What’s Not on My CV

My husband grew up out west in Brazil where piranhas live in the rivers and swamps. When the rivers dry up, pockets of water remain landlocked so the fish are stuck. The cattle during droughts will occasionally lose their lips trying to drink from a puddle filled with piranhas.

Those puddles seem like the perfect metaphor for the job market for academics these days, which is shrinking every year as far as I can tell.

I’ve been lucky not to have to go on the market yet; there’s been a lot of strategic maneuvering on our parts to figure out dissertation, adoption, small children, and work/life balance while I’m still in grad school. Sure, the pay is fairly terrible, but I’ve had some great flexible part-time jobs and I’ve had no desire, none whatsoever, to jump into that piranha pool.

But the downside is, I really love teaching. Love it like an addict. I’m an editor this year and I leave my office door open to hear the  discussions taking place next door. If you need me, I’m the creepy girl gazing longingly into the classroom window as students engage in heated debates.

So I’m polishing up my CV, rephrasing my job letter, and looking at postdocs and part-time courses in town for at least another year. Because I’ve watched my friends in the feeding frenzy that is the job market, I know it’s an exercise in humiliation and angst. I thought I was ready, but clearly I’m not. I’m currently breathing into a paper bag in the corner.

It’s hard to explain to anyone outside of academia why we go through these insane emotional hoops; my husband routinely shakes his head at me. It’s a lifestyle. It can be a cult. It’s an all-or-nothing commitment to a career that is prestigious in which we pat the ones who make it on the back and agree that we’re all amazing and smart (except for that person, because, you know, and the other guys, well, I heard…). It’s cutthroat and kind, it’s changeable and strange.

I still don’t know how I feel about all of this. I’ve spent almost a decade trying to decide what to do when I grow up and now the time has come to pay the piper. I’m going to try for an academic career for now, for awhile, to teach–but I’m ready to jump out of the puddle if I need to. I have no desire to eat or be eaten.

But I’ve realized in this process that, while I’ve made a lot of sacrifices that have affected my competitive edge as a grad student, they’ve all been very, very worth it.

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Here’s what’s not on my CV:

No hiring committee cares that I’ve perfected the lilted voice that keeps one fat Chinese baby entertained while I fix her morning eggs. I have developed a new way of stacking blocks so that they are almost immediately push-over-able in a way that maximizes hilarity. I have a methodology for extremely fast diaper changing; it’s revolutionary.  I speak a modified language of baby sign language, half-formed English words and Chinese-inflected babble with impressive fluency. I have learned just the right way to hold a wriggly body so that she starts to be still, then melt, then put her sweet head on my shoulder.

I have the ability to dispel monsters and zombies from bad dreams just by my presence on the bottom bunk. I can make compromises that lead to averted fits. I know with radar-like accuracy where the stuffed leopard, who is a constant companion to my middle one, ended up each night. I’ve learned to read just by looking when her face registers too much change from no longer being the baby and she needs to sit down in the middle of the kitchen floor and hug for a long, long time.

I’m an amazing coach for anxious first graders who still don’t quite know what the rules are but really want to be following each and every one of them. I can correct mispronounced words in chapter books from across the room or mold long lanky legs into my lap so we can read together. I’m able to help just-fallen girls breathe deeply as they huddle over scraped knees beside a new bike that still doesn’t behave the way it should. I can console a little one who is realizing, thanks to Frozen and fresh fears from a trip to a Chinese orphanage, that parents die or leave or are forced to choose and sometimes kids are alone and that bad things could happen to people she loves and that the universe isn’t the pristine place she thought it was and that it’s really, really scary but that somehow it’s safe when Mom says it is because it is and that’s what matters.

Those things are not in bulleted lines on my CV. There’s no category for these skills. There’s no space for my ninja-adoption-paperwork moves or for the way we’ve managed to make our marriage not just fine but so much stronger during this insanely stressful time. There’s no honor or award better than the hilarity we can make out of thrown food and fits or the way he looks at me with love and admiration when I’m still in my ratty pajamas at the end of a long, long, long day. There’s no line where I describe how I’ve learned when I need to hide in the dark closet just to breathe for a minute before going back into the whiny/needy/lovey fray.

Or that the great “distraction” of my graduate career (yes, I’ve been told it a number of times it was at best a distraction), these relationships with Burmese women and men making gorgeous art, is the only thing that gave me structure and peace in these long years of vacillating between babies and books and that I’d do it a thousand times over to realize that there is a world outside the ivory tower and that the real-life concerns of real-life people is infinitely more important than getting a publication in my fifth year or how many conference papers I’ve presented.

My family and my friends are the things that keep me grounded and keep me sane and they may never come up in a job interview, but clearly these are the things that matter.

