Why My Kids Go to a Primarily Black School

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Most people know that our kids go to Downtown Elementary, which is a public school here in Memphis that happens to have mostly black students enrolled. This is not an accident.

My journey started when John suggested we submit an application for Jac to go to Perea Preschool, which is a predominantly black preschool that serves mostly those beneath the poverty line. Though we lived in an urban community, I was cautious about sending my tiny white 3 year old to a school where almost no one looked like him. So we visited the school to scope out the situation and I was incredibly impressed by the curriculum, staff, and mission of Perea. It seemed silly to pass up this kind of opportunity to we packed up our preschooler with his tiny unnecessary backpack and gave it a shot.

And here’s what I learned almost immediately – Jac didn’t care. During the first week of school he was talking about a boy in his class named Brandon. I couldn’t place which child this was so I asked Jac to describe him. He said, “you know, the black guy.” This was more than amusing because they were ALL black guys. So the next day, when I went to drop him off I asked the teacher to point out Brandon. Turns out, he was the darkest child in the class – to Jac, black was just one of many colors he saw in his friends. He would later describe Andre as the tan guy, Mario as the brown guy, and Zahnder as the guy with curly brown hair. To him, these were PEOPLE. Not an entire ethnic group.

Fast forward to today – where all four of my kids (the white ones and the brown one and the dark brown one) go to school with mostly black peers. A school where my white kids are learning what it means to be in the minority. A school where my children are around strong, educated, confident educators and leaders of all different colors.  A school where my black children are the majority since they aren’t the majority in our family or our church. A school where I partner with parents that don’t look like me, but want the exact same things for their kids that I do.

Our life is richer and fuller because of Downtown Elementary. My kids are connected to friends from all over the city. The teachers at Downtown are unbelievable. And I hope that my kids are a blessing to their friends and teachers as well.

I’m not there to rescue anybody or be someone’s hero. This is not Dangerous Minds and I’m not Michelle Pfieffer. My kids are there to learn, just like everyone else’s kid. And Downtown is an incredible school – we are blessed to have it as an option.

And here’s the thing… I don’t pass judgment on anyone else’s choice for their kids’ education. The last thing any of us need is to feel guilt about our decisions as parents. We all just want what’s best for our kids. And for the Carroll family, that’s Downtown Elementary.

An Ode to Emily (Or why you should have people live with you)

Meet Emily.

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She’s basically SuperWoman in red lipstick.

Who is she? She’s our roommate, nanny, personal assistant, errand runner, grocery fetcher, chef, house-sitter, and really – she’s family.

John and I have always loved the idea of living in close community with others. Whether that’s with neighbors, friends, family – we believe that life lived to the fullest cannot be absent from community. (Even my introverted self knows that left to my own devices, things get ugly and quick.)

One thing we’ve always wanted to do was to live WITH other people. Yes, kind of like a cult.

In our last house, I tried to convince a dear friend that it would be totally FINE to share a room with Jac. But for some reason she never moved in.

So when we found the house we are in now, we were super excited at the prospect of having legitimate space for a roommate or two. We built a half bath downstairs to close off the two back bedrooms and full bath to create a great area where someone could be a part of the family, but still have their own space.

We’ve had a couple of awesome roommates so far – a sweet friend from Nursing school who stayed up late watching Beauty and the Beast, American Horror Story, and the Golden Girls (totally serious), and a friend of a friend who was in between houses.

 

Enter Emily Cupples. Roommate extraordinaire.

 

Emily interned with John at Choose901 the fall before she moved in with us.  John was impressed by her work ethic and overall enthusiasm for life – so naturally we asked her to be the kids’ nanny, too. 😉

But we really had no idea how much AWESOME we would be getting with Emily.

It’s not uncommon to see any of the following in my house:
-Emily making coffee and cinnamon rolls before everyone gets up
-Emily outside gardening with the kids
-Emily and I hashing out life issues over dirty dishes
-Emily working on the computer in the dining room in the midst of crazy children
-Emily cleaning out the cat’s litter box (I know, she’s crazy nice)
-Emily taking a kid or two to run errands with her
-Emily helping me get the table set for a party
-Emily laying on the couch with my kids watching a movie

I know what you’re thinking – but we haven’t even had to make her drink the Kool-Aid yet.  She actually LIKES being around us. Wait….maybe she is on drugs….

