Sedona Mother

Seventeen years ago this week, I lay awake in a hotel halfway around the world, staring at the ceiling long into the night. I wondered, with anxiety, how I was going to rearrange my life to become a good mother to the adoptive twin daughters I would be entrusted with the next morning. My husband was not plagued with such worries. He slept, snoring softly, in the twin bed across the way (in China at that time, twin beds were the norm).

I wanted to become a mother. That was not the issue. I had waited through not wanting children to desiring them deeply, but being with the wrong man. I had waited through breaking up with that man, dating, and finding the right one who wanted me, marriage, and children. I had waited through trying to conceive, fertility treatments and being told my eggs were “too old.” I had waited through 20 months of paperwork, expecting word “any day,” further delays, then receiving the joyful news of twins. The two-month wait to travel had finally elapsed, and here I was in China, filled with trepidation about my new role as mother.

I was a mature woman with a solid career as an executive at a trade association, a robust group of mostly-single friends, and a well-rounded list of hobbies. I feared I was too independent, too set in my ways, too self-focused and too career-oriented to become a good mother.

Somehow, I stepped up to the role of being the mother I’d hoped to be, and even excelled at it, most of the time. That is really the best we can hope for, since the role of parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual.

This week, seventeen years later, I found myself staring at another ceiling in a hotel in Arizona. This time, my husband snored softly at my side, and my twin daughters slept peacefully in a queen size bed across the room. We’d planned this vacation to Sedona, recognizing it might be the last as a family, at least for a while, as they set off on their own for college, internships, boyfriends and first jobs.

Again, I find myself wondering how I will rearrange my life to accommodate my daughters not being a significant presence in each day. While I never gave up who I was during the past 17 years, my career and hobbies ebbed and flowed around parenting, and into a life that better accommodated motherhood.

Like the wind and water that slowly carved and shaped the beauty of the red rock landscape that is Sedona, motherhood has worn away rough corners, unearthed vulnerabilities, and revealed an inner wellspring of emotion unknown in me before.

How will I weather the changes?

 

Sculpture by Arizona Earthworks, located at Los Abrigados Resort in Sedona, AZ; 

Sculpture and Red Rock Sedona Photos by C. White Llewellyn, 2017

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In Our Ancestors’ Shoes

The S.S. Coronia
My grandfather arrived on the SS Coronia with his 5-year-old son. His wife was able to follow four months later with their second son.

This week, Donald Trump signed orders that attempt to close the doors on immigration, to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, to bar green card holders from returning to the U.S., to bar immigrants for seven predominantly-Muslim countries, and one meant to punish sanctuary cities. He is also threatening a Muslim registry. How many other actions will he try to put into place before he makes the U.S., not one of the more respected countries in the world, but one of the most reviled?

Most of us who live in the U.S., unless we are 100% Native American, are of immigrant stock. On my father’s side, I can trace my heritage back to the Mayflower. On my mother’s side, my great grandmother came from Germany. Her daughter married my grandfather, an English immigrant. Through Ellis Island records I was able to discover that he came to the U.S. in 1906 from England aboard the S.S. Coronia, with my uncle Ernie, then 5.  Four months later, his wife came aboard the S.S. Umbria with my uncle Les, age 11 months. My grandfather married my grandmother after his first wife’s death. I never learned what brought him here, but I’m sure it was not the ravages of war taking place across the world today that drive many to seek asylum in the U.S.

The fact that we are trying to close our doors to immigrants now has little, if anything to do with economics or fear of terrorism. In 2013, there were 406,496 deaths caused by gun violence and 3,380 deaths caused by terrorism. In either case, one is too many, but which do YOU think is the greater threat?  With regard to concerns over economics, immigrants generally hold different jobs than American workers, so they are thereby strengthening the economy, rather than putting a strain on it.

I am happy to say that I and my family live in what is considered a sanctuary city. Our city welcomes refugees from other nations, recognizing the value they contribute in terms of economics, cultural awareness and diversity, the Arts and more. I believe it is a win-win for this community.

