On the Lookout for Blessing

There are certain spheres in which I am very reluctant to give advice. Saintly, I know. Most of them are related to pouring more, specific responsibility on women and mothers: not interested. Post a click-baity article on the evils of yoga pants or screen time, or tell me all the wrong things about all the food non-wealthy or non-white kids eat, and I’m pushing mute. There’re just too many cooks in the kitchen, all with the same [lack of] experience levels, not all with the same contexts and privileges, and the moms I know don’t need another apocalyptic guideline.

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Me as me when my kids try to wake me/people tell grown women what to wear.

At high risk of overlapping with that incredibly common genre, I’m writing today about something I’ve never said a thing about: a video game. I don’t hardly know anything about this subject (impressive start, I know) except that I am the absolute worst in actually playing them. My coordination on the button thingies rivals my dance moves for Most Compelling Reason I may be a different species than most people. But nevertheless, this is my blog.

A friend asked me to help research and bring awareness to a game that’s pretty popular right now because she is a teacher and a leader and communal to her core; I’ll try because I love her so. The game is called Fortnite, specifically the Battle Royale mode (rated 13+), which is free. 40 million people play some version of it. Championed by conscientious adults for its lack of blood, the cartoony-violence, and humor, there is the social intensity of online strangers, one life, and urgent perils at every turn. It is inspired by The Hunger Games type plot, and teams (of real players) are encouraged in the race to kill in order to be the last survivor. While the game does not require in-app purchases to progress (a merit-badge in marketed-to-kids free games), there are cosmetic improvements frequently pushed, to update one’s appearance in the alternate, deteriorating world.

Some things I read made this game sound pretty harmless–the building and strategy aspects, being a teammate, and the unrealistic violence. Some things I read made this game sound very dangerous because of its addictive, real-time quality mixed with the survivor intensity. It’s hard for kids to unplug or stop playing, and in essence, commit suicide and hurt their team. Reading or listening to other people’s in-game advice or reactions can make for a very charged, profane, uncontrollable and polarizing environment—kind of like real life middle school. This was a helpful article I found about Fortnite-related kid rage and some practical advice.

In one friend’s experience, her child started showing more severe mood swings, a fear of being alone, anxiety, and few words to explain said feelings. Some of the behaviors that she later found in the game and related YouTube videos were things he, in his upset, threatened to do to himself. Obviously, no video game is experienced in a test tube environment, and no child is only affected by one video game. But this one seemed to have an especially piercing effect that was noticeable and destructive to this underaged, sensitive player right away. I too have a kid who is markedly sensitive in some regards and has to work extra hard in social arenas; in both cases, we moms would like them to learn how to manage their sensitivity without forfeiting or devaluing it. Adding another layer of social weight to their shoulders in this form of game is the equivalent of asking me to go on So You Think You Can Dance; it’s just not the right time.

I came across this quote from one of my favorite writers: “It is a quotidian master that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation…We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are…We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places” (Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries, 11).

I like this framework for being parents, mentors and teachers: Lookers for Blessings. It is such a poignant quote for we who wear the biggest hats of the Daily, in our own search for fulfillment, but in tonight’s case, what a help in creating a palatable, big-enough rubric for our influence on children, for the rules we’re willing to set and the environment we strive to create. Is it a blessing? Will it help them find more for themselves?

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Not in the flimsy prize toy kind of way, or the competitive, affluence snobby way or the Netflix binge type of gift we’ve all given ourselves…but the blessing that turns out to bloom salvific, meaningful, healing. What in their daily could be the core of their salvation? For my young friend, the recreation and entertainment of this particular video game offers distraction, but none of the above bouquet. In the ways we try to unpack the feelings, give vocabulary to the nuances, and give guidance to the social maneuvers our young ones are sorting out each day at school…in all those ways, with added stakes and voices, he engaged in another world no one could even begin to ask about or retrace because it doesn’t exist. And yet it did. And does for about 40 million other people.

I’m not attempting to make anyone’s mind up about this year’s game or video games in general. But I find myself, in all of this wading, wanting to recommission moms and dads and aunties and teachers and mentors to be in charge; I want to affirm their role of setting boundaries and seeking blessings. Adults are affirmed to set up blessing-dispensing systems and say, “People have different rules and these are our rules” which can be code for “This is how I am establishing daily salvation and meaning in your world.” The children cannot become well adults without their adults first insisting that they are the kids.

