Thank You, Brad and LL

11 04 2013

I consider where I live, college-town, Missouri, to be the pseudo-south.

I wrote the opening line of this post then realized I really do NOT know enough about Missouri’s slave and civil war history.  So I stopped writing and got down to reading.  I decided to actually read more than just other people’s opinion about the song “Accidental Racist” (a newly released collaboration of LL Cool J and Brad Paisley – lyrics available here).  I decided to read history.  Now, I am not going to claim it was in-depth research – it was Wikipedia.  But I am going to claim that I now know more than I did a few minutes ago.

I went and examined a little bit of history to see if it could shed some light on my current day perception of race relations in Missouri.

And, it did.

And for that I am grateful to Mr. Paisley and Mr. Cool J.

I am a white mother of a black son who thinks about race all fricken’ day long.  But I have never taken even 10 minutes to read the racial history of the state I am raising my trans-racial family in (hangs head in embarrassment).

I read modern-day writings on race.  I read modern-day rants on race.  And I feel all over the place.

I feel lucky we live in a community where we see other trans-racial families every day.

I feel grateful my son will go to an elementary school that has a significant African-american population and is also considered a great place for education.

I feel dumb-struck when I am jogging and see that one of my neighbors has a rebel flag hung in his garage.

I feel fightened when it is 5 am and my family stops at the single gas station open for miles only to find ourselves parked next to a pick-up truck that’s roof liner has been replaced with a rebel flag.

I feel angry when I notice a tattoo of the rebel flag peaking out of the extended arm hole on a young man’s t-shirt at the gym.  (I also feel grateful that tattoos hurt – I hope that one hurt a lot.)

The rebel flag, yeah, that is something that provokes strong feelings in me.  And it is the jump off point for “Accidental Racist”.

I always believed I knew what the rebel flag stood for, and it does not jibe with Brad Paisley’s claim of southern pride.  I guess that is okay.  Maybe the meaning of a symbol is actually subjective enough to be considered an opinion not a fact.  To some degree I think that is what Paisley and Cool J are proclaiming in their song.  And, everybody is entitled to an opinion.  But opinions are best when backed by education and experience.  (To read a variety of educated opinions about the song, go here.)

I am sure everybody who has heard the song has an opinion – most not as educated as they think.  I am sure there are even more people like me.  People who haven’t actually even heard the song (country/rap cross-over duet – I think I’ll pass) but who researched the lyrics and then formed opinions.  Maybe they even read an opinion piece about the song – probably written by somebody who looks like them – or is in the same place on the political spectrum as them.  My hope is that each of those people, (those with deep interest in race relations – and those who normally never think twice about it) –  will spend a some time educating – or re-educating – themselves in an effort to back their opinion.

Maybe we will all learn a little something.  Even if all the things we learn are random and not directly related to each other, even if we never come to a consensus, we will have advanced our understanding of race in this country, as individuals and as a whole.

Maybe that wasn’t Brad and LL’s plan.  But maybe it was.





August 18th – Can’t Wait

23 07 2012

National Bad Poetry Day is August 18th.  But I can’t wait.  Here is the bad poetry I promised.  I made it italic so it would seem more artsy.

Wanna Be Buddhist Meets Wanna Be Poet

When I was a kid

We had invisible shields

Erecting one now

 

Drama can’t touch me

Peace and harmony will reign

I control my world

 

But we are all one

I cannot deflect your moods

Better strategy?

 

The pain you create

Flows through me, but keeps moving

My soul is still mine

 

My cats’ happy purrs

My kids’ giggles and laughter

My husband’s true smile

 

These things penetrate

I cannot hold them either

Grasping does not work

 

Breathing in and out

Observing without judgment

Finding peace within

I took this photo a few years ago in Scotland. I should call it an “image” and give it an artsy name to go with my poetry.





Speak For Yourself – Or, PLEASE Be Very Careful

14 05 2012

Ethiopian adoption is in the news and as more media outlets pick up the story, more APs are being asked to speak.  But most of us won’t tell the details of our children’s’ stories.  So, what is left?  Supposition?  Innuendo?  Hearsay?

More importantly, who is the audience for these stories?  Please God, don’t let it be my Aunt Mary, or the woman who lives next to my Mother-In-Law.  Please don’t let it be the nasty lunch-room lady at my kids’ future elementary school.  Please don’t let it be any person who is going to hear or see these reports and conclude that MY child was stolen from his biological family.