I’m not sure exactly what she gets out of the deal. She might say she gets to be a part of a family and watch marriage and parenting and life and how we navigate it all. She might say she gets to eat the kids’- ok MY, cookies and ice cream.  But I hope that mostly, she just says she’s found a place where she’s loved and that she belongs. On good days and bad – because isn’t that what community really is?

We’re there for each other when life happens – If she’s had a conflict with a friend, she comes home to us. If she’s feeling overwhelmed with school or work, she wanders out to the kitchen to meet us there and unloads.  If I have a migraine, she just jumps in and entertains the inmates while I rest. If John wants to head out of town and I’m at work, she’s there to do the bedtime routine with the kids.

Don’t get me wrong – we’ve had good days and bad, hilarious conversations and hard conversations. But those are the things that make us better. So we keep showing up – like family does.

And the kids think she’s basically the “cool parent”.  I guess she actually is.

I know we won’t have her forever. She’s way too awesome and will graduate college soon and figure out that we’re crazy. But for now – we are all huge Emily Cupples fans.  Or as Charis calls her “Emily Carroll”.

 

That Summer Day I Snapped (on repeat since 2009)

It happens every summer.  Almost like clockwork at the end of June.  The day goes something like this…

Start unloading dishwasher.

Kid 1 comes in asking for a waffle.

Put waffle in toaster and remember that you haven’t started the coffee yet.

Start the coffee and hear a crash in the living room.

Kid 2 and 3 have decided to make couch cushions a crash test site but failed to hit their target.

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Missing said target has knocked over a vase and spilled water all over the rug.

Try to coax Kid 2 into helping clean up the spill while Kid 3 runs off to find a bandaid because apparently bandaids are magic for all kind of injuries.

Kid 2 whines that Kid 3 isn’t helping and protests the clean up efforts.

Kid 1 screams from the other room “Mom! Where’s my WAFFLE?!”

Scream back something about not being a waitress and that child having two good legs.

Notice Kid 4 sitting quietly at your computer and realize that can’t be good.

Investigate Kid 4’s computer activities and see said child watching a YouTube video titled “Barbie does Boston” and realize that the suggestions YouTube makes after children’s video clips are rated OH-HELL-NO. Shut computer and move Kid to another activity.

Remember deep seated addiction to caffeine and go fix coffee.

Bring the coffee to your lips as you stroll out of the kitchen and right through something wet on the floor.

Consider if this is flower water from the living room and realize it’s brownish and sort of sticky.

Go through all of the worst case scenarios for what this liquid could possibly be and decide to don sterile gloves before cleaning.

Remember that YOU didn’t spill this mysterious sticky surprise and decide to make the culprit clean it up.

Go to living room to find Kid 1 and Kid 4. Question them about the crime. They deny involvement.

Go to playroom and find Kid 2 who is in the ever frustrating TV trance. Say Kid 2’s name 67 times before they acknowledge your presence. Kid 2 also denies responsibility.

Try to find Kid 3 and pass the first spill that you still haven’t cleaned up.

Clean up original spill and then forget what you were doing.

Decide to find coffee before attempting to remember previous task.

Go to kitchen to find cat standing on the counter standing over coffee.

Try to remember from nursing school if there’s anything deadly you can catch from cats.

Drink cold cat coffee anyways.

Stare at full dishwasher, full sink of dishes and become too overwhelmed to deal with kitchen crap.

Move to playroom to find that Kids 1-3 have decided to pull out every single card game in the house and throw them all in one huge, disastrous pile before becoming distracted with another board game.

Beg these tiny humans to PLEASE PLEASE PRETTY PLEASE clean up this mess.

They act offended that you could assume they had this kind of time on their hands. Board games won’t play themselves after all.

Back away slowly from these inmates and move to the living room where you walk through the still mysterious and worsening sticky brown spill.

Kid 4 walks downstairs just then and says, “I’M BORED.”

 

Oh. No. He. Didn’t.

 

Insert ape-shit-crazy-mother moment.

 

You start rattling off phrases that you swore you’d never repeat from your own parents.  Things about responsibility and getting a freaking job and the luxury of free time and amounts of money spent on electronics and HOW IN THE FREE WORLD DO YOU HAVE THE AUDACITY TO TELL ME YOU’RE BORED.

