Dark spaces, Grace spaces & Me.

This last month has felt particularly hard.

Tuesday last week en route to work at Skatties I stopped to buy supplies for the afternoon’s therapy games. My car trip to Manenberg often serves as a hands free listening time and check in time and this trip was no different. So much so that I missed the shop I had been planning to stop at and ended up stopping at a corner shop in Wetton.

It was a shop that felt dark, manned by 4 men. While waiting to pay for my purchases I noticed an altercation start in the entrance to the shop & stepped back into the shop to avoid being too close to whatever was unfolding. A man was intimidated and verbally chased out of the entrance to the shop which he responded to by throwing a stone. What happened left me feeling initially shocked but then angry. Mama Bear kind of angry when the 3 younger men chased this man down the road, threatening and hitting him with a metal pipe. A younger (coloured) man was sorting through the bin outside the shop with a toddler in a trolley & we stood together watching the chase before the beating started. He told me that these men are always like this towards coloured people.

I found myself shouting and screaming at the men to stop.

People aren’t for hitting. He is a human being. Just stop hitting him. Stop it”.
Just after this, the men returned telling me that I could come and pay now.
I refused.
They were perplexed.

I stood outside of the shop voicing that I couldn’t support people who beat up other people in this way. At this 2 of the men told me to go, dismissing me with their hands.

The 3rd just stared at me, unsettled but determinedly inviting me back into his shop.

I can’t support violence.

Their shop was empty until I entered – it wasn’t a busy shop. It wasn’t a welcoming shop.
I walked away and climbed in my car driving to the BP shop just up the road.

On reaching the till to pay (again) I realised that I no longer had my bank card. It was still on the counter in the shop where the violence had unfolded. I also didn’t feel safe to walk back in there on my own. The heightened awareness of the vulnerability of women that the #metoo campaign left me with was still there- making itself known at different times.

I had to walk back into this shop.

I am so grateful for an (don’t know his rank) army guy who told me his name was Swartbooi who accompanied me back to the shop, walking distance away.
A man who listened and heard my story and simply let me ask for my card and stand my ground.

My ground reaffirming that there is too much violence in my country. “But the coloureds and their swearing” was his response. The shop men weren’t from this continent.
I don’t care who said what – there was a child witnessing your actions and that man is a human being.

“Yes, but…”he said… Yes, but I responded:

I am on my way to Manenberg right now to work with precious children whose lives are full of potential but who live in challenge and witness violence. I am asking you as a South African that you recognise my country is violent. Don’t add to it.
Just go lady. Just go.

So I went.

I went, full of adrenaline and gratitude to be entering into a community space that is healing. Into a space with children & connection and whose school space is a space that also seeks to offer support to families. A space where violence isn’t ever the answer.

In contrast to this space, the body of a 10 year old girl who had been raped and murdered had been found in the bushes of Manenberg. A 10 year old girl with a family and friends and community who was known to the children I know. A girl who in debates was the example given for one of the 900 child murders. A girl whose name was Chanele.

And then the Black Monday social media posts started, with the white genocide things (people who say yes and stats which disprove this) thrown into it and people debating whether farmers had a place to feel vulnerable and how to respond – some gracious challenges, some gracious invites but also some that riled me up terribly.

Farmers (Black and White) are in geographical vulnerable spaces & have been tortured and murdered in terrible ways. This is not a cultural war.
Farm workers (black and coloured) are vulnerable: Both to attacks but also to some heinous ‘discipline’ and acts of violence, including murder and being fed to lions and locked in coffins from their employers along with the exploitative practices in different ways from wages to living conditions to the dop system that still exists.

I recognise this.

I also recognise that the space I inhabit knows that the communities where we have the highest levels of violent crime and murders are also some of the most resource challenged in South Africa in terms of policing and social services & effective interventions.

Nyanga, Manenberg, Hanover Park, Marikana in Philipi recently. Everyone knows someone who has died through an act of violence.

Tonight I feel like if any community is at risk of being ignored by people and powers, it’s once again the communities where we have become desensitized, normalised and accepted high levels of violence as being acceptable ‘there’.  Where it’s become “normal” for streets to remain empty and quiet while gang wars rage and alliances between the corrupted & the broken parts of people get to determine whether children get to go to school or not. Acceptable in how we mobilise, respond and support.

