Tuesday, June 23, 2015

At 8, our girls are no longer surprised by hate, racism, and violence.

"The girls handled the conversations better than I would have hoped. As we talked about 9 black brothers and sisters in Christ being killed in a historic church, they took it well," I told Lee as I put on my blush Sunday morning.

My makeup brush dropped to the counter with his reply: "How sad."

He continued, "At 8, our girls are no longer surprised by hate, racism, and violence. They shouldn't handle it well. None of us should."

No, we shouldn't. But for my friends in the black community and allies like me who have been listening and learning, we grieved last week but we weren't shocked. While so many white friends see this as an isolated event, we see a pattern.

We hear Trayvon called a man whose hoodie made him worthy of death while the man who killed him is considered justified, even as his story since then has shown a pattern of hotheaded violence. We hear Mike Brown called a man and a thug and a menace and even a demon and Ferguson not race-motivated, even as we hear data that speaks differently. We hear Dajerria called a woman at 14, and we hear people continuing to defend the officer's actions even after he apologized and admitted he had overreacted. We hear about John Crawford being killed in a WalMart for holding a toy gun after a white couple made a 911 call in which they lied about what was happening to make him sound threatening. We hear Eric Garner blamed for the police brutality that led to his death because he resisted arrest and was selling loose cigarettes, nevermind that neither are capital crimes. We hear Tamir Rice called "a young man" by the police chief even though he was only 12 when officers shot and killed him for carrying a toy gun in the park. We hear white friends express that it's easier for them to believe that Freddie Gray severed his own spine than it is to believe that officers acted dishonorably. We hear them say "who?" when we talk about Aiyana, the seven-year-old girl who died when an officer discharged his weapon into a wall as she slept on the other side. We hear silence when Kalief committed suicide as if three years at Rikers without trial and with abuse didn't likely contribute to his mental state. We hear ourselves ask how differently the story would have played out if no one recorded the shooting of Walter Scott, and we pretend we don't know the answer.

And then we hear people ask again and again and again and again and again and again if maybe the murderous act of terrorism in Charleston was an assault on religion rather than race, even when the news was already reporting that the shooter said he wanted "to kill black people."

And then we hear Dylann Roof described as a young man with a blunt sugar-bowl haircut - even though he's older than Trayvon was and Mike Brown was and Tamir Rice was and Dajerria is, and they were all described as adults - and a loner and quiet and a misguided youth and a sweet kid and someone who probably has mental health issues, and we're not surprised. This is the usual minimizing narrative when the criminal is a white male, who might be described as smart or soft-hearted as we point fingers at bullying and failed mental health supports and childhood mistreatment and mental illness whereas we tend to point fingers at the criminal rightly and even the victim wrongly when he or she happens to be black.

And then we hear the judge handling Roof's first court date calling the shooter's family "victims" in this situation, which didn't sit well by itself but became even more concerning when paired with this judge's having been reprimanded in 2003 for using the n word from the bench. (For good reason, the judge has been removed from the case now, and we were a little surprised and thankful upon hearing that news.)

And then we hear Roof's name and see his face again and again, while the faces and names of Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson aren't known as well by most of us.

source: CNN

We feel like we're listening on a loop while no one else notices that our ears are bleeding.

Rather than denying the patterns and preparing rebuttals, would you be willing to listen to us? To sit with our words before you respond? To consider how the lived experiences of others might differ from your own? To question why you're willing to listen more to me as a white woman than to people of color saying the same things? To celebrate the testimonies of forgiveness, yes, but also to continue to recognize the tensions of racist patterns that require such mercy to be extended again and again by our black brothers and sisters? To decry vandalism and violence in riots, yes, but also to try to understand the resigned anger behind the actions, the feeling that drastic acts are necessary to get white attention?

Would you consider learning those names I listed above like we have?
"In the meantime, Black folks will continue to go to church. We will worship and restore ourselves and mourn. As we have done after Trayvon, Michael, Eric, Medgar, Jordan, Tarika, Martin, Emmett, Eleanor and so many, many more. We will console and pray and hope that this sleeping country up wakes up. That others – self-aware, non-black folks – will see the full horror of Charleston and desire to exorcise the demons of our history and present culture." — Joshua DuBois, We Need To Talk About White Culture 
Then the next time this sort of things happens - and I sadly expect that there will be a next time, just like my daughters do - maybe you'll see the pattern too. Maybe you'll join us in being sad but not surprised.

