Saturday, October 31, 2009

Questions---A Race-Related Rambling

These thoughts run through my head.


What will I teach my daughter about slavery? When? How?


What will I say when she asks why someone is making comments about the color of our President's skin?


Kwanzaa?


Why is only one month of the year Black History Month?


Why do our national holiday's focus on white men? (Columbus, Washington, Lincoln, Pulaski)


Black or African American or African-American?


The N word. What do I tell my daughter about that? When? How?


Why does it seem like most crimes (as reported by the media) are committed by black males?


Why are black people told they are "white" or "Oreo" when they speak standard English?


Why are there rankings of skin color, even if everyone being "graded" is black?


Why do nearly zero percent of advertisements, children's picture books, Hallmark cards, and stock photos feature multi-racial families?


Why do some people still say "colored" when referring to black people?


How do I introduce my child's culture to her without being stereotypical? And is stereotypical bad? Good? Helpful? Hurtful?


How do I celebrate race without down-playing or up-plaing it's significance?




Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Name Game

Like many of my mommy friends, I get excited about names. I have spent an embarrassing amount of time on Nymbler. I have a growing and ever-changing list of baby names tucked away in my mind.



When my husband and I decided on adoption, we spent the long drives between our home and our parents' houses discussing baby names. My husband, I'm sure, would have preferred to discussing something else, but I was enthusiastic and adamant that we have the crucial baby name conversation time and time again.



Girl names came easily to me. Boy names not so much. I'd throw out a name only to have it rejected. My husband would throw out a name only to have me laugh or tell him that I had a student with that name who drove me crazy. (I've been teaching for five years and teach two to three classes per semester---so, that's a lot of names).



The conversations grew more complex as we tried imagined the races of our future children. I asked myself, "How would this name I choose affect a child who is black? Who is white? Who is Hispanic?" (By the way, our last name is SO white....)

We've all heard that employers will statistically select the resumes of white sounding individuals, based on their names, over individuals whose names indicate that they are of another race.

We hear white people remarking and sometimes poking fun at the odd sounding, hard to spell, or hard to pronounce black names. Or I've heard white people snort (literally) at names like Precious or Princess that AA women give their baby girls.

I once posted on an adoption message board about my conflicting ideas---how to name a child of another race? I remember some women getting very upset that I would even think that I had to be careful about how I named my child because he/she might be black or Hispanic or Asian or another race.

I didn't want to name my daughter Shaniquia simply because I wanted to help my child affirm my child's blackness. And then, how stereoptyical of me to even think of a name like Shaniquia and align that with any sort of indicator of how black my child would be perceived as. (How's that for good grammar?) I didn't want to be desperately trying to make up for the fact that she has white parents. As if a name could "make up" for that. As if I need to make up for anything.

The truth is, I want my daughter to be proud of her name and her family. The two very well have no connection. Or maybe they are connected, intricately, deep down, somewhere. I don't know.

The story continues now, a year after we adopted, because we call my daughter a shortened version of her first name. However, I find myself sometimes introducing her to people of her same race as her full first name because it sounds more black. Because I want the approval of strangers. It's bizarre. On one hand, who cares what anyone else thinks? On the other hand, the approval of the AA community (which I feel through individual encounters) matters to me. I don't want my daughter to be the white-black girl. She's black. And I'm out to prove that to the world. Stupid mommy.

Before you yell "shame" on me, please be patient. I'm trying to do the best I can. I'm trying to figure this whole adoption/transracial/parenthood thing out. It's going to be trial and error, like with many things in life.

Proverbs 22:1
"A good name is more desirable than great riches [. . .]"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Please Don't

It kills me when I hear people tell stories and they just have to say the race of the person involved when it has NOTHING to do with the story. It's usually white people who have to say that the person in the story was black. White people never say that the person in the story was white.

Drives me up the wall.

For example, someone (white) was telling me a story today about a neighborhood. She said, "There were two rough looking black guys sitting in their front lawn." The fact that these men were black has nothing to do with the point of the person's story. Yet it was said.

I had to hold back---because I had and still have no idea how to respond. I could be snarky (maybe rightfully so) and say, "What did you state that the people were black?" Or, like I did, I said nothing and then mentally milled over the statement over and over and over in my mind and then cursed at myself for not saying something.

