Adoption: Love is Not All You Need

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This month is forever etched in my heart. It’s the month we are intentional about giving thanks. It’s the month we celebrate adoption awareness month across the nation but above all it’s the month I became a mom.

I wasn’t supposed to be a mom. At least not the traditional way.  Yet God blessed me with a wonderful opportunity to see our son be born 13 years ago this month. In my post, Adoption: A Glimpse Into the Day My Son was Born, I share my step by step recollection of his birth. It changed me forever.

I can’t even believe that 13 years have passed since the day I saw him catch his first breath. As he has grown older his understanding of adoption has grown as well.

Recently, I asked him a series questions about his adoption experience. *He said it was ok to share some of his feelings with all of you. Some of his many thoughts we kept private.We shared the ones he felt would help other families. *

Conversations About Adoption With My Teen

How do you feel when you think about adoption?

“Adoption makes me both happy and sad. I love my life with you and daddy and at the same time I miss them (his first family).”
This is what I call double dipped feelings. Double dipped is when an experience gives you happy and sad feelings at the same time. That’s really how adoption feels for many adopted youth.

As adoptive parents we have an opportunity here to have honest dialogue with our children about the complexities that come with adoption and that it’s ok to have both sets of feelings. It natural to feel this way. We should never take offense to it or expect them to be thankful for being adopted.

I wonder if love is enough when you are adopted?

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“Love is enough because without you and daddy loving me (even when a mess up) my life would be a sad place. It’s enough because you guys do so much for me. You buy me stuff (he’s rotten and it’s all my fault), you teach me to be kind and we talk about adoption whenever I want to.”

I’d like to focus on his last point. We encourage him talk about adoption whenever he wants. As an adoptive parent and professional I believe Love can be enough when followed by action. In my interview on the Multiracial Family Man Podcast, with Alex Barnett, I shared my thoughts on what love needs to look like for an adopted child. In that intereview, I said “Love must be followed with action.” However, action requires honesty, commitment, flexibility and places our son at the center not me. Love brought us to him and action in love keeps us growing together. This means that fostering a relationship with his first family is our obligation as his parents. We don’t wait for him to bring up his birth mom. We do. we make it a safe space to talk about his real feelings.

Should all kids know they are adopted?

Wait some kids don’t know they are adopted!!? Why not?  Yes they should know!!! It’s their story and their right to know. Right mom? I’m so glad I know even when it makes me sad sometimes.”

Some adopted families are  unique in that we are the keepers of our child’s story. We dictate when and how we share it.  It requires having difficult conversations when you least expect it like the time he was a ring bearer at my sisters wedding and right after he exited the sanctuary and we were ready to take photos he tugged my dress and asked “Mommy were my real parents married?” Or the time we had the sex talk but couldn’t do that without him asking questions about when Mrs. L was pregnant with him. As adoptive parents, we never know what moment will prompt a conversation about adoption. What I do know is that just like when he asked the question at my sister’s wedding I dropped everything took him to the side and answered his question. We have to make time for the tough conversations.

Now that you are 13, what would you like your family to know about your adoption?

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“I have a big family from Ms. L ( first family) to yours and daddy’s family. I think of myself as the cornerstone. I connect all of you.”

This kid is wise beyond his years or maybe his life story makes him this way. He was born knowing what it means to have loss and love. I always tell him how happy we are that he was adopted and at the same time we understand that those feelings of joy are tied to loss for him.

One thing I can say about my kiddo is that he loves hard and well. He adores his grandparents and misses his cousins when they are gone. His uncle Alex is the coolest guy he knows and he knows his aunties even his Titi Yvette will buy him whatever he wants.

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A great example of this is our recent family (indoor) skydiving trip. He wanted everyone one there ( cousin’s, tit,etc). Our love of him is mutual so that meant that althogh we were freaking out we would all be there. You see, even though we were all terrified and he was straight up fearless he taught us a valuable lesson. Often times adoption may feel like free falling. No real clear direction. In the end with the right support, love and commitment you can soar high!

Everyday this man child teaches us what it means to be an amazing human being, to love well and be exactly who God created us to be. That is how adoption has changed my life forever. It continues to teach me that love may not be enough but it is an amazing place to start.

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Jefa Series: Profiling Poderosa Latinas Pt. 2

I have enjoyed this Jefa Series a ton. Truly excited for you guys to dig into part 2 of the series. As a quick refresher the term Jefa refers to a “female boss or leader; a woman in charge.” If you haven’t checked out part one of the series, you are missing out. Such a good read on triumph, adversity and beating all odds.  In the months to come I will make sure to carve out to time feature other Jefa’s. So if you know a poderosa Latina doing great things for her family, life or career send me an email.

Some have asked me why I deiced to feature women for Hispanic heritage month. My response is always the same, why not? For far too long across the world women have had no real value. Women in particular are victimized, enslaved, not believed and written off. Proverbs 31 states that women of noble character should be honored “for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” This means women of strong noble character, Jefas, should be honored and praised by those that love them most. That is exactly what I am doing with the Jefas Series.  Scripture goes on to say that “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.”  I wanted to take time to write about women because there is value in women rising, thriving and sharing their struggles in the world.

To me, a Jefa is clearly described in Proverbs 31. Jefas don’t always get it right. We are not supposed to. Honestly, the true test of a Jefa is in the girt and grim of life. It’s in those hard moments that shine the brightest. I’d like to you to meet two women who have carved a way through academic barriers and reinventing themselves later in life. See how their grit paved a way for their future. I often talk about striding; “to walk with long, decisive steps in a specified direction.” I hope through this post you will see how these Jefa’s took long decisive steps to reach their purpose even when it meant going at it alone.

