Honoring the History of Women

March is Women’s History Month. While we have so many extraordinary women to honor for their accomplishments and contributions to our society, as well as their bold and pioneering efforts to change gender perceptions, I want to share a different kind of story about women and our history.

Looking back historically over a century or more, women have experienced moral and gender oppression. Every move and choice and decision came with great debate and heated warnings of penitence and verdict. It was thought that women were not capable of making good choices even over the simplest of things, whether she was a pauper or a princess. Married women fared better than spinsters but still her power was not her own. And any woman who found herself pregnant, single, and abandoned had even less rights, greater penitence, and a whole lot more to lose.

Women from our past did not have a choice because making a choice came with grave consequences. Women were considered property and came with a dowry. Parents sold their daughters and chose their husbands. If they refused to abide by their parent’s arrangements or their husband’s rules, they were punished or even worse, thrown out in the streets. Once abandoned, her future was bleak and many chose handmaid or harlot.

“Where are the men who make these girls what they are?” Charlotte demanded. “Go find them in our business marts, drawing rooms, and churches…Men are getting rich on the toil and tears of famishing women and children.” Charlotte Ouisconsin Van Cleve

The Bethany Home for Unwed Mothers Fighting for the-Fallen

Clergies and Politicians played their game of chess very well and women were the pawn. They stacked the deck, dealt the cards, set the standards, and made laws that enforced an unequal society that promoted males over females. By controlling women, it allowed a patriarchy ruled society to continue to rein over a matriarchy one. We are talking about the difference between two letters, M versus P.

“It is incredible to me that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won. It has just begun.” Alice Paul

The 19th Amendment was a great victory, empowering women to participate in politics. And by all accounts, the ink dried, the stone set, and the event has been memorialized. But Alice was correct. So many other rights were still just waiting to be challenged, heard, accepted, and granted; like the right to work, equal pay for equal work, obtain a bank account, access to credit, file for divorce, reside independently, have access to birth control, or the right to single parent your own child.

The stranger than fiction story of Christine Collins, where her son goes missing in 1928 and the Los Angeles police try to convince her they have found her son. In fact, they gave her a boy, a changeling; that was not her missing son. When she insisted that the boy was not her son, Christine, a single mother, gets arrested and sent to a psychiatric ward.

“They had the final word. They could easily say ‘You’re emotional. You’re a woman. You’re a mother. You’re not thinking clearly,’ and a lot of people at that time would say, ‘That’s right.'” Angelina Jolie.

I have often asked myself why women had to fight so hard to gain equal access and rights, to be treated with respect and dignity. Why did we need permission to have dominion and make decisions? Equal rights should include everyone, no matter our gender, race, salary, marital status, or zip code.

By the mid-1900’s, it wasn’t enough that women had to live up to their parent’s and religious morals, they also had advertising images that set standards which wives and mothers often felt pressured to maintain.

Society began to classify females as good girls or bad girls; Mary or Medusa. Good girls make good choices…the right choices. Good girls don’t act this way or that way. Good girls don’t curse, get drunk, or get tattoos. They don’t have sex. And most importantly, good girls don’t get pregnant unless they are married.

Bad Girls

On the other hand, sons were praised for their sexual prowess and could bed as many women as he pleased. For every sexual encounter a female had, it was a strike against her. For each notch on the belt a male added, it was a conquest. Females were held to different standards and the consequences were far greater. Is it any wonder it took so long for society to understand rape. #MeToo

This made for a very ripe Adoption industry. There was a huge stigma against unmarried women who “got” pregnant and society blamed them. Mothers often felt they could not parent their child without a husband, unless it was after a divorce or death. So unless she married the father of her child, or had an arranged marriage with another man who was willing to make her an honest woman (a good girl), rarely did mothers come home from the hospital with her baby in her arms.

Pregnant, Catholic, and Unmarried

There was deep shame associated with unmarried women getting pregnant. Homes were solely dedicated to them and named in their honor, almost like a curse bestowed on them. They were considered fallen women just for having sex and conceiving. Families had great fear of anyone finding out that their daughter had sinned greatly. Sons seemed to be absolved.

Babies were birthed from their mother’s womb and taken from her body. Her shame was her child’s shame. The nurses, nuns, and social workers were callous towards these women. They implied unmarried mothers were bad girls and married women hoping to adopt were good girls and believed separating an unwed mother from her child would absolve their shame and sin.

Catholic Church Apologises for Role in Forced Adoptions Over 30 Year Period

A worse fate was foretold for those wanting to keep their babies. Mothers were presented with a gloomy future for her and her child but promised a better life for her child in the hands of adoptive parents, a promise no one could guarantee. Her only choice was relinquishment. This is not a true choice. A choice indicates there is more than one viable option. More importantly, their babies had no choice. Babies were going to be born and their fate was at the hands of strangers; social workers, politicians, and clergy. And mother’s had no say. They were forced to follow a superficial society.

