Thursday, March 26, 2015

Two Twos and a Tutu: 9 Months Home

Sunset on the Baro River, where Anya was born
Two years ago today, a young woman in a remote region of Africa was recovering from child birth, lovingly looking at her daughter and realizing her fears of letting another family raise her beloved firstborn.  I'm sure she wondered if she was making the right decision, wondering if she could make a go of it, and wondering if she could keep both of them alive.  I'm sure she looked at her daughter and saw her own features mirrored in the tiny face, and her heart hurt over the realization that she wouldn't see her beautiful child grow up.  She would have treasured every snuggle, every smile and yawn, and every time her baby's fingers wrapped around her own, hanging onto those memories because they would be all she would have in the coming years.

I wish I could hug this beautiful mama, and thank her once again for the privilege of raising my daughter.  I would thank her for her sacrifice, and acknowledge her selflessness of putting her daughter's needs above her own desires.  I would tell her that her beautiful baby is safe, healthy, and thriving.  Her baby is tenderly loved, and brings joy to everyone who knows her.

I pray that this young mama's heart heals and is filled with joy again.  I hope she is able to continue her life and find love and happiness.  I hope her needs are met and she sees beauty around her.  I hope she is able to share the tenderness and compassion that she has inside her, and be a blessing to others.  I hope that God will give her comfort and peace.

My daughter is officially two!  I've thought of her as "two" for so long that it doesn't feel as monumental as maybe it should.  Last Saturday we had a big, fluffy, pink princess party.  We were blessed that so many people came to share in this celebration.  It was busy, messy, and full of sugar.  Everyone had a blast!  Anya was a vision in pink tulle, and she enjoyed every moment of it.

Much of the food was pink, and
Auntie Grace made a beautiful cake,
perfectly Anya-style

The princess eating her
fruit-loop necklace

Princess and her Da-Dat
So many friends came to help celebrate!
We made crowns, foam pictures, and necklaces
The princess surveying her domain
MaBee and Prince Charming
Jayce was a bit overwhelmed with the pink and the people.  He was able to snag a few quiet moments here and there, but this was definitely and Anya-party.  Jayce was just along for the ride.

Anya loves her new
lip gloss (chapstick)
We had a pink princess pinata!
Jayce was ALL over that idea, and
was thrilled to use a stick on something.
I love his sturdy stance!
Everyone sang Happy Birthday to Anya,
and she had two candles that she looked at.
Mama had to blow them out for her.
At the end of the day, the Princess crashed
in a big, pink, fluffy pile.

We are so proud of our Baby Girl.  She has grown, developed, learned and bounced these past 9 months that she has been home.  Anya loves people, loves laughing and giggling, and loves pink.  She adores her big brother, and mimics him in everything he does, with increasing levels of success.  Both she and Jayce have grown 4 inches in the 9 months they have been home.  She is wearing 2T, and Jayce is in 3T clothing.

Sissy and her Brother.  Ha ha, Jayce is less
than thrilled at her giggliness
One of my favorite pictures of the two
munchkins.  They are each others best friends,
and each others greatest torments.

Jayce and Anya love to be in the middle of everything I'm doing.  I have to remind myself to include them as much as I can.  Every time I'm in the kitchen, they want to be on the counter watching, helping stir, adding ingredients, sorting silverware, etc, even when there is positively no extra space in my kitchen for them.  I think part of the attraction is being invited over the "blue line" that they are not allowed to cross.

Sissy, jammies, and a gecko 

When I'm outside, they do not want to dig in the dirt with their trucks.  (What toddler doesn't want to dig in the dirt??) They would rather pull weeds and trim plants.  The trick is making sure they know what's a weed and what's a plant.  I haven't perfected that yet.  In fact, when I try to get them to play in the dirt, they are immobilized if any dirt sticks on their hands, requesting a napkin to wash.  Silly kiddos :)

For Anya's party, I requested that people bring her flowers and plants instead of normal gifts-- we will plant the plants this week and hopefully help the kids develop a better understanding of gardening and growing things.  I'm hoping to direct some of their energy into something useful and rewarding that they can enjoy over the summer.

Between the two kiddos, I still have to work harder at connecting with Anya.  She is SO social, and I think her love language may be quality time and physical touch- two of my weakest love languages.  My prayer is that she will never loose her love of life and her joy, despite having a somewhat cynical mama.   She is a precious bundle, always smiling and always happy.  I love her so much!  She is actually further along in her speech and pronunciation that Jayce is.  I think this is because she is willing to "try" new words and sounds, and it doesn't bother her if she doesn't get them right.  Jayce prefers to have something correct first.

