Monday, November 30, 2009

Ready, Set, and Then What?

I cannot tell if the questions and comments we get have slowed down or if I'm just better prepared to answer them.

When someone asks if Ella is my daughter, I say yes. Without hesitation, without feeling like an impostor, and without offering up more explanation.

When someone asks if Ella is adopted, I say yes, for all of the reasons mentioned above.

I was recently told by a friend and fellow adoptive mom that when I am approached by other questions (where is her real mom? how much did your baby cost? are you babysitting?), I can always say, "That's a very personal question." And leave it at that. As one who likes to talk and often says too much and not the right things, I have been rehearsing this statement in my mind. I am armed and ready to use it.

I am not ashamed of my daughter's adoption story, of her first mother, or of the fact that adoption is expensive. However, I am growing into a woman and adoptive mother who realizes that I do not have to accept or entertain impolite, nosy, and bad behavior, in the form of questions, from others.

I guess because my black daughter is a baby, people feel more free to approach us---for both good (to compliment her) or bad (to ask inappropriate questions). I wonder as the months and years progress, if we'll be approached more or less, if the same old questions will be repeated, or if people will come up with newer, more awful questions.

Do I prefer stares? Not really. Being ignored after a first glance? Awkward. Nosy questions? Depends on my mood at the time.

What I'd love is to just be treated like a family with a beautiful baby. I don't mind talking about adoption---but when I look at my daughter every day, I don't think about the fact that she is adopted. It's as if the questions coming from strangers bring me back to reality. My daughter is just my daughter. She came to us in a unique and complicated way. That in itself is beautiful. But it's not the world's business.

I wonder if when we adopt in the future and our baby is a black male, if things will get more complicated. White people generally fear black males. Maybe other races do, too. I'm not sure. White people think saggy pants, hoods up, and loud music equal criminal. Top that off with dark skin and statistics and the media picking and choosing whom to feature, and there's a lot of fear. I wonder what will happen to the questions we get if and when a little black boy enters our lives. I wonder if I will be able to combat the stereotypes and statistics surrounding black men and raise a son who is responsible and respected.

I'm not sure what I will say the next time I am asked a question about adoption or race. Some things in life can't be planned out because circumstances are unpredictable. I never know when someone will snake up behind us in line at Wal-Mart and then muster the audacity to ask if Ella's mom was on drugs or if I'm babysitting. I never know if a stare means my baby is cute or if it means how dare you? I can't figure out if the person telling me my baby is "SOOOO CUTE!!!" one time too many to be comfortable is trying to cover up her own racism or really thinks my daughter is cute or both.

I would like to think I will be able to remember and then deliver (with clarity and confidence) my rehearsed answer, if appropriate, but I'm pretty sure there will be many more times of fumbling before I get it right.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful

I am thankful---simply, fully, purely.

I have a husband who loves me without conditions. Who gives me what I need, exactly when I need it. Who provides for our family without complaint. Who would do anything to make his family happy.

I have a daughter who lights up my life with everything she does. When she says, "MAMAMAMA" she breaks my heart. When she is crying, she is beautiful. When she is smiling, she is beautiful. When she laughs, I laugh, too. When she lays her head on me, I melt.

I have a God who forgives me time and time again. He sacrificed His son so that I could be free. He blesses me beyond measure, and much, much more than I ever deserve.

I have parents who raised me to be the woman I am: independent, strong, determined, focused, enthusiastic, and capable. I have parents who love God and believe His will for my life is much greater than mine.

I have siblings who are funny, joyful, brave, and convicted. They always make me laugh. I am so proud of the people they are.

I have a church that pushes me to reach for the bar, not try to manipulate God to lower the standards. My church is beautifully diverse, generous, and willing to change for better days.

I have a disease that has enabled me and compelled me to reach out and inspire others. My diabetes has forced me to become healthier and stronger. Without it, we wouldn't have our daughter through adoption.

I have two jobs that inspire me and educate me. To write is my dream and now, my accomplishment. To teach writing was never my first plan, but has become part of my heart.

I have friends who encourage me, make me laugh, and know when to be serious. I am lost without them. They anchor me.

