Tag Archives: adoption

Am I Raising A Victim?

White friends and family often ask me if I’m creating a self-fulfilling prophesy by teaching my son about racism.

  • Do I create a self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about road safety? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset by discussing looking both ways before crossing the street.
  • Do I create self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about cavities? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset by discussing oral hygiene.
  • Do I create a self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about expiration dates? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset by discussing food poisoning.
  • Do I create a self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about splinters? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset when I teach my son about wood grains.
  • Do I create a self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about bad movies? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset by discussing plot holes.

It sounds like blaming the victim. Nobody invites car accidents, cavities, food poisoning, splinters, or bad movies. We all accept that they exist. The more we understand those unpleasant realities, the more empowered we are to protect our bodies and our minds.

Why Does Whitey Take Up So Much Convo Space?

My son and I enjoyed a fro-yo in a small courtyard area after school today. A Black woman and a White woman sat at a small table next to us. The White woman talked and talked and talked and talked and talked. Eventually, I noticed my son watching the pair. I whispered to him, “That White lady is talking a lot, isn’t she?”

I’ve noticed this before. Whenever I sit near a White person and a Black person who are out together, the White person monopolizes the dialogue. The Black person quietly nods, and slips in short affirming exclamations. I wondered if my son noticed the same thing. Without even pausing for thought, he nodded.

Luc: “She should stop talking. The Black lady wants to say something.”

Me: “Do you think the White lady will stop talking so she can say it?”

Luc: (sighs like he’s 70 years old) “She should turn off her engine.”

Me: “Engine?”

Luc: (pointing at his mouth) “Yangyangyangyangyang…”

Luc & Me: (peels of laughter)

Am I Creating A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy?

White friends often ask if parents of Black children (like me) create a self-fulfilling prophesy by teaching our children about racism. Do they have a point? What if I replace “racism” with other words?

  • Are we creating a self-fulfilling prophesy by teaching kids about bullying? Maybe we shouldn’t color their judgement by talking about communication skills so much.
  • Are we creating a self-fulfilling prophesy by teaching kids about cavities? Maybe we shouldn’t color their judgement by talking about oral hygiene so much.
  • Are we creating a self-fulfilling prophesy by teaching kids about looking both ways before they cross the street? Maybe we shouldn’t color their judgement by talking about road safety so much.

To me, it sounds like blaming the victim. Nobody invites bullying, cavities, car accidents, or racism. And, the more all of us understand those realities, the more empowered everyone is to protect them self.

#theonlystupidquestion #istheonenotasked #openminds

Grandma Lee’s Funeral

Dress covered in wrinkles and iron juice, I try to seem as put-together as my cousin.

Dress covered in wrinkles and iron juice, I try to seem as put-together as my cousin.

My weekend might have been worse than yours. We flew to Athens, Georgia, for my grandmother’s funeral. Reed calls me the velcro member of “The Family” (the core family: my two sisters and our parents). I am the detachable/re-attachable obligation.

24 hours until the funeral:
Reed, Luc, and I arrive at Bob Hope International Airport relaxed, ready for caffeine, and determined to make the best of a funeral weekend. Michael, our Southwest ticketing agent, cringes as he breaks the news that we are at the wrong airport. Our flight will leave from LAX as scheduled, and we would need teleportation to board on time.

22 hours until the funeral:
The Great Wrong Airport Debacle of 2015 resolved (thank you, Southwest!!), we scuttle through security where I nervously present an expired driver’s license and my antique passport. A text from my sister pings that we should not stop by our parents’ house (both of my sisters are staying there) when we get to town because Mom is stressed. I figure she must only want family around her at a time like this. Oh wait. I am family.

11 hours until the funeral:
We hobble into the Holiday Inn of Athens, Georgia, at 1am. Luc is asleep. I am 18% alive. The empty bottle of saline surprises Reed anew, and he makes his monthly dash to a 24 hour drugstore.

