RVing with the Inmates

When we were in the planning stages of taking the whole family for an RV trip over spring break, I told myself things like “Remember, self, you are going from a bajillion square feet to a dining table that also folds out into a bed. Things are GOING to get dicey.” and “Remember, self, these children of yours are mostly animals and have zero capacity for understanding your need to introvert.” Needless to say, I had the bar set VERY, very low for this trip. It’s not pessimism, it’s a self-protection technique. I’ve gone into trips before thinking, “Self! You’ve planned and spent money and prepared awesome adventures for your kids and they are going to be forever grateful for your amazing vacation skills,” only to be let down when 30 minutes into the trip one of the inmates is telling me she’d rather be ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD than with her family on this trip. Setting low bars is just good life skills people.

So I’m just as shocked as you are right now to be telling you that the trip was a MEGA SUCCESS. Mega. In fact, the kids ranked it up there with Disney World and let’s just say this trip didn’t shave years off my life like Disney did. I’m pretty sure I aged like a 2 term President over the course of those 6 days.

So what made it so great? We’re still trying to put our finger on that exactly. Lots of little things like freedom and flexibility for them and for us, family togetherness with enough space to introvert a little, beautiful weather and air conditioning while we slept, and mostly NOT HAVING TO STOP AT NASTY GAS STATION BATHROOMS EVERY 15 MINUTES. This is huge people. Even though that thing could only go about 15 miles an hour, I’m pretty sure we made better time than we ever have in our whole life with children.

And look – you only have to pack a FEW THINGS. (this pic doesn’t even include our clothes)


After we packed most of our earthly belongings, we loaded up and headed for Arkansas. In the beginning I was a stickler about wearing seatbelts while the RV was in motion.


But as you can see it started to get a little loosey-goosey back there…


I’ll be honest and say that I eventually quit caring if they were wearing seatbelts. We were basically going school-zone speed in the right lane and it seemed like a shame not to let them take their chances in life like we did growing up.

We stayed in Hot Springs one night and had originally planned on going through Dallas on our way to Texas hill country after that. But then the forecast said rain all week in that part of the country and since our HOUSE WAS ON WHEELS we just decided to go to Florida instead!


John did ALL of the driving, which was so very nice of him. I found out I have a fear of parking houses.

We were sad to miss out on seeing family and friends in Texas, but the weather in Florida was fantastic and totally worth the small detour.

Here are my highlights of the trip in no particular order…

  • The food…   Maybe it was because I was forced to menu plan and grocery shop. Maybe it was because there was a lot of marshmallows involved. Maybe it’s because I learned how to make PIZZA OVER A CAMPFIRE.


  • Kids being able to sit facing either other during transport (which is just as much of a shock to me as it is to you).  Turns out they CAN get along on a roadtrip without staring at a screen! Looking over and seeing scenes like this was almost worth the cost of the rental…



  • Having a small amount of space to clean EVEN WHEN IT LOOKED LIKE THIS…


It only took half an hour for it to look like this…


(But when I try to clean all of 800 Snowden the inmates work approximately 42 times faster than me and the cycle never ends. Having a TOTALLY CLEAN dwelling made me happier than it should make any normal human being, even if it only lasted 4 minutes.)

  • Eating outside for almost every meal…. Rolling up lunch with one fell swoop is incredibly gratifying. I’m sensing a theme here…

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  • Watching this kid read whenever he wanted to….which was almost every spare minute.

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  • The options at our RV parks – RVC Outdoor Destinations… In Hot Springs, John, Jones and Abigail went on a massive zip lining adventure and they had a great playground for the kids. In Florida we could choose between the pool, the playground, and, ahem, boat rentals. (I’ll tell the boat story later…it’s a doozy.)

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  • Quality Family Time… Obviously this could have happened at home. But being away from civilization, surrounded by mostly retired couples and trees, you only have EACH OTHER for entertainment. It’s a good kind of desperation. Sure, we had moments of conflict here and there, but for the most part – we actually LIKED each other for the majority of the week! It was a Spring Break MIRACLE!

