I don't believe in miracles - I rely on them

I don't believe in miracles - I rely on them

Yogi Bhajan


You found my blog and as I am experimenting with the weird and wonderful world of cyber publishing, let me explain what
a gunna is: it's a word for all things desirable, something that makes us happy and warm and comforts us when we feel tired or sad or lonely. a gunna is the best gadget in the world! it was leah s first word for all things she wanted. Or you might also know it as: dummy, schnulli, pacifier binky, schnuller...... and so on. So this is for my beautiful


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Between the years - familied out and too much sugar in the system....

It s that weird time of the year. The Christmas buzz is over, the New Year only a couple of days away - next year is really next week. New Years resolutions float around and people have this dazed look in their eyes - a result of too much food and too much family contact. Which brings me right to the point: Family. Contact. With my mother on a plane back to Germany I am left with my normal psycho cocktail of emotions: sadness, relief, guilt and hope that next time everything will be easier.

How do other people do it? Spend happy family time together without diving head first into bottomless pools of unresolved childhood issues? How do they manage not to have their buttons pushed every time a mother makes that annoying chewing noise or a sister  monopolises every conversation with tales of her achievements?  Most people either don't  talk about their true feelings about family or they don't have my issues, which I can not believe - because - I really do not want to believe it.

The unchallenged fact as far as family goes is that everybody has to love each other no matter what. We don't have to like each other, we don't even have to know the next thing about each other - but we sure love each other. If things are tense or hostile or outright confrontational, we try and smooth them over, get through the afternoon/holiday as best we can and try not to think about it for the rest of the year. But we don't talk about it. And nothing ever seems to change. Or does it?

In movies with actors like Diane Keaton, Michele Pfeiffer or Julia Roberts, families, no matter how dysfunctional,  all seem to be working towards one final happy family end. They shout and scream at each other in the process, but they eventually sort their differences out and end up really understanding and loving each other happily ever after.

In the reality I see, people get stuck at the shouting and screaming part and from there move straight on to resignation and repetition. Year after year, holiday after holiday. Family time after family time. What is it with families that we just don't seem to get over our old patterns and move on to just being people together?

Or more importantly what can I do so that my children won't suffer through a holiday with me wishing they were elsewhere but at the same time finding the thought of being without me deeply sad and disturbing? 

I don't really have an answer. What I know is that I can not change my family. I have to find out what is good and bad for me when it comes to spending time with them. And be honest about it. Without being hurtful.  Today I can  try to look at my mother not so much as the mother who failed me in so many ways but see the person she is now: The grandmother my children adore; the eccentric old lady who in some ways can even be a role model for me on how to get older and still surprise the world; the person with whom I share the longest history and the most complex of feelings. I don't have to work all these feelings out anymore and analyse them to death. Today I  want to accept the boundaries and limitations of our existing relationship and be able to express them.

When she  pushes my buttons and my first instinct is to grab the next kitchen utensil and do a Jack Nicholson impersonation, I get over this moment as quickly and calmly as possible by  telling her that she needs to shut up now. Which she sometimes does and sometimes does not get. But the important thing is that I now know and say what I need. It doesn't make us love each other happily ever after but the ground does not open up and swallow me either.  It just makes it easier to be together. And yes,  this is still what I want. Spend time with her, let my children know their Grannie, and know that we are in each other's lives.

With my mother I am one step further this year as we worked out that 2 weeks are really the limit for both of us. And as I say good bye to her now from my seat in cyberspace my psycho cocktail of relief, sadness, guilt and hope is turning into a utterly ambivalent :  Miss you already!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I feel I really have neglected my blog for too long after such an enthusiastic start. I made several attempts to start a new post, had a couple of ideas and now they are all sitting in my drafts file waiting to be finished. One of the issues I was stuck with is the question I often get asked by friends:

How can you live in this country where there is so much evidence of poverty everywhere around you?

This is a question that rolls around in my head at regular intervals. Sometimes I find it easy to answer, when I feel good about myself; when my business is doing well and people who work for me, who otherwise might not have jobs, are happy; when I give to someone who is asking for money or food and get rewarded with a genuine smile. When I feel connected.

And then there are the other times: When somebody is looking through my dustbin for food and I look away; when I see little children living on the street without anybody - including myself - feeling responsible for them; when I feel overwhelmed, guilty and paralysed; when I feel I don't do enough but don't do anything about it either.

When I feel out of touch.