Or don’t.

It’s not a genocide, but it feels like an apathy to some of our communities and a tacit acceptance of the challenges, violence and deaths in them is one. And by them I am talking about spaces where police hippos are driving past children on skateboards, where rocks were still lying in roads after a gang fight and where we shake our heads and want to keep our distance.

Tonight I am weary at the how and what gets reported. Tonight I am weary at the fact that social media spaces don’t always feel different to that corner shop.

Yet there is grace.

A friend posted a response to something I had posted earlier re: #blackmonday and the use of old photo footage. An offline conversation ensued. A conversation in which we both saw each other and recognised the other. The other in the fight to see people recognised and seen. The fight to figure out how to invite people to own our current state and not dismiss this as things of the past only, but that we need to be pushing into a new way of being and can only do so by seeing the things that violently hinder and damage. I removed the post not because I wasn’t able to stand by what I had posted, but because I realise that I am weary.  We are both weary – her at needing to respond to white people asking “is it racism”. Weary enough that we arranged a play date with our boys for us to have a conversation and see each other properly.

This is grace – where we can see,challenge and acknowledge what we know to be true about each other in the midst of seeking change.

There is grace when you arrive at Skatties and are treated like a Skat (treasure) too. When you are held and prayed for and seen, in a moment before heading into a role to hold space.

There is grace when children who initially couldn’t sit with you & whose defences meant avoidant & unhelpful behaviours are able to self-correct with minimal prompts, who tease and invite you to play with them, and in between this tell stories that are violent in their content but are creating their own space. A space where their resilience is honoured but their hearts can also be held.

Children from hard spaces with soft hearts.

There is grace.

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Engaged yet not..my break from Facebook.

It’s been a month since I actively sought to engage with facebook.  A month in which I have been less intense, less distracted and less caught in the complex relationships, in my head anyway, that evolve with friends as a consequence of watching their online engagement around issues.

According to my husband, there is more peace in me.

My personality seeks, strives and yearns for intensity; for intense engagement.  It drives me. Facebook offers multiple ways to feed this.

It also makes me less available in moments.  It creates stress in me when not channeled appropriately.

I have had to ask myself some hard questions this last month.  I am grateful for friends who have navigated this ahead of me.

Do I like who I become as a result of my facebook engagement?

Am I able to separate the way I perceive people responding to issues & comments on facebook from the way I engage with them off facebook?

Does my perception of people result in me making judgements about them? Do I want to engage with people whose interactions on facebook leave me not liking what I am seeing in them – not necessarily only their responses, but also their terms of engagement?

What is my role as advocate, as professional person and as personal person in social media spaces?

Does my family have a responsibility to respond or share our processes around navigating things & issues that impact us or are those sacred spaces that need other questions around them?

There is much that I love about social media and facebook specifically.

I love celebrating with people.  I love the opportunities facebook gives for generosity and engagement.  I love that it does connect me to people who if we are honest, we would lose touch with in the crazy seasons of life we are all in.  I love that we get to offer support in the hard seasons too. I love that some of the people who I engage with regularly IRL – IN REAL LIFE – are people I met through social media.

I appreciate the groups, spaces and posts that challenge me to refine my own thinking and positions on things.

I have realized though that, for me, there is a cost that comes with the above.  The cost being not seeing the underlying anxiety that it was creating for me until it was no longer part of my day to day life.  The cost of the time I spent saving things to read or watch later until that list has exceeded 40 saves and to be honest, I am not sure I am ever going to read or watch them, not while I am working part time and parenting a exuberant joyful 2 year old, while helping and supporting my husband in growing his business.  Not because the topics don’t matter to me, but the previous 3 mentions are significant and matter to me.  If I don’t honour these parts of my world, then all the knowledge gained through those 40 something saves isn’t going to matter very much at all.

