My Future Biographer(s)

I just finished reading Diane Keaton’s recently published autobiography Then Again in which she diligently pays homage to all that was–all that is–her mother, Dorothy Hall.  The book prompts plenty of questions:

How does one continue to create art without an audience?

How can someone who resides in the throes of insecurity still have so much to offer to others?

Why do we think we must be happy all the time?

But the question that lingers, the one I can’t seem to shake is one that Keaton may not have intended and one that her mother certainly never asked:

Of my children, who would I choose to be my biographer?

There is an incredible and narcissistic assumption at work in this question, of course.  Who’s to say any one of my three children would choose to chronicle my life–either beside theirs or separate from?

But narcissism aside, as a parent, it is a curious intellectual exercise to envision which child would do the “best” job, provide the most ‘accurate” assessment, create the most “flattering” portrait.

Keaton mentions her siblings from time to time in her book and makes a passing comment that each loved their mother in their own way.  That prompted me to consider what her siblings would have written had they authored the book, had they the same name recognition as their famous sister.

Keaton’s (auto)biography is a tribute in no uncertain terms; her mother is mythologized despite Keaton’s pointing out her idiosyncrasies and shortcomings.  Would Dorrie, Robin, or Randy, Keaton’s siblings, have done the same?  Would the love they felt for their mother prompted similar musings?

As I sit here chronicling my children’s lives, I aim to be a reliable narrator, to report accurately what I see and observe.  Would my children do the same were the roles reversed?  Or would they put me on a pedestal, memorializing me with flattering words that may or may not reflect reality?

I can’t say.  If, upon my demise, they discover anything I’ve written that prompts them to write, as was the case with Keaton, then so be it.  I trust each of them equally to do the job that makes sense to them, that brings them comfort.  Dorothy Hall may not have been perfect, but she gave her children the permission and space to always be themselves.  And for that reason alone, perhaps, she deserves her daughter’s lauding.

I hope my children can (and will) say the same of me.

Woman’s Business

Oscar attended a birthday party for a classmate today.  A male classmate.  Shopping for this young man was easy.  One Beyblade, one card with a football on the front, and he was done.

Next week he will be attending another birthday party.  A party for a girl.  I asked him what he would like to get for the young lady.

Here is what transpired in my car this evening.  Have a listen, won’t you?

OSCAR. I can’t even imagine what she would like.

ME.  Well, you’ve been in school with her for several months.  Does she have any hobbies?

OSCAR.  Makeup.

ME.  Her hobby is makeup?

OSCAR.  She likes to put it on.  You know, lipstick and powder and all this other stuff.

ME. She’s eight.

OSCAR.  I can’t explain it.

ME. Are you sure it’s lipstick?  Maybe it’s lip gloss?

OSCAR.  What’s the difference?

ME.  Lip gloss is shiny.  Lipstick has color.

OSCAR.  It’s probably lip gloss.

ME.  Okay, how about we get her a little makeup bag and some lip gloss.

OSCAR.  That sounds good.

ME.  Do you want to come with me when I shop for it?

OSCAR.  Oh, no.  That sounds like woman’s business. And woman’s business is woman’s business.  And I can’t get involved in that.

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As a writer, I like to have the final word, to wrap everything up with a neat little thought-provoking bow . . . but, honestly, I have nothing.  I can’t top that, and I won’t even try.

Beyond the Bell

A parent is, of course, a child’s first teacher.  But it has always been my contention–as a public school teacher and a mother–that that job didn’t end once my children entered a formal educational setting.  If anything, watching my children’s burgeoning skills has made me realize all the  more that there is so much more for them to know, so much more they are capable of learning.

We have always aimed to keep things interesting for our sons–reading daily, of course, but also traveling, visiting museums, having conversations.  But in the recent weeks we have added a degree of formality to what we were already doing to supplement their educations.

Every day, Monday through Thursday, for one half hour–after their homework for school is complete–Oscar and Edgar stay at the table and continue their work.

There is a schedule, there are materials, there is a thoughtful curriculum that has been created with their needs in mind.

The reasons I do this–even after the technical work of the day is done–are many; but they are guided by some of my core beliefs:

  • I believe in formal education but do not believe that our children’s teachers are solely responsible for their educations.
  • I believe that growing up in a home that values, practices, and models learning on a daily basis can only do my children good.
  • I believe the more they learn the more they want to learn.
  • I believe their potential is limitless and that there is nothing they can’t do.

I am proud of the work they’re doing, of the strides they’re making, but I will neither take nor accept credit for any of their successes.  Their achievement belongs to them and is a direct result of their efforts.

Children–indeed all people–rise to the expectations that are set for them.  And it is my solemn promise to my children that–in word and deed–I will never underestimate what they are capable of learning.