This is pretty much what it comes down to: The way I feel about living in this country is a mirror about how I feel about myself. When I feel connected to myself and to others the focus is on what I can contribute rather than where I am failing.

My choice to live here connects me to a reality that for most of my friends is just a headline (or not even that) in a news bulletin or a sad story in a book. Sure, it is uncomfortable to be confronted with the harsh realities of other people/s lives - but staying out of these realities by, for example, moving to another country, does not change anything. I feel that by living here I can on a daily basis make a difference, however small it is.

 Of course it is not enough. Nothing I do can ever be enough until there are no more children abandoned and begging in the streets anywhere in the world. But I can try not to look away and open my heart and my eyes to what it is that I can do. And for the little I do do, I already got back so much:

An almost daily reminder and a heightened awareness of how fortunate I am;
and even more importantly I also gained a healthy perspective on life:  When I am faced with obstacles that seem like mountains at the time I only have to take a look at what  most people that live around me have been through and are still battling with on a daily basis -  and the mountains in my way turn out to be only small stepping stones along my life's journey.  And that's what I am grateful for today.
Happy Holidays  ! I wish you all the good luck to find your  life's beauty  in the middle of a crisis.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Will I be able to love an adopted child?

We had our bi monthly adoption meeting on Monday and this time I was one of the few (due to crazy holiday season I am sure :-))who were able to make it. As we got chatting - as always with one ear and one eye on our kids throwing food items at each other and falling off monkey bars - many interesting issues were raised. Of course half way through any conversation one of us tunes out or comes back in and the general thread of conversation is always a little frazzled and unfocused. But with my mind on my blog, I took two issues with me, that I want to take a little further: The question that many parents - adoptive or birth parents- ask themselves often in a flat panic throughout this journey of conception: Once my child is here, will I be able to love him/her enough. And people who adopt often have the additional fear that loving a child who does not come from their genes or their body is different.

The second issue, that is somewhat related to this is the secret or open wish that "my child looks like me". This is of course related to the fear that we might not be able to love a little "stranger".

When we adopted Kala, my second daughter, I was shocked to find out that we were one of only three couples on the long long list of future parents - who did not specify that their child should look a certain way. The common requirements were "manageable hair, light skin and straight nose" - in other words as white as possible. It made me feel angry and hurt for all the beautiful children who - like Kala - did not comply with these requirements and were therefore not "in demand". On the upside, this was our luck as we were able to take Kala home two weeks after we applied for a second child. Definitely a shock to the family system as we were expecting a waiting period of at least six months - and at the same time a true blessing.

Did I feel this overwhelming love that I have for her today from the beginning? No I did not. I did not know her then. I knew I wanted her and I knew she was meant to come to us as I believe in the universe sending us always what we need. But I felt torn between guilt towards my older daughter Leah for making her share her parents and fear of not being able to love Kala as much as I already loved Leah. I was literally sick for almost 6 days with paralysing nausea and dizziness ... all the while thinking I made a big mistake. My panic made me forget all I had learned about life and love: both happen to us if we let them. All we have to do is relax and open our hearts. As I did not have a choice but to relax - I stopped fighting my feelings and gave in to them. I sobbed and cried and poured out all my fears and worries to everyone who was in listening range. Mostly my wise(yes it's true) and wonderful husband who gave me the best advice ever: don't worry. Just do, what you have to do, go through the motions. The rest will come.

Strange advice to somebody who believes in being authentic and looks for deeper meanings in everything... But then I remembered an old yogic saying by Yogi Bhajan:

Fake it and you can make it . Or fake it until you make it...

Hard to believe? Believe it! As this whole inner turmoil was entirely about myself and my demons and had nothing to do with my beautiful totally non-judgemental children, this was the best advice ever. Ok, so I felt I was not able to love. Just doing the loving anyway did the trick. Kala did not mind. She just looked at me with knowing eyes communicating with her heart and teaching me to slow down my spiralling thoughts and just be there for her. Her calmness and determination helped me a lot. She knew she was in the right place. The fact that she had managed to fight her way through all the obstacles that life had already put in her way before she finally arrived in her family also made me realise how strong she was.

And slowly as I relaxed the pressure on myself and got to know my beautiful child I learned to love her.

More and more every day.

The guilt towards Leah? A wasted emotion if there ever was one - as she radiated in the importance of being a big sister and simply extended her love. So easy when you are not even 3 yet!