Meet Rocio

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What makes a Jefa?

Jefa’s know it requires hard work but its not impossible

 

Rocio was born in Queens, NY to Dominican parents. Rocio also happens to be my cousin and daughter of my favorite uncle. When Rocio turned 10 her parents moved to New Jersey. Rocio has many passions from fashion, e-commerce, real-estate to her charity work.

When discussing her education, Rocio shares that she encountered a lot of challenges with learning while growing up. Noting that “many didn’t think I would make it to college, let alone graduate.” On top of that, the percentage of young Latina women being successful is slim. According to Excelencia in Education, only 22% of the Latino’s in the United States have obtained an associate’s degree.

Rocio knew she would have to prove everyone wrong and that is exactly what she did.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the City College of New York. While in college, Rocio interned for the P. Diddy clothing brand known as Sean John. Rocio shares that “while still in college Sean John introduced me to a company that offered me a Jr. account executive position in corporate America for a children’s apparel company working with brands like DKNY, Nicole Miller, Puma and Ferrari. This opened the door for me to design in the toy industry, watches, child accessories.” Later on, Rocio began her partnership with companies like Skip Hop, Carter’s, and Movado. She now works for De’longhi.

Rocio’s love of fashion and art have led her to grow and develop professionally. She is passionate about growing the E-commerce and succeeding in making it easy for all customers to shop. She primarily focuses on the customer experience as an Ecom account manager and representative. Rocio works with accounts in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Australia, and Dubai. In addition, to developing her career in fashion, Rocio is also passionate about real estate. Together with her husband, they love to purchase properties rent them out or flip them.

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Of all her greatest passions Rocio’s shares that her charity work is one of her biggest passions.  Rocio shares, “I went to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 for two weeks on a mission’s trip. It changed my life forever. We worked at a school and orphanage full of children that lost their parents after the earthquake. It was heartbreaking to see the despair. The gravity of that loss would impact anyone. I haven’t been to Haiti since 2010 but with the help of Movado Group Inc in 2017, we were able to feed and send 30 boxes to the Petit-Goave community.” Rocio shares “I always have Haiti in my heart and on my mind. Being far doesn’t stop me from helping and reaching out to them. No matter how much I succeed in life, keeping in touch with them helps me understand what matters most…loving people well.” 

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 When asked what it means to be a Jefa, Rocio shares “A jefa is ok with being different. Jefa’s empower each other and somehow make the impossible happen. Jefa’s embrace everyday challenges with conviction. Jefa’s know what is more important in life. Being a Jefa is impacting those who surround you either at school, work or in your community. Being a Jefa is hard work but not impossible.” What makes Rocio a Jefa to me is in the way she is raising her daughter.  Rocio shares that she and hubby “live by example helping her understand what it takes to be an independent, God-fearing woman. We pray together as a family and help her understand that all achievements have been reached by putting God first.” Get ready world, little Jefa Sarita is coming! Rocio lives in New Jersey with her husband of 7 years and their daughter Sarah, age 4.

You can find Rocio on Linkedin

Meet Madeline

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Madeline and I met at Nyack College in 1993. When I met her, she was already paving a way for her career to flourish. For many years, Madeline has been in the global banking business. Madeline started as a customer service rep and worked her way up to accomplish her goal and became a Vice President for J.P. Morgan in the Network Management Division. In this role, she had an opportunity to grow in what Madeline considers “one of the most key objectives in business and personal life, and that is relationship building. The role allowed me to be exposed to other cultures and grow business relationships across borders and supported the strengthening of the financial atmosphere in Latin America.” In addition, Madeline was given the opportunity to run our technology group for that team. Even though Madeline did not have any experience, it was a challenge to be taken, as not many Latinas are known to be in a technology role. Though Madeline was in the role for a short period of time, not only did that equip her for the next step, but hopefully it paved more opportunities for other fellow Latinas to move into this field. She has worked in the financial industry for over 25 years and has a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Management.

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This year, Madeline and her family moved to South Florida where she has taken on a new role in the legal arena. Currently working as a Paralegal for a prestigious law firm allows Madeline to help her Latino population in areas of personal injury, workers compensation, and criminal and immigration cases.  She shares that “this has led me to consider pursuing my masters with a concentration in legal affairs.  It is never too late to continue to learn. It is never too late to affect others in a different field.  It is a privilege to directly affect people’s lives in tangible ways. I am glad that I can bridge the language barrier for my people who struggle with communicating in English."

What does it mean to be a Jefa? "I think one of the things about being a “Jefa” is not being afraid to reinvent yourself. Jefas take all they have learned and experienced to evolve to their best self. Jefa’s have the courage to start over. It is important that you allow your past, whether good or bad, to continuously catapult you to the next transformation. Jefa’s take calculated risksA Jefa is like a Phoenix always arising from the ashes to forge on." What ( make the what and do bold here)do you say to other Jefas?  "Have the courage to start over.  Have the courage to allow life to make you flexible and adapt to change.  It’s ok to go back to the drawing board and tweak who we are.  Nothing ever flows from being stagnant."

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What makes a Jefa?

Jefa’s aren’t afraid to reinvent themselves

Madeline is happily married and living in PSL with her husband, 12-year-old daughter Grace, her Maltese/Shitzu dog named Toby and her fat little parrot Federal LOL. 

 

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Jefa Series: Profiling Poderosa (Powerful) Latinas Pt.1

What is a Jefa?

