Franz Kline, Black, White and Gray
Adopting transracially has changed so many things in my life, not least of all how I experience news events like the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Before I had two brown-skinned daughters, I felt sad and confused about such tragedies, but they didn’t cause me anxiety. I chalk that up to my “white privilege” — a loaded term that can mean different things, but for me includes the fact that I don’t have to think about or deal with certain kinds of issues because I don’t have a lot of melanin in my skin.

Back when we were still in the adoption process, I remember a (Canadian) relative of mine asking, “Aren’t you worried about being a transracial family in the United States, with its ongoing racial tensions and history?” I acknowledged that it had crossed my mind but that it didn’t overly concern me. I do remember another conversation, though, that left me more unsettled: I was sitting with some friends around a dinner table, and one of them said, “I think it’s really courageous of you to be adopting black children. I know a lot of white couples who are open to adoption, or in the process, and they’re willing to adopt any child but a black one.”

What to say to that? He thought he was paying me a compliment, but I just felt sadness, anger, and anxiety well up in my heart.

On one hand, it’s what my relative said: This country still struggles with prejudice and segregation. In some ways and in some places, there’s been progress — but then you watch the news or listen to some people’s experiences, and you realize we have a long way to go. A white parent-in-waiting might balk at the idea of dealing with those issues; then again, that very attitude — “any child but that one, please” — is one of the reasons for the mess in Ferguson. (There are others, no doubt, like the militarization of the police, but that’s another topic.)

I’m grateful that my daughters are still only six and don’t watch the news. I can’t shelter them forever, but I can build them up while they’re young and innocent, and while they see the world as it should be, so they’re better equipped for the day they experience being judged differently. To say I dread that terrible awakening is an understatement.

I’ll tell you what would make me even more anxious, though, and that’s if my girls were boys. Adorable brown-skinned little boys turn into teenagers and young men pretty quickly, and those boys are really not going to be treated or judged like their melanin-challenged peers.

There’s more I could say about this, but I’m still trying to figure out my thoughts and how to put them into words. For now, here are two blog posts that have stayed with me over the past week and are worth a read: Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks on how Ferguson affects her, a black woman married to a white man with a biracial daughter; and “what they didn’t teach us in adoption classes about raising black children.”

I know these issues are sensitive ones, but I welcome your thoughts. Do you and your family talk about stories like Ferguson?  Have you ever experienced prejudice or discrimination based on the way you look?

Image: Black, White and Gray by Franz Kline (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

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Pull Up a Chair

August 15, 2014

Pattypan Squash

Do you know what to do with these? They’re called pattypan squashes and when I got the first batch in our CSA share a few weeks ago I wanted to make something great with them — any vegetable that looks like an adorable mini spaceship deserves nothing less in my books. Someone told me they could be roasted and I was hopeful, but they were…blah. Instead, perhaps I should have sliced them like yellow summer squash and sautéed them? If you’ve cooked with these little things, I’d love to hear your ideas because I have another batch in my fridge and don’t want to waste them.

It’s Friday again and it’s a bit alarming how much is on my August to-do list — mostly prep work for fall. I’d like to just lounge around for the rest of the month, but I also know that if I don’t start checking things off my list each day, I’m going to pay for it later. A friend and I laughed at the fact that most moms can’t wait for school to start again, but homeschooling moms don’t want summer to end. Not sure how true that is across the board, but I’m one homeschooling mama who loves “vacation” time and feels anxious about the start of the school year. I have grand plans about making it more organized and manageable than last year.

As for our drink today, I spotted this apricot coconut prosecco punch the other day and quickly stuck it on my list of “beverages I must find an excuse to serve.” But hey, why not make it our virtual drink right now? Grab one and tell me about your week! Here’s my high and low:

Low: An unwelcome, inappropriate comment from a neighbor about my daughters. The mama bear in me wanted to lash out, but I didn’t. It made me sad, though.