In 1970, adoptions reached their peak, with approximately 175,000 taking place each year, and 80 percent arranged by agencies.”

History of Adoption

While abortions were already legal in some states, Roe vs Wade argued to the Supreme Court in 1971, re-argued in 1972, and decided in 1973 in a landmark decision granted all women in every state the right to choose how she wanted to handle her pregnancy. It also provided a more medically safe and sterile process. That same year, there were 615,831 abortions performed.

Abortion in the United States

“When the United States first became independent, most states applied English common law to abortion. This meant it was not permitted after quickening, or the start of fetal movements, usually felt 15–20 weeks after conception.”

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was made into law in 1974.

Just four years later, 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed after large amounts of Native American children were separated from their families and tribes to be placed in foster care or sent to boarding schools in attempts to destroy their Native culture.

U.S. History of Forced Separation of Native American Children

I find this all very interesting.

First, that the United States had no federal law to protect children until 1974! And then, from 1971 to 1978, in just seven years, we had the highest adoption rate in U.S. history, we legalized abortions, and more and more unwed mothers were choosing to single parent.

Number of Children Living With a Single Mother or Single Father

It almost seemed like America needed to discover new ways to procure infants and children.

Empowering women to have dominion over their own bodies is a concept that we have yet to achieve. The ink may be dry but this law continues to be nationally debated with heated opinions. And it is not about female rights but rather the rights of the embryo or fetus. And so once again, the rights of the female become secondary.

An embryo is an unhatched offspring until about the 8th week of pregnancy and measures at approximately 0.6 inches. An embryo is termed a fetus at about 11 weeks of the pregnancy and measures at about 1.6 inches.

Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of abortions in 2016 took place early in gestations: 91% of abortions were performed at < 13 weeks’ gestation.

Data Stats – Abortion

Up until the 10th week, if a female has a miscarriage, she may or may not know she miscarried. Not until 10-12 weeks is a D&C recommended.

D and C Procedure After Miscarriage

So in essence, up until two – three months of pregnancy, a women can miscarry at any time and the remains inside her body could discard into the toilet or onto her sanitary napkin which ends up in the trash and she is not required by law to bury or cremate her unhatched offspring or fetus.

However, if she chooses to end her pregnancy at a medical facility in Indiana at any time in her pregnancy, Indiana law requires her to bury or cremate the remains. Many other states are trying to pass this same law.

Here’s Why Fetal Burial Legislation is Surging in the States

Open adoptions started in the latter part of the 1970’s. It was supposed to fix and improve adoption. It was believed open adoptions promoted truth and transparency and was better for children/adoptees rather than secrets and obscurity. Closed versus Open became a debate.

About a decade later, Adoption Agencies began promoting “open” in their campaign slogans, switching shame with empowerment. It was a way to give females more confidence about their choice, implying mothers had power in choosing. But it was a forged and temporary power. It was a bait and switch.

Scared? Confused? Unplanned pregnancy? 

Actual Ad:

Adoption Ad

But “open” in adoption can be misleading. Each open adoption is defined differently. There is no one size fits all nor is there a standard arrangement. More importantly, most states do not have legal open adoption agreements. It is a verbal promise between two families.

Open Adoption Agreements Legally Enforceable

Adoption agencies also like to promote that they advocate for pregnant mothers. However, this applies to women who proceed with the adoption plan and relinquish their parental rights. Very few really want to help a mother become a parent to her child. Want to know how I know this? I visited a non-profit agency that has dedication walls in their lobby with adoptive and birth family testimonials. I have also gone to countless Adoption website and have read through their testimonials. I have yet to find one who features a mother giving a testimonial to an adoption agency, thanking the agency for supporting her choice to parent.

Think about it. It is not surprising. Adoption agencies do not want to advertise how many times a mother or father changes their mind. That may deter customers from using their services, right? In fact, some even boast their success rate in completed adoption. It is called an adoption agency for a reason. Adoption is their business, not taking care of pregnant women. And so, too often, women who are poor, lacking resources, scared, alone, or who have fallen on hard times respond to an advertisement that says, “We are YOUR advocates.”

Once a mother’s baby has been born, it can become a very coercive environment. Adoption counselors will go to great lengths to ensure the new mother proceeds with her original plan. They will show up at the hospital unannounced or uninvited. What appears as advocacy pre-birth soon turns into obstruction post-birth. At this point, there’s no fork in the road for these mothers. It is a dead end street and you either give up your child or you fight like hell to get past the protesters and barricades who want to keep you cornered until you surrender.