I thank my daughters, immigrants in their own rights who came here as adoptees at 9 months of age, for giving me the opportunity to meet some of these refugees first-hand. As volunteers through invitation by their French teacher, they began tutoring refugees to assist them in improving their English and building math skills in order for them to go to college. One evening, additional tutors were needed, so I jumped in and began working with an ambitious young man, known to his friends as Dino. Dino is probably in his early 30’s, he stands about 5’8″ and he has sparkling brown eyes, an infectious smile and a very funny sense of humor. He is married, with four children. He works all day in construction, then goes each night, Monday through Friday, to the refugee center for two hours of tutoring so that he can start studies at Monroe Community College in the Fall. The online study program serves up a menu of some very challenging questions for someone whose native language is not English. When he correctly answers one of those difficult questions, we celebrate with a fist-bump or a high five.

Dino spent eight years in a refugee camp before he and his family were selected to come here. He doesn’t like working outside in the cold weather, but he doesn’t complain. He is happy to be earning money to support his family. This past week, he excitedly shared that next month, he will celebrate his first year anniversary of being in the U.S. His goal is to become a social worker, as he was in his own country and in the refugee camp, so that he can help others. I am impressed at how well he already speaks English, after less than a year here.  I tell him he’ll be a great social worker because he’s so wonderful with people. His already-radiant smile somehow brightens.

I look across the room on Monday evening. Each computer is occupied by an adult or student tutor alongside one or more refugees working hard to acquire the necessary skills for success here in the U.S. In each of them, I see the hope, perseverance and determination it must have taken our own ancestors who sought to come here, with few resources, a different way of life and possibly, limited English language skills.

I wish every person had this first-hand opportunity to work with these wonderful, warmhearted, ambitious people and experience, to some degree, what it must have been like for their ancestors to come here as refugees. Get to know these people, and it is easy to understand that the way to stem the tide on terrorism is not to close the doors and push people away, but to welcome them and help them become loyal, appreciated citizens and contributing members of society…like each of our ancestors.

Although the particular program my family is involved in focuses on tutoring adults, there are ample opportunities to assist through working with children, “adopting” families, donating clothing, furniture, appliances, money or time, and myriad other ways. If you want to get involved, search on “refugee services” and the name of your city.

It is a gift that gives back in so many ways.

 

A Child Named Hope

I  take up “the pen” today because it’s the only way I know to wrestle with disquieting feelings I’ve had recently.

aidAs a marketing person, I post to many social media sites – both my own and to those for which I work. One Thursday, about two weeks ago, I had a most unsettling experience.

Through one of the non-profit facebook sites I run, I received a message where the writer asked whether the organization I posted for is truly community-oriented, or “a liberal propaganda house.” He pointed out that there are conservatives and libertarians in the community.

We had a relatively positive message exchange, where I indicated the organization welcomes everyone, and that, as a public access television station, we broadcast everything submitted, except media that advocates violence.

The individual pointed out that recent posts were “Left of Center.”

I thanked him for pointing this out, and stated that our purpose was not to alienate anyone.

Now I will say that the leanings of most of the people who work at this organization ARE, in fact, “left of center.”  As one of the more diverse organizations in the city of Rochester, attracting people of all ages, socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, political leanings and religions, that is the mindset of those who tend to apply for jobs and work there. It also tends to be the mindset of many of the independent producers whose work is shown on the channel. So, the individual writing is probably accurate in his assessment that the posts I have made have a tendency to be somewhat liberal. Following his comment, I actually thought about the fact that we should, perhaps, reevaluate our social media strategy to make it “more balanced.”

Then, in thinking about this exchange, I was curious what had prompted his note.  I clicked on the story I’d posted. That is when I became unsettled.

togetherIt was a story and photo, originally posted by Malia Obama, about Anja Ringgren Loven, a Danish woman doing social working in Nigeria. The first photo showed her feeding an abandoned and severely malnourished two-year-old Nigerian child. In the second photo, it shows the same young woman holding the child at some later point in time. She has now adopted the child, who she named Hope. He is the picture of health and clearly shines with the love he feels.

When I originally shared this post, I considered it a purely inspirational story…the story of one human coming to the aid of another.

As someone who has adopted children internationally, I know that there are some who would say this child has been robbed of his heritage. To those critics, I would say, “Better robbed of his heritage than robbed of his life,” which is likely what would have happened. Every child should have the chance for love, no matter what.

But to discover that this post could, in any way, be construed as a political message totally flabbergasted me.

I am distressed and disgusted that this election cycle has catalyzed a toxic environment that has become so divisive and so polarizing that politics trump humanity and a story such as this can be construed as anything other than inspirational.