I have realized that I spent a huge amount of emotional energy, even if not on facebook itself, in managing my own responses to things.  I have realized I started becoming wary of posting in case it was misinterpreted, or triggering, or deemed too radical or not radical enough or not PC enough or too PC – in which case I had people publicly and privately explain why I was wrong & not always in a honouring, respectful way.  Which led to my own wrestling with how to respond.  Should I respond?  Should I leave it?

Sometimes posts that weren’t aimed at anyone in particular were taken personally by people and while that is not my responsibility, if relationships matter to me, I need to think about how this matters too in terms of impact of what we are saying, regardless of my intent.

I realized that the echo chamber of facebook was exclusionary and that people who were on journeys around some justice issues were encouraged on their journeys of discovery but others were shut down as they explored things.

Some people who were repeatedly asked not to engage in certain ways around certain topics persisted and it all became too much.  Topics regarding adoption, race, justice and regarding whether or not my son was critically ill as consequence of being vaccinated (while we were in hospital with doctors exploring every avenue & being informed that his vaccinations prevented things from being far worse than what they were a year ago).  Too much for me.  Some of my friends thrive in this space. I am not one of them.  An inability to each see our own biases in stories makes online engagement as a catalyst for communication a hotbox for judgement, self-righteousness and mess really.

So for now I am wrestling with the above questions.  Our family is a conspicuous one, formed through adoption, needing to ask questions about race, diversity, raising our children to know who they are, were they come from and how much their own stories are valued, but this is a sacred space which only needs sharing in public spaces when there is an overwhelming conviction that to do so honour’s both my family and the bigger picture.  Else my family’s story ends up being a case study in itself and that’s not what we want.

I stand by public statements already made re: adoption and the racial things we have had to address regarding our language use.  Things like not calling our children ‘monkey’ or using adoption of pets as metaphors. Things like the fact that I am raising a man who is racially different to me which means I need to ensure that we have mirrors, mentors and many moments in which we reflect and normalize what this means for our children in a South African context, so that as they grow, they grow into the fullness of themselves and can stand their ground as South Africans with their own story – the present, the past and their origins.

I am standing down though from sharing too much of our own story in this as we navigate this all. In my personal capacity.

And here the challenge is – how do I share and navigate spaces that are professional spaces for me but have a personal impact to and do this in a way that honours and protects the integrity of both.

For this next season this means, far less active engagement on facebook (twitter and Instagram have been populating my facebook for now); a decision to continue figuring our how facebook serves me, us as a family, rather than me being a slave to serving it.

Over this past month, I have read books, been less tired & tied up, written reflections, gone for long walks, played games and been a lot less irritable about being interrupted when trying to read or follow something on a screen… not that the content wasn’t important but the relationships that are around me are & I need to be honouring those.

I have started dreaming again about reading more than candy floss for my brain and asking questions about professional growth spaces.

I know that often we engage with social media and feel like we have tackled issues.

I am asking myself what tackling those issues mean within my family space. What does it look like to live a life of justice, with Jesus as my teacher, without needing facebook to be a part of it? I still want the issues I have engaged with in the past so publicly addressed and will respond when appropriate, but I am doing this while being Alexa, being a wife and a mother.  While making sure that we keep wrestling with the tension of who and what we have in terms of our privilege without becoming a social justice experiment.  My children need a mother who can mentor and be present with them in lots of areas of life.  They also need to know that not all lives are as privileged as ours.  They are one day going to be the people who wrestle hopefully with other issues – but for now, WE get to hold the tension of both spaces.

So ‘still on a break with “facebook” & checking in every so often.  For now anyway.

Adoption: Children, puppies & kittens

Upfront disclosurer:
This is both personal and professional for me.
Before anything else I am a mother through adoption. After that I am a play therapist who has worked with children while still in care and post placement in their adoptive families. I have worked with adoptees and their families for reasons that are not adoption related in the initial referral but where dealing with issues relating to their adoption story changes behaviours, or for other clients, it’s a part of their story but has little to do with why I have the honour of being in their world for a season.

This is being written in response to being asked by a few different people how I feel when people use the analogy of pet adoption for the adoption of children.  

