Sunday, December 28, 2014

Regarding Gotcha Day as a term: when white ain't necessarily right


Just like she began planning for her January birthday way back in October, my almost 13 year old daughter has already started planning excitedly for another special day in her life and our family. In early March, we will celebrate the 8th year anniversary of the day we were blessed to have her become a part of our family. Other families also choose to remember this day annually as well, as described here. There are many different terms families use to commemorate this important day (if they choose to do so, as some families do not). Following our children's lead, we call this day our children's "Gotcha Day." But evidently there are many who find fault in our decision.

Most adoptive families are very familiar with the article "Getting Rid of Gotcha Day" that the excerpt below comes from. The author, Karen Moline, is an adoptive parent to a child from Vietnam (and actually someone whom I admire even though I disagree with her here; she is a tireless advocate for ethical adoption and adoption reform). In the article, she explains why the term "Gotcha Day" is, in her opinion, the worst term one could use for the day an adopted child becomes part of the family. She starts the article like this:

"'Gotcha' is my typical response when I've squashed a bug, caught a ball just before it would have rolled under the sofa, or managed to reach a roll of toilet paper on the top shelf at the store. It's a silly, slangy word.
As such, it's the last word I'd think to use if someone asked me to describe my feelings on the day, in a tiny orphanage off a dirt road outside of Da Nang, when I saw my child for the first time. 
I find the use of "gotcha" to describe the act of adoption both astonishing and offensive. Aside from being parent-centered ("C'mere, little orphan, I gotcha now!") it smacks of acquiring a possession, not welcoming a new person into your life. Yet many adoptive parents have elevated this casual word into shorthand for 'The Day I Got You.'"

Okay, I just have to say this.

At the risk of sounding offensive, that is some subjective white Western nonsense if I ever heard it.

I am black, and I am a proud parent of biological and nonbiological children. In fact, my journey into parenting began as a single adoptive mom by choice when I was in my twenties. Later on my husband and I were blessed to see our family grow - and grow - and grow some more. Our amazing family is comprised of children from my womb and children from outside of my womb who were born in the cradle of civilization, Africa. And we proudly celebrate the days our children joined our family, calling it "Gotcha Day."

I have been on the receiving end of many a (usually white) adoptive parent's criticism for our family's choice to use this term. Most of these parents' arguments are some variation or another of the points made by the author, Moline, in the article I quoted above. She states this toward the end of her article:

"Why not simply call it "Adoption Day" or "Family Day," or, if there are already kids at home, "Siblings Day"? Why commodify and demean adoptees — and ourselves — by using a silly, slangy term to describe the day we became complete families? Save "gotcha" for mosquitoes."
She then quotes two adult adoptees (adopted by white parents) who have expressed dissatisfaction over the word:

"I wouldn't like hearing ‘Gotcha Day' used in my family. To me, it sounds like someone snatched you away from your birth family, or almost like you are a prize that was won...it has a gloating, ha-ha tone to it."
"We celebrate my 'Adoption Day' and I like that. Being adopted is worth celebrating, and ‘Adoption Day' is respectful sounding."

Before I go any further, I need to be clear that even though the tone of this post might be perceived as somewhat harsh, I DO NOT have a problem with the author other than with what she has stated about "Gotcha Day" (she's actually pretty cool, from what I can glean), I DO NOT have a problem with white people, I DO NOT have a problem with white adoptive parents, and that as an adoptive parent I cherish the valued perspective and insight of adult adoptees (who know WAY more about what it's like to be adopted than I will ever know since I myself am not adopted). But I DO have a problem with erasure and censorship.

Where does the idea that "gotcha" is merely a term used when you capture and smash an insect, or that it is a "gloating" or "disrespectful"- sounding come from? Perhaps from the same mindset that implies that a black male in a hoodie is a "thug" and dangerous? Or from the mindset that "flesh-colored" crayons, band-aids, and pantyhose should be the skin tone of a certain segment of the population, or any number of examples any of us could come up with?

The white perspective is the dominant perspective in so many areas of our lives. This is the case in the adoptive community as well.

Given the heavy emphasis on white adoptive parents, most people would never suspect that there are actually a sizable amount of people of color who adopt, but there are. There are many black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and other people of color who adopt. In just the black community alone27% of children adopted from the US foster system are adopted by black parents, and black parents comprise 19% of US private adoptions. If one was to factor in kinship care, permanent conservatorship agreements, step-parent adoption, informal "adoptions" and other non-traditional living arrangements, the percentage of black parents raising non-biological children would be considerably higher than that. But regardless, these are still pretty significant numbers; over a quarter of adoptive parents, at least, are black.

It is true that the numbers of black parents completing international adoptions is significantly less, with white parents comprising 92% of such adoptions; however, it should be noted that as aforementioned, black parents are well represented in foster care adoptions and private adoptions - and that when looks at the numbers of adoptions as a whole for all groups there are far more foster care and private adoptions each year than there are international adoptions at any rate.

Maybe to some/many white adoptive parents (and the adoptive kids they are raising), "Gotcha" carries a negative connotation. But that is not everyone's reality, and it is unfair and demeaning to apply one group's interpretation so broadly that in many circles it is accepted as truth. It is not MY truth; it is not MY black children's truth, and it is not my community's truth.

Aside from the fact that "Gotcha Day" is the term my kids prefer (and as adoptees their right to choose terms that are meaningful for themselves should be honored and respected, not attacked), I do not come from a background where "gotcha," which is a derivative of "I got you," is a bad thing. It's a term that varies depending upon context, but it's not bad, silly, or possessive. If anything, it's viewed as a term of endearment, protection, understanding, and connection.  As a black female, I heard it growing up all the time.

Here is one example. Urban Dictionary defines "I got you" in this way:

"An expression that's short for:
1. I got your back.
2. I got you covered.
3. I got you protected."

In trying to tear down the "gotcha" term, the article does inadvertently make a very important point about how the whole concept of celebrating adoption anniversaries can be viewed as problematic. Indeed, the ugly truth about adoption, foster care, conservatorship, etc is that one family's "gain" is as a result of another family's pain. I love my children with all my heart and I am grateful for the opportunity to be their mother. But their presence in my home is a symbol of the trauma, death, and loss that they faced. In an ideal world, they should not be mine. I acknowledge how hard it must be for adoptees to feel like the experience of being ripped away from their homes, families, communities, and history is something worth celebrating at all.

The following quotes from Moline's article highlight this critical issue:

"Adult adoptee Hanna Sofia Jung Johansson pointedly asked, "What is being celebrated [on Gotcha Day]? Parenthood and the new family, I guess. But do adoptive parents acknowledge their child's losses at the same time? ‘Gotcha' for parents means ‘lost-ya' for children who have been separated from familiar faces, smells, and surroundings."
Another adult adoptee, Eun Mi Young, is equally blunt. "While endearing to adoptive parents, ‘Gotcha' is downright disrespectful to adoptees," she says. "What does this term imply? We use it when we grab someone who is running from us, or when we save someone from something, or when we're playing a game. We shouldn't use it for an event that recalls the loss of culture, country, and birth parents."

Moline argues that using the term "Adoption Day," "Family Day," or "Sibling Day" is better because using  "Gotcha Day" is "co modifying" and "demeaning." My question is if the concern is truly about not "demeaning" adoptees and their families and being sensitive to the trauma and loss that adoption represents, how on Earth are any of those terms "better?" For some adoptees and their families, commemorating the day at all is too painful and emotional, so they opt not to do so, which I unequivocally support and respect. But that is completely different than implying that if one simply stopped calling it "Gotcha Day" then the day a child was adopted would somehow cease to be linked to trauma. No matter what you call it, trauma will always be intertwined; calling the day by a different term is not going to magically cause those feelings to disappear. For many individuals, the day is not a celebratory occasion, regardless of the name chosen, and that should be accepted. Some others, though, have been able to reconcile the existence of that trauma along with positive feelings about their new families. And those individuals (including my children) shouldn't have to feel something is wrong with them if the term they choose to use to describe this is "Gotcha Day."

