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Karen's latest post on strangers' interest in her family has tweaked me into mentioning something I've been thinking for a while and been meaning to tell you folks. See, I have a new theory (new to me, anyway, I imagine adoption veterans already know this).
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are able to "get" adoption and those who aren't.
The people who are able to get adoption, don't necessarily get it now. But these are folks it's worth trying Karen's "B" strategy with. Then there are people who just don't get it and never will. It has been hard for me--inveterate teacher that I am--to accept that, but it's a fact. There are people incapable of getting it, because they don't really want to get it and don't think it will ever apply to them and just plain don't care. They are more interested in hysterical portrayals of adoption in the media and gossipy stories about adoption-gone-bad than they are about anything in reality and That. Is. That.
And if you can sniff them out quickly enough, they are perfect for Karen's A strategy or sometimes C, depending on the safety level of the environment. Just, whatever you do, don't waste your precious energy worrying about what they think.
And that is my theory. I think every adoptive parent will do well to accept the truth of this as soon as possible, and then start honing the radar for picking up on what huge sweeping category the stranger in line at the grocery store falls into as quickly as possible. That's what I'm starting to get to these days. But I have to admit, I still get shell-shocked pretty often when people say rude things.
And that's my assvice to the Internets for the month.
Book list TK, asap. It's a lot of work, but I will get it up here.
To what extent are you comfortable articulating issues and questions of race with your non-white friends?
I'm uncomfortable with asking my minority friends to explain how race works in this country--yet clearly it's a field where I have tons to learn. Do you share my dilemma? How do you handle it?
I certainly understand how you feel. Personally, I have been lucky to have some very kind, generous friends willing to talk about stuff with me. I can't say I remember many "okay, tell me all about race" conversations, but there have been plenty of race conversations, often initiated by me, in which I learned a lot.
I guess most of my learning about race has happened in academic ways. I've read a lot of books and sat around a lot of seminar tables talking about it with people whose job it is to teach me about it.
It's my job to teach about it now, and I see the issue from a slightly different perspective of feeling the need to protect my minority students from their white peers who want to look to them as the race experts. When I taught at a mostly white, mostly well-to-do (upper-middle and upper-class) university, I generally had about 10% minority representation in my classes. That might mean one or two Black students. I teach a lot about the relationship between white and Black Americans for the past 200 years, and often the white students would all literally look at the Black students (or sometimes student) when we'd be talking about it. I worked hard to remind them (without coming out and saying it) that I was the expert in the class and they should ask me their questions about Black issues in U.S. culture, not the person who just happened to have skin the same color as W.E.B. DuBois or Frederick Douglass. (Often enough, the Black students in my classes were second or even first generation immigrants but the white students just saw them as "Black" and thus, African American and experts on African American issues.)
I think it's important to remember that this is a concrete, historical and cultural subject that can be learned. You can't learn what it feels like on a personal level to be a race other than your own, but you can certainly learn about how race works in our culture. And just because someone has a particular identity doesn't mean they are experts in the history of those who happened to share their identity. I mean, have you seen the stats on what the "average" (read: white) Stanford or Berkley student doesn't know about basic U.S. history? White students, that is, don't necessarily know (what is widely assumed to be) "white" history. So I look at it mostly as a subject that it's my job to learn about by doing the research. Now I also get the wonderful (though sometimes frustrating) opportunity to teach other white students about it and thus spare some Black person out there the experience of watching yet another white person shove her foot in her mouth at an unfortunate moment.
I am working to build positive black identity through language, role models, literature, etc. I would be interested to read how you are doing that. Do you have any good kid's books to recommend?
Nat's still little and has yet to notice racial difference. But I spend a lot of time thinking about the need to make sure she knows how beautiful and smart she is while living in a society that tells her otherwise. I love kids' books and have a small pile of race-related ones in the cabinet waiting for her to be old enough to stop tearing and chewing them up. But my priority for teaching her a positive self image that includes race is giving her Black people to look to as examples of successful, happy, smart, proud adults who look like her. I don't think the importance of that can be overstated. For me, I almost see it as my top priority in parenting--perhaps second only to a fabulous education. (Well, I guess both of those are second to giving her an unwavering faith in my unconditional love and support for her happiness, but that isn't too challenging yet.) So as she gets older, I get more anxious to look around and make sure she gets opportunities to bond with Black adults she could imagine growing up to be like. And as the post below shows, we aren't really there yet to the extent we'd like to be, but we're working on it and will keep working on it.
It's hard to be an interracial family in such a segregated country. There is virtually no place to stand and be all of what we are. It isn't a matter of people "approving" or "disapproving" of our family, it's a matter of where to live, where to go to church, where to shop, where to play. It almost always comes down to a choice between one race or another predominating. And I am usually happy to be in the minority so that my daughter doesn't have to be, when I can choose that. But then there's the question of her peers wondering why she has white parents and there she is, in the minority again after all.