None of these blessings come to me through my own doing. They are enhancements to my life, gifts from God.

May you take time today to reflect on the many ways God has blessed you.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

HO HO HO, little white kids!

We always struggle with what to buy a few relatives each Christmas. These few never truly need anything, and though I am creative, I am stumped year after year. And really, how many framed photos of my daughter can I give someone without being a: boring, and b: narcissistic?

This year I came up with the idea to donate money to our adoption agency which is connected with a local maternity home. I thought we could find a small figurine of an African American baby to symbolize the donation and remind those few relatives to pray for the mothers and their babies.

So I began an Internet search for AA baby figurines. I wanted to limit the cost of the figurine in order to give most of the gift money in the form of the donation.

My search lasted several hours over the course of a few days, and I came up with basically nothing. The figurines were either very cheap looking, too expensive, and mostly, just not available! I had a difficult time finding anything featuring an AA baby.

Determined, I decided to look at some local stores: Hallmark, Big Lots, Hobby Lobby, and Everything's A Dollar.

First stop was Hallmark. I figured that surely there would be a Willow Tree Angel that would fit into my stipulations. Nope. Nothing. There was ONE AA figurine, a woman with dreadlocks.

Second stop: Hobby Lobby. The store was CRAMMED with holiday decor and people. As I said "excuse me" two hundred times as I made my way down the cramped aisles, I felt my pulse quicken and increased aggravation. There was not a single ornament or figurine featuring an AA person, let alone an AA baby. Next step, non-Christmas decor. I found an employee who said there was one tower of AA figurines at the front of the store. I felt slight hopefulness, but mostly skepticism. As I approached the tower, I found that the figurines were not African American---they were solely African and were about twenty inches tall---African people carrying baskets and animals.

Meanwhile, my husband was at Big Lots. As you guessed, nothing came of that stop.

Fourth and final stop: Everything's A Dollar, one that I often see AA people coming in and out of, so I figured that surely they would have some sort of merchandise featuring the race of the people who shop the store. There were some AA angels; however, they were, as anticipated (I mean, if it's going to be $1...), terribly cheap looking and nothing like what I had envisioned.

I couldn't stomach another stop and another disappointment. We headed home.

My mind is reeling now. I can't shut it off. Why the inequality? Why the domination of the white race today, still, in 2009? Why is my daughter's race not only left out, but the Hispanic population, the Asian population, the Indian population, etc., too? What about the kid in the wheelchair? What am I to tell my daughter when she asks me why none of the ornaments look like her? Why are they all pale, rosy, smiling babies? Why is there only ONE black Santa or ONE black angel? Why is black Santa at the mall one afternoon, while the white Santa is there everyday?

These things anger me. For so long, as a white person, I was at the center of the proverbial universe...that is until I adopted a black little girl. I realized that I was thrown into some sort of "other" category with her. Though I realize I will never know the "black experience," I am beginning to see what it's like to be an outsider in my own racial culture in subtle ways, like what we experienced when we were shopping.

Before we even ventured to AA figurine stop #1, we went to Toys R Us to buy some snacks for our daughter and to try to find an AA Cabbage Patch doll. Stuck behind four CP dolls with blond hair and blue eyes was an AA CP doll stuck in a smashed, torn box. How sad. Foreshadowing, I guess, of the shopping experience to come.

White parents of black children, at least the ones I know, get really excited when there is one little glimmer of hope, like the Old Navy t-shirt I found for my daughter featuring a little AA girl with puffy pigtails or the doll from Carter's (now clearanced out and never to be seen again) whose skin, hair, and eyes indicated some sort of racial identity other than white. I cling to these items and hope that I can combat everything that isn't there that tells my daughter her race doesn't matter or isn't important, that white is the only race that really matters and is worth depicting in advertisements, on Hallmark cards, on t-shirts, and on toys.

So if you see a white woman this Christmas who is vigorously shoving aside the white baby dolls in toy aisle three at Wal-Mart, you'll know it's me, or another adoptive mom, trying to find something for our sweet children, something that tells them their skin, eyes, and hair is beautiful, that black is beautiful, and that they matter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Photo

In my daughter's nursery is a photo of her birth mother, my husband, and me on the day we all went to court last year. That court date was one of the hardest days of our lives. Ella's biological mom was there to officially terminate her parental rights. We were there to obtain custody of our soon-to-be daughter.

