Am I fighting a losing battle?

This post was edited by my Snowflake and other than a few changes, everything appears as it was originally written, so please share with anyone you feel needs a reminder that they are beautiful! 

I was so careful.

I thought we had inoculated our children well enough.

I thought that modeling a certain way of thinking could somehow defeat an entire culture hell-bent on destroying my girls' body image.

I was wrong.

This week my heart broke into a thousand million pieces in a matter of seconds, right around bedtime. I climbed up the stairs in order to ascertain whether or not my children were doing what I had asked them to do. Expecting to find all three of them brushing their teeth, I only found two. Heading out in search of my oldest daughter, I found her in her room running in place (something she has been doing fairly often of late).

"What are you doing? You are supposed to be in the bathroom brushing your teeth with your brother and sister."

"I am exercising"

"Exercising? It is 8:30 at night, you are supposed to be settling down and getting ready for bed."

"I have to exercise because I'm fat"

At this point the air was sucked out of my lungs and I felt like I was falling backwards into the abyss of time and space. A dreaded sense of horror filled me to my very core and I could feel the hot pricks of tears behind my eyes.

I took a deep breath and attempted to steady my voice.

"I am sorry, what?"

"Mom, I realized I am too wide. I am much wider than most of my friends. That means I am fat, so I need to exercise so I can be skinny. Look at how round my face is, my friends have skinnier faces."

At this point in the story I feel it is important to point out that as an adopted child who is undeniably and irrevocably built like a square, I am extremely sensitive to this topic. My adopted parents are both tall and slender (read: built like bean-poles) and I spent most of my childhood wondering why it was that I looked like I could eat both of my parents and have room to spare no matter how much weight I lost. It wasn't until I was older that I realized, I am just built "wider," a genetic fact that all the dieting in the world wasn't going to change. It didn't help my self-esteem being immersed in the dance world either. I was always a good enough performer but constantly missing out on opportunities because my "look wasn't quite what they were looking for." Many times I heard at auditions that I was a "great dancer," but my build would "distract from the overall look of the line." Translation: we have all these skinny girls and while you rock as a dancer, you should focus on a solo career where you won't stand out as much.

As a result of my experiences I have spent the last 9 years talking about how much I love my body (true or not), how food is something that fuels your body and should be treated accordingly. In other words, food should be analyzed by how it makes your feel, not how skinny or fat it makes you. I have never controlled food nor have I made kids clean their plates. I have read, studied and emulated every study I could get my hands on promoting positive body image. I thought with enough research, enough dedication, I could protect my girls, or at least insulate them from the cultural obsession with appearances.

I have banned all glossy magazines with unrealistically skinny (read: airbrushed to the point of total fantasy) models and any doll where there proportions are such that they couldn't stand on their own two feet if they were actual real girls. I have never said one negative thing about myself outside of, "I shouldn't have eaten that, it didn't make me feel very good." And, I even forced myself to smile as genuinely as possible and tell my daughter, "thank you" and "Yep, that's how God made me" when she told me that she loved me so much because I was "fatter than Santa," and my "big tummy" made me so snugly and soft (seriously kid? Santa?). Earlier this year she asked me why I was so much "rounder" than most of my friends, and I will admit to dying a little inside, but instead of yelling at her for being disrespectful, I smiled and said, "Well, honey. God just makes all his people different, but we are all beautiful if we act beautiful."


How foolish I was to think I could fight the flood of images and messages thrown at our young girls with just one voice. How stupid I was to think that since she was built like me (unlike me and my adoptive Mom) that she would feel more connected and at home in her own body because I modeled that for her.

How could she feel this way? She is stocky and athletic with wide shoulders and a round face. She is not fat, or even overweight, just built like me, a natural born square. How can I tell her how beautiful she is? Why would she believe me anyway? I am just her mother. I am just someone who "has" to love her, not the rest of society who is giving her a completely different message.

self esteem

I went downstairs and cried. I cried not just for my own daughter, but all the daughters of America. I tried so hard to keep her from it, and here she is at 9 years old asking me if we can go to the gym more so that she can lose weight. What the hell!?!

After I pulled it together and talked with my husband I had a flash of insight. I walked upstairs and told her why I reacted so strongly to her feelings of being "wider" than most of the kids in her class. I told her that it hurt me because I think she is gorgeous just the way God made her. I told her that advertisers make millions of dollars every year by trying to convince her and everyone else that they are not pretty enough. I told her that if every girl saw herself for the beauty she truly is, entire industries would go out of business.

