Category Archives: Baby Lessons

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Hi folks.

I am going to be closing down this blog in the next several weeks. There are many reasons for this, but I won’t get into them now.

What I would like to do, however, is compile the most useful posts into categories and bind them under an e-cover for download in case really, really interested folks still want to read them, or share them with others.

This is the compromise I’ve come to between just shutting down OR leaving the blog archives sitting here forever.

What I would love from you is some nominations for posts you’d like to see preserved in e-book form. I will try to edit and/or update any posts that go into that format, so if your favorite one is old and needs some revision that’s okay too.

I have in mind a total of say, 100 posts.

Help? (Please leave your suggestions in the comments so people can see each others’ okay?)

 

P.S. I’m also taking some of the posts from this blog (mostly since 2009) and backfilling Muse of Fire with them. So much of the more recent material will still be on a blog.

Veronica Won’t be a “Baby” Forever

This is cross-posted from BlogHer, where it was originally published last Tuesday:

After the Supreme Court decided against a biological father in the so-called “Baby Veronica” case two months ago, I found myself worried not just for the family in the case, but for adoption in general. Adoption is riddled with misunderstanding and the mainstream media tends to exacerbate the problem rather than clarifying.

Now Veronica’s father has failed to return her to the adoptive couple that won the Supreme Court case, has been arrested, paid his bail and is currently somewhere unknown, presumably with his daughter. Now the would-be adoptive parents are using language like “holding her captive” and claiming to “fear for her safety and well-being,” though Veronica has been in her father’s custody, happy, and healthy, for close to two years.

This case has been rife with misunderstanding, and its high profile can only lead to more confusion among people not personally knowledgeable about adoption. Rather than leap into an argument for what I believe ought to be the case’s outcome, I want to focus here on clarifying what I see as three major misunderstandings the coverage of this case has perpetuated:

1. Misunderstanding of how legal adoption works
2. Misunderstanding of the ICWA and its purpose
3. Misunderstanding of what is in the “best interest” of children

First, the would-be adoptive parents of Veronica (no longer a baby) knew that this adoption was questionable from an early date after Veronica’s placement with them. While Veronica was still a young infant, it became clear that the adoption was not perhaps, legal or likely to be finalized because of the father’s interest in parenting her.

But importantly, the adoption was not yet final at that time. So in spite of headlines declaring that Veronica was “adopted” at birth, she was not. In my long experience of adoption study, I have never, ever heard of an adoption being final “at birth.” Babies may be placed with prospective adoptive families at birth, but adoptions typically take about six months to become final, and these six months include follow-up visits from social workers and legal work at court.

Veronica’s hopeful adoptive parents were indeed caring for her as their daughter in her infancy, but she was not legally theirs yet.

Second, the law the father has used to fight this adoption placement (which happened against his will and most likely without his full understanding, depending on who you believe in the reports, and I believe him), the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), is a matter of American Indian sovereignty, not of racial identity, as the press has widely misled us to understand.

The ICWA was enacted as a correction to and a protection against the all-but kidnapping (sometimes, indeed, literal kidnapping) of American Indian children and their placement in white families or (more often) “boarding schools” or other institutions that basically forced them to assimilate to white culture and cut them off from their heritage and communities.

The ICWA gives a tribe legal sovereignty over where its children in need are placed for care. Typically there is a hierarchy in which immediate family members are first, extended families are next, any tribal member is next, any American Indian is next and last, after these are exhausted — and only with the tribe’s approval — an Indian child can be placed outside an Indian home.

This hierarchy was hardly exhausted in Veronica’s case. In fact, her own father, as soon as he knew she was being adopted by out-of-state strangers, wanted to parent her.

Third, there is a problem in this case that comes up in adoption in general, even when there is no bitter custody battle. Veronica (again, not a baby) is bound to develop her own perspective on it all. And what is going to be best for her overall healthy development as a person?

To me, the answer is obvious. When a biological parent is ready, willing and able to raise a child he clearly loves, and has a two-year track record of doing just that, and doing it well, there is absolutely no excuse for moving her from his home to the home of out-of-state strangers who claim her based on an at-risk hopeful adoption placement that they knew was problematic since Veronica was an infant, and before her adoption was final.