Fighting for Rights After a Forced, Unethical Adoption with CUB founder, Lee Campbell

We should ask ourselves, why would anyone feel they need to convince a female to proceed with an adoption plan? Why would they praise her as brave for choosing adoption, then as thoughtless for choosing to parent? Why would strangers wanting to adopt someone else’s baby hold more value than a child’s own mother? Why should it matter that she considered adoption pre-birth, and then changed her mind post-birth?

This reminds me greatly of everything the #MeToo movement strives to change in how women are treated. Is this any different than a female who is alone with a man, who continues to ask her for sex, who continues to press up on her, or continues to force him on her even though she has changed her mind and has said no several times? No means no! Apparently the adoption community and society in general has not caught on yet.

A woman who claims rape has to be accountable for her behavior, her outfit, and her previous sexual encounters so society can label her as victim or vixen. Likewise, adoption has an unequal judicial system too and it is any mother who changes her mind about relinquishment.

Once relinquishment papers have been executed, you have signed over your child to the agency and your baby becomes their property. Even if you have second thoughts and come back two hours later thinking I should not have done that, it’s too late. The law will allow a marriage to be annulled but in most cases, will not allow a relinquishment to be undone. Both are emotionally based choices, one based on passion, the other based on fear. The trauma and the cost are far greater for the latter.

Birth Parent Rights – Relinquishment

After you give legal and physical custody over to the agency, your baby is their property and your infant has been reduced to a commodity, and your child becomes parent-less. That may sound cruel but it is true. I have legal documents to prove it.

If a parent signs over their parental rights to an adoption agency (a business) making them no longer their child’s parent, who then is the parent of that child? A business or non-profit cannot be a parent of a child. A business has associates and assets, not children. Likewise, if the state gains custody of a child, then that child is a ward of the state but the state is not the parent of that child. Once an adoption agency has possession of your child, they are going to do everything within their power to retain that asset because that baby is their income that keeps them in business and pays their bills and salaries. Each newborn infant brings them $30k to $50k. Upon receipt of payment, only then will they hand over that baby.

Abortion and adoption debates are presented as contrasting choices. They have been battling it out for several decades. People assume if a female chose abortion, she hated babies and if she chose relinquishment, she hated motherhood. Others believe the opposite of abortion is adoption and the opposite of adoption would have been abortion. They paint abortion clinics as hell and adoption agencies as heaven. Neither is true.

I am thankful that I was able to get safe and legal abortions and I am still pro-choice. But I respect those who aren’t. I feel it is good to have a Yin and Yang, a right and left, a top and bottom, and an up and down in society. Day and night are opposites. Is the sun more beautiful than the moon? Are stars more beautiful than clouds? I am sure people could debate it but it would not make one true or one false. I think of it like a pendulum or a see-saw, a give and take, a sharing of the power, a democracy.

But I am concerned about the inconsistencies of this political debate and the selective morality. If there are grieving women who regret abortion, I promise you, there are equally grieving women who regret adoption. For some, trauma comes to both. For others, they feel no regret.

Women who experience an unplanned pregnancy sit and watch while everyone else has an opinion about how she decides or decided to handle her pregnancy. Does anyone ask her what she truly wants or needs? No, because a mother is a female and a female cannot make choices for herself and her family.

Too often, the same people who praised a female for changing her mind about her pregnancy and not choosing abortion will then disparage her for changing her mind about parenting and not choosing adoption. Even when she has pleaded with tears in her eyes that she cannot leave the hospital without her infant or that she does not want to relinquish her rights to her child, they still do everything within their power to coerce or convince her otherwise. Does that sound like a woman who has rights? Does that sound like a female who is respected to make a choice for her and her family? Or does it sound like others are still oppressing and controlling the choices of women? Ironically, this mind game is often dished out by other women.

The issue is not just about unethical practices by adoption agencies. The issue is about gender oppression. From the moment we are born, before we are anything, we are first a boy or a girl. Females get pregnant. They are the ones walking through the doors asking for help.

Rarely were fathers notified or involved in the process of the mid-1900 Baby-Scoop era adoptions. They were called Unwed Mother Homes, not Unwed Father Homes. And still today, agencies will go to great lengths to avoid getting fathers involved and have even been known to move pregnant mothers to states that do not require a father be served a notice of relinquishment. Adoptive parents are sometimes aware of this tactic. Why is that? Because they know that they will not be able to manipulate a male as easily as they can manipulate a female.

