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Susan Wanderer has worked with families in kids ministry for 20 years, with the last ten years serving as Kids Minister at Mount Ararat Church in Stafford. Susan and her husband Ed reside in Fredericksburg and have three amazing kids who joined their family in 2011 and who fill their days with adventure. Come join the conversation over at www.susanwanderer.com 



My Stomping Grounds

5 Questions Not To Ask An Adoptive Family

It's back to school time with opportunities to meet new families and new faces! Now is the perfect time of year to have teachable moments with your kiddos on how to interact with people and families that possibly look different than your family looks. 

As a multi-racial, adoptive family, we receive lots of questions. Some appropriate, some not appropriate.

So, in an effort to help create a teachable moment for your child, here is my list of five re-phrased questions and curiosities we hear as a family as we move about our daily life.

Here’s the 411 on most of these questions: Pause for a moment and think: would you want such a personal question asked from a total stranger to your own children?

 LOVE

1. Actual Question: What happened to their real parents?

We receive this question all the time. In grocery store check out lines, in the park, back to school nights, church, etc… it’s a common curiosity.

If you are curious if my kids have been adopted, that’s fine. Asking a personal question of why a child had to be adopted means my child will relive a trauma/heartache right there in the check-out line of Target.

Better Question: Are you an adoptive family?

Our family understands adoption completely and our kids are able to answer that question on their own without feeling the need to relive their entire past experiences.

 

2. Actual Question: How much did your children cost?

My kids did not cost a dime… to pay for a child is considered child trafficking. And we are against that.

Adoption requires agencies, social workers, lawyers, plane tickets, lodging, etc… The PROCESS of adoption is expensive.

Better Question: How expensive is the process of adoption?

The Adoption Process is long and intense… this re-phrased question gives us the ability to help a family understand the agencies and resources that are available to help walk them through the adoption process.

 

3. Actual Question: Did you decide to adopt because you couldn’t have your own real children?

This question makes my kids feel like they were a Plan B. Also, my fertility is not a subject I would like to discuss while my cage-free-eggs are being scanned by the cashier. My kids are my real kids. I cheer them on like a real mom, I wipe their tears like a real mom, I carry Mom-Guilt like a real mom. In all real-ness, I am their real mom and they are my real kids.

Better Question: What made you decide to adopt?

We love talking adoption and this question gives us a great jumping off point to open a discussion.

 

4. Actual Statement: You are so awesome to give these children a better life.

This statement is so awkward I had a hard time even forcing my computer to type the words. This statement creates a Savior-Mentality in the parents and disregards the awesomeness of my kids. If there is one thing I have lived and learned in these last five years: My kids have given me joy in places I didn’t know were sad. They have brought life to areas I didn’t understand were on life-support. My three kids have given ME a better life.

Better Statement: How awesome that you guys are a family.

We are a typical family and we love talking about our kids. This statement opens the door wide for me to brag on my kids and the unique way our family was created.

 

5. Actual Question: How on earth did you learn to do their hair?

This question is asked normally by white people. So to my fellow white person: Don’t ask that question. It makes my child think something is wrong with their hair.  After years of studying, talking and learning, I have discovered how culturally important it is for me to take proper care of my kids' hair. And I strive to do this. Some days I do well and some days I fail miserably.

See, typical-real-mom-life.

Better Statement: Your kids are beautiful.

I agree! Thank you!

 

Our family is grateful for adoption. We desire to have lovely meaningful conversations with people who might be curious about adoption.

I hope these five questions/statements help arm you with information to guide your child towards a greater understanding of interacting with families that might look different than your family.  

Communication is key. Learning appropriate approaches to create dialogue is where the best education is born for our children.

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Moms, Let's Linger Longer With Our Kids

On Monday morning my kids will begin their sixth year of school in America.

Each year I tenderly recall taking my Amharic-speaking children into school on their first day of American school life.  The lump in my throat was so thick I absolutely Could. Not. Swallow.

I was so hopeful and scared and proud. Their smiles were so wide. They whispered Amharic hope in my ear every time they saw a potential new friend or teacher. I winked, kissed their foreheads, and tried to swallow that lump.

Here we are almost to the eve of another school year. This coming Monday night I will be hearing first-day-of-school stories from a newly crowned second grader, fifth grader and junior. And I simply can’t wait. Even on the hard days, Mama-hood is such a gift to my soul. They bring joy to parts of my life I never knew were empty.

This summer has been an intense season for us as a family.  And as I sat this week with my kids I decided my theme for this coming school year needs to be: Linger Longer.

My junior will be gone before I type this next word, my second grader will ask for the car keys tomorrow and my fifth grader will be off on her first job interview in the morning. Time is flying. And while there is a bit of heartache, there is also excitement in the new discoveries, adventures and independence that are ahead.

