Monday, February 17, 2014

Proudly New Mexican

Having just opened my own practice, I have been slowly and carefully helping design the new web site. Today I told someone that I wanted one header in the "About" section to read "Proudly New Mexican!" He seemed bewildered. Skeptical. Perplexed. Then it hit me. He isn't from here.

Like 99% of New Mexican youth, when I was in high school I swore I'd move away someday. Then, I received a too good to be true scholarship offer to run college track and participate in a neat academic program at the university here in my hometown. So I stayed. I proudly wore the Lobo uniform, I lived in those "classic" campus dorms and I went to the Frontier after late night parties (where I inevitably ran into my parents, my parents' friends, one of my former elementary school teachers or any number of other acquaintances who also happened to be out late). Things like that happen in a town like this.

I did move away eventually, to Colorado for four years and to Canada for five. Those were glorious, wonderful years and I made great friends and acquired a veterinary degree and two children while "abroad". However, like about 99% of New Mexicans, I soon found myself moving back to what so many of us called "The Land of Entrapment". Maybe entrapped but I also had a new appreciation for my home state.

My oldest daughter takes dance class at the same studio where I danced as a child, with the same teachers who still remembered me after 20-something years. My kids' pediatricians are the same doctors who took care of me as a child. Our dentist has cleaned my pearly whites since I was in high school and his son was a classmate of mine. My kids attend preschool with my college roommate's child. The daughter of one of my mom's best friends is the director of admission at our daughter's elementary school (confused yet?). And that's just the way it is here. Six degrees of separation? Nope, maybe two.

When you walk into a store and a lady old enough to be your mom or grandma calls you "Mija", you know you're in good hands. Because, while you may not actually be her hija, you might as well be because you'll find out that she knows half the people in your family if you stay long enough to chat.

If you know who Zozobra is and if you aren't alarmed by the burning of a giant, moaning puppet in Santa Fe every fall, you're truly New Mexican. If you read "Bless Me, Ultima" in school (and then read it again in Spanish class, "Bendiceme, Ultima"), you're New Mexican. If you visited the Candy Lady as a kid and curiously peeked in at the adult confections, you're definitely New Mexican.  If you fill brown paper bags with sand and a lit candle at Christmas time, there's only one place you can be. And if you know why people call it the "505" (or, even better, if you have those numbers tattooed on you), you're probably New Mexican.

When someone owes you money and promises to come back the following day to pay and you know that they will, likely with a batch of homemade biscochitos in hand as interest, you're New Mexican. And when you know that if, by chance, they don't come back to pay that you'll run into them or your parents will know their parents, you're in the Land of Enchantment. When you've grown up hearing the legend of La Llorona and when you're a tiny bit scared of the ditches because of it, you're a born and raised New Mexican. And, of course, all of you New Mexicans know that if someone asks "Red or green?" they're not enquiring about which of the Christmas colors you prefer but rather what kind of chile you want on your food.

If you're not from here but if you've made it your home, we'll gladly bestow upon you honorary New Mexican status as long as you don't slag our state and as long as you make positive contributions during your stay.
There's no denying it. I'm proudly, shamelessly New Mexican. And if none of that made a word of sense to you, come visit. We'll show you a good time.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Featuring Our Fam

I just realized that, with everything going on over here, I haven't shared our most recent family photos taken by the lovely Jayme at Jayme Charissa Photography. What better day to share them than on the holiday celebrating one of my heroes?
“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”- Martin Luther King, Jr.

We're so thankful that your vision is now a reality, Dr. King!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

BFF Parenting

There's something I've noticed. I see it at play groups when parents defend their child's behavior instead of correcting it. I've heard it in conversations with other mothers who fear that their teenagers will be upset with them if they discipline. It's evident at sports practices where parents line up to talk to the coach, making the case for why their child should get more time on the field or move up a level or be one of the starters.

I've started to term this phenomenon BFF (a term my girls use, standing for "Best Friends Forever") Parenting. Parents who want, above all else, for their kids to like them. Parents who fear angering or upsetting their child. Parents who put their child's wants, demands and short-term feelings ahead of lifelong lessons and morals.

