Facebook: Red Table Talk; Transracial Adoptee

Red Table Talk, Raised by White Parents; A Black Transracial Adoptee

Great job Red Table Talk! Thank you so very much.

As a transracial adoptee, Angela is responding in the way she was raised. Sadly her family did not embrace people of her culture. I call this culture genocide or an ethnic crime.

I am not against transracial adoption. Noah is a transracial adoptee. But when white people raise their black and brown children in white culture or teach them only the adoptive family’s ethnic heritage or culture (German, Italian, etc) but not the ethnicity of their adoptee, that is a huge disservice to their child. It says your culture is not as important as ours in this family. I always wonder how white adoptive parents can love a black child but not the Black community. How do they go 18+ years of embracing new friends, family, and neighbors who all happen to be white but claim they are color blind? How does that happen? That is not natural or unbiased living.

I love that Jada and Willow and Gammy gave a transracial adoptee and a birth parent a seat at the table. Willow shared some deep talk for such a young woman, I love that Gammy was outspoken and passionate in this table talk. She has experience as a black woman and a black mother. She is right. Angela didn’t have a say on being adopted or how she was raised. Her insecurities stem from her lack of Black culture and understanding her place in the Black community. And let us not forget she is an adoptee which comes with inherit emotional consequences. But also, like Gammy said, Angela can change that. It would be similar to a white person who was raised with racism. Once they become an adult, they have the choice to educate themselves and decide which path they want to take. I hope that Angela steps out of her comfort zone and begins to embrace her roots. In today’s America, there really is no excuse that ANY family should live in a bubble no matter your color or culture. But especially transracial adoptive parents.

I am grateful to Ms. Debra and Angela’s parents taking a seat at the table and allowing those tough questions to be asked.

Lastly, I truly appreciate Angela’s honesty, sharing her story and her vulnerability so that others can learn. By taking a seat at this table and inviting us into her journey, her space, she educated so many on the many layers of adoption. We know that not one person speaks for everyone. But Angela has been given a platform. She does her best to give all sides light and exposure. She is bringing those pieces that have been dark and hidden for so long to the surface and it feels wonderful to be seen and heard with compassion. Thank you, Angela.

 

Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll

This is my #metoo story. #nomoreshame #timesup

One Woman's Choice

Jaren is a junior in high school now and is starting to become more independent, which makes me somewhat nervous.  This is such a crucial time in his life and soon he will be entering adulthood.  He will be face to face with choices that I will not always be able to assist him with and I trust that I have given him the tools to make those decisions.

I remember once, after bringing Jaren to my job for “Kids Day at Work”, one of my co-workers said to me, “You know what I like about Jaren?  He is a kid.  He acts like a kid.  And I mean that as a compliment.”  My co-worker, who did not have children, went on to explain to me that she felt parents tried to make grown-ups out of kids instead of allowing them to be kids and act like kids.  She was…

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Social Acceptance

I was a bed wetter.  I wet the bed until I was in high school.  Of all the experiences I have talked about in my life, this is one of the most embarrassing ones for me to admit.  Even at the age of Fifty-four years old, it is still uncomfortable to confess publicly.

There are many reasons for my embarrassment.  First, of the five kids in our household, I was the only bed wetter.  Even my two younger brothers, who were nine and twelve years younger than me, stopped wetting the bed before I did.  Yeah, I never heard the last of that.  My parents and older siblings reminded me often.

This made me very different in my family and socially unacceptable.

My bed wetting disorder automatically put me in a lower, child-like status within my family and directly impacted my self-confidence.

The bladder skill is the one thing that moves a child from the toddler to a big boy or girl status.  It’s a big accomplishment.  My lack thereof made me subject to punitive words, punishment, jokes, and ridicule.  For about 15 years, I dealt with this on a weekly, almost daily basis.  Not to mention my own embarrassment of waking up another morning in a wet bed.

My bed wetting really set off my step-father and siblings at times.

My sister and I shared a room.  She was probably my worst tormentor.  We were very close.  But she also knew how to hurt me.  She laughed at me, called me names, told me she wanted her own room because I made the room stink from my pee-filled bed.  Her words would seep into my mind and remind me often that I was faulty.

My step-father, who gave me the nick-name, Squirt, also hated this uncontrollable trait about me.  I think at first he thought it was a passing phase.  I was five years old when he and my mother began to date.

I remember him telling me that he would call me, Squirt, until I stopped wetting the bed.  Of course, he never did stop calling me this.  And after he realized my bed wetting days were here to stay, he began to hate it.  So much so that my mother would try and hide my wet sheets from him so another bed wetting night would not set him off.

