Monday, December 15, 2014

A Peaceful Plea

(I was asked to speak at a candlelight vigil last Friday night sponsored by the newly formed Anti-Racism Coalition. The following is what I said.)

I wanted to tell you tonight about a few things that I love.

First of all I wanted to tell you that I love the Police. They are in my extended family, they are in my circle of friends, and they are members of my community. I have personally called on the Police in times of great crises and they have always helped me.  I love safe communities and so I am thankful for them.

I love my children. Two came to me biologically and three by adoption and I love them all so much. And I want you to know, they are all really, really cute. But ever since we adopted our youngest three, parents who know firsthand what it means to raise Black children, the boys in particular, warn me that they will only be adorable to the outside world until age twelve. Around that age Black boys transition from cute to threatening in the eyes of strangers.

Age twelve: the age Tamir Rice was when he was shot and killed when playing at a park with a fake gun.

Michael Brown made it until eighteen.

Trayvon Martin made it until seventeen, a menacing Black boy threatening the safety of his community by walking home with a Snapple and a bag of Skittles.

Oh but those cases were far away, that wouldn’t happen here in our idyllic county! I’d like to believe that that is true. But then I see something like a post on the township’s Facebook page in a discussion about public safety, a warning: “I saw a Black couple outside the pizzeria yesterday afternoon. They just seemed out of place—no offense.”

Will my children be perceived as a threat worthy of shooting dead if, in a few years, they are walking with a Snapple and a slice of pizza here in our small New Jersey town? If they’re wearing a hoodie? While Black? I want more life than that for my kids.

My children are not a threat. But they will be threatened.

I love the Police. I love my children and I love your children, too, so I love communities that are safe for everyone. I don’t know how to make that happen, but I do know that all my private crying and hand wringing isn’t going to do the trick. It’s time for education, open dialogue and community action. It’s time to move forward into a future where I don’t have to worry about some of our children more than the others because of the color of their skin.
 It is time.
Photo courtesy of Maggie Cooke

Friday, December 12, 2014

Five on Friday: Dear Santa--

My older two just email Santa a few links for things they like but the younger three still write letters. (The youngest at age 4 dictates what we should write). Here are my favorite lines from their letters this year:

1. Is Roodaf (sic) still your leader?
2. Get whatever you can please.
3. How old are you and what is your favorite color?
4. I'm so much I'm happy for you.
5. I'm trying to be good. I accidentally hit my brother.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Five on Friday: Pro Tips--Holidays with the Kids

 Overwhelmed by the upcoming holidays? 

I can help.

 I've learned a thing or two in the past fourteen years as a parent and I'm going to share some of my knowledge with you today. Most are Christmas-specific but the first three could be easily applied to other holidays as well.

1. Want to get all of the kids smiling at the same time for a holiday photo? Have someone stand behind the photographer and moon the kids. (At least that's how we got our best holiday picture ever . . . and on THE VERY FIRST TRY)

2. If you see something super cheap or free and you *think* your kid might like it, get it. Then start talking up how great one of those things are and how they should TOTALLY ask for one this year.

3. Never, ever take out the holiday decorations with the kids present. You know there's going to be some kind of really ugly, falling apart, jingle bell taped to a paper plate project that your kid won't remember if you chuck it . . . but if they see it, they will insist it is their most beloved thing EVER. You can put everything back in the box once you weed it out so the kids get the joy of unloading it with you.

4. Screw the Elf on the Shelf. Too much commitment. Instead, make sure you've got Santa's number on your phone for emergency threats in moments of bad behavior desperation.

5. Got cousins? Get Secret Santa. Cuts down on the spending, consumerism and chaos.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Five on Friday: Thankful for Thanksgiving 2014

I was a little apprehensive about Thanksgiving this year. We were invited to Daddy O's sister's for dinner in New York City and I figured if we were going to drive there, we were definitely stopping in for visits at the kids' Birth families homes in two nearby cities. I was worried that it was going to be too many stops. I was worried that we'd end up crossing paths with and missing one of the family members. I thought the kids would be bouncing off the walls after a longish car ride followed by visits in three homes that are smaller than they are used to.

But it turned out I had nothing to worry about at all. Here are the top five highlights from our day:

1. Stop #1 at Great Grandma's home: We got to  meet a new (to us!) Great Auntie, we were just as excited to meet her as she was to meet us (and that's a lot). Warm hugs and smiles were plentiful amongst Auntie, Great Auntie, Cousin, Great Grandma, Mom and all seven of us.

2. The kids are so comfortable now at Great Grandma's place, 8 year old E noticed the living room was rearranged for the holiday and asked where the coffee table was. We thought that was kind of odd until we realized what he was really asking was where is the candy dish? (Great Auntie hooked him up.)

3. Stop #2 at Uncle Pop Pop's ( was another lovely visit. Again open arms, hugs, big smiles and total ease. Kids know where the toys and fish tanks with interesting inhabitants are.

