12 January 2017

#EpilepticLesbianFosterMom

Happy 2017! I participated in the Adoption Talk Link-Up sporadically last year. I would get distracted with coursework, but now I have finally completed my Master's in Public Health so I hope to be more regular with blogging again.

I am not technically an adoptive OR a foster mom anymore, because we have legal guardianship of "Geordi," a distant relative who came to live with us about a year ago. He is almost 5 years old and a delight to parent. We are very lucky that he is super emotionally intelligent and can talk about his feelings with us. We still have a relationship with his birth mom, because she is related to us (legally through marriage, but we share no genetics, which is sometimes relevant to discussions). The relationship is complicated, since she vascillates between "I am getting him back next month" and "I know you two will do a great job raising him." Realistically, we expect to raise Geordi to adulthood and hope to maintain healthy boundaries with his first mother.

Things are further complicated by the fact that we are a lesbian couple living in the Deep South. Luckily, we will be moving in a few months because my wife is in the military. I'm not excited for colder weather, but I will be glad to get out of this political environment! We have always told Geordi that he can call us whatever he wants (within reason, like our first names or another mom-type nickname) but he has put his foot down and decided that I am "Mommy" and my wife is "Mama." I learned from our previous experience as foster parents that correcting a child about this is damaging to their emotional well-being, so that's that!

Other topics that I discuss in this blog are the fact that Geordi is black and we are not, which presents an added layer of complexity to our parenting. I have epilepsy and struggle to accept that I can't have six kids AND work full-time. We are looking at getting licensed for one more child after we move, and I will return to work with my shiny new MPH, but if we want more children I'll have to stay at home or the house will fall into chaos. Unlike healthy people, I can't skimp on sleep or forget to eat for a few hours, as this can trigger seizures.

Our life is complicated, but Geordi told me the other day, "I love the life we have!" and I agree.

<div align="center"><a href="http://www.nobohnsaboutit.com" title="No Bohns About It"><img src="http://www.nobohnsaboutit.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/AdoptionTalkButton2016update-e1453304807604.jpg" alt="No Bohns About It" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

16 November 2016

Responding to the "Shock"

On "Woke" White People Advertising Their Shock That Racism Just Won the Presidency

This article has been making the social media rounds lately, and I don't think it's particularly helpful. There are some people who were completely naive to the racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia in our country, but I don't think that was the main reason for our shock.

First, everyone was shocked - don't pretend you "knew it all along" - because literally every news station was predicting that Hillary Clinton would win easily. There were a few scholars who speculated that white nationalists were lying during exit polls, and that the race would actually be a lot closer than predicted, but I did not see one person say before the election that they thought Donald Trump would win. We were all listening to the "experts" in the media.

Second, I was not personally shocked that people voted for a racist, sexist pig. We've certainly had them in the White House before. I was shocked that people voted for Donald Trump. I understand all these articles trying to explain the "white working class" point of view, and how they wanted to "give a middle finger" to the establishment, but couldn't they have tested Trump out in another office first? At least have him try his hand at mayor or governor, so he has a smaller area to destroy.

Republicans hated Obama for his supposed "Communist" policies, yet Trump is often praising Russian policies, and Putin has all but said he helped leak DNC e-mails, thus interfering with a U.S. election. For years, Russians have been the stereotypical "bad guys" in our movies, so I was shocked that Trump's love of Russia did not alienate his fan base.

I was shocked that someone who bragged about grabbing women "by the pussy," and barely apologized for it (then later said he didn't actually do it, so had nothing to apologize for), would get 42% of women's votes. Trump has been accused by a dozen women of sexual assault, and I was shocked that the narrative "they're just lying for attention" was accepted by these women. I was shocked that women compared these actions to Bill Clinton's affair, saying that a man's personal life has no bearing on his ability to run the country. While Bill Clinton was certainly being sleazy, there is no reason to believe he forced himself on anyone - and if he did, he should be charged! But he is not running for President. So many women dismissed the allegations against Trump, and his own admissions, as if that's acceptable behavior. So I was not shocked that we elected a misogynist - nearly every President has been incredibly disrespectful toward women at some point - but I was shocked that we elected an accused rapist.