High: Is it terrible that I can’t think of one? It wasn’t a bad week at all, but nothing stands out as a “high” at the moment. Here’s to decent weeks, though — I’ll take them!

Bonus question: What vegetable can you live without? For me it’s turnips, hands down.

Have a great weekend, friends, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Your Daily Dose of Perspective
Anyone following the news these days would be forgiven for thinking this has been a pretty depressing week. Maybe that’s why this post over at Momastery really resonated: The opportunity to adjust my perspective and be thankful for the little things in life was a welcome change of pace.

Glennon began by mentioning that some of her readers had offered tips on how she could update her kitchen; here’s how she responded:

…as I lay down to sleep, I remembered this passage from Thoreau’s Walden: “I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes and not a new wearer of the clothes.” Walden reminds me that when I feel lacking- I don’t need new things, I need new eyes with which to see the things I already have. So when I woke up this morning, I walked into my kitchen wearing fresh perspectacles. Here’s what I saw.

You guys. I have a REFRIGERATOR.

This thing MAGICALLY MAKES FOOD COLD. I’m pretty sure in the olden days, frontierswomen had to drink warm Diet Coke…. Thank you, precious kitchen. 

Those frontierswomen were the real deal. More, beneath a picture of her coffee maker:

I can’t even talk about this thing. Actually, let’s take a moment of reverent silence because this machine is the reason all my people are still alive. IT TURNS MAGICAL BEANS INTO A LIFE-SAVING NECTAR OF GODS. EVERY MORNING. ON A TIMER. 

Truly, what more could you ask for in life? Head over to Momastery to read the rest and see the before and after pics she posted of her lovely kitchen “makeover.”

What little things are you seeing with new eyes today?

Image: Vadim Trunov

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Teaching Kids to Be Kind

August 13, 2014

S and B
Back in June, we talked about whether parents should make children share. The consensus seemed to be that forcing kids to share wasn’t the answer, but that we hoped to instill in them habits of empathy and kindness so they would want to share. But how do you raise kind kids?

This article in the Washington Post gives some practical advice to parents and caregivers to help them do just that. It was encouraging to me to see that many of the suggestions mentioned in the article by Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd are things B and I already try to do with the girls.

Kindness is a big deal to me today in large part because unkindness was not tolerated in our house growing up. I remember once in elementary school when a classmate, who was physically disabled and had trouble walking, had wet herself in class, and a group of my friends was drawing attention to it. While I don’t remember now whether I participated in the teasing or meanness, I didn’t speak up or try to make it better.

The next day when I got home from school, my father called me over to his office. He happened to be the doctor for this girls’ family, and the mother had called him, distressed at what had happened. He was not pleased. At all. My father, normally jovial and laid back, was very stern and made it clear to me that if he ever heard of me participating in such unkindness again, there would be serious consequences. I remember that conversation like it was yesterday, so clearly did it make an impression.

With my mother, too, kindness was a non-negotiable, something she has modeled all her life. I now find myself the same way: Nothing bothers me more than when my daughters say mean things or show blatant disrespect — to me, to B, or to each other. So, we have consequences for such behaviors, and I pay attention to the things I can do to encourage kindness in them. To their credit, they’re sensitive and have a lot of natural empathy, but they also push limits and are still learning how to express anger appropriately.

I make a habit of pointing out kind deeds to them wherever I see them — in the things my daughters do, of course, but also in the movies we’re watching, when we’re out, etc. We also talk a lot about how important it is to be kind. If you ask my daughters, “What’s more important than being pretty?” they’ll tell you, “Being kind.” They know it’s the answer I want to hear, but I think it helps them to be able to say it out loud.

We also work on showing respect, mainly through manners and using “nice” words. One of our family rules is “no mean talk.” If you talk really mean, there’s a consequence, and then we have a conversation about it and make sure that forgiveness is asked for (and received). We also talk a lot about what we’re grateful for and incorporate it into our bedtime prayers.