We've heard the arguments about why "Gotcha Day" is viewed by some as an offensive term, but has anyone taken a moment to consider how potentially offensive the other terms are? I have:

"Adoption Day" can be perceived as celebrating loss, glorifying adoption ("saving a child"), and highlighting the fact that the child had to be adopted in the first place, which was not exactly for happy reasons. It can also be seen as an "othering" type of term, emphasizing what is different about the child from the biological children.

"Family Day" implies that the child did not have a legitimate family before becoming a part of this new adoptive family. It can be perceived as dismissive, disrespectful, and demeaning to the child and to the child's family of origin to declare the date that you, the "Great White Hope," came into their lives, as the date that they can finally be considered as being part of a "family."

"Siblings Day" can be perceived as demeaning and hurtful because if the child already had biological siblings before you adopted them, you are erasing them by declaring the date that they became acquainted with the children in their adoptive family as when they finally became someone's "sibling." And even if they did not have biological siblings the term can be perceived as demeaning because it implies that at least a portion of your child's value in your family is connected to their role as a new "sibling" for the child(ren) you already have at home. You know, like when you bring home a new toy or a pet for your child.

I personally do not have a problem with any of these terms. And I have friends in the adoption community who use all of these terms. I am simply illustrating that these terms are not devoid of their own problems, and to laud them as positive alternatives to "Gotcha Day" while criticizing "Gotcha Day" largely based upon white Western perspectives is unfair and one-sided.

2015 will mark the 10th anniversary of "International Gotcha Day." We have enough issues in the adoption community. Do we really need to expend valuable time and energy tearing down the existence of the term "Gotcha Day?" Really? Especially with the racial and cultural implications that making such a negative and sweeping generalization of the term carries?

Although my family is as multinational and multicultural as they come, we are not multiracial. Therefore we, and the many other black adoptive families, are virtually invisible in the adoption world. We are forgotten and disregarded; we aren't as visually appealing to society as the white parents with the brown and yellow kids. I get that. But must our opinions, our perspective, and our terminology be disregarded too?

Can you call off the war on "Gotcha Day" please? You have your terms; can my kids have theirs? Can't the terms "Gotcha Day," "Family Day," "Adoption Day," "Siblings Day," and other variations peacefully co-exist; can you let families make the choice for themselves without throwing so much unnecessary shade? Live and let live, and all of that?

To my beautiful, wonderful, extraordinary kids from outside of my womb: C, A, D, and A, always know that I "GOT" you. I got you. I got you...always. I have "gotcha" back no matter what, as does your Dad too.  And you have got my heart, my soul, my love, and my loyalty. Forever. When you are sick, we gotcha. When they tried to take you away, we gotcha. When you are happy, we gotcha. When you are hurting, we gotcha. No matter what happens, no matter when, no matter where, we gotcha.

And on your next Gotcha Day, we will remember your parents as we always do; their names, their stories, their dreams. We will celebrate the two families that you have that love you very much, both ours and the family you came from and will never stop being a part of. We will celebrate your culture, your history, and your uniqueness, and we will give thanks for your future as well as you being in our family and bringing so much light into it. Despite what others' misinformed opinions may suggest, in my house we ain't "getting rid of Gotcha Day" at all. In fact, Happy early Gotcha Day. We love you.


Morénike

Photo credit: Show Hope 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Pass Mina's Law to Fight Stigma: People with HIV are #NotYourInfection!

(This  post was originally published on the Advocacy Without Borders blog here.)

"The inspiration behind thi's post is an amazing 12 year old girl we call Mina.  Mina is a sweet, kind, and awesome kid who brings joy to her family, friends, and all who know her. She is thoughtful, deeply compassionate, and full of life. She has survived many hardships, so she is mature beyond her years...yet in many ways she's very much still a young girl.





Although Mina adores Korean food, since she was originally born in Africa, she will devour a plate of sweet plantains so fast it would make your head spin! And speaking of spinning, she is as likely to spontaneously cartwheel across a room as she is to sit down and initiate a philosophical discussion with her parents or teachers. She loves K-pop, science, chocolate, dancing, peace signs, silly Vine videos, and hanging out with her friends. A born leader, she has earned herself the unofficial occasional nickname of "Bossy Big Sis."

Overall, Mina is just an all-around great kid. She works hard in school and helps a lot around her home. She's not much different than most tween girls you'd meet with one small exception.

Mina is HIV positive.

(Though Mina's family usually chooses to identify as an HIV affected family rather than disclosing the serostatus of specific family members, Mina felt that it was important in this case to share more information than what is typically within her comfort level.)

Mina adheres strictly to an effective medication regimen of highly active anti-retroviral treatment (HAART) to keep her healthy. By taking a pill once per day, she keeps the virus at bay. For several years, the level of HIV in her blood has measured so low that it cannot be detected in her quarterly lab screenings (her HIV level is "undetectable"), and her immune system has also improved. Though she experiences some health complications as a result of a lifetime of HIV, including a previous AIDS diagnosis, she is in good virologic health.







Her situation is not atypical; a great deal has changed since most of us became aware of the condition that we now call the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, over three decades ago. And much of that change is good. We are no longer living in a time where fear and hysteria surrounding HIV are commonplace. The '80's, thank goodness, are far behind us.

Today, we have a clear understanding of how HIV is and is NOT transmitted. Scientists have discovered intricate details about the way the retrovirus operates. Perinatal HIV transmission has been drastically reduced. Research findings and technological advances in HIV diagnostics, treatment and prevention have radically transformed HIV from a "death sentence" to a manageable chronic illness such as diabetes or other conditions.

People living with HIV (PLHIV) now have a life expectancy and quality similar to that of individuals without HIV; with the potential for lengthy and fulfilling lives that include careers, spouses, children, and/or other aspirations. Moreover, we are closer to a cure or functional cure than ever before. But with or without a cure, a growing number of PLHIV are living their lives fully and out loud right here, right now. It is estimated that over thirty-five million people around the globe are HIV+, and many of those people are committed to eradicating the stigma that is unfortunately still attached to HIV today.

I too am tired of stigma. Really freaking tired. So it is my hope to do my part in trying to eradicate stigma by launching Mina's Law: the #NotYourInfection Campaign on World AIDS Day 2014, inspired by this precious young lady living her life courageously and fully with HIV.  I will explain the rationale for the campaign throughout the remainder of this post.

I have grown increasingly disturbed over the years how frequently and callously the word "infected" is thrown around with regard to HIV. Whether it's legal documents in all fifty states and US territories, textbooks, research protocols, media references, literature, conversation, or something else, you can hardly go a day without being slapped in the face with the word "infected."

"I will never forget when I found out that I was infected..."
"The number of HIV infections has risen..."
"This is a support group for behaviorally or perinatally infected teens..."
"We need to increase funding to expand our prevention efforts to curb the number of infections..."

