What a (almost) burst ear drum is teaching me about listening .

I am currently struggling with an ear drum that has threatened to burst.  Seemingly out of the blue.  It was a painful ache, much like when scuba diving, or flying with your ears that don’t want to equalise, that sent me off to the doctor.

The doctor, on examining my ear kept saying OH MY WORD, OH MY GOSH repeatedly. Never a good sign really. She then went on to tell me that the inside of my ear looked more like a haemorrhoid, a shiny (this was apparently a good thing) one than like the inner anatomy of an ear.

I am grateful for modern medicine – hopefully the deaf, blocked, dizzy, unbalanced, ringing, buzzing, motion induced nausea sensation will be passing soon.

It’s ironic when someone whose career is all about listening to people suddenly can’t.

Then I thought about the haemorrhoid thing, and other than thinking EEUWWW…thought about some hard conversations around race that I have been engaged in.

Around how when we have to consider things like privilege, shame, fragility, guilt, we often listen with ears that don’t hear. About how hard it is to listen to the anger or stories of others whose stories don’t make sense to us because we don’t experience life that way. About how uncomfortable or inconvenient, or how much we don’t want to have to keep listening.

We listen ready to explain the buzz, the nausea or maybe don’t even acknowledge the blockage that is the problem.

A friend recently challenged me on not being afraid to listen and speak up less apologetically.

I have realised that part of my buzzing has been not wanting to deal with some of the fall out of speaking up and out, of not feeling like there is enough energy to do so.

I am committed to not apologising for learning and wanting to keep walking with, learning from, and speaking up when I feel I must. I am committed to quote another wise friend to ‘failing forward’ in this as we learn to listen together.

I can’t learn when I am focused on the buzz.  I can’t listen or concentrate on what you are telling me when I am distracted by own blocks. Whatever they are.

I am grateful for friends, like my doctor, who have pointed the ‘haemorrhoids’. I am grateful that we can create spaces where we can learn to listen despite the buzz.

I am dreaming of a South Africa where listening means clarity and being heard, and being quiet when needed. Without the buzz.

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Colourblind vs Colour Competence

As a result of conversations I have had since publishing this I want to contextualise the following.  We are in a racially diverse, adoption is common as are cross cultural, transracial families community.  These questions and thoughts aren’t because we are isolated, they are in fact provoked in part because of my exposure to different kinds of normal. The race incident referenced below happened less than 7 years ago in a city which is said to be one of South Africa’s most cosmopolitan ciities.  This is important context I have realised and recognise that it doesn’t mean you will agree with all my stances below or see value in them.  Thank you for reading anyway!

We are on an adoption journey and are preparing to parent a future black man in South Africa. This is some of my processing and I am by no means claiming to have all the answers – however, I am wrestling and wanting to know how we do this well.
I have realised that anytime someone mentions race, there is a HIGH risk of people thinking ‘political’, ‘liberal’ and a whole lot of other not always positive words.
Being colour competent isn’t a political statement. It’s a skill needed in today’s world.

Colour competency is a term I saw mentioned recently in an adoption group. It was in response to a mom of colour asking people to be mindful of the implications of race for their children.

Conversations with friends of colour, reading well researched (sadly all US based) books and observing what I see in my day to day work space are things that have informed some of my thinking. I speak as a white person who grew up in an English/ Afrikaans mixed home – but none of that overtly impacted my social interactions. I WANT to learn from my friends of colour and from people who have grown up in transracial homes, adopted transracial homes how to better navigate these spaces.

A (black) friend recently said to me that she wishes we would use other words- so cross cultural rather than transracial families. I hear her. I concur –but I just wish we would actually more actively engage and talk about this in any form so that the things that for many of my same race peers don’t seem necessary can be understood well and that some of my different race peers can actually engage and tell their stories too and be heard.

I have heard it said by a few of my (white) friends who are parenting (black/ mixed race children) that they are colour blind. Their child is just their child and they don’t think about this. I have struggled with this as our racial features are a part of who we are. Our stories of origin include our culture and race of origin.