I am afraid.  I am afraid of what excellent parents with good intentions but not a lot of interview experience might say.  I am really afraid of what sad parents who have had to deal with the fall out of corrupt adoptions might say.  I am especially afraid that no matter what these APs say it will be twisted by the interviewer.  Or that the editors’ will pull the most sensational sound-bites to use in promoting the show every hour on the hour.  Or that the intern who is in charge of the website and podcasts will put their own twist on the headlines that show up on the WORLD WIDE web…  Yes, WORLD WIDE and FOR.EV.ER.

This does not mean that I don’t believe every member of the triad has a right to tell their story.  In fact, I think in some cases he/she is obligated to tell their story to prevent further corruption.  But it must be understood that each story is an INDIVIDUAL story and no SINGLE story represents the entirety of any adoption program.

Do I wish the media wasn’t focusing on Ethiopia adoption?  YES – if that meant there was nothing to focus on.  BUT, I do think there is a story here.   And, I actually for the most part love the media.  (Crazy, huh?)

For many years my job was to get the media to help me educate the public on issues.  For many years my job was to convince the media to help me raise money in subtle ways.  For many years my job was to help the media help my organizations save the lives of animals.   And sometimes that meant talking about euthanasia. Which is complicated, but when handled correctly is an issue worth tackling.

So, I do think Ethiopian adoption is worth talking about.  And I think corruption in adoption is worth talking about.  And I think international adoption is worth talking about.  And I think children in need of families are worth talking about.  EVERYONE SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT CHILDREN IN NEED OF FAMILIES (and the fact that they exist in EVERY country of the world, but especially in the poorest countries.)  (A link to someone who just tackled this topic well.)

However, I doubt that the current media focus has much to do with children who need families.  I am assuming most of the upcoming media stories are going to start out with sweet portraits of loving families and slowly but surely narrow in on stories of corruption.

When I worked in media relations to prepare for an interview, I would think about questions I was likely to be asked and would rehearse my answers in my head.  While I certainly have not been asked by any media outlet to speak about adoption, I find myself going through the same mental exercise.

Likely Question #1

Tell me about your family and how you came to adopt from Ethiopia

Blah, blah, blah – read my blog… (okay, this is NOT what I would say, but you know, you are here so you can read my blog.)

Likely Question #2

When you were in the adoption process were you aware that there were allegations of corruption in Ethiopian adoption?

I was aware that there were allegations but at the time the general consensus was you could avoid the pitfalls by choosing a reputable agency.  The US Government had not stated any specific concerns about adopting from Ethiopia and the Ethiopian government was constantly making changes in an effort to improve the process.

Likely Question #3

There are some people who believe Ethiopian adoption should be shut down completely.

For the sake of the children in Ethiopia, I certainly hope it does not get to that point.

I, like most Adoptive Parents I know, believe that international adoption is just one avenue for helping children.  First, everything that can be done to keep children in their biological families, assuming those families WANT and ARE CAPABLE of parenting them should happen.  Second, if possible, kids should be adopted within their own countries and cultures.  FINALLY, an international placement with a well-educated adoptive family can also be a wonderful choice.  And believe me, adoptive families with reputable agencies get lots of education.

Likely Question #4

Some people believe the vast majority of adoptions from Ethiopia are corrupt.

I think it is important to realize that the word corruption is being applied to a huge array of circumstances.

In many cases there are mistakes in paperwork.  These mistakes may be intentional or they may be accidents.  A common example is age discrepancies.  For example, saying that a 6-year-old is only 4.  This may happen because one of the middle men in the adoption chain believes it will make the child more adoptable.  Is that corrupt?  Well it certainly isn’t honest.  But it is NOT the same thing as buying and selling babies.

Yes, corruption exists, but how wide spread it is, no one really knows.  And what any individual means when they say corruption varies greatly.

At the same time, I am not trying to cast doubt on any families’ story.  I am grateful to the brave families’ who are putting themselves out there to tell their stories  and to work for change.

Likely Question #5

Even if it is not “buying and selling” of babies, there are documented cases of children being “harvested” in Ethiopia. Cases where employees of adoption agencies go to villages and encourage parents to place their children for adoption.  And there are allegations that Ethiopians do not understand that adoption is permanent.

The cases of harvesting are a huge concern.  No parent, in ANY COUNTRY, should ever be coerced into giving up a child they want to raise.

