Sharing the cake

Why do their houses look different?
Why are people standing outside?
Why are children not at school, or the men at work?
Why are there no gardens?

Can you see the Park in this area?
Yes
Does it look like a nice place to play?

No, not really.

The above were some of the questions and conversations had en route from Rondebosch, a suburb with lovely leafy open spaces and parks, en route to Delft.

Notorious Delft – Delft that makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Delft that is also full of families and people trying to get things to work for all the right reasons.

The conversation was with an ‘almost 4’ year old who was accompanying his mom and myself to drop things off with a friend of mine whose house burnt down 2 months ago. His mom was preparing him for the fact that things would be a little different to what was used to seeing in his day to day life.

We also spoke about the SONA events that had occurred the previous night and how his mom and I felt re: the different political parties responses.

His mom mentioned that Julius keeping issues re: poverty on the table was so important but also it felt scary to think of him being in charge, even though things definitely needed to change.

‘ Why is it scary mom’ piped up the voice from the back seat.

A-hem… mom looked across at me.

I waited to hear what his mom was going to say;  After another um, ahem moment offered to share what I had voiced to my almost 2 year old son already, not because he understands yet, but because I want to figure out how to explain our unjust, unequal past to my son. Something that I realised I was going to need to do at some stage when he was strapped to my back on voting day last year.

But, back to my inquiring little friend.

Me: So, let’s say that everyone likes cake.
Yes.
Me: And we handed out cake to people, but we had a set of rules that said that only some people could have cake and not other people – how would that sound to you?
Would you be okay with being told that you had to watch other people eating cake?
NO – that’s not fair.

Okay, how about if you had the cake and we said that we all needed to share our cake with people. Do you think that this would be an easy or tricky thing? What would happen if someone came and grabbed your cake, or you were scared someone would come and grab your cake?
I would grab my cake and make sure that no one could grab it.
So actually sharing your cake, even though it would mean that everyone got cake can feel hard? Yes!

That’s a bit like what is going on in our country.
DO we believe that everyone should be treated the same? That God made everyone the same?
Yes.
Well, as crazy as it might sound, not everyone thought like this and some people made really mean, or bad rules saying that some people could have things but not everyone.In our country, the people who could have the cake were the white people, and other people weren’t allowed to share the cake with them.
Now we have new rules but still not everyone has cake.

Does that make sense?
Yes.

Okay, well what if instead of cake, we said nice houses, or nice schools or comfortable things.
At the moment, different people are trying to figure out how to help make sure everyone can get these things and for some people it feels kind of scary to share, some people don’t want to share and other people want to share but aren’t sure what that looks like.

Okay.

And then another why followed….

Don’t ever stop asking these questions little man, your why questions might very well hold answers, compassion and solutions for some of the consequences of bad rules.  

In the meantime we need to figure out how to share the cake better, both in attitude and practical action.

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.

 

A mother’s take on #feesmustfall

My brother and I stood in solidarity with the students at UCT yesterday, the 22nd October 2015.  My mom and I have had lots of conversations about what is unfolding.  I asked her to put some of her thoughts down… here they are.  Thanks Mamma. 

In the musical “Les Miserables”  there is a song –

“Do you hear the people sing?

Singing the song of angry men?

It is the music of a people

Who will not be slaves again!

When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start when

When tomorrow comes!

And an invitation to join in and be strong, although some may fall and some may live.

I keep on thinking of this.   I am a wife, mother, 69 yrs old and WHITE. How does this affect me?  I hear the anger, see the hurt, the desperateness and yet I have HOPE.

I am and have been privileged and blessed.   My parents “battled”, money was in short supply, but  I am a qualified nurse who did not have to pay for my training.   My brothers all have degrees.   My children finished their degrees of choice, without any debt.

What right do I have to even comment?  How can I understand what many parents and students are going through, universities closed and exams not being written?  It is not right and understand the concern, but every week I sit with people, whose cry “please pray for work for me”,   My children need to go to school.  My child needs to be educated, I cant afford to send him

A mother and her primary school son, who often have to walk 8 km to school and work and back, because there is no money for a taxi or bus.  Fortunately he gets fed at school.

A mother, who pushes trolleys for tips, so that her children can go to school.

