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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And then it was done.

2016 that is.
I have been a mama for more than a year now.
We have had massive changes in the last year.
A new business.
A new home.
And every time you think you have a handle on something to do with mothering, the handle changes. It’s beautiful. It’s frustrating. It’s happening so very quickly.
For weeks now I have been wanting to sit down and write and then the end of the day arrives and I realise that I just want to sit down.
2016 has been a year of deep joy and deep grief.
We have had to say goodbye to family members and friends as they journey on the other side of heaven.
Looking back, I realise that the deep joy of mother hood has also meant letting go of much of what I thought I knew about me.
Before becoming a mama, we were fairly convinced that I would need to go back to work, at least part time, after 6 months. There was a possibility that maybe not, but for the most part people who know me, who love me and well, me, all thought this would be the case.
Then work possibilities opened up and I realised how anxious I was about saying yes.
The opportunity came for me to do some locum work, in the same period as a conference workshop and seeing a family for some support and I thought that this would be a great way to figure out if this is what I wanted actually – to get back into a work space. We have always said we would reassess after a year of motherhood where I was.
Despite enjoying the time with the kids, running groups and one:one I had to realise that the kick back I was getting in this space, wasn’t just about using my skills, but also the affirmation that I am skilled at being in this space. There is feedback and affirmation. There is sense of being seen. There is a sense of other purpose.
Then I got home and my little person who had been with his grandparents – it’s a mutual adoration club – reminded me that his feedback comes in other ways. It comes in being present as he develops skills. It comes in being able to be the person who creates an environment in which he can develop skills. It comes in making his world big enough, safe enough to keep testing the limits of it and yet making it smaller when he needs cuddle, couch and comfort time.
It comes when someone says to me, your son is developing assertiveness already in how you give him choices. It comes when I get feedback that there is a secure attachment that has developed here & when we see perfectly age appropriate behaviours (the fun and more trying ones) emerging.
It comes when I get to be a part of going on adventures with him and seeing an overnight shift in suddenly being able to sit through a story (rather than needing to finish the story after he has gone to bed).
Being this boy’s mama has revealed to me that as much as I love my professional space, I am in a season of loving this space more. Of being in a privileged position of being able to choose to stay in this space more.
Being this boy’s mama has meant that my choices around health and wellbeing for myself are needing to be figured out differently than before.
Being this boy’s mama at this stage in my life means that my deep satisfaction at having achieved my career aspirations just before meeting my guy doesn’t leave me feeling robbed.
Conflicted every now and then at the end of a long stretch when I am feeling unseen – but that’s not about my work space, it’s about learning to rest in a new way of being for me.
Being this boy’s mama has shown me that there are things that I feel strongly about in a way that I no longer tackle as head on as I used to, and others’ that I will. At the end the issues I tackle need to leave a mama intact for him, as well as confronting the bigger issues playing out around us. That doesn’t mean I sit down in injustice, it means I change how I have to tackle them.
This year has shown me things about myself- some wonderful surprises, some horrible reflections – that I am grateful for.
I am grateful that my husband is in a position to give me choices.
I am grateful for the extra support we have in the Manyi family. All of them.
I am grateful for the community that we are a part of. The friends and family who helped me lay foundations for what I wanted out of mothering, for permission to choose differently, for space to figure this out. For more than one friend who has reflected that the first year of motherhood means grace and space to be less visible and involved because your visibility and involvement is elsewhere and not seen publicly.
I am grateful for the murky horrible reflections that have also emerged as they help me navigate what 2017 needs to hold in it too. And grateful for the people who love me anyway, but love me enough to challenge the things that need challenging.
I am grateful for my son. For who he is revealing in me. For the fact that simply unlocking a different part of me has meant drawing different lines in the sand, determining different boundaries and making different choices.
2016 has been the best of times and the worst of times to quote Dickens.
And I am grateful.

Grumpy but Grateful

I am a mom to a 6 month old.

I have only been a mom to him for 2 and a half weeks.

That’s when he joined us – 2 and a half weeks ago.

Our plan A – his plan B.

His plan A would have been to stay with his birth mom.

The bitter-sweetness of adoption is that fact.

I am grateful for the sweetness of this boy, of the joy that he is, that he is the first child that my guy and I get to parent together.

My heart has ached for his birth mom and him.  His first Christmas was with us – not her. This was her first Christmas without him.  This has been a tangible grief in the last 2 weeks.

Joining our family was the 2nd biggest thing that has happened in his short life.  He has had to settle into a new way of being with us and us with him.

