Sunday, December 9, 2012

Our Awkward Family Photo

When we were waiting for Petunia, I used to dream of having a feisty child. When you work on becoming a parent for years, you tend to dream of what parenting is going to be like. You spend lots of time thinking about the cool outings you’ll take with your kids hiking or to outdoor concerts, the adorable clothes you’ll dress them in, and the books you’ll read together. (For the record, Petunia is not yet a Little House on the Prairie fan, but I have my fingers crossed for Harry Potter.) But you really don’t bother spending time thinking about how your child will take their adorable feistiness and use it to spoil your best laid plans.

I wouldn’t wish any of the precociousness away from my little Sassafras. But there are times, like the photo session I booked weeks in advance, when a little less feistiness would be appreciated. I worked all day to select outfits, tie up loose ends, and pack for our out-of-town trip. I picked Petunia up from school and we swung by Amp’s work to pick him up. From there we travelled an hour and a half to the rural farm where the session was located, only to have Petunia balk at the chosen clothes, and insist on brushing her hair in a style that can only be classified as unique.

Booking the photos at the end of a busy week is probably not the smartest move I’ve ever made. Nor was promising a fun evening with friends once it was over, because all Petunia could do was fixate on the Halloween carnival to come. She saw the photos as the only thing between her and a good time with her friends.

I had a choice to make: stick to my vision of how I wanted things to go—and risk a tantrum—or go with the flow. Tantrums are rare but not unheard of these days, and the package was pre-paid, so I decided imperfect photos were better than no photos at all.

Now as I see the other advertisement-worthy photo sessions come up on Facebook, I live in fear of what ours will look like.  I had dreamed of a photo representing our familial bliss. You know the ones—with everyone dressed in complimentary colors, laughing, and looking like there is nowhere they’d rather be, than right there, taking photos together. Instead, I fear it will be more in the vein of Awkward Family Photos. I envision Petunia with her new hair style. I stand with a forced smile on my face, the tendons in my neck popping out. Amp is sweating, because, with visions of holiday photos dancing in my head, I convinced him to wear a cashmere sweater on what turned out to be a record-setting fall, 80-degree day.

I have heard countless parents of Chinese girls refer to their daughters as “spicy girls,” explaining their region in China is known for strong-willed women. Petunia certainly qualifies. But I also think our children have had such an eventful life before they reach us, that surely they must all be strong-willed to come through with feistiness in-tact.

When I look back on these photos, I won’t see the idyllic family of my pre-parenting dreams. My hope is that I will also not see a battle lost, but rather a real, imperfect family, who loved each other enough to sit there and grin, even when we would have preferred to be doing just about anything else. I’m already composing the story in my head that I will tell Petunia’s future boyfriend/spouse/child about my own spicy girl, and how she knew what she wanted even at an early age—and how we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dream Big

I was in Petunia’s first grade class last week when her teacher read, If I Were the President (Dream Big!) by Thomas Kingsley Troupe. It’s a sweet book about all the cool things a little boy dreams of doing if he were President.

Image Source:

The book also gives the qualifications for becoming President. So in the middle of her first grade buddies, Petunia learned that she was the only person in the room that cannot meet the qualifications to hold the highest office in the land.  I had a vague recollection about this from the fuzzy period of my life when I was knee-deep in adoption paperwork. But then I remembered that we had “re-adopted” her in America, giving her an American birth certificate. I hung onto the hope that that might make her eligible, but sadly that appears not to be the case.

When I was working on becoming a parent, this didn’t seem like a big issue. So what if she couldn’t be President? Only a few dozen have ever had that privilege, and what were the chances she’d even want to become President.

But now that I’m a parent, I see that it’s really not about that. It's about having limitless possibilities. I want her to be able to dream big.

I was told as a child that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be.  That’s one of the most wonderful things about America. And now that we have finally had our first African-American President, that dream seems all the more real to millions of children.

I want my daughter and all the sons and daughters who were born abroad but have found their homes and their families in America to have the same chance. If I had a biological child, her dreams wouldn’t be limited, so why should Petunia’s? She has lived here since she was 12 ½ months old. She is as much an American as any kid in her class.