My step dad wouldn’t beat me.  But it was his eyes, his facial expression of disappointment, and at times disgust that seemed to prevent him from even looking at my face.  And then, there were his words that cut me deeper than any whooping.  This feeling would haunt me daily and for years to come.  Sometimes he blamed my mother for babying me too much as the reason for my bed wetting.  Other times, he blamed me.  In his mind, someone had to be the blame!  And it certainly wasn’t him.  It surely could not have been a medical condition.  In his mind (and others as well), it was psychological.

I was just acting out.  Too spoiled.  Too lazy to wake up.  Too scared to go to the bathroom.  Too immature.  None of which were true, by the way.

The truth is I was a very sound sleeper.  Mostly because of being mildly deaf in one ear and moderately deaf in my other ear.  I never felt the peeing sensation or my wet clothes or bed sheets until I woke up in the morning.  I woke up cold and wet.

My family believed that I could willfully choose to wet or not wet my bed.  They held onto this mistaken belief, making me feel as if I was doing this on purpose, like an attention getter.  Oh, ‘feel sorry for Karen,’ something they felt and cynically said without hesitation.  Trust me, the last thing a child wants to get is attention or ridicule for wetting their bed.  That’s common sense, 101!

While my bed wetting kept me from going over to a friend’s house once in awhile, when I was allowed, it was not without anxiety.  It was a gamble.  And most bets would have been against me.  We didn’t have pull-ups or adult diapers back then.  And while using those can be embarrassing too, waking up over a friend’s house in wet sheets or sleeping bag is far greater of an embarrassment.  Trust me.  I know!

When I did go for an overnight, whether it was at a friend’s or a relatives, I got the same talk, “Don’t wet the bed!”  Sometimes it was a pleading, “PLEASE, don’t wet the bed!”  Sometimes it was a threat, “You BETTER not wet the bed or you will NOT be allowed to go again!”  Or I was reminded that I may not be invited back because of my bed wetting.  The first question when I got in the car or got home was, “Did you wet the bed?”  All of which caused additional stress and anxiety.

I had wished many times it was that easy.  My childhood would have been much simpler without that one burden.  Think about it, what child in their right mind would want to wake up at a friend’s house or a slumber party among elementary, middle, or high school peers in wet sheets?  Anybody?  I didn’t think so.  But that was a reality for me.  I had “accidents” at all those places.

This is something that my parents or my family just did not get.  They thought by belittling me, embarrassing me, or making fun of me, that I would get tired of their daily antics and stop wetting the bed.  They just wanted me to stop wetting the bed!  What they didn’t realize is that I too wanted to stop wetting the bed but just didn’t know how.

It was also a key factor that my older siblings didn’t want to take me to their grandparents home for the weekend. And the few times I did go, my sister threatened me. My sister didn’t want to be embarrassed by my wet bedsheets. And the look on their grandmother face was obvious that something was wrong with me.

Can you imagine waking up at a relatives house or friends slumber party with all your girlfriends and you realize your pajamas are wet.  The sheer fear sets in.  You start to scheme on how you can hide your wet bed from your friends.  You hope that you can go home without anyone noticing.  You quickly gather your bedding and take it to their parents in hopes they will keep your secret.  Then your mind quickly tries to create a reasonable story or excuse you can tell.  You explain why this happened as if this was an unusual circumstance.  It must have been all the sodas and snacks and lack of sleep that caused this accident and HOPE that they buy it.  Otherwise, Monday morning at school is going to be hell.  You will now be labeled as the girl who wets the bed.  And then your secret is out so not only your family can make fun of you but now you may become a joke at school too.  Then, paranoia sets in.  Isn’t that every pre-teenage girls dream?

I remember one time waking up from an overnight stay.  My friend’s mother realized I wet the bed.  She was calm while speaking with me.  She ask me if I wet the bed.  I told her I did.  She said that she had wished I would have told her about my bed wetting condition the previous night so she could have prepared.  What she didn’t understand is that bed wetting is a deep dark secret that families try to keep hidden from the general public.  There is shame associated with bed wetters and not just for the bed wetter themselves.  Parents and siblings don’t want relatives and friends to know they have a bed wetter in the family.

This mother was trying to be as compassionate as possible.  I could tell she was treading her words gingerly so as not to offend or hurt me deliberately.  I told her that I was hoping I wouldn’t wet the bed and that sometimes I don’t.  Then she said, “You’re mother should have told me.”  I think my mother was as embarrassed about it as I was.  Maybe even ashamed.

