Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father’s Day

I am soooo loving all these Father’s Day photos I’m seeing today on social media! So many of them are from way back when. It makes me think that for a lot of us this day brings back a lot of memories and makes us quite nostalgic. 

In my case, I don’t have a lot of memories. (Dear LAWD this isn’t meant to be a sad post! Just an attempt to share a story of mine that we all may know we aren’t alone). My father died suddenly when I was 23.  But even before that, I didn’t know him well.  Friends, this has typically been a part of my life I rarely discuss. Mainly because I didn’t know what to say or think, it made me uncomfortable, I feared others’ judgement about it all, and I just generally felt it was no one’s business. 

But maturity, along with countless great stories told to me about him, changed my perspective entirely.  Not just that, but old pictures I saw, and then, as I began to meet others, specifically, foster parents and children up for adoption, plus other friends in similar shoes, I felt like there might just be value in transparency. 

My father’s name was Daniel, the third child of five. His parents survived the Great Depression and lived in the midwest. They were both steadfast and traditional in the way they raised their children, five little ones who all grew up to be stunningly beautiful and talented each in their own ways. In my father’s case, his talent was football. He played in college at a small private school, and was picked up in the early 1970s by the Oakland Raiders. 

He and my mom met when they were in their early 20s and had me right away. His mother told me once that she had never seen him as happy as when he held me as a baby. 

Trying to piece together his time in northern California is sketchy at best. He was with the Raiders for a season or two, then was cut. Mind you, the early 70s in that part of the nation was hippie and psychedelic, in every way. Mom claims he came home”different” and suspected drugs, but no one could ever confirm. He just seemed off in some way, and she believed he was using heavy drugs. Clearly, that doesn’t do much for a young, struggling couple with a small child, and they divorced. From then on, throughout my childhood, he sent letters to Arkansas (where we moved) from Iowa, and he came to visit a few times, but beyond that, there wasn’t a lot more contact. As a child, it always felt awkward around him, but I could never get explain why. 

I remained close with his mothers d his three sisters. She sewed clothes for me, constantly wrote me letters, and called often. My mom’s father watched what was happening from afar, and without ever being asked, stepped into my life at every single turn.  My Papa Gene was there for me in ways I have a hard time putting into words. You know, it’s a feeling really. Like a deep knowing that someone has your back, someone cares, someone is watching so that if you happen to fall, you know they’ll be there to get you back up and get you on your way.  Of course, at the time, a child doesn’t think about these things. They just know who’s there. And who’s not. 

When I was a teenager, my father’s parents came to Arkansas to tell us that they believed my father had significant mental issues and was being treated, and thus, we wouldn’t be hearing from him for awhile. Well, I hadn’t heard a lot from him anyway. We got in the car and mom said, “I hope the doctors know what kind of drugs he’s on. I’m not convinced it’s not still drugs.” It felt like too much for me to process.

At that point, I learned to just stuff it. Shove it under the rug. Everyone else had a dad around to take them to the lake, escort them at Homecoming, take pictures at prom. For me, it was ALWAYS my Pops, my Papa Gene. 
When I graduated high school and then college, Pops was there. When I got my first TV job, he came to help me get settled. Strangely, the only TV offer I got came from a station in Sioux City, Iowa. The very place my father STILL lived with his mom. 

My grandmother and I saw each other often. She desperately wanted my father and I to have a relationship, so she would cook dinner and have me over. The awkwardness never went away, though. And it was there, in Iowa, I got the phone call at my desk in the newsroom. My father had passed, and I needed to get to my grandmother’s right away. 

He ended up having a massive heart attack. We laid him to rest, and I recall it all being  dreamlike and surreal now that I look back.  That God placed me there, in that city, during that time, at that exact moment, to see the end of his life here on earth. A curse? Or a blessing? 

This Father’s Day, I believe it was a blessing. A holy, spiritual moment, that his time was up, and I was there. I type through tears, because what I would give right now, this moment, for a candid, real conversation with him.  To ask everything I never got to. For him to meet his grandchildren. For it all to be “normal.” But what is “normal” anyway?

I harbor no resentment anymore, no feelings of “abandonment” that I understand so well through my work with foster children. I know that deep down, he adored and loved me, but something about this earthly life shut him down and left him unable to show me and others. I know the hurts and the heartbreak that life WILL yield to all of us. I just wish I knew what hurt him so deeply. 

