Friday, May 29, 2009

The Doing of the Hair

By far, the biggest challenge for this little ol’ white lady in raising a daughter of color is the hair. Oh my goodness, the hair. Such a challenge!

I know that I have spent hundreds of dollars on hair products over the years. I had no idea what I was doing and was susceptible to the advice of every black grandma I ran into. Lil Sweetie, bless her heart, didn’t have much hair for the first three or so years of her life. And what little she had was so delicate. It was like trying to comb out cotton candy, constantly twisting up on itself into little knots and then breaking off the minute I tried to comb it. I combed that baby’s hair twice a day and it still knotted up.

But I tried. God knows I tried. I greased that baby’s head every day and once a week, I would wash her hair and put a heavy duty conditioner on it, slap a shower cap on her and leave it on a good while, then rinse that out and put a leave-on conditioner in her hair. Those were some challenging times. I remember one time, she decided after I got her hair lathered up that she was DONE. Well, I couldn’t leave shampoo in her hair and I really couldn’t wash it without conditioning it so we struggled and fought through the process. When Mr. Sweetie got home later, Lil Sweetie ran to him and gave me a dirty look and said, “Mama hates the baby.” Ouch!

You need to know that hair is vitally important in the black community. If your child’s hair is a mess, you are not a good mother. Period. And I believe that goes double if you are a white lady raising a black child. In my experience, that is just the way it is.

Friends, caregivers at the daycare, all kinds of people tried to help. One friend took me to the black hair care store, and Lordy is it different from the places where I buy my hair products! You can buy hair in there in any color of the rainbow, beads, things that look like medieval torture devices. It truly is a whole different world. It’s a great place to get cute barrettes and pony tail holders, though! So cute! So cheap! So many choices!

I finally found a woman who was going to help me with Lil Sweetie’s hair. A professional. I don’t care how ridiculous it was to take my 3-year-old to the hair salon, I needed HELP, y’all. So off we went, and Lil Sweetie got braids which looked cute and worked well for a while.

And it was such an experience! I liked putting myself in a situation where I was the only person of my race in the room, because that is my daughter’s experience some of the time and it seems only fair. Sometimes I got some funny looks but for the most part, people were kind to me and my child. And just like the beauty supply place, things were different. There were red-hot instruments that made hair smoke! There was also Patrick the Chicken Man, who came in with his ice chest full of barbecue chicken wings that he would sell you to snack on while you sat under the dryer. I’ve gotten my hair done my whole life but that was my first introduction to Patrick the Chicken Man. But dang those wings were good!

So the braids worked well for a while and then Lil Sweetie’s hair started falling out all around her hair line. I think it’s called losing your edges. Miss Hair Care Person #1 said Lil Sweetie’s hair needed a break from the braids and a relaxer was the answer. I did not want to ever put a relaxer on her hair. I figured that was Lil Sweetie's decision to make, when she was old enough. But here was a professional, convincing me that this was the thing to do. So I did. And it was cute. 'Til it started breaking off.

Then, one day, a woman approached us at McDonald’s and begged me not to put another relaxer on Lil Sweetie’s hair. She (of course) was a hair care professional and gave me her card. Coincidentally, we had an appointment at the beauty shop later that evening. I was so confused! Maybe it’s silly to pray about your daughter’s hair but that’s what I did. I told God of my confusion and asked him to show me what to do.

We drove over to the beauty shop and it was dark, locked up tight. I had never before seen it empty like that. Not even Patrick the Chicken Man was there. We waited 15 minutes past our appointment time and then I said, “Thanks, God, for showing me so clearly that this is not the thing to do.” So I called the McDonald’s lady and booked an appointment with her.

Oh my goodness, I do not want to relive the horror that was the McDonald's lady's attempts at doing Lil Sweetie's hair. Suffice it say it was not a positive experience.

So, I was whining to a friend at work who happens to be black, and she handed me a business card. Glory Hallelujah! Third time is a charm! Miss Hair Care Person #3 is the best. She is sweet to my child, and Lil Sweetie's hair is longer and healthier than it has ever been. I spend close to a $100 a month on my daughter's hair and I make no apology for it. It is worth every damn penny.