My little Prince Charming
Jayce and I connect better and continue to be very similar, needing our quiet time, enjoying snuggles and quiet play without fuss and lots of talking.  He loves to serve, and continues to anticipate what others need (something he does better than I do!).  He is growing in his ability to trust Philip and I as parents.  He used to be very anxious that we were not taking care of Anya, as if we didn't know what she needed.  He would try to fill in the gaps.  He continues to be aware of Anya and what she needs, but seems to be less concerned that she won't be taken care of.  He still draws our attention to her, but doesn't feel the need to fill in for us.  He is more precise in his speech and his thoughts.  He understands humor, and his facial expressions communicate more than his words.  Jayce has begun to smile and laugh a lot more in the last few months.  It took almost 6 months before he opened up and began to seem truly happy.  He's ticklish now, not nearly as reserved, and is more expressive about what he wants and prefers.  His belly-laughs are no longer a rarity.

Both kids are incredibly grateful little folks.  I don't know if it's because they are legitimately thankful, or if they just know that they have to say "thank you" when they are given something.  It's nice, though, to be thanked for dinner, for washing their hands, for playing with them, for giving them a bath, for putting clothes on them, for changing their diaper, etc etc.  Or, both Philip and I try to express gratitude towards those who bless us, so maybe (just maybe!) we are influencing them?

They use phrases like "Here ya go, mama" "Yeah" "Where did Daddy go?" "Excuse me, kitty!" and "No gee-noo mama!" (no thank you).  They enjoy music, singing (oddly enough they prefer it when I sing instead of listening to a CD), and bath time.  Anya loves frilly dresses and Jayce loves to be the gentleman.  They both count 1, 2, 3, 6.....  despite our best efforts.  In fact, Anya can count to 10....  but still misses 4 and 5.  They are learning the alphabet, shapes, and colors, although it's a work in progress.  Anya's default color is "green".  It usually works since almost everything in my house is either green or brown, she has a pretty good chance of getting the color correct.

GrandmaBee playing with Anya after her party

We continue to live a crazy life.  Nine months ago, I had no idea what God would have ahead for us.  While I wish we could have avoided some tantrums and some poop, I'm grateful to Him for giving us children that are so beautiful and fit so perfectly into our family.  He's so kind!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hair: A Hairy Subject

I've been trying to process some comments recently, and I appreciate the advice I've been given.  Maybe some of y'all have similar dilemmas and this can help you as well.  Here's what I asked my Ethiopian-Mama's Facebook group:

Ok, mamas of Ethiopian daughters, I have a question and a bit of a rant about hair. My daughter is two, and has beautiful soft fluffy hair. I detangle, moisturize, sometimes style and sometimes leave it natural. [...] Here's the thing: I am getting comments [...] about her hair when I leave it natural. "Did she put her finger in a light socket?" " It's so FLUFFY!" "It's so big!" "Wow, look at that HAIR!" "It's everywhere!" etc etc etc.
I really do NOT want to shut these people down or even be the least bit rude- most are some of our greatest support base, and it is 99% well intentioned. I just don't know what to say or how to communicate that it's normal and natural, and nothing to be "wow!" about. It's just her hair. It doesn't need commenting on. [...]
Jayce and Anya, with Anya's hair in some twists

I'm thankful for the fellow mamas that responded, and I feel as though I should share some of their advice.

  • "I would just try to educate. You don't want your daughter growing up with these comments which will affect her own self-image. Maybe just start with something simple like, "You are right that her hair is different than yours [...] What is important to me is that her hair is healthy and cared for, and that she hears positive comments about her hair [...]"" -S.S.
  • "Even when the comments are positive they mostly aren't welcome. Because it's non-stop focus on hair. It makes her different." -A.S. (emphasis mine)
  • "I would seek to educate them quickly on the significance of hair in the black community. That includes the ways in black women are persistently and consistently made to feel that that their hair in it's natural state is undesirable or somehow not good enough. If they can become armed with this information, it should be a quick connect the dots for you to show them why their comments are detrimental to her ability to grow up with a healthy self-image." -K.B.S. (emphasis mine)
    Anya's crazy curls
  • "For people you are close to, I'd try talking to them quietly without your children present [...] For people you don't see often, once -off encounters, I'd just give them The Look and say 'Her hair is beautiful, isn't it?' Because ya know, who goes around making comments like that to white adults? Wow - you're nearly bald there grandpa! Yikes, aunty Sue, did you pay someone to do that to your hair? [...] You don't have to be immersed in a Black community to understand that comments joking about a child's appearance can be really hurtful." -I.Z.H.
  • "Our daughter is seven and has HUGE, beautiful hair. When she is not in braids, she gets a lot of comments from strangers. We say thanks, or ignore, or educate, or--if we are feeling silly--we pretend they were talking to me. I pat my very plain, brown hair and say, "Thank you so much for noticing!", or my daughter giggles and says, "Mama, I think they must be talking to you!."" -C.T.
  • "[...] Maybe a sweet, "I wonder what my daughter thinks when you say that?" Put it on them [...]" -D.A.P. (emphasis mine)
  • "[...] It is constant and not really good for my daughter. She could easily think the world thinks she is a walking hair holder.  [...] On the other hand it is not good for my son. Hair is very important to him. I don't think he thinks other people need to comment about his hair, but four comments about sisters hair in one short grocery trip last Thursday and no one notices his makes him feel pretty crappy, and a bit angry at sister. All I can say is sigh." -J.G. (emphasis mine) 