At the same time, I find it  incredibly hard to believe that Ethiopians can not understand the concept of adoption if it is explained to them clearly in their own language.  In fact, I get very concerned when I see people portray Ethiopians as unable to make educated decisions about their children.  It smacks of racism.

If coercion or lying are involved in the education of parents, there is no question that corruption has occurred and arrests should be made and agencies should be shut down… NOT just from operating in Ethiopia but from ever operating any place again.

Well some people would say one example of corruption is one too many and therefore the entire program should be shut down.

And I would say to them, that many, many children would suffer and die if that was the case.

Likely Question #6

International adoption costs lots of money.  If the money families were spending to adopt babies was spent on helping families in Ethiopia, there would be no need for adoption.

That is a concern that most caring adoptive parents struggle with at some point.

Yes, adoption is expensive.  And in poverty-stricken countries money can go a long way.  But it is an extreme over-simplification to assume adoptive families could send 25 Grand a piece to Ethiopia and there would be no kids needing homes.

In fact, there are kids who need families in every country of the world, even in the US and other developed nations that have safety nets for poor and sick citizens.

While poverty plays a huge roll in child relinquishment in poor nations, it seems to me that almost all adoptions are based on an array of compounding circumstances that build upon each other.  Poverty is the easiest to site because it is obvious and it is blameless – meaning it casts no shame on the birth family.

What I think is truly inspiring is that most adoptive parents I know, not only paid adoption fees but are also giving their time and money generously to Ethiopian causes.  The APs I know are a powerful force for raising money for development projects in their children’s’ homeland.  I am inspired by what I see fellow adoptive parents doing – raising money for schools, libraries, wells, medical care.  You name it and an adoptive parent is working on it.

Likely Question #7

If adoption is important for saving children’s lives, but corruption exists in every adoption program, what can be done?

Honestly, I don’t have a great answer to this question.  Certainly, there are numerous successful adoption programs around the globe that should be studied.  Best practice management strategies should be in place.  And The Hague Adoption Convention should be enforced.

Adoption agencies should not hold so much power in the relationship… somehow adoptive parents should have more ability to change programs, decline referrals, and conduct timely and independent investigations without fear of incrimination or loss of money.

Beyond that, the people solving this problem should NOT work for adoption agencies and they should NOT work for NGOs that ultimately have a stake, sadly, in the status quo, in developing countries.

I am just a mother who knew there were children in the world who needed homes and who had space in her home for another child.  There are other families like mine and there are certainly children needing homes.

In the 21st century, we should have the collective will to put these two groups of people together in an ethical and loving way.





How Daytime TV Ruined My Self Esteem

9 05 2012

Alternative title:  Do You Think I Can Sue Anderson Cooper For This?

Most days my goal is to get out of the house as quickly as possible in the morning.  It is the way we function best as a family.  But some days you just can’t avoid the housework any longer.  This past Monday was one of those days.  I needed to finish up some projects that I never manage to complete. ( Like actually vacuuming the playroom in the 10.5 seconds I have between picking up the toys and when toys will next cover the floor.) I decided to turn on the television for “adult company” while I got busy cleaning.  Although I hoped the vacuum would be on long enough to drown out most of the audio.

My kids were playing well together and one show led to another as I moved furniture, hung alphabet cut-outs and actually vacuumed.  I noticed the television as Anderson Cooper began to address an issue he referred to as “Beauty Bias.”

I fully admit I am an Anderson Cooper fan.  I find his self-deprecating humor funny and I think he is super smart.  I rarely watch his evening show and I have never watched his daytime show… but still, I somehow know I like the guy.  But I don’t think I like his producers.  They managed to put together one of the most offensive shows I have seen in a long time.

I actually only caught bits and pieces of it, but that was enough to rattle me.  And when I checked out his website about the particular episode, I just became more and more mystified.  Anyway, if you are interested in the specifics of knowing how beauty bias is bad and then hearing from an “expert” about how we can’t help being biased against fat people because it is our biological imperative to search for the healthiest mate – well, you can read the info on-line here.

You may want to pay special attention to the tips for combating beauty bias.  No, these are not tips on how to be a better person by NOT JUDGING STRANGERS BASED ON THEIR LOOKS, these are tips so you will be perceived positively by people who are allowing their DNA to decide who they should be nice to.   I know that I, for one, want to perfect the “Natural Human Stride.”  Really, check it out.

