Wednesday 25 May 2011

Like You've Just Stepped Out Of A Salon

I owe you all a salon story. Remember this ad?

Well, that is not how our trip to the salon made us feel, not at all. To start with, they were rude. I mean really, extraordinarily rude. We arrived on time, and I went to the woman at the reception desk and said I had a 10am appointment for my daughter. 
"We don't have any record of that appointment" she said, not even looking at the appointment book. 
"Are you sure?"I asked. "I phoned yesterday". 
She stared at me. "No, nothing". 

I was about a millimetre from saying kthxbaiand beating a hasty retreat when an older woman walked over to us. She looked at the appointment book, pointed, and said to the younger woman
"Look, the appointment is right here. It's in your handwriting". The first woman shrugged. 
"I guess it's my handwriting, but I didn't make that appointment". The older woman spoke sharply to her and told her- you made the appointment, now do the braids. The first woman shrugged again. She looked at Pink's hair. 
"It's too short to braid, anyway. I can't braid her hair". 
"It's not too short" said the older woman. 
"Well, I can't braid it". 


The older woman called to a third woman. 
"Can you do these braids?" she asked.  "I would do them myself, but I have an appointment in half an hour"
"No, I can't" she replied, regretful. "I have an appointment in a few minutes too".  The older woman raised her eyebrows. 
"You don't," she said. "I have the book in front of me and you don't have anybody coming for two hours".  Then all three of them glared at each other for a little while and I wished I were anywhere, anywhere but there. Eventually the older woman said:
"Fine. I'll do it. My next appointment can wait" and she led us over to a chair. 

This is probably a good moment to explain a little bit more about why I chose to take Pink to a salon rather than try her first braids at home. I'm pretty confident about the technicalities of braiding; the problem is that she hates having my fingers anywhere near her head. Not while eating, not while on my lap, not while watching a DVD and absolutely no way  in the bath. Both Pink and Blue are extreeeeeemely tender-headed. I have no idea how much of it is physical - I'm sure having their hair detangled does hurt - and how much is psychological - they often start to yell well before I actually start detangling.  When I tried to put puffs in Pink's hair, she struggled and kicked and yelled and screamed. I've given them medicine and put them struggling into prams and changed their nappies when they were angry about it and had 101 other standard annoyed-kid experiences with them - trust me, their reaction to hair stuff is absolutely and utterly beyond. We do detangle regularly, because that's pretty much compulsory, but trying braids at home was always going to be a disaster. Getting someone else to do it seemed like a good idea - if part of her aversion was psychological, where pain from detangling causes fear of detangling and then fear of detangling causes extreme paranoia about letting mama into the space-helmet-sized-curl-zone-of-personal-space, then getting a new person to do it seemed like a smart way to try to break the cycle.  

Well, I can now exclusively reveal that this did not work at all. It went wrong right at the start, as soon as we sat down. The stylist wanted to blow her hair 'out' so she could work with the maximum length. I'm not sure if I've said this before about Pink - she is scared of a lot of stuff. Two things she is particularly scared of: hairdryers and combs. So when she saw a hairdryer coming at her with a comb attached to it she nearly lost her tiny little mind. Before it came anywhere near her head she was climbing up my chest and wailing and trying to escape.

This was the point at which I began to think - okay, this was a REALLY bad idea, and not just because I feel like the white invader in a minority safe space where I'm obviously not welcome. But the stylist had gone out of her way to do this when nobody else would, and I didn't feel like I could just walk out. She blew out her hair. Pink screamed. She did the first parting. The screaming went up ten notches. She started to braid it into cornrows, and the screaming went through the roof. I was clutching Pink and stroking her back. 99% of my brain was taken up with trying to comfort my beloved child, but I will admit the other 1% was thinking Hey! I asked for box braids!   

The stylist got down one row, and started the second.  Pink was shuddering and wailing and I had no idea what to do. Do I sound unsympathetic? I was not unsympathetic, I was on the edge of tears myself. Her face was covered in snot from crying and suddenly she flipped her whole body across to the other side of my lap. At this, the stylist threw her hands up in the air and said "I can't do this!" She put down her comb. Air rushed back into my lungs. Mentally, I already had Pink back in the pram and we were out the door together. I decided that I would worry about taking out her single cornrow at a later point, like next year. But before I could get up, the first woman - the one who I spoke to at the desk - came over to our chair and said "Okay, I will do it."

She elbowed the older woman out of the way and made a start on the second cornrow. Pink, who had briefly stopped crying, started up again. It's hard to know what to say about cornrows two through eight except that I'm not sure whether holding Pink on my lap through that experience means I should get a medal or get fired completely as a mother. At one point I asked if I could sing to her, because singing has always been how I have calmed her, since she was a tiny tiny thing. The new stylist said okay, and that is how I found myself belting out 'The Lord's My Shepherd' (her favourite) at the top of my lungs in front of all the staff and customers. It calmed her for about a minute, until she realised that singing or not, her head was still being attacked and I gave up. By this point there were a few other customers in the salon. One was not very pleased at my choice of song, saying "I feel like I am back at Sunday School!" But the others were smiling at each other and making nostalgic, sympathetic noises at me, the sort of noises that older mothers make to younger mothers while they wait in fear for their children to get vaccinated. This helped my state of mind- it helped a lot, in fact. 