I have to say I have had some wonderful friends who knew about my bed wetting condition and still sincerely loved me.  And some of their parents were equally supportive.

My bed wetting would create arguments among my parents.  So literally, I was the reason my parents fought.  Not just my bed wetting but so many other things that were unique to me, unlike my siblings, caused my parents to erupt.  I will say my mother was the least to make fun of me.  Though, she did join in the laughter from time to time when my siblings made fun of my bed wetting.  I would look at her with hurtful eyes.  She would scoff it off.

My mother also took a lot of heat from my step dad, which my siblings and I felt bad about.  We were loyal to our mother.  Back then, I am sure my siblings may have even blamed me on some level, unconsciously or consciously, for the discord in our household.  But I no longer feel sorry for my mother.  She was an adult.  I was a child.  She had a choice and the power to be in a relationship.  I had no choice or power to stay or leave.  She was my parent.  I was her daughter.  She had a responsibility to protect me.  She could have stopped the torment but she chose not to do so.

Yes, of course!  I wet my bed for all this wonderful attention from my family and my friends.  Who wouldn’t?

The truth is, I wanted to be normal.  Or at the very least, treated like I was normal with support and understanding.  I couldn’t help that I was a bed wetter.

Maybe I had a week bladder.

Maybe I had primary nocturnal enuresis.

Maybe I experienced some trauma as an infant or as a child.  Soldiers have been known to come home from war and start wetting their bed, due to PTSD, who had no previous history of bed wetting.

There was a medical reason for my bed wetting but I may never know what it was.

Maybe that’s why I get it when others make fun of people or ridicule them or belittle or punish or judge or exclude them or kill them for standing up for something that has happened, beyond their control.

Maybe they are considered socially unacceptable.

Maybe their beliefs are considered different.

Maybe their clothes or skin color or disability make them different.

Maybe their neighborhood or economic status or both are tattered.

Maybe their story, their historical lineage comes with tainted fabric.

Maybe they were abandoned by their family, their people, or their country, or maybe all three.

Maybe they’re reminded daily of the troubled past and injustices and hate.

Maybe they’re blamed for something that was out of their control.

Maybe no one protected them.

Maybe no one helped them.

Maybe no one understood.

Maybe they never received credit for all they accomplished.

Maybe others believed in the lies instead of the truth.

Maybe all they ever wanted was a chance.

Maybe…just maybe…there is more to the story…

Karen 1977

Halves and Whole

 “And you know I ain’t never wanted no half nothing in my family.” ~Fences quote

Best line and scene in this movie and one that brought tears for me.

I am also a family of halves with no full biological sibling while my other siblings (three sets) that I grew up with each had one of theirs.  And yes, we said your dad and my dad and your mom and my mom.  Even our halves had halves.  Our family is convoluted.  And I didn’t want that for my kids or my family.

Growing up, my siblings often reassured me that they didn’t think of me as a half sibling but the facts were there.  We didn’t always do things together as whole.

The family pics were split.  Some with just the whole siblings and some by ourself/myself and some together with the halves.  As a little girl, I didn’t always understand.  I didn’t know why I had to get out of the picture.  Our mom would tell us, this was for their dad or their grandparents, but at the time, I was 4 or 5 and I was the only one being excluded.  I didn’t always understand why “they” (whoever they were), didn’t want me in their picture.  I remember once, our mother letting me and my half sister take a picture together.  It was clear it was to appease me and my insecurities.

Some of the moms, dads, or grandparents were actively involved and some were not.  That’s hard to explain to children and a hard pill for them to swallow.

When my brother died and made his will, I was the only one left out, while his full blooded sister and our shared father were both included.  It did hurt.  I didn’t care about the money.  He could have left me $20.00 or a family heirloom.  But it was the fact that there was no mention of me at all.

Sadly, it didn’t turn out as good as I had hoped for my boys.  I still grapple with the intent of my family to sever my ties with my youngest son.  But at least my sons have a full-blooded sibling.  They have the same biological mother and father.  And they have each other.

I know if anything happened to me, that Noah’s parents would adopt Jaren into their family as well.

Mother’s Day 2017

In honor of Mother’s Day, I asked some of my friends to share their thoughts and insights of what they learned from parenting.