When we when we initiated our adoption process there were a couple of themes that emerged:
– That we were wonderful people to do this.
Hmmm…. we are people who wanted to be parents and recognised that there are different ways to become parents; We are people who believe that children belong in families and while we advocate & support that children remain with their biological mothers wherever we can, we also recognise that there are children where the biological mother, for reasons of her own chooses not to follow this path.
– An assumption that once we had adopted we would fall pregnant.
Some families get to this choosing adoption for reasons related to infertility. The point is that WE CHOOSE this regardless of how we get here. Please don’t reflect this to people. Unless they have shared openly with you as to how they got here.
(We can fall pregnant, we chose a different path to grow our family & separate conversation to this one).
– Either being told wonderful stories of adoption or horror stories.
No judgement in this – it’s our nature to respond to anything from our own experience or perspective of things.
One of the biggest things though, that perplexed my guy and I was being told individually, by different people in different contexts, about when people had adopted their puppy & how it had changed their worlds.

YOH!
At the time I was a lot more reactive than I am now. Mamahood has helped refine my responses. The depth of my feeling about this hasn’t changed. I have had to learn how to navigate things differently for the sake of my child having a mama being available to him rather than waging war with the world. I still think that these things mentioned above matter.
What has been pivotal for my guy and I though, is that throughout this process of parenting, from the months of initial paperwork and screenings and ongoingly now, the question we keep asking is WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OUR CHILDREN?
What are they going to hear in the narratives around them? What are they hearing in the way we speak or share about adoption or about how we became a family? What is ours to share and what belongs to them to share about their stories? What are they internalising about the conversations re our conspicuous family due to racial differences? What are they hearing in the things we challenge or the things we let go? How are we helping them engage with this all?

Why is this important?
Because when we talk about adoption, even generically and our children are listening, we are speaking into a story that is personal for them and holds meaning for them. Even if we don’t realise it at the time, our children are absorbing messages and perhaps you are reading this as someone involved with children, whether your own or other people’s, who has no known adoptees in your world, the children under your influence are absorbing messages too.

I have worked in an educational setting where some of the children in the classroom were adopted. They are not one homogenous group of children. Some of them were open about their story, some of them were dealing with painful parts of their story and some of them weren’t sure what to do with their story. It was painful however to hear their peers reflect things to these children like ‘You are lucky your family chose you”, “Your biological mother abandoned you or didn’t want you”, “Was your mother too young to have you”? None of these conversations, or simply repeating things from other conversations or media, were helpful for the adoptees in their peer group.

Too often adults default to the language of adoption, that we use with pets.
A tagline that is often seen on social media is ‘Adopt don’t shop’. I fully support rehoming dogs. I have friends, who are advocates for rehoming cats and dogs. We are very much, for the most part, a hair covered community in some way -whether just on the dog blankets, or our pants legs, or our couches. We love our hounds.
I am a crazy dog lady. My dog holds a large part of my affection. He is my shadow and my companion often. He brings me joy & helps me learn to slow down and shake things off. He is my boy BUT as much as he is to me, part of my family, he is still my dog. His needs can be complicated and simple, but they remain pretty constant. (Affection, playtime, outside time, training time, meal time, more affection, more affection and lots of long naps).
My dog was rehomed to us through a rescue organisation. We had a meet n greet that I went to with a friend & my husband saying: “You make the decision, I trust you”, a home check to ensure our property was secure & that the rescue organisation was happy with our approach to caring for the dog who became our dog. We signed paperwork, paid a fee to cover admin and other vet checks that are standard practice and he was delivered to our home.

My child however is not my dog. We had an intensive screening exploring who we were as individuals, how we got to this choice. I sat in police stations for hours getting papers certified, then more papers. We had criminal checks. We appeared before a children’s court magistrate. We met with different professionals. We had compulsory webinars and reading. We had more interviews exploring what we had learnt and realised in our own story in preparation. We prepared our minds and our hearts and then we waited. We waited to get approval to be registered legally, in terms of the law as adoptive parents. We waited and weren’t actively part of choosing a specific child.

My child wasn’t waiting to be chosen in the way that we see puppies or kittens or older dogs and cats seeking homes. It wasn’t a case of looking for the right child for us. Our social work team reiterated repeatedly throughout the screening and prep process that this was about find the right parents for the children registered as eligible for adoption. It was about ensuring, as much as possible, that we would be capable of caring for the fullness of who he is as a child who will mature into an adult.