When a mother says, I do not want to go back to the life I led to be able to educate my children. I hated it and know it was wrong, but I was desperate.

The stories are endless and they do not want to their children to remain in this cycle

Two of these above mothers are white.

I say again, I am blessed and privileged.

How do I see the marches?  If I was in Cape Town, would have been there too.  I am proud of my children being there.

And yes, I understand the anger and frustration.  Maybe I would lash out too.

I do not agree or support or condone the rioting, looting, stone throwing, burning  and pray that there will be a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

I do not know what the future holds for my children or grandchildren. I hope and pray that they will be able to study in freedom, without the yoke of being slaves to debt.

That is why I say I have HOPE because we have hope that if we act and speak out for justice, there is Hope.

Isaiah 58v6    “is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen; to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cord  of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

V7        Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood

V12      Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;  you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls , Restorer of Streets with Dwellings”

I want to be able to stand before God and say “Lord, I chose the true fast”

I pray that our country will be the country it can be.  A country with a hope and a future.  Too long there has been too little hope for too many.

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.

IN TRANSIT

In transit

The waiting areas in airports.  The in between space of starting a journey and arriving at the destination.  The part that I often associate with getting stiff, bored, needing a book or a distraction, with starting to think about what will happen when I get there.

In my immediate family of my guy and I, we are in a waiting space for a specific outcome, the timelines of which are totally out of our hands.

In my extended family, we are waiting for answers to prayer, for relocations, for hopes to be fulfilled.

In my friendship circle, we are waiting for new life to be born, for friends and their life partners to discover each other. For visas, for work permits, for jobs, for change.

In my country, we are waiting for changes long hoped for to be seen, for healing, for people to be allowed to dream again.

Rather than being surrounded by final destinations, I feel like I am surrounded by in transit processes.

Then I am reminded of journeys taken in the past – the ones in which I embraced the transit part as opposed to those in which I wanted to keep asking ‘are we there yet’?  Regardless of how much I asked, I couldn’t make things happen faster.

The journey that was an overnight flight and looking after my co-traveller’s 6 month old baby so that she could stretch, go to the loo and have an uninterrupted nap actually was one of my favourites.

The journey through to Mozambique on the back of an open, uncovered bakkie (in an unseasonal hailstorm) with a lifelong friend making memories for a lifetime, which was then followed by a bus trip in Mozambique (in which the bus broke down), followed by an unplanned plane trip to Swaziland (we got a lift in a plane – yes, you read that right!) followed by a mini bus taxi trip home to South Africa from Swaziland, squished into the back corner.

The journey of moving back to Cape Town which involved a road trip down to KZN, along the Wild Coast, the Garden Route with my guy.

In all of these experiences, which were in transit, there was frustration at points, anger, and an unwavering hope that this was a part of the story, a getting to know my inner and outer world better.  The only way in which this happened was through a sense of surrender to something more than me and my plans and thinking of what would make things perfect.

On Friday morning, at the end of a commitment rather than motivation based run, I was reminded that I can make plans, but God determines the steps (Proverbs 16:9).  I can do all I can, but I can’t control uncontrollable variables, like understanding, or misunderstanding, or timelines that aren’t mine to set, or always know exactly what direction the steps are going to take.  So, the run abruptly stopped, and I remembered:

It’s about SURRENDER.

Surrender to the fact that actually the journey along the way is a part of the story.

Surrender to the fact that in my one specific context, I am choosing to trust God.

Surrender to knowing that regardless of my plans, there is a bigger picture with steps in it – sometimes steps of character, or relationship, or a picture that I wouldn’t have thought to paint myself.

In transit.

Adoption – before the child arrives – stuff.

I am not an expert in this.  I am in this.  This being our journey towards hearing that we are approved as adoptive parents and waiting to meet our small person. Along the way we have been asked by some people to voice what is helpful in terms of support and then an even more amazing question has been posed to me:

“and please tell me what isn’t helpful – we don’t know how to navigate this, so make a list, write a blog please.”

According to my Facebook feed there are a lot of do and don’t lists out there. Around adoption. Around marriage. Around singleness. Around *insert the most recent one YOU read here*.  Some of them are helpful and some of them have frustrated lots of my friends. Here are my suggestions, rather than directives, discovered in collaboration with other moms.

