Monday, January 25, 2016

Updating bedrooms!

Yesterday was supposed to be our last Christmas 2015 celebration. My inlaws always come out in January or February.  However some of those coming were impacted by the snowstorm so it was cancelled.

Never ones to let time be wasted, we reorganized the kids rooms.  The thing I am most excited about (besides clean rooms!) is that all the kids were on board with it.  KC has outgrown his loft bed, hitting his head underneath it and unable to  sit up in it when he is in bed.  Lissa had bunk beds so we just dismantled the loft bed and gave him one of her bunk beds.  His loft was a double bed so my wife took that mattress as it was newer than hers and KC got a new twin mattess. (actually the spare room mattress but it is nearly new and a great quality.)

Putting a bed on the floor meant a lot of reorganizing in the boys room though.  Previously there was all that real estate UNDER the loft bed.  KC's desk, bean bag chair and two book cases had all fit there nicely.   The new bed on the floor meant buying an underbed storage box, getting rid of a set of bookshelves and relocating the desk and beanbag chair elsewhere.

At the end of the day, things looked really nice and both boys were happy.  Lissa didn't mind losing the top bunk as of late she has opted to sleep on the bottom one anyway.  Even a year ago, this kind of change would have totally shaken KC's world.  He has hoarding tendencies and to him, everything is precious.  He can look at a scrap of paper and tell you what he was doing when he drew it.  Or a little plastic gew gaw that looks like trash to me?  He can tell you whose party he was at when he got it and what he did there.  I get that these are all visual cues to help him remember things that are important.  However sometimes he drowns himself in "stuff."  He worked really hard yesterday *voluntarily* sorting and deciding what was truly needed for remembrance.

After we finished all the cleaning, I wanted to take advantage of the nice weather. (we didn't get any snow here!) So I went for a walk and he opted to come.  He chattered the whole way about how good he felt about his reorganized space and how he could see he was improving at organizing things.

I wish I could say it was a parenting miracle that brought this about but i know it isn't.  My wife has a cleaning client with serious hoarding issues. The kids have seen that house and KC has determined that he never wants to be like that!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

It's a Loc!

Today Lissa got her long awaited locs!  This was such an emotional journey at so many levels.  One of  the things I am acutely aware of is the importance of hair within the black culture.  That well groomed hair signifies more than I think it does for "white folks."  Well groomed hair shows love, familial attention, and is really regarded as the girls crowning glory.  I won't even get into the "good" hair debate, but knowledge of proper hair care is hugely important.  Needless to say, I realized from the day we brought Lissa home that I would need to learn to do things with hair that were very different from what I did with mine.  (for the record that would consist of absently running a comb through my hair)  I learned hair types and moisturizers, co-washes and braiding. I learned twists and up-dos, protective styles and satin bonnets.  I saturated myself in as much knowledge as I could so that my baby would never feel that her hair did not look good or that she looked like no one in her family knew how to care for kinky coily hair.

I found that I loved working with her hair.  It did things that my hair can't.  Namely it stayed where I  put it! It was fun accessorizing and learning new techniques. But my princess is also a very active diva and she also began to make it known to me that she didn't love weekly hair sessions.  She liked the one on one time, but the sitting? Not so much. More than a year ago she saw locs and told me she wanted them.

I confess that initially my heart stopped. There is much written about how white parents handle their black children's hair.  A number of parents have done locs because they didn't know/want to care for their children's hair and their perception is that this would be easier.  (which in some ways is I think true) I did not want anyone thinking that I was doing this for that reason because I wasn't.  I also was worried because Lissa might change her mind a year or two from now.  Which would necesitate what is commonly called "The Big Chop."  Now a hair cut is not the end of the world, but Lissa's has never been cut.  Ever.  When it is wet, it goes 1/2 way down her back.  Eeks.

Rob and Fiona's cousin N is a fantastic stylist.  Not only is she pleasant and gifted with hair but she makes house calls! She is a travelling stylist and I LOVE this!  We talked and she put my mind at ease so today was the day. Locing day!

She came at 10:30 and by 3:00 Lissa's head was done.  The locs were first put into bantu knots to give them a rest while they dried and the beautiful curl that you see in the picture.  And I have spent the evening thinking what a blessed and amazing experience this journey has been.  Lissa and I have been enfolded in familial and community love during this.  We gathered in our kitchen for the day, laughing, eating sharing stories and doing hair.  It was probably the most intensely female experience that I have ever had.  Interestingly the boys all stayed away.  They would come get food that I cooked but carried it off to other rooms to eat and do whatever manly things were on their minds (or tablets!) I really think there was just so much feminine energy in the kitchen that they didn't want to hang out there.

