An imperfect social experiment on Facebook*

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A fantastic piece about white privilege – 10 likes

A post about the shooting of Alton Sterling – 14 likes

A post about the shooting of Philandro Castile – 33 likes

A silly post about having a hotdog and wine on Friday night – 41 likes

A post about not shooting black people, police officers, or school children – 56 likes

A picture from Miss E’s 5th birthday party – 140 likes

* Not an actual experiment – just something I noticed. And by “likes,” I mean any sort of interaction.

I know that Facebook likes aren’t illustrative of society, by any means. I know that people have different standards of what they want to see and interact with on Facebook, and Facebook algorithms don’t always show you people’s posts, blah blah blah, but these stats speak volumes to me. They speak to me about the collective versus the personal. The depth some people care about issues that may not directly impact their lives.

[Edited to add this paragraph: I will be the first to admit that I did not know enough about oppression before I started preparing to parent a child of color. In my white bubble, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Now I try to share what I’m learning with people who I think will care because they care about me or my kid, and the indifference (or worse, outright racism) surprises me. I guess it shouldn’t.]

But, it’s disheartening to me.

And again I wonder, as I wrote after Ferguson, almost two years ago:

When does the transition start? When will she go from a person that people smile at because she’s little and cute and vibrant and funny to a person that (some) (white) people ignore, or look down on, or fear?

(I know that she already faces systemic racism and had her first personal racist encounter in a gas station as a baby. But, in general, people still grin when they see her.)

I’ll probably write more about last week when I’ve had more time to sort through my thoughts. But honestly? My words aren’t that important right now. If you don’t already, do me a favor, go read something from a person of color. Find a blog, read something by by Ta-Nehisi Coates, actually visit the Black Lives Matter website, visit a news site like The Root or Colorlines, listen to Code Switch or TWiB.

#BlackLivesMatter

Bookadoodledoo: Q2

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I’m running behind for my 50-book goal this year, but I continue to focus on reading quality books this time. It’s paying off!

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (5 stars) (audio) – By the author of the excellent Devil and the White City, this novel recounts the sinking of the Lusitania during WWI from the alternating points of view of the ship’s passengers, the German U-Boat, and the White House. I knew very little about this disaster and found myself loudly exhaling at the end of every chapter because I’d been holding my breath. So stressful. So good.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming (5 stars) (audio) – Alan Cumming is an actor but not one I was terribly familiar with; however, reviews of this book are stellar so I read it anyway. Flashbacks of his boyhood – emotionally abused by his father – paired with stories of his current celebrity and the filming of the ancestry-researching show Who Do You Think You Are made for a poignant, self-deprecatory, unflinching, funny, and utterly gripping memoir.

Redeployment by Phil Klay (3 stars) (audio) – This book of short stories won the 2014 National Book Award. Each story – focused in some respect on individuals involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – had a striking authenticity (which makes sense as Klay is a vet himself). But, the short story medium didn’t do it for me. Part of the problem, I suspect, was the audiobook’s single narrator. He was a talented performer, but one voice made the characters blend together for me, which ultimately made for less compelling storytelling.

Harry Potter #1 – #3 by J.K. Rowling (4 stars, 3 stars, 5 stars) – I only read the series once so I decided to add a frivolous summer reading project to the agenda. I wanted to experience the thrill of having insider’s knowledge but it turns out that, due to the intervening years, I remember only the broadest of plot points. Oh well – it’s still fun!

Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children with Severe Behaviors, Volume 1 by Heather Forbes (3 stars) – What a mouthful. This book is highly recommended in adoptive parent circles, but I mostly found it obnoxious. The examples, while taken from real families, were so dramatic as to be unbelievable or unhelpful. I did learn one thing about the amygdala that helped me understand why Miss E is on high alert all the time, so it was a worthwhile read.

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (4 stars) – A screwed up thirtysomething man sits shiva for his deceased father with his equally screwed up siblings and wildly inappropriate mother. Way funnier than a sad book should be, or way sadder than a funny book should be – I’m not sure which. (Warnings for infertility, loss, and divorce feelz.)

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (3 stars) – The intersecting lives of several Latin American immigrant families who reside in the same apartment building in Delaware. Told from multiple points of view, two families stand out, those of an awkward teen boy and a brain-injured teen girl.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy (3 stars) – Young adult end-of-the-world by way of aliens novel. Entertaining enough to read more in the series, but not life-changing.

What have you been reading?

The system: part 2

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So we left off here.