Yip. I did what any modern day mother to be does and sourced some input from adoptive moms on Facebook (as well as in person). I hope this honours what the moms shared with me.

DISCLAIMER: “One size never fits all!” so different people will have different needs.  I am writing this, not just for me, but with other’s input – who are not me.  Out of relationship, in your space, with me, or someone like me, this needs to be figured out!

I guess that would be my starting point:  What is your relationship to me and what will it be to my child?   Out of this relationship space, with any new mom& dad, I would suggest that the following things are helpful:

  • QUESTIONS & CURIOUSITY: ASK! Think about what you are asking though – one mom asked that people think about how they are asking as well as why they are asking.  If it’s clumsy curiosity that can be navigated VS wanting to tell a potential adoptive parent how or why they should or shouldn’t do this.  Part of why the adoption screening process is intense is to allow for things to be thought through and for parents to be prepared.
  • JOIN ADOPTION SUPPORT groups: If you are on Facebook you can access these. It was noted that it can get tiresome having to answer questions around the details. Joining a support group on social media helps you process with us, as well as being a resource for you in terms of details and dynamics. It also shows us how much you are interested in and are wanting to support the journey!
  • BE EXCITED with us – like you would for any prospective parent. Pregnant tummies and boobs don’t grow, but the process is intense in different ways as shifts, preparation, screenings and decisions are being made.

It’s helpful when people are excited with rather than simply judging the process or the potential outcome. Hearts are growing and making space for another human- some days these are more fragile than others, and so while not hormonally driven, we still need to work out how to honour them.  Our process might seem intense to you, but it’s about making sure that our future children get matched as well as possible with their future parents.  It’s about having healthy parents – much like your scans and screenings and nutrition, in hope and faith, help grow a healthy tummy baby – our prep process helps grow healthy families.

(P.s. Not all babies raised by their birth moms turn out uncomplicated, so adopted children may or may not either! “Children have glitches sometimes” to quote a child I work with: part of a good adoption prep process explores and prepares parents for these possibilities).

  • Being EXCITED SPECIFICALLY FOR THE CHILD who is coming: Regardless of the reason why people have chosen to grow their family through adoption, whether it started by choice or infertility, a family is about to grow.

It’s hard for people who have struggled through an infertility journey to have to listen to well-intended comments that they will now fall pregnant.  There might be lots of anecdotal stories to this effect, but this can offer intense frustration rather than hope for people who are excited about one child and people are already talking about another.

In chatting to someone about adoption, and how we can fall pregnant but are choosing this, the nearest they had which they could relate to was that once they had given up on a 2nd child and got a puppy, pregnancy followed soon after. so not really like us but this was well intended and meant to be a shared understanding. Instead it was a bit perplexing. The longing for a child yes – we both related to that but our choice in this wasn’t heard nor was the sad irony of comparing an adopted child to a puppy which wasn’t worth pressing into at the time – however, my social filters were 😉

  • BABY SHOWERS: This might seem tricky as the due date isn’t quite as obvious as it is for a birth mom, but actually this is one rite of passage for most parents these days.  It’s a way of acknowledging a shift (both in budget for most of us and identity for all of us!) on a journey to becoming parents. I was at a baby shower for a friend whose own story to growing her family had lots of pain and heartache in it initially – the baby shower however was one of the most joyous community oriented, celebratory events I have ever witnessed! Never mind the abundant gifts, the abundant support for this couple is what was overwhelmingly clear.  Practical preparations (guest lists and so on) for the shower had started as soon as these friends were officially approved for adoption. The final dates and logistics were confirmed once they got the call.  Other friends had their showers once their small person arrived. There are ways to make these things work.
  • ACKNOWLEDGING STARTING POINTS: Our children’s starting point won’t be with us and while this is important to acknowledge, it is also important that we recognise that in this, adoptive parents miss out on the early days spent getting to know small people in the same way as a birth mom who has kept her baby does. This doesn’t mean that adoptive moms aren’t real moms –  See below for clarification!

Adjustment, planning to be available in terms of meals and babysitting, as well as recognising that our kids need to attach to us AFTER they have attached to others matters.  This attachment process might make us seem nit-picky or super aware of being the person who baths and feeds and does the majority of the cuddling – this is all an important part of our initial story.  Starting points also include our child’s starting (birth story) – different families have different views on how much is shared around this.