Would it be heart-rending to give up a baby you had been caring for as your own for three or four months? I have no doubt of this. I am an adoptive mother myself and both my children were placed in my care at birth. Legally final adoptions or not, they felt very much like my babies — no, they indeed were my babies — the minute I held them each for the first time.

But.

Is it okay to essentially steal someone else’s baby because you love her? No. Nor is it a particularly loving thing to do.

I still maintain that as soon as her prospective adoptive parents discovered the legal and interpersonal complications of this case, they should have handed Veronica (then an actual baby who might have had enough resilience to thrive in spite of the disruption) to her father and wished them all well. Would that have been hard? Absolutely. But if we are going to romanticize the relinquishment of babies to adoption as a “loving, selfless” sacrifice on the part of birth parents (and we do, all the time) why is it that these hopeful adoptive parents shouldn’t be expected to do the same with grace?

A legal trick is not what should decide this case — as in: when did Veronica’s father sign away his rights and did he know what he was doing? A decision about which adults ought to have more rights is not what should decide this case. What should decide this case is Veronica’s right to her father.

“Best interest” should not be about which parent lives in the better neighborhood, has the better school to offer or takes the most expensive vacations. If that were the grounds for deciding where children should be, would you (if you are a parent) be allowed to keep yours if your wealthiest friend took a shine to them and decided to sue you for custody?

If we can agree that people of any socio-economic class who provide for their children adequately and lovingly deserve to raise them in their own families and communities, we must look elsewhere to decide where a child should be when a contest like this comes along. And when I listen to adopted people (who are no longer babies), they tend to say that they have a right to their biological heritage when it is available.

Adoption disrupts families. No matter how loving and stable the new family, the original family is forever broken. This should be prevented whenever possible. A child with an enthusiastic, loving and fit parent has no reason to be adopted.

Veronica has known her father as her father now, for two years. She will be four years old next month. She has a right, not only to the stable family she has known for probably, all of her conscious life, but to the biological connections that are available to her.

Importantly, Veronica is not a baby anymore and from here on out, she will do nothing but grow in knowledge and understanding of what is happening to her. If her adoptive parents end up with custody, I hope they are ready to answer an angry teenager when she googles herself and asks them, “Why did you take me from my daddy?”

I find it hard to swallow that “we love you” will be enough for her.

On my Children, my Father, Life, Death and Vegetables

I wrote the following for my church’s weekly newletter. You can find the original here.

Train up a Cucumber

Nat Harvests Radishes in the SPR Garden

“They are like children!” said one of the garden ladies. “They will climb up, but you have to give them a little help and show them where to go.” She gently lifted a cucumber vine and twined it through the netting so it would climb.

My children have grown a bit this summer — more than a bit, perhaps, to judge by shortening dress hems and tightening shoes. But they have also grown in understanding.

This summer, they lost their grandfather after two years of watching him fight cancer. It is their first death, and they have taken it hard. As my older daughter said the week after the funeral, “I don’t want anyone who loves me to die!”

I sympathized and told her I felt the same way, but there was nothing we could do about it. One of the hardest things about losing my father has been losing some of my children’s confidence that I can make anything and everything better for them, if only I want to and am willing to try.

I could do nothing to save their Granddaddy, even though I really, really wanted to. So my kids learned the sad lesson that parents are fallible and that sometimes death wins.

But the SPR garden also has been a pastime for them this summer, in the weeks we have been home and able to get to church on a Sunday. It has been a reassuring counterpoint to the fact of death, and that is the very concrete, undeniable fact of life.

When my children ask me questions about God, I tend to tell them some version

My father loved this picture he took on a walk with my girls.

of this: “God is a very special mother who takes care of the whole world. God makes things be alive. She makes things grow.”

(As a result of this teaching, when my younger girl saw a landscaper doing some work recently, she said, “look, that man is helping God! He’s taking care of the world.”)

When things in a garden die, my children know that nature turns them into dirt again, like the compost in the buckets on our own patio garden at home. New things can grow from that next season.

