Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's Ok

A friend, colleague, and fellow adoptive mama bought my daughter a book by Todd Parr entitled It's Okay to be Different. Parr's fabulous lines include: "It's okay to have an invisible friend," "It's okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub," "It's okay to make a wish," and our favorite, "It's okay to be adopted."

But society doesn't support that being adopted is simply OK.

To some, it's the extreme of HOW AWESOME it is that the adoptive parents SAVED a POOR child in NEED OF A GOOD HOME! Or, HOW COOL IS IT TO BE LIKE BRAD AND ANGELINA! YEAH ADOPTION!!!! ADOPTION ADOPTION ADOPTION!!! Your ADOPTED child is so beautiful!!!

To some, it's the opposite extreme. "Didn't her mom want her?" "Could you not have your own?" "How much did she cost?" Staring. Looking away. (Or maybe both....awkward!) An under-the-breath judgement of "ummm-hmmmm." Assuming the worst (or the inaccurate), asking nosy questions, and taking it upon themselves to ask, ask, ask, and ask.

Where's the middle? Where is the Todd Parr attitude of it's okay?

Recently we attended a birthday party for one year old triplets. My friend has six beautiful children---all of whom are lovely. My friend's strength in raising a family of six astounds me; she is a wonderful mother. She has shared with me that when she takes her children out, she's been asked, "Didn't you have enough already?" Or, "Why did you do IVF?" Judgement upon judgement, question upon question, assumption upon assumption. She just wanted to pick up some groceries, and all the sudden her fertility is under a microscope and her family is a circus act.

My daughter's cousin is ten days younger that our daughter and was born with Downs Syndrome. The baby's parents are constantly plagued with stares, questions, and comments. They are also surrounded by people who use the phrase, "I'm so retarded!" to respond to a silly mistake. I'm sure her parents wonder, as we often do, if our child is getting an attentive smile from a stranger out of pity, out of uncertainty, or out of sincerity.

I know people often don't know how to respond to unique and different situations. But is that really an excuse? Is there ever a time when it is ok to comment or question someone's child and his or her place in this world? And since when did looking different mean that there is automatic permission granted to the general public to ask, assume, and judge?

Children are children. They are innocent, they are curious, they are adorable in their own ways. They don't all look the same or "normal." But what is normal anyway? Who is normal? Who decides its definition?

I wish people would understand that it really is "okay to be different" and that issue isn't the person or family who is different. No. The really problem is the person who takes it upon himself or herself to act in a manner other than "okay."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Confidence to Combat

Recently Dr. Phil's show featured "modern families" including a mother with two biological children and who child whom she had adopted from China. The woman's question to Dr. Phil was how she should handle the rude comments and nosy questions that come from strangers including, "How can you love your adopted child as much as your biological children?"

Dr. Phil posted some helpful tips on his website. If you're an adoptive family, you could pass this on to friends and family members.

My husband and I joke that we're going to make a business card to hand to people that says something like:

Yes, we adopted our daughter. Yes, we realize she is black. Yes, she is "our own." Yes, adoption wasn't our second choice. Yes, adoption costs a lot of money, but we were paying for a process, not buying a baby. Yes, we believe this was God's plan for our family. And yes, if you don't like it, it's because you have some race issues that we hope you can deal with...privately.

We could just hand it to people and walk away. :)

Dr. Phil brought up a great point that an online friend of mine, who is an adoptee, once shared: How we react as adoptive parents to the questions and comments of others, while our child is standing there, matters!

I think as my husband and I grow in our confidence (of being a parent and as parents of a baby who doesn't look like us), our answers are stronger, more direct, and less confusing. When we first had our child I would mutter a response that was wordy and rambling. Now I can speak more frankly and without as much reserve. It's empowering.

Another online friend, Andi, said this recently on an online message board (paraprhased): We, no matter who you are, must combat racism no matter what.

Others are watching us, judging us, and probing us. How will we react?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Huh?