I love him. And I am so thankful to him for getting me here to earth so that I can flourish and thrive and live and love! I know he’s watching every day. And so is my Pops. He died in 2009. He used to always encourage me to find solutions instead of complain about problems, and he said to me constantly, “to thine own self be true, my dear. That way you will never be false to another.” 

Great advice.  

This blog post is dedicated to every father out there fathering, every grandfather doing the same, mothers who are both mom and dad, men who step in to father whenever needed, and to the fatherless, who might feel little hope.  Know that angels are watching over you. 


xoxo

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Do Ticks Have Wings?

It's been awhile, y'all. Thanks for all your love, support, and for repeatedly telling me to just "get on here and write from your heart!"  I apologize you had to wait more than a year for this. 

CONFESSION:  I've sat here so many times, typed out paragraphs, then deleted it all and just said, "forget it." It's that self-critical voice deep in my head, lying to me and saying, "no one really cares what you have to say," Or, "oh they'll just judge you if you write honestly about that." Or, "why bother? Everyone struggles, I'm no different; nothing special here."

And y'all, when that last thought came up, about how everyone struggles, I realized that's the exact reason I need to get on here and type.  Words and stories unite us, make us feel like we're not alone.  Make us see that both good and bad happen to all of us.  Grief and loss, love and light, goodness and peace, hurts and mistakes, along with forgiveness and faith are universal emotions and experiences.  None of us is immune.  None of us gets a free pass from even one of these occasions.

Soooooooooooooooooooo...  Off my pontificating for a moment.  On to last night's "girls night."

Not to worry.  It wasn't a cray-cray, 40-something momma's night out with friends (when does that ever happen?!).  My baby girl and I were afforded the rare chance for dinner and dessert, just the two of us.  My boy is at camp, so she is reveling in my full attention this week!

We were taking some selfies and started looking through pictures on my iPhone, when she ran across one of her daddy and I when we were in our 20s (her father and I have been divorced for years, as catalogued here in a previous post).  A funny look came across her face, and I asked why.  She said, "I just can't see you two together!"  Not in a bad way.  In fact, she kind of chuckled.  Then, she set the phone down and said, "but I'm glad you're good friends now!"  It's true.  Her daddy and I are dear friends, indeed.  The way we both ended up seeing it was, you can't spend two decades around another human being, share children, and then just erase history. 

I could tell that my baby girl was in "listening mode."  You know, those moments where you can just see that your child is ripe and ready to hear exactly what you have to say?  I took full advantage, and I said, "you know, honey, people come together in life for all different reasons.  To love.  To learn. To grow."

She was really listening.

I went on.  "Your dad and I believe wholeheartedly that we were brought together so that God could put you and your brother here on earth." (And I do believe this myself).

She looked at me, and I fully thought she was going to ask a profound question or make a big-time comment about what I'd just said. 

Instead, she said, "Mom.  Do ticks have wings?" 😂

I burst into laughter.  Then she started laughing.  We both ended up laughing so hard that our tummies hurt!  

She wanted to know because a bug landed on her earlier in the day that looked like a tick, but then it flew away. 

I realized at that moment to enjoy and savor every second she will give me right now.  To worry less about "staunch" discipline, what the parenting books say, and simply teach love and to recognize the true gift of being present with your children.  Because if I know anything in life, it's that the only constant is change.  And very soon, she will be way more into her friends than a night out with her momma. 

Everyone has an opinion about how you should raise your children.  Most of the time, they aren't afraid to tell you about it.   I don't really care anymore what "they" think.  I hope you don't either.  I know that a whole lotta love, a whole lotta listening, a whole lotta "being there," and a whole lot of talking and understanding are working in our favor right now. 

I know that each of you is having your own life experience right now.  Back to where I started:  we are all struggling with something, and this little blog post is my way of saying you are NOT alone.  I hope you know I'm sending prayers and love to each of you on your precious way! 

Promise it won't be another year before I post... 

xoxo

My and my girl on our night out!

"You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth..." ~ Kahlil Gibran

Monday, April 24, 2017

Heavy Stuff


I've been noticeably absent at home this past week, and my children have taken note. 

"Why have you been gone?" 

"Where have you been?"