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*Blog note: So, I was probably a little overambitious to start the Parenting and Privilege series right now. I didn’t realize so many deadlines would be landing this month and there’s only so much computer time I get these days. I’m pushing it off till this summer, so if you’ve contacted me about a guest post, I’ll be in touch in a couple of months. I’m really looking forward to it! Thanks!

The Special-Stressful

I keep thinking of Beowulf when I’m trying to come back to write about our trip to China and bringing our baby home for Christmas. In Beowulf, the speaker uses a literary device called a “kenning” to describe a noun with an adjective phrase, so the sun becomes the “sky-candle,” the ocean the “whale-road,” etc.

If I were to summarize this season, the trip and Christmas and all of the emotional and joy and heartache, it would be the special-stressful.

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This Christmas, our little Fei finally made it home from China. When I last wrote a blog entry, it was on the second day of our two-week trip. I fully intended to write there every few days. I have at least seven posts started, many of them almost finished, but I just never got around to putting them online. I will, I promise. It matters to me to finish those up. I so admire the moms (and dads, I’m sure) who are able to manage that trip, write meaningful posts, take darling pictures, keep everyone updated, and apparently also shower.

That was not our trip.

I’m ready to call it–this is easily the hardest thing we’ve ever done. And we have lived pretty adventurous, difficult lives.

It is also the best decision we ever made.

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Adoption is not for the faint of heart. I blogged a lot (and will continue to blog) about the ethical aspects that are some of the most important parts of the pre-adoption process. Post-adoption, I still want to ask hard questions and face hard truths. So I’ll be honest–bringing home an almost three-year-old with a life and a past and a daily routine and a determined personality is pretty stinking hard.

By the third day, we knew that we were facing some serious grief on the part of this little girl. Selfishly, that’s a good thing–it means she was well-loved and well-attached to her caregivers (she was so adored by those nannies), which means her attachment to us, when it does finally gel, will be secure. There are none of the signs of reactive attachment disorder or even minor attachment issues.

We know, compared to many of our friends both online and in real life, that we have it pretty good. In many ways, this feels like a textbook adoption.

And it’s still really complicated and complex and painfully difficult to navigate.

During the day, Fei is an absolute love. She cuddles, she charms, she smiles, she sings, she putters, she pats, she wants to be held, she makes faces, she mimics, she dances. We are deeply in love with her little personality–she’s a ham. She’s a pixie. She’s a snuggle bug.

At night, it’s all too much for her. The first night, her crying was sad and pitiful. It broke my heart. The second night, the rage hit. Bless her.

Bless us.

It’s beyond my capacity to be a good parent with so little sleep, much less to blog and write well about the experience. We traded off, but we had no idea what positions she wanted to be held in. If we did it wrong, and even when we did it right, she flung (flings, still) her body from one side to the other or back, with her knees bent, so it’s almost impossible to catch her before she crashes to the floor. We’ve gotten stronger and faster and our reflexes are better, but it’s like holding a live monkey and trying to calm her down.

There was no instruction manual for this little one.

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During this season, the special-stressful, a famous Dylan Thomas poem keeps running through my mind. Perhaps it’s because Fei’s fits magnified as we got closer to nighttime:

     Do not go gentle into that good night.

     Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

     Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though Thomas is talking about aging, I think it fits adoption as well. What we are experiencing with Fei (though it has gotten better in the last three weeks, this is a long, long road ahead) seems to fit that first stanza. I think adoption SHOULD burn and rave at close of day. It’s all too much. No child should ever face all of the grief our daughter has in her short three years.

It’s just wrong.

In China, she only wanted to be held and walked. For that first week, when she barely knew us, when we smelled and looked funny, when her tummy hurt from new food and her skin was irritated by new clothes, when everything was totally off, the only thing we could do was pat her and walk while she raged.

Miles we walked in two tiny, tiny hotel rooms, trying to keep the big girls asleep, trying to give each other a break. Every hour or two, she was up for an hour or two. Jet lag was a joke–we didn’t sleep for two weeks straight. And we’ve barely slept coming back. I got strep throat. We struggled to be civil to each other, to meet our biological daughters’ needs, to be patient with the whining and the tears of everyone (I might have been the whiniest of all).

And at night I’d whisper encouragement into her ear: “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

There is a grief so stark it can only be marked by throwing your body to the floor and raging at the top of your lungs.

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And yet.

This time has also been catch-your-breath sweet. Watching her giggle with her sisters. Seeing her hold her arms up for love again and again. Listening to her English words (“please,” “mama,” “nana,” “no”). Witnessing her confidence and her belly and her cheeks grow in the last three weeks.

