Thursday, July 28, 2016

Adoption Toolbox BLOG Has Moved!

Please join us over HERE and grab a FREE, downloadable copy of the new Reader's Guide for China's Hidden Children by Kay Ann Johnson (great material for guided reading, and for Book Groups).

You can find us on FACEBOOK, too!

Thanks for following,

Jean MacLeod

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

SMALL HEART & the art of juju parenting

We were on our way home from a mad dash to the mall to pick up a graduation gift. It was 95 degrees outside and I had all four windows down since my Honda's air conditioner was being problematic. Lily, my 16 year old, should have been at the wheel practicing her driving on her Learner's Permit, but I had gone all PTSD after that last experience with her 50 MPH parallel park job in the CVS lot, and I was simply too hot for stroke-like spikes of adrenalin. 

Hanna, age 13, had purchased a keychain at the mall LEGO store, and it unwrapped with a tiny sheet of warnings. She handed the paper, covered in Chinese calligraphy, up to the front-seat to her big sister who had just finished year #3 of high school Mandarin.

"What does this say, Lily?"

Lily looked at the Chinese characters carefully and answered "Xiao Xin...Small Heart."

I glanced at her sideways. "What? I would have thought it would say 'Be careful - small parts - not for kids under three'."

"It does," Lily said. "Small heart is 'be careful' in Chinese. You know, protect yourself...keep your heart small so it won't get hurt."

Aieeee. How perfect! Why waste time on general admonitions like "Be careful, don't do anything stupid" when you can cover the worst of life's hellish misfortunes with a powerful, two-character piece of specifically helpful advice: small heart.

I could use this new term on almost all parenting situations, and easily protect my 3 daughters and my own mom-vulnerability from little downfalls and large sorrows:

No running in platform flip-flops!
No putting watch batteries in your mouth!
No falling in love with 17 year old K-pop dancers with cars and undetermined intentions!


Driving along, I began to see true potential in this Chinese phrase; I could make the term personal, and use it for dramatic effect. Graduation party?  I'm on it.

What I say: "Have fun! Be home before 11:00 pm! (Tap chest meaningfully) Small heart."
Translation: "Have a nice time but don't leave your soda unattended and if I get a call from the police it will kill me and definitely not be good for you."

This could be fun, but I think I might be kidding myself, and I'm pretty sure that all the moms in China have already figured out the flaw in this handy Xiao Xin idiom. There is no smalling-down a parent's heart, which overgrows quickly and remains painfully over-sensitive. We warn our children to be careful, we remind them how to make good choices, we even teach them to drive our car - but our warnings and reminders are mere talismans, and our repetition masks both our darkest parental fears and our brightest hopes for our children’s future. What I really mean when I bark "be careful!" is...

Be happy, be healthy, be loved, stay mine.

However, now I will be sure to add in extra juju from my counterparts on another continent, in hopes that its protective powers will help my daughters through high school, college and beyond:

Keep that heart small, damnit...
and let international mother-magic keep us all safe
from breaking.

 Xiao Xin

by Jean MacLeod 

Copyright 2012, MacLeod, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The True Secret of Parenting Success

I recently asked the list-members on Adoption Parenting Tweens & Teens the following questions about their adoption-parenting experiences:
  • What do you wish you had been better informed about? 
  • What has been surprisingly easy / fun? 
  • What has been really tough?
The answers were thoughtful, insightful and poignant. I wanted to send wine and chocolate to every parent who responded - and to all of the parents who didn't respond because they were simply too gobsmacked by parenting-work-life to take the time to catalog their joys, frustrations and sorrows! 

I asked adoptive mom Nicole Magnuson's permission to reprint her brief post (below) as she touched on a couple of very important points... and she managed to sum it all up in her wise last line with what I regard as a mini-bite version of The True Secret of Parenting Success. From Nicole:

"Hi all -- So many answers have resonated with me, especially those about being surprised/disappointed about how hard it is, being single and older, and feeling like our kids are "other." I add these thoughts:

When I became a parent, my friendships changed in ways I didn't expect. I had sort of assumed that my closest friends would help me raise my kid, but several friendships with younger, single/non-parent friends fell away after I adopted my daughter (singly). It was disappointing and felt like a betrayal. I even got negative feedback from my sister, and that was crushing. But then I realized that they hadn't signed up to do it, I had! And over time, it turns out that most of those friends and my sister came around, and some also adopted.

As a corollary, I would say that it's critical to build yourself support, asking people outright if/how they can help (especially if you're doing it solo), join support/parenting groups (in person and online), think about camps and vacations that will give you a rest and connect you with similar people/kids. I was pleased to find many parents through my daughter's schools--often also adoptive and often also solo--who would trade childcare, overnights, emergency backup, etc., and I worked hard to develop these relationships and to pay forward and pay back.

