siSTARS on Motherhood

I promise we didn’t plan this, buuut this video comes just in time for Mother’s Day in the US! We each talk a little bit about what motherhood/parenting means to us, and of course, each is different based on our own background.

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Monday Notes: Finding My Biological Family (Part I)

After delivering my first baby, I knew it was time. I had to find my biological mother. It was unfathomable to me that a woman could nurture a baby in her womb for months, deliver a child, and hold it in those first few proverbial moments, and then give her up for adoption. Something heavy had to hang in the balance to make such a decision.

So, in 1999, I contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

The woman who answered the phone told me that their department was not in the business of reconnecting families; they existed to find loving homes for children.

Her apathy left me little choice but to wait.

Months later, I placed another call. A different woman revealed the name of a group that was in the business of re-connecting families: The Midwest Adoption Agency. The social worker rattled off a list of information they needed to conduct a search: birthdate, (adopted) parents’ names, year of adoption, official birth certificate, and birth name.

It had never dawned on me that I had a different name. My father, unlike Grannie, was ecstatic to know that I was conducting this search.

“She had named you Petula,” he said. “Your mom and I always thought that was strange. Maybe she liked the singer, Petula Clark, we thought.”

I had never heard of Petula Clark, but I had heard of the song, Downtown, for which she is known.

img_8191The following year, the counselor had found my birth records and sent a detailed report. My mother, Joyce Belcher had considered abortion several times before giving up the idea entirely. This was noted by her social worker.

Joyce had been diagnosed with acute schizophrenia: undifferentiated type. Up until my birth on May 23, 1973, she was seen walking up and down the sidewalk talking to herself. After giving birth, she would lay on the sofa doing nothing most of the day, laughing hysterically.

By the time I was five-months-old, Joyce had left me in our apartment building. According to the report, a janitor found me and contacted the police. I’d been there several days. Joyce named this same janitor as the father; he denied it. Shortly after, she surrendered her parental rights.

Two more letters followed the report. Joyce Belcher had died when she was twenty-eight years old, about five years after I’d been adopted. Her cause of death: drowning.

She was survived by her father, her four sisters, and my older sister.

***

In 2001, I birthed another child. This time, I understood the circumstances surrounding my adoption. But another question lingered. How could four sisters allow the State to take their sister’s child?

Midwest Adoption Agency allowed me to ask for a Request for Non-Identifying Information. You can only ask for this information one time, from one person. I chose my birth grandfather. As the family’s patriarch, it seemed he would have the most information.

He didn’t.

Not only had each of his seven children been a part of the Illinois foster care system (he had two sons), but also only one of his five adult daughters kept in contact with him. Her name was Catherine. I would later find out that she was the only one that he didn’t molest, thus their continued connection.

Aunt Catherine and I spoke for the first time on February 6, 2005. It was Super Bowl Sunday. She was excited to hear my voice and wanted to hear all about who raised me and who I’d become.

“I always thought you were raised by some rich black people,” she confided.

I assured her I was not.

“I tried to get you, but the State wouldn’t let me. They told me to leave you alone and not ask about it anymore,” her voice trailed off.

Later, her daughter would tell me that each weekend, Aunt Catherine would get drunk and cry about finding Petula.

Aunt Catherine and I met once and marveled at our similar wide smiles and pointy noses. We talked weekly, until she suffered a heart attack and died in June 2006.

That’s when I decided not to seek out my biological father. There was little reason to endure more emotional pain.

Part II

Monday Notes: 3 Points of Clarity about Adoption from an Adoptee

Ever since I found my biological father, brother, and sisters by completing one of those Ancestry.com DNA tests, I’ve answered a barrage of questions. They seem to come from people who cannot seem to wrap their minds around what adoption is or from those who cannot conceive the relationship that adoption offers. So, here’s some clarity.

img_8185#1 “Your dad wasn’t your dad?” To put it simply, yes and no. I was adopted as a ten-month-old baby by two parents who did not birth me. Growing up, I called these parents mommy and daddy, the same way you called your parents something affectionate. I hope no one’s reading this with sarcasm. I find this is the first part that people just don’t get. When you’re adopted as a baby, you don’t call your parents, adopted mom and adopted dad. And when you find out you’re adopted, you don’t start calling them, Mr. and Mrs. Gregory. They’re just mom and dad, like your parents are. But for the sake of this post, I’ll add the adopted in front.

img_7197#2 “Aha! That’s why your grandmother took care of you!” No. My grandmother did not adopt me when I was a baby. My grandmother is the mother of my adopted mom. I know for some my history is a bit confusing, so here’s a brief explanation in less than 100 words. My adopted mom died when I was 16 years old. I never knew my biological mother, because she gave me up for adoption when I was a baby. The drama I write about concerning my dad is from my adopted dad. After he kicked me out of his house and gave up his parental rights, my adopted grandmother took care of me when I was 17 years old and provided whatever I needed from that moment forward.