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We will most defintely be renting one of these bad boys again soon. If only for the rolling bathroom…

Helpful links:

Cruise America (the company we rented from)

Campfire Pizza Log

RV Packing List

RVC Outdoors (STELLAR RV Parks with 5 star amenities)




That time we were on Ellen


So this whole experience has come up a couple of times in the last few months and I thought it would be good to get it all on the interwebs for posterity’s sake. You’ll have to forgive the quality of the videos and pictures but this was ten years ago and the only way we knew to capture it was VHS. (If you’re under 30 – ask me what those were and I’ll explain later.) So these videos are literally VHS –> DVD –> YouTube. Honestly it’s a testament to our tenacity that we even tried.

Here’s the back story….

We moved to Memphis in August of 2004. I was 7 months pregnant with Jac and we were starting over in a brand new city without any family. John was working full time with the Ugly Mug and I was nannying part-time and getting ready for Jac full time. Getting ready for a baby is 1 part nursery, 2 parts vomiting, and 3 parts watching TV. (I promise, that’s accurate.) So in the mornings I would watch Ellen because I needed to laugh (this is good advice for anyone – laughter is medicine that works in almost any circumstance).

She started this segment called “RSVP Ellen” where people would send her invitations to random events (birthdays, weddings, showers, etc.) and she would pick a few to read on air every day. I was watching one day and someone invited her to come to a sonogram for their first baby. And I thought to myself, “I can do better than that! I’ll just ask her to come be my birth coach for Jac.” I sat down at the computer at 11 am, and wrote her an invitation. At 8 pm that evening, I got a phone call….

The first 5 and a half minutes are the original phone call and the following are segments taken from the beginning of the show for the next couple of weeks…

And these are more clips from the weeks leading up to his birth. Unfortunately, Ellen wasn’t able to actually come coach me through my emergency C-section, but she DID send a TON of gifts to the house with her producers and surprised me Publisher’s Clearing House style. That comes at the 10:30 mark.

So they came to the house that November to surprise us and then flew us out to L.A. in January for Ellen to meet Jac! I have the whole episode, but I’m having trouble uploading it because of copyright issues. Stay tuned…

Navigating Adoption, Part 5

Continued from Part 4

(And Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)


Getting Abigail home was a flurry of excitement and relief…for us. We were relieved to be home, eating American Mexican food, sleeping in our own beds, with all of our kids under one roof and excited to start our journey as a family of 6. But for Abigail, coming home was more like moving into a stranger’s house who ate weird food, spoke in a different language, and decided that they were now her boss.

Needless to say we had no idea what lay ahead of us that summer. I can honestly remember thinking that adopting an older child would be so EASY because they were already POTTY TRAINED and what in the world else is there that’s hard about parenting except for POTTY TRAINING. (Side note-I SUCK at potty training. Big time. Like we-should-have-bought-stock-in-pull-ups-a-long-long-time-ago suck.) So here we were, at home with this GORGEOUS, tiny little girl and now we could just move on with our life as a complete family. No more pregnancy tests, adoption paperwork, or perusing the interwebs for waiting children. We were done. So let’s just make family dinners, go on picnics, and sign them up for soccer. Done.

But those first few months were HARD. Quite possibly the hardest few months of my entire life. All four kids were home for the summer and my sweet Abigail had SO MUCH to process and grieve. I know we don’t like to think negatively of the adoption process, but there is just so much loss and heartache and confusion for these sweet kids. Can you imagine being totally uprooted at THREE YEARS OLD? Without being able to communicate with those now in your charge? I had a ton of moments of being TOTALLY and completely overwhelmed. I felt ill equipped to help her and still be available for my other kids. I thought I could just parent her like I did the other three and she would magically forget her grief and anger and confusion. And when that didn’t work I decided we needed back up.

John and I were desperate to find some help. Someone who could help us understand what Abigail was going through and to be able walk this road with her.

Enter Karyn Purvis. Or as I like to call her, Mary Poppins.

