Monthly Archives: April 2011

Hello again. Gone two weeks and didn’t even leave a note.

We are just back from a great, long 10-day trip for my daughter’s spring break.
I meant to leave word that I was signing off for a bit.  I meant to write while I was away.  I meant to say happy Passover.  Or happy spring.  When it started to look like I wouldn’t get the time or privacy to do this writing on our trip, I meant to post pictures.  Daily.  Getting out of town, especially for a longer trip, is sometimes challenging around here.

Just before I left I spent several interesting days at a feminist conference, had a couple of informational interviews, applied for a job, did an inordinate amount of laundry (I really mean an enormous amount of laundry– how do three people who aren’t coal miners or professional athletes generate all that?) and did about a zillion other things.

We went to San Francisco where my very close, old friend, L. (my first blogging partner) lives with her daughters and partner/husband.  We adore them.  I’ve wanted to write about Passover, this particular Passover and the meanings Passover has for me at different times.  The wonderful seder we made.  The spinning classes I went to with my friend at a YMCA in San Francisco.  The YMCA there full of women and men from ages 16-87 in all shapes and sizes.  The clusters of old Chinese women speaking English with each other.  Jewish women, Black women, fat and skinny women. There were things to write about being with my partner and daughter and my mother– and with my friend’s mother.  Our two mothers met for the first time in the 30-plus years of L’s and my friendship. I want to write about suddenly being old enough to have 30-plus year friendships.

There were visits with two other important friends in San Francisco and there is always the beauty of the scenery and the light there.

The second and third parts of the trip were Chicago.  My Chicago.  City first then suburb.  My sister and my nephews joined us.  We adore them.  The particular way I can relax, laugh and cry when I am with my sister.  My nephew J. and his very interesting and wonderful mind.  We all love him.
My nephew I., whose birth I was at– who now towers above me, drives, travels to foreign countries.  We all love him.  Being with my mother in her home.

In Jewish practice there is a period called shloshim (which means thirty).  It refers to the first thirty days after a death.  It refers to that very intense period of intense pain and awareness in the thirty days following the death of an immediate family member.  My father’s yahrzeit (anniversary of a death) comes on May 17.  Passover eight years ago was the last time I was with him while he was alive and then he died very suddenly.  Since his death, I experience my own shloshim in the 30 days before his yahrzeit.  An acute awareness that he is gone, that things were hard, that he was a good, Jewish man, that I learned from him and struggled with him.  The pain of having lost him suddenly, without having had the chance to say goodbye.

Now we are back in our home.  Besides this intense period of time leading up to my father’s yahrzeit, it is mundane right now.  I threw my back out so badly hauling luggage up the stairs of our walk-up at 1:00 a.m. when we finally arrived at our building from the airport last night I am twisted into the shape of an S.  I know my chiropractor will bail me out on Wednesday but for now it feels like my father just died on the one hand and on the other, my hurt back keeps me occupied with questions like, “hmm, can I lift that milk into the shelf in the fridge without a wrench?; Can I walk from the car to there or should I look for a closer parking place?”

Once I see the chiropractor, my back will regain it’s straight strength and with straight back my brain too will unkink and I will think and write interesting thoughts again about many different things.  But for now, sorry I left without so much as a note.  Photos to follow.

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Adoption Nation– another look, keep reading.

I have posted my review, and walked to the post office in the gray drizzling rain this morning to send off the two free books to my two readers who won the lottery for the books.  It was very satisfying to read Adoption Nation, and write the review.  And something about mailing out the two books was especially satisfying.  I put my mind back on my writing and posted a shorter piece this morning about my perspective on my daughter’s emerging perspective on the world.

With all that done, I turned my attention to reading some of my favorite bloggers again. I see that over at Mama C and the Boys there is another review of Adoption Nation, which includes an interview with the author, Adam Pertman. I was glad to see the review, liked the Q & A (they offered this to me too and I wanted to do it, but couldn’t get that set with the publicist) and wanted to let you all know it is out there, if you are interested.  Thanks, Mama C. for the thoughtful questions and the insightful review.  I, like you, was amazed in particular, by the scope of the book.

Columbus sailed the wide ocean and my daughter’s big mind.