More importantly, we should ask ourselves why women feel they need to choose abortion OR adoption over parenting. Why is our society more apt to support wealthy married couples than underprivileged single mothers? Why do states and government offer greater incentives for adopting a newborn rather than the child’s own single parent once his/her baby is born? Politicians want to remove a women’s right to have an abortion but they do not want to offer her an incentive to carry on with her pregnancy except to suggest adoption. Adoption is not a replacement for abortion.

Texas Adoptees have been battling antiquated laws for several decades to gain access to their original birth certificate. So far, only nine states have unrestricted access. It would seem as U.S. born citizens themselves; adoptees would inherit the same rights as any other infant born here, right? I mean, if an embryo or fetus has more rights than their mother, why wouldn’t an adoptee?

American Adoption Congress

Now, politicians are telling adoptees that they are protecting the women who relinquished. Politicians say they need to protect our identity and our right to privacy. They fear mothers may re-experience shame, the same shame that THEY inflicted on us by their harsh criticism and inaccurate assessment of who we were as human beings.

Over and over, throughout history, society has oppressed females. They fought us on every Women’s Rights issue. They took our children and shamed us for doing so. They reluctantly gave us a choice but besieged us when we needed an abortion. They have threatened to reverse Roe vs Wade, removing a Women’s Reproductive Right to choose. And now, they tell our children who we gave birth to that they cannot give them their original birth certificate because they are protecting a Women’s Right to privacy. Oh, now we have rights? How convenient!

We are in unprecedented times with the threat and pandemic of COVID-19. This has impacted us all in unique ways. And during uncertain times, no doubt, unplanned pregnancies will continue to occur. We must not allow others to hold our tongue, write our story, or control our choices. We must not allow Women’s Rights or Women’s History to come secondary to someone or something else. We must take time to honor our tenacious women, their history, their stories, and their contributions to society itself and to the betterment of future generations of women. As well, let us honor the women whose story is rarely told but who are intricately woven into the historical fabric of this nation’s history. Let us honor her today.

“Jane Roe is every woman who’s ever been denied anything in her whole life, because we’ve all been denied something at some point, so we’re all Jane Roe’s.”  Norma McCorvey aka Jane Roe of Roe vs Wade

Updated May 23, 2020

National Adoption Awareness Month 2019

I have read many blogs and articles by adoptive parents and adoptees. It astounds me to hear some of the comments and questions they are faced with as transracial families. Especially since I myself have a mixed race family and have never been asked directly or heard statements that many transracial families have heard. Partly, I think because White adoptive parents maintain their White social groups whereas mixed race families usually have expanded their racial social makeup.

I experienced this first hand one time while visiting Noah’s family in NE.

Sunday morning, we went to their church. I was introduced to one couple with an explanation of who I was. It seemed they had previously been informed of our open adoption relationship and wanted to learn more.

They, who appeared to be White, were married and raised a family, bio kids, who were now grown. They were now fostering a young boy who looked Latino. I think they were about to move from fostering to adoption. But I think they also wanted to maintain a connection with the boy’s mom.

Noah’s parents wanted to invite them over for dinner later that day. They let me know the couple wanted to spend more time with us. While I felt like an experiment, I knew it could impact this young boy and it was worth doing what I could to help.

They came for dinner with their young son.

After dinner is when things got interesting. The guys were downstairs watching TV in the basement. Upstairs, adoption soon became the topic. I started out learning that the husband of the couple was an adoptee himself. His siblings were also adopted. The wife began to talk about their race/ethnic guessing of her husband. She said that they (her husband’s parents and them) think he “may” have Latino or Hispanic. Then she begins to discuss the adopted brother of her husband and in a different tone says they “suspect” he has Black in him.

The words caught me instantly! I am sure no one else thought anything of it. I thought, wow, the brother who could possibly be Black is already a “suspect” without doing anything but being born. Why did she change her words from “may have Latino” to “suspects he is Black”? It’s not like HE was hiding is race. Was it because the agency purposefully withheld this info or truly didn’t know? Or because if the adoptive parents knew, they would not have adopted him? This was probably in the sixties so a different time no doubt. Did the possibly Black brother need to hide his Blackness in order to maintain his place in the White family?

Noah just happened to come upstairs in the middle of this conversation. I became immediately concerned about the impact on him. I looked at him and tried to interpret his facial expressions and body language. Even though I am not his parenting mother, I am still his mother and worry about him as an adoptee and a mixed race male.

Then the conversation turns to transracial adoption. The wife then drops the bomb.

She said (while referencing to Black/African), “We could never adopt a child of mixed race.” She went on to say that she thought raising a child of another race would be too hard. As she said the final too words, Noah looks directly to her and said, “too hard” in sync with her. My heart sank. I was dumbfounded and speechless. I could not believe she made this statement in front of my son or in front of me.