We went on a weekend retreat to a conference called “Empowered to Connect” and were floored by how much Karyn knew about Abigail without ever having met her. Dr. Purvis has made it her life mission to understand children from hard places and to help families to be able to create an environment where they flourish and grow into who God made them to be.

Here’s a 4 minute sample of what Dr. Purvis teaches about connection…


Honestly, her teaching is transformative for ALL parents and kids – not only those from hard places. If you aren’t familiar with her work, start with her book The Connected Child. I promise – it’s a game changer.

We came back from that weekend ready to dive into her world and meet her there. Not for the purposes of changing her behavior, but solely to connect. We put in the work required to help her navigate her emotions as best she could at such at a young age. We cried with her. We held her even when she sometimes said she didn’t want us to. We learned what made her laugh and what made her dance. We took her to the Ethiopian restaurant in town (well, her Daddy did because Mama just can’t with the injera…another post, another day). We showed her pictures of her past when it was appropriate. We talked about Ethiopia. We snuggled. We drank coffee in the afternoons together. And we gave her space when she needed that, too.

The truth is we STILL have to remind ourselves that she carries inside of her this whole other story that we don’t get to know. This family that loved her, this country that was familiar, this language that she knew. I would give anything to have even a glimpse into what her life was like before coming to us. To know what she looked like as a baby, to watch her take her first steps, to hear her say her first words. But we’ll never get that back, and neither will she. That’s the hard stuff of adoption.

Oh – and the hair. The hair is also hard. I worked really hard to get this very first row, y’all. Check out my 2010 stylings…


That only took me 6 days.

So I got smart and just started having Vanja do it.

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And I found out that apparently it’s not supposed to take 6 days. Whatever, you can do her whole head in two hours Vanja, but can you watch three seasons of Mad Men in ONE WEEK? That’s what I thought. Play to your strengths people.

We have learned so much over these past 5 years with Abigail. And not just about her and parenting, but about ourselves. She is an INCREDIBLE kid. I’ve never seen a kid with more grit, tenacity, selflessness and optimism as this kid. She is the first to share and the last to complain. Her laugh at physical comedy makes ME want to fall down the stairs. And her grip around your neck when you hug her can fill you up for days.

Abigail means “Joy of the Father” – and I cannot think of a more appropriate namesake for this child.

She is a joy.

We had no idea what we were getting into in 2010, but who ever really does? So thankful that God was and is patient with our imperfections as we learn what it means to be family. And I’m thankful for a husband who is constantly engaged with the hearts of our kids. We screw up ALL the time. Like daily. But I’m learning that it’s not the screw-ups that define your relationship to your spouse or your kids. It’s the moments afterwards. The I’m-Sorrys and the I-Love-Yous and the Lets-Play-Uno-for-the-Thousandth-Time-Today-Because-I-Want-to-Do-What-You-Want-to-Do. Those are the things that stick.

Adoption has been an incredible part of our story – but our stories don’t end at Gotcha Day. In fact, that’s usually when they are just beginning…



Navigating Adoption, Part 4

I thought this series would be just 4 parts, but turns out I need 5. Shocker.

Continued from Part 3

We arrived in Ethiopia exhausted and full of anticipation. It was late and we were taken straight from the airport to the guest house where we would be staying while in country. Most agencies partner with a sort-of rental house where families can stay while they are waiting to clear immigration. In our guest house, we had a room with a queen size bed and a twin fold away bed for Abigail, plenty of storage for our luggage, our own bathroom, and a shared living space (kitchen, dining area, living room, patio). All of our meals were prepared for us and they even washed our clothes for us. The people that run these homes are incredibly gracious and probably know more about the adoption process than most of the families they serve.

So the next morning we got ready and loaded up in a van to head over to the transition home where Abigail had been staying. We tried hard not to peak as they brought her out.


She was so LITTLE and sweet and scared and strong and beautiful.