Recently this blog post has been shared around the motherhood circles. It's well-written and thought provoking and, after reading it, I sat and gathered my thoughts for a long time. I agree wholeheartedly that a child not old enough to know better should never be shamed. Ridiculing a preschooler who poops in the bathtub or mocking a child who spills their drink is just not okay. However, when it comes to older children and more serious offenses, who am I to judge another parent? Who am I to decide if it's more appropriate to quietly and privately ground a teenager who snuck out or to tell her friends and their parents that she was disobedient and that she will be unavailable for a few weeks? Who am I to know and judge if it's better to try and "shame" a child into learning from their poor judgement or to risk even more severe, long-lasting consequences (like jail) if that child is not held accountable in a big, memorable way?

I do know this- abusing a child as a form of discipline is never, ever okay. Regardless of how you feel about spanking, I think most social workers and law enforcement and other professionals would agree that anything more than a swat on the bottom could be crossing the line.

I also know this. In the age of social media, we do have to be thoughtful about what we post and the long-term effects of the photographs and messages that we share with the world. Post a public picture of your son wearing a sign that he smoked pot and got caught? How would you feel if a college admission committee or prospective employer found that photo some day and denied admission or didn't offer a job as a result? Asking for parenting advice on a private Facebook page among a group of friends or sharing a photo that is unlikely to effect your child's long-term self esteem, college or job future (such as fighting siblings stuffed in the "get along shirt") is one thing. Sharing something that could be considered a criminal offense or a lifelong scarlet letter is a different story.

But when it comes to the discipline "method" that works best for each family and each child, there is no one size fits all protocol. There is no rulebook. If there's anything I've learned as a mother of five children, it's that you have to learn and modify as you go. And you have to try and figure out what makes your child tick and what makes them take notice. Several of my children are people pleasers. They would be horrified if I told them that I was disappointed in them and they would be devastated if their teachers or friends or other adults knew their transgressions. And then we have one child who has made us totally re-think our parenting philosophy, who has made us realize that we better step up and parent firmly and definitively NOW or that we're likely to regret it later. For this particular child, small consequences and warnings don't work. This child helps me understand why some parents might feel the need to stand their child on a street corner with a sign around their neck. Sometimes that message that we, the parents, as well as many others in society find a particular behavior unacceptable is the only way to make it hit home.

Last week one of our children who was untruthful had to move a small pile of bricks from one side of our yard to another. You know what? After a few hours of brick-moving, the truth came pouring out. I know that some parents, probably even some of our friends, would disagree with our parenting methods. However, I think it's a shame when we are so concerned about being BFFs with our children and about their immediate feelings and about being politically correct that we miss a learning opportunity, when we fail to teach them that there are and always will be consequences for poor behavior and bad attitudes. I'll even argue that we're doing our kids an injustice by fighting their battles for them, by trying to catch them every time they fall and by trying to soften the blow when consequences occur.

My kids might not like me at this very moment (actually I think they do, though, if the kindergarten notes scrawled with "I love you mommy", the piles of preschool artwork, the jewelry handmade by our teen and the baby who runs up with open arms and a toothy smile as soon as I walk in the door serve as any kind of indication) but I'm not here to be "liked" by my kids. I'm not here to be their pal. I have plenty of girlfriends my own age. My job is to guide them, to teach them, to show them and to do it all over again until they are able to make responsible decisions on their own. I am not here to keep them from falling- I am here to help dust them off and to encourage them to get up and try again when they do fall. I'm not here to fight their battles for them. I'm here to help equip them with the skills and tools to do it on their own. And I'm not in a popularity contest. I'm here to help shape the character of my children and to help instill values that will serve them the rest of their lives. If my own relationship with my mother serves as any indication, some day they'll be grateful. And maybe, someday when they're adults, we'll end up being BFFs.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Straight Talk About International Adoption: Fraud, Lies and Deception

There are many, many children around the world who need forever families. There are also thousands of children who have been placed for adoption who not only have a biological family but who were previously loved and appropriately cared for by that biological family.

If you find that surprising, you're not alone. I was shocked, horrified and appalled when I first heard stories about children being internationally adopted who weren't truly "orphans" and who had loving parents who were willing and able to care for them. But I figured that these cases must be the exceptions, the rare accidents or the horrible mistakes. Sadly, that's not the case. Whether it be Guatemala or Ethiopia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo or China or Uganda or any country where vulnerable children are placed for international adoption, there are startling numbers of cases of child trafficking.