And maybe you'll begin asking with us, "What can we do to change this?"

(I'm not going to answer that question here. No, this isn't a cop out as much as it's a cop out to expect every blogger to tell you what you should do in response. Simply put, I think the answer will be different for each of us. But doing nothing and saying nothing isn't going to bring about change, so DO SOMETHING and SAY SOMETHING. Please.)

Monday, June 22, 2015

my past and present are sometimes at tension. that's okay. #takeitdown

Some ancestors on my mom's side arrived in this country around 1620.

All of them I can trace were white, though (like many families) we have rumors of some Native American ancestry somewhere (and like many white families, those rumors are probably bogus).

As well established and well-to-do land owners, many of them owned slaves.

I know some of those ancestors fought as part of the confederacy, following articles of secession that explicitly argued for three of my children to be considered property instead of people.

If my grandmother was right, I'm somehow related to Jefferson Davis on her side of the family.

My dad is a history buff who participates in reenactments of multiple time periods, including as a Confederate solider (though he's pictured below attired as a Quartermaster Sergeant from the 2nd Seminole War, circa 1837).

photo by Mark Rodriguez
Almost every member of my family can look back on most periods of history as "good ol' days" even if they were times in which my multiracial family wouldn't have been tolerated.

Before he retired, my daddy ran the jail system as a major in our county's sheriff's office and served at one point as the president of the American Jail Association.

And I'm the mother of black, white, and Asian children.

My past and present are messy and sometimes at tension with each other. Yours probably are too, albeit in different ways.

I've been blogging and posting elsewhere lately about the conversations we need to be having about race and progress and privilege. As we have these conversations, we don't have to hide our histories and deny the tensions therein. No, let's pull it all out of the shadows and into the light. Let's all bring our collective lived experiences to the table, joining together in the kind of beautiful harmony or tapestry that can only exist when diverse members intermix.

As we do, perhaps our grip on our own histories might loosen as we realize the other side of that experience. Mine certainly has, which is why I - as a descendant of those who raised the Confederate battle flag - join with the voices calling for it to be taken down and only displayed in museums with other relics of yesteryear.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

on privilege vs. guilt

A couple months ago, an old high school friend posted a status message asking anyone who thought white privilege was real to unfriend him. I didn't. Instead I commented something like this, "I definitely do, though I'm not going to argue with you. I think it's possible to remain friends even if we disagree, but if you don't, feel free to do whatever you think is best."

He unfriended me.

I'm not sure why discussions of privilege are so upsetting. Consider a few examples...
Zoe can't walk because of cerebral palsy. Patu can. Patu possesses a privilege Zoe doesn't have. We could call that ability privilege.

A couple of our children possess the privilege of having grown up in the same family their entire lives, being raised by both biological parents and being loved and provided for every day of their lives. The rest of our children don't have that privilege. We could call that family privilege.

When I moved into my apartment in college, I assumed at first that the top shelves in the kitchen were broken because my roommates hadn't used them. Then I realized I, at 5 foot 7, had the privilege of being able to reach all the shelves while Kristina, 5'3"ish, and Lisa, just shy of 5 feet tall, didn't. We could call that height privilege.

In college, some friends took lighter course loads while they worked part- or full-time jobs to pay for tuition. My parents provided that for me. We could call that an example of socioeconomic privilege.
Do you notice what's absent from each of those examples? Guilt. 

I don't expect Patu to feel guilty because Zoe can't walk while she can. I don't expect Jocelyn and Robbie to feel guilty for their family privilege. When I realized my height privilege in the apartment, I chose to use the top shelves for my stuff and leave the lower ones for my roomies to show honor to them, but I didn't feel guilty over it. As I had more time for service projects, study sessions, and ahem parties in college, I felt thankful for my privileges rather than guilty because of them.

More often than not, when I see white friends arguing against white privilege, they bring guilt into the argument. But recognizing privilege is meant to spur us into action not guilt. If your reaction to privilege is, "What am I supposed to feel about this? Are you saying I should feel guilty?" then you're missing the point. Instead we should ask, "What good can I do with this privilege?"

That's what Jocelyn did recently. When we went shopping for makeup for their dance recital, she was upset that the first store carried lots of shades of foundation that matched her skin but only one per brand for her black sisters. "Mommy," she asked, "don't they know that black people come in lots of shades too?" She noticed her own privilege and didn't feel guilty. Instead, she asked if she could write a letter to someone, and this week we delivered her letter to the store manager asking for them to expand their makeup offerings, just like when she and Patience wrote to Mattel about their concerns for Barbie's lack of diversity.

and they all looked beautiful...