She was loved, but she was one of many in that orphanage. Now she’s one of three very, very loved little girls. And we can see the difference it is making in her life. One of the sweetest things (which I will post about later) was watching her nannies’ joy at seeing her with us. They celebrated and smiled–everything we know is that her future in China was bleak. It was beds in a row and the lowest level of education and a name that clearly marked her as an orphan.

I can’t talk about the children we left behind. I might never be able to talk about walking out of that room with one and leaving twenty behind, not to mention the other rooms all along the hallway in the cold, unheated corridor that stretched on and on.

Having this baby home to walk around at Christmas time with fat legs jutting out of her diaper, sunglasses on her face, a Dora cell phone to her ear and a Christmas bag slung over her shoulder like a purse as she waves bye-bye, it makes me want to weep at the rightness of it all.

She has always belonged to us. She belongs here. She is ours. We are getting to know each other, but having walked through the fire of the first three weeks together, we are more bonded and blessed and blended than we might have been had all of this gone smoothly from the start.

With every fiber of my being, I can say, she is mine, just as much as her two blonde sisters who have had my heart for seven and four years.

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People text me or message me and say, “Isn’t it so fun to have her home for Christmas?” And it is, truly. But “fun” seems like such a small word to use for the heart-stopping rightness of her being here. And it can’t possibly touch the shift-on-a-dime feel of one sweet moment sliding into a full-body-throwing fit over picking up blocks on the living room rug.

The grief-joy of this time is intense and precious and holy and too hard to put into words.

Why Adoption from China is Different from Adoption from Other Countries (Some Thoughts)

In the piece I wrote about adoption ethics a few weeks ago, I referenced the difference between adoption from China and adoption from other countries. I wanted to take a minute to look at that a bit more in-depth. In part, that’s because of some pushback I’ve gotten in my real life interactions with people about adoption ethics, as well as some online conversations. I thought it couldn’t hurt to spell out our decision to adopt from the China Special Needs line a bit more clearly.

I want to begin with this caveat: adoption changes daily. What I am saying is based on my knowledge and pretty extensive research and is true now, in October 2013, but things could change rapidly with new government policies in China or adoption policies in the U.S. or any number of factors. Adoptions from China have changed even in the last couple of years. This isn’t intended to be a document for all time. It’s just a statement for family and friends about why adoption from China is the choice we made.

To be clear, I AM NOT SAYING ADOPTION THAT IS NOT FROM CHINA IS UNETHICAL. Also, I AM NOT SAYING THAT ALL CHINESE ADOPTIONS ARE ETHICAL.

OK. Here we go.

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Since 1979, pregnancies in China have been monitored under the one-child policy. Though the policy continues to shift in terms of enforcement in different regions and areas, in general this means that each family is allowed only one child. In a culture in which aging parents are expected to be cared for by their children, this has led to agonizing choices for many parents, especially the poor. Wealthier families can often afford to pay a fine in order to have a second child.

I’ve heard that the one-child policy is being repealed in several areas; again, all of this could change fast. From what a friend told me who just traveled to China this summer, the rumor is a policy change is coming (or has already come) so that any person who is an only child–basically, an entire generation–can have two children. This is a huge step.

But for poor families, the choices can still be really difficult. Either they cannot afford to pay a fine for more than one child or they cannot afford health care for children who are born with special needs. Chinese health care is mostly a cash-up-front system. So if a family has a child with a medical need, they have to commit to being able to pay for the necessary surgeries and treatments. If they cannot afford them, the child will most often be turned away from the hospital (I’ve heard heartbreaking stories–Carrie McKean is my source for many of them). There are of course hundreds, even thousands of exceptions, and many organizations work hard in the country to provide health care to enable families to stay together. But in general, a child born with any special need is inherently difficult for a poorer family to take care of.

The best case solution to this could be what is often suggested for other women in impoverished cultures–economic and educational development. (You should check out Scarlet Threads, my favorite economic development project in China.) But that still would not fix the problem of lack of decent health care. A bureaucratic policy shift would need to occur in order to solve it. As it is, women could spend their whole lives making fair trade items and still not make enough money to be a drop in the bucket in terms of the health care cost of raising a special needs child. Of course it would depend on the special need and the specific situation.

But the equation that is arguably the answer to the “orphan problem” in other countries–more jobs and better education for women equal more families being able to stay together–doesn’t really work in China.

The bureaucracy and communist caste-system is just different. Add to that the well-publicized difficulties of a culture that is built on sons being able to provide for the family better than daughters. You can see the dilemmas.

Chinese domestic adoption is increasing rapidly. THIS IS GREAT NEWS. The figure a friend told me from her visit over the summer is that 30,000 adoptions occurred domestically in China last year. I have no idea how much this number is up from years past or what the source is for that number (this was a physical therapist who works with our agency and had some great conversations with adoption officials in several different areas). Ideally, every child that is available for adoption would be adopted in-country, so they could have both the support of a family and their cultural connections. We are years away from that happening, but that seems like the goal to me. (That’s what has been happening in Brazil in the last several years, which is one of the reasons we are not adopting from there even though it’s our home culture away from home.)