I don’t like to face it in certain ways, but we are just a little tiny– I mean teeny, bit out– from my daughter turning 10– which seems like a big milestone in the life of a young person and certainly in the life of this mother.  I don’t know exactly how this post will work (as in well or poorly) but I am trying to write some about the mind and perspective of my daughter as she gets older.

This is also my call to those of you with children who are no longer very young children, to do the same.  Sarah— more, more about your older children!  Mama C. get ready, and tell us more as Sam gets a little older and then later, Marcel!  Others of you blogging about young people 10 and up, more about their ideas and the things you are discussing with them, wrestling with– and watching them wrestle with– not just how problematic it is (and no longer cute) to pick up their laundry, and not just about the feelings we have as they turn their attention away from us.  But I want to hear more, and learn more about issues of identity, perspective, ideas– theirs.  I want more about what is on their minds and then what is on yours as you listen.

I almost never write about going through elementary school again which is, in a certain way, what one does as one’s child goes through elementary school.  For sure I am not going through it again in that I am not subject to all the arbitrary and harsh and often unfair rules, I am not subject to the oppression of being a young person, and I don’t get out there and do great things like run around and use my body every day the way many (mine among them) elementary school students do each day until they are made to stop.  I don’t learn new things at the drop of a hat, as my daughter has taken up Latin Dancing with barely even a nod from me. (Really, she learned about, went to one Latin Dance class after school, and then decided to rearrange a standing tutoring session so she could attend Latin Dance– who knew?)

But I did stand at the counter, making dinner the other night, and asked my daughter to pull out her homework and work on it in the little table in the kitchen with me.  I learned that she was doing a segment on Columbus.  Oy, I sighed silently to myself, and silently, inside of me said, “another instance of mother-needing-to-pull-against-the-grain to teach her something real.”

I began mentally trying to figure out where on the shelves did I put the book I bought many years ago, the Rethinking Schools publication called Rethinking Columbus.  I mean this was a big moment.  My Chicana daughter learning about Columbus.  What and whose perspective was she going to learn?  I said to her, testing the water, “what have you learned so far?”  She answered matter of factly.

And these were, I think, her exact words, “that he slaughtered a lot of people.”  I said something like “well that’s a useful thing to know” and I asked (because she works with several teachers in her bilingual school) who was teaching this unit?  It was Mr. R.

This year she has a young, African American man as her teacher– Mr. R. (also Coach R. because he coaches the 4th and 5th grade boys basketball team)  and he is great.  He is the essence of “cool” and she and other young people love that– but that isn’t what I love about him and actually, when I think a little more deeply, I don’t think that is really, really at the heart of what she or they all love about him.

What I love about him is quite simply, his perspective.  For one thing, he likes them.  He likes the boys who are always in trouble.  He likes my daughter.  He gets her, as far as I can tell, in a way few of her teachers have really understood who she is.  And besides liking and getting her, his whole perspective, as far as I can tell, is quite different from any she has encountered yet in school.  Actively anti-racist, actively pro-young people in a very profound sort of way.  Much later, that evening, when I talked to my partner–and told her what my daughter said to me about Columbus, she just said, “think about who is teaching her this.”  I did and I do.

I could see her mind, as she wrestled with this material, was really at work, in very fine form, engaged in thinking about the “discoverer” and the so-called “discovered”.  I won’t go on about the writing she did about Columbus with me listening and helping a little, but I am tempted to publish the short piece she wrote and if she gives me permission I may yet do so.

Adoption Nation book give-away. And the winners are:

I pulled the names out of a hat.

Sarah B. and Michael G.  Thanks for reading and writing me.  Your books will arrive soon.  Yay!

Book review and give-away: Adoption Nation

When I decided to become a mother, I tried to get pregnant.  I read a lot during that time.  I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting; I read Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions and a bunch of other new-mothering books.