Oh, and when white people say "black"---they look around the room to make sure there is no black person around and then they whisper "black" anyway.

Black is not a bad or dirty word. It doesn't need to be whispered.

It also doesn't need to be in a conversation that has nothing to do with the person's race.

Because what I find is that "black" is used from one white person to another to say something about the character of the person in the story. Like we are supposed to take white-person-stereotypes of black people, heard the person in the story is black, and then apply those stereotypes to that person. (Am I making any sense here?)

Does anyone else get really annoyed by this?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

check out my newest publication....

My piece called "Organized Parenting?" is featured on Diabetic Parents right now! Please leave a comment.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Clothing, Bedding, Books---Oh My!

I'm over thinking everything. Maybe it's because I'm trying to be sensitive. Maybe it's because I'm trying to be thoughtful. Maybe it's because I don't want to purchase a single item that might somehow harm or enforce the racist portrayals of black people. I don't want to miss something or deem one of these purchases as "no big deal" and then be reprimanded in word or look from a member of my child's race.

Here goes....

I love Gymboree clothing. I used to, before I became a mom, be a loyal Carter's customer. But I have discovered that Carter's clothing shrinks about 25%---meaning I have to buy my nearly 12 month old size 18 month clothing. It's a guessing game every time I shop for her.

When I discovered Gymboree while on vacation in Tennessee, I instantly fell not only in love, but into obsession. If you've ever shopped there, you will understand what I mean. The clothes are not only adorable, but they are also made well and do not shrink like cheaper children's clothing.

The only downfall to Gymboree is that they have limited lines of clothing in their stores each season. These lines are always theme-based: candy, kittens, polka dots, etc. If you don't like a particular line of clothing, you just have to wait it out until the next season (or, shop the outlets!).

This summer there were two lines dominating the little girl's department: the monkey line and the watermelon line.

Hear me groaning?

Who comes up with these lines, and do they not think that someone other than a white girl might want to wear Gymboree clothing?

Or maybe the designers figure that it's the 21st century and we are well past racial stereotypes.

Or maybe they didn't think twice about any of this while stitching the tiny black seeds on watermelon decals or affixing cutsie monkeys to capri pants. Yes, monkeys and watermelons are fun and adorable, aren't they?

As I walked around the mall with some of my adoptive mom friends, their black and white children trailing behind and between them, we had a lengthy discussion on this topic. One of the moms had her children (both white and black) in the watermelon clothing; she didn't care what the stereotypes were because the clothing was cute. One said she would NEVER put her black children in clothing spotted with monkeys. She shared that her friend donated several baby outfits to her, and unfortunately she had to put aside all of the monkey clothing because she just couldn't fathom putting a pair of monkey themed pjs on her newborn, black son.

One of my friends recently decorated her (black) son's bathroom. Her son loves monkeys, so she went with the monkey theme. The bathroom was gorgeous---chocolate brown walls, lots of jungle-themed accents, and of course, a monkey shower curtain and bath towels. The room looked like it came straight out of a magazine. Beautiful. Before we entered the bathroom, my friend warned me that she felt slightly sneaky or embarrassed to choose a monkey themed bathroom for her black son. I understand why.

My mom has begun the process of converting my old bedroom into a guest room, complete with a queen bed and my old crib. She discovered the crib bedding was far too warn to use, so she purchased new bedding---a set featuring browns, blues, and tans. The design? Zoo animals: giraffes and birds and yes, monkeys. Gasp! Dare I let my daughter sleep on such bedding? What does that mean? What would someone else say if they saw it?

I would love to throw all caution to the wind and say, who cares? White parents would breathe huge sighs of relief if those they fear would say, it's ok.

White parents do wonder what their choices would or could mean to their children. But really, it's more about what other people think. The six week old baby doesn't care if his pjs are sporting baseballs or bugs or monkeys. My daughter doesn't care if one of her books shows a baby's brown hands grasping a juicy slice of watermelon. Children are children---happy, free, ready to explore the world----monkey grunts and dripping watermelon slices included.

I don't know who exactly we fear. Black people? White people? Politically correct people? Racist people? People who say they aren't racist but are really harboring racism?

Is it best to ignore or put aside what has passed and embrace a future where black babies can sport monkeys on their clothing and watermelons on their bedding? Is it better to recognize that some people will never get past these symbols of racism and avoid these symbols altogether?