It’s May. I write this blog post detailing all the back-and-forth it took to inquire about a girl in foster care in county-next-door who was featured online as needing a pre-adoptive home. A friend shares my post with a contact at the state who is involved in foster parent recruitment and retention. The contact is frustrated by the situation and grateful for my detailed post. She offers to help. I take her up on that offer with the caveat that we’ve been trying very hard not to alienate the caseworker.

A call is made to the caseworker. The caseworker calls me a few days later – for the first time, I might add – and is angry and defensive. “My notes show that we were in a lot of contact, so I’m a little perplexed,” she says. Only because I was frequently contacting YOU, I think. “My concern wasn’t the lack of contact,” I say, trying to smooth things over. I explain about the blog post, sounding completely ridiculous, and assure her that it was never intended to be lodged as a complaint against her. Even though I think the situation here is complaint-worthy, I think. “It was intended as a glimpse of the system from a prospective parent’s point of view. But it did take a lot of back-and-forth to get this far, and The Girl has been waiting,” I wrap up feebly. “Of course I care about that! That’s why I got into this field,” she responds, sounding wounded.

“While I’ve got you on the line, I wanted to ask a question – your county told me that you were *on hold* which was news to me… could you shed some light on that?” she asks, barely masking the accusation that we are hiding something nefarious. We already talked about this back in March, I think. “Sure,” I say, “We became licensed in December and I got a new job in January so we asked not to be called for a child while I settled into my job. We’re ready to go now, but we’ve been waiting to find out about The Girl first.”

“OK. Well, there’s been a loooooot of interest in her.” Then why’s it taking so long to find her a family, I wonder? “The team will be meeting soon to review the homestudies and make a decision.” So you still haven’t read the homestudy I worked so hard to get to you, cool. “Is there anything else I can answer for you at this time?” “Do you have a timeframe when you expect the meeting to happen?” “No, but it will be soon. I can email you and tell you when it will occur?” “That would be great.” I hate that I don’t handle the situation more assertively but I feel like I have to be obsequious because we want this woman to choose us, and she’s not going to choose us if I’ve further alienated her.

They take The Girl’s profile off the website about an hour after my phone call.

It’s June. Miss E says, “Hey, May is over and my sister is still not here!” “Well, we are still waiting to find out whether she will be your sister. She might not be. You might have a different sister.” Or no sister, I think.

Almost five weeks have gone by since that phone call. I’m weighing whether to contact the caseworker again. I don’t want bad news. I don’t want no news. I would have heard already if it were good news. I decide to wait more.

And then  an email comes through. “I wanted to update you on The Girl.” My heart is pounding. “Our team is exploring some out-of-state birth family options for her, so consideration of all non-relative families is on hold at this time.”

Oh.

That’s great if there are birth family options available to her. I really mean that. I’ve done enough reading on adoption to be all-in on the idea of keeping relatives together when feasible.

But shit. This girl was featured online for six months – her picture, a few details about her, a video of her. Some very personal information about her was shared privately with me and presumably others who were interested in adopting her. Maybe there’s a reason the team didn’t know about these birth family members before. Or maybe they’re just now getting around to exploring options that could have been explored months ago. (Before she was featured online.) (Before we spent four months trying to prove we were worthy of adopting her.) I’ll never know.

And the girl still waits…

Code Switch

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I was nerdily excited last week to discover that NPR’s Code Switch debuted a podcast. Nerdily excited enough to think, “I should blog about this every week!” And I listened to the first episode and failed to write about it for a week and now the second episode has come out. ANYWAY. I am still inspired.

Code Switch already existed on NPR and covered race and identity (and hosts fascinating conversations on Twitter too), and the first episode of the podcast focuses on whiteness – how do we define whiteness? And why is it so hard to talk about? Being white, I am particularly well-suited to blog about this one (ha). To borrow a phrase from the episode, your perspective might depend on where you are “on your respective trajectory toward wokeness.” As a transracial adoptive parent who considers it my job to immerse myself in “race stuff” nowadays, I’m on a trajectory that my prior small-town-practically-all-white-high-school self barely knew existed. And though I’m woke enough to know what woke is, let’s be real, I’m probably not all that woke yet. It’s a trajectory, okay?