My child wasn’t this being to be pitied until someone rescued him. He was a human being with his own story and own history. His story. A story we protect and guard for it is the story of his beginning; one which we weren’t a part of and so he needs to choose how he manages this part of his story as he matures, with us being responsible to ensure that he knows what he needs to know as he matures too.
Nor are we great rescuers or saviours. We are simply his parents – figuring out what we need to be doing to honour him as being fully our child in terms of our responsibilities as his parents, as well as a child who has a story that we weren’t part of too.

This all means that the primary focus needs to be about him in our narratives and our stories in a way that too often is lacking when we only focus on the people doing the adopting (or fostering for that matter).

The problem with the comparing adoption of a child to adoption of an animal (however much loved or lucky it is perceived that the animal is) is that we allow for a patronising, debt of gratitude narrative to unfold around adoptees’ lives. This plays out behaviourally in different ways for children and adolescents and dismisses parts of their own story.

Adoptees never chose adoption. All the other adults in their world – from birth parents (&even then not always) to social workers to the courts to the adoptive parents made choices. When we then add a debt of gratitude to the mix, rather than simply acknowledging that this family, formed through adoption does start with a trauma, always, of deep loss, it adds to the work that adoptees and their families need to do.

Please, as someone who sits in this space as a mom and an advocate for children who are processing what this means and how it plays out in different ways in their stories – depending on who and what is influencing their story, can we find a different, honest way of teaching children what adoption is?

If you are unsure where to start, this might be helpful.

Talking adoption… when questions are asked.

Protest Deja Vu

This is the outcome of multiple conversations, with a variety of (different races & economic groups) friends over the past while.  It’s a work in progress.  The calls to protest have made me rethink what I stand for.  Who I stand for.  Not just what I stand against. 

My heart and head have been unsettled and noisy for the past year.  Which has actually led to less online engagement, more listening & more watching what is unfolding around me.  It’s been liberating to realise that I have been guilty of deifying certain voices in the social justice circles.  Of sometimes not thinking through why I think what I do, what filters do I carry with me and through which filters am I experiencing others.

It’s liberated me to start a journey of discovery towards the voices who challenge me to think about what righteousness and justice looks like in relationship and as a God-believer.  I don’t agree with everything always.  I have to sit with things often.  I am still going to be too conservative for some and too radical for others, or too enmeshed and overthinking for yet others.  I am going to cause offence somewhere on this journey.  Sometimes for the right reasons, and other times because I have gotten it wrong and need to reflect and repent of where I have done so, not just inwardly but to the people in the story too.

I have had a lot of déjà vu watching the online postings of the current #HambaZuma, #PhantsiZuma, #ZumamustFall hashtags.   On the 16th December 2015, some of us engaged with similar conversations to those which are unfolding now.  Do we go march or don’t we go?  We agree with the principle, but do we agree with the way the action is happening?

I tweeted something which in my spaces was fairly moderate along the lines of “hoping that once this march is over, we will continue to see mass mobilisation towards other issues of injustice”.  I lost facebook friends over this, frustrated people over this and was accused of being divisive in this rather than invitational which was always the intent.

It wasn’t a judgement it was a hope. A hope that issues of injustice would be acknowledged and in our numbers, in the mass of people, addressed. 

The issues of injustice that matter to me are that of sanitation (going to the toilet shouldn’t mean risking rape, murder, assault or being kidnapped); of children not being in school because of violence or because there aren’t enough support systems in place to deal with children who are struggling.

A hope that remains still, now in April 2017 as we sit in a week in which the date for the EIGHTH vote of no confidence in our president has been set.

My protest question still remains:

What happens after Friday?  After the proposed national shutdown? Where there are ‘well meant’ but offensive motivational messages being circulated about make sure your ‘helper’, ‘security’ and ‘gardener’ are with you for this march?