Gotcha Day

Ugh. I hate that phrase. Hate. It. In case you don’t know, “Gotcha Day” is a term that people in the adoption community use to describe the day that an adopted child joins his or her adopted family, and/or the day that the adoption becomes finalized. Many adoptive families observe Gotcha Day with special celebrations, such as a special meal or lighting a candle or giving small gifts.

I have no problem with the idea of “Gotcha Day.” I just don’t like the name. To me, “Gotcha Day” sounds like the kid was snatched up off a shelf somewhere. To me, it reeks of possession, of ownership, of child as chattel.

We were lucky to bring Lil Sweetie home about 36 hours after her birth, and so it never made sense to us to celebrate the day she joined our family, just two days after her birthday. Especially since the spoiled little darling’s birthday celebration tends to spill over several days anyway. However, the day that our adoption became final is a very special day.

You need to know that way before Lil Sweetie was born, Mr. Sweetie and I were married in a surprise wedding ceremony in November 1997. All during our courtship, I had been pressing for marriage and Mr. Sweetie had cold feet. But once he made up his mind, he wanted to get married RIGHT NOW. I suggested we wait a few months until Valentine’s Day (shut up) but he would not hear of it. It had to be immediately, if not sooner. Hence, the surprise wedding so that we could have our families there without a lot of planning and rigmarole.

Much to our dismay, Mr. Sweetie’s beloved, sainted mother suddenly and unexpectedly passed away December 17th, just about three weeks after our wedding. We were so grateful that we got married when we did, so that she had been there for our wedding.

Since then, December 17th has always been a hard, bitter day in our family.

Fast forward five years to December 17, 2002. We had learned the best way to handle the grief of that day was just to power through as best we could, so we were going about our usual routine. About mid-way through the day, I got a phone call at work from Kiera at the Local Adoption Agency. She told me that the judge had signed the order making our adoption final and Lil Sweetie was now and forever a permanent part of our family. Such joy! I could not wait to call Mr. Sweetie and give him something to smile about on that hard, bitter day.

So even though I don’t like the term, December 17th is our “Gotcha Day.” Sometimes we celebrate it, sometimes we don’t. But December 17th is always a day full of Memories for us.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ten Things I Wish I had Known When I Graduated from College

Here is something I wrote for another young cousin who just graduated from college:

Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Graduated College

1. There is nothing to be scared of. The economy was bad when I graduated from college, too. And still, companies kept hiring people, I found a job, and look at me now, all these years later, I’m a mid-level bureaucrat! But the important thing is that I’m employed and happy, even after starting off in a bad economy. You’ll be just fine too.

2. You get do-overs in life. If you get out there and decide that you hate the choices you have made, you can always choose differently—different career, different degree, different apartment, different city...

3. Nobody knows what they are doing. When I was your age, I kept waiting until I knew all those things I thought grown-ups were supposed to know, like how much car insurance you really need and how to negotiate a better rate on your credit card. I finally figured out nobody knows what they are doing and we all just sort of make it up as we go along and somehow it works out ok.

4. Nobody knows what they want to be when they grow up. Many people change careers several times during their working lives and the world does not come to an end. It’s true.

5. Writing things down seems to make them happen. I don’t know why this works but I swear to you it does, and I’m not usually a believer in New Age woo-woo stuff. I just know that when I have written down what I wanted my life to look like, darned if I don’t go back a few years later and re-read it and realize that my life looks exactly like what I wrote down. (Note to self: Write down what life looks like after winning the lottery.)

6. Good credit is a wonderful thing to have. Boring, but true. Pay your bills on time, don’t get behind, don’t bite off more than you can chew. When you have good credit and a crisis comes along, you can get a loan for the things you need, if it’s the kind of crisis that can be solved (or at least made better) through the purchase of goods and/or services. Life is just easier when you have a good credit score.

7. Don’t worry about what other people think. Usually, other people are too worried about what everyone thinks about them to figure out what they think about you. The people who matter will love you and the people who don’t love you, don’t matter. I swear this is true.