Finally, I was shocked that Trump used to be a Democrat, and has changed his mind about literally every public policy. He has been for and against abortion, gay marriage, the war in Iraq, reproductive rights, the Clinton family, deportation, banning Muslims from the U.S., President Obama's citizenship, raising the minimum wage, raising taxes on the wealthy, gun-free zones, climate change, and torture. Remember when John Kerry changed his mind about one thing, and the media labeled him a "flip-flopper"? I don't understand why anyone who voted for Trump, based on his campaign promises, actually anticipates that he will fulfill them.

Some people had to come to the realization that the United States is a racist place. But just because many of us were "advertising" our shock doesn't mean that we were shocked to discover racism exists - of course, Hillary Clinton had her own problematic policies that supported institutionalized racism. I can only speak for myself, but I think many others were also shocked that Trump was elected despite his insane rhetoric and complete ignorance of both domestic and foreign policy. If we must elect a racist, sexist pig, couldn't he at least be competent?

08 November 2016

Mommy, Mama, and Me

The post title is from one of our picture books, which features two moms and a biracial baby with curly hair. Geordi always points to the baby and says, "That's me!"
 Image result for mommy mama and me

One of the most common questions we get as same-sex parents is, "What do your kids call you?" as if that's the most important issue in child rearing. Before we had kids, we just shrugged and said we'd let them decide. We always introduced ourselves by our first names to our foster children, and they would refer to us by our names our "Mommy/Mama" with varying degrees of frequency. I struggled with this when the plan was reunification, because I worried that they would be confused when returned to their "real" moms. However, now I understand that kids need parents, and calling me "mommy" helps them to normalize their situation - if it's their choice. I absolutely don't agree with forcing a kid to call us anything if they are expected to return to their biological parents.

Geordi, however, is probably going to stay with us forever. We still took the approach of "let him decide," which caused a lot of people to look askance at us when he would call me "Valarie." After living with us for a few months, he tried out "Mommy" to see if I would respond, and now adds my name only to clarify which Mommy he wants. My wife is Mama, but she has her name included about 90% of the time, because otherwise she just doesn't respond. This is not intentional! I was talking to another Air Force family, and the mom said that her kids often call their (pilot) dad by his first name, too, because otherwise he doesn't hear them. Pilots have to monitor a lot of radio chatter and only "tune in" to their call sign, so I guess this makes sense. If my wife was unable to tune out "Mama Mama Mama Mama..." she would go crazy. It's too late for me ; )

Since "Mommy" and "Mama" aren't that unique, people have also asked if Jordan gets confused about essentially having three moms (us plus his biological mom). I've never understood that question. Many adults call their mother-in-law "mom" even if their biological mother is still alive. Are they confused about who is who? Kids with step-parents don't get confused, even if their step-mom is also "Mom." Geordi always knows exactly who he is talking about, and he uses our first names if he needs to clarify (or he will say "my first mommy" for his bio-mom). Usually we understand from context, and most of the time it doesn't matter. "Mommy! I peed everywhere!" can be answered by whichever mom is more in the mood to clean that mess up at the moment. Screams of "Mommy!" during a tantrum are usually about whichever mom is not there, since clearly she would save him from the terrible punishment of a time-out.

People don't give Geordi enough credit. He made the decision to call me "Mommy." When we visit his biological mom, he tries to call me "Valarie" and reserve "Mommy" just for her. It is amazing that he has noticed how much she hates to share that title with anyone else. I'm sad that he feels the need to cater to the emotional insecurities of an adult, but also impressed that he is smart enough to do so. That emotional intelligence may be what has allowed him to overcome the difficulties he's had in his first few years, and adjust to a new family with relative ease.