4 hours until the funeral:
A text from my sister pings that we should not go to our parents’ house today before the funeral because Mom is overwhelmed. I figure she must want family around her at a time like this. Oh wait…

3 hours until the funeral:
A text from my sister pings that we should absolutely be on time for the funeral. The Family will arrive promptly at noon, and I’d better be there waiting. Or else. I silently question 5 hours of flying, 4 hours of laying over, and 3 hours of driving for this.

1 hour until the funeral:
The hotel iron is a union member who already worked 40 hours this week. My dress, covered in wrinkles and large ovals of iron juice, has reached a new level of suitcase chic.

11:15 AM:
We arrive at the church and debate parking in the spaces marked “Funeral.” My husband insists we can’t park there because “those spaces are for family only.” Really? Really?? Velcro Girl growls.

Noonish:
The Family arrives. Mom moves and speaks with a quiet fluidity. I think she is medicated. We file into a gargantuan sanctuary. Ambitious choice for a 99 year old’s funeral. Surprise baptism! My sister scheduled an adult baptism for herself. Today. An hour before our grandmother’s funeral. The Family is pleased and does not offer an explanation.

12:15 PM:
Miraculously, energetic, excited-to-see-each-other-after-a-whole-year 5 and 7 year-old cousins remain quietly pretend-somber. Sort of. Mom invites everyone to view a short, silent slide show of Grandma Lee through the years. It loops. And loops. For 45 minutes.

Grammy promises her fading grandchildren tiny, mysterious presents if they behave. Desperate parents hiss time-outs, shoot stink-eyes, and issue death threats to bring the impossible to fruition: happy, hungry, bored, quiet, calm children.

Post Funeral:
The service lasted in the neighborhood of 136 child-years. We file into a room with finger sandwiches and cookie platters. Luc takes a finger sandwich for show, and then shovels 80% of the cookies onto his plate. I pretend not to notice because, frankly, he deserves them.

Eventually we are dismissed and return to the hotel for food and swimming. A stressful, mandatory, The Family style dinner closes the day.

24 Hours Post Funeral:
Reed packed with an air of time abundance. We arrive at our gate hungry and just in time to board. Hopefully trail mix will satiate us for the next 5 hours. “Attention please: we have a passenger on board with a peanut allergy. No peanuts or peanut products will be permitted today. Thank you!” We survive on millions of pretzelito packs and thimbles of orange juice.

Was my weekend worse than yours?

Everything Bagel Life

Raisins ruin Everything bagels.

Raisins ruin Everything bagels.

I want an Everything bagel life. When onions, sesame seeds, salt, poppy seeds, and garlic each add their unique contributions, the result is an extraordinary bagel. The world is a richer place because of that collaboration.

But sometimes I feel like the raisins. Raisins aren’t invited to the Everything bagel party. Everybody knows that raisins would ruin the Everything bagel.

I found an interesting group created for inclusiveness in literature. It was thrilling to read their mission statement. “We recognize all diverse experiences…” They understood that having more books with a rainbow of characters would benefit everyone! This was the Everything bagel I’d been hoping for! But as I read about various grants and contests, I kept bumping into a familiar exclusion:

“Please note: … Being … a parent of … a diverse person will not qualify an otherwise ineligible applicant.”

It made me feel like a foolish raisin for once again trying to find acceptance in an Everything bagel.

My situation is tricky. I’m white, and so I have all the privilege that goes with being white. Is it because of white privilege that people judge me negatively for adopting a black child? We are routinely stared at, yelled at, scolded, mocked, threatened, harassed, bullied, dismissed, and excluded (see above).

What do I want? I’m not sure. My bio says: “An adoptive mom and former comic strip creator, I want to add to the diversity on the bookshelves by telling silly stories through a family that looks like mine: transracial and full of love.” I want to be a part of desensitizing people from the curiosity of uniqueness, and sensitizing them to a life of collaboration.