I then tucked both girls into their bunk beds and asked my oldest, "Do you have straight hair?"


"And do you (addressing my middle child) have curly hair?"


"And freckles too, right?"

"Yes. I have freckles."

(back to my oldest) "And do you have freckles?"


"Do you think your sister is pretty with her curly hair and freckles?"

"Yes. Of course."

(turning back to my middle) "And do you think your big sister is pretty with her straight hair and no freckles"

"Yes, I think she is so beautiful."

"So you both think the other one is pretty, but you look nothing alike. You know mommy's friend Miss Julie? She is very, very tall. I think she is pretty. I think I am pretty too, but I am very, very short. So, you can see. We don't all have to look alike to be beautiful. We can look very different. It doesn't help to compare ourselves to other people, just be happy with you. I love you both so much, and I just want you to see what I see when I look at you."

And then I kissed them both goodnight and closed the door, all the while saying a little prayer that some of what I said sunk in. I prayed that somewhere in our country-wide obsession with looks, that my girls can find it within themselves to accept themselves just as they are.

In the meantime, we as a culture need to start being more aware of what messages we are sending. I now know I can't fight this on my own. I need help. We are seeing more and more things in the media like the Dove Self-Esteem project but it still feels like a tiny drop in a raging ocean.

Tell me, do you have or know kids who are struggling with body image? At what age did it start? Is it just affecting girls, or are boys experiencing this too?
I want to hear from you (just remember when commenting on blogger you need to chose the posting choice first- and possibly sign in. If in doubt, do what I do and copy your post so if it gets lost you can just paste it back in)

The Long Suffering Wife (or The Awesome Husband)

It occurred to me that in in all the time of writing my blog, the only real description I have ever provided for my husband (other than mentioning his obsession with gaming politics) was in one of my earliest posts about logic versus emotional argument. After witnessing a conversation between him and my oldest, I realized there is no way you can have a complete picture of his awesome quirkiness if I don't share him with you.

*As an aside; even people who have met him often don't know how bizarre his sense of humor truly is because he is very introverted....not shy. He is perfectly capable of making a fool of himself in public or getting up in front of a crowd. In fact he would prefer to do that then actually talk to someone one on one. As a result many people perceive that he can be rude, stand-offish or arrogant. In fact he is none of those things, he just doesn't want to talk to anyone. In six years he has had exactly five conversations with our neighbors, and none lasting much more than a hello.  And so, the only people who really get to see his real personality are me, the kids, relatives and his co-workers, because the joy/struggle of working with the same people 40 hours a week for years means that you can't hide your personalities from each other. Many of his friends don't even really know how quirky he actually is.

So the conversation that sparked the idea for this post is as follows;

Snowflake: *reading her latest non-fiction book* Dad, did you know there are only 30 Tigers left in the wild in China?"

The Husband (expressionless, as if delivering facts): Yes. That is because they look so tasty. That is why there aren't many left. (licking his lips) Mmm. Mmm.

Snowflake: DAD!! I said there are only 30 Tigers left!!! That isn't funny.

The Husband: Well, after I am done, then there will only be 29 left.

Snowflake: *snapping her book shut and sighing heavily* I am not talking to you about this.

This is not an uncommon conversation in my household. It reminds me of the time that The Husband tried to convince the girls that they were actually hatched from eggs, or when he constantly tells them to stop calling him Dad and call him Uncle Bob or Mommy instead, or when he recently taught my 3 year old son to respond to the question, "Who's your Daddy," with, "The Mailman." *sigh*

Raindrop has a unicorn headband that she is in love with and The Husband insists on treating her as an actual unicorn whenever she is wearing it; including asking her to eat hay, putting her dinner plate on the floor and "trying" to chase her down and capture her.
(Enter Raindrop, wearing her unicorn headband)
The Husband: *gasp* Oh my goodness it is a real life unicorn. (lunging) Grab her.

Raindrop: (ripping the headband off) DAD! Stop it.

The Husband (looking around): Raindrop? I just saw a unicorn! Did you see it? And then it just disappeared, did you see where it went? (she puts the headband back on) *gasp* there it is... Raindrop? Where did you go? I found it!! (he chases after her, both laughing up the stairs).                