Once she had decided to help us, the young woman was actually pretty good about putting braids onto a writhing, screaming toddler. (I found out why later, when she rang up the price and I saw she had given herself a 50% tip). She took up the singing when I stopped, asking me for Pink's name and then singing 'Piiiiiink, she is a veerrrrryyy nice giiiiiiiirl' over and over again in a voice being both remarkably tuneless and remarkably loud. Eventually - after the longest hour of my my life - she finished. I put my girl - exhausted from screaming, eyes puffy and red - back in her pram. I paid, and didn't quibble about being gouged over price.  I stumbled out, legs quivering, as quickly as I could. 

And truth be told? I don't even really like the style. I don't think it suits her. I really wanted box braids. But I think it's going to be a long, long, loooooong time before we get to find out whether they suit her any better. 

[Part 2, which you can skip if you want to]

And okay, because I can't tell a story without picking away at what everything meant, I have to add that the whole experience was pretty confronting for me on quite a few levels. So many things to think about concerning race and hair and mothering and what's good for kids versus what they want, and then wondering whether some of those good things are really as good as I am assuming. Much of this was not really a big surprise, if difficult to live at the time. But one that was a surprise: after this happened, I had a long conversation with some really good friends at work about what the experience had been like. (They heard the original phone conversation, so they wanted to know how it would all end up). I told them what I've told you, and each person who joined the conversation said 'do you think they were rude to you because you were white?'  And I said I didn't know. Then I said that was what made it particularly hard - I had no idea whether the whole thing was about the colour of my skin or whether I had done or said something wrong, or whether the particularly rude woman just had a terrible hangover and didn't want to be at work at all that day.  Then a I said how difficult I find it that my children are going to face this situation much more often than me, where they have no idea whether a difficult situation has happened because of their colour. Nothing too monumental there. For a moment I felt like I had been through an experience that would really help me to understand what my children's life would be like.  

And then an explosion happened in my brain and I realised - every single person who has asked me about this experience has at least considered that the tension I experienced could be attributed to race. Nobody dismissed me when I wondered about it, I didn't feel like I had to apologise for suggesting it, and most people brought it up on their own.  If our Zimbabwean colleague had walked in with a different story about how rude people had been at a different place of business, I doubt that any of us would have been very quick to say 'do you think they were rude to you because you are black?'  It wouldn't have been our first thought, if the conversation that he reported hadn't been explicitly about race. And if he had suggested it himself (which he definitely would not have, based on my knowledge of how he operates) we would have considered it but I suspect that at least one of us would have said 'hey, it was probably nothing to do with that, she was probably just tired!'  I know that's happened to me a few times when I've wondered out loud about whether my children have been treated a particular way because of their colour.  But that didn't happen when the person who might have been treated rudely due to race was me . I shared my brain explosion with my colleagues and we all said 'oooooh' and sat there silently for a little while, pondering.  It's taken me until now to sort it out enough in my head to write about it, and I'm sure I still haven't explained it very well. 

I know white privilege is real, but it freaked me out a little - okay a lot- to feel that I even get to have white privilege when I'm talking about the fact that I may have experienced racial prejudice. There's something mighty messed up about that. 

Twins On A Plane

That's the film they really should have made. 

We are due to fly to Australia in about two weeks. Fifteen-ish days. 360 hours, not that I'm counting, not that I'm absolutely horrified by the prospect.  I'm looking forward to being there, of course, I'm just really, really dreading going. At the moment I'm spending all my non-existent spare time running around in ever-decreasing circles, trying to work out how we will manage two large, not-really-verbal lap children for twenty four hours. I'm sort of wishing we had shelled out the additional thousand or so pounds to get seats for them, which shows just how irrational I am becoming about the whole thing. 

We have pre-booked bassinet seats, although the bassinets won't really be large enough for our almost-two-year-olds to sleep in them. We have got a prescription for the UK equivalent of Benadryl, so that should help when we just can't stand it anymore if they are having difficulty sleeping draped over our shoulders. (Yes, I am an unapologetic fan of drugging children when appropriate, although this is the first time we will have actually tried sedating them. On really bad days, if I want myself to feel a bit better when they are sick and super-cranky, I close my eyes and imagine that I'm living in ye olden times,  before magical pink syrup was invented.  Then I open my eyes and say to myself Surprise! It's 2011! and go to the medicine cabinet and nothing seems quite so bad). 

