When you guys are ready to adopt and you come to me freaking out about the home study, I will give you three key pieces of advice:
1. Make sure to remove the beer that you use to wash your hair with from under your bathroom sink. (Beer in the bathroom doesn’t bode well for children)
2. It doesn’t matter how many snacks you bring to the table, she probably won’t eat them (even if you pig out).
3. You will kill yourself to make sure that every centimeter of your house is clean and she will spend about 27 seconds looking at it.
When Alex and I had our second home study (first was the Thai one) in December, we weren’t nervous. After all, this wasn’t our first rodeo. We’d already been through a home study a year earlier. After that, we went through seemingly endless hours of adoption training, during which it’s impossible not to form some kind of parenting theory.
So, we were not really nervous about this home study. Our case worker came in, loved Gracie, and we got to work. The questions in a home study are mostly about your childhood and your marriage. How did your parents raise you? What was good? What was not so good? How do you communicate with your spouse? Those kind of things…
I was trucking along, knocking them out of the park, when she asked me, “What’s the hardest thing you’ve been through?”
My brain froze up. Literally. I hemmed and hawed for a good 45 seconds before I finally blurted out that my grandfather had died of cancer.
Now, was it sad? Yes. Did I mourn? Absolutely.
BUT, he was old, we had time to say good-bye, and I believe he’s in heaven. The cancer diagnosis was sudden but we had time to prepare for his death. I still have three of my biological grandparents, plus a step-grandparent for good measure.
I realized, in her asking that question and my answer to that question, that I am a princess.
I don’t mean that I demand people treat me like a princess (although, unfortunately, sometimes I might even when I don’t really mean to). I mean that my life has been free of suffering. My childhood was idyllic. My family is so amazing that casting directors from LA contact us to be on TV shows. My husband is awesome. Basically everyone I know is in pretty good health. We never worry about where our next meal comes from. When our cars break down, we fix them.
I am a princess.
So the follow up to that realization is, “How on earth can I help these kids who have undergone more trauma in their short lives than I have in my almost thirty years? On top of that, how on earth could I help anyone who has undergone any sort of trauma?”
I went through a bit of an existential crisis.
I try to read and absorb and listen as much as I can to the lived experiences of people who struggle. I watch documentaries; I listen to the recovering addicts at the homeless church where we serve food; I (hope that I) function as a soundboard for the single moms around me.
I just finished reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I wasn’t sure if I had read it before because I have a terrible memory when it comes to books. Being that I usually peruse the dystopian section of the young adult books (a very limited selection), it is not uncommon for me to come home with a book and realize in chapter 6 that this all feels vaguely familiar and I might have read this book before.
Anyway, I love Maya Angelou and her poetic way of phrasing things. I love the details that she includes in her memoir. I physically winced when I read her account of being sexually assaulted as an 8-year-old. My heart sunk when I read about her uncle having to spend the night hiding under a display of potatoes in her grandmother’s store from lynch mobs. I mulled over the statements that she made about being black in the South.
“If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.
It is an unnecessary insult.”
“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate, and Black lack of power.
The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.”
Maya’s book was equal parts crushing and hopeful. She possesses an inner strength that can only come from overcoming so much. But still, I lament and grieve that she had to overcome so much when she was so young.
Often times, after hearing these things, I am left feeling helpless. What can I do to help ease their suffering? I can’t relate (“Oh, you’re a recovering alcoholic? Well, I wash my hair in beer…?”) I’m well aware of my princess status and it often paralyzes me into inaction.
Enter “Free-Versing for Freedom”.
I have a friend who works for a non-profit in the area and she invited me to a spoken word event that they were hosting to raise awareness about trafficking and domestic violence. We made a girl’s date night out of it- wore trendy clothes (sigh, okay, maybe just regular clothes), ate in the Bishop Arts District, and made our way to the West Dallas Cultural Center.
It was definitely a full house. By the time everyone filed in, it was standing room only. Michael Guinn, DFW’s spoken word guru, was the emcee and there were a host of people performing pieces. As soon as the first speaker got up, I was mesmerized. The power with which these people spoke bowled me over. The pieces centered on themes of freedom from violence and struggle. Several women spoke of their history in violent relationships but, and this is the best part, they spoke of them in the past tense. They spoke from a place of power. Just like Maya Angelou, they were not crushed by the things that had happened to them.
