We Will Tell You the Truth and Stand By Your Side

I recently opened an email from  my youngest son’s birthmother: I’m pregnant. Due in August. And this time I’m going to keep it.

My youngest son is just a few feet away—two-and-a-half years old—playing and blissfully unaware of the magnitude of what I am reading.

It was one of those moments in life when the world seems to swirl and hum busily around you but you are no longer a part of it. I looked over at my son and thought to myself, “How am I going to explain this to you? How am I going to help you understand that almost three years ago your birthmother made an adoption plan for you; and now, just a short time later, she is opting to parent?”

His birthmother is in a different relationship than she was three years ago, one to which she is committed. She is also now well over 18 years old and legally within her rights not only to make her own decisions but to resist and even reject the well-meaning, practical suggestions of parents or guardians. But something tells me these explanations will be small comfort to a child who may wind up thinking, “Why this child and not me?”

I then thought that like everything else in the parent-child relationship, my son is going to take his cue from me and from his father. If we couch this situation as one of loss for him, then that is how he will perceive it. Conversely, if we praise his birthmother for making a selfless, brave decision for him, which happens to be precisely how we do feel, he will come to see it that way, too.

But then that just seemed too simple, too neat, too wrapped-up-with-a-bow perfect—the ending to a Hollywood movie.

So, how will we explain this to our son? To start, we’ll tell him the truth—at every juncture and in answer to his every question in a way that is sensitive to and commensurate with his age and maturity. Much will, of course, depend upon the level of interaction and depth of his and our relationship with his birthmother. Seeing her and his birth sibling on a regular basis may prompt a different set of questions and concerns than a less open situation would.

Photo Credit: Len DeAngelis

In this circumstance, so many platitudes seem to apply: Live in the moment. One step at a time. Time will tell. But platitudes become platitudes because they have helped others negotiate life’s difficulties and tragedies, have offered comfort and reassurance. They are perhaps trite only because they have been used so often. But in truth, in this situation, we are going to have to live in the moment and take one step at a time. And like everything else in life, only time will tell how this will impact him.

There is no way to prepare, no way to script what we will say to our son—today, tomorrow, or in ten years. The only thing we do know is that we’ll be there—to listen, to talk, to hold his hand, to stand by his side. It’s the job of every parent in every situation—the simple and the complicated, the mundane and the extraordinary. As parents we often feel that might not be enough; but ultimately—and thankfully—it truly is.

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Six Weeks and Counting

Today we mark six weeks–six weeks of Edgar being seizure-free: forty-two days without a single visit from the paramedics; thirty without a single phone call from school; no adjustments to his medications; the most significant conversation with his neurologist a rescheduling of an appointment in June.

Someone asked me today if I could finally relax.

The short answer to that is “No.”

Once you have lived through watching your child have seizure after seizure, once you have witnessed firsthand the extreme and resulting vulnerability, you never really relax.

I still check my phone, my email with (some may say obsessive) regularity.  When the phone in my classroom rings, the pit in my stomach involuntarily returns.  When I hear the sirens of an ambulance, I think “What if?”

I still observe my son, watching for the signs.

And while certainly as each seizure-free week goes by, I feel relief and gratitude, I don’t take a single milestone for granted.  I can’t–because if epilepsy has taught me anything it’s that life can change in a second.  On October 10, 2011, Edgar did not have epilepsy, and on October 11, 2011, he did.  That is our new reality.

So, when will I finally relax?  Well, as a parent, I’m guessing never.  But in terms of Edgar’s seizures, maybe after twenty seizure-free years.  Maybe.

In the meantime, though, we will celebrate each day that the seizures stay away and continue to work tirelessly to raise epilepsy awareness–for Edgar, of course, and for all people living with this reality.

McDonald’s Needs a Talking To

Poke around a blog or two or fifty on the subject of McDonald’s Happy Meals and you will encounter a litany of complaints about the phrasing employees use to determine which of the two available toys to drop into the bag.

“Boy or girl toy?”

