see color, then you wouldn’t make him feel so othered from his own family every damn day. Don’t you dare ever say to me that you don’t see color.

Five Year Old Quotes

wp-1462742667093.jpgFrom the kid who says things like, “I like hot pants. They keep me warm”, here’s a list of R’s five-year-old quotes for you. (Yes, I know he’s seven now. I’m slow.) I thought it might be time for something a little lighthearted. (See, I don’t always write about racism, politics, adoption, and anxiety. ) Enjoy!

***ON TURNING FIVE***

To his little brother
Tomorrow I will be five. You will be five another day, okay? SAY OKAY!

Me: Happy birthday! You’re five!
R: Right now?
Me: Yes!
R: Let me check if I can run faster. [runs]

Me: Today is your grandma’s birthday!
R: She be five?

***ODD RELIGION***

To his little brother
You better not do that, or Jesus will send a storm!
[what?!!]

What I thought he said to his little brother: You want to go to heaven?
What he really said to his little brother: You want to headbang?

Daddy, put your hands on my head and pray on my head cuz I’m sick.

Heaven is far away? Like the beach?

R, to his brother: You want to go to the Promised Land?
Me: WHAT?! NO!

When it started to rain
The rain gonna wash the bad guys away?

I don’t think I can go to church. I think I’m gonna have a runny nose later.

Tomorrow is the babies’ first time in nursery [at church]? Please I hold their hand so they’re not scared?

***VAGUELY MEAN TO MOM***

Daddy has better snuggles. Better than you.

When I was whispering to him
You talk in my face. No. That hurts my ears.

Daddy: Do you want to come exercise with me?
R: Yes, but I can only do small weights like Momma.

R: [Grandma’s] house smells better. Better than our house.
Me: well, duh.

***ONE-LINERS***

While all three boys were playing quietly
Why we not fighting?

Let’s go nite-nite, cuz Santa Claus is coming to town.

After I told him to remember to shut the gate

Oh, I forgot to remember.

While patting his head with a tissue
I’m making my sweaty go away.

While playing Legos with Daddy
My hands are not better at doing that.

When taking a gun away from his little brother
Because he will shoot his eye out. Very hard.

I smell sriracha! It’s getting my boogies!

R, noticing my tattoo for the first time
Hey! Your back has a drawing on it!

R, as he put his brother down
That baby needs more cuddling.

Curious George is curious like my brother.

Momma, you’re sweet! Sweet like honey.

***DADDY STUFF***

R: What Daddy doing?
Me: His stretches
R: Because we worn him out, right?

Daddy, when R laughed at his injured brother
We don’t laugh at others’ misfortunes. Unless it’s on You Tube.

One day, Daddy will be twelve.

Daddy: Please wipe your nose with your napkin.
R: I don’t understand that. I don’t speak Daddy.

After helping with yard work
I love Daddy all day!

Daddy can eat this cookie because he has a tall mouth.

***QUESTIONABLE CONVOS***

R: Granddad can babysit my brothers.
Me: No, Granddad doesn’t change diapers.
R: Why?
Me: I don’t know. Maybe we can teach him.
R: That’s ok. He shoots guns good.

To his little brother: Let me help you fly!
Me: WHAT?! NO!

Me: Hey, what is your brother doing?
R: Nothing naughty.
Me: Thank you. That is exactly what I needed to know.

Me: Do you want to tell me anything about dinosaur camp today?
R: I love it to be over. Just one more day!

R: I want an iPod for my birthday.
Me: What? Where did you hear about an iPod?
R: No, an eye patch.
Me: An eye patch? Like a pirate?
R: No, an elbow patch. For my skateboard.
Me: Oh, ok.

Me: The beach is my favorite place.
R: My favorite place is french fries.

Me: Who will help me set the table?
R: I will. But not Cleo [the dog] because she doesn’t have any hands.

***BEST EXCLAMATION***

WHAT THE HECK IN THE WORLD?!

****

Yep, I’m crazy about that kid. And about quotes. Look at all the other ones I’ve collected…

2-Year-Old Kid Quotes

3-Year-Old Kid Quotes

3-Year-Old Kid Quotes, Part 2

Four-Year-Old Kid Quotes

Geez, kids

Verbal Twin Fights, Two-Year-Old Edition

Two-Year-Old Quotes -Twin Edition

Momma Quotes

 

 

A Racecar Marriage: True Love a Quarter Mile at a Time (Yes, I just quoted Vin Diesel. Sorry.)

The first time I was ever attracted to my future husband was when he was driving me in his ’91 Eclipse.

His hands. Shifting.

It was maybe 1997. I was probably 18 and he was 17. It wasn’t a date – just hanging out with a mutual friend. We had known each other for a few years already, and, even though we went to a very small school, we ran in different crowds. He was quiet and wore a lot of black. I was … not quiet… and wore a lot of … not black. (Pretty sure I was wearing my 1970s hot pink thrift store pants with huge butterflies all over them.[i]) He had been quietly attracted to me, and I knew it, but I had other boyfriends. And I wasn’t interested.

Until that day in his car. And I noticed his muscled hands.

We were still just friends, but my heart started to beat a little faster. And then my heart turned toward him more and more until it beat for him only.

That 1991 Mitsubishi Eclipse – a car prized by people like Mr. Okayest for being possible to majorly modify – has always been a huge part of our life.  The car is not a possession or a material object.  It is a thread running through this marriage. A loud, 626 horsepower thread. Today, twenty years later, he finally got that car up on his new lift – a lifelong hard-won pursuit. Although I need him in the house to help me with our three small sons who are bugging me to death right now, I am so happy to see him so happy under that car. He’s gutting it and rebuilding it now. I love the light in his eyes.

Even I daydream of the time when he gets it running again, and we can and speed away from those three small sons for the evening. It will still be our dating car. Sometimes my mind seems to bend when I think back to our teenage selves, and how we ended up together, and our family and our years. I think back to that first ride in the Eclipse in nineteen-ninety-whatever, and his hands, and I think maybe I was able to picture this future – with that hard-won lift and these hard-won children, and the same Eclipse.[ii] It’s always been there.

The car was there when it drove him to the small high school where we met and saw each other every day.

The car was there when he drove to his mechanic job after school, instigating a lifetime obsession.

The car was there when my heart started to beat for him.

The car was there when we drove to our first date, an extremely old-fashioned little Tea Room in a woman’s house, where a husband and wife said they were sitting at the very table where they got engaged many years before. The man said to us, “You’re sitting at the courtin’ table, boy! When you gonna marry her?” (Yes, Virginia is The South.)

The car was there when we fell in love.

The car was there when we went to college, 500 miles apart, and the car made the trip between New York and Virginia for four years.

The car was there when he drove from New York in the night to surprise me, standing underneath my junior-year dorm room window, in a black trench coat, calling my name, like John Cusack in “Say Anything.”

The car was there, getting faster and faster and tougher and tougher under his ever-increasing mechanic experience.

The car was there at the drag strip with us, “a quarter mile at a time” as Vin Diesel ever-so-eloquently says in one of the Fasts and the Furiouses. We spent many date nights at the track. Usually I wasn’t allowed in the passenger seat, as my 115 pounds added “way too much weight” and slowed him down. But sometimes, when his times didn’t matter, I was riding beside him with my helmet, and it was the best rollercoaster in the world.

The car was there that one time it was so fast that my bony knees actually flew up into my face when he shifted.

The car was there, getting louder and louder, until it caught every cop’s eye, and set off every car alarm in every parking garage, in a row, as we drove past each one. (One of my favorite pastimes.)

The car was there when it had to be towed home again and again after a night of pushing it to its limits. That car was the only reason we had AAA.