What have we, as a nation, come to when we cannot simply rejoice in the rescue of A Child Named Hope?

Disclaimer: This is the opinion of Carol White Llewellyn and should not be construed as representing the opinions of anyone within any of the organizations with which she works.

 

Reflections on Being a Parent

dreamstime_s_19205088-super-womanAs I sat there waiting for the doctor to take me back to the recovery room to be with my daughter, I reflected on parenthood and the unexpected emotions and realities it brings.

When I was without children, time seemed to pass more slowly… I had fewer physical and temporal reminders of time’s passage. Yes, there were holidays, but there were no quarterly report cards or picture days, there were no outgrown shoes and clothing to replace or regularly-scheduled dental appointments, band concerts or intramural practices to attend. Time did not swirl with the same crazy intensity.

When I was without children, I was invincible, or at least could pretend to be so. My daughters are my Achilles heel…their physical or emotional suffering pains me far more deeply than my own.

I am also at my strongest. I swallow fears and tears to give my children strength. I become part lioness, part super hero, to keep their world safe and happy.

As a parent, I push to become my best self…trying to love, protect, encourage and inspire them…trying to be someone they want to look up to and emulate.

Such is the role of parents since the dawn of time. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Originally posted on Carol White Llewellyn’s Family, by Choice on June 30, 2011.

 

Thanksgiving, Family and Chocolates

1363289_handmade_chocolatesIt’s Thanksgiving week and almost the end of November, National Adoption Month, so I wanted to share a very personal post. In truth, it has only a little to do with adoption, but much to do with giving thanks for family.

I have only very recently reconnected with family members… cousins on both sides of the family and an uncle who were “lost” due to factors, some within, and others totally beyond my control.

Over the years, in spite of the fact that we were out of touch, I thought of them often. But it was only in reconnecting that I truly realized how much I missed them and how our shared history and memories enriched my life. I regret those “missing years.”

Yesterday, I was thrilled to get back in touch with two “long-lost” cousins while visiting their father, my uncle, who is terminally ill. My cousin Joan remarked, “so what have you been up to the last 30 years?”

Thirty years? How could it have been that long? How could we, who were once almost as close as sisters, have let life get so in the way of staying in touch? Fortunately, we fell into easy conversation, in spite of the sad reason for our reunion, and we were able to pick up where we left off. I’m certain we’ll all stay in touch now, certainly via email or facebook… in spite of living more than half the country away from each other.

As I think about Family, I realize it’s a funny thing. Family is like a box of chocolate. Sometimes you love them to pieces. Other times, a little goes a long way. But even the ones that are a little nuts sweeten your life.

So this week on Thursday, I will be giving thanks for family. I will give thanks for my wonderful husband and two amazing daughters who wouldn’t be family without the institutions of marriage and adoption. I give thanks for friends who are like family and family who are friends. And I will give thanks for finding lost treasures.

What will you give thanks for?

This post was originally published on November 21, 2011 on my former blog, Family, by Choice.

Click here, to view videos that were part of the Family, by Choice series.

Memories of Adoption Eve

thats_a_nice_toyEleven years ago next Monday, we became a family. We celebrate the birth of our family, much in the way others celebrate birthdays , and we call it “Family Day.” Generally, we choose something special to do together on this day. When we lived in New York, we often went to Rye Playland. Here in Rochester, we’ve gone to the National Museum of Play, Seabreeze and the Seneca Park Zoo. Last year, we spent the day running between rain drops to collect sea shells with our friends Annette and Ted, on the beach in Naples, Florida. That’s a Family Day we’ll all always treasure.

To commemorate the day, I thought I’d take you with me to the night before my twin daughters came into our family. Amazing that it feels like only yesterday.

We had arrived in Guangzhou, China and were staying in the beautiful White Swan Hotel, a very different experience from the hotel we were at in Beijing where faulty air conditioning didn’t insulate us against the 100° temperatures outside and left a huge spreading puddle on the rug that we stepped in each time we entered or left the room.

At the five star White Swan Hotel, there was a young woman stationed at the elevator to guide you to your room each time you stepped off the elevator. A stream accented by a waterfall flowed through the middle of the hotel lobby, exotic birds serenaded you from cages in the upstairs lounge, and the breakfast buffet was fit for Kublai Khan.