I am not sorry I went through all this turmoil as it was another big life lesson for me: Trying to be perfect, the perfect partner, the perfect daughter, the perfect sister and now the perfect mother - has taken up so much time and effort in my life. Time I could have used much wiser to just be myself and learn to accept (and hey, maybe even love ) who I am.

Only when Kala came into my life and triggered one of my darkest moments, in which I felt utterly and hopelessly inadequate, was I able to give up the concept of my perfect self and surrender to my human self. And this is really what I want to say to people who think they might not love a child - an adopted child - enough. First of all, when it comes to your ability to love - there is no difference between loving a little stranger who comes out of your body (or your partner’s body) and a little stranger being put into your arms. The moment you hold them in your arms they are your children. All children are different. They need different things from us. Some resonate with our emotions on a different level than others. Therefore we love them differently. It is not about our children. They are all equally lovable. This is entirely about you . Your experiences with love, good and bad, and the pressure you put on yourself to love in a certain way. If you just open your heart and let love happen, it will happen. Maybe not on the first day - or maybe not even in the first year - but it will happen. Every day. A little more. And while you are busy growing a bigger heart you are doing your job as a parent. The best job you can do. This is what counts in the end.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Keep it simple ! What do we tell our kids - and when???

As our kids get older, we have to adjust our antennas to their more evolved perceptions and understanding of life. When previously asked by Leah at age 3:

Where is my tummy mummy now?

I could simply reply

"In Paarl " and she won't give it another thought - as the next interesting subject presented itself in form of a dead beetle on the stairs (why is it not working mama? Humph .... Why indeed?) .

Where at first I stopped and thought and stammered my way through much too involved answers, losing her after the first imaginary comma, I quickly learned to give the simplest and most obvious answers to her questions. ("In Paarl" and "it's dead" ) .

I also learned to leave all judgement out of my answers. When she asked (shortly after the dead beetle question) where did I drink milk from - a bottle or a breast? My first instinct was to over explain because I felt I had to compensate: ...the poor child sees mothers breast feed their babies and now I have to tell her, she was bottle fed, but that this is also ok, because I love her just as much and so on and so forth...

Then it suddenly struck me that this was entirely my issue and not hers.

She did not have the mindset yet, where one is better than the other. This is something she would learn from me as I attributed certain qualities to the information I was about to give her. So when I kept my voice neutral and simply gave her the information:
- You drank from a bottle -

We went on to a fun 10 minute conversation going through a list of relatives and friends and dividing them into breast fed and bottle fed. There was not even a hint of "I missed out" in her little mind. To her they were just two equally important means of getting food into a baby and an interesting subject to ponder. In fact I think in her mind the bottle has certain advantages to a breast, as it can be detached from mum and makes a handy object in - say - a car seat or a bed.

This was maybe the first of many important lesson Leah taught me: to leave my judgements out of the equation - and in fact to review my opinions and prejudices and look at my own issues with topics like breast-feeding vs. bottle feeding or adoption vs. giving birth or hetero couples vs. two mummies (or two daddies) .... And the list will grow as my girls will find out more about the world they live in and question what they see.

My biggest challenge yet is to not cloud their fresh and totally non-judgemental attitude towards all aspects of loving and living by my own learned pattern of "better than..." It also is a great opportunity to become aware of all the hidden and sometimes quite obvious labels that we stick onto all sorts of subjects from relationships to religion to professions.

To a 4 year old being a doctor in a hospital is just as interesting and worthwhile as riding on the back of a garbage truck emptying dust bins - on second thought riding the big truck is probably a lot more fun!

They also have no positive or negative concept - yet - of skin colour or religion or family other than a growing awareness of all our differences. It is our task as parents to help them keep this non judgemental approach to new experiences and learn from them a new and fresh perspective on life.
Having said that: Do I not want to teach them about right and wrong? Good and bad?

Of course I do! But it is my responsibility to question myself and my motives first. Do I want to influence them to think like me for my own sake or do I teach them something that they need to know about life?

To find and keep the balance between keeping our children safe and making them scared, between teaching them and indoctrinating them - is our most sacred task as a parent- next to loving them for who they are! And just in case you are wondering: If my girls would find their life's joy and beauty by riding on the back of a big truck, I hope and pray to whoever is in charge of me, that I will find the grace and wisdom to draw on my love for them and support them with all my heart.

(am I allowed to secretly hope that this too will pass..... :-) :-)??)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Favourites of the week:

My  friend, mother of two - one self made and one recently adopted - suggests, I put the following comments up for discussion.

