Archive for September, 2013

Here's my family gathered around the table to enjoy some homemade gumbo.

Here’s my family gathered around the table to enjoy some homemade gumbo.

Because of my involvement in some community organizations, I realized recently just how odd it is that my family actually gathers around the table for dinner. EVERY NIGHT. Yes, it’s true. I already knew that my practice of cooking homemade meals for my family was more than a little unusual, that many people don’t cook anymore but do some form of take-out most of the time instead (whether it’s fast food, mostly prepared food from groceries, etc.), but it just hadn’t hit me how few people eat meals together at home.

After running a few minutes late for a number of meetings for a booster club I volunteer for, I realized the reason I was the only one not there a few minutes early was that I was also the only one coming from home, from our dinner table (or maybe one of two). Our meetings have been at 6 or 6:30 p.m., right in the middle of mealtime. But rather than letting my family fend for themselves, even, I’ve just prepared meals earlier (though it’s been a little more stressful).

Everyone had told me for years that “once my kids got into high school,” they’d be so busy with extracurriculars that we’d stop our practice of mealtimes together. But my oldest is a senior in high school, and the one extracurricular that requires her to have an evening away (band practices in the evening) is only one night a week, and at 6:30. So we eat dinner together before she leaves. And our weekly youth church activity is at 7 p.m., so we all eat together before that. Other extracurriculars are late afternoon, before dinner. So, despite the dinner doomsday preachers, we have still eaten together as a family.

Yes, it’s taken some extra planning and a little extra work on my part. But it has been so worth it. I don’t think I need to point out that studies show how vital it is to eat together as a family, that each meal together bolsters teens’ emotional strength and happiness. I don’t really strive for meals together because of research. I do it because it’s fun, it’s enjoyable, it’s family bonding time. It contributes to our strength and happiness as a family unit. We’re not perfect or always happy, but we’re mostly happy together, and my kids feel secure and loved at home. Being together for dinner every night is just a part of the puzzle that makes home their refuge, their happy, secure place.

We talk about our days, we make jokes, we laugh as we quote from movies (we do that ALL the time; it’s just “our thing”: if we don’t slip in a quote from “The Princess Bride” at least a few times a week, something’s wrong). It’s all about togetherness, building and fortifying our camaraderie, our family identity.

Yeah, I think we’re now in the minority of families who eat together every night. I understand why many others have a hard time doing that; there are lots of good reasons for it. But I have fought to keep us together at dinner, and I will continue to do so, despite it being sometimes like swimming upstream, because it makes me happy. It makes us all happy. I hope I keep it up until our last little one has flown the coop, even when it’s just three of us sharing that camaraderie nightly.

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So I read another article that just made my jaw drop. It said that while international adoptions are becoming more difficult, and thus are dropping in numbers, would-be parents from other countries are finding it fairly easy to adopt babies from here in the U.S. — and many of those are black babies, because there are more of them in the “waiting child” category.

Yikes. The article actually reminds readers that racial prejudice is still an issue here in the U.S. and that some black birth parents hope that by letting foreigners adopt their babies, that their children might face fewer racial issues in other countries, such as the Netherlands.

Here I am the first time I met my gorgeous baby Charlotte, the day after her birth.

Here I am the first time I met my gorgeous baby Charlotte, the day after her birth.

As the wife of an Asian man and the mother of three biological children who are mixed-race (Caucasian and Filipino) and one adopted black daughter, I am certainly sensitive to racial issues. Most of the time, however, since I personally just don’t see any difference in who people truly ARE at their core regardless of what they might look like on the outside (and I suppose this also extends to disabilities, since one daughter has Down syndrome…), I tend to not think about racial issues too much. I’m not saying I’m being insensitive; I guess I just don’t think about it frequently because of my attitude about people and race.

But this article, though a bit shocking, isn’t a complete surprise; when we adopted our daughter, we heard that some other prospective parents weren’t interested in adopting a baby who didn’t share their race (i.e., since many were white, they wanted a white baby). And I knew there were some agencies and services out there that specifically work on finding homes for black or mixed-race babies (in addition to children with special needs), because they’re harder to place.