The reasons for his joining our family and not staying with his birth family is not my story to tell – that belongs to him.

Joining us.  Not because he is lucky, or because we are extra special.  Simply because we have been joined.  Matched in a process that was full of incredible grace.

We have been joined and belong to each other, with the knowledge that he is linked to another too.

The last 2 weeks have been amazing. Overwhelming.  Exhausting. Terrifying. Exhilarating.

Pretty much what any new mom feels – regardless of whether the baby joined their family through a biological birth process or not.

I have been so grateful for the way in which our community has rallied around us – from my mom only being a phone call away – I can’t wait for her to be a short few minutes away – to friends and family who have stepped up, with meals, WhatsApp support and in support of our transition.

I have been grateful to my guy who has been open to truly co-parenting –even though the sleep thing is hard and he is/ was averse to body fluids of all sorts.  I am grateful that he gets that we are both in a 24/7 commitment with our boy and that in some ways, when he leaves the house, the intensity is different than my being home –and yet that doesn’t minimise the fact that him going out to work allows my being at home – something that we are both grateful for!

I have been grumpy, like all new moms, at times, as we settle into this new season.

I have been grateful for people respecting the fact that we need to attach and learn each other’s dance before our gorgeous boy gets to engage with others.

I have been grumpy from tiredness at times as our small family is only 2 and half weeks old in this sacred, fragile, beautiful adventure and it’s incredible; it’s also still new and unknown as we navigate new ways of being as indviduals, partners and parents.

I have been grumpy and oversensitive sometimes when people ask well- meaning questions or offer advice (like happens with ALL parents, new or not) around what our boy does or needs.  It’s easier some days than others to field all of this.

What he needs, what we need is for our attachment dance to be danced and the rest follows that.

His grief at this change (yes, babies grieve), the adjustment for him, as well as figuring out who we are and are we going to keep showing up for him, loving him, feeding him, trying to figure out what he needs is our priority now.  Yes, he is 6 months old – so we celebrate all the joys and milestones that come with that but together we are only 2 and a half weeks old.

Our boy’s starting point wasn’t with us.  It was with people who genuinely cared about him to look after him – but that isn’t the same as being in a family that you belong to – and that brings extra developmental tasks for him and for us to navigate. As individuals and as a family.

Not because of anything else, but for the fact that this is beautifully normal in the adoption process.

I have reminded friends (and clients) of this in the past.

It is my turn to be reminded.

Wanting to know more

Narrative Burden: The pressure or expectation to share one’s life narrative.

We all have narratives – a story. We all have things we share and don’t share. I am learning more and more though, as I read and listen that certain people’s stories feel and seem more public than others.

One of my biggest frustrations, in response to well-intentioned actions/ questions, when my own personal filters get tested, has been to have to hear “It was well meant”. One of the most helpful things I have recently read in a book by Gail Steinberg & Beth Hall called Inside Transracial Adoption was that it’s not just about the intent it’s also about the impact. I think that this sums up brilliantly what I have often clumsily tried to say.

It’s not just about INTENT. It’s also about IMPACT.

(It was in this book that narrative burden got given a name for me.)

The more I reflect on narrative burden, the more I realise that while it is a term used in adoption circles with transracial/ cross-cultural adoptees, it’s a really helpful term in understanding some of my (other race) friends’ stories too. The friend whose model C school accent doesn’t reveal that she grew up in a rural Eastern Cape village or the friend who ‘defied the odds’ and whose story then becomes public property with people wanting to understand and know and be intrigued as to how he or she got to where they are. All well intentioned in terms of meaning to be encouraging and seeking understanding but also potentially having an impact not intended – that of being seen as the exception, or as previously blogged about meeting a particular standard suddenly which is not always so encouraging.

In my circles I am seeing a push to more and more open, deep dialogue with the intention to bring healing and understanding around issues of justice and race. We can only do this with people we feel safe sharing the deeper stuff with. We can only do this within appropriate parameters. We can only do this well when we feel like we have a choice and know that what our stories will be heard and respected. Otherwise it feels well intentioned, but actually might have a very different impact.

Part of our official adoption prep has been to listen, to read, to discuss and to explore specific topics.

Part of my personal prep has been speaking to different friends, not in my professional capacity, but as a friend, who have adopted and listening to some of their learnings and frustrations and joys as adoptive parents. One of these friends recently confided that it was hard being asked to share their adoption experience (through writing a requested article) simply as it felt like speaking out their child’s story without their child being able to choose if this is something that they would be comfortable with, or not. This really struck me. Despite the fact that nothing private would be disclosed, their family would once more be on display in a way. It struck me how much this person who is an advocate for adoption and family and people was advocating for their child’s privacy and safety in sharing. It struck me also how conflicted this felt for them.