The term Jefa refers to a “female boss or leader; a woman in charge.”  When thinking of the word Jefa I believe it means more. I believe the world has changed tremendously and definitions evolve over time. Jefa in todays world is to lead by transcending cultural expectations while being intentional about mentoring others, therefore making space for Latina’s everywhere to take on roles that weren’t created with us in mind. It’s in these spaces that we shine the brightest.

As we enter Hispanic Heritage Month, I started thinking of all the inspirational Latinas in my life who influence their community, shine in their career, and have conquered the obstacles that come with being Latina in a world that doesn’t always see our value. These brave chicas transcend theater, merge corporate and public sectors, and enhance the higher education experience as well as the judicial system. Their influence comes from a long line of brave mujeres who have left their country of origin to pave a new life in America. Their mothers were brave, and they have risen to the challenge to do the same.

How do I know this? These Jefas are beautiful and ponderosas (powerful). They have inspired a movement and they just so happen to be my family. I’m introducing real women, with real lives that are not always perfect. Women who were not buried but rather planted with deep roots. That’s why I admire them most of all. Their stories are of triumph in a world that sexualizes us rather than envisions us in the boardroom. These women have a story that’s rich, deep, and inspiring. Here is just a piece of their journey. For more about them, their movement, and vision I encourage you to follow their social media accounts. Shine bright ladies, shine bright! The following women exemplify the true Jefa spirit in more ways than one.

 Meet Clarybel

Clarybel Peguero is one of my favorite primas (cousin) and believe me I have many. Growing up we would spend summers together either in Washington Heights (NYC) or West Palm Beach FL. As an Afro Latina, Clarybel has always stood true to who she is. One thing I admire most about this Jefa is that she is unapologetically herself which allows her to shine in spaces where many of us would not.  Her strength has come from being raised by a single mother from the Dominican Republic who taught her to carve a life for herself in spaces where daughters of immigrants rarely enter. She did just that.  

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“A Jefa is not afraid of transformational change.”

In 2010, Clarybel joined the staff at Duke University where she now serves as the Senior Director for Volunteer Engagement.  In her role, she is responsible for overseeing the management of the “volunteer pipeline” which includes identifying, recruiting, and providing training and recognition of alumni volunteers. Clarybel earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University and holds a Masters in Higher Education Administration from the University of South Carolina.  In 2014, she successfully defended her dissertation entitled “The re-conceptualization of historically white fraternities and sororities; the black students experience” earning her Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and Communications from Northeastern University.

When asked how she would define a Jefa, Clarybel shared that “about a year ago the President of Duke University, Richard Brodhead, was asked by alumni “What advice would you give a young person today?” and he answered with certainty and said , “it’s advice I would give anyone…. YOU MUST HAVE THE COURAGE TO LIVE.” Those words have had a profound effect on me. To me, Jefas must have the courage to live.

“For the past 9 years, I have worked at Duke University for 8 out those years I served as the Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life.  Over a year ago, I accepted a new position at Duke and so today I am the Senior Director for Volunteer Engagement at the Duke Alumni Association.  I have been in the field of Higher Education for 20 plus years and have worked at some very prestigious institutions including American University, Johns Hopkins, Boston College, and UVA.  I have three degrees and I’m proud to say that in 2014, I successfully defended my dissertation where I critically examined racial issues within the Greek community. I am very proud of my professional accomplishments. However, being a true Jefa means knowing who you are and what you value.” She goes on to say ,”A Jefa is someone that believes in people and making sure everyone around her is achieving their best self possible. A jefa is not afriad of transformational change and is determined to be about self-betterment. A jefa knows to never dim her light. A true Jefa gives as much as she has taken from this world.”

Meet Helen  

Helen was one of my first childhood friends and is also my prima (cousin). We grew up in Washington Heights, NYC and over time she grew into a strong professional in the judicial arena. Helen earned a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Fordham University and holds a Master’s in Public Administration from John Jay College.  Early in her career she was a clerk for superior court while also teaching undergrad students in areas like politcal science and criminal justice. Once her kiddos have “worked on developing their dreams” she hopes to pursue her PhD.

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“Jefa’s do what they are supposed to do.”

Helen is not only a Jefa in the courthouse, but she runs a tight ship at “Hacienda Ramos,” where she and her husband raise 3 kids all under the age of 5. Did I mention her girls are twins!! When asked what it means to be a Jefa Helen shared that “over the past year, people constantly say to me I don’t know how you do it all. This question often comes because I have 3 kids, work full-time and have a deployed husband. My answer is and will always be, I am doing what I am supposed to do. Jefa’s do what they are supposed to do. I am not doing anything out of this world. Am I tired? Yes, with 3 kids under five I live a tired life. However, I have healthy, happy children. In addition, I am the healthiest I have been in years.” Helen recently took charge of her weight dropping over 30lbs.   

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When asked about her marriage Helen shared that “although we don’t have a perfect marriage our marriage is perfect for us.” Running an active tribe of while having a deployed husband Helen says “I tackle what each day brings and leave what has passed is in the past. I deal with the tomorrows when they need to be dealt with.” To learn more about her eating plan, exercise routine and the funny things her little girls say you can find Helen on her Instagram Page.

Meet Laura   

Laura is my little sis who just so happens to be a super creative chica. She is an actor and singer, but her biggest role at the moment is that of being a new mother to the cutest baby boy. In addition, she recently took on the role a Breastfeeding Counselor in Bronx, NY. She graduated from the Two-Year Conservatory at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting (NY) and has been fulfilling her acting career on both coasts. Laura is currently represented by Plaza 7 Talent Agency and Lil Angels Unlimited. For more information on her latest acting work, visit www.imdb.me/lauraguzman.  

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“A Jefa empowers other women because she knows that there is power in numbers.”