I am so tempted to delve into a huge array of related issues here.  One point worth exploring would be the fact that the beauty ideal of super skinny is certainly not a reproductive advantage.  Another interesting issue is cultural differences relating to weight and beauty (the topic discussed in this enlightening piece from Sunday’s New York Times.)

Sorry, I can’t focus when I feel so incredulous.  The point of my post is supposed to be – how I was doing fine until the Anderson Cooper show told me I wasn’t.

I was thin until my early 20’s.  I was a normal, healthy weight for most of my late 20’s.  I have been significantly overweight since my early 30’s.  Still, for the last decade and a half, every single day I manage to walk around having a normal life.  Yes, sometimes when I am getting dressed in the morning I am pissed off that everything makes my butt look big – because my butt is big.  And yes, if I ran into a high school boyfriend I would feel super self-conscious. And no, I don’t love putting on a bathing suit.  But I still take my kids to the pool almost every day in the summer.  And when I am at the pool I do not notice that people treat me poorly.

In fact, I can not think of a single time in my life that I was aware of being treated poorly by a stranger because of my weight.  I am not going to say it hasn’t happened, in fact it probably has.  However, if and when it happened, I was too damn busy living my life to notice.

But yesterday I found out while watching Anderson Cooper that EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WORLD was JUDGING ME.  That I was probably getting bad service and dirty looks everywhere I went.

I am not proud of being overweight, but I am proud of who I am as a human being.  As I go about my daily life mothering my children, being a wife, a friend, an animal advocate, a sister, a daughter, a good driver, a kind person… my physical appearance is very low on my priority list.  And you, well, if you open the door for my family at the grocery store, I will notice you are polite.  If you laugh at some silly joke I make while we wait in line together, I will think you are awesome.  I might notice something you are wearing, your hairstyle or your driving skills, but I am hardly ever going to notice your weight.

Yesterday afternoon was different for me, though.  I spent a ton of time thinking about my weight.  As I carried on with my life part of me was ruminating over the fact that I was so oblivious to all the judgement being heaped upon me.  The more I thought about it the more I wanted to just stay home.  The more I thought about it the more I wanted to eat.

However, the show’s expert offered me some advice that might help… apparently there are a few additional tactics beyond “walking with a natural human stride” to make me more appealing.  So now that I know everyone is judging me and treating me badly I will remember to use the following strategies that she recommended:  the first is to be confident,  the second is to smile.





Mad Enough Versus Tired Enough

15 02 2012

I am mad enough to want to do a blog post RIGHT NOW.  And I am tired enough to actually fall into bed and sleep.

What to do? what to do? what to do?

How about a short and crappy blog post?  I just typed short and crappy dog post – and, well, that is actually what this is going to be.

The Westminster Kennel Club dropped Pedigree as a sponsor because, according to their PR spokespeople, the Pedigree ads that promote adopting shelter dogs are “too sad” and their viewers do not want to see them.

It is true – believe it or not – that sad ads are actually less successful at promoting adoptions then people would think.  However, that is clearly NOT what Westminster thinks.  Because, let’s be honest… the Westminster Dog Show is one GIANT advertisement for purebred dogs and the reason they don’t like the ads is they are afraid the shelter dogs might cut into their market share.

I want to be clear, I have no problem with purebred dogs.  I have owned two as an adult, and will probably own more.  They were ADOPTED FROM SHELTERS, but they were purebreds none-the-less.  And some of the things I liked most about them had much to do with their breed characteristics.

And here is a little, tiny secret – I am not 100% opposed to people breeding dogs for certain characteristics – which in most cases means purebreds (although not always).

However, I am opposed to Public Relations professionals lying (as a former PR specialist, I believe it gives us all a bad name and is actually not what we are supposed to do.)

Wait, that is about my ego and not the real issue, which is, obviously, Westminster Kennel Club is acting pathetically (more pathetic than the shelter dogs featured in the Pedigree ads.)

I have noticed that American Kennel Club (AKC) has branded lots of awesome looking pet products lately.  From dog collars to treats, the AKC logo is everywhere.  I will NOT buy anything with the AKC logo on it.  When you see AKC think Westminster.  When you see Westminster, think liars who are afraid that by saving shelter dogs they risk the sales of the purebred dogs they exist to promote.

In case you have an AKC registered dog and don’t understand why some of us might have an issue with that particular organization – I will just name my TWO biggest pet peeves.