Except she isn’t. Not while she is barred from running for President. I wasn’t sure if she took in what she’d heard, but while doing her Kids Voting assignment last night for school, she very matter-of-factly mentioned that she couldn’t be President. She has already taken it in and seems resigned to a future of limited possibility.

Petunia learned the Pledge of Allegiance at school this year. And one recent afternoon she decided to write it down. It’s full of first grade creative spelling and was written with a heart full of pride from a little girl excited about declaring her allegiance to her country.

Our country is full of bright, hard-working people who love America. And while they share their talents and their labor, not all of them have the privileges that most of us take for granted.

Don’t take yours for granted this election season. Please vote.

And if you agree with me that internationally adopted children should be treated the same as children born abroad to U.S. citizens and automatically granted full rights of citizenship when they’re adopted, please go to Equality for Adopted Children, an organization that lobbies for the rights of adopted children, and join. It’s free! 

And if you feel so moved, share this on your Facebook pages and email it to your friends. Your actions will only take a couple of minutes but could help open up a world of possibility to thousands of American citizens. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Embracing the Aunties

A recent post by Allsion Tate about mom’s choosing not to be in photos because they're unhappy with their appearance got me thinking. I’m often guilty of this. I’m rarely in photos and that’s in part because I’m usually the one behind the camera, but sometimes it’s by choice. I usually prefer to use a recent favorite photo of my daughter for my facebook profile shot. It makes me feel happy to see her, and since I’m a frequent poster on facebook, I see that profile pic a lot. But by not being in the photo I may be sending my daughter and other girls and women the message that I don’t value myself.
This message is often sent when women comment negatively on their looks in general, or some specific part of their body they’re unhappy with. On this front I’m doing better. I decided in high school that it was annoying when girls/women make a negative comment regarding their physical appearance. Either it’s true, and therefore is obvious and in my opinion doesn’t need to be stated, or it’s untrue (or at least an exaggeration) and is annoying at best, and sometimes is even disturbing. I once overheard someone say she was hoping the imperceptible bulge in her belly was a tumor so it could be removed.

Yes, we probably all have some aspect of our appearance we’re unhappy with, and it is comforting in a way to know others feel the same. One of my favorite examples of this is Anne Lamott in Traveling Mercies:
I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly wherever I went. I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarrassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way.
What I like about Lamott’s aunties is that though she’s acknowledging her imperfection, she’s also embracing it, and allowing herself to love herself anyway.

I don’t think it is helpful, or even healthy, for women to be constantly complaining about their own bodies. Hearing this kind of negative self-talk perpetuates unrealistic expectations. Perhaps this is why when I was 20 and a size 8 I was unhappy with my body. How many of us were ashamed of our bodies when we were younger and would like to go back and scream in our 20-year-old ears to get over it and love ourselves?
If I speak negatively about my body, or downgrade myself in other ways, I’m teaching my daughter that whatever she is, she is not good enough. The media and strangers already do a fine job of teaching that cruel message, without the people who love her taking part.

So today, I’m changing my facebook profile picture to an image of myself, and recommitting not to downgrade myself to others, and to do my best to embrace my own eccentric but beloved aunties. Who's with me?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Celebrating All Families on Mother's Day

As I wrote last year, On Mother's Day, I am one of the many for whom Mother's Day has often been painful. Thankfully, I have a loving mother. But for many years, Amp and I struggled to become parents, making Mother's Day a painful reminder of what we were missing out on. Attending church, where my emotions tend to be very close to the surface, was especially difficult.  And the time I visited a Southern Baptist church with my in-laws on Mother's Day was just plain ugly as I made my way through a box of tissues while the sacrifices of motherhood were heralded in song and sermon.

This year on Mother's Day I'll be thinking especially about the many families that the recent passage  of amendment one* implies that the State of North Carolina, or at least 61% of it's voting population, doesn't value. The extreme right would have you think that the amendment was about the sanctity of marriage, but it was also about getting their extreme base out to the polls, and defense of an imagined assault on their values. The cost of this political ploy and fear is great and not yet fully known. But make no mistake, while it hurts families with two mothers, or two fathers, it is also hurtful to the families with a single parent (gay or straight) and child(ren). 