So my prior small-town-practically-all-white-high-school self would have defined whiteness as “default.” And I suspect that’s a definition a lot of white people would adopt. It’s a hard mentality to shake myself free of even now. In the spirit of honesty, I’m one of those people who, reading Hunger Games, completely forgot that Rue was black as soon as I finished reading about how she was black. I mentally replaced her with a twin of Prim and would never have realized I’d even done that if people (white people, duh) hadn’t raised a ruckus about her casting in the movie. (I was certainly not one of the people who objected to the casting, I hasten to add.) Another example: for one of our adoption education classes before Miss E arrived, our homework was to bring in something that represented a tradition from our culture and present it to the class. I struggled. I thought, “I don’t have a culture, I’m just white.” (I am also mostly German so being a good (former) Lutheran, I ended up bringing my Luther’s catechism.)

Code Switch next had a great discussion of white privilege and how two college professors teach that concept to (mostly white) classes, but that’s more than I can tackle in one blog post, so I’ll move on to the second question – why is it so hard to talk about whiteness, especially for white people?

Near the end of the episode, they summarized:

“I think we learned that it’s very hard to talk about whiteness. And, obviously, it’s hard when you have the tools in your toolbox. But it’s doubly difficult if you’re trying to strike up a conversation with other people who don’t have those tools. And you may have them, as a white person, to talk about whiteness. … It’s something that [two white males interviewed in the episode] both mentioned, which was when you’re talking to a bunch of white people and you have done the research and you’ve done the reading and they haven’t, it’s almost impossible to have that conversation in a way that works.”

That is an experience that I find myself having more and more often. I used to not talk about race either but now that I do (and have some tools to do so), I feel like temperament and vocabulary get in the way. A white person has to reach a sort of base level of openness or motivation to even learn, I guess, the basics about talking about race. It’s hard to gently prod a white person to an understanding that they’re experiencing white fragility when they’ve never heard of white fragility and are seething that you’re calling them racist and undeserving of their lot in life. Which, by the way, you were not calling them when you pointed out something that should have been benign and uncontroversial about white supremacy. (See, even that term, white supremacy means something other than hooded racists, but a white person who hasn’t yet spent much time reading about race isn’t going to just know that. I didn’t just know that until I spent the last two or three years quietly observing Black Twitter.)

Complicating matters, these sorts of white person-to-white person conversations about race are usually happening on Facebook where every one of your cousin’s bro friends (hypothetically speaking, cough cough) is jumping in to call you and Obama the real racists for bringing up race. Not the most productive forum. I hide a lot of people.

So… how do you define whiteness? And is it hard to talk about? (And did you assume that I assumed you were white when I asked those questions? Because previously I would have assumed that, absent evidence to the contrary. I don’t anymore.)

 

Dare I say progress?

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Quick recap:

3 feeding evaluations and one occupational therapy evaluation

Weekly feeding therapy for 25 months

Weekly behavioral therapy focused on feeding for 6 months

Occupational therapy 3 times a week for 4 months

And now I have declared it a long-overdue therapy-free summer! (Well, actually we still go to one therapy but who’s counting?)

I get pushback, sometimes, from other people with kids. Apparently I plummet in cool mom points by caring about my child’s health and acknowledging that yes, I really do know adults who still only eat ten things and I’d prefer that she not join their ranks if it can be avoided. (Also, as an international adoptee, she had a different start to life nutrition-wise than many other kids which hey I think is relevant!) And could she grow out of it on her own? Well, maybe. But she also has the oral motor skills of a 9-10 month old at age almost-five, so it’s not like she could just snarf down a hamburger if she was suddenly inspired.

So, yes, therapy is actually valuable. Just in the last two months, she’s suddenly exploded in her abilities with food… with the caveat that we measure progress differently than most people. She can sit in her chair and not involuntarily turn her entire body away when, say, a strawberry is put near her. She can eat a broken cracker (if it’s one of the five types of crackers she eats). She can poke a pear with a toothpick. She can put icing on a cake and not cry if she gets some on her finger. She can lick things HEAVENS TO BETSY SHE CAN LICK THINGS. She’s licked a blueberry, a strawberry, a raspberry, a grape, an apple, a carrot, broccoli, a cracker with peanut butter on it, an M&M, a Skittle, a marshmallow. She can put teeth marks in an apple and a carrot. She put a whole blueberry in her mouth and then spit it back out again. She could not have done any of that six months ago. Heck, I’m not sure she could have done it three months ago.

I mean, she’s still not eating any of it. BUT! A corner has been turned, and I am so proud of her. And I’m feeling a little smug about the naysayers.

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Seeds

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Nowadays, many articles come across my newsfeeds about parenting. Much of it is noise—do this, don’t do that, you’re ruining your child forever, blah blah blah. I read some, I ignore others, and sometimes I come across something that really resonates. Two posts struck a chord with me recently. One was about teaching kindness – both modeling it and being explicit about how to be kind. The other was about teaching grit – encouraging kids to value the process more than the outcome (praising hard work versus praising being innately smart).