Encourage your children to be themselves.  Allow them to express themselves in their own unique way.  Remember it takes a village.  It’s okay to ask for help.  Take time for yourself.  Do things to fill your bucket so you have more to give.  ~Allyson

Be patient. You only have them as “little ones” for a very short time.  Pick your battles; half of them aren’t worth the energy.  ~Arlene

Pick your battles!  It’s easy to get caught up in each and every battle with your child, but remember…it’s the joy of quality time that is cherished and remembered, not the ability to clean their room perfectly.  Each child is completely different.  So, whether you are showing love or reprimanding a child, keep in mind what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for the other.  When you’ve overreacted to your child’s behavior or made a choice that concerned them that you now realize was the wrong choice, be honest with them and apologize. Teach your child that not only is it okay to make mistakes, but “owning” that mistake makes you a person with integrity.  ~Kelly

Let go of nagging and let consequences rule, even if you have to bite your tongue. Enjoy them for who they are.  It doesn’t take much to create an estrangement – don’t let it be because of something stupid.  ~Katie

Cherish every moment, even the frustrating ones. Because before you know it, they’re not little anymore and think they don’t need you.  Know that eventually, they will need you again. ~Kim

Two words: Pay Attention. Pay attention to your child.  Watch and listen instead of just reacting.  Little ones don’t know how to process all of their emotions and they DO feel them: fear, anger, frustration, loneliness, joy, grief, jealousy, glee…. all of them.  But they don’t always know what to do with those feelings so sometimes they come out as tantrums, inconsolable crying, apathy or just plain jumping up and down and carrying on. Pay attention so you have an inkling of what’s behind the behavior… pay attention so you don’t automatically react negatively….pay attention so you don’t assume your kid is being a pain in the butt on purpose. And pay attention so you don’t miss anything.  It’s so hard to put your adult worries aside and focus, but you will be glad you did (and sorry one day, if you don’t).  Listening to your child is the only way you will ever really know who he/she is.  ~Grace

Make time.  When we look back over our childhood, we rarely remember all the gifts we received from our parents.  We remember the moments; the vacations, the dinners, the picnics and the days at the beach or the lake or the pool.  We have so many things that can easily distract us.  Remember to make time for memories. ~Karen Whitaker

Motherhood has completely changed me.  It’s just about like the most completely humbling experience that I’ve ever had.  I think that it puts you in your place because it really forces you to address the issues that you claim to believe in and if you can’t stand up to those principles when you’re raising a child, forget it.  ~Diane Keaton

Volunteer and Service

Jaren and I have done a lot of service over the years.

I would say my passion for volunteering began when my employer asked me to help organize the United Way Campaign for the employees.  It was a week long event where we shared video’s, personal stories, and the many ways to give and serve.  I had benefited personally from United Way charities like the Good Will store that our mother shopped at from time to time for us kids, as a single mother of three.

I began to get more involved in service when I worked with WaMu. They were a very service oriented company and gave their employees 12 hours per quarter to volunteer during work hours.  It was a wonderful gift. It allowed me to do more, as a single mother. Its harder when you’re a single parent.  Time is so precious. Leave in the morning, drop off your child at school, head to work, put in at least an eight hour work day, plus lunch and then pick up your child and head home to cook dinner, homework, sports, spend time together, get them their bath and ready for bed and do it all over again the next day.

I loved volunteering and serving.  I always walked away feeling good.  So I began to look for service that I could do with my son.  I didn’t want for him to be home with a sitter while I was out volunteering.

We served in many different ways, from awareness/charity walks, to serving Thanksgiving dinners at a homeless shelter, to working with special needs kids and many other various events.  It really was so much fun serving side by side with my son.

However, I did do a few things without my son, like in 2006, Jaren’s school invited me to join their Campus Involvement Committee.  It was a one school year commitment.  I enjoyed that and learned a lot about how the schools work.  I also got to provide input.  It was a great group of professionals to work with.

From 2005-2007 I was invited to join the Community Involvement Team at WaMu and was the Secretary for one of those years.

And lastly, one of the employees of UnityDallas asked me to join their committee to help organize their family event, called Where’s the Beach, which I did in 2008 and in 2010.  I was the volunteer coordinator.  It was about a six month commitment for the planning of the event.

When I resigned from the bank in 2012, I volunteered at UnityDallas, my church, for about nine months, working one to two days in the office, answering phones and handling minor office duties.  It was a lot of fun.

Then, when Jaren got to high school, he began to go even further serving with our YOU youth program at church.  He already had the experience.  And he enjoyed serving.  Even when the folks at the church needed a hand, they knew they could ask him.  When they had Open Mic night for the YOUers, who took turns performing along with adults on a small stage, it was Jaren who worked the sound booth, taking a short break here and there to eat or perform his song.  And when he graduated, he was able to get his service recognition, thanks to his sponsors and UnityDallas.  I will tell you, that meant more to me than any academic or athletic award.