The car was there when it got too big for its own britches and was no longer street legal. When it stopped passing inspections. When it couldn’t race anymore unless it could get a roll cage installed.

The car was there when we got pulled over many times, with cops on both sides of the car, shining lights in both our faces, yelling, “IS THIS YOUR CAR?”

The car was there, parked, for those three months that he had to bicycle his way to his internship every day, when his license was revoked.

The car was there when it took him across the country for another internship. When I returned from Italy, that car drove us from Washington state to Virginia at the end of that summer. We crossed the entire United States in that car,  even once crossing the border into Mexico.

The car was there, up on a dyno, out-powering all the other home-built racecars.

The car was there at our college graduations – first mine, then his.

The car was there when we got married in the temple, parked so quietly in the parking lot waiting for us to come back out. When we folded my handmade 40-yards-of-tulle-of-a-dress into it on that extremely hot and humid Virginia summer day (with no A/C because he had long ago pulled it out for being – wait for it – too heavy). When we arrived at our reception, sweaty and elated.

The car was there when we sped away from our reception with an enormous roar, and left our families behind for good. The car took us to our new life together.

The car was there at our first rental home. That whole first year of marriage when he commuted every day to the next state to be a racecar mechanic. That time it snowed three feet and got completely buried.

The car was there, probably smirking at me from the driveway, as I called my car insurance company to have my new husband added to my policy, and Allstate told me they would DROP ME if I added him and that car.

The car was there for our second year of marriage – an apartment, which did not suit us at all. With oil changes in the parking lot and much cursing.

The car was there when someone keyed it in that apartment parking lot and broke my husband’s heart.

The car was there, being towed on a flatbed behind the moving truck on our way to our first home that we owned. When we picked up a huge rescue dog to bring to our new home with us.

The car was there, taking us on drives through the countryside, with our new dog hanging her head out of the window, lapping at the mountain air.

The car was there, right behind me, the first time I drove a stick shift alone. He followed me part of the way to my job as a kindergarten teacher, so no one would park too close behind me at stoplights. Because I was still rolling backwards so much. The memory of his familiar racecar in my rearview mirror, when I was so nervous, still makes me smile. That’s true freaking love.

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I never know what I’m gonna find when I call him in for dinner.

The car was there every time my husband got the idea to tear it apart and make it bigger, better, faster – just to see if he could.

The car was there that time he made an entire second car for me from the leftover parts. And I drove it for a couple years, but the clutch was so stiff I often felt like crying when a stoplight turned red.

The car was there that time he raced it so hard he snapped an axle on the drag strip.

The car was there when I realized I couldn’t drive it anymore. That I would probably never drive it again. It became too much for me.

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Melted metal. One of these things is not like the other.

The car was there that time he pushed it so hard on the interstate in the middle of the night that he sent a piece of the engine straight through the firewall[iii]. When he made a huge hole in the engine block and left a hemorrhage of fluids for a mile. And his wife screamed at him for putting his life in danger over and over again.

The car was also there every time I screamed with joy at the fun we had going fast.

The car was there, parked in the garage underneath our bedroom, when we found out we were pregnant after years of trying.

The car was there, parked in the garage underneath our bedroom, when I began to miscarry the baby. When we came home from the hospital with only the knowledge that she was a girl.

And finally, one day when he was tearing the car apart for a semi-basic rebuild, our son came into our lives. We were parents. And the non-working car would sit quietly for the next seven years.

The car was there in our minds when we bought a bigger, nearly-foreclosed house with a detached garage – the reason we had purchased this house in the first place. The car had figured into our home-buying decision!

The car was there when we moved with a bigger moving truck this time, towing the racecar behind us on yet another flatbed.

The car was there when we made a huge permanent gash in our road from getting it off the flatbed.

The car was there when we pushed it down the hill and into the detached garage. When friends helped him get every wheel on a dolly so it could be moved around the garage.

The car got covered. Grew mold and dust as our family grew bigger. Twins. Three children under three. All hands on deck. House repairs that never stopped. Three children in diapers. Oh, the intensity. The car was never forgotten, though. We daydreamed about the glory days and the track and the romance and the speed, while we were covered in spit up and poop and were decidedly stationary.

And, then, one day the children were a little more independent. The house was stabilized – although it will never be finished. We had saved and saved and saved. My husband looked around and said it was time.

FB_IMG_1495119821851The car was there, sitting quietly, as he poured a concrete floor in around it in the garage. As he expanded the garage around it. As he installed a lift beside it. As he insulated the garage. As he learned how to wire the garage.

The car was there that day he and my brother rolled it off its little dollies, and pushed it onto the lift. When my husband smiled.

It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t run. What matters is that it’s possible it may run again someday. What matters is that my husband is happy.  What matters is that the kids don’t run our lives. What matters are the memories and the emotions and the shared experiences we both remember. We grew up together. And now we feel so very old because, yes, “the car makes us feel young again”. We can barely say that with a straight face, but it’s true anyway. That’s how we know we’re old. (Also, we know we’re old because the car is eligible for antique license plates now since it’s more than 25 years old. If it could qualify for plates.)

Today, the children run around us in the freshly painted garage, weaving around and under our racecar on our lift. They peek inside. They ask questions. They know it used to be faster than any car they see on the road. They do know that a Formula One racecar is faster, though. Because that’s faster than everything, they say. They know their Daddy built this car with his own hands. They know that he will build it again. They don’t care too much – but they will when they hear it roar to life for the first time. Will they ride in the backseat? We don’t even know.[iv] Probably not. It’s not street legal, after all.

Seven years since it has started up. Fifteen years since we left for our honeymoon in it. Twenty years since I first set eyes on his hands as he shifted. Twenty years.

****

[i] When Mr. Okayest read this sentence about my butterfly pants, he said, “I remember those pants!” I’m all like, “Yeah, because they probably blinded you.”

[ii] I’m lying. It’s not technically the same Eclipse, but for the sake of writing continuity, I fibbed. He got his first 1991 Eclipse when he was 16. He replaced it four years later with a turbo version. Same color, same year, same car. It’s the same car to me. Yeah yeah yeah. Just go with it.

[iii] Firewall? I originally wrote “dashboard” and he corrected it to “firewall,” but I have no idea what that means.

[iv] Mr. Okayest just said “definitely not.” Apparently he took out (and threw away) the backseat seatbelts years ago BECAUSE THEY WERE – wait for it – TOO HEAVY.

If Calling the Cops for a Noise Complaint Kills an Innocent Black Child, We Need to STOP.CALLING.THE.COPS.

Would Jordan Edwards still be alive if neighbors hadn’t called the cops with a noise complaint? I don’t know who made that call, but someone did.

Tonight, the cop who shot Jordan in the head with a rifle for no reason has just been charged with murder. I am overwhelmed with relief to see the justice system maybe start to work this time. But we need to stop for a minute and think about the person who made that call in the first place. Who was it? Was the person white? Was there another way this could have been resolved? Does the person who called realize what he or she has done?

We need to talk about this. We need to talk about the fact that we – especially we white people – need to carefully consider the impact of calling the police. One phone call can and will have much further-reaching consequences than we may ever know. (Or maybe we will know when it’s on the news that night.)

If calling the cops for a noise complaint can cause the death of an innocent Black child, we need to STOP.CALLING.THE.COPS.

Would the best-case scenario have been one more Black male sent into the prison-industrial complex? (See the documentary 13th if you haven’t already. Like now.) And the worst-case scenario is an innocent child murdered by a police officer in front of his two brothers. Who were then locked up in jail all night for no reason. While the father of those three boys drove around town searching for them.