The daily is so slippery and relentless. Like a bedtime routine with a toddler, one step can suddenly become 12 and after saying the right thing, feeding the right thing, setting up the right thing, and reading the right thing, the kid still has a 13th idea. And then they get big enough to climb out of the crib. Moving targets abound and there is grace upon grace for us caretakers. Otherwise we would just all quit and shrivel in a snivel and no one would have kids and in the first place, God would probably have not set it up like this.

It doesn’t all have to be catechism; it can’t. It can be bubbles and paint and brownies and solitaire and guitar. One person suggested a family Fortnite night. It’s your world to make, and it’s doused in grace. A hundred little things fill the space of the daily. All we can do is start just where we are. Pluck something that hasn’t fit the bill, and pick a replacement for the young soul. They are beginning their meaning-making, in need of salvation, and we are an adult, tasked as a look out for their blessing. It’s our watch.

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I Failed to Achieve Citizenship

(Repost in light of the continued endangerment of DACA and Dreamers.)

I find that people like to talk about adoption. Especially when I am open about my own. Whatever culture, class, and countryman I find myself interacting with, there is a natural curiosity, sympathy, and sometimes endearing confusion about adoption.

People are sympathetic to adoption, to put it mildly. Churches have adoption campaigns, so much so that children in need of homes are miscalled “orphans” to really pull the heartstrings. People donate to adoptions. We ourselves are still struggling to adopt, now over 3 years since our first placement was pulled and we’ve fought for another, and almost 5 years since we first started the process. We really believe in adoption–from the top notch celebrity to the Christian icon to the farm with no TV, adoption is pretty popular, and for good reason.

The growth in awareness and advocacy is great, don’t get me wrong. Fewer things in this life demonstrate our theology and our connectedness moreso than adoption. At the same time, I find it interesting that the innocence of children, and the presumed virtue of the adoptive parents, are almost always givens. The positive perception is pretty resilient in this arena.

What about when the adoptive parents are really evil and negligent? What about the mistakes biological family make to get those kids there? What about the dead ends that led children to be in a terrible, expensive and inefficient system—I mean, is it really worth it? What about the adoptees that turn against their parents, develop mental health problems, commit felonies? Are they still worth the campaign? Still deserve a loving home, social belonging, their pieced-together childhood, their citizenship?

Citizenship. Adoption is one process that takes forever, has a million variances, and does not bring guarantees. Children are at the mercy of a system and their caregivers, whether they be social workers, adoptive parents, biological family, or judges. Kind of like all children. Everywhere. Kind of like Dreamers.

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I’m adopted from Korea. I landed in MONTANA, a state which only recently crossed the 1 million population mark, a day short of being 6 months old. I have to say, I didn’t have many choices at that point. And I was pretty helpless. There are a lot of adoptees from Korea. Turns out the citizenship of at least 18,000 supposedly adopted Korean kids in the US is kind of fuzzy. Maybe a felony, maybe a mental break, would land these adoptees back in Seoul. At that point, they may learn that they are actually not adopted, but were supposed to have been, and not a US citizen. They have no language, documentation there, means, or family. Their education is irrelevant. Well, that doesn’t seem right. Because their parents didn’t finish some paperwork? Because something got lost? Because outstanding needs, disadvantages, neglect, desperation, limited resources, and lack of basic necessities…who knows what…from their childhood, they are deported?

If I started being a real deviant or simply did anything that suddenly revealed that my citizenship was not completed as a child, I would really expect you all to be upset if I was deported to my birth country. And I think you likely would be.

I don’t fully grasp the tenacity it takes to enter our country in violation of the shitty legal process, saying goodbye to everyone and everything KNOWN for MAYBE. I’m not even going there tonight. I’m speechless at the idea of doing that with child. I’m saying, why are we so willing to adopt and sympathize with some kids with messy or unknown pasts, but not others. Or why can we sympathize with even the adults who were “adopted” and then screwed up and find themselves deported to what might as well be Timbuktu, but we have a political stance and unbending heart against people who are similarly undocumented but un-similarly innocent of any felonies?