Again, as with so many issues today, even though we’ve come a long way as a country when it comes to race, we’re not color blind yet. And don’t even get me started on the hateful comments some people made about one of Mitt Romney’s sons adopting a black baby (as if it were for political purposes!). I just wish that prejudice and all the assorted other hatefulness out there didn’t have to affect babies.

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They say that when you have a child with a disability, you must grieve the loss of the “normal” child you expected to have. I did this for a few days when I first found out through amniocentesis that my unborn baby would have Down syndrome. After that, I was as eager as any mother to give birth to a new baby. And her birth day was lovely and exciting and “normal.”

As I’ve adjusted expectations over the years and figured out at different stages what she has needed to aid her in developing and growing and achieving her potential, I’ve mostly rolled with the punches. But even as she walked and talked much later than my older daughter and did lots of things her very own way and at her own speed, I was mostly unconcerned. And she was so CUTE, and everyone she was around adored her.

Here she is at the high school, just a few days after starting.

Here she is at the high school, just a few days after starting.

I didn’t anticipate the interesting dilemmas that would face me as she reached adolescence and age out of elementary school. I certainly hadn’t given much thought to puberty (wha??!). Now, as of a few weeks ago, she is a freshman in high school. Just having her enter high school gave me a few little late aftershocks of grief; my oldest is a senior, and I’m right in the midst of being thrilled and excited for her and everything that’s ahead while simultaneously being struck smack in the chest with loss knowing she’ll be leaving home. I’m reflecting on the weeks three years ago, seemingly just yesterday, when SHE started high school and had all these new adventures and experiences awaiting her. How could my talented, sweet, fun little bird now be so close to flying out of our cozy nest?

So you see the stark contrast in experiences, in feelings, I’m facing as my second-born enters high school. She has a very different future ahead of her, not bad, but just different. It’s one I am unsure of, that is not nearly as clear as that of my oldest, because it’s not a path I’ve already forged myself.

Yesterday I had the yearly IEP (individualized education plan) meeting with the teachers and other interested parties at the school. But this time felt so different than every single IEP I’ve attended for the past 15 years. I was struck again by how far behind she is academically, that given her abilities, she simply will not graduate high school with a diploma, will not master algebra, even, which I’m informed is the “lowest” math class they have available at the high school. We still struggle with simple addition. But that wasn’t too surprising; I hadn’t really expected her to “graduate;” she can receive a certificate of completion, though, and that was an outcome I was already aware of.

No, what cut to the core was hearing that the classes she’s in right now are probably not where she needs to be, not because they’re too difficult academically (even though they’re the really basic versions geared for those who need extra help) but because they still are not attended by her true peers. The kids in these classes have struggles, but they perceive my sweet little girl as weaker, as a target, and they tease her. She’s on the outside. And I HAD NO IDEA. Sure, it’s only a few weeks in, and I imagine the teachers were just waiting to broach this topic at this IEP meeting, but knowing that my daughter has been treated just a little badly by classmates BROKE MY HEART.

(I did find out about another option for her class-wise that will probably be the better place for her when it comes to both academics and peers/potential friends, and I am going to look into it, visit, probably switch her, but that’s another story.)

I got through the rest of that meeting, signed paperwork, listened some more, asked questions, and considered, but I was really just hoping it would end so I could leave and not burst into tears there in the classroom. I came home and grieved for a few hours. Even as my oldest went to her band rehearsal and attended an open house on college options and scholarships and did all the kinds of things I did 25 years ago myself, I grieved that my second-born would not do these same things.

Did I think I’d already accepted that outcome? Yes, indeed. But it just started becoming reality, and it was such a stark contrast. I still am unsure of exactly what my daughter will do; she probably will eventually leave home and live on her own, with others in an apartment or in a group place that’s fun and friendly and warm; she will most likely have a job that’s simple for her to do that she enjoys. But it’s different. And will she always be able to find a place where she has peers, where she can make friends who are like her? Because right now that hasn’t been happening these past weeks. Will I miss something again in the future where she’s being teased or not fitting in? I can’t bear to think of it.