Oscar asked me the other day if we could “do homeschooling forever.”  I smiled, knowing this won’t be forever.  One day soon (too soon) his–and his brothers’–knowledge will surpass my own.

But, truly, isn’t that what we want, what parenting is all about?

Positive Adoption Language for All

On Tuesday, 14 February 2012, Valentine’s Day no less, I eagerly searched for a copy of The Providence Journal.

I knew that on the front page (and probably continuing on several columns elsewhere) was a feature story on one our favorite families–the Dickinsons, the family who cared for August, our youngest son, for the first sixty-six days of his life.

I found a copy–gazed with a smile at the accompanying front-page color photo of John and Laurie and all their children (seven to be exact)–and proceeded to read.

It didn’t take long–five sentences, actually–before I found myself shaking my head and reaching for my keyboard.

Here is how the article, “Plenty of Love to Go Around,” (Providence Journal, 14 February 2012, pp. A1 and A7) by Tracy Breton begins:

“Where is love? Go to the small ranch home owned by John and Laurie ‍Dickinson and it will overpower you. The house is only 1,364 square feet; it has just one bathroom. But bunk beds have been crammed into two of the three bedrooms, and John ‍Dickinson has converted part of the finished basement into another bedroom.

“He and his wife, Laurie, have seven children — three of their own and four whom they’ve adopted through Children’s Friend & Service, a nonprofit agency in Rhode Island that has placed children 8 and younger into foster and adoptive homes for 178 years.”

Nine little words that sent me into a tailspin:  “three of their own and four whom they’ve adopted . . .”

Image courtesy of Google Images

I wrote immediately to Laurie, then to The Providence Journal.  An email today to the Journal asking them whether or not they were intending to print my letter has gone unanswered; so, I would like to print it here for you–because, regardless of the newspaper’s response, this is a message that needs to be delivered, and fast!

“Right speech” is not mere euphemism for being “politically correct.”  It comes down, quite simply and frankly, to respect.  Words convey power–and they convey a writer’s (indeed, a society’s) attitude toward a subject.

When a seasoned reporter (who, I might add, spent, I am sure, hours with this amazing family) presents an article that was then most assuredly edited by an accomplished editor and negative adoption language remains emblazoned across the front page for all the world to read (and internalize), it is my humble opinion that something needs to be said.

To that end, and with thanks to the Dickinsons for their understanding the need for this primer in positive adoption language, I present my letter here.  I ask that The Providence Journal print it so that the message is received loud and clear by those who most need to hear it and that the requisite damage control can begin.

Dear Editor:
     Thank you and Providence Journal Staff Writer Tracy Breton for highlighting the Dickinson family and the miracle of adoption in your front-page story, “Plenty of Love to Go Around” (14 February 2012, pages A1 and A7).  John and Laurie Dickinson cared for our youngest son during the first 66 days of his life.  The Dickinson family indeed embodies unconditional acceptance and love.  We are honored to call them our friends. However, as a fellow adoptive parent, I would like to bring to your attention the slight–however unintentional–to all adoptive families caused by the statement: John “and his wife, Laurie, have seven children–three of their own and four whom they’ve adopted . . .”  The writer’s intention is clear to be sure: What she means by “three of their own” is that there are “three biological children” in the Dickinson family. 
     The phrase “of their own,” though, implies something that may not have been intended by the writer but is the message received nonetheless.  “Of their own” as a phrase is encompassing, parental, possessive whereas “whom they’ve adopted” imparts an action, a legal proceeding.  When placed side-by-side, it relegates adoption to the position of “second-best”–which, of course, it is not. 

     Positive adoption language is something of which the adoptive community is naturally and particularly aware.  I would respectfully ask that mainstream media educate themselves on positive adoption language so that when the Dickinsons’ four youngest sons–and, indeed, my own children–read future articles about adoption, they are reading positive, respectful language that truly reflects the beauty of adoption.

Sincerely,

Samantha Hines

Please click here to read more about this topic:

http://www.holtinternational.org/media/language.shtml

The Washington Times

I would like to thank Andrea Poe, accomplished, prolific, and immensely talented author and, yes, descendant of “my second-favorite Edgar,” for believing in my work and featuring an adaptation of one of my favorite blog posts in her “Red Thread” Adoptive Family Forum in The Washington Times Communities section.

http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/red-thread-adoptive-family-forum/2012/feb/14/adoptive-kids-ask-do-you-love-us-all-same/

I am honored to be included among the distinguished voices writing on this most important topic.

Thank you, Andrea.

Standing Up for Epilepsy, Standing Up for Edgar

It was a simple question, seemingly simple, and broached with all the earnest entreaty his six-year-old self could muster:

“Mom, who do we know who has epilepsy?”