In the photo we are all smiling---but I can only imagine all the thoughts running through each of our minds and the heaviness and anticipation in our hearts.

That day was a tremendous beginning and simultaneously, a devastating ending.

This photo is now held in a lovely, multi-colored, striped frame and is placed on one of the walls in my daughter's nursery. The three of us appear to be friends meeting up for coffee---but truly we are strangers who are joined together with a common goal: to do what we believe is best, in that moment, for a little baby girl.

One evening when my husband was out of town, I had one of my girl parties. This time it was for my girlfriends from my health club---a diverse pack of women, mostly in their forties and fifties (I'm the spring chicken of the bunch), who love to laugh. We had some food, wine, and great conversation. One of my friends came into the nursery with me to while I changed my daughter's diaper. She spotted the photo and asked if that was Ella's mom in the picture, and I said yes. Soon my other girlfriends came in one by one to look at the picture. I suppose they were curious. As each woman entered and exited the room, she was quiet. I'm not sure what that means or what I should think about their silence, or if I should even dare to think about it.

A few times a week, I will point the photo out to my daughter and we will say hello to her first mother. It's a sweet, careful routine. I want my daughter to know who her birth mother is. I want her to be familiar with her face. I already tell my daughter her adoption story and that her first mom loves her very much and always has and always will.

People very much misunderstand birth parents. And we cannot lump birth parents into a category or box. I cannot even begin to tells you how my heart aches when I hear someone say, "Are you afraid she'll show up on your doorstep?" or asks me, "Was she on drugs?" The worst question I have ever heard is, "Why didn't she want her baby?"

I should respond, no, I'm not afraid of her showing up at my house. If she did, I would open the door, let her in, and welcome her. Are you on drugs? Oh, and of course she wanted her daughter. What do you think placing a baby for adoption is? A hateful choice from someone who doesn't care one ounce about her own flesh and blood, the baby she carried for forty weeks?

I will tell you right now that I love and will protect the privacy and dignity of my daughter's first mother. This woman gave my daughter life. This woman is on my heart, my thoughts, and in my prayers every single day. And she's a real person. She is not just the image in the photo in my daughter's room, and she's not the assumption anyone makes.

Like many adoptive moms, I am determined to do what is best for my child, and I'm forever defending and educating. Adopting transracially has created a situation where I'm not only facing adoption stereotypes, but racial stereotypes as well.

God orchestrated our adoption situation, the birth of our child (a child who belongs to two families---in different ways), and hearts that love her---including her first mother's. I wish people would stop and think for a moment before opening their mouths in judgement and assumptions. I wish, like my girlfriends did, that silence and reverence were practiced more often.

I am honored that my daughter's first mother chose us to parent to baby. It is a privilege to raise my little girl. And the photo hanging in my daughter's nursery is a constant reminder that adoption is complicated, beautiful, and most of all, indefinable.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Possibilities, Probabilities, and Privileges

"Every human being has the possibility, probability, and really the privilege of inspiring someone else. Everybody, whether you know it or not, or recognize it or not, you are a teacher. There are people watching you."
Maya Angelou
The Today Show
November 9, 2009


I will be quoting Maya at the diabetes conference tomorrow in an attempt to motivate my fellow PWD (people with diabetes) to take their role in this life seriously. We can educate and inspire others! We can stop the wrong and promote the right.

The same with adoption, particularly transracial adoption. I can take the nosy questions as either an opportunity to educate or an opportunity to tell someone how I really feel---which isn't very nice sometimes! I always try to choose the best answer that will A: protect the privacy of my family while B: teaching someone something "right" about adoption.

By the way, I cried as Maya recited some of the words from "Phenomenal Woman." Please take a few minutes to watch this video clip. Celebrate these women with me.

What can you do to inspire someone today? Remember that whether you know it or not, you are being watched. Make a difference!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Baby Discriminates?

When you have a good twenty minutes, check out Newsweek's article See Baby Discriminate. I was skeptical of the initial claims---but the research and examples provided by the authors opened my eyes.