But even I do not plan on drugging them for the entire trip. So, this is my plea for travelling tips.Our two are exceptionally adorable, but frankly not especially advanced for their age, so they aren't really at the sedentary-focused-imaginative-play stage yet. Colouring holds no interest for them.  They are at an age where they want to be doing. Their favourite toys right now are miniature strollers - they love to tear around the house pushing their animals and dolls. It's very cute, but it's not going to be an option on an aircraft. We know about buying lots of cheap small toys and pulling them out of my bag every hour or so. Well, in theory. In practice, we're not quite sure exactly what sort of toys to buy, since most small toys look like have been specifically designed to fit exactly into a toddler's windpipe. 

Ideas?  Seriously, we are going to need all the help we can get. 

Monday 16 May 2011

May 11: Day In Photos

In case you couldn't tell from the header, this is my (freakishly long) post for Evelyn's Day In Photos linkup. (Thanks, E!)

On Thursday morning, I woke up in the spare bed. I've been unwell and my cold had turned into a cough. Now, J and I hardly fight but one thing that brings out the worst in both of us is me being sick. I want him to cosset me, and he wants me to shut up and stop whining. The less sympathetic he is, the more I whine, the more I whine, the more he wants me to shut up and the less sympathetic he is. It's not pretty. It's worst of all at night time because he takes each cough as a personal insult, specifically planned by me to keep him from sleeping. And I take each martyr-like sigh (from him, when I cough) as a message that he doesn't love me at all. Lose-lose. 

So on Wednesday night I decided to spare both of us this trauma and slept in the spare room. It was the perfect solution. I didn't stay awake suppressing coughs; he didn't stay awake grinding his teeth at me. We both slept well; he brought me coffee in the morning to wake me up. Win-win. Because sometimes marriage means loving each other enough  not to share a bed.  

All that to say: I don't have a picture of the coffee. You know what coffee looks like. He goes to work. I drink my coffee in bed. 

The babies gave their unwell mother the best present ever and slept in - their latest ever, I think. Don't hate me when I say that they woke up at eight o'clock. It's not normal, I promise. First thing, milk at 8:01: 

Followed by second thing, at about 8:11 - ummmm.... leopard management classes, Pink?  (There's that stocking hat I promised you).

Does anybody else take an INSANELY long time to get their children ready in the mornings? I swear it took us the first hour of the day just to get downstairs. I whipped out the video camera, just in case anybody wanted to see Blue go NUTS about his current favourite song  (he can do the actions properly, by the way, he just gets so excited sometimes that he forgets):

(It's been bugging me for weeks - what does he look like in that outfit? I finally remembered as I was typing this - a vintage penguin book. See what I mean?
(Bad choice of title, incidentally - their room has a view of a carpark). Also very exciting: Pink is very excited about having discovered a new body part, her 'bettabutta':  (Personally,  I am less excited about the fact that I keep on forgetting our video camera cuts off the last two seconds or so of each video we take)

We go downstairs, eat breakfast and then it's time for a morning dance before going out.

Morning dance time is my cynical daily attempt to keep them in a good mood. Our best morning (or indeed anytime) dance CD is unquestionably Sharon, Bram and Lois' Great Big Hits vol 1. It was a present from my sister. She has a degree in music and one in early childhood education so I take her kids' music suggestions very seriously. So should you.

Right. So they woke up at 8, and all we have done is get them dressed, had a dance or two and eaten breakfast, it must be what, 8.30?  Nope. Time to leave the house: it's 10:00.

Every Thursday we go to singing time at the library. I love it. They love it. We love it. It's at 10:30 and we walk there - we are nearly always late. Not this week! This week we were on time because I was meeting a new friend there - she's only around town for 2 weeks and we met in the park on Tuesday. She is stuck in a hotel room with her baby while her husband works here for two weeks (they're from Australia) and she seemed nice so... I invited her to come singing with us. This is fairly out of character for me. Usually I try to avoid eye contact with strangers. Who knows what happened? Anyway, she is nice so that's a relief.

11am: Singing has just finished. Here is the usual post-singing scene of library carnage:

After the library, three of us (including my new friend) went to Starbucks for coffee / babies' lunch. This is a standard part of my Thursday routine and I really really like it - we go to Starbucks because they are the only cafe that tends to have enough highchairs for three or four children (This drives me CRAZY, by the way. Lots of places only have one or two, which means they are off-limits if I want to meet a friend who also has a kid. I couldn't understand why local businesses would shoot themselves in the foot like this until I realised that hey, they don't actually want my custom until my kids are older, less messy and eat food bought on the premises rather than the endless parade of jam sandwiches that is all my children will allow to pass their lips at the moment. Okay, digression over). I catch up with my friend H, usually, and we try to entice our children to eat by getting the other mother to offer them the food. It doesn't really work. It worked even less well than usual this week because Blue decided that what he really wanted to be doing was running around, pulling packs of coffee off the shelf.  I didn't get any pictures. Here we all are afterwards:

Believe me, crying on the inside. And in case anybody isn't sure, the well-groomed, made-up person on the left is not me.