And, as it so happens, I had the opportunity to practice both of these concepts shortly after reading the articles.

Kindness

Miss E idolizes a girl at school. This girl, Girl One, can be sweet but even at age four, she’s already developed the fine art of creating a clique and using it to exclude others. Another girl, Girl Two, idolizes Miss E the same way that Miss E idolizes Girl One. Girl Two runs up as soon as we arrive every day, and she cries if we leave before she does at the end of the day. Once after school, Miss E announced to me that “we don’t like Girl Two.” A few questions later, and I established that Girl One told Girl Two that she didn’t like her and excluded her on the playground. And my sweet little Miss E went along with it.

This will not do. We had a talk about empathy (“Think about how someone else is feeling.” Thank you again, Daniel Tiger!). I suggested that Girl Two probably felt sad when she was excluded and reminded Miss E that she could be friends with more than one person at a time.

A few weeks after that conversation, Miss E again tells me that Girl One told Girl Two that she didn’t like her and tried to exclude her on the playground. This time, my sweet little Miss E told Girl One that she liked Girl Two and that everyone could play together. And then they did! I have no expectation this will be so easy in, say, sixth grade when girls really start to get mean, but I felt gratified to have planted a seed that sprouted.

Grit

Earlier this week, Miss E announced during dinner that Girl Three, a bona fide member of The Clique of Girl One, was laughing at Miss E that day and it hurt Miss E’s feelings. (First I checked to make sure it wasn’t racial in nature – thank you transracial adoptees for teaching white parents that racial aggressions among peers start as early as preschool and kids of color aren’t necessarily running home to tell their white parents. This incident didn’t seem to be racial, so we moved on.) “She was laughing at me because I was working on a really hard puzzle.” We talked about how that made her feel, and then later it occurred to me – I missed the perfect opportunity to talk about grit!

So I brought it up again. “I was thinking about earlier when you said that Girl Three was making fun of you for doing a really hard puzzle, and I wanted to tell you that I am very proud of you for doing something that is hard because that’s how we learn new things and learning new things is very important.” Later that night, she repeated what I said to her daddy – another seed planted!

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What self-improvement or parenting topics resonate most with you?

#MicroblogMonday: The Sound of Silence

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“A 2013 study on mice … used different types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.”

This fascinating article has been on my mind. I could use more silence in my life!

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The system

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It’s February. We see a girl from our state on a foster-adoption photolisting site. They need to find a family willing to adopt her. We know someone who works for the photolisting agency. We email the person to find out what county the girl is in. Not the county we’re foster certified in – she’s in the county next door. Person writes us back to encourage us to officially inquire anyway. She knows us and our daughter – she thinks we’d be a good fit. She also calls girl’s caseworker to tell her we’d be a good fit too. But there will be bureaucracy, she warns us. The counties don’t work easily together. We fill out an inquiry form that evening. Radio silence for two weeks.

It’s March. Caseworker emails and gives a few more details about girl’s situation and asks if we’re still interested. Minutes later, we write back and say we are. We get no response. We wait five more days and then I call caseworker. She says, “Oh I saw your email but didn’t read it yet.” I talk to her and express interest. The conversation goes really well. She repeats the warning that being licensed in county-next-door might be a problem but she’s willing to try to overcome it. She says she can call our county and see if they’ll share our homestudy. She asks me to call her back in a week to follow up.

I wait a week and call her back. She hasn’t called our county yet. She seems to barely remember me from the call the week before. She asks me again to call her back in a week. I call her back in a week. She still hasn’t called our county but promises to call the next day. This time, she does. But she has to leave a message.

It’s April. Her message wasn’t returned by our county so I email someone at our county directly. She is willing to help me! She calls me the next day to ask why we’re interested in this particular girl. She has to discuss it with her supervisor. She tells me she’ll call me back in two days. I wait three days and email her. The supervisor has agreed to share our homestudy. Miracle of miracles! She tells me she’ll drop it in the mail that afternoon.

I call the caseworker and leave her a voicemail advising her to watch for it. I don’t hear back. I email her again three days later but she hasn’t seen it yet. I tell her I’ll follow up at the end of the week. I leave a voicemail. She emails back a few days later. Eleven days after it was mailed. She does not have it. I email my county to ask if they could email or fax it since it never arrived in the mail? They respond “oh we never mailed it. We sent an encrypted email to the caseworker instead.” I respond, well, she didn’t get it. Our county sends it again, unencrypted, but forgets to attach the document. Girl’s caseworker emails to tell me there was no attachment. I email my county, who promises to send it again the next day. I write back to both sides to make sure it was sent/received. I get confirmation that it was sent. The girl’s caseworker does not answer my email to confirm that it was received. I wait four days. I call caseworker to make sure she received it because the sender is about to go on medical leave. I leave caseworker a voicemail.