I’m not going to describe Jordan with any word other than “innocent.” We know he had no drugs, no alcohol, no guns, and certainly no “driving toward the officer in an aggressive manner.” He was trying to leave. Jordan was undoubtedly innocent. But I refuse to describe him any other way. I’m not going to say he was well-liked. I’m not going to say he was a sports star. I’m not going to say he was popular. I’m not going to say he came from a good family. And I’m sure as heck not going to say he was an honor-roll student.

Every single article I’ve read about him has said all those things. As if that’s a way to prove to white people that he didn’t deserve to die. NO CHILD DESERVES TO DIE.  If he was unpopular, socially awkward, from a broken home, or in Special Ed, or flunking out, maybe living with autism or was intellectually disabled or wore his pants too low, then what? Every time the media says he was an “honor roll student”, we send the message that any child who isn’t any of those things isn’t worthy of protection from police violence.

My own son is sleeping safely in his bed right now. He’s seven years old. It’s nearing midnight on a rainy Friday spring evening. We live in the woods and the sound of the frogs is mesmerizing right now. We have soccer practice tomorrow morning. His white parents will drive him there in our stupid beige minivan. His grandma may come cheer for him. He’ll eat a dye-free and preservative-free organic lunch when he gets home. Will those things keep him safe from a police officer’s rifle through his side-window of his dad’s car when he’s a teenager who is trying to leave a party?

What if my son isn’t popular? What if he isn’t on the honor roll? What if he’s not good at sports? Then will the media report on him at all if he encounters police brutality in his adolescence?

One of the many reasons I can’t get Jordan Edwards out of my head is that I recently went to a Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) teach-in about – you guessed it – NOT  CALLING THE COPS. SURJ is a nationwide network that helps “organize white people” and educate them to help make changes. I see it as a way to teach white people how to support (and not take over) the Black Lives Matter movement. I try to go to their monthly meetings, where I have been learning so much. I’m just a baby in my own progress and in my understanding of the organization*, but so far, SURJ is a very valuable resource to me, and thus, to my son.

Anyway, after the teaching portion of the class (which always detonates all I thought I knew about the world and makes me rearrange my entire brain), we had to get in small groups. We were given various scenarios describing reasons for which white people might call the cops. Our assignment was to brainstorm all the different ways we could handle the situation instead of calling the police. My group was given the scenario of “there’s a loud party in the apartment next door and it’s really late” or something similar. I was in a group with my brother (who takes to radicalism very well, by the way) and a good friend. Being the shrinking violet that I am, I really had nothing to offer, other than something super helpful like, “put in some earplugs?” My brother and my friend were far more competent and, well, brave. They added things like:

-knock on their door and talk to them yourself
-call the building manager
-publicly shame them the next day with a letter on the communal bulletin board
-make more noise yourself to drown them out

Okay, okay, these were silly and tongue-in-cheek. But it was a brainstorming session. Now? Now it doesn’t seem like anything to take lightly. Now it seems like life and death.

BECAUSE IT WAS LIFE AND DEATH FOR JORDAN EDWARDS.

As a white girl, I have always believed – and  been taught – that police are the good guys. (Okay, okay, maybe not completely – my parents were hippies!**) We can go to the police for any help we could possibly need. That they can find my parents, fix my boo-boos, drive me home if I’m lost, and of course, “get” the bad guy. I am not anti-cop. Like most of us, I have friends and acquaintances who are police officers. But I DO have to unlearn what I’ve been taught. And I DO have to be careful how I teach my sons about police officers. I DO need to have “the talk” with my Black son. And I DO need to consider what could happen if I ever called the cops on my neighbors.

We need to know our neighbors. We have a responsibility to build a community. Not just live in a community, but build one. We need to solve our own problems. We need to lean on each other, instead of getting authorities involved unnecessarily. If we knew our neighbors better, wouldn’t we be better able to knock on their door and ask them to keep it down?

I’ve never called the cops on anyone. I’ve also never needed to call the cops on anyone. But now, my mind is opened. Thanks to SURJ, and thanks to Jordan Edwards, I can see farther. I know that one call could possibly put my neighbors into a system that could be inescapable.

And it could also possibly put a bullet into their heads.

We need to be accountable. If any of you white people have been saying that you want to help and you want to be an ally, well, this is one way: think twice before you call the cops. You may be protecting my child. And Jordan Edwards would still be alive.

Say his name.

*******

*I want to point out that I do not speak for SURJ and I do not necessarily represent their beliefs.

** I want to point out that I do not speak for my parents and do not necessarily reflect their beliefs. My parents would counter my hippie statement by saying they are too young to truly have been part of the hippie counter-culture. But you get my point.

Two-Year-Old Quotes, Twin Edition

Brothers

Alas, my dear readers, you have been so patient recently as I have tackled the not-so-funny topics of racism, politics, anxiety, and adoption. I reward your long-suffering with – ta-da! – some overdue twin quotes! You can see their personalities very clearly here. Anyway, two-year-olds were hilarious. And exhausting.  (Note: “E” refers to “Twin A” and “G” refers to “Twin B”. I’m not consistent. And yes, I know they are four years old now, not two. I’m slow. So what?!)

***ONE LINERS***

To his Daddy
E: You has a zipper on your pants?! Wow, that’s scary!

When I put a hat on his head:
E: Ears, where are you, ears?

Holding my camera
G: This Mommy’s cheese!

Asking for Tylenol
E: I need two mess-a-sins.

Running to the dinner table
E: Here I come, Kabobs!

Asking for “fish sticks”
E: Can we have dick dicks for dinner?

The first time I wore a scrunchi in my hair
E [worried]: You has a snake in your hair, Momma?

As G sat on my lap
E, with a look of concern: He squished your penis?

Watching Daddy do pull-ups with no shirt
E: Daddy, whoa you’re tired. Now you go put on some clothes.

As I zipped up his hoodie
G: My tummy’s not here!

To his grandfather
G: I has a poop. You have a poop too?

While peeing on his little potty
E: Oh man! We forgot to show this to [Grandma]!

Waking up
E: today is a new day?

E: Your hands are cold, Mommy. You need a coat on your hands.

E: When I get big, I’m gonna have hair on my cheeks. And my arms.

G: You makin tator tots? Oh, that’s so nice, Mommy!

E: Daddy’s at work. Brother’s at school. Now it’s just me and us.

Daddy: Use BOTH hands to clean up. Look, you just doubled your productivity.

Unknown Twin: I’m a big boy cuz I grew feet now.

Unknown Twin: Sometimes I cry a lot. Sometimes I don’t.

Unknown twin: My doggie will be waiting for me. He will be so happy to love me.

G: Christmas is over? Santa Claus not coming to town?

***G’S MANNERS PROBLEM***

G: More cookie.
Daddy: What do you say?
G: Please?
Daddy: Please what?
G: Please me.

Loudly, during the sacrament at church
G: I WANT ICE CREAM.

G, on a grocery trip
To a teenage boy: Hi, Daddy!
To a fat man with a beard: Hi, Jesus!
To a mom with a cart: DON’T CRASH ME!

At the table
G: I want more milk.
Me: [blank stare while waiting for manners]
G: I want more milk.
Me: [blank stare while waiting for manners]
E, trying to help: You have to say please!
G: CHEESE! [pretends to take picture] I want more milk.

Me: Do you want an Eskimo kiss or a lip kiss?
G: A NOISY lip kiss!
[*kiss*]
G: NO, NOISIER!

***AWWWW***

While hugging me
E: I make you happy!

While looking at a picture of himself
E: Oh, that’s me. So cute.

After taking his big brother to kindergarten for his first day of school
E: Now we miss him.

When he had bad diaper rash
E: Don’t change me harder!

E: Our Daddy is a smart Daddy. He can fix cars and trees and houses.

G, to me: I love you too much.