Laura Guzman

As an Afro-Latina actress Laura has often experienced type cast roles that do not always represent who she is ethnically. Being Afro-Latina is something she takes pride in and she hopes that as the new wave of Hollywood actors, directors, and produces take over that there will be space to have difficult conversations of how Latinas are diverse in the roles they can take on and their apperance. She hopes to change the narrative of what “typical” Latina roles look like.

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As if she’s not busy enough, Laura recently launched her new YouTube Channel where she shares thoughts about her career as an actor, motherhood, curly hair care, and her afro Latina experience. When asked what it means to be a Jefa, Laura notes that “una Jefa is a woman who is unafraid to go after her dreams. A woman who walks in her truth. She empowers other women because she knows that there is power in numbers and we can all win. She knows there are enough seats at the table for us all. She doesn’t compete with anyone but herself.” You can also follow Laura on her Instagram Page.  

Meet Jenny

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Jefas remain grounded.

Jenny Pichardo

One of the neat things about this series is that I am being intentional about promoting the many wonderful women in my life like my sister Jenny. We grew up listening to hip hop and making up dance routines to free style music. She is a trendsetter and inspires women everywhere she goes. Jenny has also found a away to change the narrative for teens in the community we grew up in by connecting the public and private sector to provide them a stellar education.

Jenny joined Inwood Academy for Leadership from the International Leadership Charter High School (ILCHS). At ILCHS she secured a $17.5M municipal bond financing for a new facility, becoming the first NYC charter school to secure funding through Build NYC. Prior to joining the charter community, Jenny worked in the financial sector for over 14 years. Currently, Jenny is the COO/CFO at Inwood Academy for Leadership in New York where she successfully completed a second bond financing for her Charter school.

She began her Wall Street career in 1997, working at Muriel Siebert & Co. Inc., in the firm’s retail division. In 1999, she joined Siebert Capital Markets, working directly with the managing director and assisting the sales force and traders with equity, fixed income and mutual fund trades. From 2001 to 2009, she was Vice President—promoted from AVP in 2005—of the Institutional Equity Sales and Trading Division and developed and managed institutional relationships at Utendahl Capital Partners, LLC. Jenny graduated Magna Cum Laude and received her BA in Economics from Lehman College. She previously held FINRA Series 7, 24, 55, 63, 65 and NY State Insurance Licenses. Jenny is a Washington Heights native and is married to Zoilo Pichardo. She is the mother of two children, Ethan and Abigail.

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Breaking ground for new Charter School she helped secure funding for.

When asked what being a Jefa means to her Jenny shared the following truth: “Being a Jefa is modeling for my team and peers to serve others well.  Its to place the needs of the stakeholders first. For me, those stakeholders are the students we serve every day.  Its mentoring students in the neighborhood I grew up in. Often times those kids resemble my siblings and I. That is motivation enough to keep going.

Jefa’s remain grounded and teach students that they can do it too. My goal is to lead like Jesus. I am not Jesus in many ways, but I can lead with grace and with an expectation of excellence. Lastly, I hold my team to high standards regardless of the positions because we are all impacting our students lives.”  With Jenny at the Helm it’s no surprise that the vision for Inwood Academy for Leadership is “Empowering students in Inwood and Washington Heights to become agents for change through community-focused leadership, character development, and college preparedness.”

Striding: Finding Your Joy in the Noes of Life

"Return home and tell how much God has done for you…" Luke 8:39 (NIV)

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Do you have a story? I'm pretty sure we all do. Does your story have value? Absolutely. Can your story influence others? Without a doubt. So why is it that we are often reluctant to share the hard moments of our lives with others? I think sometimes it’s because those hard times are often reminders of the firm noes we have experienced in our lives. I wonder if we have come to the point where we find joy in the noes of life.

I’m often asked why I finally decided to go live with my intimate life stories about loss, adoption, infertility, and our multiracial family experiences. It wasn’t an easy decision. I remember nights discussing with my husband about how this might impact our family. Ultimately, we made the right decision.  I think it’s because the hard moments in our life taught me the biggest lessons of my life. I’d like to think that when I share the grief I experienced with infertility that it will help another couple heal. I hope that when I talk about the hardships interracial families experience today that other families don’t feel so alone.

Many of the noes have been hard. A great example of this is when I applied for a job I really, wanted. Our son was young, and I knew that the job would not only advance my career but also give me time at home to be with him. I didn't get the job. I wasn't the first choice as I had hoped. I was second. Second didn't win me a prize. When the firm no came my way, I was crushed. What I didn’t know is that six years later I would oversee that position, unit, and team. Like many others, the joy came later.

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Our miscarriage was probably the most bitter NO of my life. We had sacrificed so much time, money, and energy with fertility doctors only to get a firm, bitter no. That no cost me my health, requiring surgery and our emotional wellbeing. That no was bitter. To rub salt in my wound my closest friends were pregnant at the same time I was. We were supposed to raise our children together. Our miscarriage happened right around Mother’s Day. I was at my lowest. What I didn’t know was that the way we would grow our family would be through adoption and not by birth. Meeting our son's birthmother that same year and witnessing the birth of our son the same month (and year) our birth child would have been born was nothing I could have ever envisioned. God knew that I would be a mother before my pregnant besties. I didn’t.  Today, I am a mother because I got a firm NO.  The heartbreak and pain didn't determine our future. Yet another firm no that lead to the greatest joy of my life.

