Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I still hate beauty pageants, but....

Normally, I truly don't care who wins Miss America.  I'm not a fan of beauty pageants. You can tell me that the pageants are about the "whole woman" and that intelligence and humanitarian service weigh heavily in the decision-making process. I'll believe you when the contestants no longer have to parade in front of the judges in bikinis and heels. I still think the whole thing isn't helping our culture's assault on women's self-esteem. But that's not why I'm writing.

And if the winner had been white, I probably wouldn't even know who won. I definitely didn't even know the pageant was happening. But our new Miss America isn't white. She's of Indian descent. From New York.

And she's American.

Frankly, I am embarrassed that enough people wrote racist and offensive tweets and Facebook posts that there have been several news articles about it. And my heart hurts extra for my Indian friends. 

If you believe racism no longer exists in our culture or think "we've moved beyond that." I'm sorry, but you are quite mistaken.  The reaction from her fellow Americans to this beautiful young woman's win breaks my heart. And I'm proud to hear that she isn't even going to acknowledge the comments. She's taking the high road, stating "I have to rise above that."

And while I'm glad she's not going to stoop to the level of those who attack her, I do hope the rest of us will do more than just sit idly by.  Racism exists. We have a long way to go.  And it doesn't only exist because racist people are still alive. It continues when those of us who aren't racist don't speak up. It exists when it is allowed to exist.

This should be a wake-up call for all of us. When we hear racist comments, we need to address them. Staying quiet does nothing.  I'm not calling for fights or arguments. There are plenty of ways to very appropriately let someone know that what they've just said is offensive to me.  A simple "hey, that's not cool"  or "I don't really find that funny" can go a long way instead of sitting quietly when someone says something ridiculous. Some folks honestly don't realize what they've just said and mirroring back their statement can really help. I've asked people, "Do you really believe that?" and had them say, "You know what? No, I don't." And my hope is they've left the conversation with a deeper understanding of how they are coming across.

My favorite response to people who start a sentence with "I'm not racist but..." is to respond with, "I hear you saying you aren't racist, but I'm also hearing you make a racist comment." And then allow the silence that comes after that. (Allowing the silence. That's a little therapy trick... free of charge. You're welcome.)

I want my children to grow up in a world that is better than the one in which I grew up. I want my kids to see their parents actively loving others, fighting oppression, choosing justice.  Even in the small things.

So while I never planned to talk to my kids about the Miss America pageant (especially not my daughter), I now have a wonderful opportunity to talk to them about what it means to be American and what Americans look like. And about what they can say or do if someone ever tells them otherwise.

So thank you, ignorant people who tweeted about the Miss America pageant, for the opportunity to teach my kids how to deal with people like you. And maybe, just maybe, someone will listen and reconsider. And the world my grandchildren will grow up in will be just a little bit more like heaven.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why I cried on the first day of Preschool

Our youngest, Amani, is three years old. Two years ago yesterday, I carried him out of an orphanage in Ethiopia to live with me in Addis Ababa until we could get his visa to enter the US.

Playing on the floor of our guest house in Addis!
Looking back, I can see his anxiety over me standing up to take the picture.

Two years ago, I had an incredibly scared, confused little boy. He would only let me put him down for a few minutes at a time, crying if I moved an inch, insisting to be picked back up if I so much as shifted my weight. I held him most of the day. He'd cry if I sat down. So I held him standing up. We were both exhausted. Him from fear and anxiety, me from... well, from standing up holding a crying baby all day long.

Two years ago, I didn't know how to comfort my scared, confused little boy. I didn't speak the language he could understand, I didn't know the songs to soothe him or how he liked to be held.

Two years ago, my scared confused little boy was so sick. I didn't know he'd end up in surgery only a week after we came home.

Two years ago, his chronic ear infections and pneumonia were threatening his hearing and his breathing.


Two weeks ago, he started preschool two mornings a week.

Two weeks ago, his school paperwork indicated a very normal, healthy boy. (um, well they would have... I still need to turn those in... doh!)

Two weeks ago, he requested a red polo shirt and navy shorts so he could dress like his big brother for his first day of school. (He has since requested that exact same outfit every day of school.)

Two weeks ago, he held my hand as he giddily skipped up the walkway to his school.

Two weeks ago, I had to catch up with him at his classroom door to remind him to hang up his backpack before he could go running into the room.

Two weeks ago, my confident, happy child gave me a giant hug and said, "Bye Mommy!"

And I wept.

Not because I'm sad that my baby is growing up. Because I know how far he has come. Because I know what his life would look like had he never been adopted. I was overcome with joy over the blessing that is my third child.

I am always honest when people ask about adoption: it is the hardest thing I've ever done. The first year home was nothing short of insane. I don't think I breathed until year two.

When you have normal, healthy kids, you don't always realize what a gift that is.  When you have a child from "a hard place": one who has had to survive, to struggle, to be strong and then you get a glimpse of normal, it is such a blessing.  His first day of preschool felt like my crowning glory.

I praise God for my giggly, happy, healthy, nothing-short-of-amazing third child. I praise God for normal. It is truly an unbelievable gift.