Giving service, whether we are thanked or not, whether we get an award or not, whether someone parades us on stage or not is really irrelevant.  In the end, when I walk before God and he ask me and my son, what we did for his people, we will be able to reply, “We did this and we did it humbly with a grateful heart.”

Traumatic Events

I believe we all have had some type of traumatic event in our life, an occurrence that made a lasting impression.  Some of us have had many of these.

We often forget those bad moments or traumatic events that occurred.  It happens often with accidents of some sort.  I’ve heard several people say, “The last thing I remember is…,” (which was the moment the crash was about to happen) and then the next thing they remember is being in the hospital.  This is our brain’s way of protecting us.  Or maybe it’s our soul or our guardian angel or it may be Jesus and God himself that are shielding us of the memory and the pain.

I can tell you that I have forgotten many of those traumatic moments over the years.  That is until I experienced the trauma of relinquishment.  Over time, the good memories of my childhood would be replaced with traumatic events that altered my emotional state.

Other than those scary moments when you get separated from a parent in a large department store, which can be pretty traumatic for a young child, I’ve had some other unique experiences.

My earliest memory is when I was around three years.  I saw George, a live-in boyfriend, who was sometimes an abusive man to my mother, much like my own biological father, get very angry at my mother and shove her up against the wall, banging her head  repeatedly while she cried.  I felt helpless.

Another time, around the same age, George walked in my mother’s bedroom and saw me laying on top of my mother’s bed, grinding on my dolls foot.  He scolded me and disciplined me.  I wonder how I learned this.  I must have seen this or experienced something like this.  Children mimic what they see.  This moment has impacted my sexual life.

1967 karen in Florida

When I was five, a lady in the neighborhood babysat me.  My mother was working and my older siblings were at school.  We were in her backyard as she sat on a lawn chair and watched me frolicking in the yard.  I saw some dogs, about five of them.  I ran over to the fence, hopped onto the fence to get a better look and then called them over.  The dogs looked at me and one of them lunged up towards me.  My babysitter got to me just in the nick of time with the raging dog just inches away from my face.  It seemed there were some stray rogue dogs roaming around our neighborhood.  After that experience, I’ve always been a little apprehensive around dogs.

When I was around six, I went for a drive with my mother and her date.  My older siblings were away for the weekend with their paternal family.  My mother’s date drove to a playground that was located at one of the local lakes.  They pulled to the edge and asked me to ask a lady that was there with her kids if she would watch me for a moment while my mother went to park the car.  The lady agreed.  I ran back to the car to let my mom know.  I played for a while.  At that age, I didn’t have any concept of time, but what I do remember is the lady saying to me, “You’re mother is coming back isn’t she?”  What a thing to say to a small child.  When my mother and boyfriend did return, they parked in the same place they dropped me off.  My mother got out of the car, fetched me and we left.  I remember saying to her that I thought they were parking the car so we could go to the park.  I’ve always wondered why they left me there.  Where did they go and what did they do?  Anything could have happened to me.  This memory created an abandonment feeling inside me.

Another time, my mother’s boyfriend took me to our family doctor.  I got on the table and the doctor examined my vagina.  I recall the Dr. looking over and asking if it was okay for him to examine me first.  I’ve always wondered why my mother’s boyfriend, a man who later became our father however who did not attend school events or activities or other doctor’s visits, except when my parents took me to Philly to have my hearing tested, took me to the doctors.  I’ve asked about this but it seems they don’t remember or they give vague responses.  I would think this would be something they would remember as it was such a rare occasion for my step father to take any of us to the doctors.  What happened?  Being on the table in the doctor’s office with my lower half naked and exposed, without my mother or siblings there, being among two men that I didn’t feel that close or secure with made a lasting impression on me.  But I think it’s the not knowing why that has created more anxiety.

I would continue to experience a few other moments throughout my childhood of the scary, drunk, angry, yelling step father, gritting his teeth, threatening and pushing our mother, with my younger brothers screaming for him to get away from her, that left our mom and us kids so scared that she yelled for us to go get our grandparents (my step dads parents).  They always seemed to be able to calm the situation.  We just never knew what the night would be like when dad came home from drinking with his buddies.  We didn’t know what personality would be walking through the doors and if one thing said could turn the switch and make a calm night turn chaotic.  It was not an easy life to experience and one that left me feeling fearful many times.