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The noes of life can break your heart. For me, my twenties was a time where I experienced tough noes from God. At the time those noes broke my heart. Have you ever felt like that?  In the past, I could barely talk about those noes without crying. Recently, my Alma Mater, Nyack College interviewed me for a piece they were writing about my work in adoption

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That interview reminded me of those noes. It also gave me time to reflect on all the yeses I stepped into. I think that is why I love being a seasoned 40 something. I’ve lived long enough to see how those firm noes lead to the yeses of my life later.  I can honestly say I am joyful for every no because it lead me here. To me, the world will not change until we get real with ourselves about the pain, rejection, and losses we have experienced. It’s in those hard times that we truly understand our humanity. That we are all the same.

Finally, to answer the question; Why do I share my stories?  I share them because they shaped me, and I hope they will help others in similar situations. I have learned that God never wastes our pain. Only we do that. God has a great purpose and a beautiful future for all. Not despite our past, but because of it.

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Adoption: The Classroom, Educators, and Adoption

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Every year he has gone to the same school with the same kids in the same community. Until now he has been educated in a community that knew he was adopted. My striding brought him here. That’s why when relocating the mister and I did lots of research and chose the school before selecting our new home. We knew a good school was the key to his success.

Yesterday we visited that new school and we let him set the pace and take the lead. He shook hands, introduced himself, and let people know what he needed. When it was all said and done he said, “This new school is awesome!” For any parent that relocates with school-aged children, you know it was a great relief to us to hear him say that.

One thing we didn’t do was discuss the fact that he’s adopted with his new school administrators. Why would we need to share that at all? Being an adoptive family adds an additional lens to every aspect of our life especially as it relates to school. I think we didn’t touch on adoption yesterday because as he grows we are encouraging him to set the pace on what part of his narrative he shares with the world. It’s important that he knows he’s adopted but even more important that he decides who gets to know his story. Many adoptive parents don’t always understand that our children have the right to say who gets to know their story and who doesn’t.

The adoption process itself is in part to blame. When you are adopting, a big part of that journey is making it public. For those who require monetary support, sharing your story is a major part of that journey. A former adoption co-worker shared a story of meeting a dear friend’s new adopted daughter. After saying how cute the baby was she bravely asked: “So what’s her story?” What the adoptive mother said next, changed our adoption journey forever. She kindly responded with ”We are not comfortable with sharing her story with everyone when she doesn’t even know it. We’d prefer to keep it private for now.” I thought their stance was impressive. From that moment on, both the Mr. and I agreed that we needed to set firm boundaries on how we shared his narrative.

When he was younger, hubby and I navigated his story. Living in a small rural community at the time, it was important for us to set firm boundaries with who knew the details of his story and who didn’t. Now that he’s older and understands the concept of adoption he gets to determine who knows and who doesn’t. Even in sharing this part of our journey I needed to get his permission to post it.

Educators & Adoption

With that said, I do believe that it is important if not critical that teachers know if they have an adopted child in their classroom. In my professional and personal experience, some adoptive parents don’t always get why sharing that information is important. For our family, sharing that our child is adopted is very different than sharing his adoption story. Providing educators with information about our child’s specific needs help our son continue to learn and embrace his story. We believe our adoption story can be private but it should never be a secret.

I have found that in today’s modern adoption world there are many tools for parents and teachers to use that help with engaging in an honest conversation about adoption. My good friends at the Quality Improvement Center for Adoption & Guardianship Support and Preservation developed the easy to read handout entitled “What Teachers Should Know About Adoption.” As with any tool take from it what applies to your family and chuck the rest. Another tool that has been invaluable for our family is the WISEUP workbook by CASE. This tool helps adopted youth and their parents role-play how they would respond to tough questions about their adoption with peers. 

Last night, I was discussing with our little man how he felt about his sharing his adoption story at school. What he shared was pretty mature if you ask me. He said, “I think teachers should always know I was adopted and I will let the kids know once I can trust them.” Here are three reasons we share that our son is adopted with his teachers:

1.     Adoption Sensitive Classrooms - We want teachers to create adoption sensitive classrooms. It’s crucial that teachers know that some adopted kids are “grappling with issues related to identity, belonging, or attachment; managing complex and/or non-traditional relationships and roles with their birth family; experiencing loss and grief; and figuring out how to be in a family of a different culture or ethnic group.”

2.     Assignments Matter - We desire a classroom that considers adopted children when selecting assignments, and celebrating holidays. Often, family tree assignments are difficult for kids who have been adopted. I do believe that assignments like these can help foster an intentional conversation with your child about adoption, however, it must be one that parents are aware of in advance. In addition, teachers may be open to modifying their teaching plans to be adoption informed.
 

3.     Adoption Status - We want to encourage teachers to recognize that children might be sensitive about their adoption status. It will help teachers be aware of conversations that may come up in the classroom. For some children, difficult anniversaries impact their ability to learn. Teachers who are aware of this can be a help to their adopted student rather than a hindrance. 

According to the Institute for Family Studies “Adoptive parents reported that an 83% majority of their children enjoyed going to school and nearly half - 49% - were doing ‘excellent’ or ‘above average’ school work.” With the right support and information educators can help their adoptive students thrive.

 

 

 

Immigration Series: The 5 Things My Immigrant Parents Taught Me About Leadership

We recently celebrated America’s Independence Day. I’ve always loved the fourth. Growing up it meant beaches; BBQ and much-needed bonding time with the familia. Now as a full-fledged adult I am reminded of the moments in my life that have taught me what it truly means to live in this country. One of the things I love most about America is its willingness to open its doors to others.  That is why I love Leviticus 19:33-34, which says  “When a stranger remains with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who remains with you as a brother, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” My parents were immigrants to the US in the late 1960's when they arrived here from the Dominican Republic. My stepfather came to the US from his home land of Nicaragua. 