"Why aren't you coming home until the middle of the night?"

Now that they're 8-and 10 years old, I I feel the truth is mostly appropriate. Momma has been covering the executions. 

"Executions?" They asked. "What does that mean?" 

I sat them down and told them that this type of discussion was very upsetting, but I would explain it to them the best I could and answer any questions that they had. 

My kids are familiar with crime. After all, we live in Little Rock, and crime seems to have affected us all. My car windows have been smashed in before, things stolen, and to say that it's upsetting to not only me but them too is an understatement. 

But this is a different level of discussion about crime. I paused, because how can you explain murder to a child? They're innocent brains don't fully comprehend. I simply and solemnly explained there are people in the world who do bad things. And in these cases judges and juries found these men guilty of crimes that were really bad. 

My sons first question:  "why can't they just stay in prison for the rest of their lives?" 

I explained that they can and sometimes do. 

It wasn't enough. He then asked this:  "what if someone was supposed to be executed but they apologized?" 

I explained that had happened and he then said, "if they say sorry, they shouldn't die, momma." 

I said I understood. 

But he went on to say that in school they are taught that if someone does something bad to you, you don't do the same thing back to another child. 

*sigh*

I clearly didn't have all of the answers. And obviously what they are learning in school contradicts capital punishment. 

What I ended up telling both of my children was that I didn't have all the answers and that different people believe differently, and that's ok. I said I just wanted them in their lives to learn as much about everything as they can, so that they can make their own decisions one about how they feel about things. 

*heavy stuff*

Sunday morning we were eating breakfast, and I was making my grocery list. I asked the children if there were any special things they wanted. My daughter said, "real food that you don't cook in the microwave, momma. Will you make us a meal?" 

I realized how badly they, too, wanted and needed nurturing and comfort.

So that's what I did. I cooked, and we had a wonderful day,

And now the week starts again with two more executions scheduled today, which I will cover. 

More questions will come... 

I hope I can answer them or at least help them understand a little better a very complicated, dark issue. And understand why their momma has been gone.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

...one open heart


I had never met 15-year old Ryan.

Our shoot was set up for 2 o'clock in the afternoon at the Big Rock Fun Park. I never know what situation I may be stepping into or what a child may or may not be like when I meet them for the first time.   DHS typically sends me an information sheet about the child. It includes things they like, whether they have siblings, and a little about their background.

So I'm always a little nervous.

I can't imagine how hard it would be to be a foster child. Much less up for adoption. Much less the feature and focus of a news story to help me find a family. So, as a television journalist, when I walk into these situations I'm always very sensitive to that. I want the child or children I'm interacting with to feel comfortable and not intimidated by me or a television camera.


But in some cases the children are in tears. In some cases, especially younger children, they don't fully understand, and they are just excited to play. In any case, it is nerve-racking, to say the least.

So it was Monday afternoon, and I walked into the fun park to meet Ryan. I was told he was 15-years old and loved to play games. I had seen a photo of him, and that was it. You can imagine my surprise when he literally ran up to me and gave me a giant hug before I could even walk through the front door! It was me this time who was nearly in tears.  Here is a child who had grown up in foster care, with nothing but a smile on his face. He was so excited to meet me and to play.

The first thing he said was, "I already have my tokens, are you ready?" Little did I know he was going to beat me at every single game we played. Basketball, air hockey, every game you can imagine, he won. What I noticed most about Ryan, is that from the time he gave me a hug until the time our afternoon was over, he never stopped smiling. Even when he talked about having to go into foster care and now being up for adoption.

For me, it's always such an awkward question for me to ask. "What kind of family do you want?"  Because for most of us, it's not a question we have to answer.  We have our family.  But these are children who think about getting a "new one" from the time they wake up in the morning until the time they go to sleep at night. All because they were failed by their own blood. Ryan's response to that question echoes among so many in his situation:  "..to have a good home that takes care of me and always loves me.  I really don't care, as long as I have a home to go to."
 

I wanted to cry for him again. And just between you and me, in many cases I do go home and cry. Because for every Ryan, there are 500 more in our state in his exact shoes. To see a boy who is so loving, so sweet, with such polite manners, working through the difficulties of his situation and navigating the world, a world which has not been pretty for him, to see him still smile --- this is what inspires me to do the work that we do every day through "A Place to Call Home." It leaves a gratitude in my heart to be in a situation in which I can play a small role at a critical time.

