Sunday, November 25, 2007

For the record

Last week I had one of those “I’m exhausted and I can’t fall asleep nights.” My usual solution to that problem is to surf the web in the darkened living room until my brain slows down to feel the tiredness of my body.

This is not a good plan. Usually, I end up reading blogs from various perspectives on the adoption triangle. And usually, I find at least one post that freaks me out, neatly highlighting that I have NO idea what I’m doing, or clearly underlining how little I truly get what Rosie’s experience of the world is/will be.

So, as usual, I’m up surfing. And as usual I find a blog post that fills me with complete dread. What is unusual about this post is that I’ve already seen it multiple times - it is yet another link to the October 10 Seattle PI article , interviewing me as part of their announcement for the “Which Way Seattle: Transracial Adoption of Black Children?” panel discussion. What filled me with absolute horror about this particular link is where is was posted: Harlow’s Monkey . Harlow’s Monkey, as far as I’m concerned is one of the Meccas of the transracial adoption blog world. The writer is filled with knowledge, compassion, honesty and authenticity in droves. She is a pioneer and one of my current heroes.

So why do I care that she posted the link? Well, because of the article. Because working with the media is a messy thing. When a reporter interviews me regarding a topic I am passionate about, I expect my words to go through their filter, the editor’s mill and come out an imperfect version of what I really said and meant. When this article came out, hubby asked me what I thought, and my complimentary response was, “well, he kind of quoted me sort of right most of the time.” My mom loved the article (okay she loves anytime any of her children or grands end up in the media), my friends said it was “nice.” And usually I’m fine with that. They know me, they’ve already heard me talk at length about the subject. They understand when something the writer said doesn’t really jive with my point of view.

But this is different. Here is someone I deeply respect who barely knows I exist, has no idea who I am, and has no basis for determining if what the article says I said really aligns with who I am. And this is her (an all her readers’) introduction to me. Yikes!

To be honest, interviewing for this article could not have been easy that day. Apparently the PI decided at the last minute to run an article. I’m not sure John Iwasaki was given much time to think through the subject. I was contacted by WACAP, our adoption agency to see if our family was available to do the article. I figure they picked us because they know we’re homeschoolers and would probably at home during the day and in time for Mr. Iwasaki to do the interview, write his article and still meet the deadline. Also, interviewing me could not have been easy. Theo’s in a shy-with-strangers-cling-to-mommy phase. Rosie loves new people and was pelting Mr. Iwasaki with her own line of questioning. It was lunchtime, my kids and I were hungry and working on low blood sugar. And we were babysitting a friend’s two year old. Which means Mr. Iwasaki and I were trying to have a complex adult conversation with three hungry kids demanding our separate attentions.

So just to put it out in the ethers and for my peace of mind:

  • The article says “Through the first three years of adopted daughter Rosie's life, Cole busied herself with being a mom. The sociological effect of the adoption never seemed particularly relevant to the white woman.” What I said was that my primary focus was on creating a strong attachment with Rosie and that the focus on our relationships to the outside world were a far second.

  • The bit about Rosie noticing other African Americans is right, though off a little on our time line. She was in her 2’s when she made it really clear that she was aware who looked like her and who didn’t. “I thought this was a big deal” was an abbreviation of my reaction that, “Oh, we’re at a new developmental level. This is a big deal - It’s time to change our focus from filling her baby-love cup to creating her attachments with the outside world.”

  • Before Bill and I were married, we hatched a plan to have 4 children in our family. At the time, the idea of birthing 4 children into a world where so many kids are not getting their basic physical and emotional needs met seemed highly irresponsible. I’m a little foggier on the “high mindedness” of this idea now, but we’d still really like to adopt more kids into our family. Our basic agreement is still 4. I say I have options on 6. Bill laughs.

  • I have two refinements to the final paragraph: "My biggest responsibility is to prepare her for how people perceive her and make decisions based just on how she looks," Cole said. "I think that's the challenge for parents of any child of color."

    • In my conversation with the reporter, I believe what I said went something more like this: “As far as transracial adoption goes, one of my biggest responsibilities….” I really did get at Pact Camp that for most transracial adoptees race trumps all other questions of who and how to be in the world. And Rosie is a complex little person who will need to have a full understanding of the multiple layers of own racial identity. Helping her navigate how other people perceive her is important, but probably not as important as how she defines and accepts herself.