1 Where is her real mother
2  Don't these people use contraception

Ok ... let's see: the first one might possibly fall under the clemency of yesterday's enlightened state of mind, in which I suddenly found understanding and love in my heart for those who don't think before they speak (!!! )but are essentially well intentioned. They look me in the eye and hush their voice as to not to alert my child to the fact that a total stranger is asking an intrusive and utmost intimate question about her life. They seem to think that there is some level of understanding between them and me that naturally excludes her -  something that they think they ought to know and she should not. Some uncomfortable, maybe even nasty secret:  THE REAL MOTHER
To those, who look me in the eye and ask where is her real mother, I calmly respond: I am her real mother.
That normally does the trick. Furtive glances around for the black man who might have fathered my children are not uncommon. Or nervous laughter as if I made a joke they don't quite get. Sometimes though, somebody gets it. I can see this by the slightly embarrassed smile as my answer sinks in and they concede: of course you are.
Yes Of Course I Am.

As far as the second one goes: I choose the high road of no comment
(but from somewhere within I hear a growl: Your parents clearly should have. But here you are, you brain dead excuse for a human being)

anything else???

October Child Magazine published this one

There is one thing that bothers me whenever I read anything about adoption, and that is that people don’t seem to consider the possibility that adopting a child can be a deliberate choice and not the result of many years of failed attempts to conceive “your own” biological child. There seems to be a common perception that adoption is only a second choice, reserved for when all else fails, and that loving a biological child is more natural and comes more easily than loving an adopted child.

This is absolutely not the case. The feelings we have for our children are only determined by our capacity to love and not by their genetic backgrounds. If you have the ability to love, you will love your child – whichever way he or she comes to you.

I chose to adopt my children because it made sense to me from an early age (I was 12 when I first decided I was going to adopt). I wanted to be a mother to children who needed mothering, rather than bringing more children into the world. At the time this seemed like a teenager’s make-the-world-a-better-place idealism, something I would grow out of. I did abandon the idea in my twenties and thirties, but then I moved to South Africa, and suddenly many signs were pointing me towards adopting again.

Getting my children was such a wonderful and natural process and I am forever grateful to this country, to all the people who helped us bring our family together and most of all to my daughters’ beautiful birth mothers, who loved their children enough to make this choice for them. In my opinion it is vital, especially when you consider how children are abandoned to beg on street corners while rich people are spending a fortune on in-vitro procedures or other means in order to conceive.

Now more so than ever we need to wake up to the fact that there is a need for a new way of life, for a new understanding of family. To adopt children should be as natural as giving birth to them and I hope that my children will grow up understanding this. They must always know that having them the way we did was not a solution to a problem but a choice we made (as did they – I believe they also chose us).

There are many more things that I could go on about, as this has been a subject close to my heart for as long as I have had the privilege of being a mother. For example, if every couple that had a biological child would adopt a child in need of a family, the world would be a better place for children.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cute kids - where did you get them?

Yes, people notice us, wherever we go. They stare, they smile, they make contact, they make a point of not looking but no matter what, we always get noticed. Does it bother me? It used to. A lot.
When strangers came up to me and said things like:

It's such a beautiful thing that you are doing. Being a parent to these children.


They are so cute, where did you get them? (for real!)


Are they real sisters. I mean  REALLY ? sisters?

I never knew what to say, so I smiled stiffly and carried on walking or if we were stuck in a restaurant, I turned away pretending that my kids needed my full attention, to indicate that I was not interested in any further communication. Inwardly I was seething: Who do they think they are, that they can come up to me and comment on my life choices, or my children or ask questions about my most private affairs? Do I go up to total strangers and say:

Ooooh excuse me, did you conceive your child naturally or by invitro. Is this their real dad or did you have a donor?

This is of course a rethorical question. Why? Because the notion is absurd. So what makes people abandon their sense of natural boundaries with us? Do they think because we look  different from the norm, we should be open to constant comments and prodding questions, sort of like an exhibit in a gallery.

Being angry and somewhat resentful was what I got used to in dealing with this kind of encounters. Until I recently noticed that I was really not. So much. Anymore. What happened?

Last week at I took Leah to our doctor.  It so happened that we were alone in the waiting room with the receptionist, a lovely lady who has known us since we started coming there with our first child 5 years ago. We never really talked much apart from the usual baby/kid talk: Can't believe how much she has grown since you last came / cute dress, etc. etc

She was on the phone when I came in, and  a little agitated when she ended the conversation. She then told me she had problems with her 15year old son who has started smoking a year ago and from there we went on to talking about teenagers and how difficult it can be to be a parent. And then, with no apparent connection to the subject of teenagers, she suddenly said to me in a hushed voice:

Its so great that you people take on orphans and kids that you don't know the background of. I mean it's great that there are people who do this, but isn't it difficult when you don't know what you are getting?