I began to wonder how often my son Noah had to endure comments like this. What message is this saying to him? Raising him is more challenging than raising White kids?

Then she looks at Noah’s mom and provides praise to her for raising a mixed race adoptee. Noah’s mom just silently stares at her.

And here I am, standing among this group as the microaggressions of racism seep out into this conversation and not one considers the impact on me or my son. Should I feel more ashamed for organically conceiving mixed race kids and birthing them or for relinquishing my rights to one so a White family could raise him in a difficult and bias world. To be honest, it is the latter. But this was the first time I was made to swallow the rife first hand, as if I was subhuman.

Thankfully, Jaren was downstairs. And I wonder if he was present, would the conversation have even veered in that direction.

These conversations are not something I have encountered as a parenting mother of a mixed race son. Nor have I heard someone tell Jaren that they couldn’t raise mixed race children because it would be too difficult. Nor thank me in front of Jaren for raising a mixed race son as if my role was superior to that of any other mother or father parenting their child. What an awful burden to place on a child.

These conversations are for White folks who feel safe in White spaces. I look back at this conversation and get angry with myself. I wish I had stuck up for myself and my sons. I should have explained that I am proud to have mixed race sons. They were conceived out of deep love and passion for their father. And nothing about their race makes it difficult for me to parent. I am fiercely protective of both of them.

Being Black should never be something to hide or feel ashamed of. Nor should a child be made to feel guilty for being born Black, or told their race or “blackness” makes life more difficult for their family.

Root Cause

My sons (now 19 and 21 years) and I, took a road trip from Texas to New Jersey this summer. It was our first trip as a family, just us three. It was a great bonding experience. I loved having my two sons with me and seeing them connect as brothers. I learned so much about them, especially my youngest. It was amazing how easy it felt for me. I felt balanced. It was also an opportunity to see how adoption has impacted my family.

Both sons helped me drive. My youngest, during a bathroom stop, asked me if he was a better driver than my oldest when just he and I were walking back to the car.

This was not the first time my youngest asked me a question like this and I found myself wondering about the root cause.

I remember our first reunion, six years after his birth. It seemed like there was this need for competition, which is not uncommon for siblings, especially brothers. But my sons (then 6 and 8 years) had not lived as brothers under the same roof. It all started with the bike riding. My youngest had more skill and practice at the time. They were trying to out-race each other which ended badly. Thank goodness no one was physically hurt. But some egos and feelings did get hurt.

Then, the day before we left to return home, my youngest got close to the video camera, lowered his voice and asked if his older brother had worst behavior than him. I was caught off-guard at first. My oldest overheard  him and they joked back and forth which one was worse behaved. I remember having petty arguments with my siblings about who was better. This usually started as a chatted debate with the other sibling. Then, if it could not be resolved, we would enlist our other siblings or a parent to help decide. Since my youngest asked nonchalantly and jokingly, I didn’t think much of it.

Over the years, when our families were visiting each other, them driving down to visit us or us driving up to visit them, my youngest would present a question of comparison. He did so quietly and secretly to me alone. It was always a comparison between him and his older biological brother. However, it was no longer as a light-hearted joke between siblings, but rather a sincere inquiry and a need to know. It concerned me. I would respond as tactfully as I could, trying to deflect while reassuring my youngest that neither was better.

It seemed like others were often comparing my sons. Some wanted to focus on their differences; their hair, their skin tone, their height. For me, none of it was important. I saw too beautiful babies, boys, and now men.

My youngest would sometimes say his brother was darker than him. I found that strange. Technically, my youngest has darker features than my oldest. My oldest has lighter hair, eyes, and skin tone.

I wondered what prompted my youngest to say this. Did he hear someone say his brother looked “more black” than him and in his young, innocent mind, he interpreted it as his brother was darker than him?

My oldest son has never initiated a question like this or compared his younger brother with himself verbally to me. He has yet to ask for my validation between him and his younger brother. That’s not to say that he has never wondered. Naturally, as humans, we all have wondered at some point or another, but we may not always communicate it. Since my youngest communicated it almost every time we visited each other throughout his childhood and now young adulthood, it is a real concern for me. I wonder what has prompted this and why he needs to ask or know if he is better than his brother in my eyes.

Was there a need to be better than by his parents, his family, his friends, or his community than his birth family because he was adopted? Did he grow up with comparison within his family? Is it related to relinquishment and adoption? Did he hear comments? Did he believe that I chose to parent my first born but not him because one was better than the other. Or is it something else completely or possibly all of it combined?

My sons both have unique personalities, skills, and talents that make them special. One is athletic and loves sports; one is creative and loves the arts. They are both really funny and make me laugh. They both have a heart of gold and a quality that is uniquely their own and I love them both!