Different families may do this differently – this is another relationship space which needs to be figured out!

  • THE BIRTH MOM/ TUMMY MOM/ REAL MOM thing: The government paperwork refers to adopted children as ‘being yours as if born unto you’.    That makes adopted moms A REAL mom.  The birth mom still needs to be honoured too – regardless of her story.  It helps our children deal with their two stories:  pre-adoption and post-adoption to know that there is space in our worlds for us and their birth mom.
  • If you are a person who PRAYS, PRAY for us. Pray for us in the process. Pray for us in the waiting.  Pray for our child – wherever they are.  Pray for their birth mother and carers who will be saying goodbye at different stages in their story, before we get to meet them.  Pray for our families and communities to as they prepare to welcome a new person.

Finally to paraphrase one mom 🙂

‘Stop asking when the child is coming – when we know,

we PROMISE you will know too!’

The waiting season is a hard one for many reasons  with no idea of when the due date will be.  In this time some of us are able to carry on with work and life things as they are until we get the long awaited call.  For some of us, plans need to be put in place in preparation for the call.  I know I am one of them as my work involves processes with children and I don’t get to just stop these – so while I have work timelines I don’t have much else just yet!  This isn’t craziness – it’s preparing for the next season.

We can’t wait for the official thumbs up call.

We can’t wait for the call to say there is a referral.

Thank you for waiting with us.

Impact & Intent: Hand in Hand

Every so often there is a LONG message thread that appears on a social media thread – whether it is about race or family or something else that provokes a response.

Recently I was asked to write a blog that was helpful vs things that were unhelpful in our adoption process- I hadn’t quiet gotten there when another adoptive mom tagged me in a post and vented a little on Facebook re: things that aren’t helpful for adoptive parents to be told/ said. Interestingly a few other adoptive moms reposted this and concurred with a loud YES that this has been their experience – in fact one of the mom’s comment was “we are in our 3rd adoption process now and we still get all of these” despite their adoptions being spaced over a 10 year period.

A different response to this has been from people saying people’s intentions are not all bad in their insensitive way of engaging with things that the blog post highlighted. That it was important to look at intentions. It was important to engage with people around these things and help them see beyond.

I agree with this.

I also think that it’s time we moved beyond just hearing about intentions and also looked at the impact of what happens.

Last year following a miscarriage I had some very hard interactions with people – most of whose intentions were well meaning, but the impact of what they said and did at the time left me reeling.  I am not still reeling. My heart has healed from this – however I am sad that one of the consequences of this is that certain friendships got damaged because while I was sitting with the impact of what had been said, it was hard to get past the intent argument that was put in front of me when I voiced that I didn’t feel safe or seen or heard in the intended act. There wasn’t space for us to look at the how and what in this.

This is something that I feel strongly about. I always have.

I have erred on the side of not always being able to see the intent in things when they have gut punched me in the moment. I have also been on the side of trying to understand what or why people want to know or have said something.

On a bigger scale, I have sat in company with people who still in 2015 believe that the intent behind the apartheid education system wasn’t bad.  It was well intended but the impact wasn’t so helpful or given a chance, because look how things have deteriorated since.  I have sat in discussions with people who have had to be quiet when well-intended people uttered racist or pejorative comments and they were silenced by the ‘It wasn’t meant badly’ argument.

It has been frustrating though trying to wade through both the impact and intent when the impact gets minimised in looking at the intent.

In all of these discussions the focus has been on the intent and while I definitely believe that this does matter, I am also wanting to advocate for more responsibility to be encouraged on the impact side.  I want these things to start being seen as two parts of one whole.  I have sat up at night trying to work out if this is my own place of hurt speaking or if I am actually just frustrated at the way in which we manage this?  My conclusion is that I have been on both sides of this for the right and the wrong reasons at times.

When we only focus on the intent, we minimise the impact for those experiencing it.

When we only focus on the impact, we minimise the opportunity for understanding.

Ultimately though, these things all come through relationships.

Grace happens in relationship.

Growth happens in relationship.

Both sides of this whole happen in relationship.

Hand in hand.