There was strengthening extended family ties.  N and i have become good friends over the years and genuinely enjoy being together.  Adoption is about such a wide circle and my kids are all blessed by how big that circle is and how much love is shared.

There was affirmation for Lissa on how beautiful her hair is.  This is of huge importance to me.  I want her to love her hair.  In our community many black women perm their hair.  Natural hair is less common--flat irons, blow outs and perms are a bit more the norm.  I want Lissa to see the beauty that her hair has and not feel compelled to try and mimic what her hair is not--namely straight caucasian style hair.

And lastly, there was validation for me.  N loved the products that I use on Lissa. She said what great condition Lissa's hair was in, how well hydrated it was (black hair needs to be fed lots of moisture) and that there was no damage. Truly, music to my ears!

The only sad part of the day was that Fiona had an incident at her group home and couldn't be here with us as we had planned.  However I tried to reassure Fi that this is not the only time N will come out and we will have time for us to all be together again soon.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Lissa's hair

Today was a busy day.  KC was tied up with a group from his dance school. They visited area assisted living facilities and performed for them.  He was so excited that he was old enough to be part of this at last.  He woke extra early this morning, breakfasting and getting dressed very early "just to be ready, Ooma."  He was tired but grinning when I picked him up at the end of the day, happy that he had brought joy to others, happy to have danced all day.

The rest of the gang and I went to church, I love that Rob has continued to want to go to church and that our church is so intentional about the young adult population being welcomed and affirmed in such healthy ways.

Back home there was as always, cleaning to do.  After fetching KC and cooking supper I needed to finish Lissa's hair.  I was putting it in medium sized braids until N comes out Saturday to put in her locs. I was thinking while I worked on her hair how much I love it.  Her hair is thick, really really thick.  It is very tightly coiled, but soft and healthy.  When it is wet it is really long. Even dry, if I braid it, it goes part way down her back.

I was petrified of "doing hair" when I first became a mom of black children.  I am well aware of the cultural importance of doing it "right" but I am equally aware of the fact as there are in any population, there are black folks who know how to do hair and black people who do not. Winnowing out the true knowledge from the folk lore was a time consuming mission for a few years.

Doing the hair of a very active on the go child was a challenge too.  Lissa till recently did not like to sit for more than 20 minutes.  So I had to create styles that looked cute that I added to each day for a period of days.  It sounds weird, but it did work.  And she has gotten easier as she got older.  Tonight she sat contentedly for the hour plus while I finished conditioning and detangling, and finally, braiding her hair.

I was thinking about how much I honestly love having my hands in her hair when I saw a picture on line of an elderly black woman having her hair braided.  And I thought about how lucky I am to have this opportunity for focussed time with my daughter.  It is just us and we chat or not, but are present only with each other for that time.

As she has gotten older she has begun to learn a bit of what I do to keep her hair healthy and to have more input into style etc. We have talked about why we don't relax her hair. Why we don't color her hair, why her hair is long and lush and how we keep it that way. There is a special bond that comes with "hair time" and I think that it is somewhat unique to black hair.  I am privileged to have the opportunity to share that with Lissa.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A dream deferred

Last summer we were invited to go to Disney and camp with good friends of ours.  We talked it over and decided to try really hard to make it happen.  We knew it would not be easy.  My job did not give raises last year, though our family expenses rose with braces and other things of a similar, non luxury area.

The kids knew then it was an effort, but I know that even more than I do, my kids sail their ships with positivity.  Tonight they will learn that we need to defer this plan for another year.  Our van just needed very substantial work and at over $1000 it is still not totally finished yet.  My car needs work I have not even brought it in for but that will also be in the same vicinity. (note to self:  convince KC or Lissa to become a mechanic.  They will live well!)  We had a big plumbing issue this Christmas and there is more plumbing yet to address.

We took our Florida savings and paid for the plumbing and the van repair.  It would be silly to incur finance charge or interest fees when we had the money--although it was intended for something a lot sexier than pipes and brakes!

I am really sad too, but I am looking at this as an important life lesson for the kids.  There are times you have to recalibrate. When your most desired dream has to be accomplished at another time or in another way.  I hope that in time, they will see that as well.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Hopping Along!

I happened to look back at my blog the other day and realized I have been yakking on this site since 2008!!!  I can't quite wrap my mind around that.  My wife is always saying I am talkative and I guess she is right.

This Saturday I am taking Fiona and the younger kids to see Star Wars. The youngers have seen it all ready but Fiona wants to see it with them and they are more than game to see it twice.  Chet has been sick all week so I don't really want to bring Fi home to the Land of Germs (it seems that for more than 2 weeks someone or other has been unwell here) so a movie outing is a great option.