Sometimes grief comes anew and we must revisit what we thought we’d already “dealt with.” We must adjust expectations again and face the reality we could only see through the hazy, murky lens of an uncertain future. And it’s OK to do so. As I grieve, I know I will come out of it with clearer vision and a renewed determination to help forge a happy, workable life for my second child. No matter what, I do know that she will be happy and will make others around her happy as well. She’s already done that for 15 years.

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Photo from Fox 23 News

Photo from Fox 23 News

So I saw this Yahoo news item about a little black girl whose parents withdrew her from a charter school whose dress and grooming policy forbids dreadlocks. Here’s what happened: Tiana, age 7, sometimes wears her hair styled in short, skinny dreadlocks. The school told her she didn’t look “presentable.” She cried on camera about it. The parents chose to take her out of the school and send her to a different neighborhood school, where there is no policy against dreads.

Of course, as the parent of a little 6-year-old black girl, I had some immediate knee-jerk reactions: “How dare they?!” “They must not know how difficult it can be to style black hair.” “That poor little girl!”

But here are the facts: the school is a charter school, which can set whatever policies it feels are best. The policies have been in place for a while, and parents have read them and are aware of them. According to comments from other readers, the school has mostly black students, as well as an “all-black” school board.

So that rules out racism, as well as school leaders not understanding what it’s like to style black hair. What this boils down to now is a parent knowing full well what the policies are (ludicrous as some seem to many of us, including me), ignoring them, and throwing his child to the wolves. When he sent his daughter to school in violation of the rules, he was the one who exposed her to school leadership telling her that she couldn’t wear that hairdo and it wasn’t “presentable.” His actions led to her crying.

Also to note: the school didn’t toss her out; her parents chose to withdraw her because of that hair policy.

Honestly, I don’t quite understand what the school board’s problem is with that particular way of styling hair; it seems neat and not “faddish” to me (a big “fro,” however, I can see as being faddish and more likely to attract attention and therefore distract from schoolwork). But the board must have some reasons for the decision they made. If Tiana’s parents disagreed with the policy, their first responsibility was to go discuss it with the board and even rally support to possibly have that particular part of the policy changed. Then, if the board still stood its ground, the parents would have had a decision to make: either follow the policy, disobey it, or leave the school. In this case, they just went straight to disobeying it.

Schools can be crazy, and school policies can seem completely random. And so many things about rules and school leadership can make ME crazy. But the only thing we as parents can do is to address the policies we disagree with with school leadership and try to make change. If the problems are bigger, we can address those with political leaders. We can then try to raise awareness in the community, in part by bringing the item to the attention of news outlets.

I think in this case, the parents went straight to disobedience of a policy and then whining to the media. I definitely understand their concerns, but they didn’t handle them well.

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Wedding 1

What to say about 20 years of happy married life? If it’s true that all happy families are alike, as Tolstoy put it, perhaps all happy marriages are alike and I have nothing to write about.

Perhaps I’ll write about what our marriage isn’t, to start. I hear so many people saying they are so lucky that they married their best friend. To be completely honest, I don’t know if my husband is my absolute bestie. Sure, I tell him pretty much everything, and we spend the most time together talking of anyone else in my life, but I think a couple of my female friends are still who I’d call my “best friends.”

I definitely don’t consider my husband my “soul mate.” There may very well be people out there who truly are married to their soul mates, and I guess I consider them lucky. But that’s not me.

My husband isn’t who I always dreamed of marrying, either. I didn’t picture myself with an Asian guy (I guess it never occurred to me); I suppose I assumed I’d end up with another Caucasian like myself, dirty blond, maybe, perhaps on the tall side, but not more than 6 feet. Maybe hazel or blue eyes. Nope, that didn’t happen either.