Bear with me, please, for one last example. When I swam in high school, I became good friends with my teammate Haley. When our coach gave instructions, he regularly failed to look in Haley's direction even though he knew she was Deaf and relied on lip reading to understand. Knowing my privilege, I'd turn to Haley and repeat the number of laps, time intervals, and kind of stroke to use. I didn't feel guilty, but I used my privilege to even the playing (er, swimming?) field, though it would have been better if the coach had been considerate enough to allow her to see his lips in the first place.

Please, let's stop arguing before we even stop to listen. Please, let's honestly evaluate what each one of us brings to the table. Please, let's strive to do good to others above all else. Please.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, 
when it is in your power to act.
Proverbs 3:27

What would it look like today for you and me to set aside our defensive responses about guilt and instead consider how we can use our privileges - whether they be based in race or gender or religion or ability or economics or height or family resources or something else - to show honor to someone else? 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

My kids aren't colorblind, and neither are yours.

Skin color is discussed often in our household, and Lee and I are almost never the ones leading the conversation. Some samples from last couple of months...

In a pizza place downtown: "Why are all three of the dancers on TV white?

When I talk about a friend of mine from elementary school: "What color skin did she have?"

In beginning a story about her childhood: "Back in Uganda where everyone is dark skinned like me..."

After church a few Sundays ago: "Why was it only white men handing out communion?"

Upon closing a book about a family's response to a storm: "Mommy, I like this book a lot because everyone in the family looks like Zoe. They must be Asian too. Are they?"

They notice.

Their classmates notice, as several have commented to me on the mismatch of skin colors between me and one child or another. Not long after Patience started 1st grade, one of her classmates bounded up to me and said, "You're white," before even saying hello. After I agreed with her, she followed with "Patience is brown." Once again, I agreed. "Okay!" she smiled and bounced off, content that I had confirmed what she had noticed.

A younger friend of Patu's was less convinced when I picked her up at the gym one day.

"Wait, you're Patu's mom?" he asked.

"Yes, I am," I answered, pretty sure I knew what was coming next.

"But she looks black."

"Yes, she is."

"Oh. So you're black? You don't look black?"

"No, I'm white. Sometimes families don't match, and that's okay."

"Are you sure?" he asked.

Our kids are seeing race, and if we're not talking about it, then they aren't sure they can. If you feel the need to whisper or add "I'm not racist, but" every time you comment on something related to race, then you aren't modeling for your children that it's okay to have these conversations.

And we need to be having conversations.

White friends have asked me this week how to begin the discussion. I think it starts by making sure you aren't raising your kids in islands of whiteness. While that sounds harsh, recent research shows that 75% of white Americans don't have black friends (and networks of other racial groups are also segregated, though not as significantly), so segregation is still a thing in 2015. Are all the dolls in your house white? How about the book characters? What's your church like? Does it represent your community's diversity? (Raleigh friends, our area is 30% black according to the US census, so that would mean about 1 in 3 of your brothers and sisters on Sunday morning would be black.) How about your school? Do you go to parks, museums, restaurants, and so on in diverse areas or areas that look mostly like you? As history books in the US often tell the story of white history, are you making sure your home library of children's books tell the rest of the story? Much groundwork is laid in what's around us before words even enter the conversation. Hate for others is often taught directly, but sometimes fertile ground is laid for it by omitting anyone different from our lives in the first place.

Once you start talking, you don't have to make a big deal out of every topic. Parents magazine offers some basic tips for different age groups. If you'd like more ideas, here's a meatier resource for parents from the American Anthropological Association. When you watch a show or talk about a friend or read a book, don't be timid about pointing out differences in a positive way. Just like saying, "Zoe uses a wheelchair, so that's different from your walking, but you both like purple, so that's the same" demystifies one difference among our children, saying "Tiana's skin is a rich brown color, and it's beautiful; isn't it cool how God makes people in so many different shades?" while watching The Princess and the Frog helps to do the same about race. A 2007 study showed that nonwhite parents are three times more likely to talk about race with their children than white parents, and I think it's about time we start talking.