To summarize: it’s not that Chinese people don’t like baby girls (which is what someone told me not too long ago). And it’s not that they don’t like kids with special needs. There are some cultural prejudices in Chinese culture that are true in almost every culture against kids with noticeable special needs and it’s certainly possible that many kids are abandoned and available for adoption because of those cultural stigmas. But my sense is that in most cases, it has as much to do with the health care system as it does social stigmas.

And before I start hearing from people that if we weren’t adopting from the China Special Needs line, those kids would be adopted in-country, let me just say–I don’t think that’s true. As I’ve learned from my friend Erin Raffety, who has done anthropological research on foster families of special needs kids in China, it is still difficult for foster families who want to adopt kids with special needs to do that. There are a lot of factors that make that true; I think it’s hard and sad.

Again, this is all based on anecdotal research and conversations more than journalistic-type sources. But if all the adopting families left the system tomorrow, most special needs kids in China would still remain in orphanages. Huge policy and cultural shifts would have to happen in the country to change that situation.

There is some hope that these shifts will occur and I am praying for that day. Until then, the reality remains. This article from May 2013 in the New York Times shows the impact of the brutal one-child policy: 336 million pregnancies aborted since 1971, many of them forced abortions (the stories in this article are graphic–be prepared). Among the many, many reasons for this high abortion rate are the type of forced abortions described so horrifically in the article, as well as gender-based and special-needs-based ones. The article gives a sense of the huge scope of this issue.

Because relinquishment is still not legal in most areas of China, abandonment of special needs kids can be the only viable option for many families. To be clear, there are as many boys in the Special Needs line in China right now waiting to be adopted as there are girls–gender doesn’t seem to be a factor in children who have special needs. In fact, two things have changed in the last ten years in which I’ve been aware of Chinese adoptions: there are no longer a disproportionate number of healthy baby girls who have been abandoned because of their gender who are not able to find a family (adoptions through the Non-Special Needs line in China can take 6+ years, last I heard). And there are no longer “minor” situations like birthmarks that are labeled “special needs” (in my experience, many of the families waiting in the Non-Special Needs line are moving over or considering children that in the Special Needs line). That’s why I keep talking about the China Special Needs line. For our agency and every other agency I looked into, they are two very distinct types of adoption (and there are variations within that: Special Focus kids are often harder to place).

Kristen Howerton said it best in a discussion about adoption ethics at Idea Campa basic rule of thumb for pre-adoptive families who want an ethical adoption is to go where the lines are short. I’m not talking about working with a shady agency that promises short wait times. But the Special Needs line out of China is really, really short. There are hundreds of kids waiting without much hope of being matched with a family. Most families I know, including us, got matched way faster than we expected.

This is especially true if the child is over 2 (like ours) and has particular types of special needs. It’s interesting to me what some people view as major and minor special needs; without going into too much detail about our little one, we felt very comfortable with her diagnoses, but were told by our agency that many kids with similar issues are hard to place. And I certainly don’t want to argue that every family should adopt every kid–I think adoption has become a more specialized situation in the last ten years as older children and special needs kids become the norm. I have a lot to say about that as well and will probably turn to that in another post, but I just wanted to lay out our own reasons first.

We chose China Special Needs because, though not perfect, in general it is one of the more ethical types of international adoption available. It’s not the only ethical type of adoption–not by a long stretch. But it does explain a little bit why a family who lived in Brazil and Chile and speak Portuguese and Spanish found themselves watching Mandarin lesson podcasts and hunting down authentic Chinese food in order to prepare themselves just a little bit for the new adventure to come.

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I wrote this quickly, so I reserve the right to make changes to this post as I think of them–this is a difficult, complex topic and it helps to be able to look at it from a variety of angles. There are many big topics I skimmed over, so if you think I missed something or you have questions, I’d love to discuss this–with kindness and respect, please–in the comments.

Having “the Poor” with Us

We finished the “Questions of Travel” series a couple of weeks ago with very little fanfare from me since it hit just at the end of school; I hope you will go back and reread the many brilliant entries in that series. It is one of the things I’m the most proud of on the internet in my short time blogging–bringing these voices together in a discussion that was as complex and nuanced as it has been seems to me a real triumph. Thanks to the many contributors–what a great gift you’ve given us.

I had a conversation with my oldest daughter (who goes by Noelle on this blog) that I thought summarized so perfectly how I wanted to end this series. She’s been attending a VBS at another church this week (it’s awesome). But she came out on Wednesday really frustrated.