4. A certain Pop Pop who goes by the name of "Uncle" promised some children ice cream on a previous visit so even though they hadn't eaten lunch and we were on our way to a Thanksgiving feast, we let them have ice cream cones. It was a special day after all.

5. Stop #3 at Daddy O's sister's place: the kids continued to be pleasant and well behaved and tried new foods. We got to visit with some family members we hadn't seen in a little too long. Ride home was pleasant (oh and did I mention Daddy O did all of the driving??) and two kids fell asleep on the way. 

We couldn't have asked for a nicer day. 

Getting a little button help from her First Mommy

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Advent Calendar of Good Deeds 2014

Last year I was invited to write for Grown Ups Magazine about our Advent Calendar of Good Deeds (which, I, uh, sort of made up in order to write about). The idea was that we'd have one good deed per day on our countdown to Christmas instead of one chocolate per day for five kids to fight over. (The article is here:

I learned a few important things last year, like pay attention to what deeds go with which day as some required more time and would be better on a weekend. I also realized which good deeds were really doable and that giving myself some cop out days ("help set up for family party" that they would have to do anyway) was imperative to getting it done without feeling pressured or guilty. I wanted to do sewn paper again (something about that aesthetic really pleases me) but didn't want to do the same exact thing as last year. I realized I had a bunch of half-used pretty scrapbooking paper laying around:

Instead of stars, I cut hearts of various heights and widths out of the pretty paper. Since the back wouldn't be seen (and since I happened to have a brown paper shopping bag laying around), I stuck with brown paper for the back. First I sewed the hearts to a square of brown paper (with different lengths of twine on the top of each bump for a hanger), then I trimmed them:

Last year I sewed the small papers with the daily good deeds written on them right inside the stars. This year I had the time and inspiration to start sewing but not the good deeds written out yet. Therefore I left the "V" part of the heart open so I can stick the little papers in later. Soon I had twenty four sweet little hearts, now I needed to find some numbers for them.

Once again wanting to do something different than last year's stamped numbers, this year I turned to my stash of vintage children's books (that I pick up for cheap/free for crafting with) and magazines ("24 Ways to Make the Holidays Merry" in a free magazine from Lowe's came in quite handy!) and started cutting out numbers.

Snip, snip, snip. Glue, glue, glue. Et Voila!

Once the hearts were done, I found a pine branch I liked and hung it on my kitchen mantle. the hearts were attached and oh, it looks so pretty. Now I just have to write out twenty four good deeds on little papers, roll them up and stick them in there. Considering they're forecasting six inches of snow and it's a holiday weekend anyway, I'm thinking I'll have plenty of time to get that done before December 1st. I know not everyone can make a sewn paper advent calendar like this but I hope that if you DO make an advent calendar with your kids (so many cute, fun, way less time consuming options out there on the Internet) that you consider trying a good deed one this year. This holiday has become so much about consumption and greed, having the kids do good all month is one way to combat that.

 (PS Results from last year's calendar are here: I'll need to reference that when I'm coming up with the good deeds for this year!)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Five on Friday: Taglines for My New Exercise Video Series

On my personal Facebook page the other day, I was whining about how cold it was and coming to the realization that I must hate exercise videos a lot because I chose to go run in the cold instead of stay inside and exercise. I shared a picture of myself bundled up and lamented that no amount of Chaka Khan being blasted into my ears could make running in that sort of weather okay.

One of my friends said she wanted ME to make some exercise videos so naturally I began entertaining this notion immediately. I need to have a niche, you know, something to set MY exercise videos apart from the rest so started coming up with some taglines. They are:

1. Exercise videos for people that hate exercise videos but don't mind a little Chaka Khan.

2. Exercise videos for people who can't even with going to the gym.

3. Exercise videos for people who have to kick toys out of the way to start and yell at kids to leave them alone to finish.

4. Exercise videos for people who have crappy non-matching exercise clothes and might need a soup can for a hand weight.

5. Exercise videos for people who go through all the motions but are spending the entire time thinking things like "Did I sign that paper for school? No, I don't think I did so maybe I'll stop when I go past school later. No you absolutely will not stop, if he wants to join the club, he needs to be responsible and get me to sign the paper. WAIT A MINUTE, do I have any idea what's for dinner? If we're going to the library after school and I have that meeting later tonight I'd better fix something in the afternoon but SHIT I totally forgot to put cannellini beans on my shopping list, didn't I? Okay after these sit ups I'll call neighbor and see if she has a can I can borrow. Don't forget, don't forget, 3 more, SHIT this is hard, 2, oh my god I'm dying I cannot do one more yes you can ONE and DONE!"

Hmm, maybe that last one is a little too long . . .

Friday, November 14, 2014

Five of Friday: Best Things the Kids Are Thankful for (So Far)

Every November we make a big featherless paper turkey and for some unknown reason the kids give him a food name (Cheeseburger or Bacon, for example. This year it's named Waffle. My youngest wanted to name it "Frozen" after the movie and I thought "Frozen Turkey" was funny but we were voted down.)