And let's be real, the people it will most hurt, are children--gay youth as they are told by their government that they are not worthy of civil rights, children of gay couples who are told that their family is not valid or worthy of protection, and who, along with the children of single parent families, will have their access to insurance threatened. For more about the consequences of amendment one see my sentiments on Good Neighbors.

It is especially painful to me as a Christian that this attack on families is being conducted under the purported auspices of Christianity. This is a human rights issue, and I, as a representative of Christ's love, have a moral imperative to speak out.

Not all families are of the cookie cutter variety, and thank goodness for that, as diversity only makes us richer as a society. For a good book on the subject, my kindergartner recommends The Family Book by Todd Parr. It's a beautiful book, packed with love and vivid illustrations.

So this year on Mother's Day, celebrate your mother and your motherhood, but please also reach out to those whose families don't fit the extreme right's one man + one woman equation. Please let them know that you value ALL families. And please reach out to LGBTQ youth who may be feeling especially vulnerable at this time.

*As an act of literary protest, I have decided that amendment one is not worthy of capitalization.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Good Neighbors

When we lived in West Virginia we were blessed with two wonderful neighbors next door, Donna and Julia.

They rejoiced with us when, after years of waiting, we were finally matched with our daughter, and we toasted in their kitchen.
They welcomed us back from our adoption trip with a big basket of groceries and goodies.

They warned us when a particularly lax babysitter let our toddler get too close to the road.

They were neighbors and friends in the truest sense.

They have a wonderful, loving relationship and have been together for years. I’ve never asked them if they’d like to get married. But like every other couple who love each other, I believe they should have that option.

It is already illegal for same sex couples to marry in North Carolina. But there is a movement to codify that as part of the constitution. In 1875 North Carolina last elected to amend the constitution on marriage.
This is a shameful part of North Carolina's history and one that I hope we will not emmulate 137 years later.

Marriage is already illegal for gay and lesbian couples, who, like the rest of us, just want to have the freedom to be together and raise our families. Amendment One would further hurt those it intends to, as well as countless others
I have listed just a few of the ways Amendment One could harm gay and straight North Carolinians from children to seniors. See where I excertped this information, for more details:
1) A child of an unmarried parent could lose their health care and prescription drug coverage, putting the child’s health at risk.
2) A child could be taken away from a committed parent who has loved them their entire life if something happens to the other parent.
3) It could threaten existing child custody and visitation rights that are designed to protect the best interests of a child.
4) It would prohibit North Carolina from ever recognizing civil unions and domestic partnerships-- legal protections that thousands of North Carolinians rely on.
5) It would interfere with protections for unmarried couples to visit one another in the hospital and to make emergency medical and financial decisions if one partner is incapacitated.
6) Amendment One could take away domestic violence protections for all unmarried women.
7) A single or widowed senior couple could be forced to marry to keep their legal protections, which would cause them to lose benefits such as pensions, health care, and social security.
As a Christian, I'm encouraged that faith leaders across the state have banded together to oppose this movement, which could harm so many. 
Welcome Home, a support and discussion group on LGBT issues sponsored in part by Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church is holding an informational session on Amendment One at First Presbyterian Church (Asheville) Monday, April 23rd at 7:00 p.m.

Donna and Julia don't live in North Carolina, but a lot of other wonderful people who would be adversely impacted by Amendment One call North Carolina home. On May 8th I will have the opportunity to be a good neighbor to all North Carolinians by voting against Amendment One. I hope you will join me. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hospitality Over Hate

On a recent episode of Finding Your Roots, Henry Louis Gates mentioned that free blacks in the 1830’s in New Orleans had to carry papers to prove they were free. While it’s not especially shocking that was the case then, it is shocking to me that 180 years later that is becoming more and more the case for many immigrant—and non-immigrant—Hispanics in certain sectors of our country.  