 

Kid 4 realizes he’s pushed the red button and keeps his mouth shut like a well-trained soldier in boot camp.

 

You take new found manic energy room to room ordering these little tyrants to CLEAN THAT UP, YES RIGHT THIS MINUTE, NO YOU CAN’T FINISH THAT SHOW, I DON’T CARE WHO GOT IT OUT, YES I’M THE MOST UNFAIR MOTHER ON THE PLANET, I AM NOT YOUR MAID OR YOUR BUTLER OR YOUR CRUISE DIRECTOR OR YOUR ATTORNEY AND I’M TOTALLY OVER IT.

 

So I guess what I’m saying is I’m ready for school to start back up.

And we’re having a come to Jesus meeting tomorrow morning.

And right now this is all I can handle.

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Perfume and Kiva

To kick off my summer reading docket, I read 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.  In this book, she documents 7 months spent radically downsizing and simplifying 7 different areas in her life.  In month one, she eats only 7 foods (sadly not one of them was chips and salsa so I’m out), in another month she determines to give 7 things away every day of that month, and another she wears only 7 articles of clothing for the entire month.  You get the idea. 

I’m a huge fan of these types of memoirs, probably because I couldn’t do it myself but still want to live it out through someone else.  It’s a good read and Jen is hilarious and honest while still communicating the tremendous impact that our modern, middle-class lives have on the rest of the world.  In a previous life, I would have walked away from the book feeling guilty and overwhelmed and probably would have declared to John that we were going to be even MORE awesome and wear 2 articles of clothing for a YEAR. And then I would have bought a new dress at Target to distract me from my guilt.

But alas, this is the new, grown up me so instead of guilt and shame, I walked away feeling challenged and inspired.  And instead of making grand declarations of extreme change that I’m clearly not ready to carry out – I’m going to do something a little more simple. A baby step if you will, but a step I know I can take.

So here’s what I’m thinking…

Towards the end of the book, Jen included some sort of mind-boggling, sickening statistics.  Here they are:

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I’m not suggesting you starve your dog.  And God himself told me he doesn’t want me to stop wearing make-up. But the perfume stat king of stung.  It’s not that I collect perfume or anything, but I do love to wear it…like every day.  Which after reading that statistic sort of left me feeling selfish and myopic. 

So here’s my plan.  I’ve stopped wearing perfume almost altogether.  I will use the bottle I have now for the rest of my adult life if I can.  Only special occasions. And going to Target is not as special as I think it is.

My perfume costs close to $100. Which of course doesn’t really come close to the $12 billion market share, but it’s something that I can wrap my brain around.  So instead of spending that money – I’m going to re-invest it in my favorite micro-lender, Kiva.  I wrote a post on Kiva a couple of years ago, if you want to read it to find out what Kiva is exactly go here.

And here’s a short little vimeo on how it works.

But to make it more interesting and spread the fun around – I’m going to be giving away two $50 Kiva gift cards for someone else to invest. Just leave a comment below telling me your favorite cereal and I’ll do a random drawing at the end of the week.  And if you end up hating the Kiva experience you can just withdraw the funds and go buy half a bottle of perfume. Monster.

Baby steps fellow humans. Baby steps.

 

Back in the Proverbial Saddle

I’ve decided it’s time to start writing again.  This time, it’s just for me.  I mean – I hope people gain something when they read what’s here, whether it’s just a couple of laughs, new knowledge, or even inspiration.  But I’m not doing this to track my page views.  I’m writing again because it’s good for my soul.  I love what Anne Frank said about writing:

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

Which I think is partly true for me.

But mostly…

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” -E.L. Doctorow

Yes. Yes, that’s me.

On the docket:

  • Perfume and Kiva (like in the same post…duh)
  • On being a whiny Mom
  • Summer Book reviews
  • My faith (and lack thereof) and where I stand/sit/run now

I’ll also take some requests if either of you readers want me to address anything in particular.

So hang on for the ride dear friends.  No promises that you’ll like what I have to say or even give a damn, but the crazy has to go somewhere and I’m trying to stay out of jail.

 

 

An adoption Q&A

Someone sent me this question based on the news piece we did last week on adoption and minority children in Memphis.

I thought it might be helpful for someone else out there, so I’ve posted it here.

Original question:

Hi Ashleigh!