I don't know. And neither does anyone else.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I am not....

a hero.

a saviour.

a do-gooder.

I'm white; she's black.

I'm an adoptive mom.

I'm a mom.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Who's That Child?

We are used to stares, comments, and questions regarding our family. At first we were uncertain how to respond as strangers would approach us and nosily interrogate us. My daughter is eleven months old, and though I don't think these times of questioning have necessarily become less frequent, we are better prepared on how to handle them.

This past weekend we met friends for dinner to celebrate my husband's birthday. They arrived first and got us a table. We came a few minutes later and settled in. Soon the waitress appeared, a young woman, perhaps twenty-five. She set my friends' appetizer on the table and then looked at us and asked what we would like to drink. We both ordered water and started to return to the conversation with our friends when the waitress asked us, "Are you babysitting?"

I replied, "No."

She asked who the baby was. I said, "She's our daughter."

She then asked, "Did you adopt her?"

I said yes, thinking duh.

The waitress paused and then burst out at us like grand-prize-sweepstakes-winning confetti, "OH THAT'S SOOOOO COOL. THAT'S AWESOME! SHE'S SOOOOOO PRETTY!!!"

Eyeroll.

Listen. We are just a family. I don't wake up every morning, go to my daughter's crib, swoop her up and say, "You are black and adopted! That's soooooooo cool! That's awesome! You are soooo pretty!"

No. I'm like every other mom in America. I go to her crib. I wonder if she has a dirty or just a wet diaper. I greet her with smiles and kisses and a "good morning, baby!" I change her diaper. I get her some breakfast.

Adoption isn't necessarily "cool." I think God's hand can be clearly seen in our adoption situation. We are blessed to have our daughter. We love her, find so much joy in her, and love the family we have together. Oh, and we do think she's beautiful----but not because she is black or because she's adopted. She's just beautiful. Period.

Some people don't know what to say so they just stare. Some people don't think and rattle off personal questions that are never appropriate...but somehow because our family adopted, we should be open to answering anything. Some people just want to touch her hair. (She's not an animal at the petting zoo!). Some people tell us that she's soooooooooo cute (multiple times until it's uncomfortable) because they don't know what else to say. The babysitting question? That's a new one.

I want to respond with confidence while asserting our privacy. As my daughter gets older, I fear the questions that will hurt or embarrass her. As her mother, I'm fiercely protective of my daughter and her adoption story. It's my job.

No one prepared us for the questions, comments, and stares. However, we're holding our own , happy to just be us, to be a family.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Good (Black) Hair

Chris Rock has been promoting his new film, a documentary, entitled Good Hair. I saw him on Oprah, Good Morning America, and The View--just in the past three days. I believe the movie previews this week.

Oprah commented on her show that the white women in the audience and at-home viewers have no idea what she's talking about when referring to the difficulties, complexities, and energy that goes into a black woman's hair. Then she laughed along with Chris Rock.

She's wrong.

Many white women do "get it." I am friends with many women who are parenting black children. And my sweet husband, he gets it, too. He's often the one combing, detangling, and moisturzing our daughter's hair as she attempts to crawl away to a better adventure.

We strive every day, sometimes multiple times a day, to tame, style, and moisturize our children's hair. We search relentlessly for the best shampoos, conditioners, brushes, combs, barrettes, rubber bands, moisturizers, stylers, etc. We are squatted down in the aisles of beauty shops and departments stores and discount shops, looking odd as the only white woman in the store in the ethnic hair care section---which is always in the back corner and has the least amount of shelf-space.

We want our black children to have good hair because we know that we will be judged. We first attract attention because of the color and race difference between us and our children. We know that next comes a critical evaluation----a test. Our children's hair. If it looks good (moisturized, curls defined, properly braided), we will possibly pass the test. But if it looks bad, which is very easy to accomplish, we will fail. And I feel that often we are deemed as not good enough to parent these children if their hair looks bad.

I have been known to go to Wal-Mart or the grocery store in unattractive clothing---t-shirts, baggy capris, my gym shoes. My hair is usually in a messy ponytail or knot. I don't wear makeup on these days full of errands. I don't care what other people think about me. At least I didn't until we adopted a black child.