I was visiting with a friend recently and we were talking about my second pregnancy and my relinquishment.  I was telling her how Noah’s mom has asked me over the years if I ever had doubts or changed my mind about adopting out Noah.  I would always reassure Noah’s mom and tell her that I didn’t.  Maybe that was my way to cope with the truth.  My dear long-time friend said, “Don’t you remember?  You had changed your mind.  You had decided you weren’t going to give up Noah, until your mom came to Texas.”  I shared my deepest and darkest secrets with my dear friend and relied heavily on her for support.  She remembered for me what I could not remember or recall for myself.  I had forgotten all about it.  I didn’t even really discuss it much in the book.  I wanted to put on the reassuring face, the please everyone else face, the make everyone else happy face.  And that left no room for Karen and her feelings, her wants, her needs, and certainly not her pains.

When I think back and look at my actions, it is very clear to me now.  When I went to the hospital, I never called the agency.  My doctor must have informed the agency because they called me and asked me if I had the baby.  A few days later, I took my baby home and planned on parenting him with Jaren but the events that would occur over the next few hours would be tremendously difficult for me to bear.  I am angry at a lot of people but mostly I am angry with myself for allowing others to coerce and manipulate me during my vulnerable moment into doing something that I wasn’t prepared to do.  At times, this traumatic event and the pain that I feel as result of my choice are almost too much to bear that I sometimes fear that death itself will be the only healer of my heart and soul.

How Common is PTSD

The Final Bow

Tonight was the Final Bow performance for my son’s high school choir.  This is the highlight of the year.  It is where the seniors get solo’s and get to show off their seasoned talent.  This is our sports event, our playoffs, our final round.  Harmony is the name of the game here and on our team, everyone can participate.  And just like sports, we have some that are naturally more talented than others, some that have worked really hard to gain access to their talent and others who have the attitude of commitment and continue to rise to the challenge, knowing that they may never be as good as some of their teammates but still they show up, they sing, and they support their team.

Did you know that one of the top fears that people have is getting up and speaking (or singing) in front of people?  Some list put this fear as the number one fear.  But most will have this fear listed in the top five.  That is major.  It takes guts to get up and speak or sing in front of people.  Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and subject to praise or criticism, it could go either way, is a very courageous act to do.  Add the fact that these kids are teenagers, which places another layer of apprehension.

I talk from experience.  I too was a choir student.  I joined my concert choir freshman year and perfected my choir voice for four years.  I was at ease while standing on stage with my comrades as we sang our choir songs; but singing alone gave me great stage fright.  During my senior year I sang a duet with a friend to help ease my fears.  We sang Snow Bird.  Even with her by my side, I still got nervous.  It started off good but by mid song my throat slowly closed up which made it almost impossible to release a solid note.

And like me, I saw tonight those students who reminded me of myself, singing duets to help ease their fears.  Some who were nervous but faced their fear and sang a solo on stage as their fellow choir members cheered them on from the crowd.  Some who are learning to trust themselves and their talent so they held back a little.  Then, there were the others, like my son, who appear confident, the ones who command the stage with a gracefulness, some bold and dazzling like they were born on the stage, some humble and secure with a pureness that flows effortlessly.  And then there are the special needs students who add the special touch to this high school choir.

I’ve seen many special needs kids on stage over the years, some with Down syndrome, some in wheelchairs, and some with physical or learning disabilities-even some with hearing impediments.  I love that our high school is not only diverse in ethnicity and culture but also in abilities.  I especially love how our district and the choir teacher, Ms. Wright embraces all these differences.  And as much as I love watching my son on stage, I never tire of seeing these kids perform.

This year, there was one choir student that stood out among them all.  And the rest of the choir kids didn’t seem to mind sharing the spotlight.  They all love to see him shine.  His name is Zuri.

I remember Zuri from middle school.  He went to a different middle school then my son but once a year the middle school choirs would join with the high school choir kids for a combined concert.  It was a treat to see the high school students performing.  What a difference a few more years makes.  Seeing how the students had matured into their own style and expressing their unique talents gave us parents a sneak peak of what our kids might be doing in their near future.  What parent doesn’t want to see their child performing?  On a stage, on a field, academically, athletically, or creatively, we hope that our child will find his niche and show off his or her unique skill and talent.  I am sure Zuri’s mom felt the same.

I met Zuri’s mom and his younger brother by chance at our local CiCi’s Buffet one evening.  I recognized Zuri from the concert and had this urge to tell her how Zuri stood out to me from that concert.  Not because he is special needs but because he allows his spirit to shine.  His bright smile, his infectious presence and his child-like ways makes one feel as if they are staring into the face of God.  He appears to have no stage freight, nor is he fearful to sing, in fact, he seems to not fear anything.

