Every summer at E.L. Haynes (the school where I work), we have two weeks of staff professional development. Sometime over the course of those two weeks, one of my fantastic colleagues presents the staff with some interesting or inspiring quotes and asks that we "think, pair and share" about what those quotes mean. After reading Jim Collins' book Good to Great, The Stockdale Paradox became one of those quotes for discussion.
Vice Admiral James Stockdale was a highly-decorated officer in the U.S. Navy, who served during the Vietnam War. In 1965, he was captured and held as a prisoner of war, beaten and tortured for 8 long years. The fact that he survived is not just exemplary of his strength of character, but also of his mindset, for which the Stockdale Paradox is named.
You see, as Stockdale says in conversations with Collins, "I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining moment of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade." Pretty ballsy stuff, eh? More than that, when asked about the many other Americans held captive in the same prison who did not make it out, Stockdale said, "Oh, that's easy -- the optimists. They were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."
This important lesson shows us that we need to continue to have faith that we will prevail while confronting the brutal facts of reality. It's this duality that Collins coined the Stockdale Paradox.
So what the heck does this have to do with anything in my life, and more importantly, why I'm having a much better holiday season this year? Easy. Because I have been that optimist -- every year, I'd think, "I'll have a baby by Christmas." And Christmas would come and go. And then I'd think, "I'll have a baby by my birthday." And my birthday would come and go.
I had to confront some pretty brutal facts of my own reality -- namely that no matter how many birthdays or Christmases came and went, it was unlikely that I would ever carry a baby to term. And, maybe hardest of all, that despite so many tests, we might never know why. So we moved onto adoption and I once again have faith that we will prevail, while confronting new challenges in the reality of what it means to be an adoptive family. Not brutal, certainly, but challenges to my assumptions and views of the world.
And, harkening back to Stockdale's first observation, I have no doubt that what we've been through was and will always be a defining moment in my life.
So I was listening to The Splendid Table on the way home from work tonight (remind me to tell you how much I love my iPod Touch) and during the part of the show that has people call in with questions, there was a woman who was doing what I thought was the most wonderful thing. She was compiling for her sons a book (a la Like Water for Chocolate) that documented their lives through food and recipes.
Now most of you I'm sure don't know this but I am something of a (how you say) culture geek. I grew up in a town with a hodgepodge of cultures (everything from African-American to Filipino to old country Italian) (yes I like parentheses so what!) and grew up appreciating different cultures and, more specifically, different cultures' foods (no big surprise there I'm sure). I really came into my own in college where my school, the UOP School of International Studies, had focused their international studies curricula around culture. All students were required to spend at least one semester overseas, had to take language courses, had to take cultural anthropology, etc. The underlying philosophy of the school was if you can understand different cultures then you can be much more effective as a diplomat, international executive, NGO worker, etc. Not such a novel concept these days but in 1988 (for all you youngsters - the Berlin Wall hadn't even fallen yet) this was indeed novel - most similar programs focused on Cold War politics. All that to say that I furthered my appreciation of the differences between cultures.
So back to my original point. Culture is commonly defined as shared knowledge of cultural history, norms and practices handed down to successive generations (or something like that - my memory isn't was it used to me). But what a great way to not only document your child's life but also all the cultural memory of your family. When I think back to my favorite and most vivid memories growing up there is always food involved - it is not always central but it always there. In fact the food that my sister and I insist upon at every family get together is our family's version of focaccia. We grew up calling it (this is phonetic) fugassa and thinking that our grandparents were just a tad forgetful and really meant focaccia. Come to find out that indeed fugassa (actually spelled correctly) was correct and was the way it was pronounced in Liguria where my family is from. It is a heavenly bread drenched in olive oil and liberally salted. Sounds simple but it is oh so delicious. Seem to have drifted from my original point again -assuming I actually started with one. Oh right - culture and memories through food. Well my point is I think the idea of some sort of book that combines food and memories is a great idea and I can't wait to get that project started. Hope everyone has had and will have a wonderful holiday season.