I know that my own behavior speaks volumes, just as my mother’s did, so I try to remember that when I’m going about my day. How I treat strangers, store clerks, even drivers on the road (sigh, big fail on that one) teaches my kids about kindness in the little things.

I’d love to hear how you teach kindness to your children. What works well for your family? And what do you think of the advice in the article?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Julia Child
I love stories about people who became successful later in life: They give me hope that I might just do something awesome yet! Julia Child is a great example of one of these “late bloomers,” and I loved this article about the lessons that entrepreneurs — or anyone, really — can draw from her life.

Child didn’t start learning French cooking until she was in her early 30s and didn’t open her cooking school until her 40s. Getting published wasn’t easy, and she had various setbacks and frustrations along the way. Her fame and success really didn’t come until she was middle-aged and older — and she didn’t even have children to “blame” for her late start.

I’ve drawn lots of inspiration from people who have shown me that it’s never too late to start a new chapter in life: After having nine kids, my mother went to law school in her 40s and then opened her own law practice. One of my grandmothers became a teacher in her 50s, after her sixth and youngest child was a bit older, and she taught until she was 75. She also became quite a swimmer in her 70s, too. They taught me that, with a little good health and determination, you can achieve a goal or reinvent yourself at any age, if it’s important to you.

Do you consider yourself a late bloomer? Have you ever reinvented yourself, or could you imagine doing so later in life?

Image: Gourmet

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Map of Introvert's Heart

My husband recently sent me the infographic above; he relishes any opportunity to further enlighten me about the interior lives of introverts. I don’t blame him for trying, since extroverts tend not to understand introverts very well. We think we get it, but then we’re frustrated when our introvert doesn’t want a birthday party (again), or prefers an afternoon at a museum rather than a gathering with friends, or doesn’t want to answer or talk on the phone.

In a piece for the Atlantic a few years ago (also sent to me by my husband, of course), Jonathan Rauch explained what it’s like trying to explain introversion to an extrovert:

Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand, because extroverts spend so much of their time working out who they are in voluble, and frequently inescapable, interaction with other people. They are as inscrutable as puppy dogs. But the street does not run both ways. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping.

I like to think I don’t bark. (Maybe I yip? Don’t ask my husband.) I don’t think all extroverts are as bad as Rauch makes us out to be, but truth be told, I don’t have an introverted bone in my body. I can be alone, but I don’t need time alone. Okay, well, maybe five or ten minutes. If I can take a shower or go for a walk around the block, though, that pretty much takes care of it. I’m entirely drained if I’m by myself all day. I’ve always been that way — and ended up in a big family in a place that prizes hospitality, storytelling, and the gift of gab. So I’m kind of a hopeless case.

My husband is a born introvert and grew up as an only child. He’s not shy and can be quite social; he’s a gifted speaker and teacher and has given dynamic presentations to huge groups of people. But small talk? Painful. Cocktail parties? He’d rather pull his teeth out. For every hour of social time he puts in, he usually needs triple that at home — ideally alone — to regain his energy.

You might think an extreme introvert and an extreme extrovert would not a happy marriage make, and I’d be lying if I said it was never a challenge. We’ve both had to make compromises over the years, but we’ve also learned to see the bright side of our differences: I may not have my husband at my side for every social event, but I never feel guilty when I’m out without him, recharging my extrovert batteries, while he’s happy to stay home with the kids.

North American society values traits that are more closely aligned with extroverts — gregariousness, the outward appearance of confidence, etc. —  so introverts like my husband can feel doubly misunderstood. But over the years, I’ve come to understand and appreciate introversion much better and the extremely valuable qualities that tend to go along with it: creativity, thoughtfulness, and good observational skills. Most introverts I know — including B — are smart, innovative, and interesting. My husband is a good listener, too, which heaven knows goes a long way when you’re married to a talker.

So here’s my big shout-out to introverts — especially my introvert — to thank them for being the yin to the extroverts’ yang. (Now, about that “railroad of canceled plans”…)

What about you: Are you more introvert or extrovert? What about your partner? How does it affect the way you operate as a couple?