That’s why the recent issues at the border with separating children from their parents have many immigrants and their families outraged. Katie Annad wrote an article for Vox Media about the emotional impact this treatment has had on children. When I think of these families I can’t help but think of my parents and all the sacrifices they made for their kids to carve out una buena vida (a good life). It is foolish to assume that their sacrifices didn’t come at a great cost. However, their sacrifices came with many lessons that have greatly impacted my career and that of my siblings.

Here are five ways being the daughter of immigrants helped me grow as a leader: 

1.    Stay Motivated.

 Papi and I, 2015

Papi and I, 2015

Nothing screams motivation more than leaving everything you hold dear to move to a new country, experience language barriers, racial and cultural discrimination, all to have opportunities for a better life. I feel fortunate to have been there to see my parents struggle in real ways to achieve their dreams. I am so blessed that I lived every risk they took with them.  When your parents are immigrant’s motivation is the driving force behind what they have risked and given up in exchange for our success. I could never repay my parents for what they gave up but they have in turn become my motivation to continue to grow and develop. I believe what influenced me to stay motivated in my career is that my dad taught me to dream and dream big! He taught me that no matter what obstacles I faced I could reach for the stars and shine brightly. My mom taught me the value of bringing excellence to everything I do. Because of her, I have learned to work hard and learn form my mistakes.

2. Speak Your Truth.

 Mom and I, 2016

Mom and I, 2016

Proving yourself to others and defending your actions is another consequence of being an immigrant in a new nation. Often time’s immigrants live their lives on the defense. Regularly having to explain who they are as if they owe others an explanation was frustrating for me to see as a child. I frequently experienced this when mom went to my school demanding that I be given not just the education that was available but the one I deserved. What I learned from this and many other experiences that I witnessed was the value of finding my voice. As I grew it made me work hard to make sure others less fortunate than me had a voice too. Speaking my truth taught me to have empathy for others.  That explains why I dedicated my career to the field of social work.  I found my voice and now I make sure others find their voice too.

3. Integrity Builds Connections.

 Mom and Alex, my (step) Dad

Mom and Alex, my (step) Dad

Immigrants work and they work hard. My mother was always busy. If she wasn't learning English (her native tongue was Spanish), she was working two jobs, attending college or strengthening ties to her new community by attending church, visiting inmates or caring for the sick. Did I mention she welcomed immigrants into our home while they began their life here in the US? She made every moment count.

My step-father still gets up every morning at 4 am to go to work managing a parking garage in the city. Is it because he loves it? Not necessarily. He knows that he made a promise to his family and to his employer. He has always said “ Hay que trabajar (we must work).” This philosophy has stayed with me. Recently, he asked me how my new job was going. As I shared my list of struggles he listened quietly and then said “ Are they still paying you?... Then keep doing good work.”  He reminded me that at the end of the day in our career all we have is our word. Integrity builds trust and can take you far. 

4. Pay it Forward.

My parents' story would have been very different without the opportunities that others created for them. My mother and Father continued to pay it back their entire lives. I can’t tell you the number of relatives and friends that lived with us as they arrived in America. Back then I didn’t understand why I had to give up my room and privacy. Now I know that my parents were doing exactly what was done for them. They both worked in factories often working 2-3 jobs to bring the rest of his family to this country. It’s easy for us to sit on our porch and think, “ wow I made it…or look how far I’ve come.” My immigrant parents taught me that you never do this alone. I was taught to remember where I came from, honor those that paved a way for me and remember to reach out and pay it forward. Paying it forward is important not just for our career but also for our community to thrive. I'm a firm believer that we all need to support each other. We need to make time for coffee, lunch, and networking with those coming up and those that hold our hands along the way. When was the last time you took your mentor out for Café?

5. Be True to Yourself.

 I didn’t always appreciate it when my parents were unapologetically themselves. Like when I saw my stepfather iron his work uniform with such pride. He never pretended to be anyone other than who he was. And, almost to a fault, he is a truth teller. My parents (on both sides) are known as people who are respected, honest and trustworthy. This is because they are and have always been true to themselves.

Being true to yourself is critical for business leaders as well. You need to establish trust if you want people to buy into you, your vision and support your team. I learned from my parents that I'm much more relatable and trustworthy if I bring my authentic self to work. Being genuine in the workplace helps to establish strong ties that can last a lifetime.  As a leader, I want to be approachable, share my interests, and develop my team.  When mistakes are made I keep it real and give grace. The best way of building rapport is to be transparent and genuine.

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My parents may not be seen as great leaders to many but to me they are. It is because of them that I have grown into the woman you see today. As we raise our son I hope to pass down the importance of staying motivated, speaking his truth, having integrity while paying it forward and being true to himself. If he can learn those values he will be doing just fine. 

Is this Real Life? My Best Friend Has Cancer

Mel and I talk every day.

 Melissa and I at the Harvard Latina's LEAD conference. February, 2018

Melissa and I at the Harvard Latina's LEAD conference. February, 2018

Sometimes we talk twice a day. We chat about everything from marriage to kids and career. She is amazing at a giving me advice about a ton of life challenges but she steals the show when giving me career advice. You can find her always pumping me up and giving me time to reflect on what I have accomplished. We were introduced to each other about 14 years ago as a mutual friend thought we would be a good support to each other as we both struggled with infertility. She was right!  I always say our grief brought us together but our love kept us together. Mel is just another way God used my loss to give me an amazing gift. I think that’s why we are so good at comforting each other now…now that Mel has cancer. To use the term best friend at 44 years old seems silly.  Mel is so much more than that. Over the last 14 years, we have kept it real, grown in love, and raised our kids together, all from over 600 miles away. My life’s journey has been one of uprooting and starting fresh. Hers has been constant and full of much growth. Somehow we have made it work.