But, I keep getting scolded and told to go back to my Raisin bagel. On top of that, the Raisin bagel isn’t too sure about me anymore either. The raisin bagel thinks I wish I’d been born a poppy seed.

It always leaves me wondering, “Am I doing this right?”

Life Questioned: Did You Buy Luc?

When a conversation seems headed toward "orphanage," Luc shuts it down. Firmly.

When a conversation seems headed toward “orphanage,” Luc shuts it down. Firmly.

The other day, Luc and I were hanging out with a 7 year old family friend. Kind of out of the blue, she asked a blunt question. For the rest of the conversation, my only thought was, “Am I doing this right?”

Julie: “Did you have Luc in your tummy, or did you buy him?”

Me: “God brought our family together through adoption. Luc was not in my tummy.”

Luc: “I don’t want to talk about this.”

Me: “Fair enough, Luc. Is it okay if Julie asks me questions with her Mom when you are not around?”

Luc: “Not if she’s gonna come to me afterward with even more questions.”

Me: “OK. Julie, can we promise that I’ll answer your questions, and that you won’t try to talk to Luc about this unless he says it’s okay?”

(Silence.)

Luc: “She’s not promising.”

Me: “Julie, have you ever been through something in your life that was really hard, and you don’t want to talk about it?”

Julie: “Yes.”

Me: “That’s how Luc feels about this subject. Does that make sense?”

Julie: “Yes.”

Me: “So, can you two agree that you won’t ask each other about the hard stuff you’ve been through that you don’t want to talk about?”

Both: “Yes.”

Me: “Thanks, y’all. And by the way, Julie, I want to be clear about one thing that is absolutely true. I love Luc exactly as much as your Mom loves you.”

Julie: “I don’t know about that. My Mom loves me the biggest number.”

Me: “I know! And that’s how much I love Luc, too!”

Then Julie and Luc argued over which amount of love was bigger: infinity or googleplex. But how many zeroes does googleplex have? We would need to google it. “We need to Google googleplex.” Giggles. And we closed the conversation giggling about Googling googleplex.

Frye’s Higher Geography (a textbook from 1895) – Page 33

Since I am a cartoonist, I understand my mental processing this way: Hammy (the abusive alcoholic hamster on the wheel that is my brain) is a cynic to say the least. He allows me to believe horrific truths only to a point. Even if I want to believe. Hammy forcibly blocks my access to emotional reality by throwing whiskey bottles at my “Medulla Incredulla.”

For example: When my uncle’s body was discovered two weeks after he died, I found myself compulsively Googling body decomposition. It took me months of research to fully wrap my head around what had happened.

Now that I have explained the inner workings of my brain, let’s move on…

My brother-in-law and his wife cleaned out the family storage unit. They found boxes upon boxes of very old family photos, books, letters, death certificates, and more. While visiting them this past week, I got to dig in, and I found “Frye’s Higher Geography: Georgia Edition” by Ginn & Company. It was written in 1895.

Finding a textbook that my husband’s family has been holding onto for over a century was a gift to me, and a blow to Hammy. I have been able to touch the pages and see with my own eyes a book that actually taught human beings to oppress our own kind: human beings. The method seems to have been based on grouping humans based first on global location, then flesh color, and then on similarity or dissimilarity to European culture.

A "negro" baby seems to be riding an ostrich in Africa.

A “negro” baby seems to be riding an ostrich in Africa.

“Illustrations: Nearly all the pictures in this book were engraved directly from photographs. To the selection and grouping of subjects for the photographs, the author has given fully as much time and care as to the text itself. The aim has been to present characteristic or typical forms that are educative.” — Alexis Everett Frye, Former Superintendent of Schools of Cuba

A "Negro." It looks like the young person who belonged to this book drew the "Negro" spitting up a white man's nose?

A “Negro.” It looks like the young person who belonged to this book drew the “Negro” spitting up a white man’s nose?

"If the long rivers of Africa were open to ships from the sea, the poor savages might more easily learn how the white man dresses, prepares food," etc.