***THE WORD “CRACKED” BECOMES “CRAPPED” FOR A WEEK***

G: I crapped my shoe. My shoe is crapped.

G: The big crap! The egg crapped!

It’s crapping.

Somebody crapped this.

This crap!

***STRANGE RELIGION***

While driving a car on top of a picture of Jesus
E: I hit Jesus. I drive Jesus. I kiss Jesus.

After church
Me: What did you do in nursery?
G: Ba-yoons [balloons] and Jesus.
Me: Did you have a snack?
G: Yes. Fishies and crayons.

***WEIRD CONVERSATIONS***

Me: I’m just kidding.
E: You not a kitty cat. You a momma, momma!

Older brother: Don’t eat bullets!
E: Only eat dinner!

Me, while changing his diaper: It’s just a little poop.
E: It’s not humongous. Just a little pew.

E: Brother wears underwear?
Me: Yes.
E: Momma wears underwear?
Me: Yes
E [triumphantly]: And Daddy wears a penis!

Me: Can I help you carry that big truck?
G: NO! I help me!

Me: Why didn’t you sleep at nap? That was a bad choice.
G [bored]: I sleeped at night.

Me: Daddy fixed the van. Isn’t he smart?
E: Daddy isn’t fart.

When both twins climbed on my lap simultaneously while naked
E: I won’t poop on you, Momma.
G: I won’t poop on you.

As I got out of the shower
E: That your bottom? Where your poop?
G: [pokes my butt] That your bottom? Where your poop?

While eating a burrito
Me: I hope you’re not making a mess.
E: No. I not making a mess. I just doing a lot of poking it.

Me: You’re my honey!
E: And you’re my toast. I eat you.

Looking at my sweatshirt pocket
E: That your baby comin out?

Me: Don’t eat egg shell. It’s not good for your body.
E: You’re not good for my body.

G: Grammy, you have a bottom?
Grammy: Yes
G: Can I see it?
Grammy: No
G: It’s all yucky?

E: Mommy, he hit me!
G: I didn’t hit you! I pushed you!
E: Mommy, he pushed me!

***LAST BUT NOT LEAST… MY FAVORITE***

G: You has a penis, Mommy?
Me: No.
G: Daddy take it away?

*******

I have a long history with quote-giving. If you liked this one, check out my other ones:

2-Year-Old Kid Quotes

3-Year-Old Kid Quotes

3-Year-Old Kid Quotes, Part 2

Four-Year-Old Kid Quotes

Geez, kids

Verbal Twin Fights, Two-Year-Old Edition

Momma Quotes

*******

A  Meme That Changed My Life?

Scrolling through Instagram, to escape my kids and my brain (both of which were driving me crazy), I saw a meme that changed my life.

Hold up. Say whaaaat? Yep, I’m for real. I might be exaggerating a wee bit, but it was still important. A friend had posted a meme that was a quote by Mooji, a “spiritual teacher” from Jamaica. It said:

“Feelings are just visitors. Let them come and go.”

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My own version of that meme

Those words just happened to hit me at the right moment. I could use any cliché here to describe what happened: it clicked, lightbulb moment, “aha” moment. What happened was a profound and real paradigm shift in my thinking.

I am not my thoughts. I am not my feelings. I am not my guilt.

These things are actually separate from me. And they are temporary. If they are visitors (maybe not the more favorable word choice of “guests”), that means they will leave. Eventually.

It’s not as if I’d never done my homework before. I know about retraining your brain by changing your thoughts. I know about cognitive distortions. I know about cognitive behavioral therapy. I have a Bachelors’ degree in Psychology (granted, it’s old); I have listened to professionals; I have read books. I have even read books on this very topic. I have probably even seen almost identical doofy self-help quotes on social media every day for years. I had thought I understood what my brain was doing and how to change it. But somehow, somehow, despite all of that, my brain didn’t actually accept that “feelings are just visitors” until this one stupid (or amazing) meme.

A mom with depression, anxiety, or simply a guilt-prone personality, might see a children’s book lying on the floor at night after the children are in bed. This kind of self-deprecating mom will have some or all of the following thoughts:

“I promised my child I would read that book to him, and I didn’t. He will never trust me if I don’t mean what I say.”

“I don’t read to my children enough. I’m a former teacher; I KNOW how important reading is. What is wrong with me?”

“I can’t keep this house clean to save my life. My husband will think I’m lazy.”

“Why are there always books on the floor? Haven’t I taught my children to respect books? Maybe they never actually see me reading books myself. I’m on my phone too much. Have they even seen me pick up a novel?”

“My husband will be stressed by this mess when he comes home. Why can’t I get it together?”

A mom with a healthier line of thinking – or (let’s be honest) A DAD – will look at that same book and think:

“There is a book on the floor.”

And that’s it. A fact with no blame. Maybe that person would go so far as to put the book away, or make plans to read it to his child tomorrow, but there would be no judgment attached to the thought.

Mr. Okayest is so very good at simply seeing that there is a dang book on the floor. I say that with awe and respect. It’s one of the things I love best about him. He’s factual (so he adds no blame to anything), but simultaneously so loving (because he can factually see where I differ from him, and he can see it without blame). He’s a good example to me, and a huge help to me.

I’m fairly certain I’m a non-judgy person. The older I get, the more gray area I see. The more wiggle room. I am pretty sure I follow “live and let live” and “love your neighbor” and “meet people where they are.” I think I almost always remember that everyone is fighting invisible battles and will do things differently than I will. (I even consulted with my husband to be sure that I really am that kind of person.)

So WHY OH WHY do I judge myself so harshly? I’m realizing that every single thought and feeling about myself comes with 1) judgment, and 2) directing it inward. Making it a part of my personality.

Instead of saying “I’m so anxious”, I’m now going to say, “I have a temporary feeling of anxiety.” It is not me, and it is not permanent. Instead of telling myself “I am a bad mother”, I will try to reframe it and think, “I have a feeling of inadequacy that will pass.” It is not me, and it is not permanent.

Now that my brain had finally assimilated all that, I began my research anew. With new lenses on. I went back to the books, information from professionals, journals, articles, and read many of them again, with a new understanding of how to really apply it to my own self. While reading an article about how to help children with their anxiety, I learned that you can teach your children that thoughts are like a train. Each thought or feeling or emotion is a train car. They are not actually YOU. They are passing by. You can watch them pass, and you can do so without putting any blame on those train cars.

I have actually been applying this simplistic children’s advice to myself. I had to start practicing when the children were in bed, or in preschool. I was not able to retain the self-control, or time, to practice it when they were around and demanding things in triplicate – and I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. I am not a visual person (I like words – duh), so imagining a train passing by whenever I recognized a negative or anxious feeling is not natural for me. It takes a lot of effort. But, to my surprise, it was actually working. I found that often I had to picture my stupid negative train slowing to a stop at my station, because the feelings wouldn’t budge for a while. But remembering that those feelings were separate from me, no matter how long they parked there, was a revelation.

I practiced this visualization and thought retraining (oh, semi-nice pun!) for about two weeks before I was actually able to stop a full-blown anxiety attack in its tracks. (Ohhh, super nice pun!) I left the kids to their Legos and went to my room and shut the door. (I could not have done this two years ago. I am able to steal moments away now that the twins are four and not constantly in mortal danger.) I sat in my happy papasan chair and stared out my window. I slowed my breathing and pictured my stupid train. I repeated my stupid meme quote. “Feelings are just visitors. Let them come and go.” I did it. I de-escalated myself. I waited until I was really sure of that fact, and then I went back to my children.