We, our country, have adopted DREAMers. On average DACA recipients arrived as 6-year-olds. They have raised their hands in our classrooms, sung in our Christmas pageants, babysat our children, carried our groceries, designed our products, paid their taxes, lectured at universities and have done everything our “own” children have done (unless your child has committed a felony), without, by the way, access to many safety nets citizens enjoy. Not that it matters, but they’re not deviants. They don’t deserve threats, a price tag, deportation or even DACA. They deserve so much more. They deserve permanence, not only of family but country. Kind of like your son, and your daughter. Kind of like me, and kind of like you.

I hesitate to even call them Dreamers sometimes because it is a false distinction. They are we, and there is no dream among us in this beautiful, complicated country without them.

Finish the paperwork, America. Don’t end DACA. Leave it until it’s replaced with a pathway to citizenship. Adoption doesn’t come in two-year increments and isn’t subject to a presidential vendetta. I recognize I didn’t have anything to do with my privilege of citizenship. Did you?

 

*custom art ordered from doodlebubbledesigns.

Maybe Happens

One thing that I have not shared much about is a very good and important thing that happened over the summer. Last summer had some real downers but those don’t subtract from our joy, and rejoicing, over a new victory.
Our second born had a rough time for a few years. A major accident at our church, febrile seizures, and getting very sick in Guatemala. When we returned home and began fostering, he embraced her fully as a toddler would, and his febrile seizures continued but thankfully he was not often running a fever. 9 months after her arrival, in the aftershocks of her sudden removal, some of his first sentences were heart wrenching. While we were fighting that battle, Asher began having many more seizures. Maybe stress and the emotional trauma of losing a baby like that did something, maybe it’s just coincidence. It was a very hard period. These were not just febrile seizures like they had thought and the medical bills started piling up.
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There are many things we don’t know about epilepsy, and that doctors and scientists don’t know. It is a scary diagnosis. Asher began treatment, and despite changing jobs and insurance twice, and becoming part of medical, was able to see the same pediatric neurologist his whole life. Because of the Affordable Care Act, we were able to have continuation of care and not be penalized for his epilepsy. I tried going to the first neurologist we were referred to on one of our new plans at the time. It was a truly terrible experience and I could not imagine working with them to sort out appointments, let alone solutions, as we found ourselves on this path.
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The first medication didn’t slow down the seizures. We gave it a good run but we saw the negative side effects and didn’t notice much relief. It was hard because he couldn’t tell us how it made him feel, and if he sensed anything different before or after his episodes. We slowly began a different medication–one which introducing too quickly to patients could end in fatality. Doctors said after more testing and overnights that they didn’t think he would outgrow epilepsy. I briefed babysitters and teachers and sunday school. I tried not to think about IEPs one day, or driving, or camp, or anything restricted on this bright eyed wonder.
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He did well on the new medication and we could breathe once we reached a therapeutic dose with no rash outbreak. We were still dealing with collections, payments, and billing reductions but we were not documenting seizures. Eventually the grip on the phone when separated loosened. The spans of playing out of eyesight lengthened. The months between UCLA neurology visits and that $14 parking garage grew. He was pro at taking his pills. We were pro at fighting, I mean working, with the local pharmacy to help them keep their inventory up and refills regular.
As Asher’s Kindergarten graduation plans were taking shape, and no ambulance was ever called, we had another checkup. It was a slow breakthrough. With epilepsy they call seizures emerging under medication “breakthrough,” which is the opposite of any headway a parent wants to make. I was shocked to hear of a real breakthrough: the dr thought we could try titrating down, off the medication, to test the epilepsy. Maybe he was outgrowing it. Maybe it was different than they had thought. It had been over a year. No delays. No jumps in dosage. Maybe the prayers, the hopes, barely spoken aloud for fear it would ruin our ability to walk the prescribed, long road ahead, were coming true.
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On my birthday, Asher took his last, now tiny dose of epilepsy medication. And there have been no breakthrough seizures during the months of transitioning off. His moods and energy seem to have panned out, from however the drugs affected his system, combined with the excited exhaustion of starting 1st grade. We don’t wonder if something is seizure, drug, or age/misbehavior/mood related now. It’s just C, a 5-year-old boy, learning. We are thrilled at his progress and health, for him, for us, and for the pharmacy on the corner. I don’t know when we can say he does not have epilepsy, when it will be far enough away that a glazed look doesn’t cause my 2nd take, but each day is closer to then.
To be sure, it has been a rough year on almost all accounts. Homes, literal and figurative, are burning down all around us. But this is quite the foil. We are so proud of this boy and his love and tenacity and incredibly excited that this is yet another new normal. This victory, this praise, deserves our tears, applause, and thanksgiving and I’m so glad to be able to share this today, in the midst of all the todayness that weighs heavy. We’ve learned so many lessons by his side. From the waiting, to the hurting, to the forgiving and the grieving, to the advocacy, to the pain of children’s hospitals, in which so many have stayed for far more time. We’ve learned to take things by the day, that anesthesiologists have their own groups, and nothing is for granted. We’ve seen how limited we are as parents, and how scary pre-existing conditions and medical bills can really, really be. And we’ve been encouraged to keep places of hope in our lives that defy reason, that may be hibernating, for an unexpected spring. Who knows, maybe your birthday is coming. Maybe the breakthrough is slow. Maybe because this maybe came true.
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I Failed to Achieve Citizenship