At first glance–and second and third and fourth–it’s sexist.  And there is not a sentence or word I can offer here that will add anything new to this discussion.  I don’t disagree.  And asking whether the customer wants the “Star Wars toy” or the “My Little Pony toy” seems to be the simple and obvious answer.

But then that wouldn’t garner much attention, would it?

Four words have essentially equated to volumes of free publicity.

And lest you think that folks will boycott McDonald’s over four words, I’d argue they probably won’t.  Convenience has trumped principle many times for far more egregious offenses; and, let’s face it, every time anyone even mentions “McDonald’s,” something inside our collective physiology begins to crave it–the salt, the fat, all those calories. So, when a blogger or any other writer writes 500 words about the blatant sexism at work with the Happy Meal, I wonder if it actually has the opposite of its intended effect–luring readers in, if not today, then later in the week when they (we) are all a bit more tired, a bit less apt to want to cook.

McDonald’s didn’t get where they are by being unaware.  They know this offends–but not enough to cross any lines that would impact business.  And when people are offended, they will say something.  And in business, when they’re talking about you, well, then, you’re all set.

And maybe that’s the conversation I’ll have with my children . . . less about gender stereotypes and more about marketing and advertising–but also about negative attention.  As a parent, I have many times reminded my children that it is better to seek positive attention for positive behavior than negative attention for negative.

If McDonald’s had a mom, I bet she’d be having the same conversation with her little business right about now.

A Tip for Team Coco

File this one under “Here We Go Again,” or “Say It Isn’t So, Conan.”

To start, I have been an unabashed fan of Conan O’Brien for many years.  His wit, his intelligence, his appreciation and promoting of the absurd speak to me in a way few other comedians can.

Which is why my disappointment is so palpable after last night’s show.

A monologue entitled “Humble Los Angeles Vanity License Plates” began with Conan terming plates that boast, such as “5K A Day” (whether a nod to your income or your exercise regimen) obnoxious.

He then quickly asserted that, perhaps, Los Angeles was being unnecessarily criticized–that there were a plethora of more humble license plates throughout the city, plates he called “Humility License Plates”–plates that point to their owners’ human frailties, flaws, and shortcomings.

The first was “DBL CHIN” (double chin).  That was immediately followed by “AOL USER.”  We then saw “6 PUSHUPZ” and “900 SAT.”  Of course, there were the requisite jabs at both male and female anatomy.  But then there was “ADOPTD.”

And as if that weren’t enough, the car this plate adorned was dilapidated (Conan even said, “This is sad . . . a beat-up car.”), and the audience instead of guffawing punctuated their laughter with a pathetic “Awwwww.”

I understand comedy.  Believe me, I do.  I know good comedy pushes limits and its listeners.  But, honestly, putting “adopted” in this montage says only one thing to the countless viewers under Conan’s spell–that being adopted is something unattractive, something about which to be embarrassed, something that invokes pity, something that is second (or third or fourth).

However, if anyone should be embarrassed it’s Conan O’Brien and his team of writers and editors because, truly, I would think they would know better.  Though most of the young children who joined their families through adoption are not up at 11:30 PM watching this show, some of the older ones are and so are their parents.  And in a split second, with a single “joke,” all the work of adoptive parents, adoption professionals, and, most importantly, adoptees themselves, is compromised.   And there is nothing funny about that.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of my oldest son’s Adoption Day.  He is seven years old and in the second grade.  He asked me tonight if I would email his teacher and principal and let them know about his special day.  I agreed, of course, then asked him why he wanted me to tell them.  He said, “Because I’m proud of my Adoption Day.”

Would that a team of esteemed entertainment professionals have the wisdom of a seven-year-old.

Holding on to Books

If time travel and/or prognostication were truly possible, and someone had given me this article when I first started teaching English—way back in 1990—I’m fairly certain I would have had no idea of what it speaks:

“Can you concentrate on Flaubert when Facebook is only a swipe away, or give your true devotion to Mr. Darcy while Twitter beckons?

“People who read e-books on tablets like the iPad are realizing that while a book in print or on a black-and-white Kindle is straightforward and immersive, a tablet offers a menu of distractions that can fragment the reading experience, or stop it in its tracks.