Do you have to talk about what happened in Charleston? I think you should consider it, but I know every family's decision will be different. In our family this week, we did talk to the kids about that act of racial terrorism, but I understand that some might not choose to talk about the hard stuff yet with kids as young as ours. (Our 8 year olds also know about the North Charleston shooting, as well as Santa Claus, sexual intercourse, gender-based pay inequity, homophobia, 9/11, and religious intolerance against Muslims after 9/11, so we tend to open a lot of hard boxes before other families do. I'm not always sure that's the best approach, but it's working so far for us.)

In our family, talking about race is part of life. Many people assume that's because we're a multiethnic family by transracial adoption, but we were talking about these topics with our white children before adoption brought even more diversity in our lives. The conversation was helpful then, because just as our kids aren't colorblind, I believe the God who created them is purposeful in all things, including the beautiful shades he chose to clothe us in.

photo credit: Rebecca Keller Photography

P.S. Right after I published this, I saw that my beautiful inside and out friend Lauren wrote a similar post. I promise I didn't steal her idea, but I definitely recommend her piece as well. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

what our summer daily schedule looks like

It's summer. That means school is out, but we still have therapy and doctor's appointments and all the rigmarole that comes with managing everyone's health.

Keeping routines is vital for our emotional health.

Especially mine.

Last year, I shared our plan for summer sanity. This year's is similar, but the boys are big enough to be included and the little girls are in on it to a degree (because they're little sisters who want to do what their older siblings do). 

Here's the list for the girls.
(Note: I realize I switch between first and third person, alternating "myself" in the first with "your" in the next item on the list... and while it bothers me some, perfect is too high a bar to set for every task.)

The boys' list is more simplified, and I felt safe dropping play outside and do something creative because they'll choose those over the TV anyway. (Plus, as I'll describe below, their writing includes a drawing, so something creative is already built in.) I added hand-drawn illustrations next to each item after I printed and before I laminated them.

Each child has his or her own laminated list so they can check off what they've done as they go, with dry erase markers so they can start with a clean slate the next day.

The little girls don't have a list, but they each have a folder and a journal, like everyone else. I'll hang this elsewhere eventually, but here's all the basic set-up in an organizer I found on Zulily and hung on the mantle hooks we use for Christmas stockings.

For journals, I bought the primary composition books at OfficeMax (also available online). These have space for drawing above where the lines are for writing. They're recommended for grades K-3, but the big girls who are rising 3rd graders wanted more grown up looking notebooks, so I let them chose their own.

For folders, we took the kids to WalMart last night to let them pick their own so they could feel more ownership. (It was after bedtime, so we chose that store instead of Target, because our standards of behavior were more fitting for WalMart, if you know what I mean.) 

Last night was my first night of sitting down with the folders and putting in worksheets for each child. The little girls get coloring pages. The boys get one page each from a Handwriting Without Tears workbook, a Transitional Math K-1 workbook, and a 180 Days of Reading - K workbook. For the big girls, I pull from different levels to meet them where they're at, with one getting reading from 180 Days of Reading - 2nd and one from the same kind of workbook for 3rd. I liked those books because they have a passage and multiple choice questions (as well as some days with written responses), and that's similar to what they'll see on 3rd grade EOG tests next year. Both girls get Rocket Math worksheets (addition here and subtraction here) with the top half for practice and the bottom half for a timed one-minute speed drill. They did these same worksheets in their classes this year, so they already know the drill (no pun intended). Third grade kicks off with multiplication, so their teachers advised that subtraction and addition facts need to be as firm and fast as possible as they enter next year. The girls are also getting some time and money review worksheets, as they both struggled a bit with those last year. I put all the new work on the left pocket in the folder, and they move it to the right side when they're done (just like the boys did in school last year, so this isn't a new routine for them).

 As far as books go, I've leveled every children's book in our house, creating bins for the little girls, the boys, and one for each girl. (That task was a beast and would need a whole 'nother post to explain...) The bin of little girl books are for read alouds, but the other bins contain books that are only at that child/children's reading levels so they can be choosing just right books to help them become more proficient readers.

For Bible memory, we're using the Foundation Verses from Fighter Verses, which is from Children Desiring God. We use the app-based version from iTunes (also available for Android). I lock the iPad to only have that app available (here's how to do that) so they aren't tempted to cheat on taking screen time with any other activity before they've earned it. I'm ordering the verses on a keyring for each child too, but I like that the app includes not only the picture and words but also reads it aloud for them.

Songs for each foundation verse are available at Bethlehem Baptist's websites, which was linked to from the Fighter Verses page:

why, yes, I do like to keep eleventy million tabs open at once...