Particularly, I was interested a few ideas. The first, is that language of happy-happy-racial harmony isn't working:


"It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin, every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup's entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles—like "Everybody's equal" or "God made all of us" or "Under the skin, we're all the same"—but they'd almost never called attention to racial differences.

They wanted their children to grow up colorblind. But Vittrup's first test of the kids revealed they weren't colorblind at all. "

I don't want my child to be colorblind---because to me that is disrespectful of her racial makeup which should be, in my opinion, celebrated and embraced. But where to draw the line between everything being about race and nothing being about race...

Next, the fact that ...

"Children naturally try to categorize everything, and the attribute they rely on is that which is the most clearly visible."

(As concluded from experiments discussed in the article---a must read!)

So again, trying to promote diversity, which many parents do, ironically, by promoting color blindness, will naturally not work because of each child's tendency and natural ability to categorize in many ways, including physical color (not recognized as race for a few years).

Brings me to my friend C's son, K, who upon first meeting my daughter when he was two and half years old, said, "Why her brown?"

His mom replied, "That's how Jesus made her."

He liked this answer, accepted it, and continued playing.


What most surprised me...

"How do researchers test a 6-month-old? They show babies photographs of faces. Katz found that babies will stare significantly longer at photographs of faces that are a different race from their parents, indicating they find the face out of the ordinary. Race itself has no ethnic meaning per se—but children's brains are noticing skin-color differences and trying to understand their meaning."

This confirms why my daughter stares intently as my friend A, who is Guatemalan-American. My friend always said, "She wonders why I look like her." I never thought much of it. But come to find out, maybe A has some good points! My daughter recognizes that A looks different (brown skin) from her white mom and dad. Hmmmmm....

I just love the controversies, the questions, and the information that this article brings to light. I encourage everyone to read it!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Interview: Meet J and Family!


I would love for my readers to get to know transracial families. So here is the first of many interviews I'll be sharing with you all.

First up, J and family...


Please state your name, age, occupation and race.
J, 28, SAHM used to be an elem. teacher, so white I'm almost clear!

Tell me the names, ages, and races of your children and spouse.
C (husband), 29, white AKA translucent
E (bio daughter) 4, white AKA see-through
L (son, adopted) 15 months, aa/ca AKA latte

Share with me how you became a transracial family (and/or parts of your adoption story if applicable). Feel free to share if you plan to add to your family in the future.
Adoption was always something I wanted to do. So when I mentioned it to my husband, I was glad to hear he was not opposed. I also knew that I wanted to adopt a child of another race. Again C was on board. We thought it would be WAY down the road though, maybe our 3rd or 4th child. Strangely enough we ended up having fertility problems. So we then began looking into foster care. Of course then we found out that I was pregnant with our first child. So we put adoption on the back burner. We began the adoption process soon after she turned 2. We waited 9 months...coincidently it was the same 9 months I had been pregnant with our daughter. Our little L-man was born on July 28th, 2008 and he is such a blessing. His bio-mom is white and his bio-dad is black. So we now are a transracial family!

Share with me a joy or two that you’ve experienced as a transracial family.
This is a hard question to answer because the joy we have really doesn't have anything to do with being a transracial family. The joy in our family comes from our love for each other and God's love for us. Our son brings joy to us daily, no matter what race he is. But ok, I will tell you this...I love being different. I love that our family isn't "normal". Having a transracial family makes me smile because I always wanted a rainbow family and we are on our way to becoming one.

Share with me a hardship or two that you’ve experienced as a transracial family.
Well our son is only one, so we haven't really had to deal with too many issues yet. I know they will come as he gets older. I try and prepare myself. I guess that is a hardship, knowing I have to be prepared for questions and comments I myself have never even thought about or had to deal with. I have yet to have a rude comment from a stranger, but I'm sure that will come in time as well.

Add anything else that might benefit my readers.
Being a parent is hard no matter what race your children are. The hardest part about being a parent, for me, is the constant worry. So my motto is basically this...fear is from satan so don't let it in. And we all know the verses that teach us about fear. That's what helps me get through each day as a mom...a mom of two...a mom in a transracial family.