    • About this being a challenge for the parent of any child of color, I would just add that my next sentence got edited out. It went something along the lines of, “And for those of us who don’t have the personal racial experiences our children will have, it has an added level of difficulty for which we need to be truly diligent and resourceful.”

      I’m extra sensitive to how John reported this comment because of a recent post by Tama Janowitz in the New York Time’s series called “Relative Choices.” I, and others in the adoption community, found her post astonishing and offensive from a variety of perspectives. I fear being lumped into her camp, “parenting an adoptive child isn’t really any different than parenting a biological child.” Personally, I’m of the deeply held conviction that parenting our TRA children comes with challenges we will never face with our biological children. Two specific ones: being separated from their biological mothers creates a deep primal attachment wound I am convinced will affect our kids their entire lives. Secondly, being a different color than intimate family creates the “Outsider Within” phenomenon that necessitates that these children question and search for their racial identity in a way my look-like-me children never will.

And with that, balance is restored to the universe.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Nutcrackers

Come November 1, the people in my household undergo a miraculous change. Theo becomes a Prince, Rosie transforms into Fritz, I hail to Marie, Bill to Godfather Drosslemeyer, and Maggie’s doggie features become Mouse King traits. For 2 months, we are a living Nutcracker household.

I have no idea WHY we purchased our first Nutcracker DVD, Theo was 3 and Rosie about 6 months and most decisions from that time period are fuzzy. Anyway, we acquired a copy of the George Balachine and the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker and Theo watched it hundreds of times. He memorized every movement of every dance. He was the Nutcracker Prince (played, gasp, by Maucauly Culkin) for Halloween.

A year later, fearing that he would become bored with the same version over and over, I bought him a copy of the Ballet of the Slovak National Theater Nutcracker, which he proceeded to watch probably 50 times before coming up for air. Titillated by a second version of the Nutcracker, Theo wanted to see more. I wanted him to experience the beauty of live music and the thrill of seeing the dancers on the stage. So we got tickets to the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker. He sat on my lap through the entire performance, and I experienced his thrills through the tremble of his little 4 year old body when soldiers rolled out their cannons, also his complete anguish of living though the lovely (and thus boring) dance of the Snowflakes. We spent most of that Christmas season talking about the differences between Balanchine and Stowell/Sendak’s interpretations of the story.

When our third Nutcracker year rolled around, we were living with a real life ballerina, our new housemate Jana! Having a dancer in our house, one that had participated in the Nutcracker for most all her life, brought a new rule into our lives. No Nutcracker until after Halloween. It just didn’t seem right to subject her to the Sugar Plum Fairy in July. Mid-December, we went to see her dance in ARC Ballet’s "Taste of the Nutcracker". Theo was thrilled with the small scale performance and enjoyed being able to sit on the gymnasium floor right next to where the dancers were. He would not, however, talk to Jana after the performance because she was in costume. The rest of our post-Halloween season was split between careful study of NYCB, PNB, and Slovak versions. Theo stunned me with his own version of the doll-soldier dance, almost perfectly recalling Balanchine’s chorography though his little body could not always mimic as well as his memory.

Until this point, Rosie had been a Nutcracker tagalong, playing nearby the TV while Theo jumped up and down on the couch to various dances, sitting on my lap at the ARC performance, hanging out with Daddy while we went to see PNB. At 2½, Rosie came into her own. She discovered I had the Nutcracker music on CD, and introduced Theo to the joys of dancing around the living room. Soon, I had two sword-wielding, stick horse-riding children propelling wildly through the house for what seemed like hours at a time.

Last year, we added The American Ballet Theater’s Nutcracker to our collection, with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland. The kids only needed to view it a few times to integrate the differences between this and all the others. Theo’s interest in the Nutcracker eased, willing to watch the DVDs and attend the PNB performance, no longer spending every moment of the day as The Prince. Rosie’s first words in the morning, however, became “call me Fritz.” Her adoration for the wild little brother who breaks the Nutcracker in an act of spite entertained us all. Within a week, she had all of 4 the adults in our household trained to begin and end every sentence addressed to her with “Fritz.” “Fritz, will you put on your socks please, Fritz?” garnered all sorts of smiles and cooperation from her that made the game worthwhile.