“If the long rivers of Africa were open to ships from the sea, the poor svages might more easily learn how the white man dresses, prepares food,” etc.

"The Negroes of Africa have broad flat noses, thick lips and black frizzly hair..."

“The Negroes of Africa have broad flat noses, thick lips and black frizzly hair…”

“Such natives are very ignorant. They know nothing of books; in fact, they know little, except how to catch and cook their food, build their rude huts, travel on foot through the forests, or in canoes or on the rafts on the rivers, and make scanty clothing out of the skins of animals or fibers of grasses or bark.”

“Millions of black people have been taken from their homes in Africa and sold as slaves in other lands. The climate of their native land fitted the Negroes to work in the warm regions of the earth, and there they have been most useful, chiefly to the white people. In most places the slaves have been set free and have generally settled where they worked.”

One of the crimes of abuse tends to be the denial by the abuser of wrongdoing, or even of any injury at all. I hope that relief and vindication will accompany the deep sadness these excerpts cause. With that hope, I will continue to put posts together based on this textbook.

My Son Thinks I Stole Him

Okay, so my son was asked to work on an autobiography project recently. It brought up a hurricane of memories, feelings, anxieties, sadness, questions, etc. around being adopted.

Last night, I snuggled him in his bed and asked him about the friends he has confided in about being adopted. I wanted to know what they said or did that helped him to trust them. And I’d like to try to be more like them in that way. One thing I noticed is that he found friends who have also been through a life-tragedy that they keep inside. Another common thread was their enthusiasm for adoption. And finally, their encouragement that things would turn out ok.

Then, he talked about his fear that I would be mad or sad (or both) upon hearing what was going on inside his head. He referenced a time when he told me that he wished I had the same skin color as him. He said I got mad at him.

In my head, I am pleased that he wishes I were black. The books and experts warned that all interracially adopted children wish they looked like their parents. I knew it was coming. I was dreading what was promised to me by those sources: my son would inevitably wish he were white. But he didn’t, he wished I were black. I take that to mean that he is glad to be black. I hope. But, this is where I made my first blunder.

I regret contradicting him and telling him that I didn’t get mad. The point is that he felt like I was mad, and that’s all that matters. I wish that I had instead asked what I had done to give him the impression that I was mad. Someone at an improv show once explained that comedy and improv are about saying “yes” to your partner. You can never say “no.” I need to do that for Luc when he shares his thoughts. I have to find a way to always say “yes,” and to always focus on learning from him.

His latest belief is that we stole him, and since he couldn’t talk, he couldn’t object. He struggles to understand and believe that his birth mother had to give him up for adoption, especially since she kept his three bio-siblings. To be honest, nobody warned me about this one. I’ve gotten nasty comments from various African American adults over the years, but I didn’t think Luc would buy into that idea.

In the end, I told him about Dixie and John Bickel (God’s Littlest Angels, Haiti). They are an incredible American couple who went to Haiti to start a baby hospital. I know that she works tirelessly to help Haitian parents find resources and work in order to be able to provide for their children, and keep them at home. She only accepts children for adoption if every other possibility has been exhausted.

I don’t know any details behind the decision for Luc to be adopted. But, as I told him, I trust Dixie and I trust Mama C (our name for Luc’s birth mom). If I didn’t trust them, or if they had found a way for Mama C to be able to care for Luc, I would have absolutely supported it. Because I love Luc so much that I would have wanted him to be able to stay with his biological mother if at all possible. But, again, I trust Mama C and I trust Dixie.

Adoption never comes with out a huge price. The loss is incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t actually experience it. Even to me. I feel the loss more than a parent with no adoption experience, but I can only guess about the pain Luc, Mama C, and Luc’s bio siblings endure. I wish I could fix it.