Every time we go somewhere outside of our home, my daughter's hair is combed, moisturized, and styled. Sometimes it's also accessorized with a bow or two puffs on top of her head. She almost always looks nice. Even if she's spent the day sticking half-chewed Cheerios to herself or trying to eat grass from the front yard. When we go out, she's cleaned up, dressed up, and yes, her hair is done.

I'm not sure why black women take such pride in their hair and why hair is so important. I'm not saying this critically. I'm stating my ignorance in this area of my daughter's culture.

All I know is that my child is black and to neglect this part of her racial culture would be some sort of damnable sin. So I take care of her hair, as best as I can, and I keep educating myself on how to improve.

Because for one of the first times in my life, I realize that appearances very much matter.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Once Upon a Time (not so long ago)

Before I delve into past and present transracial family adventures, I want to share with you our story---the story of how we went from a white couple to parents of an African American baby girl.

So, here goes.

Once upon a time, we were newlyweds. We lived in a townhouse---the beginners love shack. I was in grad school and teaching freshman English courses as a TA. My husband was working for one of the big four accounting firms---climbing up the corporate ladder. We had closets and cupboards full of wedding gifts----fluffy towels, rimmed china, and several of homemade blankets. We were on our way.

During Thanksgiving break of my first grad school and teaching semester, I got a stomach virus and was violently ill. I felt the pain not only physically, but somewhere else, somewhere deeper. I knew something had changed but I couldn't figure out what.

Over the next year and half, I continued to plow through graduate school, pressing toward my goal of graduating a semester early. I was ready to be finished with school and begin my career as an English teacher and soon, a freelance writer. Nothing could slow me down. Or so I thought.

As graduation approached, my health began to rapidly decline. I was never without my water bottle---drinking gallons of water, juice, milk, and tea every day. My weight dropped from 125 to 97 lbs. I was exhausted, depressed, and though I was so light in weight, I constantly felt weighted down. My vision was blurred. My bones were protruding out my skin. My size zero jeans were too small. I had chronic sinus infections and a leg injury that wouldn't heal.

I wasn't irresponsible. I desperately sought help from medical professionals---five in total---a dietitian, a general practitioner, my gynecologist, my optometrist, and a sinus specialist. I scoured the internet for answers. A few weeks before the day that would change my life forever, my gp implied that I had anorexia. No one believed that I was eating 3000, 4000, even 5000 calories a day. Nothing would quench my thirst, my hunger, or my desperation.

In March of 2006 I was diagnosed with type I diabetes while lying in a bed in our local emergency room. I was later told it was a miracle that I lived as long as I did----one and half years without a diagnosis. None of the staff could believe I wasn't in a coma or dead. But there I was.

The next year consisted of many ups and downs, but mostly ups. After all, the burden I had been carrying for a year and a half, the burden of unexplainable dread and fear, had been lifted. I had an answer! Granted, I didn't want a forever-disease; however, I was finally diagnosed with something that I could manage and begin to understand. I went from insulin injections to an insulin pump, learned how to count the carbohydrates in my food, and much, much more.

After a year with my disease, my husband and I started talking about how and when to start a family. We always knew we wanted to be parents. But diabetes complicated those plans. The list of possible pregnancy complications was frightening and numerous. And not only was I putting my own life in danger by carrying a child but I was also putting that child's life at risk.

I began to investigate adoption. My husband agreed to attend an adoption informational meeting hosted by a local Christian agency. We were both nervous as we walked into the meeting. The minute the presentation was over, I was ready to start the adoption process. My husband, as always, needed more time.

We joined the agency in April of 2006. In August, after paperwork, fingerprinting, check-writing, and interviews, we were officially on the waiting list for a child. We decided to adopt an infant domestically.

We were asked to fill out a seven page checklist of the characteristics and situations we would and wouldn't accept. This included health or mental problems in the child's birth mother to the race of the baby. Most issues were clear to us. Race was one of these. We just assumed we would have a child who "looked like" us---just like many other adoptive couples. So we checked "Caucasian."

Then we waited. For a year, we waited.

During that year, something inside me, another something I couldn't explain (much like the pre-diabetes diagnosis feeling) and couldn't shake was marinating in my soul. I soon determined what it was---I felt strongly convicted that our openness wasn't what it should have been. By only being open to a healthy, white infant, like many adoptive couples are, we were narrowing our chances of being chosen. And I wondered if God hadn't allowed us to become parents yet because He was waiting on us to open up to the child He had for us. I quickly began to examine my conviction, and I realized that I didn't want the baby that I hand picked---I wanted the baby God had for our family.