I am grateful for these ladies that chimed in and helped me realize that I'm not going crazy over nothing.  One lady was kind enough to forward me her blog post on the same issue.  You can read it here: Are Your Boobs Fake?.  Indeed, hair is important in the black community, and will be important to my daughter as she grows older.  Black hair (or "sister-hair" as my cousin called it) is naturally lovely.  Anya's hair is beautiful, but it is very different than yours (if you're white) or mine.  It requires unique care, it looks different, and it's textured differently.  Drawing undue attention to hair (or almost anything, really) will make any child feel "different" or that she needs "fixing".

I'll admit, Anya's hair is pretty fantastic.  She's two, and isn't conscious yet that taking a hat on and off and on and off and on and off will make her hair stand on end in every direction!  But, then, hat-hair is common to everyone.  I'm sure if my hair was rubbed in fuzzy blankets and smooshed in a stroller and carseat, it would be pretty "special" also.  I'm sure there are times when Philip and I have made too much fuss over her hair, or Jayce's (drop-dead-gorgeous) dark skin, or some other feature.  

Hey, the kids are two.  No big deal, right?  Well, as they begin to get older, they will start to internalize some of these comments.  Even comments made "positively" can make a child feel self-conscious, as if they may not belong, or there is something odd, undesirable, different, or not good enough about them.

So, maybe you're another mama out there with a similar dilemma.  I hope the advice given to me is helpful for you as well.  Or, maybe you're a friend or family member of some adorable, dark-curled beauty.  Hopefully you've been given food for thought.  The idea is not to be so self conscious that we never comment on my (or someone else's) child's appearance.  The thought, though, is to make sure that we draw attention to the good, not the different.

Oddly enough, I have a positive example to share as well.  I recently posted a picture of Jayce and Philip in a semi-public forum.  Besides having over 100 "likes" almost instantaneously, people's comments were so precious.  "What a cutie!" "The cuteness is too much! He looks like a total charmer!" "Gorgeous smile!" and my favorite: "What a handsome boy with a sweet smile.  Clearly he loves his Daddy."

It's overly obvious that Jayce and Philip don't "match".  Yet, people chose words that affirmed Jayce, instead of calling out a difference.  I loved that someone noticed that Jayce loved his daddy.  Yes!  What a wonderful thing to comment on!  Thank you, random stranger.  

A creeping lion with her hair in rubber bands

So, the next time you see Anya, her hair might be nicely contained in twists or braids or rubber bands, or it might be in it's natural state.  She will be adorable either way.  My guess is, that if you were African, your hair would look like the "poof" that hers sometimes does.  People would ask if you stuck your finger in a light socket, and you would become really tired of people pointing out that what God gave you on top of your head is different than white peoples' more flat, boring coiffure.   As if you weren't already aware.  Anya's hair is just her hair. And, for a black child growing up in a white family and mostly white community, she doesn't need these differences emphasized.  She needs to be affirmed for who she is, affirmed that she is fearfully and wonderfully made, and affirmed that she is loved.  

I understand that my daughter's hair is not what most of my friends and family are used to seeing. I get it.  I'm sure you also "get it", if you've a black child in a white family.  I just hope that as our friends and family come along side us and be the village that helps us raise our children, they will realize that marveling at an "abnormality" (poofy hair) may cost our black children their sense of belonging, their security in who they are, their sense of what's normal and strange, and their sense of what's right for them as a black American.  And, it may annoy the mama who will need to address these issues (and undo a mindset) with her daughter at a later date.  

Morning hair for Mama and Baby Girl

Hanging at the zoo, watching lions!