“Mom, why do I have to give all of my stuff to the poor?”

We talked about giving things away that we didn’t need.

“No, not that. My art. Why do I have to give my art away to the poor? I like my drawings. I made them. I don’t want to give them to poor people.”

It took awhile for me to figure out her VBS teacher kept some of her drawings to send to “the poor.” I asked Noelle to consider a little bit more about sharing and how her lovely pictures might bless people’s lives. I’m still not sure exactly what the teacher said to her; I’m always learning to filter what my kids say, so I don’t really know what comment it was that set her off. But after we talked about giving drawings away to her grandparents and cousins and friends, Noelle sighed as she grabbed my hand to cross the street.

“I like giving my drawings to people I know. But I don’t want to give it to poor people. Who are poor people, anyway?”

I looked at this child who plays weekly with Burmese refugees in an apartment complex that many suburban moms might consider unsafe but that she runs through with the familiarity of her favorite playscape. Her best friends from kindergarten speak Spanish and most of them live at the trailer park that borders her amazingly diverse public school. When we go on playgrounds, she doesn’t realize it yet, but she is always drawn to the people who are different from her, who speak other languages, who don’t dress the same.

This kid has no idea who “poor” people are. We’ve never drawn those categories. We talk about difference and celebrate skin colors and languages and cultures, but there is no rich and poor, as far as I know, in her six-year-old mind.

I squeezed her hand. “You know what? Let’s not worry about the poor. Thanks so much for sharing your drawing–you’re going to make someone very happy whoever they are.”

I love that my kids see no rich or poor, no us and them, just friends who are different. Someday we will have to talk about these things, but for now, we’re going to enjoy the easy friendships of this mixed-together lifestyle. It’s not always easy, but it’s the kind of life I would pick again and again for us–having the poor just be the people in our lives that we love.

 

 

 

Decembering

This month needs to be its own verb. The lists alone are ridiculous. I keep meaning to update, but haven’t had five minutes to think. I’ve been…

…birthdaying!

Noelle and I have birthdays four days apart in December. Here are her packages waiting to be opened (it’s spy gear. She loves it. New post soon about the gendered boy/girl aisles at Target.)

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She also got her ears pierced, a long-awaited milestone. When I asked her if she wanted me to get my nose pierced so that she wouldn’t be the only one, she said, “No, then I would cry.” Thinking she was being sweet, I said, “Oh, are you worried it would hurt mommy?” She just tilted her head, “No, I would cry because I would be embarrassed. You just don’t have nose ring style.” She begged me the whole time not to get my nose pierced. At least it distracted her from worrying about her own ears!

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For my birthday, Jonathan and the girls bought this beautiful antique locket from our favorite store on South Congress, Uncommon Objects. This is me laughing at myself while I take my own picture. I love my locket, though.  And I love layering it with my Hill Triber jewelry. It’s to put a picture of the new baby in when we finally get matched from China before we get her. That’s the time I’m most worried about–I hate waiting.

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We have her stocking up with her first little present from us, the Hill Tribers doll I love. When we hung up her stocking, Joy said, “I sure really miss my new sister.”

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And then, when I’m not handling birthdays and pre-school programs and Christmas parties and teacher gifts and adoption paperwork, there are my two constant active verbs…

…hilltribering. We have had outrageous Hill Tribers sales (we’re at 250% growth in website sales alone). Sometimes Caren lets me come play at the shipping center with her awesome tape gun.

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…and dissertating. I am editing the heck out of chapter 2 to send in a draft before Christmas. I think my post-it note system is genius. Jonathan is pretty sure I’m becoming the guy in A Beautiful Mind.

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But I spend a lot of time scribbling in the margins because I have to be finished in the next six months. I want to reclaim December next year. Only fun writing from now on.

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So if I’m not updating in the next few days, it’s because I’m Decembering my heart out.

I Have Loved You for a Thousand Years

I’m obsessed with this song. I realize that it’s probably the teeny-bop song of the summer and that it was part of the Twilight soundtrack and that on the youtube page, Christina Perri says that her friend “wrote it for bella + edward.” Which makes it perhaps a little bit ridiculous that as an adult woman I keep playing it over and over on iTunes, but I don’t really care. I was sitting in my car in the hot parking garage on campus the other day, almost late for a meeting, and I couldn’t turn my car off because I heard this song for the first time on the radio.

I heard lyrics that hit me hard, like “I have died every day waiting for you.” The tension of waiting for this next child to come home is already too much and I don’t know her name or her face or anything about her other than that she exists and we’re moving as fast as we can toward each other. We haven’t even been matched yet; she still a concept, not a little quirky person who will fit right into our family. We haven’t had our home study or sent in our child preferences profile. We have miles to go before I start getting overly emotional about teeny-bop songs in parking garages.

