Thursday, September 28, 2017

The $35,000 question: Part 1

Do you usually bring up the issue of money in polite conversation? Like your income, or your spouse's income, or how much your car payments are? I don't. With close friends I might mention how the shoes I'm wearing only cost me a quarter at the Thrift Store, but other than that, it just doesn't come up.

At least, it never did until we adopted.

We began our adoption journey in February of 2011 - a lifetime ago. Our first tenuous steps involved research. How do you adopt? What agencies are the best? What age of child might fit best in our family?

And, of course, how much will it cost?

We did our due diligence. Researched online, interviewed adoptive families, scheduled meetings with adoption workers, read books. We prayed about it, discussed the implications with our bio kids, and started setting money aside. Then...we started talking about it publicly.

To our surprise, 9 out of 10 times the first question or comment someone would make when we brought up adoption had to do with money. Isn't it really expensive? We could never afford to adopt. We would adopt too, if it wasn't for the cost. How are you going to pay for that?

Some people asked if we were going to get a loan or just go into debt. Some compared the cost to the cost of a new boat or RV and said it'd be easier to just get an RV. Some said that unless we had the cash on hand, we were being financially irresponsible to consider adoption. And some said, "For one child? With $35,000, you could build a school or dig a well in a third-world country and help many more than just one child."

That question really messed me up. It poked at my insides with its bony fingers and scraped against my brain at night when I tried to sleep. Was it true that I could help more, do a greater good, by using all that money for something else? Was it really possible to put a price on helping one child?

The question haunted me. Then, my son approached me one day with his piggy bank in hand.

"You can use my money for the adoption if you need it," he said.

I swallowed hard. "That's very kind of you, buddy, but that's your special stash. I could never take that from you."

"It's okay." He shrugged. "It's for my sister."

And that's when I realized the truth. The answer to the question. Adopting one child was not only going to change one life. Adopting was going to affect my whole family, my friends, my community. It was going to impact my heart, my kids' hearts, our future. The ripples moving outward from the point of adoption would be countless. Immeasurable.

Priceless.

So could I put a price on helping just "one" child?

The answer to the $35,000 question was a resounding NO. No, no, no.

But there was another question...

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A hairy situation

One time, our family went to a graduation party for one of our students. We were sitting at a table eating hamburgers when an African American woman approached and slid into a seat next to me and Patience.

"Would you mind if I fixed your daughter's hair?" she asked.

I looked at Patience's head. It was definitely a mess...the flat twists I had put in were starting to come out and needed to be re-done.

"Um, I'm not sure we have time right now," I said. "We've got three more parties to go to today."

The woman waved my words away. "Oh, it'll only take me a minute."

To this day, the memory makes me cringe. I know this woman meant well, but I walked away from that party feeling like a failure.

You see, during our adoption process, we read numerous books and watched webinars about "how to care for black hair." It was required. These books and webinars freaked me out. I was more nervous about the hair than any other adjustment I thought we might have to make when Patience came home. The books talked about how "hair is an important part of identity for women in the black community" and one webinar I listened to even had an interview with a black woman in which she said she always checks out a black child's hair if she sees they have a white mother.

No pressure.

I never knew this until I met my daughter, but there is actually a "chart" that classifies hair. The chart goes from 1 to 4c. The number 1 is for totally straight hair and 4c is the kinkiest possible. My hair is number 1. Patience's is 4c. Learning to do her hair has been a long, frustrating, time-consuming, and sometimes painful process. And every time I go to town or to a place I've never been before, I look at my daughter's hair and think "Is it good enough?" "If a black woman sees it, what will she think?"

Then, last week, something happened. I stuck Patience in the tub to wash her hair, and it took 20 minutes just to wash the shampoo out. We hadn't even gotten to the conditioning and detangling part and we were almost out of hot water. And I snapped. Before I knew what was happening, the scissors were in my hand.

I stood over her beautiful black head and swallowed hard, wrestling with myself. Would cutting her hair be admitting defeat? Would I just make it worse? If I messed it up, where could I even go in small-town rural Montana to get it fixed?

I grabbed a clump and pulled it straight, every insecurity I have as a mother rising to the surface and causing my hand to tremble. What was I thinking? I held up a ruler. The stretched-out hair reached to about eight inches. I held my breath and snipped it at four.

Then started to cry.

The tears were about fear, that I will never be what Patience needs. They were about doubt, that maybe I was breaking some unspoken rule or violating some secret code. And they were about relief. Thirty minutes later, thick, black clumps were everywhere, there was an entire 'fro on my kitchen floor, and one thing was clear.

I should've done it sooner.