At a recent adoption conference, I heard an adult adoptee (who is also a rapper) say that if we are caring for foster children, traumatized children, adopted children, special needs children, then we have a responsibility to get it together mentally in order to help them. He, of course, mentioned the ubiquitous oxygen mask analogy, which I have often heard and thought I had understood. But, for some reason, the way he phrased it changed everything. He said something like, “If you are the kind of person who is willing to care for children of trauma, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t think about herself. Who doesn’t put herself first. So I’m going to frame this from that perspective. Taking care of yourself and your own mental health IS being selfless, because it enables you to care for the needs of your child. You have to get it together yourself in order to BE SELFLESS enough to care for that kid.”

Straight into my heart and leaking out my eyes.

The oxygen mask analogy never really sat well with me, because, seriously, I don’t know if I can even FIND my oxygen mask. (Also, I am wary of the “saviorism” mentality that many white adoptive parents have without knowing it. I do not believe I am “selfless” for having adopted. Nor do I assume that my child is “better off with me.” I benefited from this man’s words because he was helping me figure out how to best help my child.) But this adult Black male adoptee who had been to prison and to college was telling me that taking the time to work out my own sh!t was for the good of my child. … And somehow it sunk in this time. Somehow, even though I may have heard it a hundred different times in a hundred different ways, and even though I had thought I had understood it, my brain and heart were actually finally ready to assimilate it.

Why am I ready now? Why is years of already-gathered information suddenly resonating? Maybe it’s because the kids are older, and I am actually able to take those five minutes to myself in my bedroom while they play Legos. Maybe it’s because my anxiety is already more controlled with professional help. Maybe it’s because I’m not in emergency mode anymore. Maybe it’s because I am being blessed by a higher power. Maybe because I can see, as my kids get older, how my mental health does – and will – affect them. Maybe it’s because I’m freaking sick of living like that.

***

The man who spoke to us was SaulPaul (who has given TED talks before). When he was done making me cry, he got out his guitar and sang all of us adoptive parents a song he wrote about his grandmother who adopted him. It’s called “Mama” and you can hear it here. 

 

 

And a heartfelt thank you to the friend who originally posted that meme… you know who you are and I love you.

Sooo… About Yesterday…. Lord Have Mercy

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This photo was taken a few minutes after one of them fell down those stairs … and the dog tried to eat the underwear. We’re good.

As my southern Grandma used to say under her breath, “Lord have mercy!” (And when we say that, we are not using the Lord’s name in vain, because we only say it when we are SERIOUSLY IN NEED OF ASSISTANCE.)

I’m not sure I even believe all the things that happened yesterday. It was so bad, it should have been funny. But I didn’t have time to laugh.

I did the mom-juggle of getting one kid on the bus while caring for/ ignoring the other two. Once he was on the bus, I focused on the twins… Wait.

You know what? I’m just gonna bullet point this one. No use writing it all out nice and neat, because the day was not nice and neat. It was bullet points of pee, poop, nearly-grave injury, and a long relationship with the Social Services office. Here we go, in chronological order:

  • While trying to get ready for the gym (don’t make fun – I’m repairing the damage the twins did to me with strength training classes), Twin B started bawling because he “just wanted to play” instead of going to the most awesome gym daycare in the whole world. Seriously, it has a three-story climbing maze thing and skylights. Kid, your First World Problem problem is showing.
  • I finally got him calmed down by promising him he could bring two monster trucks in the car. I then sent Twin A into the garage to keep himself busy by trying to buckle his seatbelt with no assistance; I sent Twin B into the bathroom for one last pee before leaving.
  • What is taking him so long? Ah. There it is. Pee had sprayed everywhere. When I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. Toilet, clothes, floor, wall, door. If it was in that bathroom, it was soaked.
  • Tried to clean him up, change him, clean the bathroom, and keep the dog away, all without damaging his already-fragile emotional state. Meanwhile, good ole steady Twin A was still trying to buckle his seatbelt in the garage, while occasionally shouting good-natured updates on his progress.
  • Got everyone in the van, and into the gym, and was extremely late to my strength training class. (First World Problem, I know. Not complaining.) I did humor the instructor by explaining exactly why I was late. The consequence of being that late was that I was the very last one left in class after everyone had completed their circuits. I may or may not have shouted to the last person to leave, “Don’t leave me alone with him!” My trainer had plenty of time to focus on me and what I’m doing wrong and how much harder I need to work. Plus, it was super awk-weird. Thanks, Twin B.
  • When leaving the gym, we needed to “swing by” the county Social Services office. Yeah, so, I learned that you don’t just “swing by” the Social Services office. Especially when you have potty training kids. And, may I just say, the twins were strangely silenced by the angry people shouting into the intercom thing at the caseworkers behind the glass. Good thing, too, because we waited in that line for 40 minutes. A small child terrorized my twins so badly while in line, I shook my finger at him and said “NO!” when he began beating on one of them. The other mothers in line nodded their approval at me. Finally got to the front of the line and got my paperwork.
  • Leaving the Social Services office, feeling grateful for the sunshine and the mostly-well-behaved children trailing behind me, I optimistically announced that they deserved some rare McDonald’s for lunch. But I’m not crazy enough to let them into a restaurant. We definitely went through the drive-though.
  • Got home, ready to relax with my adorable children and some well-deserved french fries, and realized that I needed to call a social services number for a certain question about this paperwork that I should have asked the lady behind the glass. Have you ever called any Social Services number? Yeah, I was stuck on a “menu option” recorded message for six minutes. Then on hold for about 20. Then got through to someone and got a bad answer to my question. Meanwhile, twins finished their food and began to fight. I threw some letter stickers at them.
  • Realized I had to call our caseworker. She called back when the twins were fighting worse. Of course. I hid in the bathroom and try to hear her. She told me that the paper I needed wasn’t at the Social Services office that I just stood in line for 40 minutes with twins to get, but instead is already filled out and in my possession. “Remember when we filled that out together in November?” She’s right. I remembered. My brain sputtered.
  • I send the twins upstairs for “quiet time”, which really means, “beat each other up more quietly so momma doesn’t actually know you’re fighting” time. I needed to focus on finding this paperwork. I am a lifelong pile-maker. I just cannot, cannot, manage my paperwork. I am an otherwise organized and responsible person, though, I swear.
  • I began to tear through my piles – first quickly, superficially, then back through the piles again more slowly and systematically. My hands began to shake as I realized just how irresponsible it was that I had lost this paperwork. I AM NOT THIS PERSON.
  • My mind began to sabotage me by yelling things in my head like, “WHAT KIND OF MOTHER LOSES THIS KIND OF PAPERWORK FOR A SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD?” I started to cry. I knelt down in my mess of papers and prayed. I told the Lord that I might not be worthy of his help, but my special needs child was, and please help me find this for my son’s sake.
  • I resumed the search. I tore through paper piles in the kitchen, the master bedroom, and even in the garage. Nothing. Nothing but tears and my own shame.
  • Suddenly, without thinking, I calmly walked into the TV room, pulled a binder off the bookshelf labeled “IEP”, and saw the paperwork. All of it. I really had no memory of deciding to walk into that room, or thinking about any IEP binder. I still have no idea why it was even in there. My body just found it. You can call it muscle memory, or a subconscious memory… or you can call it an answer to a prayer. I know what I call it.
  • I sank to the floor with gratitude. I put my forehead to the laminate and offered a prayer of thanks.
  • “Momma, can you check my underwear for poop?” yelled one twin, while the other twin simultaneously yelled, “I have to go pee-pee!”
  • I raised my head from my laminate. I shouted up the stairs to the poop problem, “Come down here right now!” and then yelled to the pee problem, “Well, go to the potty up there right now!”
  • One twin shuffled down to me, and I put him on the hall bath toilet. The other twin got on the upstairs toilet. I got to work cleaning up the messy underwear and kid, while trying to shoo the huge dog away.
  • THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD WAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!
  • A twin had fallen down the stairs. The wooden stairs. All of them. And landed at my feet, right beside the hall bath toilet.
  • I think I was screaming. I’m not sure. My brain was already working the motherhood miracle of simultaneously scanning for injuries, considering the needs of the other twin, plotting a 911 call or a minivan race to the hospital, and also, of course, the dog who wants to eat the poopy underwear on the floor.
  • Within milliseconds, I was holding the fallen twin in my arms, trying to snuggle him while flipping him all over for injuries. He was screaming. Open the mouth, move the hair all around, lift the shirt, squeeze and turn the ankles and wrists, and burrow that poor child into my bony chest. He was okay. How?!
  • And I had poop on my right hand. Why?!
  • And the other twin was off the potty, with a not-yet-clean bottom, desperate to check on his brother.
  • And the dog was nosing at the poopy underwear.
  • We sat like that for a while. I tried to keep my poop hand in the air and snuggle and fix boo-boos with just my clean hand. I told the other twin not to sit down. For heaven’s sake, DON’T SIT DOWN. I yelled at the dog. She’s deaf, though. Oh well.
  • Finally, the fallen twin was able to get up. Through tears and sniffles, he explained to me what happened. He had been standing on the next-to the top stair, backwards, while trying to balance on one foot. HAVE I TAUGHT YOU NOTHING? NOTHING AT ALL?!
  • I resumed cleaning the soiled twin. I got the soiled clothes to the laundry room. (“Laundry room”? Who am I kidding? The laundry closet.)
  • WE HAVE TO GET TO THE GROCERY STORE!!! We are so late! If we didn’t leave then, we wouldn’t be back in time for their brother’s bus. (Mom Math.) The twins had been softened by their recent escapades, and we successfully brought back groceries for six people who eat like grown men. They even helped me unload and put everything in the pantry, including the bacon and milk.
  • The bus arrived. My three boys fought each other for a while outside in the fresh air. They soaked up some Vitamin D while beating an old Christmas wreath to death with large sticks and then running it over with various wheeled vehicles. Then they worked together as a team to hurl it, discus-like, across the yard an impressive distance.
  • My husband got home late. He had had a bad day at work. I listened sympathetically. I love him and for real don’t want him to have bad days. I hugged him tight.
  • He said, “So did you guys do anything today?”