Measuring or weighing our children is impossible. We can’t measure or weigh skills and talents or our love for them.

 

Yesterday

Yesterday, I drove from Dallas to Houston to attend the funeral of my dear friend’s mother. I had only met Ms. Shirley a couple times but I knew her through her daughter, my friend of seventeen years. I knew her through her legacy of her children, and grandchildren; their compassion and yet strong character, their will to succeed as humans and as citizens in a society that can be flawed and heartless at times.

The ministers announced that we were there to celebrate Ms. Shirley and her life. And it truly felt like a celebration.

All those who came to speak, knew Ms. Shirley personally. They referenced, “It takes a village” and said Ms. Shirley had a devotion to her “village” which included not only her kids, but her extended family; nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and even those in her community. Two people from the neighborhood stood up to speak on behalf of the neighbors. One woman, a childhood friend of Ms. Shirley’s daughter, who grew up in the neighborhood, shared that Ms. Shirley often times led that village. Ms. Shirley looked out for her neighbors and was there for the kids in her community. She always had food to share, an ear to listen, and a home that kids could visit and feel safe. She was the neighborhood friend, mother, or grandmother that helped keep her community strong. The woman then expressed her gratitude to Ms. Shirley and asked all those villagers from the neighborhood to stand, which they did so proudly.

The minister referenced “the dash”.  He asked if we all knew what the dash meant and then went on to explain. On our tombstone, we have a date of birth. Then we have a date of death. The dash between those two dates represent all the time we spend in between life and death.

Ms. Shirley, who married, had six children, was widowed, and became a single working mother, was still able to find food, time, and money for not only her family, but also for her village. Her nephew declared that her faith carried her through difficult times.  Then he joked how Ms. Shirley sometimes would say that the younger generation didn’t know how to stretch a dollar. As a single mother myself. I could appreciate that. Although, I only had two mouths to feed, mine and my son’s, I still understood what it meant to be on your own and how to make a dollar stretch.

As I sat there in the pew, I heard one minister say how Ms. Shirley would not come back for anything in the world because she was at home, in peace with her father in heaven. While I do mostly agree, in my ear, I heard her say that she would give one more day to be with her kids. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ms. Shirley whispered this in my ear so I could share her words with her children. And what loving mother wouldn’t give to have one more day with her kids. Being a mother myself, given the chance, I would. And no doubt in my mind, that Ms. Shirley would also.

As mothers, we try to impart our wisdom, our teachings, and our lessons to our kids so that we can prepare them for their future. Our legacy is not only in their genes, but in our words spoken to them and in their childhood experiences and memories. Every moment we spend nurturing our children carries on to future generations.

The same is true for those in our community. Our kids are paying attention. I remember on two different occasions my sons acknowledging me for something I did for another person, a random act of kindness. Afterwards, they said, “That was really nice of you”. Funny, because I don’t remember what I did, but I remember their response. It touched me greatly. I thought to myself, these are lessons I want my sons to remember. No doubt, that Ms. Shirley’s children were impacted by her generosity and outreach in her community. I know that my friend, her daughter, is one of the most generous and giving persons I know and I feel truly blessed to call her friend.

In a world where we hear too often about mass shootings, hatred, bigotry, and divisive opinions, it is so refreshing to hear about one woman who loved her family and her community and how that community grew, bonded and became stronger because of her.

 

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass

 

The Dash Poem, by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning…to the end

He noted that first came the date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time
That they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
Know what that little line is worth

For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering this special dash
Might only last a little while

So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent YOUR dash?

Child abuse is 40 times more likely when single parents find new partners

Child abuse is 40 times more likely when single parents find new partners

“To understand this increased risk of sexual or physical harm, it is helpful to consider the lack of oversight which occurs when both biological parents are no longer working as a team. Ideally, parents work together to teach children body safe rules, observe children in play particularly with older peers, and thoughtfully choose care providers. Post-divorce, this doesn’t always happen. Another explanation for these increased risks of harm connects to the potential negative/dangerous role older step/bonus siblings can play in the lives of younger children. (Even when sexual or physical abuse by an older step/bonus sibling is not a factor, children who live with step/bonus siblings are more aggressive.) Yet, most significantly, one must face the difficult truth that the primary cause of harm to children in blended family settings is the unrelated, usually male, adult – brought into the mix through romantic involvement with the biological parent.”

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.”

Going Back in Time (Adoption Awareness)

This is always a hard time of the year for me.  It is coming up on the anniversary of the relinquishment to parent my second son.  I am not alone in feeling this PTSD.  It is a known fact that birth mothers suffer during the anniversary of their child’s birth or relinquishment date.

