First prize for our family

Recently my guy and I decided that the time was now for us to start the process towards becoming a family via adoption. In fact after during our December holiday we agreed that by March we wanted to initiate the process. Our December holiday included conversations with friends who have adopted, who work in the space of adoption, who have birth babies and adopted ones but claim them ALL as their children. In fact, it’s been interesting chatting to friends who chose to adopt first around their fear that they may not love the birth baby should they fall pregnant as much as they do their first child.

Before we even said yes to maybe I like you enough to exclusively figure out what life MIGHT look like with you as my SO (significant one) we had conversations that included the A-plan.

The Adoption plan.

FF 3 years, a cross country move back to the homeland (me) and figuring out what it means to be a CapeTonian person (him), a marriage, miscarriage, job changes, moving homes and lots of dreaming about what do we want our family to look like and the plan A of including adoption is and was always there.

It’s been sad, frustrating, interesting and sometimes bizarre listening to people’s responses when we say this. Responses that have included:
Are you giving up on birth babies? (According to the doctor for those of you who have asked, wanted to ask or the thought had crossed your minds, there is absolutely NO reason why we shouldn’t fall pregnant if we choose to. In fact I checked this again last month during a consultation with him).
ADOPTION for us is is NOT PLAN B if plan A failed. It was always part of plan A. Regardless of how our children arrive, they are our plan A for having kids.

It’s not the same you know: Yes, we do know. We do know that there are no guarantees of genetics or medical history or knowing how stressed the mom was or the level of prenatal care and antenatal care that our future small person received. We know that we don’t have the experience of bonding as a family during a pregnancy of kicks, nausea and bathroom runs. I also work in a space where children have been loved, had parents make informed decisions about how to raise a child and yet are dealing with Autism Spectrum, ADHD, learning challenges, anxiety and other things like managing my feelings (to name the safe ones).
None of the parents whose children are said to be atypical dreamt of these things either so maybe my fears around not knowing how our children will turn out are as grounded in the unknown as they are in my known working world.
I also work in a space as well as have friends who will tell you that every pregnancy and bonding experience with their different children has been different – sometimes guilt inducingly so.

Horrific stories of failed adoptions: I have the (mis)fortune of being able to tell heartbreaking stories of failed parenting in families where mothers’ carried their babies to term despite addiction and violence and everything else and as support therapists are working on how do we love and embrace these families and children to wholeness. I know social workers who have to make calls on removing kids from families or families who weren’t adequately ready, supported or prepared for the challenges of adopting children with learning and attachment issues.
– AND the list goes on….

WHAT I DO KNOW IS THIS:

Neither Charlie nor I believe that becoming a parent is about being in the delivery room.

We know that our future child’s story has to begin with loss and temporary care and this makes us sad – for the moms’ whose decisions to not keep a child (regardless of the reason) as well as for the child whose story doesn’t get to start in a nursery that has been colour coded and prepared from before the due date of pregnancy.

We do know that we are in a community of family and friends who are waiting to meet our children-however they arrive & that we are in the privileged position of being in a community where adoption is normal. Where diversity is normal. Where blended friendship and family circles are normal.

We also know that there are amazing professionals who can walk alongside us when we hit hiccups.

We do know that we need to be thinking through what it means for our transracial family to thrive in a country still wrestling with identity which is linked to race.

We do know that there are a lot of unknowns and things that we still need to figure out but that we don’t have to have all those answers now.

My first experience of ‘motherhood’ was thanks to a little guy who climbed onto my lap and into my single woman heart as a weekend and holidays ‘family’ and I know that as much as I celebrated his adoption, my grief at saying goodbye to him forever when he was adopted was harder for me than losing my pregnancy was last year. I knew what comforted him, what he ate, how to manage tantrums when he was with me, what choices were helpful and which weren’t and we figured this all out as we got to know each other. I am not made to be a temporary foster mom – very clearly!

During a conversation about adoption the amazing guy I married said ‘being a dad is a choice – there are many men who father babies who don’t choose to be dads despite being physically present’.

We know we are choosing to do this.