His humor, which is both deeply entertaining and deeply irritating at the same time, hinges largely on the fact that every joke or high jinx he gets up to is done with a totally straight face. One day, on a particularly slow day at work, he spent an hour fully convincing one of his co-workers, with a dead pan face that while, yes the sun has always risen in the east, now it rises in the west. By the end of the hour, and a whole bunch of pseudo-physics explanation, the co-worker was convinced that this was quite obviously true. Later the co-worker was clued in by a fellow teammate that her chain was being pulled. The Husband was completely amused and chuckling over the incident which served to propel him through what had originally promised to be an extremely boring day.

He does not do this in any malicious way, and in point of fact his co-workers will often go out of their way to tell me how funny they think he is. Recently, he amused his department with his "sales tactic" for selling Girl Scout cookies, which consisted of picking up our middle daughter's picture with an utterly serious face and saying, "You don't want this little curly haired girl to cry do you?" followed up with, "You know, you haven't purchased cookies from us yet. You know, she is coming to take your daughter to work day soon. I am going to have to tell Raindrop that we aren't allowed to talk to you because you were so mean and didn't buy her cookies. If she doesn't meet her goal, I am going to have to hold you personally responsible" Everyone laughed.....and everyone bought cookies.

A short time ago, in a work meeting the department was asked to introduce themselves, tell how long they had been with the company and a little bit about themselves. After going around the circle with everyone's standard, "I am Joe Smith, I have been here for 2 years and I have 2 dogs." my husband decided to stand up and say, "Hi, I am [The Husband], I am a Taurus, I like holding hands and taking long walks on the beach, my favorite color is grey....oh and I have been here for [X number] of years and I work in [this department]." (for the record his favorite color is green.) Another meeting, which was long enough ago that I no longer remember the exact details, the supervisor mentioned how certain things were "optional" but was vague enough that The Husband chimed in with, "you mean, like pants?"

Now a normal human being would never be able to get away with any of this in the real world. But, there is just something about his irreverent sense of humor and his deadpan delivery combined with his keen knowledge of exactly where "the line" is that allows him to say things no one else would dream of saying out loud. He not only gets away with it, but it actually endears him to people. Obviously I am a bit biased, but after talking to friends and family, I find I am hardly alone.

It is also not unusual to look up in our house only to find stuffed animal friends draped over curtain rods, or on high shelves, perched on the doorbell box, or dangling from the ceiling fan. It has been going on so long at this point that the kids, who used to laugh hysterically, now roll their eyes and say in their most exasperated voice, "Dad, this isn't funny anymore." (Although in The Husband's defense, he didn't engage in this juvenile activity for a few months and the kids started hinting that maybe they might want him to start it up again, so I no longer buy their objections as much).

Ultimately, The Husband brings a special brand of humor to our lives and we are grateful for it, but don't be surprised if you see our kids roll their eyes and say in exasperated voices, "Silly Daddy."

Forget "Free Range" and the Vaccine Debate and Discover the True Problem

A few weeks ago I posted an article "The Parental Pinch Gets Tighter", which discussed the problem of trying to litigate childhood independence and children's unsupervised activity.

This week another similar article, "Kids' Solo Playtime Unleashes 'Free-Range' Parenting Debate"  appeared on the NPR website;
Christine James-Brown, president and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America, says while some investigations will inevitably prove a waste in the end, that doesn't mean agencies should forgo them ...Communities today may be made up of strangers, but James-Brown says they still have a stake in how kids are raised and a role to play in keeping them safe. She hopes all the media scrutiny gets more people thinking about what that role should be.
 The basic idea is that we, as America, find ourselves caught between multiple goals. We are caught between the ideal of perfect parenting and the need to let children take calculated risks. We are caught between the judgment when something goes wrong and protecting the sacred sanctity of parental rights within the nuclear family ideal. How are we to choose?

Do we choose to harass well meaning parents making choices geared toward their individual families in the interest of catching cases of actual neglect, or do we allow for more leniency, knowing that it is going to put some children at risk for physical harm and neglect? It isn't an easy choice, and there is no right answer.

There is one solution that is always my answer to this debate and is the same as Christine James-Brown's: we need to band together as a community. We need to start trusting our neighbors. We need to stop sheltering our children from everything and give society a stake in how kids are raised, and a role protecting them. We need businesses to invest in their workers and their families.

Just like childhood independence, trust is something that needs to grow over time. It can't grow if we don't take the time to invest. It is finding that time to invest in the people around us that is increasingly difficult in today's workplace economy; we have longer work hours in the office in addition to 24/7 accessibility with cell phones and email. We work longer (not harder) in a society that is Overworked and Underemployed, and that makes it hard to have time for anything else.