About parenting, all I know now is "Never say never or always", because there are a thousand things I thought I would never do that I have done and some that I thought I would always do that simply haven't been possible with this child. (Examples of never: frozen pizza, mac 'n cheese from a box, years of medication, calling 911, consider a barely passing grade more than sufficient, etc.)

Finally, what I know now is that until I raised my child, I thought nurture would trump nature, but it doesn't. Along the way, I have figured out what she needs, I have made plenty of mistakes, and I now firmly believe that making and maintaining the emotional connection--at every age and stage--is the foundation of figuring out all the other stuff.

With appreciation for all of us,

Mom to now-15 domestically adopted girl who is (finally) doing GREAT"

Jean MacLeod
Copyright 2012, MacLeod, All Rights Reserved

Image Credit: Tiny House Paintings

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Middle Aged Mom @ New Seoul Garden

Adventures in Transracial Parenting
Lily, my 15 year-old Chinese American daughter, made plans to visit a Korean restaurant with her best-friend and a couple of Asian school-mates. I had been wanting to go to New Seoul Garden for ages, so I made reservations for the same evening and brought along her best-friend’s entire family. Our parent table was smack next to the teen table, but amazingly, this was acceptable. Interesting what a teen will let you get away with if you’re bringing money and a Groupon coupon to the party…

The teens had a native Korean speaker with them and basically had their food on the table before my table had figured out the menu. I knew I would have to beg for some menu interpretation help (“and how exactly spicy is very spicy, Jaejoon?”), so I quickly lobbed my foodie questions over to the teens before they shut down on me completely. It worked for a question or two (“explain Chookumi-Bokeum please”) before I got the universal teen vague-look-with-shrug answer. BTW, for future Korean restaurant reference, very spicy means find yourself a burn unit.

My group, three “older parents” and two little boys under ten, had a very exciting time with the traditional grill built into our very low, wooden table. We managed to order ourselves some bulgolgi and grilled the raw beef with our own Iron Chef flair. Because we couldn’t figure out how to turn the table-stove off, we just kept on grilling.

“Hurry up and eat it” said my friend Sam, frantically scooping up well-done bits o’ beef and dumping them on my plate. “Before it catches on fire.”

My mouth was already on fire. A beautiful vegetable tray arrived with our meat, and it featured a tasty kimchi dish. I love cabbage, but this was kimchi stealth cabbage and I was having trouble breathing normally.

“Maybe I need a Korean beer” I gasped to my cohort, and we vainly looked around for a waiter brave enough to come our way.

“I’ll go find our server” Sam volunteered. His wife, Laura, and I watched with real interest as Sam attempted to rise from his floor cushion.  It wasn’t happening, and Sam was in danger of taking a header into the grill.

“Never mind, Sam,” I said. “I’ll go.” I manually uncrossed my legs and made lurching motions away from the table.

“What are you waiting for?” Laura asked.

“For feeling.” I answered. “In my legs. Any kind of feeling.”

The teens gracefully got to their feet while laughing and chatting, and stopping by our table, announced that they were off to the movies. I was relieved they were leaving, because I knew that New Seoul Garden wasn’t finished with my table and the only possible outcome was embarrassment.

“Are they gone?” asked Sam. I glanced across the table at my friend, who was now on all fours. So far, the elegant diners in the other alcove hadn’t noticed us yet, but between the grill fire and us rolling around on the floor I figured it was a matter of time.

I envied the casual, comfortable way Korean adults handled the restaurant’s traditional seating arrangements. The Korean families looked happy…like they could enjoy a good Hwoe-Dupbap, get up from their foot-high table and their legs would still work.

“I think we’re too old to eat here”, I said seriously. Sam was crawling furiously toward a server’s tray stand.

“Sam, get UP,” his wife hissed. “Just ask for the check. We’re scaring people.”

“Look,” I added. “It’s like Sam found himself a walker.” Laura and I sat open-mouthed as Sam grabbed the tray stand with both hands and heaved to his feet.

It felt like a miracle-cure tabernacle moment (“Our brother WALKS!”) and I know Laura and I would have appreciated the splendid humor of the moment more fully if we had been able to stand up ourselves. As it was, rigor mortis was cramping our style.

“If you move I could get to the bathroom,” Laura said pointedly.

“Don’t kid yourself,” I told her. “A bathroom is not in your immediate future. I’m pretty sure we’ll both be right here in the morning.”