As the summer air cooled this year, Rosie anticipated the arrival of Nutcracker season. In September she was already asking to get it out. Thankfully our Jana-pity rule allowed me to easily put off getting out the DVDs until November 1. It was hard to tell this year if Rosie was more excited about the fun of Halloween or the joy of the first Nutcracker viewing. Quick agreement was reached about which ballet to begin with – New York City Ballet is always our first. But all this careful study over the years has lead to discriminating tastes. So now our routine also includes careful negotiations of which version to see, with both children reminding each other about the merits of preferred parts of the one they are hoping to see.

Theo still spends parts of his day as the Prince or a Soldier, scouting out empty rooms before I enter to protect me from the Mouse King, though he is more engrossed in comic books than the Land of Sweets. But Rosie has taken on his passions, telling people at the grocery store that her name is Fritz and calling me Marie throughout the course of the day. Our daily discussion center around complex analysis of all things Fritz. Why did he break the Nutcracker? How was he feeling? Maybe he should have taken a nap before the party? Does the Mouse King represent Fritz in Marie’s dream?

I like to think our years of interest and study in the Nutcracker is my children’s first literary experience: exploring different interpretations of a story, discussing characters and their motivations, learned how to compare and contrast many similar works.

In case you’re interested in the Nutcracker, here is our quick rundown of the versions we've seen:

New York City Ballet and George Balanchine By far the children's favorite for the narration and the many child dancers. Adults find Maucauly Culkin's wooden performance wearing after 15 or so viewings. We recommend this as the best way to introduce other children to the Nutcracker.
Ballet of the Slovak National Theater The children enjoy this production as it shows the dancers getting ready for the performance: applying makeup, putting on costumes, helping each other get ready. It has sparked the beginnings of understanding how much work goes into the performance, not just the effort of the dancers, but an entire team of people who create the costumers, the sets and make everything look and move along with the dancers.
Pacific Northwest Ballet While there is no DVD available for this, we do have a copy of the book. Stowell and Sendak team up to create a very different story where Clara and the Prince travel to a Pashima's domain rather than the land of sweets. The changed interpretation is stimulating for the kids. As big Sendak fans, we all enjoy the familiar, fantastical tone of the scenery.
American Ballet Theater As tastes in our household mature, the ABT version is becoming the preferred production. Who can resist the strong leaps of Baryshnikov or the grace of Kirkland? This is the one to watch if you'd like to truly admire the dancing. Also, my children have noted the story of this version to be "nicer." Clara and Fritz behave more as wound up, yet loving siblings that warring parties, and the Nutcracker is broken by a well-meaning but drunk guest rather than by Fritz.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Slippery Slope to Adulthood

Theo woke up this morning looking like a cross between Beast Boy from Teen Titans and Bucky the Cat from Get Fuzzy.

By this evening, he looked like a seven year old, just in time for his birthday.

What’s a mama to do? I’m still cherishing the day he got these teeth, now he’s busy losing them. And you know what replaces them? Adult teeth!!

I reel at how fast my little man grows.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Why I Homeschool

There was much research and thought in the series of choices that lead us to homeschool our kids. But from time to time something happens that tells me why, today, right now, I homeschool our kids. I had one of those moments last week.

Around 2:00 on Tuesday, we went to buy boxes for the move, (Yes, we bought a house. More on this later). The man selling them helped us transfer the 125 empty flattened boxes to our car. Apparently he enjoyed the kids because he gave them each a roll of bright red packing tape, I suppose with the idea that they could use them to help with the box rebuilding. As soon as we got home, both kids flew out of the car and around to the back yard. Jana and I were busy moving boxes from cars to house and didn’t check in on them. 20 minutes later we found them in the back yard creating a giant red spider web with the tape. They spent the next hour happily expanding their creation.

I cannot begin to verbalize why when I came around the corner to check on them I had a deep, gut level “yes, this is why I homeschool my kids”, but I did. Maybe something about the freedom to use their imaginations, maybe something about the joy of seeing them engrossed in creation together as a team, maybe just the sheer delight that they were outside using their bodies and brains in the beauty of a November day. Maybe something else, but whatever generated the feeling, I always cherish the moments of internal validation that homeschooling is the best thing for my kids.

The Fashion Way

Years ago, friends and I worked through Julia Cameron's 12 week creativity course, The Artist’s Way. The work was intense and reveling, we felt empowered. We so enjoyed each other’s weekly company that we craved something more (can you tell this was pre-kids?). All of us were feel fashion-inept at the time, so we decided to create our own personal course we called The Fashion Way.