Then we went on to Marks and Spencer to buy a few groceries. M&S is popular with the over-sixties crowd, and it's more expensive, but usually quieter than the other central option so that's where I chose to get the bread and milk we needed. But in one of those strange statistical flukes, it was heaving - heaving - with people. (I bet the place next door was empty). This fact is relevant only because Blue was pushing all of my buttons in there and we ended up having a big time face-off in front of pretty much every senior citizen in town.   I nearly cried.  I'm chalking it up to the continued efforts to teach just-because-we-are-not-in-our-house-that-doesn't-mean-you-can-be-naughty. We have a way to go.

It was mortifying. But I won.

Back home, time for naps. You can't tell here, but this travel cot is in our spare room. It's a tiiiiiny room, so the only place for the cot to go is on top of the double bed in there. So, when I slept in there on Wednesday night I first had to manoeuvre the cot over so it was sort of leaning against the wall and there was enough room for me to cram my body alongside. I hauled it back to the middle of the bed and put Blue inside. We separate them for naps because they don't always need the same amount of sleep.

Oh yeah, Mummy, I am TOTALLY ready for my nap.

Then I cleaned up a bit, then 2pm: Lunchtime for me! I ate it in the pocket-handkerchief-sized-garden that is attached to our pocket-sized-house, and if we didn't have so much washing up you could see that the clematises were blooming. But I guess if you cared about clematises, you'd be reading a different sort of blog.

The worst thing about sharing childcare with J is the fact that we often sniff the children, look at each other and say: "I thought YOU were bathing them!" The problem is that they are both big-time bathtime poopers, so bathing them is not for the faint of heart. Straight after their nap seems to be their best chance for a bath with no untoward incidents. Recently they have both been doing a bit of bathtime-refusenik-ing, and this day I had so much trouble getting Blue in that I decided to stick with just one. Once he'd been in for about 5 minutes, he was having a great time. Obviously.

Actually, they were both in really unusually good moods all day. When they are happy and clean we sometimes go and mess around on our bed after bathtime. When they are UNhappy, it's pointless because they spend the whole time whining to be up when they are down and down when they are up. But this was the sort of day for which feather duvets and bouncy mattresses are intended (4pm):

(For anybody looking closely - that is WATER on her clothes. She slipped over on the bathroom floor and fell on her butt into one of his many splashing puddles).

See what I mean by happy? I would thank morning dance time, but we do that every day and it doesn't usually work. Usually this kind of approach from him would send her into a frenzy of screaming and fingernails. But they are actually kissing.  These two fight so much - so much - I'd say it's by far the hardest thing about parenting them. This gives me some hope that one day they will be glad to have each other around.

Now here they are, practising for bedtime. This is the 'you can't brush my teeth if you can't get at my head' position.

Downstairs, dressed. Blue is turning his headstands into some form of upside down ballet while I make their pasta.

Here are my two geniuses eating. They love cutlery. They wouldn't be without it. They like to hold it in one hand, while they shovel food into their mouths with the other. And by food, I guess I mean 'pasta' since that is the only thing they really like to eat.
After dinner they get to watch an episode of Playschool, the only Nanna-approved television programme for under-4s. Fortunately, they love it. LOVE it. They watch while I comment on blogs clean the kitchen from their dinner.
I could be anywhere during this 25 minutes and they wouldn't know or care. This would bother me, except by this point of the day I would usually RATHER be anywhere else. So win-win, again. And did I mention it's Nanna-approved? (Speaking of Nanna - ball is still in their court re: the fabulous guest post they have the option of writing for all of us. I'll let you know when I hear more. Also - salon stories later).
Seriously, Mummy, why are you still here? I'm watching my stories.

It's nearly time for bed. This isn't on the hour, but had to share with you what happens when I ask Blue to show Mummy dancing. 

7pm: bedtime. Here's Pink, back in her pyjamas, still entranced by her bettabutta.

I clean up and fritter away time commenting on more blogs until 8pm: J gets home from work. That's pretty much his normal time, which I reallyreallyreallyreally hate. Dinner ready to go straight away - carnitas from this fabulous recipe, black beans from this wonderful book, both made in mega-bulk in the slow cooker and frozen, ready to be defrosted at a moment's notice and crammed into tortillas with whatever else we have lying around that feels vaguely Mexican. And cheese.  (In case you're wondering, yes those are monkey legs you can see on the worktop).

We're both exhausted. We watch some episodes of the office and go to bed. Before that we check on the kidlets :

Flash doesn't wake them up, fortunately! Both asleep. And a few minutes later, so were we. 

Monday 9 May 2011

Hi There, Mum And Dad

No, that's not a typo. Because it turns out that my parents read my blog. Hi Guys. 

Mum told me that she can't remember exactly when she found it, but it was probably more than a year ago. And they've been reading it ever since. And have read nearly all the archives. I love my parents dearly and we are very close but  when they told me a few days ago I was freaked out cranky surprised, to say the least. This space to write freely about our unusual parenting journey has been really important to me. I was very weirded out to find out that it was not as private as I thought. 