It goes on and on. It has been bothering me for years, to the point where I have had to train myself not to visibly flinch or cringe. Yes, I know HIV is technically contracted via a person becoming "infected" with the virus.  I'm not in denial that it is a virus or that there is an infection that occurs. I get it. It's an infection. But you know what? So is the measles. So is strep throat. So is meningitis. So is the flu. So is malaria, hepatitis, RSV, cellulitis, H. pylori, staph (MRSA), shingles, appendicitis, and a host of other things. They are also "infections," yet they are described quite differently. They are described in a far more respectful manner.

Society pays lip service to HIV acceptance, stating (truthfully) that there is no fundamental difference between being HIV positive and HIV negative. That there is no shame in the diagnosis and no reason to be perceived as less than anyone else who does not have HIV. We participate in AIDS walks, attend HIV related events in our communities, attend national HIV conferences. We publicly condemn HIV stigma.

However, the way we speak about and write about HIV and those living with HIV conveys a much different message than the one of acceptance society claims to hold. The way something is referred to is a huge indication of how it is truly viewed. The presence of "infected" in sentence after sentence, every single day in millions of interactions and important documents strongly negates the politically correct message that "it doesn't matter" whether or not you have HIV.  It asserts that despite the gilded veneer of acceptance, it actually DOES matter. You're not merely HIV positive; you're HIV INFECTED.

Just think about it for a moment. Would YOU want to be referred to as "infected?" That term doesn't exactly conjure up pleasant images in my mind when I hear it. It makes me think of illness. It makes me think of something bad, something undesirable, like a wound oozing with pus. It certainly doesn't cause me to picture Mina's joyful, radiant smile.






I reject that. And so does Mina and the rest of the HIV community. It is best expressed in this quote shared this summer by an adult living with HIV:

"I may be HIV positive, but I am NOT your d@#n infection. And neither is anyone else living with HIV!"

#NotYourInfection!!!

It is 2014. A new day, a new era. It's time to change the way we refer to PLHIV and to change the way we refer to HIV itself.

I am calling on everyone who reads this to please consider helping me. There is no valid reason that I can see that in the United States of America our legal statutes, court documents, and other  areas are still using language that is not inclusive on the federal and state levels. Why can't we say "contracted HIV" instead of "infected with HIV?" Why can't we say "rates of HIV diagnoses" instead "rates of HIV infections?" Why can't we say "HIV positive individuals" or "people with HIV" instead of "HIV infected individuals?"

We CAN.

I'm not alone in this sentiment nor did I conceive of this idea alone. There are so many groups that I admire and respect who are also deeply concerned about this stigmatizing language. A number of groups, including the Positive Women's Network-USA, the Global Community Advisory Board of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group, and others, have provided great leadership and advocacy on this topic. The revered "Denver Principles" are obviously influential as well. This campaign has arisen out of a need that many PLHIV and allies have identified, not just me.

And this campaign needs more than just my emotions; it needs YOU!  I implore any and all individuals and organizations out there to help make this campaign work. It will take a lot more manpower, activism, legal expertise, and media than an ordinary individual like me has to make these changes. I CANNOT do this alone; I need YOUR help.

On World AIDS Day 2014, and beyond, I'm asking you to consider doing the following things:

1. STOP! 

If stigmatizing language is part of your vocabulary, put an end to it now. Change how you refer to people living with HIV and to HIV as a whole. The Stigma Project has some helpful resources about how to change your "HIV Talk;" check them out here.


2. SELFIE!

If you are comfortable, take a selfie to help end stigma! Snap a pic of yourself holding a sign with the hashtag #NotYourInfection and to blast it all over social media to help get the word out! It doesn't matter if you are HIV negative or HIV positive; you can still help us to raise awareness!






3. SIGN/SHARE!

We would LOVE for you to sign and widely share our Change.org petition. Every time it is signed a copy of the petition and comments is emailed directly to the members of Congress and to the President of the United States.


4. SOCIAL!

Utilize the power of social media! Use the #NotYourInfection hashtage widely. Blog/Tweet/whatever about this topic! Consider "liking" our #NotYourInfection FB page and following us on Twitter to keep abreast of updates.


5. SUPPORT!

Another important thing that you can do is to support this cause! Commit to legislative, media, and community action and outreach surrounding this issue in your area. Contact your state's Congress and Senate representatives. Urge them to consider authoring a bill to make Mina's Law a reality. Do the same thing at the state and local levels too for maximum impact. Attending the annual AIDS Watch event is a GREAT opportunity to engage in legislative outreach, but there are other ways too!

It is my hope that as this campaign grows that the many dedicated organizations within the global HIV activism community will take this campaign to new heights with their leadership, sharing existing resources and creating additional ones (such as toolkits containing sample letters and other useful advocacy tools) that supporters can use to advocate for this cause. I look to you all to help and wisdom!

Thank you all for your support and help showing the world that PLHIV are #NotYourInfection!!!"





Friday, December 5, 2014

Good Cops Know That #BlackLivesMatter

I'm going to highlight a few "good cop" stories on social media this weekend. Feel free to join me. The bad ones get far more attention than the good ones, and I want to show the good ones some love.

In a recent post about my daughter's short disappearance at my son's school, I briefly mentioned another time that she had also gone missing at my church some years prior. Because I didn't go into detail about it, I didn't get a chance to share that it was a police officer - a WHITE male police officer - whom I have to thank for her safe return.

This is my story.

I was at my church on the first day of  Vacation Bible School (VBS) dropping off my older kids. Afterward, I planned to take my two little ones to the church childcare area for babies and toddlers (who were not yet school aged and therefore too young for VBS). There was a "drive through" type of drop off available for those of us who had pre-registered for VBS, but I didn't use it since I was going to be staying up there as a volunteer for the VBS group that our church holds simultaneously for disabled youth. I figured I had to come inside and check myself in anyway, so I might as well bring them in rather than bothering with the drive through.

Because my kids are different ages and different genders, I had to drop them off in different groups situated in different seating areas. Upon doing so, I saw one of my kids' names was misspelled on their name tag, so after dropping the kids I headed to the church lobby where  there was a registration table.  I filled out a new card so they could replace the name tag with the proper spelling for the rest of the week. When I was done, I handed it to the adult volunteer. I looked beside me, and noticed that only one of my two smaller children was still inside the stroller. My son was still strapped in there, but my daughter had vanished. I looked around frantically. I called her name. No sign of her.

I retraced my steps. I prayed.  I searched several places where I thought she'd be. I ran to the info desk and explained what happened. They immediately got on their walkie talkies and sent staff and volunteers in search of her.

My church is literally right off of the exit of a major freeway.

My daughter is autistic, and (was once) prone to wandering.

I dissolved into a puddle of tears.

I left my son with a church volunteer and friend and dashed to the parking lot, praying that I didn't see her body crumpled there. I knew that people were looking for her, but I felt that I needed to look too. I was her MOTHER after all.

As I ran, I called her dad to let him know what was going on. Crying hard, I could barely get the words out. As I neared the parking lot nearest the freeway, I hung up in his face so that I could concentrate. (He commenced to calling back repeatedly, though I was too frantic to answer, so he immediately left work and started heading across town to come to the church.)

I didn't see her. Anywhere.

I stood in the middle of the parking lot, crying helpless tears.

I managed to re-enter the building. I walked over to the info desk still crying, but hoping against hope. Had she been found? The looks on their faces told me everything that I needed to know even before they shook their heads "no."

More tears.

A hand touched my shoulder. It was a man (a white man about my age). He explained that he'd just dropped his kids off at VBS and noticed me crying in the parking lot. Worried, he had followed me in. He said he was a police officer and it was his off day, but wanted to help if he could. I handed him my cell phone with shaking hands; my daughter's face was on the screensaver. He studied the picture for a while, and then off he went.