If you have older kids or ones who are ready for meatier passages, the app includes other verses and memory games for kids who can read. Our big girls could probably use one of the Fighter Verse sets and one could do the Extended versions, but it's easier to use the same verse for everyone. Every day, we do a different verse, so we move quickly. Later verses are longer, though, so we might take a couple days for some of those... it's summer, after all! We can be flexible, right?

As far as chores, zones, and magnets go, here's a description of those. For the Bible study magnet, I'm leading them in that for the summer, with a story from Mighty Acts of God (as we've read through the Jesus Storybook Bible and God's Big Picture Story Bible a few times already, so I wanted to switch it up) and then an activity to follow, like a game or acting out the story or something like that. Since we read the creation story and today's foundation verse is about creation, I brought out our new creation stacking blocks made by Melissa & Doug.

This morning went well, except that the big girls had a lot of work to do before their room is clean so they haven't earned screen time yet. But that should improve because it's a daily task so it'll be maintaining cleanliness after they get it clean today. Plus I'm hoping it will cement some better habits as we enter the next school year.

And if they don't do their screen time work?

No screen time.

That worked last summer, and I'm looking forward to keeping the same routine this summer too. It's the only way to stay sane with six little ones home for the next few months! This way, we can all enjoy each other, maintain a routine, keep forward momentum academically, and have sweet family time... and then have some media time too, if it's earned.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

who wants to join me in dishing out more grace and less judgment to other moms?

I'm not sure where it went, but I'm hungry for it.


Especially among women.

As a disability advocate, I saw the story of a teenage girl with autism being escorted off a plane soon after the news broke. Her name is Juliette. I sat back. I read. I watched. I listened. And my heart broke.

Then I read the comments.

For the love. When will I learn to never, ever, ever read the comments?

The girl was dangerous, they said. (Um, yeah. All 120 pounds of her.) The parents weren't prepared. (Except they were, for the most part. And every parent has been in a situation in which they were underprepared, but that usually doesn't get us kicked off flights.) The teen was howling. (Um, Jocelyn appeared possessed through much of a flight from Texas to NC when she was just shy of two years old. It happens.) But some passengers heard the mom say her daughter might start scratching because of her agitation, so that was the problem, these commenters state. (But did she mean scratching strangers or herself and her parents? Neither is ideal, but only one is a risk to others on the plane. And as the mom to a child who has sensory meltdowns, I know that it's helpful to explain what might happen so that others aren't shocked when/if it does; such comments aren't intended as threats but rather education and preparation.) Maybe some people shouldn't be allowed to fly, they commented. (Um, just like some darker skinned folks shouldn't be allowed to sit in the front of the bus by similar lines of thought that history doesn't look kindly upon now? Nevermind that this girl has flown to nearly two dozen states and a few international locations, all without incident.)

When did judgment instead of grace become our default for other moms? 

My Zoe is only 3.5 years old, and she's ridiculously adorable. But I bet Juliette was a darling preschooler a decade ago, much like Zoe is now. In the past six months, I've flown with Zoe twice to St. Louis, once for a surgery and once for a follow up appointment. Both flights from Raleigh went well; both flights home... well, notsomuch. 

On our first return flight, we were on the way home a week after her major neurological surgery. We navigated from my friend Brooke's van through security with Zoe in her wheelchair and her carseat towed behind us, also on wheels thanks to a contraption my friend Christy let us borrow. I was also juggling a backpack of toys and games and electronics to keep Zoe happy. As we boarded in advance of other passengers and I installed her carseat and then did all I could to transfer her from the wheelchair to the carseat with as minimal pain as possible, I could tell she was hurting. Then not long into the flight, my heart sank... our charger hadn't been working properly, so her iPod was about to die with an hour left in the air. It died. She cried. As I tried everything I could, she was inconsolable. I wanted to scoop her into my arms, but I knew that would hurt her back and cause more pain.

moments before the iPod died and the tears started

Enter my angel, dressed as a flight attendant. 

She and I had chatted amicably earlier. She knew our story. She oohed and aahed over sweet Zoe. She watched me yawn, spent from too many nights on the poor excuse for a caregiver bed in my girl's hospital room. She might have been able to tell that I was starting to get sick, even though I had no idea that a diagnosis of pneumonia would come about a week later. She could have just smiled and walked on.