All these issues, all these parenting debates, all the pointing fingers, are all stemming from the same problem: they are interconnected with and inseparably joined to the economic sector and the current work/family balance in our country (or lack thereof). We can't put the time into the people in our communities when there is no time to give.

The fact is that we, as Americans, don't have time. We are starving for quality time. We don't have time to invest in family meals, instead relying on fast food and convenience meals. We don't have the time to build up our social networks which provide insulation against struggle. We don't have time to just enjoy our families. We barely have time to invest in quality family time, especially in a dual-income household. Instead we are on the hamster wheel of the American economy, working ourselves to death, but not actually getting anywhere.

Our workforce is not driven by concerns for individual people's lives and this is something that ultimately will affect all people, whether or not they have children. The system does not support workers with elder care responsibilities any more than they support parents of young children.

Until we change our economic system to become more worker friendly, or until we embrace Valuing Families, we will be forever debating the intricacies of parenting. It all boils down to, who do the young a of a society belong to? Do they belong to the family? The community? Or both?

And lest childless individuals wipe their brow and say, "not my problem," let me remind you that it is. Even if you never have children, you may have parents, a spouse or another family member who might become ill, or they could become ill themselves. Severe illness is as much at the heart of this debate as parenting. (Not to mention, the alarming boom in dating websites that have exploded in the last decade which are clearly driven by the fact that even unmarried workers find it hard to carve out time for a social life.)

 Believe it or not, taking responsibility for children in our communities promotes the belief at a grassroots level that families and individuals, or in other words people are important. Ultimately, they are more important than the monetary bottom line.

So, take the time to contact your local representatives and other government agencies, let them know that it is time to start Valuing Families.

Italian Opera or Fifty Shades of Grey?

Yesterday one of my best and longest time friends (we met when we were five), took me to see the Italian Opera, Tosca.

It was beautiful, and tragic, and I loved every minute of it.

At intermission I looked around the audience, and while it was not the first time I had noticed, it is the first time I had really put thought into the fact that my friend and I seemed to be one of the youngest people there. Not to mention, while the audience wasn't sparse, it barely cracked half full, on a final performance no less.

Where was everyone?

The first thing that popped into my head....they are all out watching Fifty Shades of Grey.


**Now in the interest of full disclosure, I have not read the books, seen the movie or truly hold any real primary opinion on the matter. What I have done, is read the synopsis and the ample literature surrounding the issue and the arguments from both sides of the fence. Just this morning I read a letter to the children of  a woman who went to see the movie this weekend: "If he turns up inside your apartment uninvited, it’s not romantic. It’s breaking and entering."

This sparked a conversation with my friend about whether art forms like symphonies and operas are becoming irrelevant, and what that ultimately says about our society.

I have friends who honestly think that people go to the opera because they are pretentious and snobby, and not because they actually enjoy it. (Many of these same people lump ballet into that category, and some even theater in general). But as my friend asked, what kind of society would we be if we let the arts go (and sometimes it seems our education system would like to do just that)? What are we left with? What would that look like?

*shudder* It would probably look like whatever we could cram into a 45-second Youtube clip.

I love the symphony, the opera, the ballet, the theater. We are broke some of the time, but when I can scrape up extra money I take myself, and when I can, my kids, to see these things. I think exposing them to the passion of art is more important than buying them more toys or dressing them in the latest fashion.

But, it feels like a losing battle as I look around the theater and see the fact that our hair of blonde and brown is lost in a sea of grey. Where are the children? Where are the young families?

Oh yes. They are trying desperately to make ends meet. And then when they manage to escape the house, they are choosing to go see movies like Fifty Shades of Grey. Movies about wealth and power, and in my humble opinion, the total abuse of it. But I suppose what could be more American than that? As a society we bow down to privilege, pretentiousness and power. Mr. Grey's appeal lies primarily in the fact that he has reached the status of wealth and power. Would we still feel the same way about his actions if he was a night clerk at Walmart?

In this drive for cheap fame and fortune we are losing the arts. For us, for our kids, for our society. We are choosing to feed our souls primarily through celluloid films like Fifty Shades of Grey rather than live performances that provide working opportunities for artists outside of the movie industry. (Don't mistake this for a condemnation of movies. Movies as an art medium do have value. I am only suggesting that we are allowing our other art forms to languish to the point of irrelevancy).