Usually by this point, I get a blank stare or silence during a text message. But some people have returned with this one:

#3 “So, your cousins, aunts, all the people you visit and talk about…they aren’t your family?” <sigh>Like #1, the answer to this is twofold. No. These are not my biological family members. Yes. Of course, they’re my family. I’m 45 years old. These are the people with whom I was raised. Similar to your family, they watched me take my first steps, learn to eat solid foods, babysat me, played with me, shared secrets, bought me necessities for school, took me on family vacations, hung out with me at family reunions, paid for my undergraduate education, attended graduations, visited when I birthed my own children, attended my wedding, etc., etc., etc. They did family things, just like your family may have done for you.

Whew! Now that I’ve cleared that up, I’ll write what it means to find and know my biological family.

Until then, let me know what your family situation is. Are you adopted? Have you adopted children? Was it an open/closed adoption? Do you wish you were adopted? lol (I have someone who told me that) Do you have adopted children in your family?

My Role as a Mother

img_3358For the past 18 years, I’ve straddled the hard and fine line of motherhood. I’ve guessed and second-guessed each and every decision because, unlike other relationships, you never really know if you did the “right” thing until years later.

Swim team is a perfect example. In 2008, my oldest daughter, Kesi almost drowned. She was nine. Consequently, we decided she should learn to swim. A few lessons later, she joined the swim team. I thought they’d be swimming once a day and training for light competition. Turns out they had two-a-days all summer, with weekly competitions, and a culminating all-state competition at the end of August.

“This is going to be a lot of work,” I announced after day one. “Do you think you can do it?”

Her raspy voice whispered from the backseat “Yeah. Do you think I can do it?”

That’s one of those think on your feet parenting kind of moments. And being myself, there was only one answer.

“Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”

And she did. She worked her ass off training twice a day. She went from being the slowest, only African-American little girl swimmer in that pool, to having an amazing backstroke at the end of the summer competition.

So I did what we do here in the States. I signed her up to “train” during the fall and winter. Surely, if she worked through the winter months, she’d be even more awesome for the following summer.

By May of the following year, she quit. She was tired. She didn’t want to do it anymore.

Because Dwight and I firmly believe in not making children do what they don’t want to do, we allowed her to.

And I’ve always wondered if I should’ve made her do it. Have I lived up to my role as her mother? Was I supposed to teach her work ethic by making her swim? Was I supposed to give her some speech about not giving up just because you don’t feel like it?

Years later, will she tell her therapist that she wished her mother would’ve pushed her harder? Will her whole life hinge on if I made her pursue swim team a second year?

Eventually, I always come to the same conclusion. I…don’t…know. Parenting is a careful dance of allowing your child to be his or herself, while still being yourself. To do that, you have to know who that is. My role is to guide her. I’m here to show her how to stand confident in making decisions that are aligned with how she feels. I’m here to tell her that it’s okay to change her mind about something, even if she’s knee-deep in it and doesn’t see a way out. Like my Grannie says, “If you made your bed hard, then get out the bed.”

Today, my daughter is an 18 year-old senior on the cusp of high school graduation. Three years ago, she intended to complete a Cosmetology license at a trade school so that she could fulfill her then dream of doing hair. At that time, I felt just like I did when I watched her competing in that backstroke.

“That your daughter?” a passerby asked.

“Yep,” my husband and I proudly replied.

Just like swimming, somewhere along her path, she decided doing hair wasn’t for her. She changed her mind, and consequently changed the direction of her life. Now, she wants to go to college to be a Cosmetic Chemist.

Although she hasn’t asked, the question still floats in the air, “Do you think I can do it?”

My answer is the same, “Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”

img_1006And I hope she believes it. Because for me, that’s what mothering is all about. It’s parenting the person I see before me. It’s parenting an individual, not an identity. My daughter isn’t me. She’s her own person with her own experiences. In my mind, being a mother is helping her cultivate her self and her dreams, no matter how many times that changes.

On this Mother’s Day, I’d like to remind everyone that mothering looks as different as we do. Subsequently, I’m sure we’re all doing the best that we can in each moment. What do you think? How do you see motherhood? How do you think your mother saw her role?