Lord, have mercy.

But he did have mercy. Maybe not on me, but certainly on my twin who fell down the stairs. Much like that time my son fell off the deck while peeing and landed naked on a rock, this child was miraculously fine. I cannot fathom how he could not have been injured. I witnessed the somersaults down the last three of those steps – there is no way he should be okay.

There are angels watching over our little ones. And these children are made of rubber. The Lord did have mercy.

I’m so tired.

The Powerlessness of Not Having a Voice

My son almost ran in the road, and I had no voice with which to stop him. My story is a literal one, but the analogies I take from it are numerous.

My sons were playing outside on a mild January day. I was sick that day, lying in bed, feeling guilty for being sick. (Ah, the perks of motherhood!) I had lost my voice, and my children had been uncharacteristically alarmed by my baritone squawking that morning. My husband kindly bundled them up and took them outside with him while he was working in the garage.

wp-1486487754623.jpgThis is my view from my sick bed. The boys were throwing sticks down that embankment. Yes, it leads to the road, and yes, I briefly wondered if they were going to hit any cars with that stick-throwing. My boys know not to go down the embankment, into the ditch, or into the road. However, Twin B is quite … forgetful. Suddenly, I saw Twin B follow a thrown stick and run down the embankment and out of sight. I raced to the window and threw it open, knowing full well I had no time to run to downstairs and to the door. I had no idea if my husband had seen Twin B, and I had no time to wonder. My body completely forgot about being sick as the momma adrenaline kicked in. As I slammed open the window and leaned out, I screamed, “STOP!”

Only nothing came out.

No sound. No voice. No nothing. Having forgotten I was sick, my surprise turned quickly to terror. My son was probably running into the road and I was completely powerless. I had no voice. At all. There was nothing I could do quickly enough. Panic.

Our dog is deaf, but she can hear loud clapping. So, thinking quickly, treating my children like dogs, I leaned out the window as far as I could and clapped as loudly as I could. My hands stung. My heart was on fire, too. Where was he? Would he hear me?

Once in a while, having twins is wonderful: Twin A, an obedient, empathic brother’s keeper, heard my frantic claps, looked up at the window, yelled, “What, Momma?” I pointed to the road with crazy gesturing. Bless his little four-year-old heart: he understood. He retrieved his twin. As soon as I saw them both come back up over the embankment, I raced down the stairs to yell at Twin B with my non-voice. They were fine.

Later, during a quiet moment (probably after they were in bed, because that is the only quiet), I reflected on that feeling of pure terror I had when I realized I had no voice with which I could protect my child. The fear. The helplessness. We often hear versions of the phase “they have no voice” when reading about oppressed groups of people. It made me ponder many of my favorite quotes with a new understanding.

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“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!” –Frederick Douglass

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” –Desmond Tutu

“White silence is violence” – my protest sign

“Hear Our Voice” –an official logo of the Women’s March

wp-1489081101207.jpgThat is why Black Lives Matter. That is why refugees matter. That is why Muslims matter. None of these groups of people have the same voice that I do. I am a middle-class white blonde American woman. Simply being born that way is privilege. I truly believe I am obligated to use that privilege to help others. I am obligated to use my voice for others who have no voice. Staying quiet is no longer an option. Change will not happen if we don’t speak up. Literally. Speak. I never want any mother to feel powerless to help her child.

 

***

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in, Naked, and ye clothed me. I was sick, and ye visited me. I was in prison, and ye came unto me…Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:35-40

“Fighting for Your Kid” Really Just Means Trying Again

During my first year of teaching kindergarten, a more experienced teacher kindly said to me, “Sometimes being a good teacher just means showing up again the next day.”

I never forgot that.

Sometimes being a good mother just means showing up again the next day. Trying again the next day.

Every teacher struggles tremendously during the first years. I had a student with some serious emotional challenges that I really was not equipped to handle. I went home and sobbed to my husband that I wasn’t going back, he couldn’t make me, and I was going to work at Walmart. Somehow I managed to go back to school the next day, and the next day, and the next day. I wasn’t the best teacher for that boy who was struggling, but we struggled together. I remember trying to approach him from a different angle the next day: I kneeled down, at his eye level, and very gently painted his hands with an empty paintbrush. He looked me in the eyes. Everything was not smooth sailing after that, but it was a start. I was an emotional wreck sometimes, and I could have done a thousand things better and differently, but I did the best that I could at the time.

And I tried again the next day.

And the next day.

Now that I am in the belly of the beast of motherhood, I recall that lesson I learned from that wise teacher and that hurting child. Being a good mother means showing up and trying again the next day.

My Mom is Just Okay

My Mom is Just Okay

We have some really bad days around here. I don’t subscribe to the “rainbows and unicorns” mentality. Adoption is not easy. Sometimes it’s not even pretty. Or nice. And saying that doesn’t disrespect my child. In fact, it’s the opposite. Being honest about these feelings gives my child respect, because I respect him enough to give his feelings room to just… be.

And having twins is not easy. Sometimes it’s not pretty. Or nice. And having a child with special needs is … well, gut-wrenchingly painfully invisibly hard. It keeps a mother awake at night, going over every single thing she did wrong. Beating herself in the chest for the ways she wasn’t patient enough or sympathetic enough or just ENOUGH. Or that she hasn’t researched enough, dug deep enough, learned enough.