“E-mail lurks tantalizingly within reach. Looking up a tricky word or unknown fact in the book is easily accomplished through a quick Google search. And if a book starts to drag, giving up on it to stream a movie over Netflix or scroll through your Twitter feed is only a few taps away.

“That adds up to a reading experience that is more like a 21st-century cacophony than a traditional solitary activity. And some of the millions of consumers who have bought tablets and sampled e-books on apps from Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble have come away with a conclusion: It’s harder than ever to sit down and focus on reading.”

This appeared in The New York Times this week; and though it has received its fair share of flak for being “a day late and a dollar short,” the concentration of terms was not lost on me.

Facebook.  Twitter.  E-books. iPad. Tablet.  Kindle.  Netflix.  Apps.

In just 22 years, the face of reading has changed and inspired a whole new vernacular.

And, no, it’s not news of the day.  But as a parent, it’s worth noting what is lost when we introduce our children to reading on a tablet as opposed to handing them a book.

A tablet, despite all its promises, does not invite you to linger, to get lost—which is exactly what you hope for your child when he or she turns the pages of a favorite book.

A tablet almost commands you to multitask, to move quickly, to get in and get out.  It tempts you to find something else to do if the book you’re reading ceases to please—or becomes too challenging.  A tablet contributes to our rapidly shrinking attention spans.  It may even be one of the causes.

All this makes me wonder why our world is such that we no longer do just one thing at a time–why we don’t want to, why we can’t.

And it makes me want to keep putting paper books in front of my children for as long as I can—because I know technology will always be there.  Sadly, I just don’t think I can say the same thing of books–which, in my humble opinion, are probably one of the few antidotes to our collective inability to focus.

So, yes, in this photo (which was not staged), you see a 1950’s desk, an abacus, and an actual book.

We’re not old-fashioned.  Just like with everything else on this journey we call parenthood, we’re hanging on by a thread.

Thank You, Rosa Parks

Before I begin, I should probably start by saying that I am a huge fan of “being nice.”  And most of the time I am.  Or at least I try to be.   And I should probably add that “being nice” is something we endeavor to encourage in our children.

But this week, one of our children (who shall remain nameless) did something (which shall also remain unnamed) that wasn’t so nice.

It wasn’t cruel; it wasn’t unkind.  The behavior didn’t hurt anyone or anything.   It didn’t cause damage–literal or figurative.

It just wasn’t nice.

He had an opinion about something, he expressed it, and, well, in doing so, he didn’t come off as particularly nice.

We had the requisite conversations–discussed how he was entitled to his opinion, just as everyone is, but that he needed to express his thoughts in a way that was at least cordial, that he needed to disagree respectfully.

It was at that moment that I realized just two weeks before we were having a very different conversation–one about Rosa Parks, and how she stood up for what was right but in doing so broke the law (as egregious and horrible as the law was) and came off to many people as “not particularly nice.”  And we concluded that at times you have to speak up, to think for yourself, to express yourself–even if that means confronting the status quo, even it that means you will come across as less than nice.  We, like the rest of the world, termed Rosa Parks a “hero.”

And while certainly the issue about which my son expressed his opinion at first glance doesn’t appear to rise to the level of social injustice, to him–at his young age–it probably did.

We spend so much time–as a society–working very, very hard, tiptoeing around, in fact, so as not to offend anyone.  We put “nice’ on a pedestal and ask each other to drape our thoughts and actions in euphemism.

But does this quash original, critical thought?  Are we unwittingly asking ourselves–and, more importantly, our children–to put everything we, they think and feel through a filter that relegates powerful, colorful, and, yes, contradictory ideas to mere muted shadows of themselves?

As a parent, I want my children to be nice (as in kind, compassionate, empathic, and helpful) and grow into “nice” adults; but I must say, at the risk of being not-so-nice, it is my equal hope that they grow up strong and able to speak for themselves and speak up for others, even if that means disagreeing–with me, with you, with the rest of the world.

Are being nice and being a strong critical thinker mutually exclusive?

I hope not–for the sake of my children and yours–I truly hope not.