(Q: How do you know that they share your views?  These are adults, they can choose whether they want to join you or not.  Maybe they want to protest in their own spaces.  Maybe they don’t trust the process.  Maybe they have witnessed enough protest in their lives or lived through the previous change in government to want to choose to hand the baton on to others)

One of my mentors who is black and poor asked me:

What are people going to do afterwards”

“What will change in how people treat each other and take responsibility for things, after wearing black, after marching?”

Government can’t change our social dynamics. Zuma must go BUT what responsibility and response within our abilities are we going to explore and COMMIT to after Friday’s march.

SO, please forgive me for overthinking this if you must, but I have friends who don’t eat supper every night; friends whose children run out of nappies for economic reasons; friends who STILL can’t give their children choices like my parents could give me. Friends who lost parents because they were poor – poverty reduces life expectancy (not a liberal snowflakey vibe, this is fact).  I have lost friends who didn’t have private medical resources & didn’t share how they were struggling health wise and so were on repeated waiting lists in the public health system and ended up having heart related issues on their death certificate but had it been me, would have been placed on medication and under observation.

I want to protest against these realities. These injustices.

I want to protest against power dynamics that aren’t right.

I want to protest against things that take away choices from people.

Yes, I want Zuma to go as I believe that he makes choices that removes choices from other people in order to continue expanding his own world.

I want to protest against the fact that in 2015, there was mass mobilisation for a week towards a march in the community and then it seemed that people went quiet.  That the invitation (again) and call (again) to share responsibility for addressing the daily injustices in our nation wasn’t taken up by the broader white community and THIS has added to the sense of mistrust and questioning of intent and motive.  The impact of our lack of action has led to some of the responses now.  As a white person, I recognise this to be a recurring theme in the social media debates in 2017.  I recognise and own that this is aimed at the white community.  Not because we don’t have a role in this country, but because we are either reluctant or reticent, or not sure how to engage with these things.

I want to protest that people in my friendship circles live like they do, with life being about survival far too often – whether from bullets, hunger or a lack of resources.

I want to protest that our fear of what restitution is stops us from exploring what it could look like in our spaces.

I want to protest for ongoing, as has been emerging in the social media debates, dialogues around what unity really means, about what making good could look like and what seeing each other means.

I want to protest at the fact that too often despite declaring that we are called to HOLY RIGHTEOUSNESS AND JUSTICE, we get caught up in our own self-righteousness and own vision of what we believe justice to be.  I have had to repent of this.  It’s uncomfortable and necessary.

I want to protest at the exclusivity of some of the spaces I have inadvertently helped create and protest for figuring out how to help keep people going on this journey of reconciliation and restitution so that it’s not just buzz words from the ‘rainbow nation’ illusion but that we keep on doing the hard work we need to in ourselves in order to see the others in the story too.

We are in the midst of a revolution.

It can happen while we pay dignified wages & explore what it means to cap maximum wages so that dignified wages are a possibility.  I am challenged by this every time I think about it.  Dare I think that this could be a reality?  Dare I believe that this is possible and doesn’t stop interest and investment in our economic markets and so importantly into people’s lives?

It can happen while we create relationships and figure out what generosity in this space looks like; it can happen when I choose to share with you because I know I have more than you based on my birth status and not because I am worth more.  And that the way in which I share doesn’t communicate power, but sharing of resources.  That there is dignity and acknowledgement that we are both givers and receivers in this process.

It can happen when I choose less eating out, less shopping, less what feels like essentials but are actually choices and choose to invest or pour that into other spaces.

Not just because you make me feel okay about myself, but because I choose to. And in choosing to, maybe I will find my sense of belonging with you.  In the midst of our differences.

Choosing Children. Or Not.

Adoption as a choice.
Not a default. Not because of. A choice.

This is a vent post.
I am currently frustrated. Intensely, immensely frustrated by a post I just read on a friend’s facebook wall where someone stated that to actively choose to adopt or stay “sterile” for the sake of not having children, and so that you could have sex without procreating, he didn’t believe was biblical.

Song of Songs seems to suggest otherwise.

He also believed that women are saved through childbirth – a little out of context as the Word clearly states that women and men – both are only saved in the Christian faith through the Cross. In other words through Jesus.
That aside.
When did we become the police of people’s choices to have children, or not to, or how to?