I worked at a domestic violence shelter, but most of the women there came to us shell-shocked, still grieving. It was a difficult job because we were the triage on the battlefield and after they left our tents, we didn’t know if they were going to be okay or not. Here I was at a spoken word event, hearing from some of the women that “Yes, we made it.” The undercurrent of hope was so uplifting to me.
And then, Kami got up to do her second piece. In my ignorance, I had not realized that spoken word started in the black community during the civil right’s movement as a way to express themselves and move people to action. I always thought that it was mostly for weird white people wearing black, sipping java, and wearing sunglasses indoors. Not true. It’s still a powerful avenue for artists to express themselves in the black community. Most of the people who shared pieces were African American and I felt so honored to have been a part of that audience.
Kami, though, could be my twin (and ironically, the friend who invited me too- we could be three fair skinned, freckled triplets). Her original piece was entitled “They Humble Me”. I’ll let it speak for itself.
They Humble Me
(shared with permission from Kami Rogers)
Here I walk, a girl in a woman’s body.
A girl because the real women, they humble me.
A girl because I was born to privilege.
A girl because my parents had a real good marriage.
A girl because I was born in small town west Texas.
A girl because I’ve always gotten everything my way.
A girl because my entire world would fit into the eye of a needle.
A girl because I’ve never known what it feels like to not have a choice.
A girl because my approach to life has always been self-centered.
A girl because I’ve never had to survive anything.
The real women, they humble me.
The humble me because they possess a strength that thank god, I’ve never needed.
I strength I know I don’t even own.
It’s a strength, dormant and without equal.
A strength that shields babies from bullets.
A strength that makes her work until her fingers bleed to feed hungry little mouths.
A strength that comes a thousand times, over and over, again and again, out of unfortunate necessity.
A strength that allows them to keep their composure even though the pain is so heavy and loaded on their shoulders.
The kind of weight that I will never know.
I look down and I walk on streets of gold but I never had to transverse the war zone to get here.
My world is white and pristine but I didn’t have to trudge through the mud along the way.
Someone once said of crushing helplessness: it is a good idea to avoid that.
I suppose I agree with that wisdom, but if I’ve never had to fight the battle, how do I arm some one that is already in the trenches watching where she steps for fear of losing a foot?
Or a leg?
Or her courage?
Or her heartbeat?
I want to bring the artillery, drop the atomic bomb, but I’m just coming to the war and I don’t know who the villain is or which way is up.
I want to stand behind them, waste deep in the blood and body parts, and whisper to them that they are home and that they are free and that I will catch them should they fall.
I want to love so hard that when they put their ears to the ground the rumbling they hear will no longer be the sound of catastrophe and struggle marching their way, but it will be me.
But I fear that no matter how wide I stretch my arms, I could never grasp them all.
I can buy my dog tags and stylish combat boots at Wal-Mart, made by the same women dodging the bombs
But I can’t win this war on my own.
I fear that they would fall like sand through my hands, fall through the cracks, falling, falling to the depths only to be swallowed by the fire yet again. Their souls spit back up by the scorching lava becoming the very land that my streets of gold are paved over.
And that I would then spend the rest of my life, hearing them, feeling them, knowing that the vibrations under my feet come from women that are greater than me.
More powerful than me.
More deserving than me.
I would scrape and dig and claw with my own hands at that street of gold until my fingernails were ripped and my palms bloodied with the splinters of entitlement until they were released.
Until they could walk into this world through an open door instead of only being able to watch it through a dirty window.
Until they lead the way and I walk humbly in their footsteps.
I had been inspired all night long but this poem spoke to me because I could have written it, right down to the part about being from a small town in West Texas. She articulated how I felt to be in a place of privilege, how it was hard to know what to do and how to help.
If you’ve never been to a spoken word event, the audience really does snap when the artist says something powerful. I snapped basically through Kami’s whole poem. I loved it enough that I stalked her after the show to show my appreciation and then emailed the event organizer to see if I could get a copy of it. Kami was gracious enough to share it with me.
This poem has become my prayer, that I could learn to follow and support those that have experienced much, that my palms would be bloodied with the splinters of entitlement until everyone experiences the freedom that I have always had.