Many tears have been shed. We laugh, we cry, and we cuss people out privately who just don’t get the struggle. Many of you may remember the piece that I wrote “The Five Things I learned at Harvard” where I shared what I learned last winter at the Harvard Latina’s LEAD conference. As soon as I told Mel about it she said, “I’m going with you.” That’s how she is. She is loyal to a fault. As she walks this journey now I’m the one going with her. While at LEAD we were immersed in a group of strong Latina’s on the verge of something great.  What I didn’t realize is that Mel was about to emerge on a journey that will show the world how strong she is. Our time in Boston, albeit cold, gave us the chance to catch up face to face after a long eight-year hiatus. This trip left us inspired and knowing that we had to do it every year.

When the opportunity for me to take on a new position in Florida presented itself Mel was the first person to say, “ You are ready.” Here was my journey moving me further away from her when she needs me most. I send her care packages to help ease the challenges that chemo brings but that isn’t enough. Not to me.  What she doesn’t know are the times I cry silently like when she first told me what her treatments would ultimately do to her body, or when she described losing her hair as “my hair painted the walls of my shower.” Even in that, she discusses how she plans to glam up. If I could describe her in one word it would be resilient.  As I lean into what Mel needs from me I have discovered four ways to support a loved one experiencing cancer;

1.     Be there.  Don’t offer platitudes. Just hold their hands (in my case virtually) and let them talk. I listen intently and when she asks I make her laugh by moving on to point 2. Send brief text messages, listen intently, and cry together when the moment calls for it.

2.     Shoot the sh**t about everyday life. Like I said, Mel and I keep it real. Often times a day or so after treatments I check in. Mel gives me her update and quickly says “Ok tell me all about you. I need that.” We laugh about crazy life stuff, talk about my new life in Florida, and share dreams we have for our kids. We simply keep it real.

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3.     Pray. Mel and I have had our own faith journeys but we have always prayed for each other. Shortly after she told me about her diagnosis I read a quote that says, “ Today…you are loved. You are thought of. You are prayed for.” That is how I want Mel to feel every day. A verse that keeps coming to mind is Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

4.    Give. It doesn’t have to be something huge or overly expensive. Just something that lets your loved one know you are thinking about them. Warm socks, blankets, or even ChapStick can help ease the challenges that come with treatment. Give of your time. That’s right. Time is so important. Be intentional about taking care of those you love.

Mel and I have no idea what lies ahead. What we do know is that we will face this together. As I see her face this journey I am reminded that Mel is brave even when she cries. Mel is courageous even when the news is hard. Mel is beautiful especially when she smiles.  Above all things, Mel is loved.

Striding: The Price of Rewriting Your Story

When we first moved to North Carolina many people had asked us the same question “Why in the world would you move from New York to North Carolina? Who does that?” My answer has always been the same… “I love moving.” However, the truth is more complex. Change was always hard for me. I loved for things to remain the same. Until I married a soldier that is. During the first five years of our marriage we moved 5 times to 5 different states.  Let that sink in. Can you imagine that?  Just when we were about to set “roots” it was time to pick up and start over. I became a pro at moving. It was incredibly hard and yet full of real life lessons like, my home is wherever my husband is. This idea may be counter culture but has been the guiding force of our 19-year marriage. And now, my home is where they, my husband and son, are.  Which is why moving without them has been difficult.

Rewriting Our Story

I love clean slates. Don’t you? Adena Friedman said it best: “Starting a new job can be nerve-racking, but it’s also exciting. You’re embarking on a new future, positioning yourself to write a fresh story.” Two weeks ago, I relocated for my career without my family. I’m in the middle of my very own fresh story and sometimes it’s hard.

 Our new home.

Our new home.

Starting a fresh new story is full of new adventures like learning a new organization, trying new foods and almost coming to tears when you realize that Marshall’s is literally minutes from your new place. I am in awe of the many different families that I see in my new community. Families that look like our little crew and many that don’t. Although our new space isn’t the same style as our home in NC, I am very excited to decorate and transform our new house into a home. Daily I am leaning into what life in Florida will be like for our family. It’s exciting, new, and inevitably comes with a price.

The Price

I told a friend just the other day that I feel like every comfort I have had has been stripped from me. Its cathartic and chaotic. Leaving me feeling exposed, naked and vulnerable. I didn’t anticipate feeling that way.  My connections, community and church feel as though they too have been stripped in a way. What I’m learning is that sometimes when God moves you into purpose you will be left feeling vulnerable. The same friend shared that when I am vulnerable “humility steps in and allows you to trust God with your whole life.” I have been in comfort for over 15 years. That comfort made me feel secure…safe. In the striding there are real losses. Walking into your purpose comes with a cost.  Here are the top 3 “costs” I have experienced so far:

1.Connections- This is the first time in my adult life that I have relocated to a new city without my husband. As our son completes his end of year exams we have been forced to separate for a month’s time. It doesn’t seem too long until you are living it. Living it is hard. I also am no longer able to do life with my closest friends.

Prior to this stride I had convinced myself that I didn’t need new friends. This relocation forces me to engage with new people and be intentional about forming new connections. That isn’t always easy.  Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., a psychologist and author, says the best way to find friends is to follow a passion — “and whether it’s golf, tennis, bridge or art, participate in your chosen activity regularly. That allows you to have contact with the same people over and over, and familiarity breeds friendship.” My husband and I have already started planning how we will get involved in local art groups and possibly local activist organizations. I agree with Dr. Levine, familiarity does breed friendship. I know that I need to be patient with the process.