I find that people like to talk about adoption. Especially when I am open about my own. Whatever culture, class, and countryman I find myself interacting with, there is a natural curiosity, sympathy, and sometimes endearing confusion about adoption.

People are sympathetic to adoption, to put it mildly. Churches have adoption campaigns, so much so that children in need of homes are miscalled “orphans” to really pull the heartstrings. People donate to adoptions. We ourselves are still struggling to adopt, now over 3 years since our first placement was pulled and we’ve fought for another, and almost 5 years since we first started the process. We really believe in adoption–from the top notch celebrity to the Christian icon to the farm with no TV, adoption is pretty popular, and for good reason.

The growth in awareness and advocacy is great, don’t get me wrong. Fewer things in this life demonstrate our theology and our connectedness moreso than adoption. At the same time, I find it interesting that the innocence of children, and the presumed virtue of the adoptive parents, are almost always givens. The positive perception is pretty resilient in this arena.

What about when the adoptive parents are really evil and negligent? What about the mistakes biological family make to get those kids there? What about the dead ends that led children to be in a terrible, expensive and inefficient system—I mean, is it really worth it? What about the adoptees that turn against their parents, develop mental health problems, commit felonies? Are they still worth the campaign? Still deserve a loving home, social belonging, their pieced-together childhood, their citizenship?

Citizenship. Adoption is one process that takes forever, has a million variances, and does not bring guarantees. Children are at the mercy of a system and their caregivers, whether they be social workers, adoptive parents, biological family, or judges. Kind of like all children. Everywhere. Kind of like Dreamers.

IMG_7157

I’m adopted from Korea. I landed in MONTANA, a state which only recently crossed the 1 million population mark, a day short of being 6 months old. I have to say, I didn’t have many choices at that point. And I was pretty helpless. There are a lot of adoptees from Korea. Turns out the citizenship of at least 18,000 supposedly adopted Korean kids in the US is kind of fuzzy. Maybe a felony, maybe a mental break, would land these adoptees back in Seoul. At that point, they may learn that they are actually not adopted, but were supposed to have been, and not a US citizen. They have no language, documentation there, means, or family. Their education is irrelevant. Well, that doesn’t seem right. Because their parents didn’t finish some paperwork? Because something got lost? Because outstanding needs, disadvantages, neglect, desperation, limited resources, and lack of basic necessities…who knows what…from their childhood, they are deported?

If I started being a real deviant or simply did anything that suddenly revealed that my citizenship was not completed as a child, I would really expect you all to be upset if I was deported to my birth country. And I think you likely would be.

I don’t fully grasp the tenacity it takes to enter our country in violation of the shitty legal process, saying goodbye to everyone and everything KNOWN for MAYBE. I’m not even going there tonight. I’m speechless at the idea of doing that with child. I’m saying, why are we so willing to adopt and sympathize with some kids with messy or unknown pasts, but not others. Or why can we sympathize with even the adults who were “adopted” and then screwed up and find themselves deported to what might as well be Timbuktu, but we have a political stance and unbending heart against people who are similarly undocumented but un-similarly innocent of any felonies?

We, our country, have adopted DREAMers. On average DACA recipients arrived as 6-year-olds. They have raised their hands in our classrooms, sung in our Christmas pageants, babysat our children, carried our groceries, designed our products, paid their taxes, lectured at universities and have done everything our “own” children have done (unless your child has committed a felony), without, by the way, access to many safety nets citizens enjoy. Not that it matters, but they’re not deviants. They don’t deserve threats, a price tag, deportation or even DACA. They deserve so much more. They deserve permanence, not only of family but country. Kind of like your son, and your daughter. Kind of like me, and kind of like you.