Child trafficking. That sounds horrible, like something from a scary suspense film, doesn't it? But for those of us who have spent any amount of time in the adoption world, it is happening right before our eyes, every single day. Honest, caring, (usually) well-meaning prospective adoptive families unintentionally aid in child trafficking.

Why does this happen? Because adoption is a business opportunity. It is a business opportunity for "child finders", it is a business opportunity for adoption agencies (though there are many agencies doing upstanding and  honorable work), it is a business opportunity for adoption attorneys and it is a business opportunity for many supposedly non-profit orphanages. And, as any businessman knows, when there is money to be made and people willing to spend the money, business deals happen.

Then why, you ask, would any parent or caregiver who is able to care for a child ever agree to put them up for international adoption? Again, because of the bottom line. Money. If someone living paycheck to paycheck is promised money in exchange for the adoption of their child, it may be very, very tempting. Or, even worse, they may be convinced (and will end up believing) that by allowing their child to be internationally adopted that another family will provide a better future for them. Imagine if a very rich man in a nice suit and big fancy car drove into one the poorest inner city neighborhoods in the US and promised to provide every opportunity a child ever wanted including a fully paid college education if the mother was willing to give up that child. Think a few struggling families who truly wanted the best for their children wouldn't be tempted?

The kids who are the most "desirable" in the eyes of many adoptive families? They younger and healthier the better. Think a child in that referral photo looks a bit old to be 10? Well, it's probably because they're really 14. Think it's odd that a 5 year old has breast buds? She's probably actually 10 and they have "adjusted" her age to make her more appealing to potential adoptive families. Let me repeat. For many, adoption is a business opportunity. And if there is a demand for more of something, in this case younger children, it is in the best interest to keep the customers, or those bringing in the business, satisfied, even if it means changing, altering or falsifying documents, birth dates and identifying information.

And that story about how both parents died and this child is alone in the world? Don't believe everything you hear. Ask questions. Interview. Read a child's file. If the story doesn't make sense, stop and ask more questions. It's worth it to find out the truth. Unfortunately, "finding" so-called orphans who meet the specifications of an adoptive family is all too common and more and more adoptive families are finding out, often years later, that their child had a loving biological family that they clearly remember and still deeply love. An adoptive family can provide as much food, shelter, safety, love, opportunities and material objects but, if that child's history is not accurate, they may have a very difficult time ever grafting in to their new family.

I don't tell you this to discourage international adoption. Our family has been incredibly blessed by our children who joined us through adoption and I hope and pray that we can adopt again someday.  I don't tell you this to frighten you. I say it in hopes that you will go in with eyes wide open, ready to ask hard questions and to walk away if you suspect a child is being trafficked.

There really are children who need families! However, many of the true orphans and legitimately adoptable children are older, have special needs, are part of sibling groups or have other considerations (and, even in those cases, don't assume anything- you still need to do your legwork and ask the hard questions!). If you are considering international adoption, your best bet is to go into the process with your eyes, and the criteria for the child you may be willing to accept as a referral, as wide open as possible.

If you found that you'd accidentally grabbed someone else's purse and taken it home with you, you'd take the proper steps to ensure that it was returned. If you were given a shirt that was too big or too small, you'd take it back and exchange it for the right size. You can't do that with a child. If you discover that "your" child has a loving family who never wanted them to be adopted (or who didn't understand the concept of adoption or who thought it was short-term), what will you do? If you find out that your child has a family, maybe even siblings, that they've left behind and that you never knew existed, how would you feel? And if you learned that the child you thought was a preschooler is really almost a preteen or the child you thought was a young teenager is actually a legal adult, where would that leave you? Before you proceed with an international adoption, this all needs to be considered. With most international adoptions there are no do-overs so we absolutely must do our best to get it right. For our sake and for the sake of the children.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Party Hardy

It was a wild night around here. We even have people (and a dog) passed out on our couches! 
Who says the fun stops when you have kids?

Happy New Year! Wishing you the best in 2014!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

When You've Given Up on Christmas

Christmas may be one of the most difficult days to be single, lonely, far from home, financially stressed, childless, grieved or otherwise burdened. A day that is meant to be about new beginnings, new life and new hope is, for many, a day when losses incurred here on this Earth overshadow the birth of our Lord. How can you find joy in Christmas when you don't have food to eat or gifts to bestow upon friends and family? Or after a beloved family member has been diagnosed with a terminal illness? Or if you don't have any traditions or any family to celebrate with?