 Celebrating and doing life with these ladies was an honor. 

Celebrating and doing life with these ladies was an honor. 

2.Community- Over the last 15 years, I have lived in a small rural farming town. Traffic was great, community was close and if I’m being honest, life was peaceful. My piece Moving: Striding into Our Purpose should shed some light on why we made the decision to leave our comfort for the unknown. If I am being honest, relocation often is the opposite of peace. I do have peace in knowing that I have stepped out in purpose, however, finding a new doctor, getting to know new neighbors and connecting with our son’s new school doesn’t make me feel peaceful. I think what God is allowing me to see is that when it comes to community, my peace should be in knowing that he has a plan beyond what I can see. He knows who I need and when. While I wait I will be intentional about getting involved in my community even when it puts me out of my comfort zone. Living in a new neighborhood is something I am excited about experiencing. What I love about our new area is that it offers community meet ups and opportunities to connect.  I think this will help us establish a sense of community when our world just got very big.

3.Church- Over the past 9 years The Cove Church has shaped my family’s spiritual growth. Our son has grown into a great leader and we owe that in part to our church. In a piece I wrote for the Foster Moms Blog I share how Spirituality Raises World Changers. This piece was relatively easy to write because of The Cove’s impact on my own son’s life. Last weekend I got to visit The Cove one last time and I freaking loved it. Finding a church to replace it was not one of the top new things I was looking forward to. I am lucky that I can still watch the service online.  As I look forward to what another church can offer us, I am often asking myself which space is the best fit for us?Where will my son continue to grow into a world changer? Where will I find my new people? Knowing that Florida is where I am meant to be gives me comfort that the church I will belong to is here too. Finding a church can be stressful, however, the process of joining one can also be one of discovery and full of wonderful experiences.  I embrace that.

 Last weekend at The Cove we celebrated race day. He loved it!

Last weekend at The Cove we celebrated race day. He loved it!

Why Stride?

Sometimes you outgrow your space, community and life in an area. That is when God moves you somewhere new. Our stride to a new area was primarily because we were living in a place where we were no longer fulfilling our purpose. Leaving North Carolina for Florida during a season when we were comfortable in our routines, connections, community and church has its losses. The gains are becoming more evident every day that I am here.  We also know that being an example to our son during this time of transition is critical. I hope our son learns that change can be painful, but it can also bring beautiful new beginnings. Here’s to our new beautiful new beginnings.

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Living Openness in Adoption: How Relocation Changes Everything.

 The embrace 5.6.2018

The embrace 5.6.2018

When we finally decided we were going to move I went on a mission to ensure our son got to spend time with those that matter to him most. We knew that saying goodbye to his friends, family and even teachers would be hard, but how do you prepare your child to say goodbye to his parent of origin?

Adoption is real. It’s hard and it’s beautiful. If you think about it adopted kids have been saying goodbye to loved ones since before they could remember. At least for our little man it was like this from the moment he caught his first breath.

Experts Say...

 copyright April Dinwoodie (website)

copyright April Dinwoodie (website)

This month I had the honor of hearing April Dinwoodie, adult adoptee and advocate, speak to a room of adoption professionals about the need for openness in adoption. April encouraged that adoption is a human rights issue and not a one-time transaction. She described adoption as a life long journey. April boldly shared that children are not commodities. This phrasing brought it all home for me. I remember thinking " He's not just our family."

April noted that best practice recommendations support children’s basic human right to connect with and have information about their biological roots. This is why we have been so intentional to ensure that our son have information about his family of origin. However, having information was not enough he needed connection as well. This is where adoptive parents can put their love in action. If it is safe, I am a firm believer that connection with biological family is critical to adopted children. 

As we stride into the next chapter for our family, it means saying goodbye to loved ones. When you have an adopted child it may mean saying goodbye to a biological parent they barely know. It may be awkward but so necessary. So we planned and last Sunday he spent time with her. The woman who carried him, has his same eyes. 

He hugged her tight and held her hand. He asked me to take pictures. We took lots of them. He got to play with his baby cousin and met his uncle and aunt for the very first time. At that moment we realized the magnitude of this moment. His two families sharing a moment with him.

This visit was different from all the rest because for the first time he met his extended family. It was magical. He played and laughed with them, gave hugs and even asked to visit again before we take off to our new life and home.

 

Family is our center of gravity
— April Dinwoodie

I have discussed with him that moving away doesn’t make her any less his family. People often ask us how we do it? How are we ok with having him spend time with her as if love or the concept of family is confined to just us. We like to think of it, as there is enough love for all of us. Our conversation with her is about a promise we made to her over 12 years ago. It was a promise to give him a full, happy life and how this move is part of that promise.

 We are family 5.6.18

We are family 5.6.18

Changes in Communication

This isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of a new way to stay in contact. How will we modify our communication? We have decided to set up a private Facebook page for both families to connect and exchange photos. In addition, we will be intentional about visiting often. I hope our little man learns that in his life he will sometimes have to say goodbye to people he loves deeply, but although those goodbyes will be painful, it doesn’t mean those relationships aren’t worth the pain.

Adoptive parents we owe it to our children to find ways to honor their parents and families of origin. Connection is a way to honor their relationships.

7 Ways Spirituality Raises Children to be World Changers.

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It has been an honor to be a guest blogger on the Fostermoms.com Sunday Speaker Series. This weekend I am the featured blogger. Please follow the link below to read the 7 ways I believe faith builds world changers. I have to say no. 7 is my favorite. 



https://www.fostermoms.com/blog/7-ways-spirituality-raises-children-to-be-world-changers