Mum told me that it had actually been very, very easy to find me. (Just for the record? If you're ever having this conversation with someone? That did not make me feel better). 

After the conversation (by email, and on the phone) I asked myself: Why am I so upset? I don't want to be a hypocrite. I don't want to be the kind of person who shows one face to one group of people, and another face to everyone else.  If I'm ashamed of what I write here, I shouldn't be writing it at all.  (Although if I'd known my parents were reading, I might have at least changed the title of this post to mythical-crack-ladies-of-the-night). 

A blog is not a diary. It doesn't have a lock. I know that. And yet. Having found this lock-less space, here are some Clues that your child is trying to keep their blog under the real-life radar: 

  • There's the fact that I blog under a fake name. Of all people, the people who chose my real name should notice the difference, yes?  Mater and Pater, were you sitting there saying to each other "Hang on, I forget. Did we call our second daughter Claudia? I thought we called her something else. Can you remember, honey?' Were you having this conversation, dear parents? Hmmmm? HMMMMMMMM? 
  • There are the paranoid posts, like this this and this, where I talk about how awful it would be if people I knew in real life were reading my blog. 
  • There's the fact that I blog under a fake name. 
  • There's the fact that I maintain an entirely separate family blog. 
  • There's the fact that I have never, ever mentioned this blog to them despite having been writing it for three years
  • Did I mention that I blog under a fake name? 

Which leads me on to Clues that they knew perfectly well I was trying to keep my blog under the radar: 

  • There's the fact that they never mentioned they had found it at the time when they first found it
  • There's the fact that they have been saying 'oh really?' when I tell them things I have already mentioned here, rather than 'Duh! We know! We totally found your blog!'    
  • There's the fact that the above two things have been happening for around a YEAR

Which leads me onto Oh boy do I feel stupid now and its close friends They really should have told me and What shall I do next? 

  • There's the option of no longer blogging at all. That's not what I want. 
  • There's the option of making this blog private. I don't like that option either. The whole point of blogging, in my opinion, is pooling wisdom with a whole bunch of people I don't know. (And posting videos of my cat). I like the collaborative nature of public blogging, and I want to be part of that.
  • There's the option of asking my parents not to read any more. 
  • Or, if they want to keep reading there is the option of making them pinky-swear not to mention it to anyone else, ever and devising a suitable forfeit.

And so I asked myself: What would Gilbert and Sullivan do? There's a famous line from The Mikado that my Father likes to quote - it's from this song -that goes: Let the Punishment Fit The Crime.  

So. I need your help to make that happen. Since they've been reading, my best idea is that they should have to do some writing, yes?  If they want to keep reading, I think they should have to write a guest post. (Each?)  Since they have read the entire archives of this blog, and are now experts on adoption from the APs point of view, I wondered whether we should demand a grandparent's guide: How to Support Your Child While They Adopt Your Grandchild. 

But that's just one idea. I'm totally open to suggestions. What do YOU want to hear from FascinatingNanna and FascinatingGrandpa? (Stories about me are not an option. If they want to tell embarrassing stories about their children, they can get their own blog). Or should the forfeit be something else entirely? Or should I just say please stop? (Does your family read your blog?)

These are not rhetorical questions, people. There will be no stories about our (horrific) trip to the salon, or photos of Pink in braids, or photos of Pink looking like the world's tiniest bank robber in her new stocking cap, until y'all help me out with this. 

Friday 6 May 2011

Hair Today

A few days ago we were out of the babies' curl cream and I went to the beauty shop to get it. I wanted to get a particular brand but they were out and I was talking to the assistant for a while about products and hair and the babies and so on. We don't go in there all that often, but she remembers us, which is good / bad. She remembers that last time it was J who came in with them. I like that she knows us, but then I freak out about what that means about how few transracial families our town has . And then I remember we have twins, and the twin-mamas all know what it feels like to be conspicuous, whether we match our children or not. Also there's the fact that my children are spectacularly, mind-poppingly beautiful. But I digress.

She looked at Pink's hair and said 'are you going to braid it?' I said 'I've tried, but she's really tender-headed and she won't sit still'. And she shrugged said 'Oh, children never sit still for their mothers. You need to get someone else to do it'. And so I asked 'do you do children's braids here?' and she said 'yes, of course'. And I got all excited and asked 'do you think her hair is long enough?' and she felt it and stretched it out and said 'yes, it's long enough. And it is getting a bit dry. Braids will help it to feel less dry' and then we talked for a while about conditioning, and what I've tried (most of the jars in her shop, it feels like) and what else I can try (every remaining jar, it seems). Sometimes I wonder if they laugh at me after I leave - 'You'll never believe how much I sold her this time! That woman is so insecure she'll buy anything!' Sorry about that college fund, Pink and Blue, I rubbed it all into your heads.