I selfishly love the spaces & freedom my friends who choose not to have children invite me into. Not because I don’t want to be a mother. But because it speaks to other parts of who I am and who they are.
Before we got married my guy and I spoke about how we were going to grow our family. My vision was ALWAYS adoption. It was just a matter of when we were going to adopt.

Not because I want someone else’s child, but because the reality is that there are children who need to be in families and I wanted to be a mother and actually, I still continue to want to be a mother.

I don’t have strong need to be pregnant. The only time I did have strong need for this was after 6 months of considering this as a possibility and knowing that it mattered to my husband AT THE TIME and wanting to honour him in this – the perfectionist in me felt the need to get this right. Sadly, we had a miscarriage, but even so, according to the Gynae, there was absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t fall pregnant should we CHOOSE too. See that word? It’s been a loud one in my head and heart.

We did adopt. We have a gorgeous one year old son.
We want him to have siblings. We have recently wrestled and worked through which way we want to grow our family next. We have prayed about this. We have spoken at length to each other. We have sat with the options individually. We have had to take a long hard look at our motives and ourintentions and selves (the good and the ugly) and come to a decision.
A decision based on CHOICE.
A decision based on who we are, where we are, who our son is and what we believe about parenthood.

Regardless of whether people come to the point of adoption through the initial plan A or a journey with the grief of infertility or a journey of life not working out quiet the way they envisioned with a partner – It’s a CHOICE. It’s a choice to love another. (Like you choose to love your partner who wasn’t born to you). It’s a choice to do midnight nappy changes, feeding, teething, hospital visits, interrupted sleep, reallocating budget. It’s a choice to be a parent – regardless of whether we get there through sex, adoption or marrying someone who already has children.

It’s a choice to not be a parent too.

Our lives exist outside of our children, we are people apart from our children and they are people apart from us.

We have the freedom to choose. Most of us reading this anyway.
Maybe we need to honour other’s freedom in this too.

The world doesn’t work like that.

Over the past few weeks I have had the incredible honour of getting to know someone a little better who is in the same social media South African Adoption and Conversations re: race issues in SA as me.  She is someone who tentatively spoke out about the fact that white parents of black children need to remember that their children are going to grow up experiencing things around race that white people never need to think about.  She is someone who is South African. She is someone who has lost someone close to her under apartheid as a part of the struggle.  She is black.

And then the moderating of her reminder began from white people.

Assumingly good people who have chosen to adopt because they believe each child should be in a family.  People who want to parent children regardless of race.

It happened again when she shared her frustration (with evidence) of a racist encounter with an estate agent who told her a property was unavailable and yet it was available when her white friend called. THE NEXT DAY.

It makes me cringe when we, as a white community do this.

I say we as I am no more innocent of wanting to shout out loudly some days.

My most recent PAUSE moment was needing to check my own reactions to spaces I have been invited into and then question how I feel when people I am in relationship with use language or speak out their anger in a way that causes pain or unsettledness or fear in me.

Whether as well-meaning, faith filled people or not, simply as when we moderate someone’s experience of a racial interaction from outside of their racial experience not only do I believe that  we minimise their story, but we also assume we can fix it or know better.

Whether we recognise it in the moment or not.

Before my son made me a mama, while we were waiting for him, my guy and I had lots of conversations about how we wanted to manage being a mixed race family.  We realised the following:

  • While we might be given great insights into the challenges and glory moments facing people who belong to a racial group that is different to ours, we don’t have their lived realities and that it’s not random people’s responsibility to educate us. Rather, we need, out of relationship with people in our community to identify mentors and teachers to navigate things – both culturally and in terms of race.
  • Our son is our son is our son and we are his. Something I tell him often – mama is yours – but part of him being embraced in the fullness of who he is means recognising that some of the challenges that might face him aren’t challenges that we have had to deal with in our own worlds growing up.  This doesn’t mean that we make race the focus and family secondary; it means we recognise that our family has to learn new ways of engaging with the world.

It means we look at what do we need to equip ourselves and prepare him outside of what we strive to make a safe space for him within our home.  The language we use, making sure his hair and skin are cared for well, without making that the only focal point in embracing him and delighting in him as he explores the world.