My friends who have been through international adoptions are probably rolling their eyes or chuckling to themselves and thinking, “Dang, you have a long road ahead of you.” And I’ll just laugh at myself and say back, “I had no idea.” I really, truly didn’t know, the way you can’t really know anything until you head down that path, what this was going to look like. Just waiting and laying myself open and holding my heart ready for a love that is coming, it’s brutal and it’s beautiful all at once.

So excuse me while I crank this song up again just a few more times and sing at the top of my lungs, ”every breath has come to this…One step closer.”

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Dear Noelle and Joy,

I realize, at 5 and 3, that you are too young to be worried about the man you’re going to marry. Oh, you talk about your wedding day, since you were the baby flower girls in my cousin’s wedding, and you love to imagine yourselves twirling around in a floofy white dress. But the sooner you learn, the better you’ll be: a wedding isn’t a marriage. It’s a five-hour moment in your life that will pass in an instant, one you will remember with nostalgia and laughter (seriously, no one told me to pluck my eyebrows!).

The long hard slog that follows, the decades of work and toil and agony and joy, those are the things that concern me the most.

Let me start by saying the most important thing of all–you don’t need to get married. You don’t need a man. You need to define yourself as yourself in the Lord’s eyes, not yourself as your friends see you or your job sees you or a man sees you. You are you and that is more than enough, because the “you” that you two are becoming is glorious and strong and brilliant and funny and beautiful and holy and good. Never let anyone tell you that you are less or half. You are capable of standing on your own two feet. You are gifted and unique. You are all that you will ever need to be.

If you choose to get married, make sure you’re looking for the kind of man that I married. I cannot imagine a more wonderful example than your dad. As a parent and as a partner, he’s all I want for your husbands some day. But finding a man like him is not easy.

When you look for a husband, find a man who loves you and respects you as his equal. Make sure he cherishes you for who you are. He needs to think your gifts and interests are fascinating and not threatening. I hate this so much, but there will come a day when someone will say to you that you are “too much.” There might be men who will tell you that what they told me, either blatantly or subtly: “You’re not the kind of girl I want to find.” Once, at the end of a date, one guy let me know rather rudely it wasn’t going any farther because I’d always “wear the pants” in the relationship. (I should have told him it wasn’t going any farther because he was a jerk and, besides, we were both wearing shorts.) The kind of girl those guys are looking for will be gentle and quiet and easy to be around. Good for her. I wish them well.

You were born of different stock. The women in our family stand up loudly and firmly in the face of injustice. We speak out for the good of our community. We listen and we love and we cultivate gentleness, but we’re not afraid to use our voices. We are teachers and leaders and visionaries. We have a spice that makes life delightful even if it’s a bit hard to swallow on occasion. If your fits are any indication right now, your strong wills are on the way to becoming righteous indignation and fierce determination.  I’m so sorry if it’s hard for you as you grow older, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The first time your dad heard me speak to a group of people in college, I was waiting for that moment when he worried how my gifts reflected on him. But he didn’t. Not once. He gave me a huge hug and his eyes lit up and he told me I did great. And it’s been that way every time he’s ever heard me speak or teach in the last twelve years. He knows who he is, what his gifts are, what he likes to do, who he is called to be. So do I. Our various callings do not negate or threaten or lessen each other. It is glorious and freeing to be married to a man who adores me exactly the way I am.

Some day, when you grow a little older, you’ll realize that the roles in our household are a bit different from other people. It used to be, and still is in some places, that moms take care of the kids and the house while dads work outside the home. In our home, we mix it all up. Some days Mommy works and Daddy stays home; other days we switch. Daddy gives you baths and puts you to bed every night, then comes downstairs to take care of the dishes while Mommy works on her dissertation. Daddy does all the grocery shopping, with his spreadsheet on that adorable clipboard he uses, and takes you girls and a bag of snacks with him every time. (You get irritated when I take you shopping–”This isn’t how Daddy does it!”) Daddy mows and Mommy cooks, but that’s because we like to do those things.

When you’re looking for a husband, try to find a man who is hungry to be with his children, who hurries home from work for extra cuddle and wrestle time before dinner, who fights to be the person that takes his girls to birthday parties just for the joy of watching them jump in the bouncy castle. Find a man who never uses the verb “babysit” for his own children.  Look for someone who gets a bit annoyed at all the comments he gets in the grocery store or at princess parties or in pre-school, as if his involved parenting is unusual or he’s doing his wife a favor.