We had arrived from Beijing that day, still a bit jet lagged and we’d done a bit of sightseeing, so I should have been tired. Instead of tumbling asleep to dream of Adoption Day taking place the next morning, I lay awake worrying far into the night, long after my husband snored softly from the adjacent twin bed (yes, even in a five star hotel, twin beds were the norm).

Was I worrying about the health of my daughters or about how long it would take them to bond with us? Or worrying about the leap of faith we’d taken, adopting twins that had probably been premature? Was I worrying that they’d only heard Chinese for the first nine months of their lives or that we would look so different, we’d seem like aliens to them?

No…I worried that I wouldn’t be a good enough mother.

I worried that I was too selfish, too set in my ways…that I’d be reluctant to give up the many things I’d enjoyed doing as a single woman and then as a couple – the dancing and travel, the shopping, movies and plays, friends and adventures. I lay there, silent tears streaming as I envisioned the “me” I knew slipping away, drowning in diapers and bottles, nursery rhymes and strained peas, nursery school and PTA. I worried that my career would suffer and that I’d be seen as less capable. I worried that I, as I knew myself, would disappear… dissolving into my new identity as “mother of twins.”

At last my fears were absorbed into the night, I fell asleep and the gritty-eyed dawn arrived. Our group of four families boarded a bus and headed happily off to a governmental building to meet our long-awaited children.

And in that one day, all of my fears came true, at the same time as they never materialized at all.

How do I explain it?

For a time, I did become engulfed in feedings, ear aches, diaper changes, nursery rhymes and alphabets. But the odd thing is, they enriched rather than eroded who I was…who I’ve become. Did my career change? Yes, but not because of my daughters, but by economic circumstances and choices I’ve made, both good and bad. Yes, there were times when I’ve wished I could put my husband and daughters in bell jars set high on shelves where they’d be safe and time wouldn’t pass so that I could go off and be “my old self.” There are still days when I think that if I have to do one more load of laundry, prepare one more meal, make one more grocery shopping trip, I’ll turn in my badge.

I’ve since discovered that’s what “girlfriend getaways” are for…a chance to renew and reinvigorate. The most important thing I’ve realized is you don’t have to love every part of the job to be a good parent. And you don’t have to let go of who you are…. The parts of yourself you treasure most can be shared with your child, enriching and blossoming in both of your lives.

This was originally posted on a former blog Family, by Choice on August 1, 2011.

Click here, to view videos that were part of the Family, by Choice series.

The Misbehaving Child: Try a Little Tenderness

grubby-girl-sxcI remember the time, when they were about two, that my one daughter bit her sister on the back so hard it left marks and, of course, made her cry. Rather than scold or punish the instigator, I wrapped them both warmly in my arms, hugging both of them and said, “Sweetheart, look…you’ve made your sister cry. I know you didn’t mean to do that. I think we should make her feel better.”

She too started crying, but put her arms around her sister and hugged her in apology. She never bit again.

Never does a child need to be shown love more than when s/he misbehaves. Yet often our actions leave the misbehaving child feel unworthy of love and betrayed by a person they love most.

I don’t believe that most children are willfully naughty. When a child misbehaves, there are a number of typical reasons:

  • It’s a bid for attention
  • The child’s curiosity and experimentation got him or her into trouble
  • The child was bored and needed stimulation
  • The child simply didn’t understand the situation and consequences

Whatever the reason, punishing the child without both of you understanding what was going on in his or her mind works against successful parenting. Once you understand, you may decide simply to talk it over, or if the action deserves punishment, why not let the child help decide what that should be? I know that sounds radical, but it helps the child understand the impact of his or her actions and shoulder some of the responsibility for it.

On another occasion, we had just moved into a new home when one daughter started peeling decor off a window. In talking with her, I discovered that, with all of the moving activity going on, she felt neglected and left out. I understood the problem and took steps to make her feel more involved, but couldn’t let the action go unpunished because she knew she shouldn’t have done it. It was willful misbehavior. So we decided together that her punishment should be to clean the windows. To this day, she remembers the incident, not with shame, but with a sense of humor and understanding of herself.

So the next time your child misbehaves, try a little tenderness and talk through the behavior. You’ll get a better understanding of your child and it will work toward building your relationship.

This was originally published on my blog Family, by Choice, on December 29, 2014. Although I have decided to close that blog, I will share some of the posts here.

 Click here, to view videos that were part of the Family, by Choice series.