As an Alabama native who has lived around the country, I have gotten a variety of reactions when talking about my birthplace, most of them negative. Sadly, rather than being known for its Southern hospitality, Alabama holds a special spot of disdain for many who know it only as a place of racial prejudice and hatred. I have felt the need to point out the good in my home state many times, even to other Southerners.

Arizona’s debut of the recent crop of harsh immigration laws shows this is not a uniquely Southern phenomenon. Yet Alabama seems driven to out-do Arizona, with the passage of its own discriminatory law, HB 56, in June of 2011.

As a Christian, I’m pleased to see an ecumenical group of religious leaders speaking out to oppose HB 56, the legal attack on immigrants in Alabama.

The ad, which is being aired in Montgomery in hopes of reaching Alabama’s legislators, features Rev. Steve Jones, a pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham saying “Under Alabama’s immigration law we could be prosecuted for following God’s call to be good Samaritans. Farmers’ crops are rotting in the field because there aren’t enough workers for the harvest. Teachers are forced to act like immigration agents instead of educators….”

I don’t understand the hatred some Americans seem to have for immigrants, legal or illegal. The hypocrisy of this is amazing since only our Native American brothers and sisters can truly avoid the label immigrant.

And more to the point, how can you claim to cherish American ideals and not have empathy for those who were born in a country without the freedom we cherish, or the opportunity for prosperity that freedom represents? And how can you risk those two cornerstones of American culture by turning your back on others in need?

Hearings are slated to begin on Wednesday for an amendment to the bill (HB 658), and many are concerned that the proposal will make it even more restrictive and discriminatory. My fervent hope is that the leaders of Alabama will take this opportunity to reinstate hospitality over hate, by standing up for the rights of all people.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Producer is Afraid Female-Centered Films will Take Over Box Office

Producer Chris Moore has been arguing with fans on facebook in an attempt to get more people to buy tickets to the latest installment in the American Pie franchise.

He says “I do not want teen age girls owning the boxoffice. No ofense [sic] to them, I am rasing [sic] a beautiful one myself, but if the only movies that make any dough are twilight and hunger games than that is all you are going to see ....”
The man has a teenage daughter, and still apparently doesn’t care about the lack of films that portray women in a positive light. I hope he will take his daughter to see Hunger Games, and rejoice with her that this rare film offers a strong, young female lead, and a plot driven by survival over romance. Heaven forbid that teenage girls (and boys) are subjected to movies with engaging female characters!

Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist pop culture media critic whose video column, Feminist Frequency, Conversations with Pop Culture addresses just this issue in a wonderful piece on the 2011 Academy Award nominees for Best Picture.
Sarkeesian uses the Bechdel test, a concept conceived by comic writer Alison Bechdel to satirize the lack of significant female characters in film by using ridiculously low measures to determine the relevance of female characters to a movie plot.  

According to Sarkeesian, the Bechdel test has three requirements:
  1.  The movie must have 2 (or more) female characters. 
  2. Who have names.
  3. And who talk to each other-- about something other than a man.

By this measure, only 2 (The Descendents and The Help) of the nine best pictures nominees in 2011 passed the Bechdel test, and 2 others received questionable passes because the encounters are so brief—5 and 11 seconds for Hugo and Midnight in Paris respectively. As Sarkeesian points out, the Bechdel test sets the bar embarrassingly low for women in film, and the vast majority of movies still fail.

Mr. Moore, I recently viewed the documentary Miss Representation about the damage caused by the under and misrepresentation of women in the media.  Hollywood is geared to the American Pie franchise’s target audience of young men. You really don’t have to worry about studios not funding the films that seem to be your bread and butter.

What you do need to worry about is the way your daughter (and all young women and men) are taught by the media to view and treat women.

Mr. Moore, I implore you to do three things:

  1. Watch the clip referenced above about the Bechdel test.
  2. Take your daughter to see Miss Representation. And talk with her about the way women are minimized by the media.
  3. Take your daughter to see The Hunger Games.

And while you're there, buy the kid some popcorn, and sit back and enjoy a movie that centers around a strong, female character. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that there are enough explosions to satisfy even your demographic.