I hesitate to even call them Dreamers sometimes because it is a false distinction. They are we, and there is no dream among us in this beautiful, complicated country without them.

Finish the paperwork, America. Don’t end DACA. Leave it until it’s replaced with a pathway to citizenship. Adoption doesn’t come in two-year increments and isn’t subject to a presidential vendetta. I recognize I didn’t have anything to do with my privilege of citizenship. Did you?

 

*custom art ordered from doodlebubbledesigns.

The good, the bad and the ugly.

Sometimes suffering comes crashing upon our personal lives despite our best maneuvers—perhaps a tragic accident or diagnosis, a betrayal or crime. But sometimes suffering touches us in the embrace of a friendship—through walking with a loved one who finds themselves in the throes of struggle.

It was natural to say yes when my neighbor asked me to read over some letters she had received. Though her English is excellent, the official documents were laden with terms difficult for me to decipher as a fluent speaker. This small invitation into Lily’s* life was the beginning of a long initiation process. I was soon researching the housing department and learning with her how to stand up against illegal hikes in rent. It is under her tutelage that I have learned about renter’s rights, power company corruption, the complexity of gaining citizenship, a vehicle towing racquet in cahoots with LAPD, and the impact of incarceration on our community. She is not a local politician or a professor of community development, urban culture, or theodicy, but perhaps she should be. Lily has taught me more than any textbook or class. And she has done so through allowing me to be her friend.

Lily has a small stature but immense presence. In her person, faith and bewilderment, celebration and grief, are fast companions. She has shown me how to walk with God in suffering, and she has generously opened a world to her friends through that posture. Lily’s life has included waves of undeserved suffering, the other not subsided before the next hits; interacting with suffering is not optional. With each wave, her authentic friendship with God has moved her theology further from steady explanations and resolutions to suffering, and my own with it. What I have lost in certainty, I’ve gained in empathy. Nerves newly exposed. As a witness and companion to Lily, I have felt the discomfort of losing touch with that worldview and the reassuring, privileged sense of order and justice in the world I once held. I have also felt the companionship suffering breeds. When we have gone through dark valleys, she is one of the first to listen. To cook. To cry. And I am bowled over all over again at the way love and friendship multiply themselves.

As aware as I have become of my privilege from trying to keep up with spiritual giants such as Lily, I continue to have impressive blindspots. I speak out of new knowledge and experiences too often, instead of letting them settle, and staying humble and contrite. I struggle to apply the things I’ve learned at Lily’s side to the little souls under my care.

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As a mother, I am daily challenged by the desire to nuance judgments and descriptions that seem inescapable in our binary climate. But parenting doesn’t wait for preparedness. I cringed when I first heard my oldest talk about bad guys, many years ago. It’s hard for me when they play cops and robbers. I pray, “God, please help relieve my heart from things I cannot carry, feelings you’re not asking me to feel. Grow in my children a sensitivity that is loving. Help me know…what is good to teach them.” 

How do you help a child, so honored in Scripture for their simplistic faith, refrain from oversimplifying people into good and bad? How do you decide what is innocent play and what needs to be reframed–in the name of loving playmates who have been terrorized by, guilty of, or in the middle of cops and robbers? How do I help this mess of boyhood mine to embrace suffering, to endure loss, as an invitation…when I barely remember myself? To have more time between hearing about something and knowing why it happened. How do I show them misfortune is so often the ultimate bridge between people, not a charge against them?

When things go sideways, from a toy breaking to a sickness, I watch their minds and hearts try to make sense. To sum up whys and dive into despair or push away with blame. I see the nature of Job’s friends in the Bible, of my own craving for judicial order and linear effects. This is a big job–to fight the goliath of distance from suffering as an adult, and also try to be alert to it as a parent. This is a calling.

Walking alongside Lily was initially a choice, indicating my privilege. But now I consider it a luxury in its own right. She’s shown me more of Jesus, and because I’m learning, just by being nearby, I have hope for my kids. That their privilege, their resources, and their choices will not keep them away from truth and complexity. I hope they have to unlearn less than me, and that extending friendship to suffering will be second nature.

We are all learning beside each other, in this big city, on this little street. Suffering lives nearby. But friendship and love are growing like weeds, thriving in its shadow. A child, with children, I’m lucky and humbled to reside right here.