The Ultimate Inside Job: You

Royalty Free Image
Royalty Free Image

Spiritual growth is an inside job. That’s why I work on myself constantly. For me, inspiration stems from relationships and experiences within those relationships. For example, I’d noticed that people with the title mother oftentimes wrap their love in judgment. My mother-in-law, grandmother and stepmother have all, at some point passed judgment on something they thought was best…for me. Whether it’s getting my oldest daughter’s hair done more frequently, not moving around so much or engaging with my dad in ways someone else saw fit, each of these women have offered unsolicited advice about how I choose to live. Conversely, I’d inherited a few of these traits myself. My younger cousins claimed I was “too judgmental” and my own daughter once said I was so “judgy.” I probably was. What finally did it was a group conversation I had with a few friends. One thing led to another, and summer 2013, I decided to try and judge less.

It’s a lot harder than just saying it.

Think of judgment as a big box that encompasses many other things, such as superiority and arrogance. In order for me to stop passing judgment, I had to see myself as equal to everyone. I had to step down from my proverbial moral high ground and stop wagging my opinionated finger at others. We’re the same. I’m equal to the drug addicted, the shop-a-holic and the teenage mom. I’m not better than either of these people, thus I have zero right to judge their lives. If I’m feeling judgmental, then I remind myself of this: anyone, at any moment could judge what you’re doing or have done in your life. Who am I to pass judgment on anyone’s life or life choices?

Image. © 2016 K E Garland
Image. © 2016 K E Garland

My next project was learning to trust my intuition. I’ve always had a good sense of how I felt, but somewhere along the way, I’d stopped fully listening. That is until I read T.D. Jakes’ Instinct. My husband and I were having some rough times and I’d met a friend to vent. I didn’t know what to do. She suggested we read the book together. Though I’m not religious, I am open to new ideas, so I agreed. I was so inspired by this book that I attempted a Facebook group centered on the ideas. That was a flop. But my renewed sense of following my heart was not. Using one’s instinct means consciously living life and being mindful about those pesky feelings. You must be perceptive and pay attention to that thing in the pit of your stomach that’s warning you about where you are and who you’re with. Though Bishop Jakes situates the concept in a discussion about passion and purpose, he also touches on relationships. He describes how people grow, sometimes together and sometimes apart due to monotony. Either way, instinct can show you how to proceed. I’d decided then and there to be quiet so I could hear. I quit a job that was too far to drive, wrote a book of Kwotes, started a blog, and just celebrated my 19th year of marriage. I firmly believe intuition is an underrated tool that we all have.

The last principle is a result of my father’s death. So I’m still figuring it out and listening for answers. When my dad died, I needed a lot more compassion and care than I thought I would. Because I had been following my intuition, I was in tune with my emotions. I requested empathy from specific people. It didn’t matter though. Considerations from them didn’t flow like I thought they would. I was very confused. All this time I thought that compassion was an easy sentiment to provide. It turns out that I was mistaken. Compassion is made up of three parts: (1) putting yourself in another person’s place, (2) imagining what she or he might be feeling and (3) doing something considerate. That’s a lot to ask of anyone. It’s a challenge. It takes extra effort. As it turns out, it’s something that I shouldn’t have sought out. So I stopped. Instead, I began showing other people compassion. Like I said, this one is a work in progress but already I feel better being compassionate, rather than seeking it.

“I’m not perfect.” We use this phrase often. But what does it mean? Does it mean that you stay stuck in your imperfect self, while asking forgiveness for bad behavior and judging other people’s perceived imperfections? I don’t have a universal answer. But I do believe that we can all be better than we were yesterday if we try. How are you willing to be a better you? What advice would you add to this?

kwoted

Why I Refuse to Judge Any Mother

My first public blog post…

A few years ago, I attended one of my former high school student’s baccalaureate graduations. Also in attendance was her mom, a single mother of three young adults. She had literally arrived just in time for this commencement, which was 706 miles away from home. She donned a black, sequenced matching shirt and pants. Her luggage was in tow. This scene was typical; she wore her challenges. As Langston Hughes might say, life for her ain’t been no crystal stair.

But still. No matter the situation, this lady was always there for her daughter and her other two adult children. She might be the loudest one in the crowd, but that was because she was supportive. She might have snuck some popcorn into so-called prestigious events, but that’s cause everybody knows that concessions at large events cost too much.

I watched her quite a bit that weekend. She snapped 27 pictures on her disposable camera. Tossed the throwaway in her bag and snatched a new one. She did this four more times. I watched her “save” the graduation chicken because essentially, nobody else there really knew how to grill it. And I noticed how she loved her children, the best way she knew how, given her experiences. By Sunday, Mother’s Day 2013, something dawned on me; this mother is no different than I am, a mother of two daughters, or any mother for that matter. So I posted this: The longer I am a mother, the more I understand that each mother just does the best she can, given her circumstances.