And she did smile, as she dug into her own bag, pulled out her own iPad, queued up the education video app her own daughter liked, and offered it to us. Zoe stopped crying. I started. Grateful.

calm with the flight attendant's personal iPad
I wish I remembered more about this Southwest stewardess, other than that her name was unique (maybe started with an M?) and I think she was Hispanic and she had a preschool-aged daughter. I would love to be able to thank her now for her small kindness that was huge to us that day.

If you happen to read this, THANK YOU for embodying grace to us.

The next return flight didn't involve pain for Zoe, but she was tired. When I asked what she wanted to drink, she said milk. They didn't have milk. I suggested Sprite instead. CUE MELTDOWN. For about an hour, she screamed. Kicked. Hit me. Threw things. Yelled NO. As we sat on the floor in the back of the plane, trying to give everyone else some peace and ourselves some space, strangers brought us toys and fruit snacks and anything else they thought might help. The flight attendants respected my attempts to handle Zoe but stayed close in case I needed any help. Finally, I offered Sprite again - the same drink I offered right before the meltdown! - and she accepted and calmed down and greedily drank it and then let out a dainty burp, the kind only possible for little girls under 25 pounds.

What helped us survive those flights? Was it judgment? No.


Moms, let's give each other more of that, okay? Even if the mom on the news should have brought more food on board and even if I should have double-checked the iPod's charge, that doesn't mean we deserved judgment. It just means we're human. Two flight crews out of St. Louis saw our shared humanity and offered me and Zoe grace.

I wish the flight crew carrying Juliette and her mom would have offered the same, but we can't rewrite history. We can, however, stop ourselves before dishing out everything but grace in our comments or thoughts or attitudes, not just toward this one mom but toward all the other moms we encounter.

Grace. We're all hungry for it. So let's serve it up to each other, shall we?

Monday, May 4, 2015

guess who is legally a member of our family?

No, it's not Sam. I wish! We're moving through his process at a slow pace, praying it will pick up speed soon.

As we announced our plans to adopt Sam, few people knew our finalization process for our Ugandan three wasn't complete. When we arrived in the US about eighteen months ago, the law didn't recognize us as mom and dad. Unlike Zoe's process in Taiwan which legally adopted her there, our process in Uganda ended with legal guardianship. Since then, we've been filing finalization documents in NC courts.

And refiling when the clerk asked us to make some changes.

And then refiling again, after those changes were accepted but then the clerk asked for some other revision.

And then the same thing again. And again. And again.
For the past year and then some.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

We haven't publicly shared that our Ugandan three weren't legally Dingles yet, because we didn't want anyone to view them as less than full members of our family. In every way other than law, we were already Mom and Dad and they were already Dingles.

Except we weren't and they weren't.

The official class rolls haven't listed the kids as Dingles, because public schools require legal names to be used. When I complete forms at the doctor and elsewhere, I've had to check "legal guardian" instead of "parent." To have them listed as Dingles in the yearbook, I had to ask special permission.

I have no idea why the clerk of court with our papers was choosing to be such a pain. We tried to win her over with kindness, but about a month ago, we were ready to begin contacting elected representatives to seek help. In a last ditch effort before doing so, I called the clerk's office a couple weeks ago. I got voicemail and left teary message, not planning to cry but not able to hold back my emotions. The return phone call a few days later was an answered prayer, letting me know that staff changes meant our documents ended up on a new clerk's desk, this time a clerk who wanted to be a help instead of a hindrance. I was hopeful but still skeptical when she said everything was in order.

But then the papers arrived last week.

They're ours.

To quote directly from the decrees,
That from the date of the entry of this Decree herein, the said minor is declared adopted for life by the petitioner(s) and that said child shall henceforth be known by the name...
Legally each of our Ugandan-American children has four names now: the first name each was born with, a middle name we chose, the last name of their first family, and the last name of our family. Legally I am finally their mother. Legally the reality we've been living since late 2013 is now fully true.

As I head into their school this morning with the papers to formally change their names there, join us in celebrating over these pictures of us sharing the news and papers with all the kids on Saturday...

Adopted for life. I like that, don't you?

(Next up to bat... Sam! Let's hope it's sooner rather than later.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

a little therapy, a little ballet

Hi, I'm Shannon, and I'm addicted to Zulily. 

When this Whitney Brother's Shape Mirror Wall was available for $129 on the site a month or so ago, I knew it would be perfect for the little girls' room! (It's also available on Amazon for a higher price.) Patu loves her ballet class, and Zoe loves mirrors, plus it would be helpful for physical therapy, so the combination...