  • I am (proudly) my boy’s mama – but no one is going to know or care about that when he is out on his own or an adult. He needs skills, support and insight into navigating spaces as a black man in South Africa.

Before I became his mama, people told me to just let him be my son when he came home.

He is fully my son.  This week he had surgery.  I have cleaned up the tears, the blood off his and my clothes from holding him to settle him.  I have held him or engaged with him almost constantly as he has needed through the day, and the night, so that he could rest, sleep or just be.  He is my son.  My tears have flowed at the physical discomfort and pain he has been in that I couldn’t stop and prevent and all I could do was be present with him.

I am reminded that our family isn’t always perceived as fully being just family when people glare, won’t make eye contact (and this isn’t a cultural thing), shake their heads or are simply rude when we walk past.

I am reminded that while he is still little and I am mostly around, I can field this and help navigate it, minimising its impact.  I can only do this though if I am willing to listen and learn and be challenged.

I am reminded that as he gets bigger, I won’t always be there to do so.

I am reminded as I watch him grow of children I have worked with, or been friends with who have shed tears because children wouldn’t play with them because they were too brown.

I am reminded that the world and its people see colour and that as adults we need to help children understand what that means.  I am reminded that we are in this world too.

I am reminded that this is beyond simply people being mean.  This is about a history of systemic thinking that is entrenched in us in different ways around superiority and inferiority and that we have a responsibility to navigate this out of ourselves and the world around us.

I am reminded that as much as I believe all people are created equal that the world doesn’t work like that.

I am reminded that as much as I might not agree with systems and social or business models that perpetuated race issues, and still do, that doesn’t make them not real.

I am reminded that for me to parent my son well means to embrace the fullness of his story, of who he is and that I need to do this in community.

I am reminded that I can’t pretend that these things don’t matter.

The world doesn’t work like that.  As much as we might wish it did.

 

It’s not my story to tell

We were joined just over 6 weeks ago.

6 weeks of getting to know each other.

In these 6 weeks we have had to navigate being a new family with a baby, but who isn’t a new born.

We have been exceptionally grateful for the conversations, the listening, the facebook groups talking around things from a transracial adoption perspectives, adoptive parents, birthmoms perspectives and adoptees perspectives that happened in the build up to meeting our boy.

We ventured out the house for rambles, just the 3 of us in the first week of being together.

In the first week of being together we had already run into questions and statements– some well meant, some simply curious and some just inappropriate re: how our family was joined.

We have had to navigate some racial stuff.

We have had to navigate questions around his story.

We have had to navigate questions around the adoption process and costs.

All of this is stuff beyond simply being a family. Beyond simply being a new family. Beyond the (happens to all I know) unsolicited comments and advice.  Comments and advice which I know are well meant but don’t always acknowledge that adoption starts with a relationship (or more than one as between birthmoms and adopted families there are foster/ place of safety placements for adoptees too) ending.  So regardless of how cute, or little, or challenging our children are, when we adopt, our families start with navigating a grief.

My own story involves having being intimately involved in another little boy’s life who called me his mamma for a season despite my reminding him that I couldn’t be. Having to step back from his life was one of the hardest things I have ever done (He is in a permanent placement now with siblings and I celebrated the sweetness of that despite the bitterness of saying goodbye.  He taught me much about parenting and loving babies and being available when you don’t ‘feel’ awake, rested & sociable enough!)

My own story involves having to face an awareness that the grief that I have around this creates empathy for my son’s birth mom and yet is not the same.  The grief of knowing that you have to say goodbye to someone and step back from their lives and yet they are very much alive.

We, my guy and I, both believe that our family story isn’t just ours as the adoptive parents.

 

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Not every adoptive family will feel this way. The internet is full of public disclosures by adoptive families.

Our family being an adoptive family is already public – we can’t pretend that we are genetically his!

Our family story also belongs to his birth mom, as well as to him.

We adopted by choice. He needs choices to navigate the world as the world gets bigger and he engages more of it.

It needs to be his story to tell.

Deeply grateful for friends and family who have honoured this space as well as created safety for us as a new family to be a new family, regardless of our incredible boy’s age!