20 September 2016

Attachment Behaviors


A couple weeks ago, we visited a science center that had a kid's section with this amusement-park type ride. Geordi hasn't been on one like this before, but he raced toward it and immediately asked to get on. As you can see from the video, it was a little more intense than he was expecting! Though he is quite unsure on the first go, you can see him look down at us to check our reactions. Since his moms were smiling, he decided it must be fun, and enjoyed the rest of the ride.

"Checking in" with parental figures is one of the attachment behaviors we tend to take for granted. Geordi is neurologically healthy, so he started looking to us for reassurance pretty soon after we obtained legal custody. He knew instinctively that if his grown-ups were happy, things were probably fine, but that if we were scared, he should be scared too. Another example is when we had a small kitchen fire (it was limited to the stovetop, don't worry, family!). Usually, Geordi asks "Why?" and refuses to comply the first time I give him a direction - pretty typical 4-year-old behavior. But he looked at my face when I said "Go to your room and wait until I come get you," and he knew that now was not the time to be obstinate! Of course, once I had doused the range with the fire extinguisher and was trying to clean up, he felt free to pepper me with questions "But why can't I play in the kitchen now? Why did you set the stove on fire? What's that white stuff?" because he could see that my face was no longer stressed.

Children who never attach to their caregivers, either due to a neurological disorder or severe abuse and neglect, don't exhibit this kind of behavior. They can't tell when mom is "serious" vs when she's "furious," so they don't know how to behave. Without an adult to guide them, they never feel safe in their environment. Can you imagine being a 2-year-old and having no idea if something is scary or fun? Some kids, like "Peanut," choose to treat everything as scary, and are constantly terrified. Others, like Talented Toddler, assume everything is fun, and don't see why running out into traffic would be a problem. When kids can't trust their grown-ups, they have no way to gauge the world. It's no wonder some of our kids struggle to learn appropriate behavior.

11 August 2016

"Black People Can't Swim"

I've heard the rumor in the post title so many times, and I don't understand it. Obviously black people CAN swim - go turn on the Olympics right now! But is it statistically true that black people (and specifically African-Americans) are less likely to swim? Sure. There are a lot of reasons this might be true:

Poor areas, where African-Americans are more likely to live (as well as countries with a black majority population) are less likely to be able to afford community pools. No pools => no place to learn to swim. Obviously, waterfront properties are out of reach for these communities as well.

Black people have a lower percentage of body fat for their BMI, and therefore denser muscle/bone mass (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2728780/). This has been stated by racists as "Their bones are too dense so they can't float!" but obviously that's not true. Everyone can learn to float, but if you put two children in swim lessons - one chubby and one lean - the chubby one is going to be more confident in their floating ability. If it's harder to learn the basic floating skills and feel more comfortable in the water, black children might be discouraged from trying to learn how to swim.

Segregation laws from previous generations prevented their parents (and now grandparents) from learning to swim, so they don't see it as an important skill. African-Americans used to be banned from public pools in many areas, so the majority of the older generation is not able to swim (>70%). This has led to a higher rate of drowning for African-Americans, and as a result, some adults have passed on their fear of the water to their children.

A study on this was done by the University of Memphis if you're interested in learning more: http://www.usaswimming.org/_Rainbow/Documents/121d4497-c4be-44a6-8b28-12bf64f36036/2010%20Swim%20Report-USA%20Swimming-5-26-10.pdf
Many of the respondents discussed feeling afraid that their child would drown, and choosing not to put them in swim lessons because they were scared to watch them struggle in the water.

All of the factors that contribute to this low rate of swimming ability are changing, though. As adults start to realize that swimming lessons will prevent drowning, I have seen mostly African-American children in Geordi's swim classes. Their parents do not know how to swim, and the kids are afraid of the water, but they know it's important to learn basic skills.