8. Say yes. Your dream job opens up but you are afraid you won’t even get an interview? Apply anyway. You are dying to take an art class/horseback riding lessons/a scuba diving course but are afraid you will look ridiculous? Sign up anyway. Want to vacation in Paris but don’t speak a word of French? Book the vacation anyway! Except in regards to dubious sexual partners, criminal activity, pyramid schemes, and illicit drugs, people rarely regret saying “yes” to things.

9. Baby steps. Many things in life are frightening when you look at the big picture. So break it down into baby steps. For me, law school was scary so I didn’t even think about it, I just took the LSAT. Then I applied to law schools and looked into financial aid. Then I enrolled. Baby step by baby step, I graduated from law school and passed the bar. I speak from experience when I say the baby step method can also be used to find the love of your life, purchase a home, and adopt a child.

10. Don’t forget who you are. You are a smart, talented, beautiful young woman with unique gifts to share with the world. And no matter what happens in life, you have friends and family who love and adore you.

Ten Things I Wish I had Known When I Started College

This is something I wrote for a young cousin of mine who just graduated from high school:

Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Started College

1. The Trilogy of Education. There are three main things to do at college: study, sleep, and party. But there is time to do only two of these three things in a day. Some kids choose to sleep and study. They are boring and have no fun. Some kids choose to sleep and party. They are called “drop outs.” Some kids party and study, which leads to crankiness and dependence on caffeine. For a successful college experience, study and sleep during the week, then sleep and party on the weekend.

2. Don’t be a stranger with your professors. Go by during office hours and ask a question now and then. Eventually you will need a reference for a scholarship or job, and a professor will be far more willing to write you one if they know who you are! I have also known professors to allow a student who was one or two points away from an “A” or a “B” to do some extra credit to make up the point and get the higher grade.

3. There is no reason to feel lonely when you live in a dorm. Pop some popcorn in the microwave and hang out. Soon, someone will be asking, “Can I have some of that?” The smell of popcorn is hard to resist.

4. Don’t drink trashcan punch at a party. There is no telling what is in it. Seriously.

5. Nobody knows what they want to be when they grow up. It’s ok if you don’t either. Try out a major and if it doesn’t work out, change your major to something else. Changing your major is not the life crisis some people make it out to be.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are all kinds of resources at college. If you are not doing well in a class, ask your professor or your advisor what to do. If you are sick or depressed, go to the student clinic. Take advantage of the resources available to you.

7. Baby steps. Some things are overwhelming if you look at the big picture, so break it down into baby steps. Don’t freak out over having to do a term paper. Just pick a topic. Then do your research. Write a first draft. Edit your draft. Turn it in. Done! See? Baby steps!

8. College is easy. Go to class and pay attention. Do the reading and the assignments. That’s it. If you do these things, it is almost impossible to flunk out.

9. Don’t forget why you are there. College is “adulthood light,” adulthood with a safety net. Everyone is hoping you will succeed but everyone is ready to help you if you take a misstep here or there. Practice being a grown-up, then act like a kid again. Repeat.

10. Don’t forget who you are. You are a smart, beautiful, talented girl. You have great things to offer the world. You can achieve just about anything you set your mind to. Most of all, you have friends and family who love and adore you.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Again, With the Book

George Corrigan would wake his young daughter with "Lovey, let's get to it! It's gonna be a great day!" Mr. Sweetie wakes up Lil Sweetie every morning with "Wake up! Something GOOD is going to happen today!"

Good daddying just makes me go weak in the knees. How 'bout you?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How Lucky Am I?

This is Kelly Corrigan writing about her dad in her memoir, "The Middle Place," but it just as easily could be written about Mr. Sweetie:

I think people like him because his default setting is open delight. He's prepared to be wowed--by your humor, your smarts, your white smile, even your handshake--guaranteed, something you do is going to thrill him. Something is going to make him shake his head afterward, in disbelief, and say to me, "Lovey, what a guy!" or "Lovey, isn't she terrific?" People walk away from him feeling like they're on their game, even if they suspect that he put them there.

