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


Monday, February 28, 2011

Once again: On parenting cross culturally - From Precious Williams blog

Is love enough?

Earlier this month UK Children's Minister Tim Loughton vowed he'd relax rules around transracial adoption, making it easier for white families to adopt black and other minority children.

But can a black child really thrive in a white home? Is love enough? And why are so many white celebrities adopting African-origin children......?

This question was answered brilliantly by Cynde. Cynde is white and American, fabulous and also an adoptee herself, and she has gone on to adopt two black daughters. She also happens to be my Aunt, through marriage, and we first became acquainted when she contacted me after reading my memoir Color Blind, which of course deals with transracial adoption. Here is what Cynde has to say on the subject:

"As a trans-racial adoptive parent my answer is yes, color does matter in parenting. Especially when adopting across color and cultural lines. To pretend there is no difference serves only to help the parent stay in denial of a color conscious society and perhaps their own racial prejudices. It also sends the message to the child that race as a subject is off limits and more subtly that perhaps the parent is uncomfortable about their child's color.

As a white parent of two black daughters I understand that my experiences are and will be different. If I'm aware of that I can foster relationships with friends, mentors, role models, teachers, neighbors and church members who's racially experiences more closely match those of my children. Having said all that, this is just the beginning of helping your adoptive child have a healthy racial identity. But acknowledging that as a member of a different race from my child I cannot fill in all the gaps in my child's identity is a start."

Friday, February 25, 2011

This is what Precious Williams wrote back to me

Dear Martina

Thank you so much for writing to me. I'm up against a deadline right now so can't write very much but I just wanted to say hi and touch base with you. I had a quick peak at your blog and saw the absolutely adorable photo of your daughters on there!

I actually may be visiting South Africa later this year. It will be my first trip there although I've previously visited Zim and Botswana. If I do visit I'd love to meet for a coffee or something. But will write more soon.

All the best


and me of course can't stay quiet for 5 minutes had to reply immediately....

Dear Precious

I am so happily surprised and moved by your warm and positive response. I hope you don’t mind me publishing your email on my blog as I want more people to know about you and am so excited with the prospect of possibly starting some sort of dialogue around color, adoption, parenting and the joy and angst of it all!

One thing I am struggling with as my daughters get older is to get positive female role models into their lives. South Africa – especially Cape Town – is still very much a separated society and “black and white” don’t mix much except maybe in Johannesburg. We have many families amongst our friends with all different kinds of colors in them but mostly white parents. I find it sad and often downright embarrassing when my girls assume that every African face they see belongs to either a nanny or a cleaning lady. There has even been an incident where my friend’s adopted daughter Thandi asked her (african) friend at a party: where is your mummy. The girl pointed out her mother and Thandi said: no I don’t mean your nanny, I mean where is your mum? (everybody: who wants an ICECREAM??????)

Movies and books don’t help much either –the only female princess I came across so far who has dark skin and dark hair – is Nia from the frog story, which I haven’t managed to sustain until the end (and don’t have the ambition to either…) I struggle to find dark skinned dolls for birthday cakes and the main qualifications for princesses still seem to be blonde hair and blue eyes. A subject I am sure you are only too familiar with – but which I must admit has never occurred to me until recently– having spent most of my life amongst pale German people.

I also struggle with the terminology “black” and “white” as in my opinion this only serves to sustain the separation between races instead of bringing us together through our similarities. I am certainly not blind towards racism and have been known to be quite fierce and intolerant in my reactions towards prejudiced, ignorant or plain stupid opinions – but to be classified and filed away as white or black– as if this is some sort of reference to our character, background or culture, does not sit well with me. I don’t want to be defined by the color of my skin and certainly don’t want this for my children.

In the past – maybe until as recent as 30 or 40 years ago – when people mostly stayed in their birth countries unless they had to escape from violence or poverty – it might have made sense to allocate cultural background to skin color.( It also depends what your definition of culture is – a whole new subject this). As the world gets smaller every day, people don’t stay within their cultures, they make friends and children with people from other “cultures” (imagine that  ) and soon (I hope very soon!!) we won’t be able anymore to make cultural assumptions based on skin color anymore as we can conclude somebody speaks German because they have blonde hair.

Both my girls are strictly speaking not “black” as in this country people distinguish between “black” (mostly Xhosa or Zulu culture), “colored” (a mix of the original Xhosa and Zulu population and the white colonizing nations – I hope I got this right and please anybody correct me if this is wrong) and “white”(mostly English and Africaans) – my girls are a mix of at least two of them. The racism between “colored” and “black” people adds a whole new dimension to the color confusion all around me and I can’t write “black” or “white” without hesitation unless it’s in connection with my handbag or shoes.