A garden at church is the perfect object lesson for them to connect the sacred and mundane facts of life — that God makes life, makes things grow, turns death and decay into something new and beautiful and perhaps even delicious, like a cherry tomato picked right off the vine, warm from the sun.

But this comes at a cost — a cost of labor and time and sometimes the frustration of fending off rapacious beetles that would chew down your vine before it can blossom.

And some people, work as hard as they will, never can get that vine blossoming.

This summer, along with the sad fact of death, my kids also have begun to learn the sad fact that life is not fair. Some people have more than they need, while some don’t have enough. The good news is that those who have enough can share and even the score just a little bit, almost every day.

When we go to the grocery store each week, we have a list of “Things We Need” and a list of “Things We Want.” My older daughter carefully crosses things off our “need” list and adds the prices as we shop. We have a budget every week and we are never able to get everything on our “want” list. But “sharing food” for the basket at the church altar is on the “need” list.

We always have enough to add a can of beans or a package of cereal for someone who might be hungry, even if it means we can’t get a candy bar for ourselves. It’s a lesson the children take with all the faith in the world that what I’ve told them — sharing is part of being who we are — is a simple truth. They never quibble about this.

Granddaddy and Nat

Recently, my older daughter badly wanted to eat a fresh pepper harvested from the SPR garden. I told her no. She kept begging and cajoling and I kept saying no until the thought struck me to simply explain. “The garden vegetables are sharing food,” I told her. “Oh!” She put down the pepper gently. She has never asked me to eat food from the garden again.

But she loves the garden nonetheless for that. She is as happy as she can be, helping pick ripe veggies, pulling weeds, plucking beetles off the plants and asking the expert gardeners a thousand questions.

The morning after my father died, my younger daughter asked, “will God make Granddaddy again?” I explained that Granddaddy was one-of-a-kind and that God is just too creative to ever make the same thing twice.

But although it may sound odd at first, I’ve told the girls that Granddaddy is a little bit like the compost. For one thing, he donated his body to cancer research. So there is an obvious way in which his physical being has been used to renew life among those of us who are still here slogging along on the Earth. But in the end, my father’s body was just a body, and it has returned to dust, as every one of ours will someday.

My Father and Me

And yet, like the compost that gives so much vitality to a tomato plant, my father’s love for his children and grandchildren will become — has already become — a part of who they are.

My children are stronger, happier, more loving people for having known his love for them. The spirit of sharing that he demonstrated even after death, he passed down to me to pass on to my own children. If all goes well, someday they will pass it to theirs.

And SPR — both in the garden and elsewhere — is a place to nurture those seeds of generosity and kindness, of sharing and enjoying people from all over the world (or from just across the neighborhood at KAM Isaiah Israel!). People come and go — even the ones who love us.

But in the end, it’s that very love that really wins.

Home Again, Home Again…

For those of you who haven’t heard it yet via the grapevine, or Twitter (which is the grapevine), I have news: We are homeschooling next year. And we might be homeschooling for a year or two, or three, though at this time, we are hoping to put the girls back in the school we have come to love, once it’s within our economic means to do so again.

The bottom line this year, is that we just can’t afford tuition.

I admit that there is that perverse part of me that enjoys being the wrench in assumed binaries like pro- versus anti-homeschooling. You and I both know there are strong feelings and opinions at the far ends of those supposed poles. But in our case, an initial plan to homeschool was changed when we found a school we really loved and could afford. Now we can’t afford it and have jumped onto the homeschooling track again.

I have always held that all good parents homeschool, they just think of it more or less as homeschooling, per se, depending on their position between those assumed opposite poles. So we’ve been homeschooling all along, and now we are stepping up the “school-like” nature of home to transition the girls to leaving school for awhile.

It’s funny, really. One of the things I like best about their school (which is an intensive Montessori, preK-8th-grade, private school), is that it seemed, as I put it only days before I realized we would be coming back home “like homeschooling off-site.”