As I write this it is causing me to relive this situation and I fear it is beginning to trigger me. Because it has been quite some time since this actually happened I thought I could write about it now. I can see now that I was wrong. So I apologize for being a poor author, but I'm going to cut right to the ending now. Thankfully, that ending is that some minutes later, one of the church staff happily informed me that they'd heard on their walkie-talkie that my daughter had been located - unharmed.  Upon hearing that, my tears continued to fall, but now they were tears of relief and joy.

I will never forget watching that officer,  - this benevolent, brown haired green eyed stranger whose name I didn't even know - walk into the church with my daughter nestled safely in his arms.

I never even got his name. I hugged him tightly along with my daughter, and I tearfully thanked him. I grabbed his hand and blessed him. He smiled, and he appeared to be visibly moved. But as I turned to envelope my daughter in my arms and shower her with kisses and hugs (that she subsequently pointedly wiped away, as she hates the sensation of wet kisses, which these were as I was still crying), at some point he disappeared into the crowd. And I have never seen him since then.

This officer - again, a WHITE male officer - was like an angel of mercy to both me and my daughter that day. I have no idea who he is, but I will forever be indebted to him. I will forever be thankful for his kindness, compassion, and willingness to help.  This man didn't know me. He wasn't on the clock. He was under no obligation to go out of his way to help me. He did anyway.

THAT is the true definition of an officer. Someone who is sworn to serve and protect.

So when you see me calling out injustice, racial profiling, police brutality/excessive use of force, unethical grand jury findings and the like, please understand that I do none of that out of hatred for police officers. Though members of my family, and even me personally have had some terrible interactions with unkind, bigoted officers/authority figures, I know they're all not like that. I know that many are heroes.

I will not stop speaking out against and commenting about the ones who do things wrong. Just the other day the injustice done to the family of Eric Garner was yet another reminder of why all of us, myself included, cannot be silent. This is a travesty of justice and a blatant regard for human life, especially black, male human life. It is not out of hatred for officers or hatred for white people that I denounce the wrongs that are being done to my people at the hands of those whom we entrust our lives to.

I owe it to my three black sons who will one day become black men to speak up about these wrongs. I owe it to my black father, a survivor of a violent racist police attack, to speak up. I owe it to my two adult black male brothers to speak up. I owe it to myself, as a Christian woman who believes in equality and love, to speak up.

And I owe it to that compassionate, loving officer - my white brother, whose name I will likely never know, the person who likely saved my black child's life - to speak up. As well as the many officers out there like him who do the right things but are drowned out by the many officers out there NOT like him who are doing the wrong things.

Without speaking a word, that stranger's actions proved that he believed that #BlackLivesMatter and that he was willing to inconvenience himself to demonstrate that truth through his actions. By joining the chorus of voices that are uniting nationwide to oppose these injustices, in my own way I am proudly doing the same.


Are you? Will you?


(This post is dedicated to that "good cop." Bless you, my brother, and thank you. Thank you.)



Photo credit: partycrashertshirts dot com

Photo credit: facebook dot com/BlackLivesMatter

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tomorrow draws near

Please God, keep my babies with me.
Please God, keep my babies with me.
Please God, don't let them take my kids.
I'll do anything, anything. Just let me keep my kids.
My kids. My kids. Please God. Don't let them.
Please don't let them take my kids.
Please.
Please.
Please don't let them take my kids.
Please don't let them take my kids.
Please don't let them take my kids.
Please don't let them take my kids.
Please.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

To my sons

To my sons

My beloved sons
Your smiles are etched into my mind, my soul, my heart.
Your laughter is my favorite song.
Fierce, feral, deep love for you courses through my veins
Beats in my chest
Fills my lungs.
My precious sons
If only you could know how much you are loved
How much you are wanted
How important you are
How special you are.
My magnificent sons
I couldn't be prouder of you, my little African warriors.
You've literally seen and lived Hell on Earth
Yet you still stand
I draw strength from you
My wonderful sons
If only you could see yourselves the way I see you;
If only you could see yourselves the way God sees you.
You are beautiful
Capable
Dedicated
Creative
Strong.
My fabulous sons
You are not what they say
You are more than what they could ever know.
They are not worthy of you
They cannot compare to you.
My brave and beautiful sons
You live your life so fully
Everything you do, you do big and bold
God's love shines so brightly in you.
My one of a kind sons
You are not of my womb
And that is a good thing
Because my womb is too small to contain the love I have for you
You are the sons of my soul, not my body
You contain the best of your first mother and father inside of you
You are a living, walking tribute of their love.
My fun-loving sons
I brought you into my home to keep you
I brought you into my family to love you
I never dreamed that I might lose you.
My growing sons
I know you think Mom and Dad are the pinnacle of strength and faith
I know how much you look up to us
But the truth is we are scared
We don't know what the future holds; only God knows.
Yet through our fear we are trusting
Hoping
Praying
Believing
Wishing
For a forever with you.
My awesome-sauce sons
I can't see my life without you
I have thought to myself,
"If something happens to them, I won't be able to go on."
I know that thought is wrong to have
For you, for your dad, for your brother and sisters...if I had to go on
If I had to cope
If I had to face my life without you
I would have to find a way
A way to continue living
But I don't know how.
My beautiful black sons
No matter what
Please know
Please believe
Please feel
My love
It will never leave you
Inside I will never leave you
God will never leave you
I love you
We love you
You are ours
Intertwined
Connected
United
By the love of our family
Forever.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fear

Fear

I have blogged more over the past few weeks than I typically blog in a year. Some people are "stress eaters." I wonder if I'm a "stress blogger?" I hope to break that habit; I don't want to blog only when something is wrong.

But...something IS wrong.

Around 4:00 PM today I learned that 6 year old London McCabe's mother threw him over a bridge to a painful death - presumably because she could "no longer handle" caring for an autistic child.

It cut deep. It would have been painful even if I did not also have an autistic 6 year old. Such a young child. Such a senseless and awful way to die.


And sadly, though the location his mother chose as the murder site is unique, the murder itself is not. Though devastating, London's death represents just one of a long string of recent deaths of disabled individuals at the hands of the people whom they should be most safe with - their relatives/caregivers.

I allotted myself about 5-7 minutes to react. I was in shock, and I was sad. And frustrated, because the first (and second, and third) articles I pulled up on my phone to learn more were laden with sympathy for the murderer rather than for the child who'd been killed. Similar to the coverage of the attempted murder of Issy Stapleton, or the murder of Alex Spourdalakis, or any of the many "poor parents" who supposedly "loved" their disabled child "so much" and had "suffered for so long" that they finally just "snapped."

I reached out to the people whom I knew would be reeling just as much as I - the autistic community. I knew that there would be solidarity there; there would be mourning for London there; there would not be empathy and concern for a murderer there.

Then I put my game face on.

I had to pick up my kids, and though there's nothing wrong with showing emotion, it is difficult for them to see me saddened or hurt. They feel what I feel, and it crushes them. I needed to shield them from this ugliness, needed to have a neutral facial expression so as to not "set them off."

Game face. On tightly.

Grabbed kid one from her school.  As she snacked happily in the car seat, we headed to get kid two and three from their school. Then we headed to pick up kid four from his school. (Kid five was with grandparents.)

I walked into the building. It was unusually abuzz with people because it is voting day and the school is a polling location.

I walked to the desk, picked up the clipboard, and checked the appropriate box. I engaged in my small talk script with the office staff person while I waited for kid four. I noticed that they had some cool "I Voted" stickers in a basket on the desk.  Thinking that the kids might like them, I picked some of them up. Then I turned around to hand them to the kids.