We spent a couple of hours there at the home with her, playing with her friends, seeing her room, talking to the nannies, singing songs with the kids – precious time that allowed us to be the guests in HER world, not the other way around. I honestly wish we would have stayed longer and maybe even let her stay one more day before we took her back with us. But we were so anxious to have our daughter with us, to learn her, to hold her, to be her Mom and Dad. So we gathered up her things and loaded back up in the van to head back to the guest house. Abigail had only been in a car a handful of times and had TERRIBLE motion sickness (sometimes still does) and ended up throwing up her banana into my hands. I think that was the moment I really felt like her Mom. 😉


We spend the next few days getting to know each other – mostly at the guest house, and a couple of outings in the city. Staying at the guest house allowed us to interact with a couple of other families and their new kiddos, which was an unexpected blessing for all of us.


AJ6This was her favorite way to get around. 😉


I was learning how to guard her little heart, moment by moment. How to keep her from going to any adult that tried to pick her up. How to communicate with her over language barriers, and how to sit in silence with her and hold her when I knew her heart was grieving. Honestly, the time we spent in Ethiopia with her was mostly easy. I think we were all honeymooning.

Some of the realities of her pain and grief didn’t really start to show until the flights home. It was a long and grueling two days of travel to get back to Memphis and by the time we landed in the states she kind of didn’t want anything to do with us.


Who could blame her? Add to the fact that she’d never flown and already had motion sickness issues – there was no way for us to explain just how much longer each flight would be and where we were traveling to each time. Can you imagine just getting on a plane with people you’ve known for a week? Not knowing exactly where you’re going? Or how long it will take to get there? With no one that speaks your language? It’s a miracle that she’s still not mad about that whole situation.

But we finally made it back home. It was an amazing homecoming with people we love greeting us at the airport.

And I’ll never forget the moment that Charis and Abigail met.


Best friends from this moment forward and never stopped holding hands.


We headed home to start figuring out what life looked like as a family of 6…

…to be continued.

Navigating Adoption, Part 3

Holding up to my end of the bargain and finishing up the Navigating Adoption Series before I move on to anything else… I’ll post part 3 today and part 4 sometime within the next few days.

Here are parts 1 and 2.

So where did we leave off?  Jones came home and we went from 2 to 3 kids – honestly one of the easier transitions for me.  Of course that could be because I wasn’t recovering from the birthing process.  Or because Jones was the easiest baby on the planet.  But really, by the time the third baby comes along you realize that you aren’t going to break them.  And that no matter what you do they are GOING to end up in therapy talking about you – so the pressure’s off.

We always knew we’d adopt again.  And not just because of my fondness for even numbers.  We didn’t want Jones to be the only person in our family that was black – or adopted.  But we weren’t sure if we would adopt domestically again or internationally the second time.

(Cue – sign from the Universe.)

At that time in my life I was thinking a lot about what really mattered in life, what it means to love, and other generally super deep questions that you can answer in a week.  John was up late working one night and I was channel surfing (pre-streaming Netflix).  I landed on a news story out of Africa.  Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what the story was about – but it brought me to tears.  Tears because I saw faces of parentless children.  Tears because they were hungry. Tears because I have so much – and I’ve never once worried about my children not having enough.

(Sidenote: Once when Jac was really little- like 3 or something, I thought it would be a great idea to show him youtubes of poverty-stricken African children.  He was and still is the world’s littlest hoarder and his favorite word was “mine”.  As we watched the video I told him, “See bud? There are kids all over the world that don’t have ANY toys at all and sometimes they don’t even have enough food.”  He JUMPED out of my lap, ran to the toy box, threw his body over his toys and screamed “They are coming to get my stuff!!!!!” Fail.)

Back to my revelation…

All of the sudden all of the reasons I had for waiting to adopt again (the size of our house, the money, the chaos of little ones) didn’t seem to matter anymore.  All of the sudden I felt like the wealthiest, most available, most OBVIOUS person in the whole world to add another child to our family.  So I did what any reasonable person who was ready to adopt again would do – I got on the internet.  And within 15 minutes I had found the one.  His name was Abdi, he was from Ethiopia,  and he was freaking ADORABLE.  I called John over to the computer so he could meet his new son.  Pause: Thank God for a husband who is always willing to roll with me and my very spontaneous, yet resolutely decided ideas and never once giggle loud enough that I can hear him.  Play:  He agreed that Abdi was the cutest orphan on the internet and that we should go ahead and book a flight to go get him.  I promptly sent an email to inquire about what day might be best to go pick him up because I’m very good with details.

