The Lessons We Teach and Learn

As parents we inevitably teach our children lessons. Some come through mistakes from our past, funny stories we tell our kids about a big lie we told, or the time we didn’t listen to our parent’s advice and the embarrassing and catastrophic lesson that inevitably followed. We teach lessons through natural consequences, and we teach lessons when we choose to pick out things going on in our world and talk them through it. We teach them lessons everyday, little and big, about our faith, our morality, our ethics, our world.

But inevitably there are lessons that must be learned the “hard way”.

Apparently at my house, we’re working on those a lot lately.

We have had a couple of on-going “lessons” happening at Purvis Point.

This is my first time as a parent allowing one of my children to make decisions that I don’t agree with- (I realize that when he was three and pooped on the picnic grass at the zoo in front of hundreds of strangers who were joyously eating their lunches, I didn’t “allow” that either. But I mean purposeful, long term decisions- not momentary behavioral choices.) We are letting him begin to carry the burden of his choices.IMG_2077

A few days ago I asked the boys to put the laundry away, and they began to complain and say things about how difficult and unfair their lives were. I sat them both right down on top of the folded laundry and we had a “talk” . (“Talk” does not refer to a discussion, a “talk” is when I talk at them, and then they go and do what I told them to do. I realize this isn’t the ideal model- but I need some grace here, remember, it’s been rough.) I said something like:

“It is not my job to raise boys. It is my job to raise men. I realize that you are boys today. But sooner than any of us can blink, you will be men. And I do not want you to be men who quit when things get hard. I do not want you to be men who act like boys, or men who run away when the going gets tough. I do not want you to be men who blame others, or expect things to be easy. I want you to be men who aren’t afraid of doing the hard things in life. Because often times the right thing, is the hard thing. I want you to be men who care about others and notice others, before you take notice of your own comfort level. I want you to be men who are proud of yourselves, who take pride in how you treat others. I want you to be men who lay down at night and know that you did your best that day, for yourself and for those around you. And so now you will get up and joyously put your laundry away that I will never again fold for you.” (It went on, but I am summarizing here for your comfort, and my dignity.)

Looking back, I realize that I was really taking a lot of liberty with connecting whining about laundry to dead beat dads and grown up man-chidlren. BUT this talk actually really stuck with them. (I know! I can’t believe it either.) I think this stuck with them because they didn’t realize that they’d be men one day. I’m pretty sure that thought had never occurred to them.

Fast forward a few days,  last night after Tre complained, and cried, and feigned multiple injuries, and “lost” equipment, and everything else he’s been doing to get out of football practice, AGAIN. I reminded him that this was a decision he made, fully knowing what it entailed, and that he had to fulfill his commitment, well. He geared up, brushed off his “injuries” and jogged out to the field. (Reminding me on several occasions that he already decided to not play next year.)

After practice as I sat in the mud room with him, helping him pry his sweaty gear of his gangly body. He looked into my eyes and said, “I always feel so good after football. You are right. The hard thing is usually the right thing, and it feels good to do the right thing, even when it’s hard.”

And I wanted to just stop the world, right then.IMG_2078

You see, this football thing has been really hard for me this year. Apparently at his age, things start to get, whats the word? Oh right, COMPETITIVE. And it goes from cute fun to… lets just say not so cute, and not so fun. And it has been really really really really really hard for me. It’s been super duper hard for me. This has been hard for me. My mommy heart is breaking daily and I am feeling like I want to scoop him up and run away to where the world will never find him and I can keep him, and things, just stay innocent and fun like they have been up unto this point.

This choice that we’re letting him feel is hard for me, not because of the time commitment (we have football SIX days a week), not because of the financial commitment, or the immense amount of additional laundry and weeks without us all sitting down for dinner together. This has been hard for me because I have spent the last TEN years (I am counting in-utero here too!) protecting my son. I have spent ten years making sure nothing hurts him, I have spent ten years keeping him safe emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I have spent ten years “helping him” make decisions so that he didn’t feel consequences. I have spent ten years making sure he had everything he needed to be successful.

And as I stood by the dryer telling him I was raising him to be a man, I was lecturing myself, not him. I was telling myself it was time to let him begin to feel pain and consequences, burden of choice, it was time for him to begin to understand the weight of commitment and the burden of choice. It was time for me to begin to allow him to make choices that would negatively affect him and others, little ones, but ones he can carry.