My daughter wasn't there.

"Guys, where's your sister?" I asked. They looked up, surprised. They'd been distracted by the crowd of people coming to and fro from the polling booths. They hadn't noticed that she wasn't there.

I dashed around the corner, calling her name.  No sign of her. I ducked into restrooms and stairwells. She wasn't there. I tried a few classrooms. Nothing.

I willed myself to be calm. This wasn't the first time she'd wandered, unfortunately. It happened one summer at church too. That time I had dissolved into worried tears after ten minutes of unfruitful searching, which was understandable...but getting emotional slowed me down and prevented me from thinking and acting strategically. I was determined not to do so again.

While I was searching, kid four arrived. I made a request for the staff to do an 'all-call' announcement for her over the school intercom system requesting that she come to the office. I told a few of the kids to describe her for them, as I was certain they'd send personnel to help look around campus also. Then I went back to searching.

Knowing my daughter, I tried to think of where she might have thought to go. As I pondered, I realized what a perfect opportunity days like this pose for child kidnappers.  People coming in and out of a school without raising anyone's suspicion because presumably they were all there to vote. This would be an ideal situation to lure away or snatch a child. Who would notice?

Even if she cried or protested, people would just assume that she was being disciplined by her parent. And with the increase in interracial marriages and transracial and international adoptions, it's not unusual to see families whose members are different skin colors, so that may not "raise flags" for anyone.   She could already be in someone's trunk, en route to her doom...

Nope. Not thinking that way. Where would she be? Where is my baby girl?

Think.

I had an idea. It seemed kind of silly, and perhaps a "long shot."  But I know her. It was possible. I rushed off to check.

She was there.

Standing peacefully by the pond at the side of the school. Away from the crowd. Away from the noise. Sometimes she can handle crowds and noise, even seeks it. Sometimes she can't. Today was one of the latter.

She left to give herself what she needed. Solace.

I ran over to her and slipped my hand in hers. She looked up and smiled. I couldn't smile back because I was holding back relieved tears, so I gave her a thumbs up sign.

For a short period of time my daughter was missing and it was awful.

Forever London McCabe will be missing. Why is that not awful? Why is it instead "understandable?"

It is not fair nor respectful to London's memory nor to the millions of disabled people worldwide that people feel more affinity over his autism blogger-turned murderer mom than they do him. Autism is not to blame for his death. "Lack of services" are not to blame.  "Caregiver burnout" is not to blame.


Jilian McCabe IS to blame.

Rest in power and perfect peace, sweet London. :(



Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Hypocrisy of "I Stand Sunday"

This whole situation annoys me so much that I actually wasn't going to even write any blog posts about it. I've vented about it on FB, but that was as far as it was going to go. But then a few minutes ago I saw a post online about #IStandSunday written by Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty.  (You know, the one who has made cruel and bigoted statements about marginalized groups, but professes to be a Christian.) And the hypocrisy of it all was so annoying that I penned my second letter to him. I haven't sent it via snail mail yet (only posted it on his FB page), but in the interim there is a copy of it.

In it, I ask him WWJD (what would Jesus do)?  I know that He would not condone this. He wouldn't say #IStandSunday should be used as a vehicle for hatred and deprivation of human dignity.

"Dear Mr. Robertson,

I am saddened that you are coming to MY city for #IStandSunday as a "Christian" speaker when you have publicly denigrated people of color, people living with HIV, and the LGBTQ community.  I am a Christian and do not condone hate speech nor discrimination.

When people who have said the hurtful things that you have said about others are perceived by the public to be the face and voice of the body of Christ, no one wins. Jesus demonstrated humility, love, and truth in His ministry.

I think that you need to take a good, long look at your own words and deeds and truly ponder the question, "What would Jesus do?"
Would He act the way that you have been acting, Mr. Robertson? Treat others with such disrespect and unkindness? State such hurtful things about them, such as calling them immoral and insinuating that they are being "punished" by God?

I am part of an HIV affected family, Mr. Robertson. Would you look in my children's eyes and tell them how "immoral" all of us are and that we are deserving of "God's punishment?"

If you are indeed a Christian, you and all of the people gathering with you should know that the way you are going about things is NOT pleasing to God, bringing all of this strife, division, and dissension to our city.  Over pieces of paper? Over unfounded fears? Really?

I'm praying for you. I mean that sincerely, not sarcastically. Praying hard."



Photo credit:ccclincoln

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Speaking Truth to Power: Autistics Speaking Day 2014!

(To learn about what "Autistics Speaking Day" is, click here.)

This is my very first Autistic Speaking Day! And true to form, I'm writing this in the evening, the day of (it's all about that time agnosia).  I have no idea if it will be able to be included, but I'll try anyway.) ;)

Several months ago, a non-Autistic mom of Autistic kids (whom I deeply admire) expressed that in some ways, she felt "stuck in the muck" between autism "warrior" curebie moms and Autistic adult advocates...not really belonging in either place.  I didn't speak up at the time, but even though I have known for over a year that I myself am Autistic, I could still understand what she was saying.

Like her, I cannot, and have never been able to, relate to the parents who feel that autism has "stolen" their child and compare the day they received the diagnosis of autism to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

But then, on the other side, there are some ways that I don't relate to my Autistic brothers and sisters either. I'm not referring to the individual variation you'll find in ALL people. And I'm not referring to racial, religious, gender, or other differences either. I'm talking about something else.

Many Autistics have gained a level of knowledge through their lives experiences, many of which have been painful ones. I am a "newbie" of sorts to neurodiversity and to Autistic activism, but despite that, I am right there with them.

Autistic adults are amazing. I am completely in awe of my community every day. They are NOT without flaws and certainly our community, like any other, has many areas where we could, and MUST improve.  However, even with all of our "warts" the core purpose of Autistic activism and advocacy still has tremendous merit - and it is largely altruistic as well.

Despite being regularly unappreciated, misrepresented, ignored, belittled, and misunderstood, most Autistic adults are primarily engaged in activism because they are motivated by a desire to prevent others from going through the rejection, discrimination, and hurt that they've been through not just from society as a whole, but sadly, often from within their very own families--families that didn't understand them and often didn't accept them.

And that's the major difference between myself and many other Autistics, I think. I've been through a lot of painful things as well in my lifetime. I feel their pain, and their passion. But only to a certain point.

Because all my pain and rejection came from the outside. I fortunately never had to endure any of that from my family. They knew I was different from others, though they weren't exactly sure what it was called or why. They didn't care.  They loved me. Supported me. Accepted me.

I believe sincerely that a lot of the reason that I lived and navigated my life successfully for over three decades as an undiagnosed Autistic female of color is because even though the "real world" was ableist (and sexist, racist, classist, and a whole lot of other "ists" too, but that's another convo), and was brutal, intolerant, cruel, and hateful, every time I walked into the door of my home I walked into a haven.

My family is NOT perfect. OMG they are SO not. We're all a little "off" in our own way. But all my life from the day I was born to the present I knew, and I know, that I am 100% loved and accepted exactly for whom I am.   That was a powerful, and much needed truth. Sometimes it was all I had to keep me going when everything in the world was falling apart around me. I could rely unequivocally, unfailingly, unquestionably, unconditionally on the love, acceptance, and support of my family. Not in spite of being Autistic/different. Including it.

And this Autistics Speaking Day, and every Autistics Speaking Day afterward, that is my hope, my prayer, my wish for ALL of my people on the spectrum. That even when the whole world is spewing out nothing but hate, they can rest in the knowledge that their family (and for some, "family" will refer to their family of CHOICE, not their relatives) is giving them nothing but pure unadulterated love.