By all accounts, Tosca has many of the same things that should appeal to Fifty Shades of Grey fans: celebrity and wealth in the main character, "tortured" love, jealousy and fear of betrayal. Of course it is not packaged the same. The individuals are real people, not Hollywood actors so perfect in their perfection they appear to be carved out of marble.

So while my friends go see the movie, I sit alone with people who could be my parents and grandparents in a dark theater listening to music that is created by people who are every bit as passionate about their craft as I am about anthropology and writing. And for a moment, all things seem possible and the world is filled with wonder and my soul has been fed.

For a moment, I can step out of myself and the daily grind of being a mother of three and just be....Me. This is a crucially important thing to do for people who are all consumed with their work, their roles as parents or caregivers. We need art forms of all kinds to transport us out of our world and inspire our imaginations.

So, you have two choices in front of you. If you want to step out of your comfort zone, out of your house and temporarily escape your life. You can go to the theater or a live music performance, or you can go see Fifty Shades of Grey. But before you decide, what world do you want for our kids? Our future generations?

Do you want a world of movies like Fifty Shades, or a world filled with music and artists, like Tosca?

Things I learned selling Girl Scout Cookies

As much as we all love the online community (even me...or maybe especially me), sometimes it is important to put down the mouse and actually touch base with the people around you.

In 2012 I wrote a post on how Halloween, if done right, is actually a wonderful community building opportunity. And this year was no less spectacular. Our weather here this past Halloween was AMAZING and my neighbors were out in force; having front-yard gatherings and hanging out on their front porch to chat with trick-or-treaters. It took us forever to get around the neighborhood because we stopped to chat with everyone as we went around.

Enter Girl Scout cookies sales.

I am going to have to add door to door Girl Scout cookie sales to my list of awesome community building activities. (Although I wonder if we would have had such a great experience trying to sell a product that was a little less universally loved).

Through pounding the pavement with my six year old Daisy Scout, I met a whole slew of new neighbors (one's that don't typically have their doors open at Halloween). We met lots of lovely people along the way, but the following four stood out:

1. I finally learned the name of the neighbor on the corner at the bottom of our street. We have lived here for almost 6 years and that was the one house where we had never seen or met the occupants. As it turns out, they have lived there for decades and know our across the street neighbors well (from when their kids grew up together). I had always wondered who lived in that house and now, not only do I know their names, but will be able to interact with them if I ever see them.

2. My girls and I discovered that living less than a block away is a lovely homeschooling family with kids their same age. Not only that, but as it turns out, we belong to the same online community group (online is great, but in person is AWESOME). And here they have been living around the corner from us for years, but if we had never stepped out the door we might not have known. So, we exchanged information and talked about going to the neighborhood park together sometime.

3. I found out that a house a few blocks down is home to a lovely lady, whose husband happens to put in hardwood flooring. As it happens, we have been looking to put hardwood flooring in our house (AFTER my last child potty trains, of course.) Now I have the opportunity to support someone in my own local community, which is one of my favorite things to do.

4. As we were wrapping up sales for the night, I stopped at a house across the street from ours.  I was invited to come in and sit down while our kids played since it had been a while since we had seen each other. We then had the opportunity to have a really deep heart to heart about some things that were challenging her.

Lastly, selling to my friends and family forced us to take the time to deliver the cookies and stop and visit for awhile. In the last week we have sat down with friends we haven't seen in months, family we rarely take the time to visit and neighbors who typically only get the acknowledgement wave when we are leaving or returning to the house.

photograph by Talia Perea

The 21st century finds us so insulated and isolated on our own busy islands, that we forget that there are families right next door. Families who appearances might suggest are picture perfect, may not be if you take the time to listen. Everyone needs support, and it is easy to miss those who project certain images. It is important to put the computer down from time to time and really listen to real people.

Whether it is selling cookies, or just making the excuse to make the rounds, we all need to remember that face to face interactions can never be replaced with online communities. They both have their time and place. Online is easier because we can do it on our time, in our environment, under our control, but in order to build a strong, interconnected community, we need to nurture the face to face as well.

Sure we sold enough boxes that we may actually meet my daughter's sales goal, but more importantly, I feel like I plugged in to the people in my community in a very real way. That, to me, is worth more than any money in the world.....well, maybe not worth Thin Mints dipped in coffee, but what can I say? I am an addict.

Guest Angela McLean on saying no to Girl Scouts

This post is brought to you by Angela McLean, one of my daughter's troop leaders. With the advent of cookie sales, I have posted a day early to share these insightful thoughts on how hearing NO can actually teach our girls just as much as hearing Yes. Thanks, Angela.