A lot of people have asked us why Ethiopia.  The truth is – it just made sense for us.  We knew we wanted another black child and there aren’t really that many countries in Africa that adopt to American parents without having to live in their country for a time period.  The laws and policies in Ethiopia have changed pretty drastically since we adopted and now you have to travel twice, once for the court date and then back 6-8 weeks later to pick up your child.  And truthfully it’s a much longer and more tedious process than it was just four years ago.  But there are other countries that are opening up more in Africa, and of course there are dozens of other countries that could be a great match for your family.  The crazy thing is, each country has their own set of guidelines for who is eligible to adopt.  China even has a BMI requirement for their adoptive parents.  If you want to play around and get lost in the interwebs check out: http://adoption.state.gov/country_information.php

So back to Abdi… I heard back from Sue, Abdi’s caseworker and the director of an adoption agency out of Florida, the very next day.  Turns out, there’s a HELLA lotta paperwork to adopt internationally.  She asked if we were “paper ready” and I told her that I was ALWAYS ready for any kind of paper.  She explained that being paper ready meant that your homestudy and dossier were complete and ready to be submitted.


Well then, no.

But have you seen his picture??!?!  We NEED him.

Luckily for us, we had literally STUMBLED upon one of the best adoption caseworkers out there.  Sue was incredible.  She said that if we weren’t paper ready then Abdi would probably not be available by the time we were.  BUT – that she was confident that she could move as quickly as we could in order to get a referral for us.  (Referral is adoption talk for a child that they present to you – you can either accept or deny referrals for any reason. Which sounds kind of harsh, but everyone involved wants what is best for the child and sometimes your family may not be the best match.)

We started our communication with Sue in late November and had a referral for an equally adorable little GIRL by February 8th.  Her name was Abiyal (pronounced AhBEHlay…we think) and she was right around 3 years old.  (Sidenote: Ethiopia doesn’t keep birth records, so almost no one in the country knows their actual birthday.  I’ll get back to that in a bit.)  As soon as I saw her picture I knew she was mine.


We learned that she was from a small village on the west side of the country near Sudan and that she had already been moved to Addis Ababa (the capital) to our agency’s interim care home.  My hero/husband finished up all of our dossier in a matter of days and our paperwork was on its way to our agency and then to Ethiopia. (But please don’t put pressure on yourself to turn paperwork around like John Carroll. I think he thrives off of weird challenges like this.)

At the time (4 years ago) you did not have to be in Ethiopia for the court date.  They had a hearing without you there where they finalized the adoption.  Once you cleared court you submitted (more) paperwork to the U.S Embassy in order to get a visa to bring your kiddo home.  The time between court and embassy clearance for us was about six weeks (can be MUCH longer now sadly). (I think I like parenthesis.)  So on June 12, 2010 we boarded the first of 4 flights to go get our little girl.


To be continued… Stay tuned for Part 4: Attachment in Adoption, the good, the bad and the ugly cry.

A New Advent Experiment…

So I know you don’t need ONE. MORE. THING. to do this holiday season. Between the decorating and the elves and the christmas lights and the shopping and the baking and the churching and the wrapping and the gingerbread house making, December can feel like something you just SURVIVE. But I wanted to share one idea on how to TRY to MAYBE remind your kids that there was a baby in a manger that started this whole situation.

I ordered Ann Voskamp’s “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift” from Amazon last week and picked up a little Advent Tree from Target over the weekend.

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The great thing about this book is that most of the work is done FOR you, which is my favorite kind of work. Each day has a short story and a free downloadable paper ornament that coincides with the day. So all I had to do was print them off – I did four small sets to put in the Advent Tree (so each kid could hold one during the story) and one large one to print on cardstock for the actual ornament.