As friends and family members post photos of their Christmas celebrations, the pile of loot under the tree, pictures of well-dressed children and selfies in their Sunday best, I can't help but remember a time when I wondered if I'd ever find that special husband to help make the holiday even more memorable. I remember our struggles through infertility and doubting that I'd ever be that blessed momma with a house full of pajama-clad children on Christmas morning. I remember Christmas celebrations when my heart still ached after a recent miscarriage. I remember the Christmas during our adoption process when two of our children weren't yet "home" and how I longed for our family to be together under one roof. I remember holidays spent away from home when I was in graduate school. I remember holidays spent working. I remember holidays spent awaiting lab results for a sick child, hoping the lack of a call didn't equate with hard news.

If you've given up on Christmas, if you dread the holidays, if it's something to get through instead of a time to treasure, know that you are not alone. Find someone to celebrate with. Start your own traditions. Let yourself be merry, even for a few minutes. Stay focused on what Christmas is really about and don't give up.

After all, our God is in the business of miracles. Just look at this wild crew.
Merry Christmas from our family to you. We wish you peace, joy and lots of love this holiday season.

Photo courtesy of Jayme Charissa Photography

Friday, December 20, 2013

Mommy Wars and Life Too Comfortable

Breast verses bottle.
Circumcise or not?
The vaccine debate.
Where babies should sleep.
To spank or not to spank?
Whether to "do" Santa or not.
Appropriate attire for little girls.
Our views (and what we teach our children) about homosexuality. 
And on and on and on...

Whether it's a debate based on scientific fact, religious text or just a matter of personal opinion, there certainly isn't a shortage of topics when it comes to "mommy wars". Just mention any of the topics listed above and wait for your Facebook or Twitter feed to light up, for someone to get their feelings hurt and for the conversation to get heated.

It is great that we live in a world where we have the time to debate, watch television, spend time tapping away on our computers and pondering and stewing over the latest hot topic. It really is. However, I must say it. Mommy wars are a sign of life too comfortable.

When our firstborn was an infant, she fussed and cried for hours at a time. Sometimes she even cried so hard that her little face turned blue. We spent hours walking up and down the stairs with her. We tried nursing more often and in different positions. We tried bottles to reduce gas. We tried formula. During those difficult months did I care if she was breastfed or bottle fed? No, I just wanted a baby who was comfortable (and I wanted to sleep!).

When I went back to work full-time (with five kids at home, four of them age five and under), I noticed something. My constant stream of opinions about anything and everything, my blogging, my Facebook commenting, heck, even my opportunity to read the news and watch TV essentially stopped. Now, that's not necessarily a good thing. There is nothing wrong with being connected and informed. But I was in survival mode. I was trying to find time to eat, sleep and love on my husband and kids so all of the debating and drama seemed unnecessary and distracting.

What about the mom who is working three jobs to try and feed her children and pay her rent? You think she cares if her kids receive a gift from Santa or not? Chances are she's going to be happy if she can give them a gift on Christmas morning from anyone- from her, from "Santa", from a generous local charity. What about that mom who has a premature infant in neonatal intensive care? You think she is up for a debate about circumcision or are her priorities and focus elsewhere? What about that young mother who is battling cancer or the family who just tragically lost their husband/dad in an accident? Do they care about what some TV character said? Or are they just trying to put one foot in front of the other?

Mommy friends, it's time for us to wake up. It's great that we are all so opinionated. There is nothing wrong with passionate, strong women who can engage in an intelligent discussion. But if our new hobby has become critiquing this and debating that and judging this, it's time to stop. We are living life too comfortable. Use those passions to help a local charity. Volunteer in a classroom or at a hospital. Write a book. Pick up a new hobby. Have another baby or start the process to adopt. Run for office in a local election. Travel to a developing country and use these hands we have as tools for change. Start a book club.  Move, do, see, act, help, go!

Live in survival mode for just a little, short while. Make yourself a little bit uncomfortable. And then reassess what really matters and what doesn't. Use the fact that we are able to live life too comfortable for good and for the benefit of this world we live in, not for building walls between one another.