Girl Scout cookie season is upon us and you know what that means! Cookies!
Samoas! Thin Mints! Tagalongs! And RahRah Raisins? (hmm jury still out on that one)
And of course girl scouts too. Cute little girls (and big ones too!), knocking at your door, canvassing your neighborhood, stalking you in the supermarket. They are everywhere! (Mine is the one with the curls). And if you have a No Soliciting sign on your door? Well that might work, but my little girl can't exactly read that big word and oops! Too late! She already rang your door bell before I could stop her!
It's a delicious time. Thin Mints in my coffee is the best ever. And dangerous too. Especially for my waist line. And who the heck scheduled lent in the middle of cookie season!?!
So, with all of these little girls running around with delicious cookies, we have a choice to make. To buy or not to buy? To support that cute little brownie in the pig tails or not to support her? To stick to our diet or not to stick to our diet? To give up chocolate for lent or stuff our faces with Thin Mints?
I am here to tell you that your NO is just as important as your YES.

Yes you should buy cookies if you want them, if you will enjoy them, if you will eat them, if you can afford them. But should you feel obligated to buy them?
No, of course not. For most of us that is a given. We know that we are not obligated to buy. But still we feel guilty saying no. By saying no we might crush some little girl's spirit. Or we might run out of Thin Mints for our coffee, which just might be worse.
But sometimes we need to say no. Because children need to hear NO. They need to be told NO so that they can learn that its not the end of the world to be rejected. The world does not in fact revolve entirely around their needs and wants.
They need to be told NO when the product they are selling is not desirable to their customers. And if their product is not desirable they may need to reconsider the value of their product.
They also need to be told NO and hear NO so that they can learn to SAY NO. If someone is trying to sell them a product that is bad for their health, bad for their finances, bad for their general well being, its okay to SAY NO. ( And yes I'm thinking of boys...and sex.)
Please SAY NO to my little girl this year if you don't want to buy cookies but please....
Don't pretend she doesn't exist and run to your car when you hear her asking if you'd like to buy some cookies. Children need to learn that they have value just because they are who they are. All it takes is a smile to acknowledge that they are special.
Don't go off on a diatribe about how horrible the scout industry is in general and how its all a big crock and you can't support such an evil corporation. My daughter is only five. This won't make any sense to her. I personally will not engage you in a conversation about why you should support scouts. You have a right to your opinion and it is your choice which organizations you choose to support.
Don't say “no...I can't....I already bought 200 boxes...and...I'm on a diet.” And then come back and buy 50 more because you just can't resist. I would like my daughter to learn about self control. If you would like to share that you're not eating cookies right now, that's up to you. But really, its not our business.
Don't be rude.
Do say, “No, thank you.”
Do say, “Good luck.”
But don't feel obligated to buy. It will not be the end of the world if my daughter doesn't earn that reward for selling 1000 boxes of cookies.
And after all, if you say NO, That means more Thin Mints for the rest of us!


Wrestling With Ethics; an adoption post

In the beginning of January this letter and response appeared in Ask Amy, "I am OK with leaving this woman alone now. However, now I would like to contact my half siblings. They probably don't know anything about me. But I would like to at least try." A week or two later the following rebuttal letters appeared arguing against contact, found here and here. These articles got me to thinking, and thus the following article was born;

I am an only child.

My parents adopted me when I was a baby and shortly after my father was transferred to another state and my (much older for that day and age) parents had to make a decision. Either he left his job so that they could stay within the state and adopt another child, or take the transfer knowing that they would be aged out before the process could be completed again in another state. Obviously, given the opening statement of the piece, we know how it turned out.

I am an only child…except I am not.

In fact, I have two half-sisters who live in California. I have two half-sisters who I am sure have absolutely no idea I even exist. I have actually known about them for over a decade now and have regularly tracked them on social media for most of that time (even from all the way back when one of them was still on MySpace).

I won't lie. There have been times that I have felt weird tracking their lives. I have felt strange when I have found pictures of a baby shower shot by a professional photographer who put them on her web page. I have felt weird watching them update their public information to include degrees earned, weddings attended and babies added. I even found a bio for one on her company's website and I wish I had copy and pasted it because it was so eerily similar to my own life and interests and I don't think it is up anymore.

Before you think I am a total internet stalker (although I really do feel like that sometimes), it isn't like I spend hours of my time on this (also, they are my sisters).