Another part of adoption is the need to accept was is. We don’t have to like it. We don’t have to fully understand it. But we must not waste resources wishing or, worse, trying to change what is. Luc wishes he could live with his birth mother. He thinks that he loves her more than he loves me. And yet, he loves Reed and me and knows that we are his parents on that deep take-it-for-granted level, like how we think of oxygen and gravity.

And I wish that I could make this okay for him. I wish I could say or do something that would take away the daily heartache for Mama C. And I don’t understand why her biggest, life-altering loss is my biggest, life-altering joy. And I don’t know how to feel about that.

But, it is.

Of course I am sad for his confusion, but I think that the messiness is healthy. It indicates that he is already working through the gigantic mountain of issues that come with being adopted. It’s not pleasant for him, but it will make him stronger, and hopefully healthier.

For now, all I can do is show unwavering support for my son.

Am I doing this right??


P.S. For the record, our adoption is 150% legal. At no time was there ever anything but transparent, complicit obedience of the law (both letter and spirit).

Autobiography School Projects Are a No-No

Luc was asked to write an autobiography in class. I’ve been really really really loudly communicative and clear with all of his teachers that family tree projects and autobiographies are extremely difficult for adopted kids. So, I’m a little annoyed that this project proceeded.

When I talked to the teacher and the head of the lower school, the teacher said that Luc’s first sentence was something like “I was born in Haiti, and brought to this beautiful land…” They thought this indicated that Luc was in a good place with it. Wrong!! That is Luc overcompensating for feeling boxed into a corner and told to write about his deepest tragedy.

It has brought up loads of feelings and issues and sadness and fear and anger and etc. I didn’t really feel like they believed me when I told them this. It’s hard for people to understand unless they are adoptive parents with lots of research under their belt. They have to try to trust me.

A friend just called and said her son found Luc crying at recess. Luc opened up about being adopted from Haiti and shared a lot of his story with his friend. The child wanted to help Luc and told him it would be okay. But Luc asked how he could know that when he doesn’t know what it’s like to be adopted and he has parents who look like him.

The conversation opened the friend’s eyes and his Mom’s eyes to see that Luc has to wrestle with enormous issues every day that the rest of us know nothing about. It’s my job to fight for him to be able to do that on his terms, in his way, in his time. And I hope I get it right.

He’s such an amazing, strong, brave kid. What a blessing. I’m so thankful to God every day that I get to be his mom.

Intentions vs. Consequences

All of the adoption parenting books talk about the adoptee’s burning questions and curiosity about birth family. I thought I was ready for it. We’ve had some conversations about it, and I thought I was doing just fine. I thought I was on top of that game.

Last night, my son broke down and spoke really honestly about how much he wishes he were not an “adopted kid.” I think I kind of get that. I wish for him that he didn’t have to endure allllll the questions. I wish people would not force him to teach anyone he encounters about adoption, birth families, Haiti, and “real” moms. Each of the answers to those questions has come with an overwhelming burden of loss. He hasn’t been able to wrap his own head around this complicated concept yet. He’s not ready to teach. He may never be ready to teach.

There was something about the depth of his sorrow that sent me to a selfish head zone. As much as I claim to be his REAL mother, will I ever fully receive that honor?

Over the years, it’s felt like a punch in the gut with a wrecking ball when I’ve watched people casually erase me from my son’s lineage. When we go out with a black friend, a stranger will tell the friend how cute Luc is, instead of me. If I stand more than two feet from my son, strangers ask him if he is lost. When we went to the ER for Luc’s concussion, every staff member confirmed “Is he your son?” before proceeding. Many people feel a compulsion to tell me what a wonderful thing I have done for Luc, and what a kind person I am. Sometimes they tell me God will reward me, and I inform them that He already did.

Semantics seem minor, but they feel big to me. When people add the qualifier “adoptive” before parents, it stings. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone do that to my face, but it hurts even when they are describing someone else. I think if they did it to my face, it would hurt deeply.

Perhaps the worst is how people assume that adoptive parents don’t love our children as much as biological parents.

So, ya know, anyway … yeah.