I have had to come to terms with the fact that I absolutely cannot be ENOUGH for any of my children. Maybe if they were all perfect singletons with no special needs. Maybe if their human and flawed mother didn’t have migraines, or anxiety…. just imagine how much better she could do. But, this blog isn’t called “Okayest Mom” for nothing. I’m okay, and I know it, and that has to be ENOUGH. I’m getting there.

All of that emotional vomit is just to say: I try again the next day. That is what makes a me a good mother.

There are meltdowns and problems so serious here that it makes me feel like giving up, for real. (I don’t mean to vague-post, but I need to protect the confidentially of my children and their medical privacy, of course.) But what does “giving up” mean, exactly, when you’re a mother? That I wouldn’t get out of bed and feed them? That I would walk to the mailbox and keep on walking? That I would drop them off at their grandma’s house and not come back? Believe me, thoughts like these have crossed my mind. (And if they haven’t crossed your mind, too, maybe you don’t have the challenges we have in this house. You can’t know, and I can’t know, unless we move in with each other.)

But I haven’t. I haven’t given up. I try again the next day, no matter how tired or how completely empty my tank is.

I have heard myself, and other mothers too, say with our Mama Bear passion that we would fight for our children. There have been times that I have fought hard for my children – for county services, medical attention, and even respect. Any mother knows that Mama Bear feeling. We have all been there and done that. Mother to mother, we know that we have all fought for our children in times of crisis.

But I have realized that “fighting for my child” sometimes means just showing up again the next day. It’s the constant, mundane, day-to-day stuff. It’s the meltdowns. It’s the challenges. It’s the invisible problems. It’s the days when you want to give up. It’s trying again.

That is fighting for your child.

 

 

Guest Post: What Being a Single Mom Means to Me

This article is the seventh in a series of guest posts. I have invited a variety of friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them. 

Today’s author is Betsi, a young single mother whom I met at church. She correctly pointed out that I’ve not yet had any guest posts by single mothers! Despite being something like a decade and a half older than her, I greatly enjoy Betsi’s company, and, furthermore, I respect her very much. She also quite eerily reminds me of Sarah, my best friend from high school (featured here, and here, and here, by the way). Is it her mannerisms? Her style? Doesn’t matter, cuz Betsi is one-of-a-kind anyway. Here’s Betsi:

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Almost a year ago Mrs. Okayest asked me to write a guest blog on my experience of motherhood. Over the last year I sat down to write this many times to no avail.

Until recently, that is.

You see, I am a single mother… well I am, but I am also not. I am single in the relationship sense, but I most certainly am not a single mother. I am surrounded by support. I may not have the fathers of my children supporting them, but I do have a village.

My village is composed of many people; my parents, my brothers and sisters and their significant others, my mom friends, my dad friends, even my childless friends.

I’ll give you an example: Both of my parents were in Germany for 10 days recently, leaving me alone to fend for myself. During this time I had my 6 month postpartum pap smear, a therapy appointment, and a psychiatrist appointment. I had 3 different friends watch my eldest on the 3 different days. Each friend took her longer than they had to and did some fun activity with her that she had never done before.

When I asked my facebook friends if anyone could watch Z, my eldest, they jumped on the opportunity. I had many offers of help. (The would watch baby E too if she weren’t so fussy and still exclusively breastfeeding!)

I have an amazing support system, I could not have asked for better people to be a part of me and my children’s lives. I know we are loved and cared for.

So, yeah, I don’t have a boyfriend or a husband and neither of my children’s fathers are involved at all, but I am by no means a single mother.

***

Have an idea for my next post? If you’d like to write for my blog, please send Okayest Mom a message via my Facebook page. Let me know what angle you’d like to see featured here and why you’d be the best writer for the job. Currently, I’m especially interested in writings about special needs, race, or something written from the male perspective. 

In the Two Minutes It Took Me to Order at Chick-Fil-A

Why would I brave Chick-Fil-A with two crazy three-year-old boys? Because they have that play area – the one that is enclosed in GLASS. I can sit in silence while they play. We can be two inches apart, yet separated by a wall of glass. If I hadn’t found a way to silence them that morning, I would have put their foam swords through my ears. (By the way, the wall of glass should be in all minivans –  like in a limousine.)

We never go out to eat. This was a rare treat. The weather had been terrible and we all needed to get some space get some exercise. So, upon arriving at the Chick-Fil-A parking lot, I turned around and (in my most grave voice), gave them a pep talk in the van. Stay close to Momma. Sit on your bottom. Eat food. Leave without crying.

We walked in the door. They walked wide-eyed with me to the cash register. Suddenly I heard a loud car alarm. Sheesh, why won’t someone turn that off? In the time it took me to order two kids’ meals, my kids*:

    • Set off the panic button on my van
    • Waved at a black man and yelled in his face, “HI, DADDY!” (Our dad is white.)
    • Saw a soldier wearing fatigues and yelled in his face, “HI, SOLDIER! You in your jammies?!?”
    • Body-slammed a wheelchair of a very old Grandma. A wheelchair!
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The tiny great-grandmother

***

By “my kids,” I of course mean, “Twin B”.

The Black Social Worker Who Apologized to Me About Her Own Hair

She had absolutely no need to apologize to me. What is wrong with this world right now?

When I opened my door to her, I saw that she was a large African-American woman. Large in stature and in personality. She had a loud, cheerful, and commanding voice. She was big-boned, and wearing high heels, and a huge coat and huge earrings and a huge purse. Everything about her was big. I liked her immediately.

In every way, she had the power in this situation. She was older than me; she was more lively than me; she was bigger than me. And most of all, she was a social worker who had the services that I need for one of my sons. I deferred to her in every way.

On her head was a scarf, or a headwrap, tied with a front top knot. It was beautiful.

As she stepped into my home, she immediately pointed to her head and quickly said, “I’m not Muslim. I’m sorry; this is just for my hair.”

My mouth dropped open.

“Ma’am,” I said, “You are welcome to be Muslim or not Muslim in this home. Please do not apologize for that. You do not owe me any explanation.” (Besides, we have Muslim family members.)

This happened just two weeks after the presidential election. Hate crimes are on the rise. Racism – and every other kind of “ism” – is out in the open. People are angry. People are scared. And people are apparently apologizing for things that they should not be.

A Black woman, in a position of power, was apologizing to me, a white woman, for wearing a head scarf. It was awful. I don’t know much about African-American headwraps, but I do know that they can be worn for reasons that are cultural, historical, religious, stylish, or just plain practical. And NONE of those reasons are any of my business.

wp-1488304372906.jpgAs she walked down my hallway, she looked at pictures of my transracial family on the wall and asked if my one of my sons was Black. “Yes, he is. Isn’t he handsome?” I invited her to sit down and we did an hour’s worth of paperwork together. She began to slip in a few questions here and there that I know had nothing to do with the paperwork.

I have noticed times when Black adult men and women have taken my son into their fold, if only for a minute or two, to reach out to him. To check on him. Not every Black family will like us, or even approve of us, but I often see them pay attention to my son. This was one of those times.

She asked, “What does he say about having different skin than you?”

She asked, “How does he feel about his white brothers?”

Later, she asked, “Have you and your husband had conversations about how the current political climate will affect your son?”

These were questions that had nothing to do with the Social Services paperwork we were completing. These were questions from one Black woman to check on one Black boy. And I appreciated it greatly. I love knowing that, even in this ugly world, he has strangers looking out for him.

When the visit was nearly over, she said, “You and your husband sound like you are doing the best for your son. I have experienced a lot of racism in my life and in my career, but I still have hope, especially when I see people like you.”

I was touched by her unexpected compliment. I could have just said “thank you” and sent her on her way. But I asked her if she could share any of her experiences with racism. I explained that I was asking not out of nosiness, but out of a desire to gather more information as a mother of a Black son.