It is imperative that you find a good man who thinks, like you will, that the purpose of his life is to help and serve others. Ideally, he would be as generous as your father, who never buys himself anything and always has room in his well-organized budget for homeless people and refugees and friends in need. He should be strong (even if that strength lends itself to stubbornness) and tender. His heart should break for children in need. He shouldn’t begrudgingly allow you to do ministry or adopt, he should partner right beside you in those projects. He should be so ready to get his next baby girl home in his arms that he pushes through paperwork to get to China faster.

Make sure you find someone who loves to spend time with you. He should be your best friend, your favorite companion, your confidante and your partner in crime. He shouldn’t be your only friend (good girl friends are second in importance to a good husband) because that is too much pressure to put on any relationship. But he shouldn’t find you annoying, shouldn’t criticize and nitpick. You shouldn’t do those things either. He might not do laundry the way that you’d like, but your criticism will only serve to push him away. Trust him, love him, let go of a few pink socks and realize you mess up (with the laundry and other things) all the time anyway. Travel together. See each other in new lights. Spend time alone sitting in silence watching people go by in an airport or a city square. Cultivate memories that involve just the two of you–the restaurants you ate in, the mountain tops you’ve explored, the weird people you’ve seen. The memories of bright moments you shared together will lighten the dark days that come.

If you find someone like that, it might be worth getting married to him. And there’s a slim chance your father will not chase him away from the house with a shotgun. I’m already working on him to stop giving every little boy who comes near you the stink-eye. We’ll make a deal–in twenty years, you bring home good men who love the Lord and love you for the women he created you to be and I’ll work on your father to be sweet when the time comes.

With love,

Mama

Taking a Minute

Sometimes in the mad, mad rush of my daily life, giving my babies my all and squashing the rest in the tiny margins I leave, I  breathe in and am grateful.

It’s not easy, but I’m doing this thing. I’m raising these babies with this intriguing man who fascinates and pushes and engages me daily and who loves us enough to hold two girls in his lap at lunch so I could finish my taco in peace.

I’m writing these words. I’m teaching these students. I’m loving these women with whom I’m forging a beautiful and unlikely community.

I think that if little Jessica could have known those many years ago when she worried where she’d end up, she’d be pretty glad.

Walking down this gorgeous hallway outside my cube, in the cool of a spring evening on my way to teach, I felt deeply, deeply grateful to be this girl in this life with these people.

Raising Dirty Kids

We took our girls over to play at their cousins’ house the other day and they had a blast. It’s not because there were all kinds of toys and playground equipment in the backyard–it’s because the five oldest kids spent as much time as they could playing in a pile of dirt. They poked it with sticks. They moved it around with shovels. They saved insects and found roly-polies. By the time we were ready to go, my girls had dirt on their hands and dirt between their toes and they were as happy as two little clams.

I remember hot days playing outside until it was too dark to see, running barefoot through my neighbors’ yards, climbing trees and building forts. I remember the feel of unfettered freedom, of summer afternoons when boredom led to the most elaborate pretend games I could create with some carboard boxes and a handful of markers. I remember dust and bugs and skinned knees. I want to raise girls like with the same kind of dirt-in-my-fingernails childhood I enjoyed.

It’s become increasingly rare to find neighborhoods where kids on bikes ride anywhere they want. I don’t see many kids dangling from trees from their knees. I don’t come across pick-up games of soccer in the street.

Except when we go to visit our refugee friends. There, in some of the lower-end apartment complexes in Austin, I find kids hanging off of porches, yelling at each other in soccer matches, running to their friends’ houses, playing with chalk on the sidewalk, laughing, talking, and playing in a tumble of childhood that is really, really appealing to me.

I want my kids to be like these kids. I want them to know how to be dirty. I want them to be friends with people that look different from them. I want them to fit right into the sweaty, childish bunch.

And yet.

Many of the words these children yell are not the words my kids hear at home. The way their friends talk to each other is not in the same tone my sheltered pre-schoolers are used to. The subject these kids bring up are sometimes too adult for six- or seven-year-olds to ever be discussing, much less around my beloved and sensitive babies.

There are certainly times when I’ve intervened, and I watch my little girls like a hawk while we’re there. But I still let them run and play ring-around-the-rosy or hopscotch or paint their nails. I let them climb all over refugee apartments, hiding from their little playmates who watch them for how to play this new American game. I let them wander and get sweaty outside with their friends, some of whom are their age and some of who are much older both in years and experience. And, on occasion, they hear things they might not otherwise hear.

My goal isn’t to protect them from everything that could hurt them. It’s to teach them in age-appropriate ways how to enter the muck and the mire of the world, to see those who are dirty and different, and to be comfortable being their friend.

I want to be really clear–I don’t think the children we are around when we go to these apartments are dirty, or that their houses or dirty, or that their lives are dirty–I mean that things have happened to these kids I want to protect my babies from. War, divorce, poverty, drug use, abandonment, loss, pain–these are the things that have touched the lives of my kids’ precious playmates. These are the types of things no child should know.