As Geordi speeds across the pool, I have had many black parents come up to me and ask how he learned to swim so well, as they share that they can't swim and need someone to teach their child. I wish I could take credit, but the kid already swims better than me! He has had great swim teachers, and his grandparents have a pool in their backyard, which helped him to be comfortable around the water from a young age. And while I am kind of scared around the water, I pretend that it's just fine so he won't inherit my fear. I didn't learn to swim until I was an adult, so I'm glad that Geordi is not genetically related to me! We have a future Olympian on our hands:

21 July 2016

Neurodiversity


I am working on my Master's in Public Health and focusing on neurodiversity, an interest which started during my career as an ABA therapist for people with autism. Embracing the diversity of the human brain is something that I am very passionate about, perhaps because my own brain is so "different" and has created so many struggles in my life.

Most people know I have epilepsy, but because it was untreated for many years, I have some residual brain damage as well. I'm very lucky that I can "pass" as a neurotypical person, and my disabilities are fairly minor and don't prevent me from working or raising my kids. The flip side of this is that, because I don't *look* disabled, I am often accused of inventing or exaggerating my neurological problems.

Recently I was diagnosed with prosopagnosia through a research study. This is the inability to recognize faces. I've known for a decade that I struggled with facial recognition, but until reading Oliver Sacks (neurologist and excellent author), I didn't know that could be a neurological disorder. I hesitated to claim this disorder until I was "officially" diagnosed, because even my own family members insisted I was making it up "to be cool." (?)

Unfortunately, it's not cool at all. I laugh about it with my wife and close friends, but I suspect that I have lost potential friendships because I didn't react appropriately when seeing someone out of context. Unless you have a distinctive facial feature (like a lazy eye or a birthmark), I usually have to wait until you speak to recognize your voice. When my wife and I are out in crowded social situations, she labels the people we know and I memorize their outfit for that day.

"I’m going to walk up to him and say the four most vicious words you can say to a person you’ve already met. ‘Nice to meet you’" - Jenna Maroney
This is apparently something mean girls do, to make the point that they don't care enough to remember you. I cringe to think that people have ever thought I was doing this on purpose. If people change their hairstyle or switch from glasses to contacts, I honestly can't tell they are the same person. My own wife came from a deployment, ten pounds lighter and much tanner, and it took me weeks to adjust to her new look.

I take careful note of Geordi's outfit every morning, just in case he doesn't run over to me at school and I have to pick him out of the crowd (this used to be easier when he was the only black kid in his class!). Movies and TV show that have very "regular-looking" characters confuse me, which may be why I have gravitated toward the science fiction genre.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CYfktcEUEAM7ZcK.jpg
"I don't understand why that guy is sleeping with every woman on this show!" "Honey there are three different white men in this show and they are all being faithful to their partners." "Crap I thought he just liked to change the part in his hair."

Other than the possible social consequences, I'll admit this is quite a humorous problem. I can't even recognize myself in photos! The only time I can see it being a major concern is if I were the victim of a crime by a stranger. I've actually had nightmares about trying to identify someone in a police lineup, and the officers not believing me when I try to explain prosopagnosia.

Another fun fact about this research study was that they included many other tests to determine if facial recognition deficits were related to, or caused by, other perceptual impairments. I scored fine on "perceptual organization" which just tested whether I could see if things were moving, and pick out a square from a jumble of lines. However, I scored poorly (or well, depending on your perspective) on the autism screening. My wife and I have always joked that, if we were able to produce a biological child, he/she would definitely be autistic, because we each possess certain autistic traits, but I did not realize just how many of those traits I had! Hopefully this helps people who know me in real life to understand me.

Racists like to say that "all Asians (or any ethnic/racial group) look alike" but I'm here to tell you, all white people look alike too. Our only advantage is different hair colors, and when y'all keep dyeing your hair, it's impossible for me to cope!

13 July 2016

On a positive note...