I don't know what I was trying to prove, wrestling with her hair the past year, causing her pain as I tugged at her tangles, spending hours of my time trying to tame the wild beast. I don't know why I care so much more about how she looks than how I do. I guess I just want people to think I'm doing a good job and that it's not a mistake for her to be stuck with me. I want them to think she's in good hands.

But at the end of the day, they are my hands, and I have to do what I think is best for my daughter. I cannot base my decisions about her life, our life, on other people's opinions or what I read in a book. I don't know what regrets I might have in the future. I don't know what she's going to think when she is older and has to live with the choices I've made for her, including the choice to take her from her home country and raise her in Montana. I just don't know.

All I know is that I'm doing the best I can, and I love her.

And she looks pretty darn cute with her new 'do.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

When campouts self-destruct, Part 2


Our family campout saga continued. (read Part 1 below first, for the full effect)

It was the end of our third day at camp. (Only the third day? Felt like we'd been there a month). We walked down to where a duo called the River Town Rounders were performing folk tunes in the gazebo. Who doesn't love folk music?

As we sat on benches and listened to them sing, a guy in a black Punisher t-shirt openly carrying a Glock with an extra magazine joined the crowd. O-ka-ay. Sure. I mean, it’s legal in Montana…but, wait? Really? Regardless of your opinions on handguns, it was a bizarre sight in the gazebo with the folk singers. Then, even more bizarrely, the Punisher guy's mother asked the River Town Rounders if she could go back to her camp to get her harp and play with them. Because, you know, who doesn't bring their harp to camp, right?

You can't make this stuff up, people.

So, Punisher’s mom lugged her harp to the gazebo to jam with the River Town Rounders, and we decided it was time to hit the hay. Back at camp, we found the rock in the bathroom door had been removed yet again, but the door code was still wreaking havoc. Not only did you have to push the numbers in the correct order (a difficult task for a 4-year-old), but you had to turn the handle just so within a certain amount of time after hitting Enter. Good luck. And if the person before you had failed, heaven help you.

So we decided it was time to get serious. Bladders were at stake. We pulled the door all the way open and dragged over the nearest garbage can AND one of those Safe Smoker cigarette receptacles to hold it open, then sat back to watch.

It wasn’t long before a woman came by loudly wondering why the door was open because “doesn’t anyone bleepity-bleep know that all the critters are going to bleeping get into the bathroom?" Could she be the one who'd been thwarting our attempts to make the bathrooms available to all people, regardless of sex, age, finger dexterity, and number recognition? Maybe. But she made no attempt to shut the door, so I wasn’t convinced she was the culprit. We went to bed without any clear answers.

The next morning, there was once again some sort of activity involving balloons and white canopies going on in the little field next to our sites. What now? A Daughters of the Revolution rally? It could be anything at this point. OH, it's some construction company's annual summer BBQ that apparently lasts ALL DAY, complete with an open bar. Right next to our campsite. Sure, why not. They also have access to the KOA splash park, where one kid split open his chin and another lost both her top front teeth playing King of the Hill on the mini-slide.

At least there weren't any helicopters dive-bombing us, since we apparently were NOT at war, and the hot tub was hot again. But there was a mysterious puddle forming under our tent. Where was all this water coming from? Turned out one small soaker hose came from a different valve than the rest and had been slowly but surely dripping away directly beneath my and Andy's air mattress. No wonder we'd been so cold at night.

My brother's tent seemed to have been spared, though...oh wait, the KOA people set up a giant field sprinkler on the grass on the other side of the trees. Well, that shouldn't be a big deal, the trees should protect us. Except the sprinkler was so powerful it actually shot through the trees and hit the side of my brother's tent with the force of a tidal wave every five minutes. For eight hours straight. Eight. Hours.

The last night finally arrived. My suspicions about the bathroom door were finally confirmed. It was not the foul-mouthed critter-hater shutting the door, but the harpist. The harpist! And what could we do? She was Punisher’s mom for crying out loud. Not someone we particularly wanted to start a feud with. But after she pulled the garbage can and Safe Smoker away and slammed the door with a huff, I snuck over and put them back. I ain’t afraid of no Glock. Or maybe I am, which is why I waited until she left.

Aside from a brief but intense showdown with the fat squirrel, who tried to shred one of our camping chairs to use for his nest, the rest of the night was pretty peaceful.

Check-out morning came. Sleeping bags were rolled up and tents torn down. Finally we were going home. My mom joked about the worst campout of our lives, and my brother mumbled that he was never going camping again.

But I laughed. Because today's series of unfortunate events are tomorrow's fond memories, and there's no one I'd rather make memories with than my family.