The person I did end up choosing to marry is 5-foot-8, Filipino, trim, good-looking but probably not someone who stops traffic. He has a laugh that cracks me up, and I love when he really smiles and it makes his eyes crinkle. I don’t get to catch this real smile in most photos because usually he strikes a funny pose (gah!), but when I do, I love to go back and look at the picture again and again. He has strong hands, very masculine.

I chose my husband not because I was hopelessly in love with him (though I definitely am in love with him, even 20 years later), but because I knew he would be a GOOD HUSBAND. After other dating experiences that disappointed me, I knew from dating Marce that he would do all he could to take care of me, to be kind to me, to try to do better when he did something that hurt or frustrated me. He was dedicated to being a husband, to someday being a father. He was excited for those roles. I had every confidence that he would always be there for me.

Twenty years later, I can say that I was right. He has worked hard to provide for our family, he has listened to my frustrations about all kinds of things and tried to do what he can to help, he has fully participated in taking care of our children (he changed diapers before I even did with our firstborn!).

We’ve had struggles; we’ve gone through trials. I’ve had moments, even days, where I’ve been angry at him. Our love story has sometimes been romantic enough for a movie; other times, it’s been laying low in the background as we’ve just gotten by, gotten through, raised our kids, tried to work, tried to sleep, tried to just make do. Some days I’ve disliked him a bit; most of the time, though, I’ve been reminded of just how much I do like him, for how fun he is, how laid-back, how pleasant to be around he is. He hasn’t made me laugh out loud a lot, but he’s made me smile far more times than I could possibly count. We’ve shared thoughts; we’ve completed sentences; we’ve understood each other well enough we haven’t had to say anything out loud. (At the same time, though, I’m flabbergasted by how he can somehow not hear and/or forget what I’ve told him three times or have absolutely no idea what I might like for a gift. Go figure.)

I don’t consider our married life any kind of fairy tale. Pretty much no part of our courtship was; the proposal left me wanting more (don’t get me started on that story). But we have shared a lovely 20 years and I expect many more in this life. Even better, I expect to spend eternity with him, because we believe that a marriage performed by the proper authority in our temples can truly last forever. (This short explanation from Mormon.org may be of help:)

Most people think of a marriage made in heaven as a rare occurrence in which both parties are deeply in love and highly compatible. We like to think that all our marriages are made in heaven. When a man and woman enters one of our holy temples to be married, they covenant (or promise) they will stay together forever—on earth and in heaven after they die, if they are faithful to each other and their promises to the Lord. A temple marriage doesn’t include phrases like, “Till death do you part” or “So long as you both shall live.” If we keep these promises, our children also become part of this heavenly promise—sealed to us forever. Read more about the importance of family at Mormon.org.

In short, it’s been an eventful 20 years. It’s not been easy, it hasn’t been a fairy tale; it’s been hard work. But I am grateful for every moment and for this good man who has been so good to me.

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MatchBook_logoSo Amazon (aka the Book Behemoth) has announced a plan to offer cheaper Kindle versions of physical books customers have already bought. Seems pretty fair. If I’ve already paid $15 or more for a hard copy of a book, for instance, it does seem only right that I should get the ebook version for a small fee, rather than paying the full Kindle price.

Only problem? Publishers and agents have to get on board. So far, Amazon says, “Over 10,000 books will already be available when Kindle MatchBook launches in October.” That sounds like a large number at first glance, but really, it’s a tiny amount compared to all the books that are out there, just even those published in the past couple of years. I’m sure the problem of getting all books (or a majority, at least from the big publishers) available for this great bundling offer is the desire for publishers and agents to have a chunk of that income, even though it will be fairly small (the Kindle versions offered this way will be $2.99 or less). That’s fair, too, sure. But given what I’ve read about how hard they’ve fought Amazon on all kinds of other ebook policies and pricing (and, sure, that’s only right, too, for them to have their fair share, and it’s not like Amazon isn’t a bit like the Wal-Mart of online book selling), sometimes seeming overly greedy themselves, I doubt it’s going to be anytime soon that they’ll come to an agreement that everyone can be happy with.