I began to ferverently seek information on transracial adoption. I talked to transracial families. I read books. I stalked online adoption forums. I found myself starting at the black babies with their parents at Wal-Mart. I couldn't read a magazine without dreaming of holding one of the brown babies in the advertisements.

My husband was more resistant. He wasn't sure he would be good enough for a black baby. He had valid points. Raising an adopted child is complicated. Compound that with raising an adopted black child in an all-white family? More complicated. He also worried about people's stares, comments, and questions----how would these things affect our family? How would our families feel about us parenting a child who didn't mirror our skin tone? All valid points.

But none of his concerns could sway me from my convictions. I knew that God wanted us to be open to all races. And I also knew that in my heart, I wanted to parent a black baby. No matter what I did or where I was, I couldn't stop thinking about a baby. A girl. A black baby girl.

After months of discussions (very late night discussions), meeting with transracial families, praying, examining our pasts, dissecting our attitudes, and reading literature, my husband and I informed our social worker that after one year of waiting, we were ready to update our homestudy to include our new openness: all races.

We weren't magically placed as I thought we might be---because yes, part of me hoped that if we did the right thing, we'd be quickly rewarded. We continued with our lives---going to work, celebrating holidays and birthdays, enjoying the end of summer and soon, the beginning of fall---and we entered our fourteenth month of waiting for a child. We worked on our home, including my newest project----painting the kitchen and dining area. But despite the busyness of everyday life, the possibility of getting THE call was always on my mind. Whenever I entered my home, I always made a beeline for the answering machine. Then I would double check my cell phone and my e-mail account....just in case.

Nothing.

I spent a few weeks tossing around color combination possibilities for the kitchen and dining room painting project----ahhh, something, ANYTHING, to divert my attention from the empty crib. And then finally one week the paint gallons went on sale (just $13 a gallon!), and I had the paint mixed. I chose a light yellow and a deep blue. The colors contrasted beautifully, though one wouldn't necessarily think of them being a good combination until seeing them together. I was happy to be moving forward on the project.

We got started mid-morning on a Saturday. My husband, as usual, painted the tricky areas of the room---the tops of the floorboards, the corners, above the cabinets. You see, I'm a sloppy painter. I merrily worked on the bigger (and safer) areas----big, blank walls, ready to be colored with my brush.

Our project continued well into the afternoon, though we tried to hurry because that evening we were going to see a play. We picked up our pace---each working at opposite ends of the room, singing along to the songs on the radio.

A little before 5:00 my husband's cell phone rang. He didn't recognize the number. I think I prompted him to pick it up anyway, as I usually do. He talked for a few seconds, looked stunned and confused, and said, "I'll let you talk to my wife."

On the other line was the social worker from our second adoption agency, the one we joined after eight months of waiting with just one, our first, agency. The social worker said they had a baby girl born that morning and the baby's mom wanted to look at profiles of adoptive parents. Would we be interested in having our profile shown?

YES!

Two hours later, on our way to the play, our stomachs in knots, the social worker called us back. We had been chosen. We needed to contact a lawyer and make plans to head out of state.

We were shocked. Overjoyed. And scared.

A few days later...

The baby girl did become ours. She not only made us a family but a transracial family.

Our daughter is black. We are white. Just like the contrasting colors on our kitchen walls, our family of one color became a family of two colors.

Let the adventures begin.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Third Time---My Charm?

Hello and welcome to my newest blog. Yes, I said newest. I have three. THREE! One is about diabetes and food. Diabetes was the start of our family life; it's the reason we chose adoption. The second blog is about my adventures in domesticity which stemmed from my eight months of being a stay-at-home-mom. Then an idea came to me today---what about a third blog, one specifically focusing on the adventures of being a transracial family?

So here it is.

Why not?

I have so much to share with my readers. And I have so much to learn.

I'm blooming with ideas---quotes, movie reviews, book suggestions, experiences, interviews. So please check back often, leave comments, and share with me what you'd like to know more about.

I hope I can inspire and inform you about the beauty and the challenges of transracial family life. I look forward to learning from you, too.
 
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