The Damage to Relinquishing Mothers

Without fail, this time every year which is a joyous time of the year for many, I get emotional without warning.  Tears fill my eyes unexpectedly and without immediate cause.  I get irritated easily and anger quickly.  I become withdrawn and sometimes unapproachable.

In about one month, my office is moving to another building in the same city as our current office location.  Late last year, our management began talking about moving to another building.  They wanted it to be somewhat close to our current location, within 10 miles or so.  They looked in nearby cities and also in our current city for a new place to call home for our Service Center.  Employees waited impatiently at times curious as to where this new office would be.  Many worried if their drive would be longer while others hoped their drive would be shorter in this very populated metropolitan city with hefty rush hour traffic patterns.

So we waited and waited while our management team looked for a new office building in the Dallas/Ft Worth area, assuring us every few months that they were getting closer and closer to a final decision.  Needless to say, the possibilities were endless.

The city is the main cultural and economic center of the 12-county Dallas–Fort Worth metropolitan area—at 6 million people, it is the eighth-largest metropolitan area in the United States. – wikipedia.org

Earlier this year, the management narrowed it down to office space they had found in three different cities.

In April, during an all-employee meeting, they finally announced our new location.  An exterior frontal building picture flashed on the projector and I couldn’t help but notice how familiar this building looked.  As I continued to listen to our VP speak, I kept staring at the picture.  I was pretty sure I recognized this new office space but waited patiently to be certain.  Then the new address of our new location popped up on the screen.  I was stunned.

I quietly told the person next to me that I had worked at that building before.

The VP gave the projected date, which was initially scheduled for November.

At first, I think I was surprised and somewhat shocked by the synchronicity of it all.

As reality began to sink in, I began to process the impact of this move for me.  Moves are always somewhat stressful.  While many employees in the office were talking about this new place, both positive and negative comments, with their highest concern being about the commute, I was internalizing what this move meant for me.  I was pretty certain it was different.  It wasn’t just about packing and unpacking, or a new driving route, or a greater or lesser distance from home, or longer rush hour traffic delays.  For me, it was much deeper.  It was about a traumatic moment in time that I would much rather leave in my past.

The first time my office moved out to this building, it was back in the late 1990’s.  I was living and working in downtown Dallas.  I was a single mom to Jaren and pregnant with Noah.  And, I was on the road to making one of the most life changing decisions I have ever made.  Life was filled with uncertainty.  I was alone to care for my son and future son yet to be born.  I was castaway by many of my family and even some friends and my children’s father had abandoned us.  Life was challenging at best.

My employer at the time had scheduled our move to the new building at the end of that year.  I was also due to deliver Noah at the end of that same year.  And like my current employer, the move was set for November but then pushed back to December.  My delivery date was also set for December.

As the end of the year approached, I was released for short-term medical leave to prepare for my delivery and my choice.  I packed up my desk and went on maternity leave before the move occurred.

The next couple months would challenge my emotional resolve.  I did not have the luxury to worry or think about our new office space, my new cube or my office belongings.  My day-to-day was filled with taking care of my first born son Jaren and the future that I was considering for his younger brother.

After Noah was born, I signed relinquishment papers on December 24th of that year.  Within a week, I handed over my newborn baby to a couple that I had never previously met.  I trusted that the adoption agency had did their research and homework.

When my maternity leave was up and I was about to return to the office, I called my manager.  I informed her of my decision.  I asked her if she could send out an email to the office and inform them of my choice.  I didn’t want to have to answer those questions over and over again.  I also didn’t want to lie and say I lost the child.  But sadly, she refused.  She said it had something to do with policies.  Ironically, within a year, another co-worker returned from maternity leave.  Her child died.  This time, my manager did send out an email to the team to let them know what happened.

So after giving birth, saying hello to my newborn son, relinquishing my parental rights, kissing my baby and placing him in the arms of his new parents, I prepared for my first day back to work.

I walked into our new office space no longer pregnant and with one less child than what my coworkers were expecting.  I sat down at my new cube.  I began unpacking my material belongings while trying to box up my clouded brain, broken heart and my muddy emotions.

This is the place where I walked out to the parking lot during my lunch hour, sat in my car, and cried tears of sadness and hopeless despair.  Where I wrote letters to God asking Him to find a way to return my baby and heal my broken heart.  A place and time where I contemplated suicide just so I could stop the pain, had it not been for my son Jaren, who gave me every reason to live.

I was stripped down to my core and there was little left of me.

And now, after several move dates have changed, with one of the scheduled move dates being on Noah’s birthday and I was thinking, “Are you freaking kidding me,” we are finally moving to our new office building in less than one month.  I am bewildered.  How do I move through this?  What does this mean?  Is there healing in all this?

