Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Choose your own adventure

As a child of the 80's and 90's, I read my fair share of "choose your own adventure" books. You know, the ones where you start reading a story and then throughout the book you have the chance to choose what happens next. I thought they were fun books as a kid. You just never knew where you might end up.

Now, as an adult, I know that in real life you don't make a choice part way through a story. Instead, the moment you make a choice is when the story begins. And sometimes you know exactly what the difficult, painful, complicated ending will be.

But you choose it anyway.

Though we've only been licensed for two years, Andy and I chose the twisting path of being foster parents ten years ago. In the fall of 2008, we attended a training class, filled out a bunch of paperwork, thought we were ready to move ahead...and then found out I was pregnant with Simon. This big news resulted in a long, winding detour, but after the birth of our second son and the completion of an international adoption (a whole different story), we were back to where we'd started. In a foster care training class.

I admit that the first time we took the class we were idealistic. Our parenting experience consisted of two beta fish who lived for about a month, two cats from the shelter, and one very amiable 2-year-old boy who never disobeyed and who potty-trained in mere days simply to please me. Plus, we were in our 20's. What did we know?

But we made the choice and eventually circled back to it. The second time our idealism was gone. Obliterated by the unmet expectations of adulthood, family conflicts, death and loss, experiences with trauma-informed behaviors, and over a decade of marriage. This time we knew what it meant when the social worker said, "It's going to be hard." We knew what it meant to feel lost and hopeless. Knew how deep the word hard could be.

We chose it anyway.

There are times I wish I could escape the pain. The hard. Times I almost wish I could go back to the beginning of the story and choose a different adventure. But if I did--if I flipped back to the first page and skipped all those chapters of heart-wrenching foster-care agony in favor of an easier ending--then I'd have to skip all the good parts, too. And I'd always wonder what I'd missed. I'd always wonder who would've helped the kids who came to our house if it wasn't us? Would they have been good people? Kind? Would they have loved them like we did?

So we keep reading, keep turning pages, knowing what lies ahead. Knowing it's going to hurt. And we trust in God, the Author of all Stories, to give us the strength to keep going. One adventure at a time.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

"Come with me, little girl"

That thing happened. The one every parent worries about while simultaneously believing it could never happen to their child. Because their child would never walk away with a complete stranger while their back was turned never to be seen again, right?

My children are safe and everything turned out fine, thank goodness.


That thing happened. And this story could've had a very different ending.

I was talking with one adult, and another adult - whom neither I nor my child had ever seen before - beckoned my daughter with a smile and wave from behind my back. And she went. Without a moment's hesitation, she went. I turned around just in time to see her disappearing around the corner without a single glance back at me.

Upon further (and somewhat frantic) investigation, this person "luring" my daughter turned out to be a nice lady who only wanted to give her a toy to play with while Mommy was busy, but my daughter didn't know that. Trusting soul that she is, she just followed. And I didn't know that. Discovering the truth didn't stop a sickening pit from opening up in my stomach when I realized how close I could've been to losing my daughter forever. Had this person not had good intentions...had I turned around two seconds later than I did...that could've been it.

My daughter would've been gone.

It still makes my heart pound, even now.

Before everyone jumps on me for not teaching my kids Stranger Danger, let me assure you that I do. In fact, only four or five days before this incident, I talked through this article with my kids and we discussed and practiced multiple "abduction scenarios" and what to do in each situation. And the "what to do" is almost always the same in cases where an adult tries to lure a child: Talk to mommy or daddy before going anywhere with anyone.

Someone asks you to come check out the baby bunnies in their car? Ask mommy or daddy first. Someone wonders if you can help them carry their bags into their house? Ask mommy or daddy first. The assumption is that an adult who wants a child to do something secretively, without asking their parents, is up to something.

But that assumption isn't necessarily accurate, is it? The woman who "lured" my child wasn't a bad person, but because she wasn't, she didn't think about her actions. She knew she meant my child no harm, so she didn't consider what she was doing.

We, as adults, need to help the children in our lives by reinforcing the "what to do." None of us want a child we know to be abducted, it's one of the worst things we can imagine, and yet we don't always think about the implications of our own actions toward children because we're "nice people." We know we're not doing anything wrong. We know a child has nothing to fear from us. So we do whatever we want.

But there are people out there who are not nice. People watching for opportunities to lure a child away. We need to make it clear to our kids the difference between a "good guy" and a "bad guy." The difference is a good guy will tell the child to talk to their parent before doing anything. A bad guy will not.

The lady from my story didn't encourage my child to ask Mommy first. She wasn't a bad guy, but she should've either asked me herself or had my child ask. And that's my point here. All the "good" people out there need to be on the same page, telling kids to ask their parents, helping them make good choices, NOT trying to sneak around behind a parent's back, so that if a "bad" person comes along, the child will easily be able to recognize something is wrong.

I can't watch my kids every second of every day, and I'm guessing I'm not the only one. So please, all you good guys out there, make sure you're acting like it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Give it to me straight

Nothing brings out insecurity in the white mother of a black child quite like hair. Thick, beautiful, natural, black hair.

(read about the panic attack I had the first time I gave my daughter a haircut here)

Whenever I see a black woman, whether in person or in a movie or on a magazine, I study her hair. More than one woman at Wal-Mart has probably wondered what my problem was as I stalked her through the hair products aisle trying to spy out what kind of leave-in conditioner she uses. Only once have I dared ask a black woman how she created the hairstyle she was wearing, and that was because she spoke to me first.

Insecurity, remember? (she gave great advice, by the way)

I'm doing my best and learning as I go, but doing Patience's hair doesn't come naturally to me. My friends are always so nice and tell me how cute her hair looks, but frankly, it's not their approval I long for. It's the black woman with two black children at the store who looked back and forth between Patience and me with a question on her face, who put a hand on each of her children's heads as her eyes flicked over my daughter's hair. That's whose approval I crave. And I don't have it.

A couple days ago, I told Patience it was Hair Day. Hair Day is when I do the whole two-hour rinse, wash, condition, comb out, condition, style routine that we thankfully only have to do about once a month. As we headed for the bathtub, I gave Patience's hair a playful tug.

"What style shall we do this time?" I asked.

The only answer she'd ever given to that question before was a shrug. Her preference always seemed to be "whatever gets done the fastest." But this time was different.

"I want it straight," she said. "Like yours."

Oh. Gulp. My heart beat a little faster.

"Okay." I forced a smile. "Let's see what we can do."

We rinsed and washed and conditioned and combed. Then I settled Patience in her "hair chair" and got out the coconut oil, hairdryer, and paddle brush.

"Straight all the way around," Patience reminded me.

I knew no matter how much I combed it out, how much hot air I used, how much product I applied, it was never going to be anything like mine. I would never be the mirror that she was looking for. But she didn't know that. So I brushed and brushed and blew and blew the best I could. Her smile grew the closer I got to the end, and when I said I was finished, she leapt from her chair.

"Now we're the same!" she said.

"You're right." I knelt down beside her, face-to-face. "We both have pretty hair."

"And we both eat scrambled eggs."

"And we both like to ride bikes."

She giggled. "And we both love daddy."

"I guess we're practically twins, then," I said.

I ran a hand over her hair, trying to smooth it down, but it just bounced right back up. It would no sooner lay flat than sprout wings and fly. She gave me a hug and said "Thank you, Mommy," and ran off to play. I watched her go, marveling at all the things we did have in common, despite obvious differences.

Maybe I'll never have the approval of that woman at the store. Maybe I'll never feel confident in my ability to do my daughter's hair. But maybe those aren't the most important things.

See? Twins!