Happy Autistics Speaking Day 2014 to all of us.  Much love from me and mine.



Photo credit: Autism Positivity WordPress 

Friday, October 31, 2014

So...that sucked.

Hi everyone.

It happened. It was horrible. And it's going to happen again, soon (date not yet confirmed).  It was NOT what I expected; it was WORSE.  I have a headache from endless crying, but I think I needed to get it out. I was sad. Now I'm mad.

I'm mad because the truth is being twisted. I'm mad because there are apparently hidden agendas and vendettas at play. I'm' mad because things are being horribly misconstrued.  I'm mad because although lip service is being paid to how much this is supposedly in my kids' best interest, their stability and emotional well-being is obviously not being prioritized.

It threw me off because I wasn't expecting these types of tactics; I'd assumed we were all going to operate with integrity.  Now, however, I know what I'm working with.

One of my dear friends took my daughter out to a Fall Festival tonight, and my husband spent time with our other kids. This allowed me the time to crawl into my bed and weep. I needed that.

But now that the tears have dried up, I'm fighting mad. They'd better watch out. Because I'm going to use this anger to fuel me in the next stage of this situation. I will remember how they did us and how little regard was given to my boys' feelings. It will only make me press on all the harder.

And I'm not going to let them take another day away from my family. I am taking these kids out tomorrow. I'm not going to spend the day crying and sad; we're going to go somewhere and DO something, darn it. I don't know what exactly, but I'll figure it out, because we are going to keep living.  We have to.

I appreciate the love and support you all have shown me through this. It ain't over. And it will NOT beat me. I want my life back. So I'm taking it back, by force.  I might experience some doubts and sadness along the way, but I am going to CHOOSE to keep going.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

And the children shall lead!

(A similar version of the latter part of this blog post also appears on my advocacy blog here.)

***

I hope you all don't mind me sharing something from a very unconventional little advocate...my youngest daughter. 

My daughter is six years old. She is a sweet, fun-loving little girl who loves to read, loves to sing, and loves to play. She has an IQ in the moderately gifted range. She is also a little girl of color and proudly Autistic. 

As she has been reading books independently since before she was two years old (she, like many Autistics, was hyperlexic), she took it upon herself a few months ago to dismiss me from my bedroom story duties.  Now she and her little brother, who is four years old, take nightly turns choosing a book. Then the two of them lay down and she reads aloud (since he can't read).

She was very concerned about the book that they read last night. So today she decided that wanted me to send them a letter that she wrote to tell them about her concerns. She emailed the following message to me for me to print out and send on her behalf:

"Can you put little dog in the back so the dogs can be safe? I am six years old. It made me feel confused when little dog sat in the front of the car. If kids read Being Safe they will think that they should sit in the front of the car too. It's that they won't be safe."

She was concerned about a section of the book that depicted a dog buckled in the front passenger seat beside his mother (the "animals" were dressed like humans and were acting like humans as well) while she drove them around in their car.  She wanted them to consider changing that to prevent possible safety problems. 


It has been a rough week. Very rough. But every day I see so many reasons why it is important to continue advocating, continue educating, continue caring about the world around me. I am humbled, and inspired, on a daily basis by so many wonderful people who give of themselves in an effort to make things better for all of us. 

Sometimes my daily inspiration comes from any number of the selfless, dedicated, extraordinary people who are doing amazing things around the world. 

But sometimes it comes from the simple act of a familiar person in the next room, like my baby girl.  She's just a small child, but she's pretty amazing to me actually. So very proud. 

The day before the big day...

(A similar version of the latter part of this blog post also appears on my advocacy blog here.)

So...

Tomorrow is The Day.  In the afternoon. I am PRAYING PRAYING PRAYING up a storm. Praying. Reading the Word. Crying (only once today though!). And praying some more.

I am determined to fight, determined to reach with all my might for a positive outcome. I do get worried and scared, but after the first few rocky days I have been fighting to keep a grip on my sanity and not allow myself to be overcome with fear and doubt.  I'm trying to be positive and not dwell on the negative and the "what if" scenario.  I've pledged to myself that we will utilize everything we can to address the monumental problem in our midst. And I've been trying to prioritize self-care, because this is a very emotionally draining situation.  I've been trying to occupy myself by doing what I love. Engaging in advocacy. Spending time with my family.  Dabbling in some (corny) creative writing.

My sweet hubby will be missing an important work deadline so that we can go in and wage war together tomorrow. This is the first battle; an important one. It's not likely to be the last one, but it is a crucial element in this fight. In a sense, tomorrow might "make or break" this whole thing. PLEASE keep lifting us up in your prayers and thoughts.   I will try my best to post an update. Prayerfully it will be a happy one and not a tale of defeat and woe.

But in the theme of staying positive, I'd like to switch gears and talk about something else, something that I thought was very sweet and encouraging. It's cross-posted on Advocacy Without Borders too. :)
***

I hope you all don't mind me sharing something from a very unconventional little advocate...my youngest daughter. 

My daughter is six years old. She is a sweet, fun-loving little girl who loves to read, loves to sing, and loves to play. She has an IQ in the moderately gifted range. She is also a little girl of color and proudly Autistic. 

As she has been reading books independently since before she was two years old (she, like many Autistics, was hyperlexic), she took it upon herself a few months ago to dismiss me from my bedroom story duties.  Now she and her little brother, who is four years old, take nightly turns choosing a book. Then the two of them lay down and she reads aloud (since he can't read).

She was very concerned about the book that they read last night. So today she decided that wanted me to send them a letter that she wrote to tell them about her concerns. She emailed the following message to me for me to print out and send on her behalf:

"Can you put little dog in the back so the dogs can be safe? I am six years old. It made me feel confused when little dog sat in the front of the car. If kids read Being Safe they will think that they should sit in the front of the car too. It's that they won't be safe."

She was concerned about a section of the book that depicted a dog buckled in the front passenger seat beside his mother (the "animals" were dressed like humans and were acting like humans as well) while she drove them around in their car.  She wanted them to consider changing that to prevent possible safety problems. 


It has been a rough week. Very rough. But every day I see so many reasons why it is important to continue advocating, continue educating, continue caring about the world around me. I am humbled, and inspired, on a daily basis by so many wonderful people who give of themselves in an effort to make things better for all of us. 

Sometimes my daily inspiration comes from any number of the selfless, dedicated, extraordinary people who are doing amazing things around the world. 

But sometimes it comes from the simple act of a familiar person in the next room, like my baby girl.  She's just a small child, but she's pretty amazing to me actually. So very proud. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Heartfelt thanks & slight update

Dearest friends,

(I hope you all don't mind a blog post as an update.  I know it's not the same as responding to people individually, but it's all I am able to manage right now. I hope you can all "feel" my heart through my words.)

When I tentatively rejoined/reconnected with the "real world" today (for pretty much the first time in a few days), I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support, concern, prayers, offers to help, etc regarding our family situation. Messages, comments, emails, texts, voicemails from so many people letting us know that we were loved and not alone.  It meant so much to me that even though my "spoons"/energy are still on the low side, I felt compelled to write this post addressing all of this, and all of you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. So much. I do not possess a vocabulary sufficient enough to express my sincere gratitude to each and every one of you. Thank you. As I said earlier, I lack the emotional strength right now to respond individually the way that I should, but please know how very much it is appreciated.

I am hurting right now, a lot. I had an uncle pass away this week on top of everything else that is going on. And though I already miss him, his death was somewhat expected given his valiant battle with a lengthy illness.  This new development/unexpected situation affecting my sons' security in our family was absolutely NOT expected. We were 100% broadsided by this. It might sound odd, but even though they are living, the situation with my boys hurts even worse than my uncle's death.