I am most interested to hear your perspective on this issue – as I understand from reading some of what you have written that you feel quite strongly about having been labeled as “not really being black”.

I am going to end here for today and hope to hear from you soon! As for your visit to South Africa, my invitation still stands: I (and Alan and Leah and Kala) would be honored and happy to welcome you into our home for as long as you stay in Cape Town. In the meantime I am looking forward our correspondence! A LOT!



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Invitation to Precious Williams

Dear Precious

I have read about you in Elle Magazine – and as a white mother of 2 adopted African children I went through a roller coaster of emotions trying to put your story into perspective for myself and my family. I so wish I could meet you talk to you and just let you see my two utterly and totally beloved girls and how we live our lives together. There is no such thing as the perfect family and ours is by no means that. But I can say this with conviction and from the wisdom of my heart – nothing but love (or the universe or fate or god if you believe in god) put us together as a family. There were no ulterior motives (and Madonna had no hand in it either ). I did not “choose” to have black children. I chose to have children but they decided which way and shape and color they were going to come to me.

To me they are the most beautiful children in the world and the greatest gift the universe has ever given to me.

And as we travel on this journey through life we go nowhere unnoticed but always together and mostly happy.

I wrote on your face book page and on my blog http://gunnagirls.blogspot.com and say it again here: I want to invite you with an open heart and mind to come and visit us in our family home in Cape Town. Spend some time with my children (5 and 2). Tell us about you. Learn about us. Or if you don’t have time, just contact me, be in touch, exchange views on life, love, color, handbags and hairstyles 



Tuesday, February 22, 2011

the color of love - Precious Williams story

Some of you might have read about Precious Williams in the February issue of Elle.  She is a "black"  woman, born in England to a Nigerian mother and a father from Sierra Leone. Her father  left shortly after her birth (which I think was sometimes in the 60ies or maybe 70ies) and her mother -unable to cope - advertised her (those were her exact words!!!) in a magazine to find a private foster home for her. Only days after her birth Precious Williams was handed over to a "kind hearted elderly woman who was lonely and suffering from agoraphobia (.... and who) felt a foster child would give her a new lease of life". The reason this lady wanted a "black" child was also explained: "...she'd read the novel Uncle Toms Cabin and fancied the idea of a child who reminded her of Topsy, a slave child depicted in the book."  (....no comment from me needed here.....)

The article then goes on to describe Precious Williams life from her perspective in an all white English town surrounded by prejudice and ignorance. Her birth mother lost custody of her when she was 9 (ruled at a time where racism was still mostly politically correct) and her foster mother then became her legal guardian. How her foster mother referred to her constantly as "not really being black" as if this was a positive. How she was unable to address any of the issues she had to deal with as a child as her foster mother (who she says "adored" her)  basically just chose to ignore life in the real world (probably a result of never leaving the house) and live in a cocoon with her little "black daughter" where her often proclaimed love for her was the only thing that really mattered.

The article left me with a sick feeling of dread and unspecified guilt. As the main message the article brings across is that most of  Precious Williams problems stemmed from the fact that a white woman brought her up, it is only logical for anyone reading this article that "white" people should never be allowed to adopt "black" children. The article then goes on to accuse Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Sandra Bullock, Tom Cruise - in short celebrities and generally anybody white adopting a black child - to aquire black children like fashion accessories, instead of sticking to their own (color/race/culture.... whatever.......)

I even thought for one crazy moment that maybe they are right, maybe we are all deluding ourselves thinking that this - our family - might actually work when we are in fact  damaging our children by bringing them into our home. I had to do some real deep breathing, talk it through with Alan on a long walk towards our Arniston Wishing Dune and get some perspective.

I read the article again and then it dawned on me: What this woman has been through would have made anybodys life miserable. Not only did she grow up with a mother figure suffering severe mental problems - she also never had any emotional support or even acknowledgement for what she experienced. Her birth mother's infrequent visits and subsequent abandonment (this is what it would have looked like for a child of 9) could only contribute to her feelings of confusion and unworthyness.

I felt even sadder reading the article a second time as I tried to imagine what her life must have been like:
She would never have experienced a mother who dropped her off at school, chatted to other mothers, taken her to playdates, pushed her on a swing or went shopping with her as a teenager. Not one of the little bonding rituals a mother and daughter do together on a daily basis was part of her growing up.