The only downside? No pilot hole or fasteners were included to attach it to the wall, only a note recommending that you find someone qualified to safely and properly secure it in place. My solution?

Lee to the rescue!

The little girls "helped" by holding his tools when not in use.

And then? They delighted in his finished work!

*No explanation for the stray screw, hanger, helmet, play bouquet, or other odds and ends on the floor. Welcome to the Dingle casa, where anything goes! 

{Disclaimer: I did not receive anything - product samples or any other incentive - 
for this post. I just really like this product. Also, I know the pictures aren't the best... but sometimes life isn't polished, professional-looking, or pretty, so no apologies.}

Thursday, March 12, 2015

how I say "you will not win" to harsh brokenness

You know I like to write about the beauty we find in the midst of brokenness. But sometimes
it just feels like brokenness.
Not beauty.
Not yet.

That's where I was yesterday. A "you should probably take her to an eye doctor" comment at our last pediatrician's visit turned into a day of unexpected grief at the optometrist yesterday. After the first part of the exam, I knew we were bound for glasses. As a mom, I felt like I should have known something was amiss. But, nope. Nothing.

At that point, many social media friends shared their own stories about not knowing - sometimes until a much later age - about their children's vision issues until they had gotten bad. Those stories made sense. They provided some comfort - solidarity! - as others offered their "I can relate" tales.

Except as the day wore on, I realized that they couldn't. The same comments that had been comforting felt hard and taunting, even though I know they were never intended like that. But for almost all of those dear friends, their children got glasses, and then all was well.

That's not the prognosis for Zoe. She has bilateral stimulus deprivation amblyopia caused by structural deformities in a few crucial places in both eyes. She is very nearsighted due to retina damage in both eyes, caused by an illness her mother had during pregnancy. She is also very farsighted due to astigmatism in both eyes, which also means she has very little depth perception. Because of all this, she has significantly underdevelopment neural pathways for visual processing, so even once her glasses arrive, her brain won't know what to do with the clearer visual input at first.

So the plan? Wear glasses during all waking hours for the next three months and then return to the doctor in June to determine how much the corrective lenses are helping her gain visual functioning and whether or not additional interventions might be helpful.

While we are hopeful that her vision will improve, we also like to prepare with what research says. Things like this,
Stimulus deprivation amblyopia is the most severe amblyogenic case. The loss of vision is usually severe and responds badly to treatment.
In other words, we'll do what we can, but we also have to be fully prepared that her visual impairments aren't going to go away with a pair of glasses, not on this side of heaven.

(I think that picture should have probably come with a cuteness overload warning, huh?)

I'm not going to lie, y'all. The adorable factor of our Zoe in spectacles wasn't enough to touch the heartsickness of such unexpected news.
Let me be clear: 
I was mourning for Zoe, not about her. Never about her. She is perfect, but the world is broken. Yesterday, it felt a little more broken than usual. 
So after I put the girls down for their rest time, I sat at our dining room table and the dam broke. I can't remember the last time I sobbed like that, and then... the skies opened and poured down, and it felt like God was saying, "my heart is hurting over this brokenness too." Whether that theology is right or not, in that moment my raw heart found rest in our Creator, as my tears and his rain flowed freely.

And then I woke up this morning ready to figure out what's next. I like to do. I like to fix. I like to solve. And? While we're formulating a plan, this situation doesn't really lend itself to all that.

But I realized that while I can't kiss this brokenness and make it all better, I needed to do something. As I begged God to tell me what something I could do, I realized that my way of flipping the bird at the world's brokenness could be to alleviate some of it somewhere else. My friend Chris and the rest of the team at Help One Now is doing just that around the world, so we donated $189 - the same amount we paid for Zoe's glasses - to their brokenness-fighting work.

No, supporting Help One Now doesn't make our latest challenge any easier, but it's my way of saying YOU WILL NOT WIN to this harsh brokenness. I can't restore her sight, but I can take action toward restorative work elsewhere.

So can I be so bold as to say go and do likewise? No, you don't have to give to Help One Now or anywhere else (but if you can? why not?), but do whatever something you can do - an encouraging text, a meal for someone just because, a smile to a stranger who needs one, whatever.

Because the brokenness doesn't win. We know it won't. Even when it feels like it reigns for a time, I truly believe God is the champion.
Of Zoe's story.
Of my story.
Of your story.

He wins. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

our first experience with a home health provider

I know not all kids qualify for in-home care due to their disabilities, but some do. Zoe does. 