Right now I am in deep distress and emotional pain, and though I know it isn't rational, I also feel a sense of guilt over my inability to "fix" this and prevent my children from potentially enduring something that they shouldn't have to. Cognitively, I know it's not my fault, but my heart feels differently.  I feel as though in some way I should have seen this coming, somehow...I'm a relatively smart person and should have been aware.  But despite being technically "smart," I'm also a very naïve person in some ways. I'm a "straight shooter;" I don't play games and don't always detect when others are doing so. Obviously, at great peril.

I have had a very difficult time the last few days "dealing" with this disturbing discovery.  The way I have handled it is to basically hibernate; the kids went to be with relatives who had a greater grip on their sanity than I this weekend, and essentially I just stayed at home (mostly in bed) hiding from the world, though during select moments of lucidity I did try to process, strategize, and cope.  My DH tried to draw me out to support and encourage me, but I was very enveloped in pain and sadness, so sadly I wasn't as receptive as I could have been. Fortunately he understands, especially as he is hurting too.

The things that I usually enjoy doing - I couldn't handle them. So I haven't been on any outings, haven't been on social media or online, haven't really seen or talked to anyone, haven't been able to cook, or read, or write, or listen to music. I have sent regrets for nearly all of the meetings and conference calls I have coming up throughout this week because I don't feel that I can handle any of that right now.

I know I have not shared with specificity what is going on.  I'm sorry to be vague, but legally, I cannot say much (and might have already said more than I'm supposed to in my earlier post, even though I didn't spell it all out; I hope not though). If all goes according to plan, we have an important "meeting" (not the real term for it, but one that reveals less and is safer to use) with key individuals coming up that will shed more light on what is to come. Once that has passed, it is possible that I might be less restricted in terms of communication about some details, though many other areas of the situation will likely remain off-limits.

Please know that it isn't because I don't trust people to keep my confidences if shared privately that I am not revealing details. It's because I want to be ethical in my dealings and try as much as possible to play by the rules, even though I think some of the rules are frankly a load of BS.  As they've asked us not to speak in detail about it, I want to honor that.

I don't want to give anyone any ammunition against us or to appear that we are disregarding policies and expressed wishes about how all involved parties will conduct ourselves.  It's important to me as a person, and as a Christian, that I fight fair. I am definitely going to fight, but I want my hands to be clean in this. (I know that until now no one was aware of legal nuances, so please don't misinterpret my words as being critical of anyone who encouraged me to share more freely if possible.)

I feel very blessed that so many people are willing to help us in some way if given a chance. I am a true believer in the power of unified voices. And I have no shame when it comes to my kids; no shame at all. If the time indeed comes that my global network of friends can weigh in on our behalf, believe me I will not hesitate to send out the call.  When one is in need, it is critical to seek help even if it's not something one is accustomed to doing on a personal level. There's too much at stake to try to "go it alone" when there are people willing to assist. I am truly, truly blessed to have so many great people who are willing to help us.

In many ways, when it comes to my life I am a very open person, but in other ways, especially when it comes to sensitive matters related to my children, and also when it comes to certain emotions, I can be pretty private. (I'm sure most of us are like that.) Writing balances this dynamic, however; it is an integral part of helping me function in the parts of my life that are open as well as the parts that are more private.

Writing is therapeutic for me, but it is also do much more than just that.  As long as I can remember, writing has been instrumental in helping me to have a positive outlet to "get out" feelings and/or experiences that are otherwise too difficult for me to express, or even at times understand. It is my "native language." But because, like most Autistics, I'm an "all or nothing" person; as such, there are times that my writing can sometimes leave me feeling somewhat naked and exposed.

That feeling of exposure, of emotional nudity - while it might make one feel vulnerable, it is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it was too much for me this weekend.  I really put myself "out there" and it was scary. I'm not perfect, but I am usually strong, usually pretty positive, and usually able to hold it together. In this situation, though, that has NOT been the case. It is a scary thing to admit to oneself, and even scarier share with other people.  It makes you feel like...I don't really know, exactly. Not ashamed. Not embarrassed. Just...I don't know.  I guess wounded, broken. Hurt. All if the things I do feel, with this.

I captured my weary heart in words. Then I literally logged on to FB, posted the blog link as a status, and logged right off - and stayed off.  To share that post was very revealing for me, and difficult. But I felt that I needed to, as I didn't know how else to express the depth of my emotions regarding this whole mess.

I am going to try, slowly and in small doses, to re-engage with people IRL and online. I still feel very, very weak and wobbly, and very sad. But I need to "keep going" in life. I need to NOT give up hope no matter how dismal things look, because the final outcome is not yet determined. My kids need me to re-summon that fighter spirit that I have. It might be somewhat "worse for wear," but it is still in me somewhere. I need to channel that.

I need to fight for my kids, for my family, for myself. I cannot do that laying in my bed staring at the wall and sleeping for hours at a time.  Self-care is important, but there's a time to "lick one's wounds" and a time to fight. Right now I need to fight. Well, I guess I kinda need to do both actually (nurse my wounds as well as fight, but more of the fighting.

You have all been wonderful, and I can't thank you enough for showering us with so much kindness. I feel so supported, and will try to draw strength from your friendship and love. My family has been great also; pitching in to help and support us through this nightmare.  The other day my mother gave me all of these songs and Bible verses to meditate on when I start feeling sad. When she first tried to give them to me, I have to admit that even though I consider myself a strong Christian, I haven't exactly been acting like one, and I wasn't very receptive at first. I've been pretty preoccupied with feeling downtrodden and devoid of hope.

I told her to definitely keep praying over this, but shared with her that I felt really sad because it looked like a lost cause.  Even though I appreciated what she was trying to do, I was just too worried to "get" what she was trying to say. I said that my family was like a little "David" and this situation was like a giant "Goliath" (from the Bible story).

But then she reminded me that even though, like us, David was smaller and less equipped than his opponent, in the Biblical account he still won. He was victorious despite the fact that it appeared to be hopeless. She said that I can be victorious in this as well.  And then she demanded that I get up, shower, and eat. Even if I was going to get back in bed afterward, she said, she wanted me to at least do those few things for myself.

It's kind of ironic; one of my favorite Bible verses is in Genesis 50 and talks about how a particular circumstance that was meant for harm ended up being used by God for good. I would love to experience that in this scenario.  I hope and pray with all that is in me that this will not go the way it looks like it's going to go. Please, please, please. I'll do anything not to have it end up like that. I just don't think I can handle that; I really don't. I don't want to have to handle that.

I don't know what is going to happen, but I desperately want a positive outcome. Even if it is an unrealistic thing to hope for. Even if it seems like that's a ridiculous thing to want. Can the seemingly impossible be possible? I need it to be.

I thank you all for your love, and apologize for not being responsive to messages/emails/etc right now. It's not malicious; I'm just really bruised and not yet ready to be in regular communication with people yet.

I intend to listen to and read everything that has been sent when I can even if I don't get back to you for some time; please know that I am grateful. You are not "pestering" me (someone asked if they were) in the slightest; it is helpful to know that we have people in our corner who care so much about our children and our family. If you can, continue to remember us in your prayers and/or thoughts. We need them - so, so much.

With loving appreciation & gratitude,

Morénike & fam


Saturday, October 25, 2014

I Lied to Them

I lied to them.