We also cut out paper feathers and leave them with some pens in the dining room. After dinner, we write things we're thankful for and then stick the feathers to the turkey.

Waffle the Turkey

Waffle is looking nice and full already even though we still have two weeks until Thanksgiving. My favorite feathers so far are:

1. Carrots. This guy just LOVES his carrots.

"I am thankful for carrots because I can snap them loud."

2. Every one my youngest has dictated for someone else to write for her. She starts off each one with, "I'm thank you for . . ." 

3. The other night we were playing a really silly game at the dinner table with lots of giggling. I finished eating so quietly began writing on my feather and then B and then Daddy-O did the same. A minute later we realized we all wrote pretty much the same thing:

"I'm thankful for family games" "I am thankful for family games at dinner time" "I am thankful for fun family games"

4.  He may or may not be talking about me, but I like this one that Daddy-O wrote either way.
"I am thankful for a strong female role model for my children"

5. Last night after dinner Z asked if we could write on our feathers but there was only one left. I didn't feel like cutting more right then so I suggested a group effort and we came up with this:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Story About Fear

On Mischief Night I took part in a local storytelling event that had the theme of "Fear."

Here's the story I told:

It used to be I didn’t know what fear was. I grew up here in the country, occasionally scaring myself out of bed with a boogieman nightmare but otherwise perfectly comfortable with sporadically locked doors and windows left wide open all night.

It was a nice way to grow up.

So when I feel afraid now, it really bothers me. It’s not frequent, and usually only if I’m alone at night, laying in bed and making the dreadful mistake of letting my imagination turn the normalcy of an old house creaking into the certainty of an intruder sneaking his way up the stairs.

When I tell my husband how scared I sometimes feel, he tells me that there are times that he’s frightened as well.  “Yeah, but I never felt like this before,” I tell him. Friends of mine that are mothers confide that they also feel scared; it seems that becoming a parent brings out fatalistic visions in all of us.  Yet still I think, “but I was never scared before.  He did this to me.”

A few weeks after a stranger broke into my college apartment and stayed two hours raping and threatening me, I watched a scary movie for some reason. In it, a male attacker surprised his female victim in a public restroom. It resulted in me being terrified of public bathrooms. I went from knowing no fear to knowing absolute terror. I would find myself alone in a public bathroom and would hear a noise outside of the stall and then become instantly paralyzed in horror. More than once I had to muster up my dwindling courage just to leave the stall, more than once I cried near the sinks when I realized I was alone and safe.

I didn’t really tell any of my friends about that public bathroom fear, which is weird since I talked with them about every other aspect of my healing process. During it all I wondered how would I know when I was completely healed? Initially I thought it’d be when I could sleep alone without any drugs to knock me out. Once I mastered that I modified it to be, “it’ll be when I can be alone at night and not be terrified.” Finally I thought it’d be when I could make it through the day without thinking about it at all, which seemed thoroughly impossible, especially since people kept telling me it’d be the first thing I’d think about in the morning and the last thing I’d think about at night for the rest of my life.


Now I find myself on a monthly basis standing before the Shop Rite pharmacist who waits patiently while I try desperately to remember what year one of my children was born in so I can get their vitamin refill.

I have five children now. It takes me a minute, okay? Sometimes there’s some math involved. It’s never been my forte.

These kids. These, did I mention—five? --kids. They keep me inspired, entertained, engaged and . . . exhausted. They keep my brain too tired, too filled with birth dates, play dates and school project due dates to have room in there to spend time regularly thinking about something rather unpleasant that happened to me almost twenty years ago.

That fear I had of being in the bathroom alone? These kids guarantee that I never actually get to go to the bathroom by myself.  Thanks, guys. And these days if I am alone with them at night and hear our old house creak; now I focus on them. I know that if there is an intruder, I won’t let him hurt my kids. My concerns for myself fly out the window as I find my courage (and the wooden baseball bat my husband keeps near the bed). Thinking of protecting them completely emboldens me and I know I would gladly put my life on the line to save theirs.

Because when the lives of my kids are even potentially put in danger, that adrenaline-fueled courage evicts any fear that might be sneaking in. It used to be that the single most terrifying moment in my existence was when my bedroom door slowly opened and a face I had never seen before peeked through. But fifteen years later I stood on my deck and watched my two-year-old and eight-year-old sons slide into our pond on an icy February day. Frantically I ran to the pond and willingly jumped in, never feeling an ounce of cold or fear. That moment of seeing them slide into the icy water definitively took over as the most frightening moment of my life.

Up until now I’ve tried hard to avoid those corny “Mom” expressions that are plastered on mugs and bumper stickers. But after writing this, I’m thinking of appropriating one for my own purposes: You can’t scare me. I have kids.