Amazing Jane bought a sleigh ride at a nearby farm on Groupon..  So we are just waiting for some snow and then will work out a day that Jane, Fiona and 2 of the kids can go on a sleigh ride together.  They will love it.  I know that Lissa will be one of the people to go with Fi and Jane on this--hopefully Rob's schedule will allow him to be the other.  I am planning on letting the group home know that Fi will be coming home for a visit to take a sleigh ride.  I am leaving out that Jane will be with us.  I am not sure it would be a big deal to the recent admins but the prior ones gave us a lot of grief over any contact with Jane.  Their failure to see that losing touch with folks who were important in her life is a huge part of Fiona's trauma and pain definately was hard to work with.

However of late (oh I am so knocking wood here) the new admins seem receptive to a number of things. They apparently are going to allow Fiona to have a pet.  The animal has to be a caged animal and she has her heart set on a rabbit.  I have a friend who is  a vet tech and who has been fostering a bunny for 3 months. The rabbit is well socialized and easy going.  If all goes well, in 2 weeks, he will live with Fiona.

Fiona does not know any of this yet.  She will hopefully be so very happy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Aging Parents

The other part of the wheel turning is the changes in our aging parents.  My mom, a fiercely independent woman who lives 2 states away from us, has begun to have more significant cardiac  issues.  A thankfully mild heart attack resulted in a lot of tests this fall.  The verdict was a clog that would not be well treated by a stint.  She is on medications instead and doing pretty well, but I can see that her energy level is less.  She lives on the second floor but thankfully had a chair lift installed for her second husband and is now able to use that for herself.

For the first time in my kids most recent memories, she did not feel able to come down to spend Christmas with us. Instead we drove up there on Christmas Eve to spend the day with her and exchange gifts.  We all had a great time and the kids all agreed that the Christmas Eve outing was something very special.

While I don't think she is likely to pass on  immenently, it will happen.  And heart will likely play a role.  Heart disease runs strongly on both sides of my family--it was my major impetus to a vegetarian lifestyle over 25 years ago. Talking about Nana's heart issues has been very hard for 2 of my kids.  One older one was very angry over how long it took for all the tests to happen and to be evaluated.  Another was fearful and clingy, desperately afraid that his Nana would not be there to see certain milestones and events.  Of course I can not say with certainty that she will, but there is also no reason to live our life assuming that she won't.  And living in that way is not living richly.

So we talked a lot about the wheel of life and living each day with anyone, as fully as possible.  Time spans are not assured for any of us, we just notice it more keenly with those whose lives most intimately touch our own.

My father in law is also aging.  Thus far he has done well, still works part time, still bowls with his friends on a local league, still active in his church.  His hearing has deteriorated a bit, but of most concern is his vision.  I drove with him last year and his driving was to be frank--scary.  He is a big city person, driving at big city speeds, with a seniors reaction time.  It was not good.  This past year he had a hard time passing the vision test for his license and had to go to his eye doctor.  He was cleared to drive but his doctor asked that he significantly limit his night driving.  Dad was very shaken by this.  He loves to drive and sees the loss of driving as a huge loss of independence.  Thankfully that has not happened to him yet, but it is likely to be so in the future and helping him deal with this will be very hard.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


Time flies!  Perhaps more than my wife, I have always been aware of that.  She would get frustrated when the kids were little and there were so many sleepless nights/diapers/snowsuits/  I would always say "it is only for a season."

In reality i should have just been quiet while I was helping!  She was frustrated and didn't get what I meant. It wasn't the right time to share that.   But now, suddenly it is hitting her.  The little guy in the picture above will join a Coming of Age program in our church.  He is on his way to being a young man.

Rob is in his second year of college.  There will not be too many more years with him living here, and Miss Lissa at 9 is all ready fiercely independent and ready to take on the world in so many creative and exciting ways.

I know that things that have been the same for us for many many years, are due to change soon.  The way holidays get celebrated, the times all of us are able to be together. Even who is home for supper.  These changes make me melancholy.  I know the wheel turns and it is right that it do so.  But I miss those baby fingers curled around mine.

On the other hand, the changes also have heralded the advent of occasional (and likely ever increasing) adult time for my wife and I.  It is easy to lose relationships in Parent Land.  And the times that we nearly did lose it, I know it was my fault.  My circle of friends is really large, but they are mostly also parents of other kids.  My wife craves time sans children, and has a circle of friends who either never had kids or whose children have flown the nest. I have less in common with them, though I do like them all.   It has made things challenging for a few years but as the wheel turns and the kids become more independent there have been more walks with just she and I. More nights by the fire pit with a glass of wine.  Occasional lunches out for just us.