My guy and I have been speaking about what do we do to keep and protect our future child’s story safe?

We would like our child to have their own story – one which they can choose to tell and engage with as they are developmentally ready to do so. No one asks biological children to explain the private aspects of their stories of origin, and yet in some ways I am realising, more and more, again and again – through reading, through listening and through discussions, that adopted children & especially obviously adopted children don’t get offered the same right to privacy that most of us expect to have – whatever our story is.

I have often thought (and will confess to having said on occasion) ‘tongue-in-cheek’ to people who allude to wanting the full disclosure and details of a child’s story of origin that is kind of like asking parents of biological children to go into the personal details of the circumstances around conception of their children. It’s just something that we (generally) respect as being private. Yet with adopted children there is a narrative burden to tell this story– both on the child as they grow to explain it and on parents who get asked along the way.

Maybe this is a part of our ‘talk-show’, reality TV, social media culture we now live?

Part of my wanting to respect & figure out the ‘narrative burden’ has also meant re-looking at how and what we share – and recognising that I can tell my story only while there is no potential impact on my child or my family. My family has stories which are ours. Which we don’t tell randomly. My small is going to have to develop skills I didn’t need to growing up to help manage this challenge. This is not a shame based response. It’s not an ‘adoption is a secret’ response. It’s a response, for me, which recognises that adopted children don’t get the gift of privacy, or only having their parents know their starting story – social workers, foster parents, sometimes police, and sometimes multiple people in these roles amongst others all know their story which started with saying goodbye without a choice. I want to know better how to give our child the gift of being able to choose.

Discovering ‘narrative burden’ has already been a gift. It’s encouraged me to examine what do we hold in the sacred spaces within our marriage? Within our families and close friends?

Experiencing a glimpse of this when people ask ‘why adoption’ and then offering solutions or intended encouragement especially when we aren’t particularly close, or they don’t know that this has always been plan A for us, has given me a tiny taste of this.

My strategies in being gracious in this are being refined. In learning to recognise intent and respond strategically to that as well as impact. Not just impact, or potential impact. Definitely not perfect. Just being refined.

Grace.

One week later: Things that helped, things that hindered & finding grace in grief

I have learnt, lived and experienced things this last week that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. In the midst of the heartache and disappointment there have been many reasons for gratitude. There have also been things that happened that were perhaps well meaning but really not helpful. There were things that I am not sure what they were about but have left me perplexed. They are things. Things for me work well in lists, so here goes the list.

GRATITUDE for the man I married who has loved, held, supported and shown up when nothing he can do can “fix this” right now. I have learnt that Charlie shows up in the way that matters and that he loves me more, deeper and far better than I could have hoped or imagined.

HELPFUL reflection: We need the love and support and ACKNOWLEDGMENT of our community but that much of this grief work is private as much as the journey is shared. So thank you for acknowledging our grief, for praying, for messages and for space. That is both something that I am grateful for and that was helpful. There is a part of this that is lonely and that I can’t share with others – but value them being there. Just being there.

NOT SO HELPFUL reflection:
We chose to share the joy of discovering we were pregnant, as well as the sadness of the loss. The amount of info we share around this is up to us – it hasn’t been so helpful when people have wanted details around either the pregnancy or the loss. We were clear about the reason for not meeting our little person when we announced this (a blighted ovum). Questions & responses which weren’t helpful included, and in fact were quite intrusive:

o Did the doctors do investigations as to why? Can they explain why? (No – if you want more info, perhaps use google, rather than me).

o Were you on hormone treatment? Will you be given hormones to help you fall pregnant again? (Really – this is loaded with assumptions about how we fell pregnant to start with or that there are issues – and if there are, that is obviously something personal that wasn’t shared; and if there aren’t, how do I respond graciously and honour my community who have had struggles in this without pushing into their pain. Fertility is an emotionally loaded area. Please be careful how you approach this with anyone, maybe don’t?)

o Inquiries as to how much (& whether it will be protected/ unprotected) sex we plan on having in the near future (My gut reaction to this: Why would you like to recommend a baby making position?!)