We are choosing to love, live and grow our family with a small person whose presence in our lives is being welcomed and prepared for. As individuals, as a couple and within our broader community.

I sat in church this morning watching the families around me. I was saddened that people think, for us, that this is a plan B. There was a poignant moment as I watched a small person snuggle into their safe grown up’s neck and arms and just relax – and remembered what it was to have someone trust and KNOW that in that moment I was his. His fingers fiddling with my hair and head resting on my shoulder as we sang. THAT had nothing to do with where he came from and everything to do with where he belonged at that moment.

I can’t wait to see my guy hold a small person that way.
I can’t wait to get to know the quirks and wonders of the world through the eyes of a child.

I am petrified at how life will be changed. I can’t wait.

Wrestling with ‘skin’ colour crayons

I run social skills groups for children from Grade R to Grade 3. Without fail in every single group, my coffee/ brown/ chocolate or as one of them has identified himself ‘toffee with a splash of cream’ children ask to borrow the ‘skin’ colour crayon when colouring in pictures of themselves. Not the peach crayon – which is what I apparently am- the ‘skin’ colour. It irks me every single time. It makes me want to hold the crayon next to my arm and say it doesn’t match me – it’s not the colour of my skin (I still look like summer according to some of the college students I teach which means I am tan).

Yet every single child knows that this is ‘skin’.

It frustrates me that this is the case and yet we question why race still matters in terms of how we as ‘old/ big/ adult/ leaders’ engage the world?

I love that one of these kids asked me to guess which baby photo was his – he was the lone person of his race in this group. They divide their friends into the annoying vs nice people. When I listen and watch these children engage with each other based on their individuality, be kind to each other based on their quirks, I celebrate their growing social skills, but I also inwardly celebrate that they see each other as people.

Then I look at my social media feed which is populated with US vs THEM or labels like animals, and narratives saying ‘get over it already’, posted by thcee same people who are asking why can’t we be nice to each other and simply see each other.

Maybe these kids who are still going to be confronted with the meaning of ‘skin’ colour beyond a mismatch of crayons could teach us a thing or two. They are learning to listen to each other. They are learning that sometimes when someone says ‘I am angry’, it’s because I am hurting. They are learning that when we repeatedly ignore someone it can make them ‘mad’ and want to shout and scream so that they are seen – and while this isn’t the most effective way of problem solving, sometimes it’s the only way to feel heard.

My 9 year olds can verbalise this, in safe spaces. In safe spaces, they can own when they get this wrong – when maybe we didn’t listen well enough to the other and so didn’t help find a solution.

Recently in my social media feed the recurring theme in the commentary on current race issues – like being a black working class student at Rhodes or about the Rhodes statue and what do we do with him became about US and THEM and sadly, for me, often a refusal from my ‘skin (peach)’ colour peers to hear the other – I am not saying that the actions, attitudes or behaviours are all to be encouraged, but when we engage on social media platforms and aren’t willing to listen, then all we do is make it seem like ‘skin colour’ is the only way to go.

I can’t only be willing to show compassion to someone because they are ‘nice’ to me, or because they have been willing to see me, if I am not willing to see them first. Sometimes they need to shout loudly at me before they realise I am still standing and willing to listen. Sometimes I need to be comfortable being uncomfortable with someone else’s pain so that we can find another way – especially if their discomfort affords me comfort or vice versa?

I have struggled the past few days with understanding how we ‘skin’ people hold Mandela and Tutu up in regard, and yet disregard the voices of people whose freedom to express their voices Mandela is seen to represent? I struggle with the fact that we repost and honour them and yet dismiss the ‘ordinary’ person of colour when they express their story or pain in a way that we can’t connect to and so don’t validate.

If we truly want to honour the ‘let’s move on’ South Africa maybe we need to stand next to, walk alongside and listen to people whose stories and experiences are different to ours. Not because listening on its own can fix them. But because being seen and being heard and being acknowledged does something inside all of us.