I’ll admit, in the early months, I was amused by the fluke of it all.  I joked about how God was playing a trick on me, all the while, reserving my anxiety.  But now that the move is less than a month away, it has become very real.

I talked to my current supervisor privately and told her my story.  I wanted her to be aware.  I explained how this is a traumatic time of the year for me and that I am not sure how this move will impact me because of all the similar details; the history of the building, the same time of the year.  I tried to make light of it and withheld my tears that were readily available to me.  We both chuckled at the synchronicity of it all.  I promised her that I am and will continue to do my best to move through this.  She did seem to understand.  She even said, “Well, this time you will be involved in the moving process rather than someone moving everything for you.”

I thought about her statement.  It resonated with me.

 

Dinner for Two

My son Jaren has been gone this week on a youth trip with our church.  He has gone on this week-long spiritual vacation for the last two years.  As much as I enjoy having some “me time” I do miss my son being here at home.  I get bored and frankly, get lazy.  He keeps me on toes, running here and there, cooking, cleaning and whatever else moms do with their children.  I’ve only made one partially home cooked meal this week which is unusual for me.  Yes, I’m kind of old fashioned that way.

This is one tradition I’m glad got passed down.  My mother was a good cook and always seemed to enjoy cooking for her family.  She took pleasure in it, whether it was a simple and easy meal or a grand holiday feast.  Having dinner around the table with my parents and siblings is one of the fondest memories I have from childhood.  And with everything else that I experienced, this may have been the saving grace that helped me persevere.  The Family Dinner Project

Cooking didn’t come naturally for me at first.  I was the younger sister so I didn’t get the hands on experience that my older sister Colleen got.  I have evolved over the years.  I am an eclectic cook.  I like to make my ethnic foods, mostly Italian and German and classic American cooking.  But I also like to try new things.  My Texas friends have taught me many delectable Southern, Soul and Tex-Mex recipes, which are all my son’s favorites.  I’ve gotten pretty resourceful on a tight budget and have learned to make good use of my leftovers.

Pork Heart

A couple years ago, Jaren came home from school and told me his teacher posed a question to the class.  His teacher asked, “How many of you have dinner at the table with your family every day?”  Jaren said he was the only one to raise his hand.  He said he looked around …surprised.  He said his teacher was equally surprised.  Then the teacher asked how many of them have dinner with their family once a week…once a month.  Jaren again was the only student to raise his hand both times.  And lastly the teacher asked “once a year” and added and/or if they have dinner in the living room.  Finally a few students raised their hand.   This started a conversation among the class.

I admit, I had felt guilty and even angry at times about what was missing in my son’s life.  I had internally focused on what he didn’t have; like having only one parent (or family member) of Jaren’s (with a few exceptions) sitting in the stands at the soccer games, the basketball games, the football games, the school recitals, the choir concerts, the special performances at church, as I saw dual parents, siblings, and on occasion, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins showing up for the other kids.  I’d wonder, as my son tried to find me in the crowd and wave at me, did it matter to him or if he even noticed.  In addition, not having extended family around throughout the year or for years, some due to distance, some due to racism, and some I really don’t know why because they have had or have access to Jaren and many, many opportunities to participate throughout the year, has left me feeling concerned for my child and the impact this could have on his emotional intelligence.

So when Jaren came home and told me about the class conversation, it changed my perspective.  I could see how this conversation impacted him as he realized how different our traditions were as compared to his classmates.  This was a turning point for me and I think for both of us about how we viewed our family.  I began to see my role in Jaren’s life differently.  My focus changed.  I realized that it doesn’t matter if there are ten familiar faces in the audience or if I am the only family face in the crowd my son sees.  What really matters is that when Jaren looks out into the audience, that he sees me, his mother’s smiling face, looking up at him and seeing how proud I am to be his mom.

I began to see what Jaren has and the traditions that I have created for our family.  While we may not have spent birthdays and calendar holidays throughout the year together with our biological family, we spent it with loved ones who loved us unconditionally, who made every effort to include us in their spur of the moment cookouts or planned out traditional holiday dinners.

More importantly, I realized that it doesn’t matter if Jaren and I are eating at home or dining out at a table for two, whether our meals are three course home made meals or frozen entrees put together with can and box goods, or Friday night pizza in the living room in front of the TV, as long as we are making time to be together.  And it’s more than just about cooking my son a meal.  It’s about him knowing that he is my priority and me doing my best to make him feel protected, safe and loved.

To some, this table may look old and worn.  To me, I see little hands learning to eat, warm meals and birthday cakes, conversations and funny stories, disagreement and even tears.

Kitchen Table

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Well, if this is true, then a table must be worth a million or more.