In the last year, our oldest daughter has gotten particularly sensitive about this. There are a lot of times when I wonder whether or not we’re teaching her too much about the injustices in the world, but I’m not sure how to tell her about some things and not others. She’s obsessed with governments, who is “grumpy” (like Burma) and who is not (like the U.S.). She’s worried about our translator’s wife, who is still stuck in Malaysia because of bureaucracy, and wonders if that’s going to happen to her parents. We assure her it won’t, but she, like her mother, is probably always going to be stuck in the deep end of the pool. It occurred to her one day that all of her Hill Triber friends had to leave their country because of their grumpy goverment. It hurt her heart, but in a sweet way that’s made her want to help her friends even more.

While I would love to protect her all her life, I can’t, so I want to begin now teaching her how to deal with a world that is full of so much dirt. She will face it soon–elementary school begins next year. If time keeps racing ahead like it has the last five years, in ten more minutes she will be standing at a graduation ceremony with a lifetime ahead of her without us there to guide her every moment. Our time together is short and we are making the most of it.

Because when she stands there, I don’t want her to be a precious hothouse flower who has spent her childhood being sheltered from all of the things that make up life. I want her to be a hardy, outdoor plant who can spread her roots deep in the soil and weather a storm well. I want her to be independent, imaginative, confident, well-traveled, full of experience and ready to take on the world.

To do that, we have to get dirty together.

Why We Want to Adopt

I hate answering why we want to adopt. It’s a question that comes up formally in our adoption process and casually when Noelle walks up to the other moms at preschool or strangers at the grocery store and says, “We’re getting a new baby from China!” Putting this choice into words is hard for me because the reasons are both so simple and so complex that it’s hard to say. I’m always curious how other adoptive parents answer that question. It’s certainly not because we want to “save” a child, though it probably was when I dreamed about it in high school. We moved past that a long time ago. For us, perhaps the easiest way to explain it, is that it’s part of our story.

We want to adopt because in our work with Burmese refugees, we’re familiar with the shell-shocked look of someone walking into an overwhelmingly new city and culture. I’ve picked refugees up from the airport and seen the stoicism that is a protective outer shell. As time goes on and they become more comfortable, I’ve watched adults loosen up and smile when I thought they were only serious and silent. I’ve watched grief fade as people put down roots in their new homes. We’ll be raising our new baby in a community of children that will look much like her and maybe understand a bit of where she’s coming from.

We want to adopt because we know that even though they put down roots, nothing can replace what is lost. Last week, our precious translator, Dr. Selai, told us stories of his 84 years of life. He described songs in the Chin language (his particular hill tribe) that no one remembers any more. He pointed with his chin at the children in the room who will have no idea of the dangers their parents went through as they became refugees. He mentioned the memories that are lost with each generation that gets further and further away from their roots in Burma. His voice was limned with tears. There is hope in their new life, and great joy, but the loss is ever- present.

We want to adopt because before Jonathan’s father was killed by a drunk driver, his parents were on their way back as missionaries to Brazil to adopt two girls. I’ve known since before we ever dated that bringing home two little girls was one of my husband’s dreams.

We want to adopt because we think that living a life that is interruptible is the hardest and most staggeringly important thing we can do. This is especially true for planners like us. We will have to adjust our lives around this child rather than molding her to fit our dreams. We will interrupt our narrative to tell a new kind of story as a family.

We want to adopt because once we loved three children in Brazil enough to take them home and make them ours. We couldn’t for a variety of reasons: we were 24, with no means to adopt. The oldest was 13, and by Brazilian law there has to be more years between the adoptive parents and the child. We moved like nomads for the next few years and had no place to bring these children home. By the time the dust of our lives settled, they were no longer living in the children’s home: the oldest was adopted into another family, the second living with someone else, the baby living with an aunt somewhere. I lost track of them for a long time and finally reconnected over facebook (of all things). I wondered, before I had children, if I would realize that the love I felt for them was passing, a placeholder before the love of my own children took over. I realized the opposite–I had always loved them more than enough to be their mother. And though the decisions we made were good ones, I still keep a picture of those babies by my desk and I love them fiercely. They carved out a space in my heart that is aching for them and for them alone.

We want to adopt because there is another hole in our family that our biological children can’t and shouldn’t fill. They are exactly what we’ve always wanted and enough, even as their younger siblings who don’t look like them will be. I’ve always wanted an armful of children and I’ve always known some of them wouldn’t be blonde. It’s always been when, not if, we adopt.

We want to adopt because it fits so well the story we’re living. It’s just the next chapter. We can’t wait to meet our newest little character.