I was stunned. My smile froze and my vision blurred. The room was totally quiet, exept for leah making train noises and shoving building blocks around on the floor. I was so aware of her little ears pricking up and the importance that this moment could have - it was paralysing.

We seemed to be hovering in mid conversation for an uncomfortably long time. When my vision cleared I saw her shaky smile and questioning eyes and I realised something. There was no malice in what she was saying. She did not know any better, maybe hadn t even thought about the issue much before this moment and this was really more of an opportunity to build a bridge than to start a confrontation.

And here is what I said to her: I don't believe that anyone knows what they are getting, whether they give birth or their child comes to them in a different way. Our children all come to us as the same pure souls, full of opportunities and promises and what we put in is what we'll get out.

And the most amazing thing happened. She really thought about what I said and then her eyes lit up and she smiled the brightest smile at us and said: yes you are right, they are all god's souls and it depends on us, what we give them and how they will turn out.

And we were back on the subject of her teenage son....and then the doctor could see us...

Ok, I might have over simplified the nature vs nurture discussion a bit and it's also a little on the cheesy side. But this is essentially what I believe and it was meant just as much for my daughters ears (who would not acknowledge for a moment that she had listened...). Most importantly I learned the most valuable lesson so far on this journey into parenthood: If I can bypass my mother-lion reaction of aggression and defense the moment some stranger enters our cosy little world with their nasty views and if I really just listen and open my heart, the right answers will come. And sometimes they might even make a difference in someone elses world and start building brigdes.

And sometimes I might still get angry at some bigotted or racist reaction and this anger might be healthy and justified and show my little lion cubs that mummy has claws to defend them until they can do it for themselves...(so bewarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre)


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cross Cultural Adoption

Cross cultural adoption….
There are those who feel it is important to restrict or even forbid by law what they call cross cultural adoption. They claim to have proof that it can’t be good for a child to be adopted “out of their original culture”. They think that those children are burdened not only by being adopted but also by having been deprived of their roots.

Lets have a closer look at the this cultural issue: What culture are we talking about? Are we talking about continents, countries or language? Is it - for example - ok for a German person to adopt an Italian child, but not an Asian child? Are French parents acceptable for a Russian orphan? And how do we trace the exact culture of an abandoned child who might have two genetic parents from different cultures? Should parents from different cultures not have children because it might confuse them when they grow up? Is it not time to face up to the fact that we live in a world community? Some people live in many different cultures throughout their lives. Some people – like me - adopt a different culture, some people leave their original culture behind by choice or by circumstances. We have friends from different cultures, we marry into different cultures. To think that it is a good idea to restrict relationships by culture is downright absurd.

So why say culture, when, the real issue here is colour! What these opinions really hide is the belief that people with light skin should not be parents to people with a dark skin and vice versa. The underlying reason behind these opinions is that some people are uncomfortable with the fact that we are headed towards a world where black and white will ultimately blend into one, where cultures become interspersed with each other and we have to lose our preconceptions and judgements if we don’t want to be left behind in the dark ages of racism and elitism.

And even if it might be easier for children to grow up with parents who look like them - what is the alternative here? That we should rather leave them in orphanages or foster homes or abandoned somewhere in the street, because parents of a different culture will only make them feel like they don’t fit in? And is this not what all teenagers feel anyway? Is this not the very definition of being a teenager? And if everybody feels that way at some point in their life why should adopted children actually not feel alienated and unloved at times? This is what it comes down to really: We all have problems throughout our lives, with our parents or friends or siblings, with our self image and our self worth. That’s life. We breathe and we have problems. If we work on ourselves we learn to live with problems and be content, even happy sometimes. If our problems are over, we are dead. To think that these problems can be put down to one simple cause is not only delusional but also totally pointless.

Will it confuse my two adopted children, when they realise they have darker skin than me, or different colour eyes or hair? Yes, it might confuse them, it might even cause them anxiety and pain, when they are confronted with insensitive reactions and opinions. But at the end of the day they come home to me and to a family who loves each other for who they are and where they are taught that it is ok to be different and where we are really not so different at all.
Or as my 4 year old daughters best friend put it (after she scraped her knee) : Look,  we have the same blood, its red!