Time went on, I wasn’t pregnant, and we started planning an adoption.  A lot of other things and emotions happened, but that is the short version.  It wasn’t an easy transition, there were tears and very hard days, but we made the transition.  My reading list changed.  I subscribed to Adoptive Families Magazine (to which I still subscribe) and I read and read and read books.  I read to learn and I read to fill the space in my heart that was there because I had thought I was already going to be a mother by then.  And I read for the joy of it.  As a woman in a lesbian relationship, who had been part of a lesbian community for many years– I loved the part of our lesbian culture that was about making new ways out of old ways of being.  Making community, family, culture out of whole cloth–figuring things out.  What is a family?  What do I love, care about–that I want to pass on to a child?  What kind of home will we make with a baby?

It didn’t take me long to notice that many of the people who wrote about adoption were (not always, but often) also thinking about very fundamental questions about family and kinship and closeness in a fresh way.  They were thinking about race and racism and about culture– the one you are born into and the one you grow up with.  They were thinking about the deep question of what is it that binds us together, as humans, in love, that has nothing to do with genetic lineage.  They were trying to figure out some things about what young people actually need.  I got more and more excited and I kept reading.  And reading.

On my shelves today I count 36 books related to adoption.  Because we are long out of shelf space for books, I have many books in boxes and at least two of those boxes are full of more books about adoption.  I probably own about 100 books about adoption and there are many more out there than the ones I own.

Until last week I not read Adam Pertman’s Adoption Nation.  The book was first released in 2000 and was just re-issued with updates and revisions.  I have mostly been drawn to very personal accounts of adoption.  Adoption Nation is indeed a different book than my usual reads.  But I am very glad I read it and very glad Adam Pertman wrote it.  It provides something we don’t have so much of, but should– which is actual data and comparative discussion of laws surrounding adoption.  It tracks actual history of adoption practice, both domestic and international.  We need to know these things in order to inform decisions and policies about adoption practice as we move forward and to understand what we are a part of as individual adoptive families.

I think Adam Pertman and I have much in common.  He is an adoptive parent; he clearly adores his children; he is Jewish and he cares very passionately about adoption.  And like myself, he wasn’t content just to parent two children who came to his family by adoption (a big enough job)– he wanted to know and to think more and deeper about adoption.

Adoption Nation is long and not a quick read.  It is divided into three sections; one called “Don’t Whisper, Don’t Lie– It’s Not a Secret Anymore” about the long history of adoption in U.S. culture as a practice rife with secrets and lies– to birthmothers and to those people who were adopted out of their birth families and into a new family.  The section does a great job of detailing some of the history of international adoption and the role of the Hague Adoption Convention.  The middle section of the book, “Sensitive Issues, Lifelong Process” discusses issues affecting each of the members of the adoption triad; birth mothers, adoptive parents and adoptees.  He does not shy away from discussion of the many abuses that arise in the context of adoption, nor does he trivialize these abuses.

In matters like adoption, where those of us who are touched by adoption have such deeply personal experiences and views, there is so much that is important, but that we actually know so little about— or worse, that we think we know, but where our “knowledge” is based solely on personal experience– which is important, but not enough.

I hope Adoption Nation becomes just one of what I hope will be a growing body of more comprehensive work on adoption.  We need discussion of adoption as he provides, not just as it plays out for individual families, but in the context of the whole of the societies affected.  Adam Pertman is knowledgeable and writes about a much bigger picture than just that of his personal experience– which is depth that I think we need.

I learned a lot and I am sure I will open it again in the future as a reference for information I will want and need as I continue to think and write about adoption.  It is quite a feat to have compiled so much useful data, considered adoption from the standpoint of each member of the triad and discussed a wide array of state laws regarding adoption, international adoption law and practice as well as practices that are not codified anywhere.

My criticism of the book is not in what it is, but in what is missing.  Throughout the book, Adam Pertman talks a great deal about birth mothers and about the data regarding race– who adopts, who is adopted.  There is a lot of discussion about the increase in transracial adoption and many aspects of that shift.  But he does not ultimately place his discussion of adoption directly in the context of two of the larger social issues which I believe are at the very heart of why adoption, as we know it in the U.S., is what it is.

He does not write directly about racism nor does he write directly about sexism.  The omission of this overall context is most significant in the third and final section of the book, “Tough Challenges in a Promising Future” in which he discusses the public adoption/ foster care system and also offers a frank discussion of the role that money does and should or should not play in adoption.  Yet all of this would be a fuller, more meaningful discussion if placed in the context of the larger social forces that are at play in all of these issues.