So what I hope for now is one open heart, one set of eyes that sees his story, one family that opens its arms, says "yes," and welcomes Ryan home.




Thursday, January 26, 2017

8 and 10 and life...

I say "eight and ten" all the time.


"Eight and ten!" 


I said it at a funeral today.  A sweet friend from high school died suddenly last week.  At the service, I looked around and saw so many people from that time in my life.  I was surprised at how emotional I became...


I saw a bit of gray hair, a few wrinkles, and some scars on all of us.


I watched as my late friend's precious mom and brave daughter spoke courageously in front of everyone there.  My heart simply ached that one of them lost a son and the other lost a dad.  That life is so fleeting, so fragile.  That we are not promised tomorrow.


"Eight and ten," I answered, when a former classmate asked how old my children are.  "My daughter is eight, and my son is ten."


But the other day, I stopped in my tracks.   "Eight and ten" was answered back to me. 


I was meeting two foster children, a little boy and a little girl, for the first time.  We are featuring them on television with the hope that someone will adopt them and give them a permanent home.   I kneeled down so that I was eye-level with them.... 


"How old are you?" I asked.  The girl said, "eight!"  ...and the boy immediately followed, "and I'm ten."


It wrenches my heart every time I meet a foster child.   ...that no one wants them, that no one could get their behavior straight enough for them... 


But this time, eight and ten


The little girl grabbed my hand to go play while our photographer recorded video.  I asked her if she wanted to be adopted and what kind of family she wanted.   I couldn't help but think, what if someone asked MY daughter if she wanted to be adopted and what type of family she wanted?  My God, she's only eight! She would have no clue what to say!   


The boy was a little guarded.  And again, I couldn't help but think, my son would be TOO if some TV woman was asking him if he wanted to be adopted.  This poor child is ten!  


I sat there in the middle of our taping, with lights on these children, and my heart broke into pieces.  I wept inside for the woman and mother too broken to take care of them on her own.  I cried inside for the two of them left to feel as though no one cares enough to bring them in, leaving them in the care of the state. 


And I thought quietly of my own two children, growing up in this big-bad-world, wondering what pain they might encounter, what life holds for them, thinking of the joys I pray they will experience, frightened of the heartbreak they will endure.  


At my high school friend's celebration of life, the reverend said something like, "let us not shrink away into our sadness, but instead stand united in love."  I thought back on those years when we were so young and so full of promise.  I looked around at the gray hair in the room that meant we cared at some point, the wrinkles left behind from the laughter, and scars that showed we've truly lived.


I thought of those precious foster children's smiles, their hope, no matter how diminished, that a family will come and prove that life is good after all.


I thought of my own children and their friends at the horse races this past weekend, jumping up and down and screaming for the horse (named after my daughter) to win.  The memories they are already creating...


"let us not shrink away into our sadness, but instead stand united in love."  


That horse named after my daughter placed, by the way.  You could literally feel the bliss... and savor the moments of "eight and ten." 
8-year old Claniya and 10-year old Dayelun



 My children (and friends) cheering at the horse races

Hall High School alum at Deno's service

Monday, January 16, 2017

Careful...

I want to write about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But every last person I know has advised me against it.


Careful, careful... CAREFUL.


Why is it when we talk about race, we all walk on eggshells? 


Easy for me to ask, I guess...  I was born white.  I've lived my life as a white woman.  I grew up in the Little Rock School District, which, at that time, was under court-ordered desegregation.  I graduated in 1989, with white friends and black friends.  Today, I work with white friends and black friends, and I consider all of them dear to my heart.  I don't choose to see color.  But I'm sure people see mine. 


And I'm sure they see my children's white skin, too.  At school, when my daughter was younger, she played with a lot of the girls who were "brown."  But she never differentiated.  One of her best friends in the world is brown, a little girl her age who was adopted from Africa by one of my best friends in Seattle, who is white.  She begs to talk to her on the phone, write letters to her, and keeps framed pictures of them on her desk.  She still doesn't differentiate.  I wonder if she will.  One day, she will notice the difference.  I pray I teach her that it doesn't matter.  That, like Dr. King said once, "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."