Based mostly on a book we found by Jennifer Robin called Clothe your Spirit: Dressing for Self Expression, we set out to shift our vision from using the arts to express our creative selves to using our bodies as our own palates. Focused on finding each person’s own assets and personality, and boosted with hilarity-inducing pictures from the 80’s, the book actually did a reasonable job of helping me identify what I like about me, both my body and my “spirit”. It also gave me the idea of clothes as vocabulary for expressing who I am and how I want to be perceived as opposed to falling in line with what the media says I should look like.

Fast forward 10 years, I still rely on some of the underlying principles I learned alongside my girlfriends. And, my wardrobe needs are radically different. My requirements as the homeschooling mom of 2 young kids may be the direct opposite of those I had working in a casual corporate environment. Last year, I once again found myself in my closet cursing the closet full of clothes with nothing to wear.

Enter MissusSmartyPants. A recommendation from FlyLady, I discovered her site during one of my midnight surfing binges. Mom bought me a subscription to her site and I’ve been enjoying her weekly diatribes. Though her theories spend little time supporting my woo-woo urges to express my inner spirit through my clothing, she makes the mechanics of what to buy, how to wear it and where to buy very simple. Her emails every week allow me to spend a few minutes remembering what it feels like to think about just me, linking me back to the self-loving, navel gazing young woman I used to be.

Here is some of my favorite bits from MissusSmartyPants:

List for a "seasonless" basic wardrobe:
2 Pairs of Pants. One black, other pair in a neutral color (in seasonless fabrics)
2 pairs of jeans. One casual style, other pair darker and dressier.
1 dress. Basic black (or other dark neutral) that can be dressed up or down. A simple sheath dress is best.
2 shirts/dress blouses. White or ivory & 1 colored
V-neck tee shirts. White, black, etc. and with some stretch (fitted)
3 sweaters. Seasonless and lightweight
2 jackets. Tailored, must coordinate with pants (one can be a denim jacket)
1 skirt. Basic black (or other dark neutral) in mid-weight fabric (like garbardine)
1 purse. Classic design/shape. Opposite to your body shape (for example: if you are curvy, a rectangular purse with structure)
Basic shoes. Black and brown pumps, flats, mules, and pair of sneakers
** Style Tip: You can stretch your wardrobe if own two shirts for every pant (or skirt). Pants and skirts can be repeated more often.

A concise list of fashion DOs for my body type
I’m a type “B” Beautiful Me
Tips for pants (usually my down fall because of my small waist, ample hips and long legs) include:
· Choose only flat front pants.
· Pants should be mid-rise (below or at navel) and ease into a straight leg.
· Average to taller “B’s” can wear a more flared pant.
· A flare or boot-cut pant balances the curve of the hips
· Shorts should be the length of a mini-skirt (mid-thigh), or should be at the knee (Bermuda, city shorts) to be attractive on your legs.

A color palate for my best colors
Spring Colors
Warm tones like ivory, beige, camel, golden yellow, peach, bright green, salmon or warmish pinks and violet. Warm light and bright colors are best. Avoid black and blue-reds. (again, blogger and I have differing opinions about formatting and it won't let me import the image with the color chart - sorry)

Shopping recommendations
My weekly subscription features shopping recommendations for my body shape with real pictures from real websites. Not that I do much shopping these days, but I enjoy the pictures and the information does influence my occasional outings to the thrift store. In danger of sounding lame, so far my favorite tidbit from these weekly missives has been a pointer to the pantyline-free undies from Jockey.

Probably my favorite thing about MissusSmartyPants - her emails every week allow me to spend a few minutes remembering what it feels like to think about just me, linking me back to the self-loving, navel gazing young woman I used to be.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Sleep soapbox

Most of you know I have a deep passion for the biological imperative for humans (of all sizes) to get enough sleep. Some of you might be tired ofhearing about this, even.

Here is a really great article on the effects of loss of sleep on schoolaged kids.

And with the compelling information that our kids (and their parents) really need to get "enough sleep", here are the research numbers on what "enough"sleep is. Remember, for adults, it is 8 hours, and for all ages, these numbers are +or- 15 minutes. According to the vast amounts of research, there are no exceptions, just more or less well hid levels of sleep debt. Keep in mind, too, that especially for babies and toddlers, this is the amount of sleep they get in a 24 hour period.


Hands down, my favorite book about sleep is Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's Sleepless in America. If you need ideas getting more sleep for your kids or yourself, let me know. I'd love to support your family in finding the rest and peace you need!