I think it is inescapable that the conditions that give rise to the placement of so many children of color in the U.S. and throughout the world are utterly connected to racism.  I am neither pointing a finger at any one person or family nor blaming adoptive families in the slightest.  But I am saying I can’t fully understand my wonderful daughter’s life story, without understanding racism and its effect on her Chicano people.  We all, individual families and policy-makers alike, need to look at this bigger context as we look at adoption.

Likewise, I believe that any real discussion of adoption history and practice must be at least in part, a direct discussion of sexism.  By this I mean discussion of adoption must include discussion of the sexism facing young women and single women, women in marriages and the level of control and economic autonomy that women do or don’t have.  Adoption in inextricably bound with the conditions facing birth mothers, all of whom are women.

The individual reasons that any individual woman or family chooses an adoption plan for a child, or abandons a child are as myriad as the individual birth parents who make such plans.  And yet all women’s lives, and especially our economic, reproductive and child-rearing lives, are circumscribed by sexism.  Sexism isn’t the reason for every adoption, but no adoption happens outside of a world in which sexism has a profound effect on the lives of birth mothers as well as adoptive mothers.

Nonetheless I am glad this big book exists, and very glad to add it to my collection.  I am glad the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which Adam Pertman directs, and which may be the only institute dedicated solely to adoption research, exists.  I hope I’ll meet Adam Pertman one day, and I hope to continue to play a small or perhaps even a bigger role as our thinking and the understanding of adoption continues to grow.  There is certainly room and a need for many minds at work on this important issue in our world and in our families.

Last of all, if you read through to the end–this is your last chance to participate in my first Blog Book Giveaway!!  If you’d like a new copy of the book, please email me your name and address at laurawrites1  at verizon dot net no later than Saturday and I’ll do a drawing and send off two copies of Adoption Nation.

On the “it takes a village” chain of things.

Thirteen years ago, I  was (well actually we were) trying to adopt and it was spring.  I was talking to everyone who would talk to me and who knew anything about adoption.

That spring I would often walk from my car to the apartment building after work, and often I would see a woman, a white woman, with the most beautiful, alive, smiling little baby girl–sometimes sitting on their stoop, sometimes walking around the neighborhood.  Her daughter was not white– and I assumed single mom and adoption.  Eventually I found a way to start a conversation and we got to know each other.  I was only half wrong– she was a single mother by choice, of a biracial, African American daughter– born to her, J.

Back then our two families added up to four and we all turned out to be pretty crazy about each other and got to be friends.  We went to some birthday parties, got together sometimes, and for a year we took J. to preschool once a week, when her mom, a school teacher, had to be at work early.  When my daughter was born and came to us, J. was four.  She and J. adored each other from the start.  Ours was the doorbell they rang years ago at 3 a.m. when their apartment building caught fire and was completely gutted.  Now J. is about 5’8″– taller than I am by several inches– and in eighth grade at the same K-8 school where my daughter goes to school. Sometimes she babysits.  I like her a lot.

I’m having a relatively minor health problem but am feeling more than a little punk.  The big bear of standardized testing is going on this week at school, so timeliness is essential (not always our strong suit), and there was a driving rain going when it was time to leave for school.  On top of that I wrongly accused my daughter of getting glue all over a favorite backpack of mine that she borrowed– just as we were leaving.  All this to say that very grouchy, rushed and crabby was the flavor-of-the-day as we left for school.  We got into the car.

When we came around the corner in the driving rain, we saw J. who walks to school on her own, on her way.  Walking with a friend of indeterminate gender.  Both in hooded cotton sweatshirts (not great in a rainstorm) and J. towering in height above her friend.  J. was also carrying an umbrella which was inside out from the wind.  I said to my daughter, roll down your window and call to J. to come ride with us.    It took us two tries for me to position the car and for my daughter to summon a loud enough voice, but we got her attention and offered a ride.

J. hesitated– then said, well, can my friend come too?  Of course, come, come get in the car.  They sloshed into the car, my daughter moved over and the smaller person turned out to be the son of my partner’s wonderful co-coach of the 4th an 5th grade girls’ basketball team.