She told me of a time that she was warned that a certain child’s guardians, the grandparents, were very racist, and that she shouldn’t go visit them. The social worker went anyway – because she had a job to do. When she knocked on their door, two angry-looking people opened the door. She quickly explained who she was and that she was there for their granddaughter.

Before she could finish talking, the woman said, “We don’t talk to no n*****s.”

Instead of walking away or cursing back, the social worker simply sat down on a chair on their porch. Since she knew she wouldn’t get into the house, she sat there on the porch and said, “Please try to see past my skin color and work with me for your granddaughter.”

The man said, “You have five seconds.”

That social worker didn’t get angry. (How?!) She didn’t even feel surprised. (Why?!) And she didn’t give up. She helped that girl graduate high school that year and even attended her graduation ceremony. The grandparents were there. The grandmother came up to her and said, “I still don’t like your kind, but I appreciate what you did for my granddaughter.”

You know what is the most shocking part of this story to me? It’s not even the use of the n-word. The most shocking part of this story is the fact that the social worker told it to me as an example of hope. She went on to explain how wonderful it was that the grandmother “came around.” To her, it was proof of the fact that people can change. Even though the grandfather wouldn’t look at her. Even though the grandmother wouldn’t shake her hand. Even though the grandmother still said, “I don’t like your kind.”

That’s hope?

It is my white privilege that I am shocked by that story.

The social worker told me that she predicted six months ago that Trump would win. She said her white friends laughed at her. She knew. She wasn’t surprised by the results of the election. Not like I was. Not like white people were. Her lived experiences told her that this result was likely.

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On our wall at home

And now her lived experiences were telling me that her “hope” and “progress” are not defined the same way as mine. And now her lived experiences were prompting her to apologize to me for wearing her hair the way she needed.

This world is just not what I thought it was. I’m so very sorry that it took me 37 years to see it. I’m so very sorry that I didn’t pay attention until I had to pay attention. I wish I had learned so much more before my Black son was placed in my arms. I’ve been blind.

How much more do I need to learn to keep my son safe? It will never be enough. My white privilege will not protect him. While he’s little and cute, my privilege may shield him like an umbrella. But soon, when he starts to look like more of a man, my white privilege will only hurt him. If my white privilege continues to give me blinders to the way the world really will be for him – if it prevents me from teaching him and preparing him to keep himself safe – then it will harm him.

I don’t ever want him to have to apologize for his Blackness. Or his hair. Or his head coverings (hoodies?). I don’t want him to define “hope” as someone who won’t shake the hand of his kind. But what I want doesn’t matter. I need to see the world through different eyes.

Her eyes. His eyes.

 

Diary of a Woman Who Has Three Hours to Herself (to Squish In Everything)

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[preschool dropoff]

Woohoo! I’m free!

Are they ok? Wait, doesn’t one of them have a stomachache?

I’m a bad mom for needing to send them away.

I’m so happy!

[anxiety attack]

Breathe slowly, you idiot!

I’m really gonna enjoy my time off this time.

I’m not going to waste it.

I have to stop at this store first.

Dang it, they don’t have it.

Just one more store.

They don’t have it.

Argh! I’ve wasted a whole hour. For no reason!

Drive home faster so you can relax faster, you dork.

This anxiety attack is giving me an anxiety attack because I’m wasting time on the anxiety attack.

What do I even want to do? What do I even like anymore?

Oh, lemme just look up this thing online. Maybe I can find it.

Dang it! You wasted another HOUR!

Ok, Melissa, buckle down and write. For real. It’s the only thing that helps you.

Virus warning? WTF??

Did I lose that work? NO NO NO NO NO NO

I’m gonna stare at this ceiling for a while in the depths of despair like Anne of Green Gables.

ONE HOUR LEFT? LOOK AT THIS MESS! Why haven’t I cleaned anything?

What is wrong with you?

[pace, pace, pace] Which mess should I start with? The worst one or the easiest one? When was the last time I cleaned this dog bowl? OMG.

Maybe I should put on some music. Or take a bath. Those things always help.

Music. Ok, Talking Heads is my cleaning music.

“Slippery People”? How can I not dance to this? Dancing helps anxiety. Dance it off!

Wow, why can’t I dance like that when people are around?

Maybe I’ll unload a few dishes while dancing.

Wait, look at that pile of clean clothes.

Look away. Look at it again.

I really need to clean the toilet. Maybe I can dance-clean the toilet.

Ok, focus, Melissa. Sit down and make a list. Prioritize.

Look at that pile of clothes! JUST LOOK AT IT!

Oh, wow, DJ Shadow? [lost in a romantic college-era dorm-room Christmas-light trance]

OMGosh I have to LEAVE TO PICK UP THE TWINS!

Wait, I didn’t eat.

Isn’t it a beautiful day outside? Why wasn’t I outside?

[start the car]

Get it together, woman!

My Top Ten Posts of 2016, My Least Prolific Year

Homecoming: 3 Car Pile-Up

My least prolific year! Woohoo! Let’s “unpack” this, shall we? (Ugh, what’s with that phrase lately?)

I began blogging in 2012, about a thousand years after blogging went out of style. Ah, yes, Melissa has always been a late bloomer. Since then, I have had up to 68 posts per year and up to 20,000 visitors per year. However, 2016 was a bit of a bust – in real life and here on my blog, amiright?

With a measly 18 posts during the calendar year, and a solid five months of zero posts at all, my brain got a bit backed up. As I have repeated ad nauseum, I cannot think if I don’t write. However, my blog did manage to rack up 13,836 views with 8,067 visitors for those 18 posts. That’s a bit scary.

What happened to me? Let’s see… Special needs. Check. Potty training twins. Check. Lack of napping. Check. Publicly admitting to an anxiety disorder. Check. And my brother moving in. Check. (I love that guy, and I love having him here, but adjusting to a larger and even more chaotic household changed the game a little bit.)

My top ten posts of 2016 were not necessarily written in 2016. (The all-time #1 hit remains unchanged – a 2012 classic.) So, here’s a little countdown of the most viewed posts in 2016…

#10: What Happened When I Made “Black Lives Matter” My Profile Picture the Day After the Election?

#9: Kindergarten These Days. Sheesh.

#8: When Only My Black Son Gets Assigned to the Wrong Family

#7:I Studied Abroad in Italy to Get Back at My Boyfriend, Part 2: Culture (Men) Shock

#6:My Birth Story: How I Almost Lost My Uterus, My Life, and a Twin

#5: How a Good Girl Accidentally Shaved Her Head and Got a Tattoo One Time

#4: “But He’s Black!” (A Day in the Life of a Transracial Family)

#3: Eight Reasons Why I Can’t Talk on the Phone

#2: How I Really Feel About Birthmothers

#1: So, What is IVF Really Like? (A Thesis)

However, my own personal favorites are usually the least-viewed posts. Funny how that works. They feel like art to me. Like a piece of art I made for my children. A snapshot of their beautiful little lives and their flawed mother. I think my top five favorite pieces (but not yours) of 2016 were:

A Valentine’s Chart: He Says, She Hears

Mothering My Child Named “Anxiety”

Having Twins is Not the Same as Having Two Children (The Parking Lot Double Tantrum Event)

Mom Math

I’ve Got to Pop That White Bubble (Or, The Rap Incident)

Say, that last post there reminds me of something: during the time that I wasn’t writing, to be fair to myself, I was learning a tremendous amount about transracial adoption, white privilege, and Black history. I’ve been listening, reading, and studying like someone lit a fire under my butt. Because, well, someone did. You’re going to hear a lot more from me in 2017 about racial injustice. If you don’t like that, don’t let the door hit you in the a$$ on your way out.

love you!