And I am learning that he is capable. He is strong, and brave, and his foundation will hold. But I want him to feel the weight of commitment with a 12 week football season. Long before he feels the weight of commitment of for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and in health…

Growing up is hard work. But growing people up is hard too. Watching my little boy make bad choices and watching him make the right choice, even when it’s hard- this is big girl stuff! My heart is aching and growing and aching and growing right along with his.

Smoking mice and smoking guns

I have a problem personality trait. I call it “unbridled transparency”.

If you know me then you know this aspect of my personality well. I just can’t/won’t hide who I am, what I’ve done, or what I am trying to become. I simply MUST share it. Not with everyone, but with just about everyone. I think this complete honesty about myself comes from an early experience I had. I don’t remember the details, but I was in early adolescence and I broke something of my mom’s. Probably just a glass or something, but I think I tried to hide the evidence. My mom came to me and said that breaking the glass wasn’t a big deal, but I would have been much better off to ‘turn myself in’. It stuck. I mean, I think I was born with an authentic spirit and a love of transparency, but that experience solidified for me that I am better off being honest about, well, everything.

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So, I am. Honest, that is. I like to tell the truth. I am a firm believer that the truth sets you free and I like freedom. Sometimes, though, I hide for a bit before I come clean. It’s in those times that I am at my darkest. I’m generally moody, agitated and unkind during the hiding- because I hate it. I hate hiding and I’d much rather come clean.  I’ll misquote something for you that I think sums this up. “Everyone wants to be fully known and everyone wants to be fully loved and to be fully known is to be fully loved” or something like that. I want to be known and loved- for who I am- not for who someone imagines I am. So, I tell the truth. And with me, what you see is what you get.

I am also a firm believer in being honest with my kids (with age-appropriate information, of course). I believe that if they have an open door to ask me uncomfortable or embarrassing questions then they will come to me when they are confused or curious instead of going to someone who doesn’t have their best interest in mind. I recently bought my kids each a book about the human body because I wanted to have an open door to talk about the things they are naturally curious about. I let them look through the books and I read from them and I let them ask silly questions that make them giggle. 51053ul3SBL._SX446_BO1,204,203,200_Last night we read about how babies are made. Through a fit of giggles and hiding his face in the bed sheets, Vaughn said, “You and dad did that??!! What day?”.

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I like for my kids to know the truth and I like to be truthful, which brings us to smoking mice. See, as part of my last couple years of hell transition, I’ve returned to some old vices from old days. Truth: I’ve been smoking cigarettes. Truth: I literally hate cigarettes. And yet, the stress of life and has caused me to return to a habit broken 13 years ago. Stupid, right? Believe me, I know. And if I didn’t then dear old mom makes sure I do. Well, I never wanted my kids to know I was smoking. I knew they’d be scared and I, of course, feel horrible about my choices. (By the way, the smoking is at a minimum, I’m not chain smoking or anything.) Anyway, somehow, the kids have been finding cigarette butts laying around, no matter how careful I am (the smoking gun). Eloise has been asking questions about where they come from and I’ve been brushing her off. I’ll let my text conversation with Amanda tell the rest of the story.

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Private content blacked out to protect the innocent. By the way, I only had to ask her 10 times to come see my #konmari office. Which I will blog about soon….

IMG_1610 IMG_1611 IMG_1612So there you have it. I told my kids the truth; it was hard, but it was right. If I claim to love the truth, then I need to be truthful with the people I love the most. My kids were so amazing about this. I told them on Sunday when I took them to downtown Denver just for fun. We were walking to the train and I asked Eloise if she had questions about the cigarette butts. She did, and the questions mostly involved animals dying from ‘cigaretting’.

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It was the open door to tell the truth in a casual, appropriate way. After we talked I clarified for them that this was my story to tell and if they had questions, they could ask me. See, I love the truth, but this is personal and I want to tell it myself. I also don’t want my kids spoiling other kids or passing along information that will damage others, but I don’t want them to think this is a ‘secret’. I just want them to understand that this is family (neighborhood) business and I want to make myself available for inspection. If my kids can inspect me and my response is truth, then they are free to inspect themselves so they can be free and they are free to inspect others with love.