Things have been so terrible lately (I mean in the United States, not necessarily my personal life) that I have been on the lookout for reasons to be grateful.

I must say that, despite the racism and the broken justice/child protection systems in our country, I'm still glad to be raising Geordi in this day and age. Things are so different than they used to be! For example, Geordi wants to wear nail polish whenever he sees me painting my toes. It has nothing to do with being queer (obviously, he's 4, plus he is infatuated with every pretty girl he sees!), just a desire to copy me. I allowed it, of course, but secretly worried that he would be teased when he showed off his new pedicure at the pool. Then I noticed that one of his male classmates was sporting sparkly pink nail polish, and another girl had painted her dad's toenails - which he proudly wore to the pool as well! We live on a military base, so this was especially refreshing considering the "macho" culture of the military. When I was young, boys were NOT allowed to wear nail polish, no exceptions. But it's 2016 and Geordi sees that his boy cousins wear matching pedicures for their sister's swim team colors, and he has not been made to feel self-conscious at all. He's allowed to be himself without concern for what "boys are supposed to do."

Flag football and cheerleading are offered next month through our base recreation center, and Geordi would like to do both. I worried that he would be the only boy in cheerleading, but it turns out there is a discount for kids who sign up for both activities! They are clearly expecting children of all genders to participate in both sports.

Gender roles are changing for this generation, whether the bigots like it or not. I can see Geordi growing up in a world that doesn't equate masculinity with violence, and of course with two moms and his beloved Nana, he will always respect women! I think one of the reasons we have seen so much misogyny and racism in the media lately is because the older generation is trying desperately to maintain their status quo. They see kids being raised to defy gender roles, and it scares them! "Minorities" will soon make up the majority of our population, and the only way white people can maintain power is to ensure that the system is skewed to their advantage. It's a reasonable reaction of fear, I suppose.
Sadly they still won't allow 4-year-olds in space. Some discrimination is necessary!

Next time you are feeling too sad about the state of our world, hang out with some kids. I promise you'll feel better about the future soon!

31 May 2016

Busy Life and Priorities





I've seen this meme going around, and it made me think. What are my priorities?



First, my wife, because she is going to be my partner for life, and without her, I couldn't parent as effectively. So, while I spend more time paying attention to Geordi, if my wife needs something, she holds the trump card.

Then Geordi, who needs lots of attention!

Then school, because getting my master's is going to help us live the kind of life we want.

Then, Geordi's birth family, though that is connected to Geordi's needs. He needs to know that they will always love him, even if he can't live with his birth parents anymore. So we go out of our way to coordinate visits.

After attending to those top four priorities, I will visit family and friends who don't cause drama. Goodness knows I have enough drama dealing with Geordi's first parents! This leaves no time for anyone who creates stress. So yes, I'm too busy, but it's also true that not everyone is my priority. My nuclear family is my priority, and I'm no longer interested in maintaining relationships that cause problems. Obviously, if my wife or Geordi (or any future kids) are creating drama, I'll tough that out, but other than that, I simply don't have time.

Rather than seeing this as uncaring, I see this as having respect for myself and my family. I'm not going to spread myself too thin, because then I'm no good to anyone.

What are your priorities? Have you had to cut anything out of your life to make room for your most important subjects?

24 May 2016

Queer in the South

I was very apprehensive about moving to a small town in the Deep South for my wife's Air Force career, but I figured, worst case scenario, we can stay on the military base 100% of the time. That may sound dramatic, but someone in our area was literally kicked out of their home for being...an interracial couple. That's right, the laws that allow any "sincerely held religious belief" to be the basis for discrimination can also apply to other minorities! Since there are landlords here that can't even handle mixed-race families (which we also are), we were worried that a family with two moms might make their heads explode.

