Diversity in Detroit

I won’t pretend that Detroit Public Schools (DPS) are diverse, although they’re just about as diverse as most of the suburban schools. It seems to me that there is a general, unspoken agreement about which of the two is better, but that’s a complicated topic for another post (if I’m ever brave enough to tackle it).

I was recently talking to an acquaintance, and it was clear that he assumed that BE and BC are the only two of their kind (or any kind other than African American) in their school. I explained that yes, the largest population in their school is African American. But, there is also a sizable Bengali population, as well as Asians, Hispanics, and Caucasians. The DPS Web site says this about its student population: “We also serve more than 7,100 students, speaking 44 different languages in schools throughout the district, to learn the English Language and American Culture while mastering core subject areas.”

I certainly would like to see more diversity in Detroit schools, but at this point, I’m also happy that my kids are experiencing more diversity than they likely would in surrounding cities. And, I won’t automatically assume that their minority position is altogether negative. In addition, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of socioeconomic diversity, which is present in their school, and is just as important as racial diversity. I’m planning a separate post on socioeconomic diversity in the near future.

For the Caucasian readers: have you ever found yourself in a “minority” position. If so, what was your experience?



A Story of Her Own

BE is only peripherally aware of this blog. She knows the name of it, and she knows that I write about being an adoptive mother and about living in Detroit. At her request, I read her one of my recent posts. She wanted to know why I refer to her and BC by their initials. I tried to explain that being part of this family is her story too. That when she’s old enough, she can tell her story in her own way. And it will be her choice to attach her name to it.

A few days later, she showed me a piece of paper where she had written “her story.” It was just a few sentences long and she told me she wanted to “put it on the computer.” When I reminded her that my blog is available for anyone to read, she changed her mind. I assured her that I didn’t mind and that she could always share a story in the future if she wanted to.

I can see in other ways that she’s trying to make sense of her own story. I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves over the coming years.

My Two Doppelgangers

I don’t really have two, or even one, doppelgängers, but over the last four years, people have been telling me and J how much our kids look like us. This includes people who know we adopted, and people who don’t. Strangers will tell me they can tell that BE and I are mother and daughter. Friends will tell us they’re surprised at how much we look alike. A friend, who has known my kids since the adoption, told me a few weeks ago that we’ve become more alike over the years. And it doesn’t seem to matter that both my kids have blond hair while J and have brown hair.

This made me wonder if there is any evidence that adoptive families really do begin to look alike over time. I couldn’t find any evidence to support it, but I did find some studies involving married couples. One study, described on physblog.com, explains that couples often do begin to look alike. The site shared four possible explanations, with one that was selected as the most probable. Here’s an excerpt:

“People grow to look similar because they are empathizing with each other and so copying each other’s facial expressions. Over time because of all the empathizing they are doing, their faces come to look more similar.”

I’d like to think that I’m empathizing with my kids, but of course I don’t really have any proof that this is the reason we’ve come to look alike, or even that we look alike at all. Another problem is that the study involved couples who have been married 25 years. We’ve only known our kids four years. Maybe we’ll have some proof that the study applies to us in about 21 years.

If you’re part of an adoptive family, do you look like your adoptive relatives? Tell us about it in the comments.

I still don’t think we’d win.

The Forgotten Garden

I read a lot of adoptee blogs, and one message I often encounter is that adoptees don’t always see adoption as entirely (or at all) positive. I recently read “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton, which did an excellent job of expressing this idea. Spoiler alert: if you plan to read this book, or haven’t finished it, you may want to stop reading this post now!

In the book, Nell discovers – at 21-years-old – that she was adopted. This news alters the path that her life takes and even changes her attitude toward herself and others. Although she loves her adoptive family, she spends the rest of her life looking for her first family and never again feels that she belongs anywhere.

In one of the early chapters, the narrator describes Nell’s reaction to the news:

“But Pa’s secret had changed everything. His words had tossed the book that was her life into the air and the pages had been blown into disarray , could never be put back together to tell the same story. She found she couldn’t look at her sisters with seeing her own foreignness …. Things had changed and she could no longer meet her father’s eye. It wasn’t that she loved him any less, only that the easiness had disappeared. The affection she had for him, invisible, unquestioned in the past, had gained a weight, a voice. It whispered when she looked at him, ‘you’re not really his.’ She couldn’t believe, no matter how vehemently he insisted, that he loved her as much as he loved her sisters …. She was a lie, had been living a lie, and she refused to do so any longer. ”

Nell’s granddaughter, Cassandra, finds out about Nell’s adoption after her death. Cassandra has her own reaction to the news:

“It had come to her in a wave. The certainty of her grandmother’s loneliness …. She suddenly understood an aspect of Nell she’d known very well. Her isolation, her independence, her prickliness. ‘She must have felt so alone when she realized she wasn’t who she’d thought she was.'”

I’m not an adoptee, so I certainly can’t attest to the truth of these feelings. But, I do appreciate that this book presented a different side of adoption, that it explored the negative affects that adoption can have on both children and adults.

What’s Your Opinion on “Gotcha Day?”

My nearly-tween daughter, BE, has long since given up cartoons for Disney Channel shows and movies such as “Hannah Montana” and “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure.” Her latest obsession is “Jessie,” which is about a nanny taking care of three adopted children in New York city.

This family is very rich, and in one episode, celebrates elaborate “Gotcha Days” for each child. BE has watched this episode several times, I think because she relates to the adoption themes. We celebrate Adoption Day, but BE has asked me several times why we can’t call it “Gotcha Day.” I explained that I don’t like the term because it implies that I took her and BC. However, she’s become very set on “Gotcha Day,” and I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that the family on “Jessie” celebrates with gifts of live zebras, while we have to settle for cake.