These are good and the balance--the yin to the yang of the nest slowly emptying. Rediscovering, reimagining our relationship for the years to come and watching the kids set sail on their own journeys will be a new adventure.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Semester Break

Despite it being post holiday, things have been busy at Casa Johnson Erikson.  I have been enjoying semester break.  Yes, I know I am not the one in college. But my chauffeur duties are lighter when the college teen is on break.  He has been working some heavy hours at the restaurant down town, including New Years Eve.

He texted me on that night that he would not be coming home and would be staying the night with his new friend C.  C gives him rides home from work on occasion but I have not met him, don't know his last name or where he lives.  I had a bit of a war with myself on this.  On one hand, Rob is 19. He is not a minor. On the other hand, he is not independent as I was at 19.  And the world is a lot scarier than it was when I was 19. (although self eye roll here; don't parents ALWAYS say that?) At any rate, I said no.  That when we make plans we don't spring them last minute and I would expect him back home after the staff party that happened when the restaurant closed up.  He was fine when he came home and didn't seem angry at all about the minor flexing of parental muscle.  I don't say know unless I really think I should so I think there is overall less drama when I do.  I also think it is possible that he would rather have me say no to a new friends idea than do it himself.  C is a bit older than him and this makes me the "un-cool" one, not Rob.

Lissa has been busy as well. She and KC stayed up with me for New Years Eve.  New Years Day we went to a friends house for lunch and she was subsequently invited to spend the night.  While I know she was very tired, it wasn't an instance where I had to say no.  She stayed the night, went to an indoor trampoline park the next day and got home about 4:30 last night. She was exhausted but went to bed at 6:30 and slept till nearly 8:00.  It's all good!

KC was ill over New Years so although he saw the New Year in, he was pretty low key.  He is better today though and spending the afternoon with a friend from church.

I have had a bit of time for myself as well.  I have been able to squeeze in 3 zumba classes because various kid activities--dance, scouts, college--have been on winter break.  I love it and it has been so much fun.  I also try to make sure I get walks in each weekend when I can walk in daylight.  Since our snow and ice storm the sidewalks are not clear and I don't walk in the early mornings. So it has been a mix of busy, but also fun, and I am enjoying that!

The road less travelled

As an adoptive parent I have ALWAYS tried to make sure my kids know that they can come to me anytime. And ask about anything.  They can ask about their first families. They can ask about how they came home. They can ask about why adoption exists.Whatever.   I may squirm inside from time to time, but these conversations are important and a huge part of our family tapestry.

Several months ago, Fiona asked me about her birth father. Unfortunately I had not info at all on him--not even his name is present on her original birth certificate.  I said she would have to ask Mom J for information on that and that I would help her with that conversation if she felt that she needed it.

She thought about it (for a loooong time, like several months) and then decided she would like to talk to her first mom about him.  She wanted to know simple things.  His name.  What he liked to do with her.  What he contributed to her racial and ethnic identity.

I got in contact with J and explained what Fiona wanted and asked if she would be okay with having this conversation.  Alternatively, she could write a letter or message us via social media.  She wrote back that she would be fine with answering any of my daughter's questions and would tell my son Rob anything he wanted to know as well.

As luck would have it, Fi was home that weekend and we made the call.  J and I talked a bit and then she and Fiona talked. Fi got her questions answered and I think this was another step in something I can only describe as emotional completeness.

Adoption leaves these blank spots.  Relationships lost or misunderstood.  People forgotten.  Stories that make sense of our connections are not told. For Fiona, filling those blank spaces is crucial to her healing.  On the other hand, at this point Rob wants nothing to do with Mom J.  I told him about the call and what J had said.  He made sure he was not available when we made the call.  When the call was over, he immediately resurfaced and joined in our activities cheerfully. Rob has strong connections with other first family members, siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles.  He just can't figure out yet what his relationship is--if there IS a relationship--with J.  He also is a bit put off by the fact that she and I are friends.

It is hard to explain to Fiona that he needs to walk his own path and that there will probably come a time when he is ready for this, but that it is not now.  And that while I support her journey, I also support his.  Fiona's cognitive delays make it hard for her to see why this is okay.  I wound up falling back on "he's your little brother; remember you are the BIG sister and so you are ready for this before him."  Which is not really the why of it but if it makes things okay, I'll run with it.

Ironically, Fi shares more of this journey with KC who has always wanted to know as much as possible about Mom Y.  Last night he came downstairs and said he wanted to know why she gave him up for adoption. He'd been thinking about it he said, and he didn't know how to ask.  The words came out in a blur, rapidfire, and his eyes were huge.  That conversation started with a hug and I could feel him lean into me hard.  We talked about how people don't always have good supports in their life to help them and that his mom lived with her parents--how space and money concerns can make for hard choices. It was enough for now.  I have grown adept at reading the "full up" signals in my kids--when the conversation has gone far enough for now.  But I remain ready to talk again when the need arises.