Sometimes, on the playground, children ask guileless race questions of us and I imagine what it might be like when she's old enough that they just start asking her. For example, one day on the playground, a little Black girl with a nearby preschool group asked a biracial (looking) boy if I was his mommy. "No!" he said as if she was crazy. She looked at me then, and said "whose mommy are you?" Nat was standing at my feet, her hand on my knee. I touched her head. "I'm her mommy" I said. "Oh" said the little girl quietly and ran off. Soon after, the biracial boy asked me to watch him do a trick on the monkey bars--then another and another. He and I were bonded pretty tightly by the time his (indeed, white) mommy came to collect him.
Another time at another playground, a Black girl about two years older than Nat played with us on a rocking boat (with two other Black children) for a while and finally got up the courage to ask me "why is she [Nat] Black?" "One of her mommies is Black" I answered. "Are you her mommy?" she asked. I told her I was one of her mommies. She reported all this to her care giver who later asked me if Nat was my foster child.
Another time, a white girl about 5 years old asked me if Nat was my baby. I told her she was. "But she's brown" the little girl said. "She's adopted" I answered. I didn't like my answer in that case and have spent some time turning it over to try and come up with a better one that doesn't make Nat the oddity. Yet I know that what I said answered what that little girl was really asking. It's the information she was looking for. I heard her a minute later say to a friend in an overacting pretend voice, "I'm adopted!" New concept? Maybe.
Someday before very long, Nat is going to be getting these questions herself and they aren't just a matter of adoption or just a matter of Black pride or white liberal okayness with interracial families. They are a matter of explaining in-betweenness in a world that loves to keep things in tidy categories. I have lived in in-between places for much of my life and learned the ropes of not fitting in early. Nat will learn them earlier yet. I hope she decides like I did, that it's a blessing. Those are certainly our family's values and we will undoubtedly make them clear overtly and implicitly. So far, Nat has a fairly stubborn way about her. She's not defiant or willful (more than the average toddler--perhaps a little less than the average toddler so far) but she has a real sense of confident self about her. I am counting on that carrying her through the playground discussions to come.
Later, I'll post some of my favorite books for kids and adults if folks are interested. Right now, I'm headed to bed.
We went to vote today. We're going to be in Vancouver (getting hitched!) on Election Day, so we took advantage of the early voting option.
They wouldn't let Cole vote.
They insisted that it was "impossible" that she voted in the last election, unless there had been a "whole series of mistakes." Well, seeing as she voted in the last election, I guess there was a whole series of mistakes.
So now, it will take her some time to straighten it out. If this had happened on Election Day, it's anybody's guess whether she'd have had time to straighten it out and get her vote counted.
So be on the safe side and make sure you're counted. If you have the chance, vote early.
"...do you feel like talking about the challenges of raising a transracial family specifically in a Midwestern college town?
Let's imagine social life as a series of concentric circles. Let's say the outermost of the circles is people you see at the grocery store, the next ring is people who live in your neighborhood, then people you see at work and know casually, then people from more intimate places (for me that would include church and my new mother's group) then there are the people you'd call close friends, then people you'd call family.
In our current life, the grocery store ring is mixed, racially, probably about 70/30 white/black. But that is only if you count the workers at the store (mostly Black) and only one of the three stores I go to. It's the big box cheap store. I also go to a smaller, independently owned health food store where the mix is closer to 85/15 white/Black (and the Black part is almost exclusively shoppers, not employees who tend to be hippy student-types).
In the neighborhood ring, it depends. We live on what is literally the transition block, really, between a mostly white, mostly middle-class, mostly owner-occupied neighborhood and what is a mostly Black, mostly working-class, mostly rental neighborhood. So if I turn the stroller in one direction, I will encounter about a 10/90 white/Black ratio as I walk down the street and if I turn the other it's more 50/50. We live about three blocks from a nice-sized park with a playground and fountain and though it is in the white direction, it attracts kids from all over the area. It is used as a play space by the mostly white preschool kids from the church across the street and as a PE space for the mostly Black high school kids a block away. So when we go there, it can be 50/50 or it can tilt in one direction or the other depending on who's around at the time.
When it comes to the work ring, Cole does a lot of work for and with the African American Studies department, so she has lots of professional acquaintances and a couple closer friends from work who are Black, which is a natural way things have fallen for both she and I for years, based on our areas of study. While I don't "see" the students I teach online, they are about 90% Black, as I've been teaching African American literature for an institution that draws a lot of its students from the same population I taught in the D.C. public high school. So when we do professional things we are sometimes in a 50/50 or majority Black group of people. But Cole works in other departments as well, and one she recently left had only one Black member of the faculty--strongly recruited in fact, by Cole--and he was their first ever in the department's history. So it's not like "A Different World" or anything at the U. over here. I imagine folks here who don't "do" African American work could pretty easily spend a lot of time on campus without ever talking to a Black colleague.