We drove the next six blocks, made our way around the fleet of SUV’s and minivans and other huge vehicles dropping children at school and I found a spot to pull over.  J. and her friend got out and took off running before the hard “g” in g’bye” made it out of my mouth.  My grouchy daughter and cranky me looked at them flying through the rain, looked at each other and cracked up.  She leaned over and kissed me (not an always thing these days) and ran into school.

Alfie Kohn’s “Bad Signs” and Patricia Smith on “Keepers of the Second Throat”

My new issue of Rethinking Schools just arrived.  I love Rethinking Schools.  They are a low-budget publication with minimal advertising– and they are, as far as I, a mother with a child in a public school, is concerned, the heart and soul of the world of progressive K-12 education.  I’m going to get all bossy here in this post. Whether you have children or not, whether you have school-aged children or not, if you don’t yet subscribe to Rethinking Schools, you should.  And you should ask them to start your subscription with the Spring 2011 issue.  We need them out there doing what they do.  Even better– when I went to insert the link, I see a special gift for you.  The whole Spring 2011 issue is right there online, for free, for you to read the actual articles that I am about to write about.  After reading several of the pieces, there are two I couldn’t help writing about.  One that made me laugh out loud, then hopeful and the other that made me cry while my heart filled with hope.  We’ll start with tears and hope.

The poet extraordinaire, Patricia Smith (Blood Dazzler and Teahouse of the Almighty), whose work I have referred to several times before, writes a piece called “Keepers of the Second Throat“.  It is a rich, honest and beautiful piece, in four sections.  It’s about language, the colonizing and de-legitimizing of language, the erasure not only of voice, but of people, their lives and their history.  The erasures in this piece are about black people, Patricia Smith’s people, though I do think of Patricia Smith as my people.  Her piece begins, “Chicago not only stole my mother’s tongue, it also stole all her yesterdays.”  She also writes about teaching in a sixth grade classroom and her fight to give her students not just language, but their own language, un-corrected, un-“fixed”, and through their own language, she wants to give the important knowledge of their right to tell their own stories, about their own lives.

She finishes this section saying, “I celebrate every single word a child says, every movement of their pen on paper, and I’m mesmerized when those stories begin to emerge.  I stop what I’m doing and I listen.  We’ve got to teach that every utterance, every story is legitimate… In the beginning, it doesn’t matter if anyone wants to hear.  What matters is what you have to say.”

I hope you will read this article and then hold it in your heart and back pocket– as you talk to young people, all people, about their true stories.

On to laugh-out-loud hope.  Alfie Kohn, whose name I know, but whose work I am not very familiar with at all, contributes a piece called Bad Signs.  The sub-title reads, “Because they’re so pervasive in schools– and accepted so uncritically, it’s worth digging into the hidden premises of inspirational posters’ chirpy banalities about self-improvement.”    I was especially thrilled to read this for three reasons.  For one, it relieved me of the obligation to write something similar, though these signs have gotten under my skin since the first days we walked through the door of my daughter’s school.  In finding that Alfie Kohn, an educator and writer of books, is especially bothered by this trend too– I was relieved of feeling like the crankiest, most fault-finding person on the planet.   Secondly, I just liked sharing this perspective with him.  And third, the piece made me laugh out loud.  Hard.  It is hilarious, and he offers some important thinking about the not-so-hidden subtext reflected in those posters as well as his thoughts about what he believes should be reflected on the walls of our children’s schools.  One of my favorite lines is when he comments on a poster that he has seen in many different kinds of schools– one which reads, ‘Only Positive Attitudes Allowed Beyond this Point’.  He writes, “I found myself imagining how its message might be reworded for satirical purposes.  Once I came up with “Have a Nice Day…or Else.”

I have no way of knowing whether this kind of thing makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks as it did for me– but it was good to have a laugh with Alfie Kohn.  I hope that our public schools will continue to exist, not privatized, not full of advertising.  I hope that more and more, rather than less and less, they will be real places for young people to learn, to speak their minds in their own voices and languages and to have a chance to do what Rethinking Schools and Patricia Smith and Alfie Kohn do so well– try out new and original and hopeful ideas on behalf of children, on behalf of us all.