Recently we took a weekend trip. Saturday morning we headed to eat the hotel breakfast. (For the record, I bring my own oatmeal and homemade muffins for the baby). I finished quickly so I would have time to squeeze in a morning workout before we headed out for the day. My husband and daughter stayed behind to finish eating.

About fifteen minutes later, they stroll into the workout room to say hi to me. My husband shares that while he was cleaning E up, the breakfast attendant came up to her and was talking to her. Next, she asked Steve if he was the dad. Steve said yes. Then the next words out of the attendant's mouth were: "She looks like you."

HUH?

Besides sharing brown eyes, none of us look anything alike, starting with the quite apparent skin tone difference.

I have shared that sometimes people just don't know what to say. Some go on and on and on about how cute our daughter is....to the point that it gets weird. Some ask too many inappropriate, nosy, personal questions. And some, like the breakfast attendant, just blurt out something.

We have encountered a lot in our short journey as a multi-racial family, but the comment E looks like one of us is a first.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Be-Bo


My daughter is obsessed.


One evening last month during a routine bath, she discovered her belly button. The rest is history. :)


She loves lifting up other people's shirts---it's a treasure hunt for the next great belly button. She squeals in delight each time her tiny, pudgy finger makes it anywhere near someone else's "be-bo" (as a popular Sandra Boynton book refers to it).


My daughter's be-bo is quite unique. An outie. Shaped beautifully like a cinnamon roll that sits perfectly centered on her brownie-batter colored tummy. When she was just two months old, I took close up photos of her hair, hands, feet, eyes, nose, mouth, and of course, her be-bo.


This magical button is not just for decoration---though it is quite lovely. It's a reminder of someone she was connected to for thirty-nine weeks. A symbol. A place. A history.


My child doesn't know this yet. To her, her be-bo is a mysterious and fascinating toy that appeared one day on her tummy and has stuck around for more adventures. Whenever the mood strikes her, she can lift up her shirt and find it. She touches it, grins, and giggles.


As the years pass, I wonder what new and magical things my child will discover. And I am thankful for past, present, and future connections which appear to our family in surprising and beautiful ways.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Round Hole, Square Peg

Remember when I said I was all worked up about Miss R, the little girl whom I wanted to adopt, or thought I did? Well, after some prayer, lots of debates with myself and with God (which didn't result in me getting my way---BIG surprise), and discussions with the hubby, we know Miss R isn't our child.

I ache for her, and I pray that she finds a family who will love and provide for her.

So many children and their birth parents have crossed our path since we started our adoption journey in April of 2007. Most of them we never met, but we prayed for all of them. I have never stopped thinking about our first possible adoption situation (August 2007) and the young woman who claimed that her unborn baby was "annoying" (keeping her awake at night) and that she first wanted an abortion but found out she couldn't have one because she was due in seven weeks. Yeah. And now, we believe based on what we were told, she had a little girl and is parenting her. Wow.

Or T, a young lady in Michigan who wanted to meet us. The weekend we were to go meet her (and her unborn baby boy), she went into preterm labor and stopped talking to the adoption agency. She was due in June of 2008. Not our baby.

Or the young woman we met at a Chicago airport who was holding a beautiful biracial little boy. She put him in foster care for a week while she contemplated her adoption plan. Then she took him home. Her father, the baby's grandfather, sat across the table from his daughter, smiling at his beautiful grandson.

Or the women in Tennessee who had a black baby girl the very week we, on a whim, sent our profile to the agency. She had seven families to choose from. We weren't chosen. And that was the first time I bought baby girl clothes at our local Kohl's...without a baby....and I felt like a liar or a cheat. And I ended up returning the clothes. That baby wasn't ours.

Or all the possible expecting parents we were unofficially matched with who decided to take their babies home instead of placing them with adoptive families. The expectant parents, one of whom was battling alcoholism, took their baby home.

There are many many many other stories like these----every day, every where. Parents who didn't think they could parent and did. Or parents who didn't think they could parent and placed. And parents who had abortions, or almost did, and walked away from the clinics.