My cell-phone rang. It was Lily, checking in from the movie theater.

“Mom? Are guys still at the restaurant?”

“Yes.” I babbled. “We’re enjoying our food... leisurely dining… so tough to leave.” I giggled helplessly into the phone while watching Laura’s two little boys fight to get her to her feet. “And Lily,” I added. “Sweetie…don’t wait up.”

My daughter finally broke her mystified silence. “Mom? Have you guys been drinking?” 

I examined my options. I could pretend to be an irresponsible social drinker, or I could be outed as a pathetic middle-ager clearly in need of assisted living.

“Yep. Alcohol. Lots of it,” I admitted happily. “G-T-G. Partyyyyyyy!”

By Jean MacLeod
Copyright 2011, MacLeod, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Catch Them Before They Fall

Connor is the kind of guy every mom wants her daughter to someday meet and marry! Handsome, funny, smart, kind, wealthy and charismatic: Connor has plenty of friends and the respect of his private school teachers (Ivy League recruiters are already beating down his door). He is the all-American ‘golden’ boy, and it is very easy to forget that he is only 17.

Was. Was only 17.

He was only 17 when he jumped to his death last month, alone, at 3:00 a.m. from the cold, snowy roof of a luxury apartment building near his elite, college prep boarding school. He left a note to his parents, apologizing.

Two nights earlier he had been stopped by the police while driving friends back to school after a classmate’s birthday party. He was issued a DUI; his parents were notified by an officer’s long-distance phone call, and were understandably upset.

Drinking and driving? What were you thinking? his parents might have said (I would have). Perhaps followed by:

You think you’ll get into Harvard with a DUI on your record?! (This would be parental fear and hurt talking). Plus, maybe even:

You’ve let everyone down. We thought you were responsible and we are very disappointed. The typical parental script.

Unfortunately, Connor’s parents were many states away and couldn’t put their arms around him for a hug once their anger died down. They couldn’t look him in the eye and tell him that no-matter-what he was loved, and that there was no problem in the world that couldn’t be tackled together. Programmed from birth for success, the drunk-driving ticket was an unprecedented first misstep for Connor… but he was sober when he walked off the high-rise two nights later. He suffered the pain and despair of letting down his world, silently. There was no one to stop his fall, no one to ‘catch’ him before he jumped.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem his parents would have told him.

You have other options, they would have added. Sure, we’re upset, but we’ll stand next to you and we’ll get through this together. Plus, probably even:

Every single person on this earth has made at least one stupid mistake. You learn from a mistake, rectify what you can, and are a better, stronger person for the experience. I am proud of you for stepping up.

No one expects their teen-ager to commit suicide. What we forget is that our smart, high-achieving, responsible high-schoolers are still in transit from childhood: their brain neurology is in process, their emotions are in flux. Our teens are not equipped to take the long view and discern what is truly life-altering -- or what is merely a tiny glitch in the grand scheme of being.

Teens live in the intensity of the moment, and their narrow parameters are school, friends and family. Parents draw the boundaries and the expectations. Sometimes we forget to tell our children that our ‘boundaries’ have flexible walls, and that our ‘expectations’ are really declarations of confidence bolstered by our parental love and support. Sometimes we forget that our teens still need us to ‘catch’ them emotionally when they fall, or fail, and that we need to guide them toward healthy problem-solving.

Suicide may become a viable exit for the teen that is depressed; bullied; socially awkward; stressed and anxious; or a substance abuser. It may become a choice for a teen that sees no way out of intolerable feelings or devastating circumstances, or, who hasn’t had the experience to internalize the idea that time has a way of changing out all ‘hopeless’ situations.

For some teenagers, normal developmental changes, when compounded by other events or changes in their families such as divorce or moving to a new community, changes in friendships, difficulties in school, or other losses can be very upsetting and can become overwhelming. Problems may appear too difficult or embarrassing to overcome. For some, suicide may seem like a solution.” (Ohio State University Medical Center

Playing at ‘catch’ means parenting to our darkest fear, but we must bravely talk with our teens NOW about handling painful feelings, stupid mistakes or seemingly unbearable situations. We can state, demonstrate and reinforce our unfaltering presence in our children’s lives and openly address suicide alternatives -- and why death  is not part of a healthy teen’s arsenal of solutions.

We can voice over and over what Connor’s parents weren’t given a second chance to say:

I will never be disappointed by the essential you. There is nothing you can do that would make me stop loving you. There is nothing that you could do or feel that we couldn’t get through together. You have options, you have a wonderful future and I will help you find your way there.