Tonight I was overcome with emotion as I watched Zuri sing Say Something on stage among his choir classmates, including my son Jaren.  Zuri is front and center.  He claps his hands and has memorized the song.  I know this because I am pretty good at reading lips and I could see his lips were moving to match the words.  I can’t help but think how blessed his family is and how special his mother is.  She looks at him with possibilities and supports his achievements and she has done an amazing job.  She makes parenting look easy.

Zuri smiles and brings this song to life with his hand gestures; I think some of it was sign language.

At the end of the evening, Ms. Wright begins to call each senior’s name.  She skips over Zuri’s name purposefully.  She leaves him for last.  As she calls his name, the choir cheers.  Zuri steps down from the choir stands, walks over to Ms. Wright and they hug.  Then as Zuri walks back, he pauses mid-stage and turns to look out into the audience.  We stand applauding.  Zuri raises both arms, cheering, and beaming from ear to ear.  As he steps back onto the bleachers and returns to his spot, he is overcome with emotions.  His head drops and he begins to cry.  His comrades all gather close to him.

Tears of joy begin to flow.

I can’t help but think how proud his mother must be.

Toxic Families

I recently stumbled upon an article about Toxic Families.

Looking back, I see an uncanny similarity to my childhood.  It’s funny how time can ease those bad memories, the fears, and the pain.  The wounds are still present but we forget what the discomfort felt like.  Then, when we look at the scar, we unwilling recall every detail of the past.  People will tell you, don’t look at the scar, don’t speak of the scar, forget the scar.  Some think if the scar is invisible, the circumstance is imaginary.  Nothing can be farther from the truth.

I was the youngest of three in the family with a single parent household, until my mother began dating our step father when I was a young five year old.

I was soon assessed and unequally measured up against my siblings and I didn’t fare well.  I cried too much and acted like a baby.  I sucked my thumb, wet my bed, talked too much and was too loud.  I was lazy in school, did not pay attention, did not listen nor did I perform well in school.  I was too sensitive, and too emotional.

I realize now that I was a neglected child.  I had all the classic signs that something was wrong but none of the adults would acknowledge or validate my very real and natural reactions to my circumstances.  If I were in the foster care or an adoptee, I would have been classified as a special needs child.

My needs and my disabilities were ignored, despite the absence of my father and the only child in our family who did not have a biological father to actively spend quality time with me (which I had between the ages of birth and four years old but then abruptly stopped).  Watching my two older siblings leave for the weekend with their paternal grandparents or father after us three kids were inseparable for most the time and then being told that I couldn’t go because this was “their grandparents or father” left me feeling forsaken.  Their grandparents, the Whitaker’s, did try to include me.  They started sending me $25.00 during Christmas time, the same amount as my siblings.  I would be reminded by our mother how generous it was of them to include me and how grateful I should be.  On rare occasions I eventually got to tag along with my siblings but not until I got much older.  I remember a time or two being reminded by my sister that they were “her” grandparents, not mine.  She didn’t have to tell me.  I mean they were nice to me but I was very aware that I was not their grandchild.  I felt like a guest when visiting, not family.  Even my brother and sister acted different when we were visiting with the Whitakers.  (Back then, none of us kids knew that their father is actually listed as my father on my birth certificate.)

What little scraps I got, I accepted it.  After all, I didn’t have my father or paternal grandparents picking me up or doting over me.  My paternal family didn’t have much to do with me, except for my sister Chick.  There were no letters, Christmas or birthday cards or presents, no phone calls or visits with my paternal family except on a very rare occasion.  I recall my mother taking me to a family reunion on my father’s side when I was a freshman in high school.  That was the first time we had seen each other since I was a baby.  Hardly anyone recognized me.  And I surely didn’t remember most of them.  I got to invite a friend of mine who’s Italian.  She fit right in with my Italian relatives and many thought she was family instead of me.  My paternal family didn’t know me.  My cousins, in-laws, aunts and uncles did not know me.  They knew my sister Chick, my half-sister from my dad, but they didn’t know me.  I had to keep explaining that I was Mario’s daughter.  My father, at the time, was in prison for murder.  But again, none of that mattered to my parents or family.  They didn’t feel the need to take me to a counselor or psychologist to help me cope.  My emotional or physical challenges, which began when I was a baby, were all in my head.  I was blamed for everything.

I was called,

A baby

A Bed-wetter

Squirt (Nickname), a pun on being a bed-wetter

A Crybaby

A Whiner

A Hypochondriac

An Airhead

I was accused of being too sensitive, overreacting and weak.