The tragedy of her life was being handed over (first by her mother and later on by the authorities) to a person clearly not capable of  raising a child -  as well intentioned, warm hearted and loving she might have been.
The fact that this lady is white has -in my view - very little to do with the trauma Precious Williams experienced. Of course being totally obvious as a "black" child in a "white" society in the dark ages of rampant racism did not help, especially when the people responsible for this child were in no way equipped to deal with issues and questions she would have about her background and her identity.

As a foster mother - and really the only mother Precious Williams had in her life - she probably loved her as best as she could - but she could by no means give her what she needed - what any child needs: a healthy and strong bond with a loving adult to guide them along into adulthood.

The sad fact is that her foster mother's emotional life was overridden by her mental problems and she was simply not capable to love any child (black or white) the way a child needs and deserves to be loved.
Sadly she used a child to alleviate her own suffering (to feel less lonely and get a new lease on life....) and was naive enough (to put it mildly) to think she could create her own fairy tale story by saving a little slave child from it's sad destiny. To me this sounds utterly stupid and irresponsible - and maybe she can not even be held responsible for it - but it horrifies me that there were people involved (her birth parents, society, judges and lawyers) who should have known better but did not do anything to prevent this tragedy happening to Precious Williams.

My heart goes out to her - and there is so much I want to say to her as a  mother of two utterly and totally beloved  children, who do happen to have skin a couple of shades darker than me.  I want to invite her into my home to stay with us for as long as it would take for her to see us for who we really are: a normal family thrown together by fate (or god or the universe) who never goes anywhere un-noticed but  always together on this journey into love and life.

I want her to see my childrens eyes shine with happiness screaming hysterically chasing each other through the garden sprinklers on a hot summer day. I want her to see them angry and frustrated when life does not go their way and how we try to comfort and help them through these feelings without belittling or ignoring them.   I want her to see them sad and distraught climbing onto my lap and allowing me to hold them and kiss them and make it all better (oh what bliss to still have the power to do so...) . I want to talk to her about my worries about racism and my children's self image - as I slowly learn to adjust my perspective to their ever changing needs. I would love for her to find some comfort and maybe even joy within a family who celebrates differences rather than ignores them and who most of all supports one another no matter what. 

That's my wish for today.....

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Yesterday I had a my midlife crisis - nothing to do with my kids and totally private!

It was horrible. How can one be soooo old and feel totally normal? In fact I don't feel any different from when I was turning 30. Clearly that was also horrible. Little did I know...

My mother - at 73 - did not have any advise to offer. As always her 7th sense when it comes to my moments of screaming crazy crisis kicked in and she phoned me at about repetition 5627 of  my 24 hour mantra (am old, am fat, am useless.... am almost 50!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

How ARE you darling?

(how am I? HOW I AM? you should know! 50. Terrible . Distraught. I think I need medication...)

She made soothing noises and said: I know, it's bad! (?????????? ...Yes and??? the only alternative to getting old is dying young?????)

Here I was hoping to get some pearls of wisdom from somebody who's been there, but all I got was silent confirmation of my worst case scenario: It's all downhill from here on...

As I look around  at dinner tables, parent evenings, (senior citizen gatherings...) - I think to myself: These are my parent's friends, what am I doing here?

And a little faster each time realisation dawns:  I turned into my parents older neighbour. My parents friends were young compared to me. I am the crazy lady who talks to herself when she parks her car, starts fights with the parking attendants over time spent in the parking lot and can only guess every third or forth word on the restaurant menu. How the hell did I get here? And without even noticing?

There seems to have been no in between time. One moment I am celebrating my 30 birthday in my student flat in Berlin with a circus tent full of possibilities all around me - the next moment I am hyperventilating on my lounge suit in my respectable house in Cape Town with my 50th birthday only weeks away.

I am somewhat afraid that my next lucid moment will be me clutching my Zimmer frame at 80 reminiscing about the wild times I could have had at 50 had I stopped obsessing about my age for one moment and smelled the strawberries whilst still capable of walking above them (as opposed to almost be lying under them.....).

And then again: The last big birthday party I attended was my father in laws 80th in the middle of the Kruger National Park sharing smoked salmon and birthday cake out of a tin with his elder siblings.  Here we were huddled together on a 3 square meter bush hut veranda  in the pissing rain giggling hysterically about his 83 year old sisters attempts to locate a  piece of salmon on her plate and reminiscing about the day's game viewing (look at the beautiful elephant! It's a rock dear...but you're right it's rather impressive).

At the time I thought: Thankfully I am not there yet - but if I ever get this old, this is what I want to do on my 80th: giggle hysterically with my favourite people (without being committed that is!).