By Jean MacLeod
Copyright 2011, MacLeod, All Rights Reserved
*Note: Name of teen has been changed for privacy


Teen Suicide (Warning Signs, Treatment, Prevention) from The Ohio State University Medical Center

The Teenage Brain: Why adolescents sleep in, take risks, and won’t listen to reason
by Nora Underwood in The WALRUS

How to Talk to Your Teens: Exploring the Stuck Spots
by Debbie B. Riley, M.S. in Adoption TODAY Magazine

Adoption Toolbox Tween & Teen Articles

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

OUT: Tiger Mom -- IN: Panda Mom

MY take on Amy Chua, Tiger Mom? She’s crazed about all of the wrong things. Her dedication to her children’s success is crushingly over the top, however admirable for its ferocity. What Tiger Mom wouldn’t want an Ivy League college, Carnegie Hall debut, Power Marriage and a Career  Ruling the World for her own tiger cub? A good Tiger Mom dedicates her adult life to beating her dedication into her children…but Amy Chua COMPLETELY overlooks the true meaning of parenting success.

Introducing: Panda Mom.

Let me give you an example: Me.

Like many other of my Panda Mom peers, I’ve put on a few older-mom pounds (DAMN you menopause!). Listen ladies, it makes us all the more adorable; no one likes a skinny panda. Plus, I’m at my very best perfecting creative laziness…feet up on my Baker lounger, directing life, eating unhealthy snack foods. I’m sure you can draw the blissful panda picture, but you may be wondering how my personal panda savoir-faire relates to parenting...

Creative laziness
forces Panda Moms to teach their panda cubs how to Make Mama Happy. For the cubs, making-mama-happy means getting grades just good enough so that Mama Panda doesn’t have to make the effort to hire a tutor, or attend dark meetings with teachers and school counselors. It means that homework and projects get done quickly and simply, so Mama Panda doesn’t have to come unglued reminding her cubs about due dates - or go broke hiring an electrical engineer to wire the Michigan Lighthouse for the 5th grade science expo.

Panda Moms teach their cubs how to make a lunch, dust a room and throw in a load of clothes at an early age. These accomplishments create an entrepreneurial spirit in a cub, an “I can DO that!” attitude that is cosseted and encouraged through…well, servitude. Better living through live-in help, I always say! My Panda Mom job is to guide my children toward their full potential… without losing my mind, scarring future generations or cleaning the cat box (cub job).

“Don’t Make My Life Hard”
is the number one Panda Mom Mantra. Children who drink, do drugs, run with a bad crowd and forget their violin on orchestra day make my life hard. My three cubs know this, and they mostly abide by panda parenting tenets. On the days they don’t? I go to Wolong in my head, and slowly waddle across a verdant, Chinese mountainside. I search for inner fortitude, for grace from the Ancients and for a tasty bite of deep-fried bamboo shoot. This usually brings me back to my senses, and reminds me of the secret, defining equation of true panda parenting victory:

Happy Mom + Happy Cubs = Success!

Why do the Big Cats have to make it sooo difficult?

By Jean MacLeod

Copyright 2011, MacLeod, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday REPLAY

I meant to write it all down.
All of those witty, profound things kids say? I was supposed to capture my children's most brilliant declarations in a journal. I didn't. Slammed by life, I guess! I'll go for "parenting has made me a better person" instead, meaning I vaguely reference "life experience" whenever scrapbooking or journaling or mommy diaries ever come up. Which is maybe why I love this semi-ancient blog post from 2004. I've forgiven myself for neglecting to write it all down ... but it feels so good to read and remember.


Molly cooked us a wonderful pancake breakfast this morning, to celebrate the first day of Christmas vacation. The conversation turned to gift-giving (and getting!) and card-sending, and what needed to be accomplished this week.

"I need to send Aunt Jennifer a thank you note for the purse she gave me," Molly said.

"I've already sent her a thank you for my gift," Hanna announced. All eyes turned to the 5 year old. "I sent her a Wish Note," she added.

"What exactly is a Wish Note?" I asked, with eyebrows raised.

"It's when you stand very still and send a person a Thank You in your head," Hanna answered.
It was a nice try, performed with bravado, and I congratulated Hanna on her creativity.

Wish Notes. A great concept! I am wish-noting you a very Happy Holiday as I type, along with grander wishes for children in need of families, and an end to their deprivation and neglect. I believe in the power of a good wish note, and the good energy of people who send them. If I don't see you over the holidays, I am sending you a *hug*-- did you feel it?? I wished it. And I'm seriously concentrating on wishing you a truly wonderful new year...

merry merry,


Copyright 2004-2010, MacLeod. All Rights Reserved.