Anyway, if all you got from this is, “why in the hell are you smoking and when will you quit?” then the answer is, 1. because I am an idiot and 2. soon. really, really soon.

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XO,

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Parenting: Race, how the heck do I do this?

Dear Neighbors,

This is not a post JUST for transracial families, this is a post for everyone!

I recently attended the NACAC (North American Council on Adoptable Children) conference in Long Beach. My business partner Jill and I went to hear Daniel Siegel talk for two days on trauma and the brain. side note: This is like going to Disneyworld for me- I know, I’m weird.
During the conference I attended a breakout on racism and transracial adoption. It was so so good for me.
To be honest, I feel like I had maybe put the “race” thing on the back burner for our family. It wasn’t that I didn’t think it was there, or even that I had “more time” until I had to deal with it. It was that I had A LOT of issues that were being slammed in my face.
Needless to say, I realized in part because of the breakout, that it was time for us to start addressing race as a family. Isn’t it funny how once you make a decision like that, God has a way of showing you that it’s right…
I took so much from this breakout, but one of the things that stuck to my soul was this idea of being an interrupter.  An interrupter is someone who uses their voice to interrupt the status quo, to point out when they see or experience racism. To help recognize that there is an injustice, a stereotype that isn’t being addressed, a problem. To help people see them.
Interrupting the status quo to ask questions.
I knew I needed to do more of this.
You see, this race thing has been brewing, and the few times I would say how I was feeling, I lost “friends”.  Good people who refused to recognize privilege, or have a conversation about things they’ve never experienced.
So I shrunk back.
This class was a reminder that I was wrong, I can’t shrink back when things get hard.
So I vowed to be an interrupter. And to create conversations in our home to discuss race.
The speaker threw out a rhetorical question… “Do you wait to tell your kids about your values and beliefs around sex until they are having sex?”
“Of course not!” I thought. Yet to some degree, I had done this in regards to race in our home.
Of 5,000 children interviewed from transracial homes the number one reason children don’t take to their parents about race is because they don’t know what their parents really believe?! We have to start talking about it! And telling them.
We have to talk to our kids about race before it is being talked about them or to them. They have to know what we believe. If only for the fact that then they will know that the ignorant kid at school’s comment, IS NOT WHAT WE BELIEVE!
A first step for us was buying a bunch of new books for our home library. Only 3% of children’s books have a main character who is not white!  We bought  a lot of books that talk about race, about the civil rights movement, and famous African-Americans in history. I did this so that we could “interrupt” the norm, not just in culture, but even in our home. So we are filling our shelves with these books, and filling our dinner conversations with these discussions.
(**** If you are a white family, with white kids, you should still be buying books with black characters, so you can begin to have this conversation with your kids at home. Because let me just tell you, it’s super awkward at the park when kids have never seen black people, or black hair.***)
Here are some of our favorite books:
11822657_10153084681207081_7056858178954638946_nBlack Girls Can– This one is one of my favorites. It tells the stories of different famous black women in history like our favorite: Bessie Coleman (the first African American woman to earn her pilot’s license).
Salt In His Shoes– I got this one for my little baller. This is the story of Michael Jordan as a kid, as told by his mother, of the lessons and struggles he had to become the man he is today.
One Crazy Summer– This is a chapter book we’re reading at night. It is about three black girls (coming from their adopted white home) who go back to Oakland looking for their bio-mom who abandoned them. She puts them in the Black Panthers summer camp for kids. This has been a great way of “interrupting” in our home.
Big Hair, Don’t Care–  is a book empowering black girls to love their hair, in all of it’s stages, phases, and glory!
There are so many more out there. Check out this list and this one.
The Skin you Live In– Has been a favorite in our home for a long time, it is a great way of introducing the “skin color” discussion for young kids. It is written almost lyrically, and so beautiful, and always makes me cry.
I Like Myself–  is a book that Laila picked out at the school book fair last year, funny, it was also the only book with a black girl on the cover. It is a great book about accepting ourselves.
Henry’s Freedom Box– We’ve had this, it talks about the Underground railroad, it is sad, and good. And gives us a starting place to talk about race in our country.
Her Stories– Is a book of African-American Folktales, Fairy Tales and True Tales. The illustrations are mazing, and the stories are fascinating.
The Other Side– Is another beautifully illustrated book, it is the story of two girls who strike up a friendship, despite the town’s rules of segregation.
I also started interrupting our family norm by discussing micro aggressions with my kids. If you don’t know what micro aggressions are, don’t feel bad. I didn’t either until rather recently.
Microgressions “are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
This is a really powerful video about micro agressions, that I showed them (It says “not for kids”, but I showed it to mine. Watch it before you show it.):
Afterward, we talked about micro aggressions and what we could do if we are in a room and hear people say “You play like a girl!” or “You’re a tom-boy.” or “She’s prettier because her skin is light. Her hair is straighter.” etc.
We started small. But it’s something that we talk about daily now. And it’s something I want to talk more about here. I want this neighborhood to be a safe place to talk and discuss race. For people to not take up arms, but to be open minded.
Please, join in the conversation if you have respectful open minded ideas and thoughts to share!
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Sacredness and Parenting- Maybe they’re not a dichotomy?