She told me to wash Pink's hair and detangle it a day or two before, then bring her in. I talked to J that evening and agreed that he would look after Blue Saturday morning while I take Pink to the salon. I was super-excited, but I felt a bit sad, too. It's a rite of passage, her first toddler braids. No more baby girl for me.

So today I phoned and made the appointment. I was hoping to speak to the same woman but got someone else entirely. And as soon as I opened my mouth, I realised what a stupid, ridiculous, utterly dumb thing I was doing. I opened my mouth, and said "Hi, I'd like to book an appointment to get my daughter's hair braided" and as soon as I said it I realised Oh no. She can't actually see my kid. Because it's one thing to be a white woman pushing a brown toddler in a pram, and quite another to talk in my white-lady voice on the phone and expect the person at the other end to magically know that my daughter has spirally African curls. And yet another to be thinking oh noooooooo but not quite know how to say 'And by the way, she's black, although you have no doubt correctly deduced that I am not'

She asked 'will she sit still?' and I tried to relay the conversation I had with her colleague because honestly, I will bet you a million space dollars that Pink will NOT sit still and I want to be able to blame someone else for the fact that there will be a nearly-two-year-old screaming her head off in the middle of this person's shop. She sort of 'hmmpphhhh'ed at me and then asked 'do you want cornrows?' and I said 'no, box braids' because, hey, I do want box braids. And then she said very skeptically 'you mean you want one single plait?' and I said 'no, I want small braids over her head' and had a moment of thinking most of my hair knowledge comes from the US. Maybe box braids is not even the right term, in the UK. And it very, very soon became apparent that her skepticism wasn't because I used the wrong word but because she couldn't fathom how braids would ever stay in the slippy, straight hair of a daughter of a woman with a voice like mine. Which is fair enough, I suppose. I tried to explain that Pink's hair will hold braids because of the curls but I do'nt really think I made myself clear, I think she was under the impression that I am trying to do this to my daughter.
which I totally am not. She asked me if Pink had Afro curls and I said 'YES' and she said 'oh, she is mixed' and I said 'No, she is Ethiopian' and the whole time there were dryers or maybe jet engines going in the background and I was standing in a spare office at work shouting down the phone and wishing I had never gone into the shop for curl cream yesterday and we were just going to spend Saturday at the park, like usual.

She asked me what Pink's name was, and I told her, and she said 'her name is WHAT?' and I had to spell it, twice, and I felt like a fool for having given my daughter this beautiful African name that the womanfrom the salon clearly thinks is ridiculous. Her accent sounded maybe West African, and she didn't sound like her own first name was Annabel or Charlotte. The salon was not where I expected to get grief for an Ethiopian name that means Precious Jewel.

It was such a difficult conversation. I'm used to eye-rolling at my incompetence when it comes to hair, and mostly I think I take it in pretty good spirit. I understand that I'm incompetent. I do my research, but I haven't had a black childhood of my own. I haven't got any instinctive knowledge about when my daughter should begin to get her hair braided because I don't remember what age I was when I got my first braids because I've never had braids. (Except for that one time in Zimbabwe, and that was a mistake). I can spend as much time as I like reading I love My Hair with my daughter but it doesn't actually mean I have the faintest clue what I'm doing. I'm an adult in the white community, but in the black community, when it comes to hair, I don't feel like an adult. I feel like a child. I feel like a child because I make stupid mistakes, because I don't know basic things like what age my daughter should start to have her hair braided. I feel like a child because I am so utterly inexperienced. I feel like a child because I always, always have to ask other people for help.

This felt like a lot more than eye rolling, though, it felt like hostility, and I wasn't expecting it. And it can't be because she thinks I'm not caring for my children properly because she hasn't even seen my children. Everyone else I've met there has been really nice. I was really upset afterwards and phoned J and he said 'ummm, I washed their hair but I think I put too much product in because now it's sort of.... crispy' and I wailed in disbelief and he continued 'and I detangled it totally but I think the crispiness has done something awful and now her hair is all tangled again already'. And I almost cried because I already do not want to take my child to get her hair braided by a mean lady, and I'm freaked out about what might happen.

'What's the worst that can happen? asked J.
'Maybe Pink will just scream. And maybe they will tell us that they aren't doing a good job with her hair', I said. 'And maybe they will be right'.
And he said, 'So what? If it's true, we need to learn'. And then he said 'BLUE! NO!' because he was touching the cat's litter box again and then he had to get off the phone to make him stop. And he's right of course, but he's not the one who's actually going.

 So that's me booked up for tomorrow, then. One thing they never told us in pre-adoption training: Here is why pink parents of brown children should be living in diverse towns. Not just so we can foster their self-esteem, ensure they have positive same-race role models and send them to school with lots of other kids who look like them. No, fellow stupid white mamas, the real reason is this: when I get banned from the salon tomorrow for bringing in a wriggly girl with dry, tangled, crispy, wrong-length hair, there are still dozens of others where I can try again. 