Often times I go trolling late at night when I can't sleep, or if something happened that made me think of them, or the overwhelming need to reach out and contact them becomes too much for me and I feel like I have to do something. It is then that I will cast out the net, typing in their names and following leads that I come up with. Since most adopted children unintentionally become expert online researchers, I am usually pretty successful coming up with new information. Not always of course, but when I do find new information it usually assuages my need to click that "Friend" button on Facebook or the "Follow" button on Pinterest.

It would just be soooo easy to click it. One click, one message and the proverbial cat is out the bag, the beans are spilled, the skeleton is out of the closet. One click and….SURPRISE! But then I pause.

Is it really fair to them?

Is not contacting them fair to me?

Where do the ethics lines lay?

I don't know. And until I am sure, it isn't something that is fair to anyone. And so I leave the button unclicked, the email unsent and Pinterest board unfollowed.

My Mom and her birth daughter insist that it is just fear talking when I say it isn't time yet. The two of them pressure me to contact my half-sisters almost every time we all get together. But, to be fair, they also pressured me to get a mediator to contact my birth mother and that didn't exactly turn out like the fairytale they assured me it would be. Their credibility is a bit shot at this point *sorry guys*. My default sister, as my mom's birth daughter calls herself, regularly threatens to contact them on my behalf because she thinks it is mad, crazy, insane that I don't just ring them up and let them know I exist. The problem is, if I allowed her to do that (I am fairly sure she wouldn't do it on her own.....pretty sure anyway) I would feel like I was acting in a very vindictive way from the rejection of my birth mother, and not in an effort for positive growth. That is certainly no way to begin a potential relationship with family.

I am lucky enough though to have been adopted from the sunny state of California, one of the primary champions of the adoptee rights movement. As a result I have many options available to me. Since I am over 21 (although we won't mention how over) and my half-sisters are over 21, I can petition the courts to legally contact them regardless of any birth family objections (statue referenced here). I have actually been three quarters of the way through that process for about two years now, but I have been sitting on the last bit of paperwork because I am torn.

I want to be fair to my birth mother. It was very clear both from her rejection letter to my mediator and through conversations with my birth father's family, that I am most likely a closely guarded secret. I have to admit, it is weird knowing that you are the skeleton in some one's closet, the scary thing you don't want coming out, the deep dark secret that should be hidden from the light. It is an odd identity for any person and I won't lie, sometimes it makes me angry. It is a lot of power to wield over someone’s life, and as the saying goes, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” So, I continue to stay my hand, so to speak.

On the other side of the coin though, I watch my sister and my Mom together and I see how far they have come. When she first contacted my Mom it sent my Mom into a tailspin. She had to dredge up and face some of the most horrifically painful times in her life, and it was really hard for her. I watched her struggle, and cry, and rage against all the things she had buried for so many decades; the shame, the heartbreak, the anger, the uncertainty, the trauma. Ultimately though, I have watched her blossom into a better person. After processing through most of it (not all yet) I have seen the two of them dig deep and connect and understand each other in a way that my Mom and I have never understood each other. God bless genetics, right? I am so proud of how far they have come and how much they have processed through and that fact alone gives me pause. Maybe I should reach out. 

The saying goes, "the truth will set you free," and that is what I want for my own birth mother. I don't want her to think that I regret her decision. I don't. I love my Mother, and all she has ever wanted to do is look my birth mother in the eye and thank her for her generous gift. She told me many times that she just wanted to thank my birth mom for giving her and my Dad the opportunity to raise me. This was especially true after she gave her only child up for adoption and delivery complications meant she would never again carry a child to term.

If contacting my half-sisters forces the truth out into the open, isn't that a good thing? Doesn't it fall under the greater good, or acting in her best interests or something along those lines? Isn’t forcing her to face things she has stuffed deep down inside a positive thing? Or would it be more prudent to adhere to the responses of the Ask Amy writers and, "leave that poor birth mother alone?" Is living in denial and anger really a life worth protecting? Or does some pain run so deep that it is best left buried?

And last but not least, what of my half-sisters? Don’t they have the right to know that they have another sibling in the world? Isn’t that something that should be their choice, not something kept from them? What about their rights?

I am grateful for my new sister. I am grateful that she went out on a limb and forced my Mom to face her worst fears. I love her for it. She is a wonderful, generous and caring person and now that she is here, I can’t imagine our lives without her in it. Don’t my birth sisters deserve the same thing? Or am I just being selfish?

Please comment. Help me work through the philosophical conundrum of this crazy adoption journey.

What do you think?