These labels would stick with me throughout my childhood and adulthood.

To borrow a quote from Oprah, my family didn’t see me, hear me and what I said didn’t really matter.

I will never forgot the first time I went to the state of Texas, DARS office to see if I qualified for disability assistance for my hearing impairment.  And I did.  That was first time I received validation.  It felt strange, really.  I kept waiting for someone to accuse me of faking it, since my family never acknowledged my hearing impairment or tried to provide any accommodations.  They treated me as if I was equal to my siblings (and classmates) when in fact I was not.  They all had normal hearing, I did not.

When DARS recently sent me to a new audiologist for a hearing test to reassess my hearing and to see if I qualified for new hearing aids, the doctor, who is also hearing impaired asked me when I was diagnosed.  I told him when I was in the second grade.  So his next question was assuming that I got hearing aids at the same time.  I explained to him that I did not.  He said his parents, who were both teachers discovered his hearing loss which was approximately about the same as mine as a child.  He said his speech and learning progress didn’t match up to his older sister so his parents knew something was wrong.  I told him that was funny because it was actually the teachers that discovered my hearing loss and noticed I was not speaking or learning at the same rate as my classmates.  But for whatever reason, even after I was diagnosed with permanent hearing loss (mild right ear and moderate left ear), my parents chose not to pursue hearing aids or any other type of assistance to help me with my hearing impairment.  Despite the repeated comments on my report cards that stated, “She does not listen, does not pay attention.  She day dreams a lot,” they still didn’t get it nor did they go to school to defend me or explain my situation.  The comments from my parents on the back of my report card are proof of that.  Now, I realize my parents were not rocket scientist or college educated at the time, but my goodness, the proof was very apparent and yet they ignored my diagnoses and even blamed me as the reason for my grades and behavior in school.  Not only did they ignore the diagnoses but they never took me to an audiologist for the remainder of my school years to have my hearing re-tested.  Think about that.  Can you imagine your child being diagnosed with a vision problem and not buying him glasses nor getting annual exams to see if his vision got worse.  More often than not, once you’ve been diagnosed with a vision or hearing impairment, over time, your ability level will decrease.  My mother said, “The school tested you every year.”  But sadly, it’s not the school’s responsibility to monitor our children’s health issues; it’s our parents.

In addition, schools do not always catch a child’s ability to see or hear or monitor their progress.  My co-worker told me a story about her nephew (her brother’s step son) who is in the third grade.  She said after the school suggested their son have an eye exam, his parents learned that their son has a serious visual impairment.  She said his glasses were so thick.  She commented at how he used to squint all the time (for years) and no one ever thought anything of it.  She said the first time she saw him with his glasses on; he was smiling, talking and seemed so much more confident, a big change from his previous behavior.  Imagine that.  Just obtaining glasses and being able to see better made him more confident.  His parents felt really bad for not noticing earlier and she said they kept apologizing to him over and over again and treated him extra special.  As parents, we are not perfect.  We miss things.  But when we learn that our child has special needs and there is a valid reason why our child may not be performing the way we expect (age appropriately) and we have an opportunity to help them perform better but choose to ignore it, that’s neglect.

So instead of my family validating my impairment or emotional needs, they scapegoated me.  I became an easy target and easy prey.  I was weak.  If something happened to me, they responded, “Well you should have known better,” or “you should have done this,” or “you should have learned.”  Then as I got older, the comments would continue as such, (actual comments copied from emails or facebook), “You are reading too much into this,”  “I think you’re over analyzing situations.”  “Don’t make problems where none exist.”  “Feeling sorry for yourself.”  “Don’t make a big deal about it.”  “By all means, do whatever you can to help others and yourself. Just remember, others need positives to move forward….not negatives or rehashing. It might work in a therapy session, but not here! No audience!”, and lastly,  “LOST CAUSE….LOST SOUL!!!”

I have to admit, the last one hurt real bad.  I don’t think I could ever say that to one of my children.

And if that wasn’t enough, my family would recruit other members of the family and some friends to chime in and bash Karen and then forward me their email.

This was from my uncle after reading My Storybook Father, “A lot had it worse than she did growing up.  I can recall Colleen’s pouts,” and “Surviving the Sisters of St. Joseph who must of been trained by the Nazis.  Also boo hoo…..my cousins and my two best friends moving away before I even got into high school.”

Some people will never see you or hear you or validate you.  And some will.

I had another uncle share this, “I have a better understanding of what she went through in life. My life was a walk in the park compared to what came her way. With God beside her she has done an amazing job.”