Something to look forward to? So why not start today at almostfify whilst I can still see the cake on my plate without binoculars and have kids young enough to boss around (oops, this was not going to be about them).

So here is my one and only new year half century resolution: giggle, laugh, scream with hilarity as long as I can still breathe unassisted.. . (but first I need to go and get my medication  .... HAHA this is a joke of course).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

You don't know what it's like - The race issue AGAIN

In the last couple of days the tiresome issue of racism forced itself into my life - not for the first time- things I've been reading, things friends have been telling me, things that I sometimes worry about - but have mainly managed to avoid so far.

Maybe it's time I give it some thought before the whole ugly truth catches up with me?

And which truth might that be?

As a lighter skinned individual with two beautiful daughters a couple of shades darker than myself or my husband (yes that would be Alan again) - I not only have to worry about what my children might be faced with in the years to come - it seems I am not qualified to prepare them adequately. In fact according to some I am not even qualified to raise them.

A most popular opinion amongst those who oppose cross-color-adoption - and they only say this as they love to point out With-The-Childs-Best-Interest-At-Heart -  is that because I haven't experienced racism first hand I should not be raising people who might (experience racism first hand).

For the sake of tolerance, evolution and world peace, I want to try and level with those who think this is a valid point to make. So what is their point?

Only people who have experienced all challenges that life can throw at their children are qualified to raise those children?

We are talking challenges here, right? To say, for example, that only geniusses can raise extremely gifted children to prepare them for a world where they will  be poked fun at and often isolated because they simply do not fit into the norm would not fall into this category - or would it?

It seems the common view here is that being dark skinned is a negative challenge in life that one must be prepared for by a similarly challenged parent. (Honestly people, I am not deliberately trying to be cynical here, but I have difficulties following this train of thought ). Where I can understand the first part of the argument (sadly racism is alive and thriving all over the world) - the second part is totally beyond my possibly limited understanding of life and the universe.

If it was a prerequisite to parenthood to have experienced first hand what we need to teach or protect our children from, 99% of parents would not qualify. The one remaining percent would cruise along on mere luck. What about people with dyslexic children, children with autism, ADD or ADS or a number of new and even unnamed symptoms and challenges yet? What about people who had a perfectly happy childhood and suddenly find themselves parents of kids who are severely bullied at school? Or fall vicitim to internet stalkers? What about thin parents with fat kids, normal sized parents with extremely tall or extremely short offspring?

Ok this boat is now dangerously veering off into Oprah territory.

But you get the picture: there is a bottomless pool of possibilities where we as parents are trying to keep our heads above whater when faced with the Great Big Unknown. With challenges. If we are prepared to learn and grow with these challenges parenthood can be all about the positive experience of overcoming them together. As a family.

I can not mask or ignore the fact that I am light skinned and my kids are not - and I don't want to either (Having said that, Leah caught me this morning applying self tanning lotion to my pinkish legs - and was very  understanding when I explained the process: ok mama you want skin like me!?).

What I want is for people to stop obsessing about skin color and take it for what it is: a fact of life. We can look at it as a negative challenge and seek out all it's negative implications everywhere we go or we can teach our kids to be proud of who they are.  This does not mean that they should ignore the fact that they have dark skin  in a world where light skin is still an unfair advantage for most but that they realise this is not what defines them.

And am I qualified to support them on this journey? hell YES.

Do I think the fact that I was bullied at school before the term was even invented and  therefore have an insight in what could happen to them qualifies me? HELL NO.   I could easily be so traumatised and subsequently paranoid that I see bullies in every corner of the classroom where there are in fact only normal 5 year old girls playing the daily You-Are-Not-My-Friend game. If I haven't healed my own issues of being a victim, all I am going to teach my kids is how the be a victim.

If on  the other hand  I have worked through my own painful experiences in life I am more likely to be able to help and support my children when they need help and support. My experiences do not (and I mean DO NOT) have to be the same challenges my children might have to face one day. The important lesson I teach them is how to live through the moments when life gets complicated or even painful and come out of them a little stronger, braver and more compassionate each time.

For me it was  first a great therapist and later on my partner who helped me on my way as a mother, for others it might be yoga or religion or great friends or loving parents. For some the real work might only start with their children. And this is also ok.

To have the honesty and self awareness to adress your own issues when faced with problems your kids experience or throw at you - is the best piece of parenting advise anybody can get.

And if you feel  you need help yourself, get help. Get it from friends, from family, from professionals, from kind strangers on the internet from your partner. We do not have to have all the answers.  Brown or pink, fat or thin, tall or short - growing up our children will all go through painful life experiences and thank the universe for parents who are simply there for them.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The new kid at school - past horror revisited.....