Would you want to know if you had an unknown brother or sister?

Whose feelings do I defer to first? My own? My family’s? My birth family’s?



Guiding Our Girls to Their Future Careers

I have a wonderful, fabulous, fantastic mother.

I am sure the fact that I was an adopted only child to two very grateful parents definitely added to the time and attention factor, but my Mom took the time to come into my room every night right before I fell asleep and she would whisper things in my ear about how great I was. (Really, it is a wonder I didn't turn into a total egomaniac.....*no husband, you don't get a say in this*) She would whisper things like, "You are one of the lucky ones," or "I am so proud of how smart and capable you are."

And so, I grew up thinking what many little kids think, which is that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be. And when it came time to choose a college career, my Mom gave me some more sage advice along those lines, "Do what you love and the money will come." And so I blithely tripped off to school and declared a double major in Anthropology and English. I decided I was going to be the next globe trotting Ruth Benedict or Margaret Mead. After I received my bachelor's I took a year off to get some "real world experience" before applying to graduate school to get my MA in Anthropology.

And here is the part of the story where I am kicking myself a little bit. Don't get me wrong, I love anthropology. It is an absolute passion of mine. As a career path though, maybe not one that was truly conducive to my over all goals.

You see, despite being amazing, my Mom made one major error. She prepared me for the world as she wanted it to be, not as it truly was. We spend an awful lot of time telling girls that they can "have it all," but really, that just isn't possible (in most cases). Not as things stand now anyway. The fact is, there were many points in which I could have chosen a more practical career. I could have stopped at my BA and gotten a teaching license. I could have chosen to go into Library and Information Sciences instead of an MA in Anthropology (something I dutifully considered). Heck, even law school would have been better suited to my life as it ultimately turned out.

I can still see my thesis advisor's face when I came to her and told her I was pregnant smack in the middle of my grad school career. Up to this point we had considered future PhD programs to be in my future, but when I told her I was expecting.....the light died out in her eyes. Her mouth turned down and it became very uncomfortable in her office, much like I had told her I was dying. She basically informed me that I was no longer worth her time because I would never finish my thesis. For all intents and purposes, she fired me, and I was forced to change thesis advisors mid-stream. It took me three times as long to finish and as a result I didn't finish before my new thesis advisor was headed out on sabbatical and I had to look at changing advisors yet-again. My old thesis advisor graciously agreed to take me back. I finished within the year. In their defense, I did receive a very touching congratulations card from both of them that apologized for thinking I wasn't going to make it and letting me know how proud they both were.

But here's the MA in Anthropology is useless in many ways if you want to be an actual anthropologist. But, while I finished my degree, my husband was still working on his and because he was having to do it one or two classes at a time, he wasn't going to finish for a long, long time. A PhD program just wasn't in the picture for me, for the time being at least.

This is where I ultimately get to my point.
We need to counsel girls to choose career paths that are conducive to raising children, or are flexible in case we do end up raising children even if it wasn't in the original life plan. (I hear you feminists, it feels like sacrilege to voice that out loud). There is no guarantee that if your daughter gets pregnant that she won't end up wanting to stay home. There is no guarantee she won't become a single mother, or a widow, or have a desire to work AND stay home. In light of this it makes sense to counsel our girls to choose careers that can be considered more flexible. This is not to say that these careers can't be meaningful and high paying, merely that they are known for being more flexible (think nursing, teaching, law school, freelance writing and photography, web design, library sciences, accounting, just to name a few).

Advice like this is uncomfortable. No one wants to look at their daughter and say, "your career choices are limited because you might want to be a mother someday and things are just different for girls," but not doing so is unfair. We need to prepare our kids for the world as it is, not just the world as we think it should be (although that is important too). Ultimately I wish that someone had counseled me this way. I might have picked a different career path. I never meant to be a full-time stay at home mom and although I absolutely adore my children and love spending so much time with them, I long for a good part-time job that elevates us to a slightly higher tax bracket (read: not continuously broke) and provides quality intellectual stimulation.

Our girls deserve to know that having it all in the current climate is difficult and requires many sacrifices. Until we change the workplace to make it more friendly to families (not just families of children but of employees who are in charge of elder care, special needs adult children, or other family members with disabilities) we will have to be vigilant in helping our girls choose education options that provide the most flexibility, so they can be successful no matter what their future holds.

Update: I found this article today that is very relevant to this topic. You can find it here;
Ivory Tower, Men Only; For men, having children is a career advantage. For women, it’s a career killer.