Over two years ago when we finally brought them home, after all those years of bureaucracy and fighting to make it happen. They were finally home. Home. I wrapped my arms around them and told them this was their home. Their mom. Their dad. Their siblings. They'd never have to leave; never have to move anywhere else again.

I lied to them.

They locked the doors to the restroom when they bathed or voided. They locked the bedroom doors when they changed clothes. They locked themselves in the closet when they felt scared. I told them that they were free to lock the doors as long as they wanted to, but that they no longer needed to. They were safe at home, with their family. No one would ever hurt them again.

I lied to them.

They bonded with my siblings. My nieces and nephews. My parents. My cousins.  I told them that this was their family. They were as much a part of it as every member that was born into it. Our culture was now their culture too. Our traditions their traditions. Our name their name. They would grow up with us, a part of us. All of their lives they'd have this extended family connection.

I lied to them.

I told them that they would have a chance to graduate elementary and middle school with the friends that they'd made. No more would they be the perpetual "new kid." They could let their guard down; get rooted. The people they'd met at church, in sports, in scouts, in the neighborhood - these were people that they would be able to establish a bond with throughout many years. They would have numerous years of memories of fun and friendship.

I lied to them.

When they woke up with nightmares, remembering their past, crying and screaming. When they courageously confided the horrors they'd survived. When they broke windows, walls, doors. Every one of these times they asked if we were "finally" going to send them "back."  Every time we told them that there was no "back." They were HOME.

I lied to them.

If this "meeting" fails, which it seems likely to, in a matter of weeks my family will be no more.

I lied to them.

They don't share my DNA, so I am powerless; dependent upon others to determine my babies' fate.

I lied to them.

Unless my God, whom I am beseeching with the tears and pleas of a mother's heart, intervenes, they will face their 11th move in their short lifetimes - their eighth in a decade.

I lied to them.

I didn't mean to, but I lied to them.

I lied to them.

I lied to them.

I lied to them.

And that makes me as just as bad as all of the people who hurt, neglected, and violated them all of these years. Maybe worse. It doesn't matter if I meant well; the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I lied to them.

I lied to them.

I lied to them.

I will NEVER forgive myself.

I will NEVER get over this.

I hate myself more than I have ever hated another human being.

God, please protect my babies in the way that I will no longer be able to. Please hear my broken cry.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Who Really Cares About All of This?" I Do.

"Who Really Cares About All This?" I Do.

She didn't mean any harm, this nice woman who is the parent of one of my children's classmates. I'd contacted her to respond to (yet another) query asking several parents to consider volunteering at a particular time of day.  I gently explained that while I was happy to help out as needed in other ways and at other times, I couldn't commit to this particular task due to other obligations. She seemed satisfied by my answer at the time, but proceeded to bring it up on another occasion (today) while we were waiting for the children to be dismissed from school.

I'd gotten to school early (a rarity for me, lol), so I had a few minutes to spare before the bell rang. She was waiting there, along with another parent. I greeted both, exchanged some polite pleasantries/used my small talk script.  She brought up the volunteering thing again and I politely declined, citing the same reasons that I'd already given her.  Then I whipped out my phone.  I logged on to Twitter, and started signal boosting some tweets about the current #IAmNotKelliStapleton/#WalkInIssysShoes flashblog as well as the upcoming #EndVAWHIV (Day of Action to End Violence Against Women with HIV) flash blog.

After a few minutes, I glanced up and noticed that she was peering (nosily) over my shoulder, looking at my screen. A bit startled, I gave a half-hearted smile, put my phone in my lap, and searched my brain frantically for the appropriate script to use when someone is reading your tweets/posts without your permission. I didn't come up with one, and was trying to figure out what to say when she asked, "So what is this flash blog thing you're writing about, exactly?"

O-kay.

Although that wasn't what I was expecting her to say, I thought it was as perfect an opportunity as any to share. I asked her if she was familiar with autism, and informed her that I was autistic.  We then spent some time talking about autism, and progressed to a discussion of the Stapleton tragedy and the Dr. Phil show episodes. She was familiar with the topics, and we had a relatively decent conversation.



I then segued into how important it was for the public to have an accurate, non-stigmatizing portrayal of autistics and their families - as well as people with disabilities in general. I talked about how harmful it can be when people equate autism to violent behavior, using media speculation over the neurology of people involved in recent school shootings as an example.  I shared how many in our community were hoping that we could re-center the conversation about autism to make it more balanced and more inclusive.

She listened attentively.  Then, with a dismissive wave of her hand and a little laugh, she remarked that she "couldn't be me" because she thought the idea of being involved in activities outside of our children's school was "draining."

"Is all that really a big deal?" she asked.  "I mean, isn't there time to worry about all that autism stuff later? It seems like you're making a big deal out of stuff that's not necessary right now. I mean, when they grow up and graduate, maybe you should do something then," she said.  "I don't think you should be doing flash blogs about stuff going on with people you don't even know.  To me, seems like overkill to worry about that right now; who really cares about all this?"

Fortunately, that was the end of the conversation, because the bell rang and kids started pouring out.  As I walked away, I replayed the conversation in my head, wondering if she feels sorry for me because I think there's a world outside the PTO, class mom duties, and class parties?  She says she "couldn't be me?" I find that ironic, because I "couldn't be" like her.

"Who really cares about all this?" she asked.

Well, I do, darn it.  I do.

I'm not knocking the very important role of parental involvement in schools. Research shows that it extremely important for parents to play an active part in their children's education. I have no "beef" with the PTO; I'm a proud dues-paying PTO member of all four of the schools my kids attend. I've chaperoned many field trips and baked treats for many class parties.

Heck, I drive over four hours a day to three different sides of town to ensure my kids can attend schools that best meet their needs as opposed to just settling with the school that's five minutes away. I help with homework, revise rough drafts, make "flash cards" for quizzes, cut and glue items aplenty for science fair projects. I agree that it's important to be involved in my kids' school affairs.

However, I reject the idea that there's something wrong with caring about things outside of that. I can't fathom what it means to think it's acceptable to ignore the world around me until my kids get out of school. My youngest child just barely turned four; he has a minimum of 14 more years until he is out of school. And as he, like his siblings, is disabled, it may not be in his best interest to finish school in 14 years; he might need to retain public school transition services for 16-18 years. Am I supposed to refrain from any meaningful involvement in life activities until then?

People are being viewed as "less than" NOW.  People are having their constitutional rights denied NOW.  People are being bullied NOW.  People are being abused NOW.  People are being discriminated against NOW.  People are being hurt NOW.  People are being killed NOW.

I cannot wait, and I will not wait.

My strong love for my children and the desire to fight to make this world a better place for them will not permit me to ignore the world around me for years on end until the timing is "more convenient" for me. By the time my kids grow up, many opportunities to try to effect change will have been lost.  The time to DO something is now, not later. Not only so that I can try to make things better for their future, but also so that I can lead by example. They will not always be children; they will one day be adults, and when that time comes, they and their peers will be the leaders, the thinkers, the decision-makers. They will need to know how to speak up - and out - for themselves. But if I - their parent - don't do that, how will they learn?

Until they can speak for themselves, I believe it is MY job, my duty, my responsibility, and my privilege, as their mother, to do it for them. To assert their personhood. To make sure that they are viewed properly and not tokenized and/or stereotyped.  To demand that they are given the rights and dignity they deserve as human beings, regardless of their skin color, the country they were born in, their serostatus, their faith, their gender, their disability status, their neurology, or any other factor.

They need me to do that just as much as they need me to look over their homework, bring fruit for the class party, or check their reading logs.

In fact, they probably need it even more than any of that.

By Morénike Onaiwu


For more flash blog posts, click here.)