I’m just as stubborn as BE, and I have no intention on switching to “Gotcha Day.” Do you use “Gotcha Day”? Why or why not?

The Two Words of the Soul

J and I have really benefited from the Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control books by Heather Forbes and Bryan Post, and I’ve written a lot about how we’ve been using this approach. One of the key priniciples of Beyond Consequences is that there are only two true human emotions: love and fear. Other emotions such as anger, are merely a result of fear, they are secondary.

I recently came across a quote that I think sums up this idea perfectly. I wasn’t sure who said it, so I had to read some more about the author, Neale Walsch. Apparently he wrote a book called Conversations with God, which was very popular. I’ve never read the book, so I’m certainly not endorsing it with this post. But, I do feel that his quote is too good not share.

“All human actions are motivated at their deepest level by two emotions–fear or love. In truth there are only two emotions–only two words in the language of the soul…. Fear wraps our bodies in clothing, love allows us to stand naked. Fear clings to and clutches all that we have, love gives all that we have away. Fear holds close, love holds dear. Fear grasps, love lets go. Fear rankles, love soothes. Fear attacks, love amends.”

Have you read Conversations with God? What did you think?

Happy Adoption Day #3

On June 25, 2010, we celebrated adoption day at the courthouse. The kids were just 5 and 2 when the adoption was finalized. Now, they’re 8 and 5 and about to be a 3rd grader and a kindergartener. BE remembers a little bit of that day, and in classic BE-style, the thing that she talks about most is that she ate two cookies. I know BC won’t remember it all, but thankfully we have photos.

We’ve been celebrating adoption day every year since with a family activity, and most importantly, cake! This year, we went to the water park, which is probably BE’s favorite place. She spent most of her time going down the water slide.

These past three years have been very challenging, but with every year, I have more hope for the future. Happy adoption day!

adoption day cake

When Work is More Appealing than Staying Home

I have a confession: I’m nervous about being home with my kids just two days a week this summer. I’ve been working full-time for most of the years the kids have been with us, but now I’m working three days a week. BC stayed home with me two days this week and it went fine. BE doesn’t get out of school until July and it’s having them both at home at the same time that I’m worried about. One on one the kids are fine, but as soon as they get together, it’s non-stop fighting. This drives me crazy.

Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control author Heather Forbes answered another reader with a similar concern in her monthly e-newsletter. The question was:

I’m having a difficult time keeping myself focused on parenting in the Beyond Consequences way. I read several of your books and agree with them, but there are days that I feel like it is all for nothing. We have one good day where I think, ‘Great, this is it.’ Then the next three days we all are disregulated and I feel discouraged. I keep thinking that I’d rather go back to my full-time job, working 60 hours a week with deadlines due yesterday! Do you have any words of wisdom?”

I’m ashamed to admit that on the weekends and the rare weekdays I’m home with both kids, I feel the same way. Sometimes I feel that I’d rather be at work.

In Heather’s response, she addresses the importance of the reader’s status as a stay-at-home parent. She does this by explaining the powerful effect that parents can have on their children.

“Research is showing that simple changes in a child’s environment can literally change a child’s physiology. We are seeing that by placing children with trauma histories in calmer environments with more love-based parenting techniques where a deep level of emotional safety is created, stress hormones within these children’s body systems are decreasing. This means that parents have the ability to literally change the chemical make-up of their children.”

Heather then encourages the reader to change how she thinks about each day.

“Instead of waking up in the morning thinking, ‘I’ve got to get up, fix my children breakfast, pack their lunches, somehow get them out to school on time through the tantrums and meltdowns, and then prepare myself for the dreaded homework after school!’ I encourage you to say to yourself, ‘Today is the day that I will press on to help change my child’s brain. Today is the day that I have the ability to create safety for my child through predictability, understanding, and loving support in order to help my child heal at a physiological and emotional level.'”

I certainly prefer this approach to my own, which is usually very pessimistic. I think the challenge will be thinking this way more consistently and not reverting back to old patterns.

It’s Fun to Stay at the Boll Family YMCA

The Boll Family YMCA in Downtown Detroit is beautiful. BE participates in Girls on the Run there and both kids attend the Y’s school break camps. BE was really nervous when I first signed her up for winter break camp. It took a while, but now she really loves going. BC enjoys it as well. All the caregivers do a great job, and have been very helpful. Both kids will be there again this summer, and I know they’ll have a great time. It’s another great resources for those of us raising kids in Detroit.

Statue outside the Boll Family YMCA
Statue outside the Boll Family YMCA

Wayne State Weekend School of Music

A lot of people are surprised to find out about all the great resources for kids in Detroit. One of my new favorites in the Wayne State University Weekend School of Music. It’s one of those “hidden gems,” and I only found out about it thanks to an old coworker whose own children had attended.

I signed up both BE and BC in January and their session just ended (they’ll start a new one in June – sessions correspond to college semesters). BE took piano and BC took drum. The classes are held as group lessons and meet almost every Saturday. At first I wasn’t sure how the group format would work, but my kids have learned so much and the teachers are great at keeping the kids’ attention.

During a recent class, BE’s teacher took them to see a grand piano and gave them a lesson about how a piano works – it was one of BE’s favorite lessons. Oh, and I can’t forget, the lessons are very affordable!

BE’s tour of the inside of a grand piano
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