I tried to search blogs of other BTDT (been there done that) mamas to get advice before we started, and I realized almost no one talks about this in public spaces. So I'm donning my truth teller hat to talk about what this has looked like for us thus far.

first, let's back up a bit to explain the program itself...

Zoe's level of disability qualifies her for CAP/C services in North Carolina. Here's how that program is described by the NC Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CAP/C:
The Community Alternatives Program for Children (CAP/C) provides cost-effective home care for medically fragile children (through age 20) who would otherwise require long-term hospital care or nursing facility care. The program contributes to the quality of life for the children and their families/caregivers, while providing care that is cost-effective in comparison to the Medicaid cost for institutional care.
Because Zoe has no independent mobility skills (i.e. walking, crawling, scooting) and no functional life skills (ability to dress herself, to feed herself without assistance, to be potty trained anytime in the foreseeable future, or to be bathed the same hands-on support that babies need), she qualifies. A few months ago, she was approved, retroactive to her third birthday (which happened to be the day all of her paperwork was submitted).

So what does that mean? CAP/C services include case management, home health care, and supplies. The case management means someone helps to answer my questions and make sure we have what we need. The supplies include diapers delivered to my door - yay for not having to pay directly for those anymore! - and an adaptive trike of some sort every so often and a few other things. The home health care gives a certain number of trained caregiver hours each week, the level of care determined by the child's needs (Zoe gets the lowest level - CNA - while some kids need nurse level care) and the number of hours based on a combination of the child's needs (mainly, is overnight monitoring necessary? no, not for us) and the parents' work schedule (because paid childcare is often unavailable or unaffordable for kids with complex needs).

And then the biggie for us - CAP/C coverage also makes a child eligible for Medicaid coverage, not based on income but on disability, which means all the therapy needs Zoe has can be covered despite the annual caps set by our private insurance. She needs weekly private therapies, so we need that coverage to give her all she needs. (If you're a numbers sort of person, Zoe is allocated 30 visits a year of PT & OT - not each, combined - but she needs PT three times a week and OT once a week outside of school, so the gap is wide between what is covered and what is needed before Medicaid.)

our home health care experience so far

Our home health provider started a week and a half ago. It's been weird, for sure. I'm a stay-at-home mom, and having another person there to support Zoe is a huge help but also a huge change. Zoe is playing more and watching TV less, because someone is readily available to help her move and play and be a typical three year old in all the ways she wants but her body doesn't allow without assistance. I really like Tina, the CNA we hired, and it felt pretty natural and not as awkward as I thought it might. I felt like she was as good a fit for us as we could have asked for, and all of the kids adore her.

All except for Zoe, that is, which is why yesterday was Tina's last day with us.

Our plan from here on? We're taking a break for now, and then we'll find our own people who Zoe already knows and trusts. Our friend Kayla is getting her CNA and will work for us this summer while she's home from college. Then our friend Meghan, who is a student at Meredith and who hopes to be a child life specialist in a hospital setting, is planning to get her CNA too so she can work with us during the school year. Even my bestie Angie is probably going to get her certification.

Should we have tried harder to make it work with Tina? Some would say yes. I think Tina thinks we should have. But the reality is that Zoe joined our family by adoption after never having parents care for her before us. She had to learn to trust us and attach to us. She does fine with caregivers and teachers when we aren't present, and I know she would have done fine with Tina if I wasn't at home too. But Zoe knows now who Mama and Dada are. She knows our role. She knows the access she has to us. And she doesn't want someone else filling that role, which is what it seemed to her like Tina was doing.

So was the extra support helpful? Sure. Will it be more complex to coordinate that help with friends whose availability will fluctuate instead of with an agency that sets hours? Yes. But nothing is worth damaging the hard-fought attachment she has with us. Nothing. 

Sometimes the harder road is the better road.

so this is not the post I thought I'd be writing

I thought I'd be sharing about how we manage life with a home healthcare provider - how life has changed, how it's stayed the same and how we're all adjusting. But that's not our story just yet.

Our story now is one of sharing how these beneficial services are working - and not working - for us right now. I've written before about accepting government services in a world that often judges or shames people for doing so. I think part of being a truth teller is standing up and saying, "Hey, y'all, we're the ones you're talking about here. We're not some faceless, nameless stranger whose story you think you know. We're flesh and blood and brains and heart, and the current state of healthcare in this country means that kids with disabilities - like our Zoe - need some public supports to have all their needs met."

Because she's worth it.