And I will, I promise.

Just as soon as I recover from the post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Adoption Paradigms

When I was young, a crazy and wonderful uncle, my mother's younger brother, drove a car like this: 

And it had a sticker on the back that looked like this: 

And I thought that the whole combination was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Obviously I had no idea what the sticker meant. I knew it meant something cool, because my uncle was cool, and the car was hilariously cool, so the sticker must be cool, but I didn't know what that cool meaning actually was. So I asked my mother. 

"Mummy, what is a parra-digg-em?" I asked, my little eyes as round as saucers. 
"Why do you ask, O beloved daughter of mine?" she no doubt replied. 
"I want to know what it means to subvert the dominant parra-digg-em". 
And then she said "Oh" because she had seen the sticker too, of course. Then she answered "Well, a para-dime is like an idea or a way of thinking, and the dominant paradigm is the most common way of thinking, the way that everybody thinks. Subvert means to work against something, so subvert the dominant paradigm means to think differently from how everyone else is thinking and act to change it".  (I've said before that my mother is a teacher, right?)

Well, okay then. I was duly impressed. My mother ended up driving that car, sadly sans sticker, but I've thought about the sentiment off and on in the years since.  And I'm thinking about it again now, obviously. I've been reading back through a lot (and I mean a lot) of blogs over the last few days, (for reasons that are very sensible (trust me) but which I don't want to go into right now). Anyway. It's been particularly interesting to read a lot of adult adoptee and first mother blogs at the same time as a lot of adoptive parent blogs. What I'm noticing is just how unexpectedly similar we can all sound, while drawing totally different conclusions. I've been interested to find just how often different triad members say: 

Everybody thinks that adoption is like this, and they are wrong, and here's why. 

We are all trying to subvert the dominant paradigm. 

The problem is, we don't agree on what the dominant paradigm is

Speaking as a fertility-challenged adoptive parent, when I wonder 'how does the world view adoption?' my answer would probably be: everybody thinks adoption is nice, but that it's not as worthwhile or as wonderful as having 'your own kids'. 

This was especially true when we were at the beginning of our process - making decisions and telling people. These painful messages were what I felt like I was getting. It hurt. It was really, really important to me to speak out against that attitude, to write about it, and to do what I could to act to change it. (It still is). I had never talked to people very much about adoption before that point in my life. When people said "you're adopting? Oh, I'm sorry to hear that" it really shaped how I felt like the world viewed adoption, how the world viewed my family. Negative, negative, negative. Comments like that helped to build my view of the dominant paradigm. 

But this is obviously not the dominant paradigm that many adult adoptees (and first mothers) see. 
If I was going to summarise the dominant paradigm, the 'everybody thinks'  that I think is often operating on the other side of the triad fence, it would be this: everybody thinks adoption is really great and there is no pain involved and adoptees should be happy and grateful and shut up. 

And thinking about me, thinking about my own life experience, thinking about what I have experienced, that doesn't feel like the dominant paradigm to me. And honestly - that's why I sometimes get really frustrated reading adult adoptee blogs. Not for the reason that is sometimes assumed - because I want to deny adoption loss - believe me, I'm fully convinced of the reality and importance of adoption loss.  Nope - it's because I disagree about what the assumptions are about what everybody thinks. Because honestly, I don't think any of those things. And anyway, I know what everybody thinks, everybody thinks adoption is nice, but that it's not as worthwhile or as wonderful as having 'your own kids'.  Right? Right? 

And then I think about my kids, as they grow up. I really didn't think very much about adoption before I decided to do it. My children are going to live with adoption every day of their lives. And we're in different positions, so we will get different messages. I'm the parent, so people relate to me as someone who might have had other, biological, children, and didn't. That affects what they say to me about adoption. But my children are going to get their first, and by far their most dominant, adoption messages from us, from me and J. My children will grow up hearing how much we love them and even if we don't do the happy-shiny-look-there's-a-unicorn version of adoption (which we won't) they are still going to get the overwhelming impression that we are glad we adopted them (because we are) and that we think their adoption was, on balance, a good thing (because we do).  (For them, in their specific situation. Not saying adoption is always good, so please don't hear that). Positive, positive, positive. 

And my children are going to get a very different set of messages about adoption from the wider world than I do. Honestly? Most of the time, nobody is talking or caring about adoption. Which is a separate issue. But when they do talk about it, if some people feel a bit sorry for me because I don't have bio kids (which is stupid), an equal number of people will probably feel like my kids should be grateful because they get to grow up in the West (which is equally stupid). These are two equally ill-informed messages about adoption being sent. Two different ways to build up what I see, what they see, as the dominant paradigm. The one I get is a message telling me adoption is bad, the one my kids get is telling them adoption is good. 