“I saw the adoption special on channel 3 news last week. We have seven children of our own, ages 7-23, but have always been open to adoption. In recent years, that idea has been re-surfacing, and I’ve been trying to do some research and be open to whatever the Lord wants to do with us and our family. I have friends who have adopted overseas, and one of the things that has always struck my husband and I is, what about the children right here? So I was very interested in the news special. I posted the article on my fb (I have several friends interested in/trying to adopt, etc) also. One friend sent it to her friend who has been trying to adopt for a couple of years now (a foreign adoption). She got excited and called to find out more information, and she was told that the story was basically a hoax (not sure if that was her word or theirs) and there was lots of mis-information given and that there are not a lot of children waiting to be adopted. My pastor’s wife also told me when they looked into adopting a year or two ago, they were also told that there were just mostly teenagers available (they had younger children so didn’t pursue it). Another friend tried to find out more, and she was also told that this was really not the case as well. So I wondered if you could give me some idea what is really going on here…It sounds like your experience does not match what these others are being told at all! I went back and litstened to the news special again, and it seems like they backed up what they were saying. So what should a person do if they are interested in adopting locally? Any words of advice would be appreciated. I just can’t believe children need homes and there are lots of loving families open to adopting and there seems to be so much confusion and road blocks to making it happen.

Thank you so much!”

And here was my response:

Hi! Nice to “meet” you.
I’ve got a few minutes this morning – would love to answer more questions, but I’ll get right to the point.
The short answer is – it’s just a whole lot more complicated than the news piece showed (they really just didn’t have the time honestly).

There are several ways to pursue domestic adoption. One of those ways is through private agencies. We went through Bethany to adopt Jones. Different agecies have different waiting lists and adoption rates almost solely based on how many birth mothers CHOOSE their agency. At the time we adopted Jones, they had quite a few babies that they ended up placing out of state because there were no families with the local Bethany that wanted a black baby. A lot has changed since then – there are more families now that are open to all races and quite frankly, less birthmothers have chosen to place with Bethany in the past year or so (this has NOTHING to do with Bethany as an agency, a lot more to do with how many birthmothers are placing babies up for adoption).

There are several other agencies in town – but again, it depends on how many families they have waiting and how many birthmothers are choosing their agency. It literally depends on who you call from day to day what answers you will get on “wait time”.

As for the state/foster care system. There are DEFINITELY way more than just teenagers that are waiting for homes.
This is the public list of waiting kids:
http://www.adoptuskids.org/states/tn/browse.aspx
Most of these children are older, but these are ONLY the kids whose parental rights have been terminated and are “paper ready” to be adopted.

There are hundreds of children in Shelby county who are in foster care, but will eventually have their parental rights terminated and be up for adoption.

My suggestion to you is to go that route. I say that for several reasons.

#1 – The foster system is a HOT MESS and these kids NEED healthy families. Unfortunately there are some parents (not all, but some) who want to foster children so they can pocket the cash. This is heartbreaking and only further damages these kiddos.

#2 – It’s free. Not only is it free, but they give a daily stipend to help cover the costs of the child/children.

#3 – You can request which ages you would accept, how many, almost anything and can turn down referrals for any reason.

#4 – If you’re looking for kids that are a little younger, they USUALLY start in foster care before getting to the “paper ready” stage.

A couple of misconceptions about foster care…
The ONLY reason that the child would be removed from your home is if YOU requested that or if they were returning to their birthparent. The state does not “bounce kids around”, it’s foster parents who bounce kids around. (Yet another reason they need SOLID families!)

I think it might be worth at least going to a meeting and learning about what it takes to become a foster family. You sound like you have an amazing heart and are probably a FANTASTIC mother with so much experience!!!

Ok, I realize this may be more than what you were asking – but I get so excited about people wanting to adopt and hate it when there are misconceptions that stop people from pursuing it!

Let me know what other questions you might have.
And of course, if it’s a newborn infant that you are wanting, I WOULD recommend going through an agency like Bethany or LifeChoices.

Oh and to clarify – the daily stipend is for the duration of them being in the “foster care” stage…usually once you actually adopt them the money stops. BUT, when they are older – (over 9 for white kids and over 2 for black kids) they CONTINUE to write you checks even after you have officially adopted them. THIS is what the news piece was trying to cover, but sort of missed.

Hope this helps!!
ashleigh

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