Maria Montessori set up her initial school–which was in fact a residential facility for needy children–as a “children’s house” and much of the Montessori “work” in classrooms is based on life skills and the work of running a home. In the girls’ school, for example, there are not only table-washing, and buttoning “works” in the preschool classroom, but a full working kitchen (sans dishwasher, because doing it by hand is part of the lesson!) in the upper elementary (4th-6th grades) classroom where children frequently make meals for themselves and/or the school faculty and staff.

So home fits a Montessori style and/or a Montessori style fits home. And since we do hope to send the girls back to school, we won’t be quite “unschooling” as we had initially planned, because I want to keep the Montessori vocabulary and work style familiar to the girls. I have set up a new bookshelf with shelves labeled for each of the girls and some labeled “share” and have already put some “works” there and the girls have been working at home quite happily when they are not at school. I plan to gradually step this up to a more formal level over the summer, week by week until we are doing about two hours of free-flow “work” in the mornings, then doing field trips, outside lessons and household work in the afternoons by autumn. I plan to change out the works available as needed, probably every week or two.

Of course, who knows what will actually happen. But given the good work the school has done in preserving the kids’ self-motivation to learn and produce work they are proud of, taking advantage of that for a homeschool year or two will be easy enough, as long as I keep a close watch on their interests and learning-style preferences.

One of the pros about coming home is that we will be able to do more activities. Both of the girls have really been enjoying ballet lessons (which sort of shocks me, as I had never planned to put them in ballet. It just sort of came up on a lark and now Nat, especially, really loves it). But that hour on Saturday morning, and two hours of church on Sunday have been all the kids could handle after 6 hours/5 days of school for Nat and 3 hours/5 days of school for Selina. School wipes them out completely. But Nat has been asking for a violin for a while (which gratifies me because I did always plan to put her in Suzuki music lessons) and now we can A) afford it and B) have time for it without exhausting her. We will also probably do either swim lessons or some introductory martial arts or perhaps both, depending on how things go.

So, after fretting about finding a better job, with super-flexible hours so I could continue to solo parent in the coming academic year during the weekdays when Cole is out of town at work, I am now off the market. Suffice it to say, I have a job. And we have reduced financial pressure, so I can breathe easier about that job paying $0. The girls will undoubtedly miss school, because they love it to death. But they love home too, and we will hold onto the friends we’ve made at school for play dates  and summer camps and whatnot while finding a bit of flexibility in the business of making some new friends in new venues.

And that is our biggest news of late. Now you know!

Talking

One of the reasons I don’t write much here anymore is that fairly early on, I realized that Nat is a private person. She is reticent to talk much about important or complicated topics and I didn’t feel it was right for me to go on talking to the general public about her business if it was likely she was going to dislike it when she got old enough to realize I was doing it.

So while I’m not going to tell you exactly what she and I have been talking about lately, I do want to share that we have been talking.

I have heard that many times, adoptive parents assume that if kids aren’t talking/asking about something, they aren’t thinking about it. I have also heard that that assumption is usually proved wrong–sometimes in sad ways that might have been avoided with better communication.

In our case, Nat has typically been very unlikely to raise the topic of adoption or race or having same-sex parents, or any sensitive topics that affect her personally. But we have always talked about those things openly anyway, to try and make sure she grew up knowing that those topics were not secrets, shameful, or in any way threatening or off-limits. I could also get hints that Nat was thinking about these kinds of things from other sources–lately, she’s been writing stories, for example, that, while fictional, are exceptionally transparent! Also, Selina, who is a far less pensive kid, is much more open about these topics, bringing them up casually and frequently.

But in the past six months, Nat and I have had some really intense conversations, all initiated by her. In fact, long as six and a half years might have seemed to wait to hear her broach topics I’ve been chattering about to her all that time, her way of engaging has turned out to be (or at least seems to me, to be) quite precocious. We’ve had some difficult discussions that I had assumed we would have when she is a teenager. She’s only seven.

I wanted to break my general Nat silence to tell you this because you may be or may know an adoptive parent who is shy about bringing up these topics or is waiting for a child to bring them up first. I want to add my two cents to the pile of advice suggesting that we keep bringing things up. I feel like my persistence is beginning to pay off now, because my sweet, almost painfully empathetic kid has gotten the message that no matter how challenging the issue, she won’t hurt me with her honest feelings and I will always be on her side in difficulty.