So, I am amanda.
I tend to write a lot about parenting. I think it’s mostly because it is the biggest battle in my life. It’s the area that needs the most pruning, the area in my life that reminds me that I desperately need grace.
A lot of it.
Like way more than you.
After much contemplation, and self-depricating discovery, I think I fail my kids the most when they mess up. I lack in compassion. To say it lightly.
 When my kids mess up, my sub-conscious thought loop says something like: “If I parent them well enough, if I discipline them enough, if I teach them enough, they won’t mess this up again.”
Ha.
There are a couple problems with this mindset:
  1. THEY ARE GOING TO MESS THIS UP AGAIN.
  2. When I think it’s my job to change my child’s behavior, I suddenly take on all future burdens of their choices. Therefore it is extremely difficult to approach them with compassion, keeping our relationship the primary concern.

I recently read an amazing book called “Tattoos on the Heart” by Gregory Boyle. I will be writing several posts that have been prompted from the reading of this amazing book. One line that I read caused me to tear up, the kind where you have to stop reading because you can’t see the page any longer. So I stopped reading and just took it in to me. To the depths of me.

“The poet Gallway Kennel writes, “ Sometimes it is necessary to teach a thing its loveliness.”
And when that happens, we begin to foster tenderness for our own human predicament. A spacious and undefended heart finds room for everything you are and carves space for everybody else.”
And this is it for me. The true struggle in my parenting has nothing to do with my kids, not even with my kids from hard places who have been abused and left, who have big hurts and burdens too heavy to carry. The true struggle for me is not in teaching my kids, or approaching them with compassion. Because it is so much deeper than that. It is this idea that until I have deemed my own self lovely, until I see myself the way God sees me, every time my kids mess up, every time they fail, it will engulf me because it reminds me of my own ugliness. Without the understanding of who I am in Christ, my children’s failures reflect to me- my own brokenness.
The idea that a “spacious and undefended heart finds room for everything you are, and carves space for everybody else”… That is it. Until I truly know my own loveliness, until I see myself through His eyes, I will not have space in my heart for their brokenness.
I sat there on the plane, crying into my book, and asking God how. How can I change the way I see myself so that I have room for all of the broken people I love? In that moment I knew,  my disgust towards those I love most is not a reflection on them, it is a direct reflection on me. What now God?
And he spoke to me quietly, through the drum of the jet engines and babies crying, through the dross and brokenness of me, and He said in that inaudible whisper on my heart, “You have to carve out time to hear from me, through the community and people I’ve given you, through my word. Until you see yourself worthy, no one will ever measure up.”
So now a few days have passed, and believe it or not, my kids keep messing up. But I am trying to remember that I am sacred, and so are they. That their choices don’t reflect on my score card, cause my score card has already been tallied. And I won.
And so did they,
I am trying to wrap them up when their ugly bits show, and remind them of their loveliness.
I am certainly not perfect, but this shift has been monumental for me.
“We squirm in the face of our sacredness, and a true community screams a collective “don’t move.” The admonition not to move is nothing less than God’s own satisfaction at the sacredness, the loveliness that’s there in each one- despite what seems to be a shape that’s less than perfect.”
Father Greg Boyle
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