That’s a shame, though, because this is a fantastic idea. I know that even though I have a Kindle, I still enjoy having some books in hard copy format, and it can be tricky to choose how I want to spend my reading money (oh, if only I had an unlimited budget just for books!). If I knew I could spend an extra $2 or so and get both the hard copy and ebook, I’d be happy to do so. I do enjoy having well-loved books sitting physically on my bookshelf, but being able to have them on my Kindle if I feel like reading them again when I’m “out and about” is also wonderful. The Kindle has some great advantages, as I’ve already written, and I’m not too much of a purist to spurn it.

OK, publishers and agents: get on board with this bundling plan, and do it fast.

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I wrote recently about dreams and that sometimes it’s just impossible to reach certain dreams and goals. Well, that’s tied in to other conclusions I have drawn about my own life. I’m in my 40s now and still have plenty of good years ahead, very likely, but I’m not 20 anymore. And I’m really generally OK with that: more than OK, really — I’m happy with where I am and wouldn’t want to go back to those early years of adulthood.

I love to write, and I love to read. I’ve always wanted to have a book published, and when I was in my late 20s, I wrote a memoir that was just a series of vignettes about my experiences raising my first child. (Now she’s a senior in high school, a stage in life I never could imagine in those long, early days.) I worked on it and worked on it, and I wrote dozens of revisions of query letters and mailed out hundreds to agents and some publishers. I kept all those rejection letters in a file folder and just went through them again, more than 10 years later. I don’t think I’m ready to toss them all. They’re somehow a reminder of the work I put into this goal, and how dedicated I was to achieving it.

Even so, I never acquired an agent or got a traditional publisher to take on the work of publishing my magnum opus. Not too surprising; getting memoirs published is nearly impossible. So, after a few years, I decided to self-publish. I really did my homework and made my product the best it could be without completely breaking the bank. I found a printer and had 2,000 copies printed. The day they were delivered, I had 20 white boxes full of my pretty pink books sitting in my living room, a testament to my optimism and, probably, stubbornness.

bye-bye booksI sold 200. And through two moves, one all the way across the country, I have kept all those remaining boxes. But now I am ready to get rid of most of them. I accept I’ll never sell them. I don’t think they’re my best work anymore. I’ve evolved as a writer. And they might just be too cutesy for most people. So, all these years later, some are being donated to the local book sale, and the rest are going to the recycling bin.

I realized a while ago I’m probably not meant for fiction, either, though it is easier to get published (I’ve tried writing some and I like the results even less than I like my memoir now). I think I’m too much of a journalist after all these years to write stuff completely out of thin air. So, nonfiction seemed still the best way to go. I thought that I’d develop my series of articles about plastic surgery in Utah into a faith-based book on self-image and beauty. I worked on it for a year. I sent it in to a good publisher for our faith community. Two months ago, my chapters were rejected. The company wants to publish a book on that topic, but my manuscript isn’t quite the right fit.

I’ve also now decided it’s time to put that book on the shelf for good. It was a good experience and I learned a lot from it, but I’m done with it. I feel it’s time to move on.

It’s time for me to focus on what I’m truly good at, and that’s editing and helping other people with their writing. I’ve been editing for newspapers for years, and I can say with all honesty that I’m very good at it. More than that: I’m excellent, really talented. I’ve always wanted to get into editing manuscripts for book publishers, and it seems I now have an opportunity to get a foot in the door for that goal as well. So I’m going to take it, go for it, put my time and efforts into that. I’m ready to move forward.

That means I’m closing the door on the book writing, at least for now. New doors may be opening, and I have to close the doors on the old stuff behind me first. I only have so much time and energy for career-oriented goals in my life, so I have to focus on the real opportunities and let go of the old dreams. Besides, this is a dream, too, just a different one. Watch me turn the knob to see where this door takes me.

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