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The ornaments are hung every day on a “Jesse Tree” which comes from Isaiah 11:1 where Jesus is referred to as a shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse, the father of David. You can use almost anything for your Jesse Tree, an actual tree, some twigs in a vase, a cut out on butcher paper, really whatever you have on hand.

So after dinner, I explained what the Jesse Tree was and what Advent meant. The kids each took out their mini ornament from the Advent calendar and John read the story from the book. After that we let Jones hang the first ornament on the Jesse tree.



Nothing super elaborate, but a way to have conversations about the tiny baby and not just the tiny, creepy elves. (I actually kind of love the elf, but that makes me a sick individual and I know that.) And if you want to get super creative you can throw in some little trinkets that go with each days’ story into the Advent calendar. I thought about trying to do that, but it pushed me over the holiday edge and I try to stay AWAY from the holiday edge as much as possible. So here’s to Christmas, the crazy part and those fleeting, sweet, meaningful moments, however rare they may be.

Navigating Adoption, Part 2

In Navigating Adoption, Part 1, we talked about beginning the adoption process and what it all means. Now let’s get into some of the most frequently asked questions once we adopted our baby bundle… 

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FAQ #1 – How did your family and friends react to you adopting a black baby

We started the paperwork process with our agency and began making announcements to our friends and family just like we would if we found out we were pregnant.  For the most part, everyone reacted with excitement and congratulations, but I was getting a feeling that my mom wasn’t thrilled with our decision.  After a little prodding, she admitted that she was concerned about us adopting a black child.  We had a very honest conversation – she was concerned for the new baby, but also for our biological kids.  Her biggest worry was that they would be teased and singled out for having a black sibling.

The thing that I realized while talking to my mom was that adoption has changed drastically in the last couple of decades.  My mom didn’t grow up with openly adoptive families.  And even when I was growing up, adoption wasn’t something anyone really talked about publicly. More often than not, families sort of just pretended the kids were biological.  But that’s kind of a hard act to pull off when you’re vanilla and the kids are chocolate.  (Kind of reminds me of that scene in Elf when Buddy realizes he’s a human and not an elf.  “Santa?! I KNOW HIM!”)

But the truth is that it would be very unlikely that my kids would be singled out – in fact, they wouldn’t even know a world without transracial families.  I think it was hard for my Mom to imagine that world – especially since she grew up in the South in the 60s.  In fact, my mom is one of the most loving and nonracist people that I know – and truthfully I was just glad she was honest with me and we were able to have that conversation.  And of course now he’s just another grandkid to her! A giant, steak eating, rough and tumble grandkid, but a grandkid nonetheless.

So we brought our little chocolate bundle home from the hospital and headed straight out of town for Thanksgiving with him.  Our family was excited to meet him and we were anxious to see initial reactions.  We definitely had several “Oh he’s gonna be a NBA/NFL player!” comments which we would immediately respond to with “OR a SCIENTIST.”  Of course now we are pretty sure hitting people for a living will be much more appealing to him than the periodic table – but we could be wrong.

Honestly, the adjustment was pretty minimal for us.  Our friends and family have loved our adopted kids the exact same way that they love our biological kids.  The saddest part for me was hearing that one of our family members’ best friends essentially cut off all ties because of Jones.  Isn’t that the saddest, shallowest, most heartless thing you’ve ever heard?  It broke my heart for our family member and for that person – their loss.

FAQ #2 – What is an open adoption and why did you choose that?

We have an open adoption with Jones’s birthmother (Faith).  In the world of adoption, the word “open” has a hundred different meanings because really there is a sliding scale of openness that is ultimately up to you and the birthparents.  During one of our trainings at Bethany we learned that most of the research is now showing that the more open you can be (so long as it’s healthy for everyone), the better for all parties involved.  Open can mean anything from just sending pictures once a year to having the birthparents babysit.  Obviously there are quite a lot of circumstances that don’t allow for this, but we decided that day that we would prefer an open adoption if possible.