So this year, I want to Linger Longer.

Linger longer in their stories…

in their giggles…

in video games with my son…

in family walks…

in holding hands with my husband and smooching him in front of my kids…

in gathering on the couch as a family watching our favorite shows…

in encouraging at the homework table…

in relaxing on the back porch reading books…

I even want to linger a bit longer in the heartache moments and the words and experiences that provide healing because that’s where the growth really happens as individuals and families.

Six years ago I was not a Mama. Today, I am. And I never want to take that for granted. My kids gave me one of the greatest joys I’ve ever known. They made us family.

And on Monday, I will Linger Longer in the lunch making, the prayers prayed, the goodbye kisses and the hopes of a great first day.

My hope for you this school year, parents: many lovely, busy-free moments to Linger Longer with your kiddos. 

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Bobby Flay Will Save Your Summer

It’s week 9357 of summer and you wanna say to your little cherubs “Go outside and play. All day. Until I call you back in.” But it's fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk-hot outside so you know they will only last about 2.15 seconds. If you force them to stay any longer, CPS could be called. 

All your Creative Station Ideas you came up with in May were done being played with on week 2 of summer.

Your Chore Charts lasted til about week 3. As if THAT actually worked.

Disney TV, Nickelodeon, Movies, Tablets… Mama-Can’t-Take-No-More.

And the pool…. Did I mention the heat index is 106? There is a reason the life guards have zero kids to supervise at the neighborhood pool. Even the water is non-refreshing.

And let’s face it, you are just too tired to come up with one more idea. 

The heat, the sibling arguments, it's all turned you into one hot-mess-mama.

When does school start again?

But, just in time, you discover a very surprising saving grace… Cooking Competition Shows!

 

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Stick with me on this.

My girls and I piled on the couch, turned on Netflix and found a few gems that made us pick sides and cheer on our favorites. Who doesn’t love a completion? Team Wanderer was ALL. IN.

Here are three of our faves:

  • Worst Cooks In America. After one episode we were hooked. We were cheering on our favorite awful-cook while howling with laughter.
  • Beat Bobby Flay. We are huge fans of Bobby’s Burger Palace in Woodbridge, so we were star struck. So we knew, we must grab our pom-poms for Bobby.
  • Iron Chef America. Our tastes have now clearly become more sophisticated so we scream and squeal over the fast-paced five course competition.

 Looking for an indoor activity that does not require endless hours on Pinterest?

Cooking Competition Shows are where-it's-at, parents! 

I promise they will bring a bit of enjoyment back to hot-hazy-evenings of summer and fill those last couple of hours before bedtime!

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Michelle Obama Provides A Parenting Plan

It’s politics season! Although, we live in a suburb of DC, so is it ever non-politics season around here? 

The National Two Party Conventions played out on TVs across the land these last two weeks. And as all good Washingtonians/NOVA-ians I have had the chatter of the RNC and DNC in the background as I go about my evening activities.

I have not completely paid full focused attention on either of the shows conventions. But I have given just enough attention to them to be able to have a sensible conversation around the water cooler.

Then, on Monday night I heard the cheers as Michele Obama took the stage. Not unusual, the FLOTUS usually brings a roaring crowd, especially at the DNC.

 

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But all politics aside, she looked stunning. And that dress, bless that beautiful blue.

Her words caused me to lean in towards my laptop to hear more. I found myself nodding at a few statements.

Then she proclaimed, with full confidence: Our motto is: When they go low, we go high.

 

I stood up and applauded at my dining room table like a baker who had just heard the secret ingredient to Grandma’s homemade fudge!

No matter your political view or if you even agree or disagree with the other 99% of what she said in her speech, that sentence right there: Gold.

And as a mom trying to parent three kids who are watching adults on both sides of the aisle act like kids in a school yard, I want my Wanderer Kids to know Team Wanderer needs to choose high when other people go low.

Because plenty of people, political candidates, kids at recess, bullies, and friends will go low in their lifetime. And as their mom, I need to teach them what it means to choose high. (And I need to practice that myself).

Let’s try these options:

  1. Honor Others. Even when people make you want to roll your eyes to the top of your brows.
  2. Be Quick To Listen, Slow to Speak and Slow to Become Angry. Listen more, speak less, control the temper.
  3. Be Kind. Let’s figure out a way to stand strong for our convictions in a way that allows kindness to flow from our actions and words. Kindness moves the heart towards a greater understanding and peace.

This is not a Democrat-Thing or a Republican-Thing. This is a Human-Being-Thing. We need to show our children we will not stoop to the name-calling, bullying or irrational behavior when others are behaving that way. We will rise up higher than that.