Equal ignorance about the issues, totally different messages. I guess that is one of the reasons why adoptees experience as much dissonance reading AP blogs as we do, the other way around, even when everyone is well intentioned.  They see that we are operating under an assumption of everybody thinks adoption is nice, but that it's not as worthwhile or as wonderful as having 'your own kids' and want to spew milk out of their collective noses. Seriously? You people think THAT is the dominant paradigm? 

But we're all getting different messages. So when I say everybody thinks adoption is nice, but that it's not as worthwhile or as wonderful as having 'your own kids' please believe that I really experience this, in my specific situation as an adoptive parent. 

And if you say: everybody thinks adoption is really great and there is no pain involved and adoptees should be happy and grateful and shut up, I will believe that you experience this, too. 

I think that it would be a good thing if all members of the triad were able to remember that we are all getting a different set of messages from the world. We all get a different set of messages about what everybody thinks. I can't know what it's like growing up with parents who always talk about my adoption as a wonderful, lucky thing, because that hasn't happened to me.  I can't know what messages I would find most painful as a first mother because I haven't been there, either. You can't know what messages it sends when people look at your beloved children and feel a little bit sorry for you, if that hasn't happened to you. 

So many different messages. There really is no one dominant paradigm in adoption. And that is its own lesson, I think. We probably need to be careful - all of us - about drawing conclusions about majority opinion from the minority who make our hackles rise. Most people are not stupid. Most people are not unkind. Talking to myself most of all, here. And where possible we should probably try to keep it in the first person, speaking for ourselves, using 'feeling words', rather than deciding what other people think. "I feel like everybody thinks the following terribly offensive thing" is probably an improvement on the same sentence without those first three words.  (One important fact I've learned recently in arguments  discussions with my husband is that if I put the words "I feel like" in front of my argument, I cannot be wrong. It's awesome. Try it). 

But in the meantime: 

'adoption is nice, but that it's not as worthwhile or as wonderful as having 'your own kids'  & 
'adoption is really great and there is no pain involved and adoptees should be happy and grateful and shut up'

I think both of those paradigms are worth subverting. Where people do think either of those things, or anything else that we know to be wrong or unkind or unhelpful, we should act for change. 

So I guess we should all keep on writing.  Back to your keyboards, girls. 

Monday 2 May 2011

Vanity (and some other things)

People left some really thought-provoking comments about beauty*.  It seems the main reason people are reluctant to tell girls they are beautiful is because they don't want to encourage vanity. With good reason, I suppose - there's nothing much less fun than being around a vain woman, unless it's being around a vain man. People who are wrapped up in their own good looks are very little fun - probably all of us know someone like that. But I think there's a big difference between being secure and being vain. In my view, the difference is this: a woman who is happy about the way she looks, but not vain, is also able to be glad when someone else looks good. A vain woman has to be the most beautiful. 

One of the most beautiful people I have ever met is also the most generous with her praise of other women. I knew her for a while before I realised this. She would tell me about people who she knew, and would always preface descriptions with 'oh, Shirley (or Magda or Katie or whoever) is so beautiful'. And for a while, I just thought that she happened to only have really good looking friends. And then I met most of these girls, and they looked just like you or me. But Bethan looks at all of these ordinary women and genuinely sees beauty. She has waist-length blonde hair, great legs, blue eyes and a killer smile and if anybody has reason to be vain, it would be her. I'm sure she knows she is good looking (I mean, the girl has a mirror) but she wears it lightly.  She can see her own beauty, but it doesn't stop her seeing the beauty of other women too. It's not a competition, for her. 

I think what I'm saying is that want my daughter to grow up to be like Bethan. Happy in her own gorgeousness, but equally happy to see gorgeousness in others. Anybody got any ideas on how to make that happen? 

Speaking of vanity (well, it's sister vice of pride) can I tell you something I'm really really proud of? (No! It's not my collection of useless academic qualifications, which I swear I must have mentioned here before but it seemed to surprise people so maybe not. Anyway, now I feel awkward about it). Last week I worked out how to install social networking buttons on my posts with the icons of my choice. (There are some really cool icons out there). I'm really not at all sure anybody wants them, but in the end it was a fight to the death between me and the html (and I really don't know anything about html) and by golly I won. I think. I don't really use social networking. So, with that confidence-inspiring background, does anybody else want to know how to do it? If so, let me know soon and I'll write a how-to before it all falls out of my head. 

Also speaking of proud (sort of) by Jingo I felt proud of my adopted country on Friday. A wedding? A very beautiful dress? A free day off? Which is then spent guilt-free in front of someone else's television, eating cupcakes? What's not to like? I loved the whole thing. 

We've just got back from being away for Royal Wedding / May Day long weekend, and now normal life starts again tomorrow. It's the end of about 15 days of off-on holidays for us. That, I do not like. 

(Although if I'm totally, totally honest - I've missed the computer). 

*Not from this lady, however. She claims she had a "brilliant, insightful, earth-shattering" comment which blogger ate. Do we believe it? You be the jury.