(How tired am I?  I didn’t notice this terrible and woefully understated and therefore inaccurate pun.  The definition of a pet peeve is a little issue that bothers a person and probably shouldn’t.  These are actually two big issues that most compassionate people probably also will disagree with if they have a moment to think about it).

Do over:  I will just name my TWO biggest concerns with AKC policies…

The AKC still requires things like tail docking and ear cropping for certain breeds to be shown.  In many countries these barbaric procedures have actually been outlawed.  Giving a puppy a spinal amputation with no pain-killers or sedation to meet some idea of breed standard is more-than-a-little disgusting.  Finally, the AKC policy that is the most difficult for me to swallow (and I have no idea if they STILL do this – but they used to not too long ago), is providing pet food to people who want to breed their AKC registered dogs to make reproducing animals in an over-crowded world both cheaper and easier.

While millions of dogs still die in shelters every year, let’s, by all means, make it cheaper and easier to breed puppies for those who really want to make some cash off of their backyard companion.  Please be clear, these are not dogs who have won awards for saving lives, are particularly good at anything useful like tracking, or even actually demonstrate the “breed standard.”  No, these are not the “best purebreds.”  These are the dogs of any person who wants to breed their AKC registered dog and doesn’t want to shell out the cash for extra dog food lest it cuts into their profit margin.  (And, by the way, last time I checked more than 25% of dogs in shelters were purebreds.  So if you are looking for a particular breed but it doesn’t have to be the “gold standard” of the breed – please start at a shelter.)

I may not be a fan of Pedigree foods or their parent company (Mars), but I do appreciate what they are trying to do for animal shelters.

Something stinks about the Westminster Dog Show and it isn’t just the poop buckets.

Me and one of the purebreds I adopted from a shelter. Please look away if this photo is too sad for you to handle.

* disclaimer – written in a rage – expect typos and grammatical errors – pretend it was written by a dog.





This Is NOT A Political Post

26 01 2012

I can be a pretty intense person.  I have had moments in my professional career where I let my passion get the best of me, where my effort to get my point across made me lose my composure.  I have raised my voice.  I have certainly sworn (although not AT a person – but about a problem.  Of course that distinction could easily have been lost on the person I was communicating with.)  I remember once banging my hand on a table. In fact I remember it vividly.  Because it makes me cringe.  And I would never, ever defend any of this behavior.

I would LOVE to blame these moments on the people with whom I shared them.  I can picture their faces in my head.  To this day, I am pretty sure in every instance I was actually correct.  I can justify my frustration.  But I can not, and will not, justify my behavior.

There is no justification for rude behavior.

You don’t actually have to respect a person, what they believe or even their job title, but you absolutely have to treat them respectfully.  It is called being professional.  It is how business is done.  It is also what makes living on this over-crowded planet a joyous experience and not just one irritating confrontation after another.

Passionate people often make the best leaders.  Passion ignites the fire that makes things happen.  But passion is not an excuse for being obnoxious.

And either is politics.

(Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP)

Giving Governor Brewer the benefit of the doubt, maybe her passion got the best of her.

But the fact that instead of apologizing she and her staff are justifying her behavior is appalling.

Regardless of party affiliation, I don’t want the elected leaders of this country to behave like guests on The Jerry Springer Show.

*I was going to end this post with something quip-ey about returning to our regularly scheduled program about parenting, except, to some degree, isn’t this situation really about parenting?





The Loop-Hole of Culpability – Clarification

15 01 2012

On Friday, I wrote this post with a short time-line and a heart full of grief.

For the last couple of days it has been tickling the back of my brain.

In a desire to ensure that I wasn’t misuderstood, I want to be perfectly clear.

The loop-hole of Culpability involves NO BLAME.  I am sympathetic to any parent who loses a child under any circumstance.  My first thought when I hear about a tragedy is actually for the family.  But my second thought is for my own kids.  As my friend said, “What is the take home?”  I look for the reasons, the differences, the small trivial details to focus on so I can trick myself into believing that my kids are absolutely safe.

In my original post I talked about smoke detectors, and large, busy families, and bad neighborhoods.  The tragic death of children due to fires, or choking or drive-by shootings is, just that, tragic.  The parents are in no way to blame.  But we have smoke detectors, a small family, and are lucky to live in a “good” neighborhood.  And I want to believe (although I know it is not true) that these factors will keep my kids safe.

The loop-hole allows me to sleep better at night.  The loop-hole allows me to breath and function and think about anything other than, “life is fragile and I could lose my children at any moment in time.”