A friend from the long ago past grew up as a black man in a white home – on reflecting parts of his story a (white) friend expressed that he wished that there had been a way in adulthood for this friend who has sadly passed away to not have had to have such boxed/ split realities. Until we explore more colour/ race/ cultural competent ways of engaging with each other I am not sure how we are going to get this right going forward.

My child will be my child. I want the best for him. I want him to be the best version of himself. I want him to know that we embrace him, not just for who he is, but for the fullness of who he is- which includes the culture and race group that he comes from. I ALSO want to know how to help him build racial self-esteem – which is a part of his sense of self – and to equip him to deal with the challenges that will face him as sadly the world still does see in colour and race and not always as a celebration of difference.

Recently I have had a few conversations (with white friends and family) where children were said to not see colour – in direct contrast to sitting in a class room 3 months ago where a (black) child was told he couldn’t use the “skin”colour crayon because he was a black man – this child was 9 years old and while he didn’t know necessarily what the meaning of that was to his friend, his immediate response was:
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Between I will and I do….the “baby” question

Getting married at this stage of my life has its definite advantages. There is much of what I wanted to achieve and do that has been done.  It also comes with its own challenges.  Challenges that one would expect like learning to let go of some independence, learning what inter-dependence looks like and figuring out how to share my space naturally with another, appreciating that when God says two are better than one and a cord of three isn’t easily broken, that the bonding of this cord happens as things are resolved (this means wrestling, stand offs, choices and inevitable conflict at times). Challenges as families shift in their understanding of each other and the way that we are involved in each other’s lives.

It also means that we learn to trust another’s involvement in our lives and our life choices:  not because the other is the “boss of me” but because the other actually cares about me and wants me to be a good “boss of me”.

One of the hardest things for me, especially as we have made choices not to live together, not to sleep together and are doing our courtship the “old school” Christian way of preparing for marriage- there is lots of anticipating and excitement, but also recognising that our first year of marriage may have lots of ‘refining moments’– is the fact the people frequently feel the need to tell me to hurry up and have babies because I am getting on…. (Open private speech bubble: It’s hard not want to ask you what you know about my ovaries or my fiancé’s reproductive capacity in these conversations: Close private speech bubble)

Thank you for believing that I will make a good mom.

Thank you for being interested in our lives.

And now I am going to thank you for trusting that this is something that my fiancé and I have spoken about; have prayed about; have made choices about too.  A wise friend said to me when I voiced my frustration:  There isn’t only one way of having babies nowadays – and there are no guarantees regardless of age or planning or how much of a good parent one may potentially be. My Ouma had her last child at the age of 44, AFTER a mastectomy and a bout with breast cancer.  He is perfectly healthy.  Yes, the risks are there.  Yes, it may be harder but it also may be easier for me than for some of my other friends who have done EVERYTHING right – they eat well, they keep their body fat at the optimal percentage, they exercise, they LOVE children and they have a supportive community around them and yet, I know their heartaches and things just not happening despite trying for months at the optimal age. Not just one friend – numerous friends! There are no guarantees in any of this.

It has been hard to know how to respond when the day we got engaged people started telling me I needed to start trying; or asking how long we planned on waiting because….well, you know, Lex, you are old; or going to an appointment with the lady doctor and being told to go home and make a baby now because the egg was in the perfect place according to the scan (She got asked to behave!).  It’s hard when I know that people don’t mean this badly. 

We would like to walk down the aisle first.  We would like to be in a position, where as a self-employed person, I don’t need to work for 3 months and we will be financially comfortable.  We would like to have memories of us 2 before we make memories of us 3 or us 4.  We also know that we want to choose a baby –regardless of whether we ‘make a bio-baby’ or not.

In the midst of all the pending changes, the last thing my heart, my brain and my body can cope with is the idea of being a mom on top of this all.  Yes, there are risks. We are risking joining 2 lives.  We are risking making decisions around careers and homes and futures as a couple.  We are risking giving up individual adventures to have a joint adventure.  Allow us to risk this well before we risk together with the life of another little person.  We want to risk for and with them. We want to love them well – more than well.

Just give us a little bit of time to get there!