If families took this motto to heart: When they go low, we go high… this upcoming generation would live in a different world.

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5 Things We've Learned In 5 Years As a Transracial Family

Five years ago my husband and I adopted three kids from Ethiopia and we became a transracial family. They make our family such fun. Our kids have been blessed with hilarious, dramatic, joke-telling, wisdom-beyond-their-years, dancing, sassy, athletic, storytelling, musical genes. They make life better and fuller.

Wanderer family

In the five short years we’ve been a transracial family we have discovered many things. This list is not everything. It’s just a taste. If you are a transracial family, your list may look different, or you may add a few things. We would too… but for sake of an article, I listed the few that come to my mind.

1. People will stare.

In the first few months of being home we began adjustment to life as a family of five, with two languages being spoken and a little bit of chaos. Adding to that new-normal were the stares from a very captive audience as we walked through malls, in parks or enjoying a meal out as a family.

We discovered two different types of people who would stare:

Disapproving People – These folks do not approve that two cultures reside within one family. They strive to make direct eye contact with Dad, Mom and kids and shake their heads at the same time. They want to make sure you are fully aware of their disapproval. All I can say to that kind of bitterness: Bless your heart.

Curious People – We found that most people stare at our family simply out of curiosity about a white man, a white woman and three black kids. They want the back story. Are we a family? Are we babysitting? What’s our deal? At first it felt invasive. And some days, it still does.  Boundaries are a good thing. We know as a family the questions we are willing to answer. We also know the ones that are off limits. I want to use these interactions with the Curious-Stare-ers as an opportunity to educate not humiliate. I don't want to make someone feel small for being curious.  The education goes SO FAR in bringing understanding to families that look like ours. And when other families are educated, they will then educate their kids and that can result in clarity, understanding and unity. And better education of the next generation results in change.

2. If you don't know, ask for help.

As a white mom, I didn’t know there were so many things I didn’t know. (still don’t) My first week home with my kids I went to Target and stood in the hair product aisle and stared at hair products for my girls and had no clue what to purchase. I went two aisles over, found this lovely woman with amazing hair and looked at her and simply said “I need help.” She turned and looked at me, looked at my kids, grabbed my hand and said “Come with me.” She spent 30 minutes going through hair care, explanations, the what to do and what not to do. I cried thankful tears, she talked. It was glorious.

Ask questions. Seek Advice. Seek understanding of a new culture.

Grace and Kindness go a long way.

3. Diversity matters. 

School - We made a decision as a family that it matters if our kids go to a diverse school. We want them to experience friendships with people of color as well as white people. We want them to be around children who look like they do. When a child feels like a majority and not a minority, it matters.

Church - It matters to us that we worship at a church that is diverse and has both white families and families of color worshipping. It matters that they see people in leadership that look like they do. This helps my kids believe they can grow to be leaders within the global Church. It teaches them that they belong.

Community - It matters that we create friendships with people of color and we experience authentic community within culture.  This allows genuine dialogue to happen and it gives us the ability to widen the circle of influence around our children.

4. Racism exists. Talk about it. 

We first began to talk with our kids about race in a very natural way when they came home from school talking about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and other heroes of the civil rights movement.  It is imperative to speak about race. The most recent events within our country have invited additional dialogue about race relations. It can be hard and awkward and frustrating. But that’s okay to sit inside the hard and talk it through.  Being silent on the topic of racism is passive and wrong. If we don’t speak, this generation will never know how to respond. I don’t always give the right answers to my kids. That’s where my own education comes in and I must seek to learn from others in order to guide my children well in discussions about race-relations and racism.

5. Grace and Kindness go a long way.

At the end of the day, grace and kindness go a long way. Mama-exhaustion comes, disapproving glances burn, racism talks sting, and the 400th question of “What happened to their REAL parents?” is asked.  Sometimes, instead of an explosion, perhaps a small sigh and some grace and kindness will go a long way. I'm not always great at this. Especially in moments of tiredness. Yet, I was taught in the scriptures that kindness leads to repentance. Not anger. Not revenge. But kindness. Anger produces anger. Revenge invites destruction. Yet kindness can prick the heart in a different way. It has the ability to soften the disapproval and produce peace.

Kindness mixed with education and authentic community gives us the ability to have hard conversations and sit in awkward moments. And this allows us to begin to understand families that are made of up many cultures and colors. 

I encourage you, parents, find families that look different than your family and start conversations. Learn, Grow, Listen, Educate and Seek to Understand.  

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Bikers Against Child Abuse, Inc. (BACA) exists to create a safer environment for abused children by empowering children to not feel afraid of their world. Imagine how an abused child feels when a group of large bikers rides up to their house, inducts them into their club and then escorts them to court to testify against their abuser.

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