1462536161555Then, something else happened. I thought about my own experiences as a daughter. Many times I felt embarrassed because my mother carried a terminal illness that would lead to death, kidney disease. A lot of times, I wished my mom were someone else. So much so that she had offered to take me to see Michael Jackson’s Victory Tour, but I declined. As much as I loved MJ, I didn’t want to be asked if this was my grandmother, again. It wasn’t until years after my mother’s death that I realized how much of a gem she really was.

In between dialysis treatments, she led a fearless life. She was deeply involved with NAPHT (National Association of Patients on Hemodialysis and Transplantation), volunteered as a Sunday school teacher, worked part-time, supported anyone she called family and friend, and all the while actively chose to raise me, this daughter she had adopted. My mother had ensured that I attend the best public magnet K-12 Chicago schools, which provided me with rich childhood experiences. In fact, I attribute my spirit of service, advocacy and motivation in part to observing my own mother do the very same things. So while there were moments of adolescent shame due to my mother’s physical appearance, there’s now an adult appreciation because I recognize and honor her for doing the best that she could, given her circumstances.

Now, I’m the mother of two fairly quiet teenage daughters, who would rather I remain silent than speak out about small infractions. These daughters turn a side-eye with every picture I capture and every post that “tells their business.” My oldest claims that she won’t tell me anything because I’ll tell everyone (guess this blog partially proves that). My youngest daughter would rather become invisible than to watch me dance in public. I’m often met with a lot of, “Are you wearing those shoes with that?” when leaving the house. But I hope that one day they’ll understand that it matters less if my shoes match my shirt. I hope that they’ll understand the reason their mother took a 320-mile commute every now and then for a career she felt called to do. I hope that they’ll remember family trips, game nights, healthy food, and movie dates. And when they’re feeling as if I could have done more, I hope they’ll remember that I too, did the best that I could, given my own circumstances.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Be Grateful for the Experience

Be grateful for the experience
because with the experience comes a lesson.
And with the lesson comes growth.
And with growth, comes a new you.
Kwote #82 K E Garland

One valuable lesson that I’ve steadily learned over the years is that we each have our own unique experiences that make us who we are. Take myself for example. If you’ve read at least one of my posts, then you know by now that my mother died when I was 16. What you might not realize is the resentment that I often felt from simply being adopted by her.

Why would a person with a terminal illness adopt a baby?

This question resurfaced in my mind over and over again. I never wondered why she died. I never felt bitterness because she died. Instead, I wondered why, if she knew she was going to die would she adopt a baby?

My grandmother has retold the story of how my mother always wanted to provide a child with an enriching experience like hers. As it goes, my mom had such a great childhood that she wanted to give the same type of life to someone who might otherwise not have one.

But that never seemed to be a good enough reason. Shallow, I know. It took a bit of introspection, but the answer finally came to me. I had to stop viewing my mom as a person with an illness who adopted a baby. The description is too small. Instead, I began to view her as a caring, self-less person who decided to make love a priority. And because of her personality, I was fortunate enough to have a certain type of experience. Growing up, I never viewed her as dis-abled. My mother, though she lived with kidney disease, never used her illness as a crutch. In between her dialysis treatments, she lived a purposeful life. She was unafraid of people or experiences. In fact, she showed me that I could do whatever I wanted, if I just set my mind to it. This belief embodied my spirit and permeated my entire being. Still. And I’m convinced that my mother’s life and the sixteen years that she shared with me directly shaped who I am today.

My father, on the other hand, provided a different type of experience. With my mother, I felt the presence of unconditional love. With my dad, I felt an unexpected absence of affection and care. I’d always wondered why he didn’t just dig deep and finish raising me. The answer is simple: he couldn’t. And it’s okay. Though it’s a bit of a sad story, I’m grateful for what happened next. You can read about it here. Slowly, the disruption in our relationship led to an accumulation of unconscious feelings. I tried to replace his disaffection with achievements and other more unhealthy behaviors. But these didn’t work. Abandonment. Shame. Low self-worth. These emotions lived with me for two decades. I’ve begun referring to this period as my chrysalis of pain. In a healthy chrysalis, what’s inside is nourished, grows and emerges. Except, mine didn’t. A stilted caterpillar, I fed off of hurtful situations, until I became conscious and worked through each and every one. What I gained was a new perspective of my self. What surfaced was a woman who learned to live purposefully through self-love.

Today, I have equal gratitude for both experiences with my mom and dad. Because with the experiences came lessons. And with the lessons came growth. And with growth, came a new me.