I don't know about you, but I hated being the new kid - and still remember the feeling of dread like a horrible man-sized slug slurping around in my belly before going into a new class or playing for the first time  in a new neighbourhood.

In fact, thinking about last night's PT meeting at Leah's new school - I still have it. . .THE DREAD.  I can mask it better today (I hope). Well, I didn/t dissolve into tears entering the classroom and I didn/t cling onto Alan's shirt sleeve for more than a couple of minutes . I even talked to somebody I didn/t know and when it came to all-round-introductions (always my worst part of any event)  I managed to say my name and my daughters name without stammering or losing my voice. So that's OK, I am telling myself, I am not 5 anymore and things are looking up.

But do they? Every morning when I leave my 5 year old standing or playing by herself in a classroom full of kids who all seem to know each other - I have to choke back tears of despair as I revisit the feelings of loneliness and exposure that haunted my childhood as the NEW KID. Yes, I am aware that these are not necessarily her feelings and that I am dragging my emotional baggage into her classroom. But how can I be sure? When it comes to talking about her day at school it goes something like this

So - did you have a nice day at school

(and before you roll your collective parenting eyes: I know NO yes-or-no questions, but that s me - warming up...)

yes (I had it coming)

What was the best thing that happened today? (getting better by the minute aren't I? )

painting (...???)

What was not so nice? (really trying hard here)

Nothing (that's good - isn't it?)

Who did you play with?  (now I am probably already sounding a bit desperate)

Nobody (totally straight face - absolutely NO emotions)

And that's usually where the conversation falls flat as she is clearly bored with my entry level interrogation skills. I also know not to press the point and make her feel that there is something wrong with being HAPPILY by herself only because her mother spent her childhood and most of her adult life hovering on the outside of crowds of people all happily socialising - feeling there is something wrong with me. I just don't have it in me. There was even a brief time (before I learnt the art of saying NO without offending the rejected party FOREVER)  when the prospect of yet another braai with male beer bonding around a red Weber and us women banished to an area closer to the kitchen - sent me spiralling into depression. I just couldn/t do it: the sheer boredom of hours and hours of discussing husbands and kids (that was before I had them), books I would never read passed the first chapter ( and before you ask:  I don't do Women Are From Venus -  am literally/poetically challenged: I only like murder and violent crime in the tradition of Patricia Highsmith, Nicki French and Val Mc Dermot) and movies I hated (like: City of Angels - insert sound of vomiting here - ) .... ok ok, I have to bring this sentence to an end. But you get the picture...

I guess, what I learned in my late forties was to accept my limitations as a social butterfly and stay happily in my coccoon, occasionally I would even invite a butterfly for tea- as I really enjoy their sparkle within the safety of my comfort zone. As a result I can now proudly count many (weeellll, one or two) a sparkly butterfly amongst my very limited group of friends.... (and lovely queen Althea, you sparkle the brightest amongst them all :-))

So - what did I learn from all this with regards to my daughter?  Will she have to battle with feelings of  "just not fitting in " well into middle age before she can finally come to terms with the fact that she is more of a  One-Friend-At-A-Time person than the cheerleader type? Or can I help her to accept the unique and wonderful person she is?

At the moment she seems to be more of the Who-Stands-In-The-Corner-And-Observes-type personality. And if I manage to leave my trunks of emotional clutter at home and just take what she chooses to tell me at face value, it might not be so dramatic:

What she's saying after all is basically
-I had a good time today, I enjoyed the painting part and I choose not to play with anybody  as I am still in the process of making up my mind about people ...

And if this is good enough for her, it should be more than just fine with me. I should be happy for her to be able to be herself!

Because what made my childhood as the new kid so miserable was not being who I was  but people (PARENTS mostly) trying to change me (and of course the horrible nicole perodot in 4th grade - but that's another story).

 Later on it was of course all my own doing, hanging on to misery by trying to become some socially acceptable image of myself rather than being me and thereby attracting people who actually liked me instead of pissing off those who did not even know me... hmmmm all sounds horribly complicated? Well it's not.

Bottom line: My daughter's job in life is not to heal my emotional traumas. I can not make her into the most popular girl at school to get some late sense of gratification with regards to my school career.

The only thing I can do is support her on this journey into grown up life and show her that I truly see her as the unique, beautiful and above all totally loveable person she is. If she really believes this, I have achieved all I need to achieve (and of course beat the beeeejayzus out of nicole perodot should she reincarnate as the class bully).

Now I take a deep breath as I get ready to pick up Leah from school and can't help asking: How was school today.