It helps us find each other. Maybe then ‘skin’ colour can become peach and the ‘coffee’ ‘brown’ and ‘toffee with a splash of cream’ will truly all be equal to the peach in terms of value and legitimacy and experience. Despite the different pictures they paint and stories that they colour.

Our mirrors. Our freedom.

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”
-Albert Schweitzer

The last 10 days have seen some hard curve balls in our family of 2. The details don’t matter for this reflection, but the outcomes and realisations do
Things we were hoping we weren’t going to have to deal with and yet we did. More than did- we came out knowing that we are okay and there is hope, and in fact in the midst of the heartache and sadness there was joy.
Not because we were in denial but because we had ‘mirrors’ reminding us of who we are and what we are about and what our hearts have always known about what we believe our family to be about.

Regardless of what the situation was, I have realised that in any other hard time my default thinking was always: ‘Some people get the easier end, I am not one of them’ or ‘my story involves zig-zag hair pin, up and down paths rather than a controlled, steady climb to the top’. In fact last year when we fell pregnant, my exact words to a few close friends were – this happened too quickly, it can’t be that easy & sadly it was a blighted ovum – but that had nothing to do with my thinking – other than at the time really challenging me to change it but wondering why I should!

I had been wrestling with my perspective on life and what it said about my belief in God (which I didn’t really like at all) before we even knew we were pregnant so it wasn’t linked to the pregnancy itself. And (bad grammar I know, but the emphasis is needed) AND this is important – because my thinking had nothing to do with things that happen ultimately BUT everything to do with how I respond to things. Some things like a blighted ovum just are, but end up feeling like a (can you say rationalising excuse?) self-fulfilling prophecy and in other contexts mean that I don’t live in the moment but mistrust the joy in front of me.

See in this past week I have witnessed someone share their amazing testimony of how their thinking changed (read and follow her journey here: https://adoptaconvict.wordpress.com ) & had a conversation with someone whose life is in a transition and choices need to be made space, but it’s hard to know that there is permission and blessing to do so, and it hit me again.

We all need mirrors.
We need mirrors to remind us of who we are and who were aren’t.
We need mirrors to tell us truth, to encourage and to reflect back to us when we can’t see clearly.
We need mirrors to give us courage.

My mirror this last week diffused what previously would have felt like ‘here we go again – it’s that hard path’ and turned it into WHAT, WHO ARE YOU? REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE?

I realised 5 days after my mirror in our current context (a friend who knows who she is) did this, that there was no time to focus on the hard path, to get stuck in the default thinking simply as once she reminded me of the bigger picture…the rest no longer mattered as much.

It was an incredibly liberating and joyful celebration in the midst of what could have and previously only would have been an angry and tired place.

More than what and who I discovered myself to be in this, again, I celebrate that in the last 6 months, my thinking has changed, that to quote henri nouwen ‘I have lived into a new way of thinking’.

I know that life isn’t fair.

I know God is there regardless.

I know that ‘bad things happen to good people’ and that good things happen to ‘bad people’. That we don’t always get what we or others think we deserve – sometimes it’s much more, sometimes it’s much less. *see below*

I know that when my sense of shame, sorrow, anger, sadness or ‘it’s not fair’ kicks in that sometimes I don’t see clearly in the mirror.

I know that it’s thanks to the faithfulness of community, of people walking down the valleys and up the mountains and onto the peaks with me to celebrate that things have shifted into a new way of living.

I am grateful for friends and family being willing to be my mirror. Mirrors who can reflect the broken bit but also the whole bits – which allows for freedom & confesssion & healing.

I am grateful for God holding up the ultimate mirror of the paradoxes of life and knowing that in this uncertainty about much, that there is certainty.

I know this because I have witnessed it time and again over the last few months and really across the last 41 years &1 day of my life.

To sit in a car en route to work and want to do a happy dance of joy, knowing that the pathways in my heart and mind have changed is more than just about work I have done.

It’s about grace.
It’s about healing and joy.
It’s really been about mirrors: seeing and being seen.

We need mirrors.

*good and bad people used loosely in this context simply and by no means imply that people are not worth anything or that any of us are better or worse than others…