Image: Gemma Correll at Fast Company

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Pull Up a Chair

August 8, 2014

Saint-Paul Family
Two years ago this week, we were in Ethiopia meeting our daughters for the first time. We stood before a judge who asked us some questions, stamped some paperwork, and declared, “They’re yours.” The photo above was taken just after we met S and H, and our faces kind of say it all: B and I were excited but also exhausted and stressed; the girls were receptive but also anxious and shy.

S and H
It’s impossible to know everything H and S were thinking during those short introductory visits. The day before we met, they had just arrived in Addis Ababa, after a harrowing 13-hour drive over mountainous roads. H wasn’t eating, and the caregivers wondered if she might be sick. I took one look at her and knew she was just anxious — plus she’d been carsick on the long ride the previous day. During a coffee ceremony to welcome the parents, H sat on my lap and let me feed her popcorn and cookies with my fingers. At long last, she smiled. Smiles and laughs were few and far between from her back then — so hard to believe when I see her now. She’s got a smile that lights the room and an infectious laugh, among so many other traits and talents that amaze me.

B and Girls
S was friendly and playful from the beginning, and she took to B immediately. She made everything feel easier, which put us all at ease. She’s now the family entertainer — the affectionate, expressive, funny one, who still brightens my day with her exuberant hugs and kisses.

They’ve come so far. We’ve all come so far. I love seeing photos from back then and comparing them with photos now:

H and S
As I’ve said before, anniversaries related to adoption are never all happiness and light; they’re complex and need to be approached sensitively. We don’t really celebrate the day we met, but we acknowledge it as part of our family story. When I mentioned it to H the other day, she said, “We need to toast that at dinner tonight, mum!” So we toasted and talked about the memories we have of that day and time; the girls enjoy hearing them and relating certain parts of the story themselves.

I’d love for you to join us in a virtual toast, so today I’m offering this bourbon slush punch from Smitten Kitchen. I don’t even drink bourbon, but this looks so yummy — made with tea and freshly squeezed juice, and I bet you could use honey as an alternative sweetener. As for my high and low this week:

Low: Concern about some health issues family members are experiencing.

High: I know there were better moments than this, but I’ve been thinking all week about a treat we had on Sunday when we went out for brunch: The co-owner of the restaurant brought us a small plate of browned-butter pound cake topped with marscapone cheese and homemade peach preserves. I rarely even eat cake, but holy smokes.

Bonus question: Is there anything you’d like to know about our adoption experience or trips to Ethiopia? If I can answer your questions, I will!

Have a lovely weekend, friends, and see you back here on Monday!  

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Margaret Cabaniss

The Perfect Housewarming Gift
On a certain level, housewarming gifts are easy: You can’t really go wrong with a bottle of booze or a baked good. But sometimes (okay, most times) I just don’t have a freshly baked pie on hand, and a bottle of wine, by itself, can feel a little impersonal. (Or am I the only one who worries about making every single last gift meaningful?) That’s why this housewarming gift idea I’m about to lay on you is so perfect: It’s simple, inexpensive, and chock full of meaning — the trifecta of gift-giving, honestly.

So what is this perfect gift? Bread, salt, and wine.

I know: At first blush, it hardly sounds more personal than just a bottle of wine — that is, unless you remember your classic Christmas movies:

In welcoming the Martini family to their new home, George and Mary Bailey explain it perfectly: “bread, that this house may never know hunger; salt, that life may always have flavor; and wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever.” When was the last time you gave a gift that managed to say all that?

Obviously, the tradition didn’t start with It’s a Wonderful Life, but it’s a lovely one all the same: Those three things really constitute the necessary stuff of life — and the basic ingredients of any good party. Beyond the significance of the gift, it’s the easiest thing to pull together at the last minute: Grab a bottle of wine from the shelf, pour some salt in a cute jar (pro tip: Bonne Maman jam, in addition to being delicious, comes in jars that are perfect for repurposing), and throw in a loaf of bread from the bakery, and you’re good to go.