I hear from Faith pretty often.  We text a lot and I see her every other month or so.  Nothing formal and sometimes Jones isn’t even with us.  But it has been SO great to have her in our lives and to know that she knows that he is being loved well.  I’m sure as he gets older that relationship will evolve and adapt to what they both need.  But for these past 6 years we have all been grateful that there are so many people who love Jones and want what’s best for him.  She is a courageous woman who has all of my respect and gratitude.

(Unfortunately we don’t have a relationship with his birthfather.  We are hoping as the years go by that we can at least get a photo of him so that Jones can know what he looked like.)

FAQ #3 – What the hell do you mean you breastfed him?

You read that right.  Go ahead.  Read it again.

Ok, so you might have drawn 17 conclusions about me at this point and decided to stop reading here.  And if you’re still reading you’re at least curious.  As in train wreck curious.  And I’m ok with that.

I breastfed my first two babies and while it wasn’t necessarily my favorite thing in the whole wide world (being milked really shouldn’t be your favorite thing in the whole wide world, people), it was still a great bonding experience and ultimately the best thing you can give to them in those early weeks and months.  So when I heard that it was possible to breastfeed a baby even if you hadn’t birthed them yourself, I was definitely curious.  I won’t go into all of the technical details here, but suffice it to say that you can indeed produce milk without a pregnancy – in my case not enough by itself, but definitely enough that it’s worth it.  At almost every feeding I would breastfeed and then give him a bottle to make up the difference.  I did that for about 2 months before I realized that he wanted steak and not 2 ounces of breastmilk to supplement his formula.

 FAQ #4 – Do I have to know how to do African American hair?

The short answer is no.  The longer answer is kind of.  This may not have even occurred to some of you, but hair is kind of a big deal.  Did you know that you really shouldn’t wash African American hair but once every week or two?  Or that it’s customary to let a little boy’s hair grow until his first birthday?  Or that little girls need to sleep in a silk hair wrap on a silk pillowcase so that cotton doesn’t take all of the moisture out of their hair?

In Memphis, the population is over 50% African American.  And the last thing that I wanted to do was take my sweet little chocolate baby to the grocery store with nappy, unkempt hair to be seen by all the grandmas who were talking about me under their breath to the cashier.  So I did my research.  And more importantly, I asked for help.  Because here’s the thing – people LOVE to help.  We now have a “dream team” for our kids’ hair.  The great guys at the barber shop clean up Jones’s lines and tell John which hair lotions to put on his scalp every night.  And Vanja.  Thank God for Vanja.  She has taught me how to do cornrows, box braids, twists, you name it .  And even better than that she will just DO Abigail’s hair for me when I just can’t muster the time or creativity.  And really, that’s all the time these days. Which brings me to my last FAQ, which really isn’t a question….


Listen, I know we’ve all heard that it takes a village.  And it does.  But it takes a COLORFUL village.  A village of grandmas and aunts and friends and cousins and teachers and church members and neighbors of all ages, colors, beliefs and personalities.  Because ultimately, this whole parenting thing isn’t about you anyways.  It’s about your kid.  It isn’t about making your kid just like you, but helping them figure out who they are and surrounding them with all kind of people doing all kinds of things that look very different from you sometimes.  It’s about admitting when your experience falls short of what they might need and asking for help.  And to do that you have to have a posse.  People you know and trust and can be in community with.

For us, that’s come from our neighborhood, church and schools.  All of the kids have gone to a predominately black preschool and now elementary school. Our neighborhood is incredibly diverse.  And we are very intentional to make sure our relationships aren’t too vanilla.  This isn’t just to make sure we have someone to do their hair.  We want to surround our kids with people that we want them to be like.  People who leave goodness in their wake.

So make some new friends if you need to.  Friends that don’t look like you or live where you live or do what you do.  Honestly, isn’t what we need more of anyways?  Regardless of whether or not you adopt?  People that are willing to step outside of comfort and familiarity in search of something fuller.  It’s probably one of the greatest things you can do for your family and yourself.  And I GUARANTEE it won’t be boring.

To be continued….Stay tuned for Part III – Up late and making major decisions about African orphans…