I hope wherever these parents and their children are, they are happy, healthy, and at peace. I hope they are on paths that are positive and right, not full of turmoil and pain.

For us, we have our family of three. Miss R, no matter how badly I wanted her to be with us, is just not meant to be our daughter. I was forcing the process too much. It wasn't organic or right. I could tell from the beginning.

I tried to tell myself that adoption is never easy, and sometimes force is necessary. My type A personalty begs me to push, push, push. It's exhausting for me, and sorry folks, the recipients of that pushing.

I asked several knowledgeable friends what they thought about us adopting Miss R. Most said we should just send in our homestudy just to see what information we would get. But my husband wisely said that once we had information, he knew I'd be sold on the idea...even if the information was clearly revealing to us that this child wasn't a good fit for our family.

Then he asked, "Are we trying to build our family or save a child?" GULP.

I tried. Lord, I tried. I wrote this fabulous cover letter to Miss R's social worker outlining why we are amazing parents. TA DA!!!!!! We are well-educated on transracial adoption, we live in a pet-free home (good for Miss R's medical needs), we have a nanny who is medically educated, I only work eight hours a week, I know about medical needs (have a major one myself---lucky ducky me), we believe in good health and practice what we preach, my husband has WEEKS of PAID paternity leave (great for bonding time!!!), and so and so and so forth. (Yeah, a little disgustingly reminiscent of the domestic adoption process where families compete for babies---ugg!)

Now I'll be writing a new cover letter to Miss R's social worker, telling her that as much as we want to proceed with finding out more about Miss R, God is telling us no.

Wise advice that I want to pass on that I did get from friends and family regarding the situation with Miss R:

  • Think of the child we have now. What is right for her? What are her needs?

  • Pray with each step we take. Don't bypass God, not even for a second.

  • This child came into our hearts simply with the need for us to pray for her, her foster family, and her future, adoptive family. And perhaps this happens with many possible adoption situations---that we are to pray for these individuals and their decisions and lives.

  • That perhaps Miss R simply opened our hearts to foster care...and that we will adopt from foster care in the future. Or perhaps there is another child coming to our family soon---and we need to start figuring out what that means for our family.

Why I spent a total of about two weeks stressing, debating, and not-sleeping over this situation is beyond me. I'm frankly annoyed with myself for not relaxing more or doing something more productive (like the nine items left on my to-do list) over my one month holiday break. But whatever. Today is a new day, a fresh start, and a chance to say a prayer for Miss R and focus my energies on the family I have right in front of me.

Wherever you are in your life's journey, I hope you are experiencing peace, understanding, and most of all, contentment. Count your blessings, pray for those who need to be blessed, and worry only about today, for as the Bible says, tomorrow carries its own troubles. Relish in today.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Post Holiday Shopping Success (Plus Some Good Gifts)





We were blessed this Christmas season with a few wonderful finds and gifts featuring children of color. As I've vented in a previous post, the frustration I face as a white women with a black child increases with each shopping trip. Toys, books, and decorations featuring black faces is rare. Most of the time the black kid is in a supporting role, if present at all. It might be ONE wise man in the nativity scene or ONE character in a storyline featuring a white family who happens to have a little black neighbor kid or something.


But---ahhh! Success this Christmas.


First, my daughter got an AA Cabbage Patch with thick, coarse hair, brown eyes, and a deep, brown skin tone. (I had fun purchasing preemie clothing for the newest addition to our family who has yet to be named).


Second, my friend Karen purchased four beautiful ornaments for us----girls in snowsuits doing various activities (snowboarding, for example). Two of the girls are black, one appears to be Hispanic, and one is white. Two points!