My 2nd cousin in NYC is Japanese-American married to a black man, and they have a beautiful daughter.  They are one of the most precious, loving couples I know.  Yet I have listened to her talk, listened to her very real fear, watched her upset about where we are in America right now.  And I understand.  Yet I don't understand.  Why is it that we are at war with one another?  "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."


My son and my daughter are growing up now in Little Rock schools, where the heart of so much of it began at Central High School in 1957.  The schools are no longer under court-watch.  But I wonder sometimes if they should still be monitored.  I see things sometimes, and I'm not sharing them here.  But I see things sometimes that don't seem fair.  Is it on me to speak up about that?  I'm not sure.  I do know to start at home, with my own.  With lessons that Dr. King himself urged us to teach. 
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."


Maybe we can all start at home.  Do something today to change our state of affairs.  Maybe it's simply the talking about it that matters most.  That we stop feeling awkward about a simple conversation. 


Quit being careful, careful, CAREFUL.  And instead, calmy speak.  Share the lessons.  After all, Dr. King left them for us as his legacy. 


"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

Monday, January 9, 2017

Snowy

I know when I'm off-center.


Unbalanced.


Like nothing is falling into a rhythm.  Tasks pile up.  Can't get ahead of the clock.  Scattered energy.  Going 50 different directions but really not getting anywhere.  Slightly irritable.  Mentally snowed-in.


We're still not in a routine.  Last week, school didn't start until Tuesday.  By Thursday, I was feeling a little more regimented.  But then, Friday was a snow day. 


The same day of the photograph...


I'm not sure I'll re-share that entire picture here.  I'll decide by the end of the blog...


Basically, boy-child and girl-child were playing in the dusting of snow that shut-down our fair city.  They repeatedly called me outside from making homemade waffles.  I ignored, but then the screams turned guttural, and I figured I should head outside for fear the neighbors might call the authorities. 


I walked outside to see what the fuss was about (took my phone, of course, in case there was a snowman or other snow-figure to document).  Instead, I walked right into their little snowball operation.  Slammed by a huge, freezing-cold snowball!   Turns out, I unknowingly captured the tail end of my sweet little sneaky son coming at me in a photo.


We died laughing. I finished the waffles and bacon.  We ate.  Then I looked through my pictures.  When I saw the photo of my boy with a snowball in-hand, it was so cute and so spontaneous, I posted it on social media, even though I don't post a whole lot of photos of my children (the reasons why could be another potential blog post).  What I also noticed, in the background, my daredevil-daughter was standing on a trashcan gathering the puffy "good snowball" snow from on top of the car.   Ready for battle.


I was ill-prepared for my own trashing upon posting this.  Oh-boy, the "mom-of-the-year" comments started.  Anywhere from jokes to the more serious private messages, "Miss Dawn, I'm sorry but something in that photo doesn't look very safe."


I took the picture down.  (disclaimer:  daughter was unscathed).  And yes, I will be the first to admit, she shouldn't have been standing on the trash can.  However, knowing her well, she is adventurous and a bit of a risk-taker at the ripe age of 8.  When she sets her mind to something, she is a force to be reckoned with.  As such, she is also slightly accident-prone.  She was off the trash can within minutes.  And mom-of-the-year, here, documented that questionable-parenting-moment for the social world to see.


Later, I got to thinking..  wait a minute!  When I was a toddler (which was a very long time ago), I rode in the front middle seat of my mom's Chevy Nova STANDING UP.  A few years after, I walked the neighborhood alone.  Mom even left me at home every now and then by age 10 when she had to work late.  Activities, which, in this day and age, are absolutely taboo.


And I get why.  But where is the line drawn?  From letting kids live a little vs.  protecting them at all cost from anything that could potentially hurt them?   It's a valid question.  And I certainly don't have the answers.  Parenting is a moment-by-moment moral and spiritual endeavor that is never-ending and incredibly personal.  I like to believe, despite the horror stories I sometimes report, that most parents do the very best they can.  


Still, I'm off-balance today.  Not sure why I'm so snowy.   


I know it will pass.  Someone once said to me that life is a balance between holding on and letting go.  True.  Balance always wins


It's a little like that being a parent.  Holding tight, keeping them safe.  Then letting them spread their wings and fly.   What a privilege!


Oh, and here's that photo...