I named the people we know, and he seemed happy to hear the list, however short.

Then . . .

“Mom, who do we know who’s famous who has epilepsy?”

As an adoptive family, we have never had to look far–in our lives or in the lives of the rich-and-famous–to find others who have adopted or have been adopted.  However, though the list of “famous people with epilepsy” is wide and impressive, a list of contemporary celebrities is curiously limited.

There is Lindsey Buckingham (of Fleetwood Mac fame), who, while admitting to having epilepsy, quickly adds that his is a “mild” form.  Then there is the supremely talented actor Danny Glover, who claims he has “controlled” his epilepsy with “self-hypnosis.”  And musician Neil Young, who understandably disliked the side effects of his medication and decided to embark on a path of “personal stability” as a method of controlling his epilepsy.

In reviewing this list, one thing is certain: Each of these men has opted to use either reductive or avoidance terms where their epilepsy is concerned.  Buckingham’s is “mild,” so no need to be concerned.  And Glover and Young purport that this neurological (read: physical) condition is simply an exercise in “mind over matter.”

And as much as I admire the talents of each of these performers, I will go on record as saying–emphatically and unequivocally–this sort of approach does my son a tremendous disservice.

If you have diabetes, you can turn to Halle Berry, who admits and speaks to her condition; if you have lupus, you can look to Seal; but if you have epilepsy, your role models in the public arena include one who needs to attach a minimizing adjective to his epilepsy and two others who claim theirs is under control with just a little mental work on their respective parts.

And we won’t even mention the copious celebrities who have epilepsy but will not (or cannot) admit to it due the prevailing stigma and resulting discrimination that continues to abound.

So, here is my request:  Though I am quite certain my mere words in this small space are not going to bring any celebrities out into the open and admit to their condition for the good of my son and others like him who are clamoring for examples of famous people who are living and thriving with epilepsy, I am hoping to gather a list of people–like him, like us–who are living with their condition, who aren’t afraid to say, “I live with my epilepsy and this is how, and so will you, Edgar.”

If you have epilepsy, would you leave a comment here on this post?  Offer some words of wisdom that you have gathered through your journey, something Edgar can read and turn to as he negotiates this path.  And if you know someone who has epilepsy, would you send them this link and ask them to do the same?

This blog is a gift to my children, but I need your help–your selflessness, your empathy, your bravery–to give him what he needs.   Thank you.

 

A Growing Vocabulary

“So, um, Mom, I think I might have learned a new word at school today,” said Oscar more than a little apprehensive at where this first step may lead.

“Really?  Do you want to share it with me?” I respond, pretty sure I know that he’s not talking about a multisyllabic word from his spelling list.

“Well, that depends.  Am I going to get in trouble if it’s a ‘bad’ word?”

“What do you think is a ‘bad’ word?” I ask him.

“A swear, I guess.  Swears are ‘bad’ words, right?”

I tell him that swears are not acceptable for him to use, that some people, some characters in movies and books use them, but that children are not to use them and that there are very few, very specific times and places when and where even adults should use them.

He seemed bored by my diatribe and asked if he could spell his new word without getting in trouble.

As a fan of both spelling and resourcefulness, I agreed to let him spell it for me.

And so he did.

“A- S-S,” he recited, slowly, lest I lose focus.  Then he quickly asked, “Is it bad?”

“It’s not good,” I respond, as I look at him from over the top of my glasses, a move I am in the process of perfecting.

“Is it a swear?” he asks.

“It is.”

“What does it mean?”

“It’s a ‘swear,’ Oscar.”

“That’s the TYPE of word it is, Mom, not the definition.  What does it mean?”

And as I sat there contemplating all of the possible meanings of this latest acquisition to his vocabulary, I wondered what’s next.  And then I fast-forwarded through the years and realized exactly what’s next.

Oscar thankfully interrupted my thoughts.

“Mom, I know I’m not allowed to say that word, but what if I just HAVE to?”

Lost in reverie about the loss of vernacular if not every other type of innocence, I half-heartedly said, “Go in the bathroom, shut the door, and say the word until you tire of it.”

“Cool.  I think I’ll try that now.”

He disappeared, shut the door, and reemerged in six seconds.

“Are you finished?” I asked.

“Yeah, it wasn’t really that exciting.”

And while I was pleased that this was over just as quickly as it began, I wondered if the next time will be as easy–if he will remember that things that initially seem intriguing, once the curtain is pulled back, are not nearly so.

There are no guarantees, of course.  But I’m hoping that his coming to this conclusion on his own instead of our telling him bodes well.

And hope, when you’re raising children, is really sometimes all you have.