Keep talking. Even if you get changes of subject, rolling eyes or silly faces, at any one moment, try, try again. Let them know you won’t shy away from any of their truth, no matter how hard.

On Raising “Genderless” Children

There’s a bit of hoo-ha going on right now about Baby Storm. I have nothing to add to this piece I wrote back in 2006 for LiteraryMama.com.

Tiger Jo-Jo

They say that kids who live in a “language-rich environment” do better in school (whatev!) than kids who live in a language-poor environment. It think it’s safe to say my kids live in a language-rich environment, if the language is English. There are books in every room (this is an understatement–there is a whole library in every room) of the house, both parents have larger than average vocabularies and use them when speaking to the kids. We post signs to remind the kids of household mores, put notes in the lunch boxes, read the bulletin at church, the menus at restaurants, the advertising on buses, and stop and discuss new words and their meanings when we encounter them. We dictate their writing and/or let them do it themselves (whether fantastical, invented, or Webster’s perfect).

But I always wanted my kids to also grow up in a music-rich environment. I think of music as a language and had hoped my kids could learn it as a mother tongue. The trouble is, I can sing, but I can’t play any instruments. So I played recorded music for them a lot in babyhood, danced and counted time, sang the scales and all kinds of songs. I got a realistic toy piano and put the note letters on the keys with scrapbook stickers.

But none of that was really going to teach my kids music in a natural way and I knew it. At some point, I gave up and just banked on doing Suzuki when they were old enough.

Then Josiah came into our lives.

When we met Josiah, he didn’t know he was a musician, so music had nothing to do with our decision to welcome him into the family. But over the first year we knew him, he taught himself to play the guitar, and it was revealed that he is profoundly gifted in the music department. When I say “he taught himself to play guitar” I mean, he picked up a guitar, looked at YouTube, and within six months, was playing as well or better than people who’d been doing it for years. He has the kind of gift that makes people think a task is easy for everyone because it comes to them like breathing. Since learning guitar, Josiah has dabbled in ukelele, mandolin, banjo and is now branching out to saxophone and wants to get some keyboards and on and on and on.

His new Life Plan is to learn to build and repair guitars from this guy, make a living that way, and make music with his friends for fun.

Suddenly the kids live a super music-rich environment.

I would estimate that Josiah plays around the house–often directly for the children–about 3 hours per day on average. A lot of this is learning time–teaching himself new things–while the kids just “hang out” with him or nearby, overhearing the whole process.

Now he’s been taking Nat one-on-one with the little kid-sized guitar we bought her and helping her learn actual chords for a few minutes every single day. She did not enjoy this much at first. She liked to strum and had good form according to Josiah, but hated doing the chords because it hurt her fingers. But after about six weeks of 5-10 minutes an evening, she’s finally rounded a corner and they are learning to play “You are my Sunshine” together.

A big part of rounding this corner, I must reluctantly admit, was the acquisition of a Wii. Cole, Josiah and Nat scored it while Selina and I were out of town and I came home to a kid who now says “I beat the level!” whenever she accomplishes something. I don’t think she actually knows what this means, but she talks like this and it freaks me out. All the same, I have the Wii to thank for the new guitar enthusiasm.

You see, I declared, upon arriving home to the new regime, that Nat could play Wii for exactly the same number of minutes per day she worked on guitar with Josiah. Now she tries really hard to extend her practice time. Last night it was 12 minutes. (I know these are tiny times, but for Nat, both guitar-wise and Wii-wise, they work just right.)

It only took a week of Wii-inspired extra guitar work to get Nat to stop complaining about sore fingers and excited about playing guitar for its own sake. Josiah estimates that in a month HE will be enjoying it too. For now, he says it’s like pulling teeth.

I guess we’ll still probably do Suzuki, but it can wait a bit. And meanwhile, the kids are getting exactly what I had hoped for them when they were babies. All through the dumb luck of finding Josiah.

I have also learned that a Wii can be a powerful motivator. I have all kinds of plans to use it strategically in the future.

How about you? Do you have a Wii or the like? How do you regulate/strategically make use of it?