Thankfully, we have been pleasantly surprised. The local area is used to military personnel, and I think there is a general "understanding" that they are supposed to be tolerant of us, especially since most of us are Yankees. I get a lot of glares when we are shopping in town, but that could be due to Geordi's loud voice (he is physically unable to whisper), the assumption that I had a relationship with a black man who is no longer present, or simply our Ohio accents. I can't be sure that the low-level hostility is because of our LGBT status.

An interesting cultural difference here is that nobody asks about my personal life. Back in Ohio, people would see my wife and I together and say, "What, are you two sisters or something?" and we would be forced to explain that no, we are married. Here, we get sidelong glances, but if someone is uncomfortable with gay couples, they just ignore us. I might have to explain "My wife works on the base" and if the person I'm speaking to doesn't like that, they just don't bring it up again (as opposed to the dozens of rude questions that would follow when a bigot up North would hear this*). There is much less confrontation than there was back home, which is actually the opposite of what I was expecting.

I hope things continue this way, because I can definitely handle awkward and rude people. It's also easy to explain away to Geordi ("Oh that person must need a nap too!"), whereas outright derogatory remarks are more difficult. He isn't old enough yet to notice any subtle discrimination, and we have the privilege of living on base where they can't deny us housing. If we can get through this year without being thrown out of a restaurant, I will be very grateful indeed!



*You want examples of the rude questions? Here they are! All really asked of me!
"Which one of you is the man?"
"And they let you be a foster parent?"
"How can your child grow up properly without a dad?" (same way our President did - BOOM)
"So you just haven't found the right man yet?"
"Do you think you might change your mind?"
"You called her your wife...does that mean she calls you her husband?"
"So do you need a sperm donor?"
"How do you have sex, then?"
"Oh is that why you work with kids, because you want to molest them?" (by far the worst comment, gets my blood boiling every time because NO)

10 May 2016

Preschool Problems

Today, when I picked Geordi up from school, he came running to me and said, "[Friend] says you're not really my mom!"

I thought for a second and replied, "What did you say back?"

"I said she IS TOO my mommy!"

I was so glad to hear that Geordi has decided I'm definitely his mommy. He still calls me "Valarie" sometimes, I think because he hears my wife call me that, so I wasn't sure he had fully accepted me in that role yet.

The little boy who had accused me of not being Geordi's mom was looking very guilty, so I knelt down and asked, "Did you have a question about our family?" I was thinking he might have heard Geordi use my first name, which is unusual for preschoolers, or perhaps he hadn't seen a multiracial family before. Maybe he had even noticed my wife come to pick Geordi up one day, and couldn't understand the concept of TWO mommies. So I wanted to give him the opportunity to ask his question instead of trying to let the preschoolers work it out themselves.

Unfortunately, the little boy's mom freaked the fuck out. "I'm sure he didn't mean it like that. People ask US why we are different colors all the time!" The mom looked white to me (very Zooey Deschanel, complete with ridiculous glasses and heavy bangs) but apparently she is Hispanic. I explained that I was not offended at all, and that her son might want to know more about how Geordi came to be a part of our family. "No, he totally understands that. I mean, my oldest two aren't even mine. So he totally understands blended families." She then stormed out of the classroom, dragging her son behind.

No preschooler "totally" understands anything. Stepchildren are not the same as adopted/kinship custody children. And referring to some of your children as "not even mine" is so problematic, I don't even know where to start!

I'm glad that I have these experiences, because it helps me to understand the microaggressions that other minorities experience on a daily basis. I'm sure I've said similarly foolish things in the past, in an attempt to seem "not racist" and more accepting of diversity. Really, though, it is much worse to make a big deal out of something. Kids will be kids, and they are allowed to ask questions! If we adults panic at the thought of being politically incorrect, our kids will sense that something is wrong. They will learn that differences aren't okay and shouldn't be discussed. In my opinion, that's what encourages racism.

Geordi and his friend have completely forgotten their discussion and play together happily, but the other mom won't even look at me. Grown-ups are silly sometimes.