Third, I enjoyed spending a day with my mom, sister, cousin, and cousin's mom after Christmas. We had dinner at a local Cracker Barrel, which gets most of its appeal from the Old Country Store. One corner of the store was designated for Christmas clearance---70% off! My mom discovered a beautiful angel statue---a black angel!!! I purchased her for $4.50 and proudly placed her on the counter of my daughter's (slash guest) bathroom. I don't know if I'll be able to put her away with the rest of the Christmas decor.


There's hope. In darker store corners, on clearance tables, or in chance finds, there are representations of my daughter. I want there to be more. I will likely be disappointed time and time again. But for now, I will cherish these precious brown faces and rejoice that some company thought of the girls who look just like my baby---brown and beautiful.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Rise of the Media's Adoption Focus

Adoption used to be reserved for the occasional 20/20 special or the stories of adoptions gone wrong such as Baby Jessica's in the 1990s. Recently, Dr. Phil featured a birth mother who wants her child back, a birth father who never terminated his rights and lost his baby to adoption, and a few other stories. Today, shows like MTV's 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, ABC's Find My Family, and An Adoption Story, give viewers more opportunities to learn about adoption---a world that is clouded by stereotypes and mystifies many.



But are these shows accurately portraying the adoption experience? Well, there is no ONE experience, first of all. Second, remember these are televisions shows used to generate money for advertisers whose commercials appear every ten or so minutes. So the more drama, the better.



Take ABC's Find My Family, a show that features two stories a week of adoptees or birth parents seeking their biological family members. They meet for the first time in years, sometimes even decades, under the "family tree" (a crooked tree, on top of a hill, in the middle of nowhere). The host dramatically tells the seeking party to make his or her way up the hill, to "Go find your family." The whole show is terribly corny, yet I admit that it has brought me to tears a few times.



Teen Mom. This is a new show, a spin off of MTV's wildly successful show 16 and Pregnant. Teen Mom features five teenage mothers, four of whom are parenting their babies, and one of whom placed her baby for adoption. I just finished watching the newest episode, and I'm so disturbed by the environment the four babies are being raised in. There's constant drama (yelling, cursing, arguing, smoking, tantrums---from the adults!, breakups, artificial makeups, dirty houses, enabling grandparents, and immaturity)---and it sickens me. There the baby is, crying in a car seat, while her mom curses out her boyfriend, the baby's father, on the phone....again.



I am often torn between what is "right." I don't know if there are concrete reasons why a baby should be placed for adoption. I do not believe, for the record, that a young mom cannot be a good mom---but she needs support, and a good environment, and more support. I don't see a single one of the babies on Teen Mom being raised by their mothers (and their sometimes fathers) as good environments.



Maybe it's because I come from a middle-class, Christian household---where the standards were clear and morals were high---no cursing, smoking, drinking, screaming, etc. I was raised to believe that "normal" and "ok" meant safety, cleanliness, and respect for ourselves, others, and God. I admit my bias.



I believe that a child has needs RIGHT NOW---not in three years when a mom can finally pull herself together, breakup with a man who abuses her (physically or emotionally) or neglects her, and get herself an education or a good job. Love just isn't enough. So if a mom has a baby and can't take care of her in that very moment, is it fair or right to parent that child with the hope of a better tomorrow? I don't know. I don't think anyone does.



I also wonder if these shows, which document specific adoption journeys, are good for the shows participants. What about the baby that the MTV couple, Katelynn and Tyler, placed for adoption? What will she think seeing her birth parent's parents screaming and cursing at their children for placing the baby? What will this do to the little girl, Carly? And how do the adoptive parents feel? Their child's birth parents are being followed by cameras as they constantly deal with family and adoption drama. Is this a good thing for viewers who are watching the show in order to learn more about adoption? Will Katelynn and Tyler regret participating on this show and "airing their dirty laundry" for viewers to see (and judge)?



Adoption is a mystery to many people. Others think they understand it, but watch these shows out of interest and for the purpose of education. But what type of education are they getting? Will these shows backfire? Will adoptions rise, decline, or change because of the television trend?

The Media is a beast of its own. But then, what we, the viewers do with it, is a whole different ball game.