The spiritual side of things matter too. I don’t believe that things always happen for a reason, or that there is a bigger picture or obviously God wanted an extra baby in heaven – my faith in God wasn’t hinged on whether or not this baby made it to us: I was astounded at the amount of people who told me not to give up on God. It worries me that God’s faithfulness is perceived as being contingent on my circumstances – but that is another discussion. The world is messy. Life is messy. This happening is nonsensical to me, and as hard as it is is messy. God doesn’t owe me an explanation -I don’t want to get into a discussion like Job did where God had to remind him of who is who.

It has been a week today since we found out that we weren’t going to meet our small person this side of heaven. Acknowledgment of this means being sad, saying it’s hard and taking your lead from how much information we choose to share. Our medical history is ours and the way in which we are processing privately needs to be ours too.

It doesn’t matter whether this was a first time lucky conception or a hard prayed and longed for one (with or without intervention)– or whether it was an adoption that fell through. When people bond and dream of their small people, it’s a loss – REGARDLESS of how the small person was going to arrive.

HELPFUL reflection: Recognising that while we share stories I don’t want to own your story and I don’t want you to own mine. They are our individual stories of unique babies but with a shared understanding of loss. It is stressful and hard for anyone to have to listen to someone else’s outcome which is not necessarily true for the person. Thank you for the friends who shared their stories but also for those who shared the helpful parts and didn’t insert into our story what their outcome was. Our story isn’t finished yet. A parallel story to this was my younger brother getting married before me – people often asked me if it was hard for me to hope for marriage since I am the oldest and Mark got wed first – no it wasn’t hard. I was never going to marry my brother. His being married, someone else having a baby or not is not my story. It’s theirs. My cousin is going into labour (hopefully) any minute – I am excited at the hope of new life in the midst of our loss. It’s been hard but helpful, for me, to be able to weep and celebrate with her. This might not be true for anyone else.

GRACE moments: That this either owns me indefinitely or becomes a part of my story. My daily choices as I grieve and choose to process will determine this. This was a reminder again that there is a depth of pain that lacks words. It was a reminder that I don’t have to soldier on and that in the midst of this and that there is love in places and people if I am open to receiving and allowing it to be there.

This is a club that I NEVER signed up for. I resent at times the fact that I now have to be a part of this and yet I look at the amazing women in my world who are here too – some who are birth mothers and some who mothers without having given birth (or adopting) and realise that none of them did either and there are lots of clubs throughout the world that people didn’t sign up for.

In the meantime there is grace, gratitude and recognition that it’s okay to say things are sometimes more helpful than others.

This is dedicated to a baby we never met who we named Michael; who would have been born around Freedom Day (27th April). Trusting that his story will help bring greater freedom in our lives, other’s lives as well as a sense of God’s glory in the messiness of life

SHOWING UP LOVED

Walking through a forest, reflecting on life, justice and the wide world, a friend said the following to me:

“What would life look life if we showed up every day knowing that we were loved?”
(Marlyn Faure paraphrasing Henri Nouwen)

Eugene Petersen paraphrases 1 John 4: 17 – 21 in a way that explores this too:
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home, and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgement Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgement – is one not fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
….Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.

This morning I was convicted of the fact that I often DON’T show up loved. I show up like I need to protect myself, like I need to question the people in my world, like I need to do more, be more and try more than I do. I need to control what is happening around me because if I don’t I fear what will happen. I don’t show up loved when I behave this way.

I am not saying that we should not put in effort, that we should strive to be the best we can be, but if we are not doing this from a place of love, then what is our driving force?

Making this real meant figuring out how would my life look different IF I SHOWED UP LOVED:
– What would my marriage look like?
– What would my work space look like?
– What would I be like and my attitude to the different dimensions of me (physical, emotional, intellectually, spiritually)?
– What would my friendships be like?
– What would my family space be like?
– What would my life dreams look like?

Doing this exercise made me realise how much fear had been allowed to show up – out of habit now rather than always for a good reason.

Fear meant that I took shallower breaths, focused on what could go wrong, focused on needing to protect me, and focused on needing plan B, C or H! Fear meant that I worked harder, pushed harder and judged myself harsher than I would anyone around me. Fear meant that things became personal when they weren’t intended that way always.
Fear meant pulling boundaries into rigid spaces rather than letting them be permeable and healthy spaces.
Showing up loved meant that words like the following peppered my page when I did the above exercise. TRUST, SAFE, GROWTH, FUN, VULNERABLE STRENGTH, DEEP, HEALTHY, GRACE, SATISFIED, PURPOSEFILLED, INSPIRED.
Showing up loved means trusting, checking in and then responding to God, to others before reacting from fear and behaving like I wasn’t loved.

I am re-committing to showing up loved.

showing up loved jpg