That is Mr. Sweetie to a T. Mr. Sweetie has much the same personality as my dear departed golden retriever. He bounds into a room, full of enthusiasm, with a big smile on his face. If he had a tail it would constantly be wagging. When you call Mr. Sweetie on the phone, he answers as though you were the one person in all the world he was hoping to talk to, as though there is no one else in the world he wanted to hear from but you.

When we visit with friends, he invariably walks away saying, "Now they are good people,"--"good people" being his highest form of compliment.

Don't get me wrong, Mr. Sweetie has his faults, and I could list them, every one. But I won't.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Remember the Barren and the Birthmoms

As we celebrate mothers, motherhood, and all things MOMMY this Sunday, please remember those struggling with infertility. I have spent the Mother’s Day church service sobbing in the bathroom after the pastor had all the mommies stand and be recognized. I know I am not the only one.

And don’t forget the birthmoms. They are judged so harshly, so unfairly. How many times have I heard someone say, “How could anyone ‘give away’ a child?” And I say to them, only the very best mothers can. Motherhood is the ultimate sacrifice. At its core, motherhood is nothing more than agreeing to put another’s needs ahead of your own, putting yourself through heartache and pain if it is necessary for the health and happiness of your child. If one truly believes that they do not have the resources necessary to raise a child, that their child is truly better off being raised by someone else, how can a good mother NOT “give away” her child? That type of sacrifice is the very essence of motherhood.

And don’t think that birthmoms do not grieve for the children they have placed for adoption. The birthmom I love and others I have met grieve daily, even as they know that they made the right choice for their children.

Remember the Barren and the Birthmommies. On Mother's Day and always.

A note about language:

In this post I have used language that some may find inappropriate. Please note that many in the adoption community do not approve of the term “give away” and prefer “place for adoption” or “make an adoption plan.”

Also, as an infertile woman myself, I like the word “barren.” It’s old-fashioned and quaint and makes me think of my uterus as a type of desert, which I think can be quite beautiful in its stark emptiness. I also feel like it links me to all those barren sisters in the Bible. Gosh, God do love a barren gal, don’t he?

However, if my choice of terminology has offended, I deeply apologize.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Thoughts on a Recent Read

I just finished reading this book, “Happens Every Day” by Isabel Gillies. It was so good, although I can’t tell you why. I mean, I could if I knew but I just can’t figure it out.

I love reading memoirs, although they make me feel somewhat guilty. So many times I feel voyeuristic, as though I am seeking entertainment through the emotional pain of others. Perhaps that is because I am! Aren’t I?

“Happens Every Day” is a woman’s account of her first marriage falling apart. It was a very quick, easy read. Maybe because I have lived that story myself. I could relate so much to the author’s story...her suspicions regarding her husband’s relationship with another woman at his work, her disbelief that her marriage was falling apart, her conviction that if she could just find the right thing to say or do, she could reverse the path they were on and save her marriage. Been there, done that, got the emotional scars to prove it.

I just can’t decide if it’s fair or foul to write about such a thing. The author uses pseudonyms for her husband and the woman who became his next wife, but still, I’m sure they are pretty identifiable to family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, neighbors, etc. I thought the author did an admirable job of treating her ex pretty fairly. She does not portray him as a monster, nor does she treat herself as much of a victim. I’m not sure how she pulled that off, actually! Still, I’m not sure I could do it, or would want to. Although my first marriage ended many years ago, I’m not sure I would want to knock myself out to portray my first husband in a positive light. He broke our vows and he broke my heart and I feel no obligation to sugar coat it. On the other hand, his “crime” was being a mediocre husband. That doesn’t really call for a public flogging, does it?
I just can't help but question the author's motives for publishing this book. Why put this intimate personal information out there for public consumption? On one hand, it's a little appalling, but on the other...gosh, I love the idea of revenge by publication! I think I will start threatening that, when people won't bend to my will. My battle cry will be, "This is going in my memoirs and then you'll be sorry!"