Why is it the most daunting piece of paperwork in our adoption process should be the easiest to write? How hard is it really to tell the story of your own life? I mean, who knows it better? Of course, therein lies the problem - you know it all - the good, the bad, the ugly and sometimes it can be hard to separate them all. Not to mention that, of course, you're looking to put your best foot forward but still seem genuine and "real." Heck, this document doesn't even go in front of prospective birth parents - it just goes in your file. But still, the pressure is on to write the "perfect" story. Like any writing I know the hardest part is just starting and it gets easier from there. So that, I think, will be the rest of my afternoon - a perfect task for the aftermath of the 09 Snowpocalypse. When it is done I will post it here for posterity.
Today Bill and I held our fourth annual holiday open house to benefit Mary's Center, an amazing child and maternal health provider in DC. We had at least 50 friends here and everyone brought toys for the kids served by Mary's Center. It was just awesome to see so many do so much for these families. I think that's what I love most about the holidays -- that it really brings out our most giving selves.
Those of you who know me really well know that I have a thing for shoes. And this weekend I bought this gorgeous pair of 5-inch platform red suede pumps. As I tramped around in these killer shoes (literally and figuratively), I realized that my days in high heels may be numbered. I don't see myself traipsing around in hot shoes with a Baby Bjorn strapped to my chest. Of course, that might just be my own mommy signature look... (Though the chances of falling over are probably not worth the fabulousness...) But I think I'll enjoy these high heel days while I've got them, and hope that I have good reason to wear more mommy-appropriate footwear soon.
Bill got this blog started, so I thought I should take a little time to drop in a post of my own! It's hard to know what to say or where to start. And who am I writing to? I suppose after I post this, I'll put a link up on facebook, but at this exact moment, Bill and I are the only people who know these writings are here!
Despite the paperwork craziness (see Bill's post below), I am thrilled beyond belief for this adoption process. Knowing that our child sits at the end of this road and that every paper we sign, call we make, and interview we have with staff and social workers brings us closer to our dream of parenthood. This is an absolutely thrilling journey and for the first time in a long time, things feel right. I commented to Bill yesterday that I'm excited for the holidays for the first time in about four years. Really, truly happy and not feeling the heavy-heartedness that's greeted me for so many Christmases.
Suffice it to say, we've been through a lot in our quest to be parents. So I do have moments of anxiety -- what if the agency decides we AREN'T fit to be parents? After all we've been through in the last many years, it's hard not to expect the other shoe to drop. But when I'm thinking clearly and logically, I feel confident that the agency will recognize that we are ready to be parents, and to provide all the love in our hearts, patience, good judgement, and support to our child.
We have a lot to learn and to share with our family and friends and hopefully this forum will be a good place for that. We are so grateful to have so much love and support as we start this process.
I was remembering recently that when 2009 started, I was so bitter. Marred with anger and disappointment about our quest for parenthood and the many losses we had sustained to that point. I bid a very happy goodbye to 2008 and welcomed the new year with hope for strength and, of course, a baby. We went on to go through more turmoil and the roller coaster ride continued. But now, finally, at the end of 2009, we're on a new journey -- the right one -- and I suddenly feel that my hopes for this year are coming true. The path seems so clear to me now. And, as I've said all along, everything we've been through will make perfect sense when we hold our little one, the child we were meant to have all along.
If you now have that classic tune from The Muppet Movie in your head then good. That was my intent. So our intake interview went very well and we are now in the throws of paperwork. On the one hand, the paperwork is nowhere near as bad as I was anticipating. It really isn't much more than the paperwork I've done for a new job and a security clearance. As long as you manage it properly (which my wife is doing a great job on) it isn't very intimidating. Mind you this is for a domestic adoption - international adoptions, I've heard, are a whole different ball game. All that said, there is something a little irritating about all the paperwork. Yes, yes I know there is nothing more precious than a child and the paperwork is there to make sure that adoptive parents will provide a safe, stable and loving home. However, I just can't help but feel a little put off by it all. I mean biological parents don't have to have classes, background checks, interviews with social workers and all that. They just decide to have a baby and then do. I'll tell you - after getting to this point in the process I think ALL parents should have to go through this. It would be a much better world for children if they did.
So as I'm looking out the window at the snow and looking at our still undecorated tree it occurs to me that while this may not be the last Christmas without a child, the number of Christmases without a child is limited. Now I've always enjoyed the Christmas season but the knowledge that I will soon have a child to share it all with makes me very happy.