It’s May. Caseworker sends me an email. Yes, I got your homestudy. I haven’t read it yet. I’m waiting on some other families’ homestudies that I requested. In essence: don’t call me – I’ll call you. No timeframe given.

And the girl still waits…

[Updated to add: Part 2]

Authenticity

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I am a person that values straight-forwardness as a personality trait. I most enjoy working and socializing with people who can (tactfully) tell it like it is. For example, Mr T and I were friends and coworkers before we started dating. At one point, he sent me an email that said something like, “so, have we just been hanging out or dating?” I responded with something like, “I’m not sure. But I would be okay with dating?” And he was all, “Can I say something crazy? Will you marry me?” and I said “Yes!” Wait, no, that part was Frozen. (And I’m trying to eliminate ableist language, so thanks for that, Disney.) We actually dated a year or so before getting engaged. But I remember telling people at the time how easy it was with Mr T because there were no guessing games. We knew where we stood.

Everyone who uses social media has an online persona. That persona is constructed by the content shared and might differ across platforms, intentionally or not. Facebook, of course, is the favorite punching bag for people complaining of everyone else’s carefully constructed happy fake lives. This practice makes some people depressed, although it doesn’t bother me. I think we are socialized to compartmentalize and share information targeted to the expectations of our perceived audience. Facebook is where we, for the most part, put our happy, funny or sometimes ranty moments, or where we share things that we think are important. But most people are not soul-searching via Facebook status, though I had an acquaintance who I watched go from very religious to atheist and from married to divorced to poly through a series of contemplative Facebook posts. It struck me as odd, honestly, even though I would not have batted an eye if I read the same content on a blog.

I wouldn’t presume to speak for the authenticity or compartmentalization of others, but I’ve read many posts where the blogger assures us, the audience, that she has a life outside of infertility. Or that she is happier than it might appear from the topics on her blog. I also know from personal experience that people can jump to the wrong conclusions based on what you write – like when a person accused me of supporting unethical adoptions on the basis of one sentence in one post (nope) or when someone suggested that I stop worrying so much about things when I was just pondering them – no anxiety.

I am always honest, but I also compartmentalize. I write here fairly regularly about E’s feeding therapy, but I never mention it on Facebook. I post constantly about politics on Facebook and Twitter (yeah, I’m one of those people) but I rarely write about it here. Some things I don’t necessarily post anywhere for a variety of reasons – for instance, I’m not ready to talk about a potential adoption situation we’re currently exploring (!) and I would have found it too anxiety-inducing to write about my two recent breast lump adventures (both turned out fine). I think that I am honest in all forms of media that I use, but, then again, I also see the sum of my own parts. Someone who sees me on Facebook but not Twitter, or my blog but not Facebook, likely has a different view even though it’s all me being my true self.

Not everyone has the same motivations in sharing, either. Some quietly unfriend their husband when going through a divorce. Some shout it from the rooftops. Some bloggers create a fake life with a stillbirth and a car accident that claimed her husband (people who’ve been around the IF blog world a while will remember that one). Some lay things so unflinchingly bare that they would be mortified to have anyone they knew read their blogs. Some bloggers sanitize what they write for the benefit of their audience or their (potential or actual) sponsors. Some bloggers could care less if they have any readers or commenters. Some thrive on controversy. Some avoid it at all costs. Some are diarists and some are analysts. Some exaggerate for effect. Some downplay for effect (hey-o, like throwing in a snippet of adoption news in the middle of a post that has nothing to do with adoption). Some post about whatever happens to be on their minds that day and so topics flit from thing to thing (cough cough, me again).

My point, if I indeed have one, is this: consumers of social media will take the information given and their own experiences and their understanding of human motivation and piece together a picture—maybe an accurate picture of the author, maybe a bigger picture inspired by the author, maybe a close-up influenced more by the reader’s own life, maybe a surrealist world of the author’s own construction. There is truth in all these formulations and yet it can never be the whole truth.

“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” -The Princess Bride (I can always find a reason to quote The Princess Bride).

How do you view authenticity as a reader and a writer? Do you think your online persona reflects who you really are?

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