Sure, you can get fancy on it — pick out a special bottle of wine, choose some fancy salt, bake the bread yourself, and package it all in a lovely basket with a card to explain everything — but I guarantee it will feel just as special if you keep it simple. Even just a little butcher’s twine and a plain paper bag make a great presentation. (I like to think of it as rustic.)

In the chaos of moving (the goat-in-the-car thing isn’t far off), it’s nice to give something that won’t add to the unpacking clutter — but even more importantly, it’s something lovely and simple that you can share with friends, old or new. Guaranteed to thoroughly warm any house.

What are your favorite gifts to give or receive when someone moves to a new home?

Image: Margaret Cabaniss

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Crying Girl
Blogger Matt Walsh talks about how he finally stopped caring about his little kids’ crying in public after an epiphany he had 33 feet above the ground.

Every parent’s been there: That dreaded moment when the airplane door closes and you send up a silent prayer that your toddler won’t throw any conniption fits for the next however-many-hours you’re going to be confined to a metal tube hurtling through the atmosphere with a bunch of strangers. Or you’re in church and your baby begins to wail at the most sacred, quiet moment. Or you’re anywhere other than your house or car and your children decide to, well, act like children.

It can be hard to strike the right balance in our response: Parents today seem either to be overly anxious and apologetic about their kids’ noise (to the point of treating them like second-class citizens in public), or else they let their kids rule the roost and seem unaware or unconcerned about how their children’s behaviors might affect others. Add to this the fact that tolerance levels differ from person to person, and it can be hard to hit on the right response in any given situation.

I agree with Matt that children have the same right to be in public that adults do — but that doesn’t mean they get to entirely co-opt a public space. Boundaries, manners — even policies when necessary — go a long way toward ensuring that public spaces are pleasant for everyone. But I also agree with him that, generally, society today is not kid-friendly. There is less tolerance for children and their spontaneity and unpredictability; there’s an expectation that children should act like adults, or else they shouldn’t be out and about.

I think the fewer people that have children in our society — or at least sufficient experience with children — the less tolerant we become of little ones. If we’re a culture that truly values children, we see them as important people in their own right and accept what they bring to life, even when it inconveniences us here and there. At the same time, we need to bring back an emphasis on manners and respect for others, being mindful as parents about where the lines should be drawn when it comes to our kids’ behavior.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. When your kids melt down in public, how do you respond? If you’re not a parent, how do you feel about children in restaurants? Airplanes? Places of worship?

Image: via Pinterest

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Goodbye Idiot Dad?

August 5, 2014

Everybody’s talking about this new Cheerios commercial, and I can see why. I think it’s pretty great. We’re all sick of seeing dads portrayed as idiots or deadbeats in ads, sitcoms, and movies, and it’s about time for more positive messages about fatherhood.

I realize it’s just an ad for cereal, but it’s fun, funny, relatable, and taps into something we don’t hear enough about: that most men take their fatherhood seriously. They aren’t just bringing home the bacon (in fact, they’re often in the kitchen cooking the bacon); they’re loving co-parents, involved in their kids’ lives.

Although the ad seems geared toward dads, Cheerios knows that moms still do most of the food shopping and are likely to respond really positively to an ad like this — one that doesn’t treat their husbands like clueless oafs or depicts parenting as one long, thankless slog. We don’t eat much cereal in our house, but I’d be more likely to give Cheerios a second look based on this commercial alone. (Plus, did you notice there are more than two kids in that family? More points scored for that in my book.)

Cheerios has gotten lots of attention for other ads that reflect what more and more families look like today, and it will be interesting to see if this trend of depicting positive images of modern fatherhood begins to spread — and where it might go next.

What are your thoughts on the ad? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Are you a fan of pushing social messages through commercials?

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