Then there are the closer social circles of acquaintances like church and the mom's group. Well. There are only two Episcopal churches in this town and one (sadly the one with a 15 minute later service and only three blocks from my home) has exaclty zero Black people in the congregation from what I've been able to ascertain in about three total visits. But they have this bulletin board with polaroids of "our church family" and it's solidly white. I've never taken Nat there and probably never will. It's not my favorite church in other ways too, but it's not totally evil or anything. Just not exactly my cup of tea. The church I do take Nat to (and where she was baptized) is slightly better on the People of Color to white people ratio, but I'd say it's around 15% nonwhite. Most of those are Black--some African American, some Afro-Carribean, some African--but some are South Asian or South American. Here, I compromise. There isn't a Black church in town where I feel comfortable theologically and politically and as a lesbian all together. And those are actually pretty darn important to me when it comes to church. If I couldn't find them in a blend I felt comfortable with, I'd probably skip church altogether. My hope is that by the time Nat is school-aged, we'll be living somewhere with more churches to choose from. I can think of three, off the top of my head, in D.C. that are majority Black, where I'd be perfectly thrilled to attend. Here, I compromise with the knowledge that few though they are, the Black members of my church are high-profile. They serve in leadership roles that put them in the eye of the congregation. So they sort of over-represent, if you will.
As for the mom's group, I don't know for a fact, but I don't think there is a single Black mom in the group. When we go to playgroups, though the kids from the group tend to be white, we are often in public parks and...
hey, funny story:
Last time I went to one of these playgroups in a public park, I chatted and all with the moms that came, but it so happened that a Black woman with an in-home daycare and about 6 little (Black) kids just Nat's age were all there (at the park, not with the group) too. So I ended up spending a lot of time playing with those kids (as did Nat) and talking to the woman caring for them about our family. I think the other moms from the group I was supposedly with thought I was just that much weirder as a result of this dissident behavior. But anyhow, it wasn't just race, but age. Those little ones were right with Nat developmentally and she had a great time hanging with them.
But really, they are all super nice people and I'm making some friends, but the moms' group is not the place to get your racial diversity around here.
Now for close friends: I'd say that if we have ten close friends, three of them are African American. But this is tricky for me, because close friends and family really overlap a lot in my world and in that case, I'd have to add Uncle Wayne, Nat's god father, who is Afro-Carribean-American (a recent citizen in fact!). Also, Cole has a couple of colleagues whom I've met plenty but don't know super well, who I think she'd call close friends and they are Black men (one African, one Afro-Carribean-British). Few of our close friends live near by, so when it comes to Nat's daily life, these folks aren't around constatnly, but they are important people who will persist in her life over time. (And the ones who do live close by are super busy and we don't see them often enough, you know who you are!!!)
Nat has been spending Friday afternoons with an immigrant family from Ethiopia (as I mentioned to you all earlier). The mom in the family, being just a bit younger than my own mom, has decided that Nat will have to be her grandbaby stand-in since her eldest (and married) son is not delivering the kids yet. Her 17 year-old daughter (who is the official babysitter) is just about Nat's favorite person besides Uncle David, or her moms, and the dad is usually home when Nat is there too, and she has him all charmed as well. Nat hasn't noticed racial difference yet. I don't know if she'll notice it earlier than most kids (when I taught preschool, it seemed the 2 year-old class didn't notice race or gender differences, but the 3 year-old class was usually starting to), but I'm glad that whenever she does, she'll look up and see at least some of her critical caregivers look like her.
As far as blood family goes, Cole and I both come from red-neck hillbilly stock from way back. Which means heaven only knows what our racial ancestry truly is. Certainly, our grandparents' generation would have sworn on a stack of KJV's to their white racial purity, but as a scholar of nineteenth century U.S. race issues, I can safely say that wouldn't amount to a hill of beans. My parents grew up in the same county where Nat's first mother's mother was raised. We're probably related one way or another way back there somewhere. But white. We all present white. With all the complex history of nonsense and downright evil that entails. The family that we actually engage with in real relationships are all into struggling with and learning about the baggage of that. But they are indeed what they are.
I won't lie to you, I'd rather we lived in a large city, on a coast--okay the east coast--okay, Washington, D.C.--where I imagined for many years raising my children and even raising Black children. (Which is another story, but suffice it to say I have had fostering or adoption in mind for a while and in D.C. that pretty much means having transracial fostering or adoption in mind.) But given that we are stuck here on the wind-bitten plains, I think we do okay. And we are always on the look out for ways to do better.
But here's something to keep in mind if you're a white person thinking about transracial adoption. This social makeup in our lives didn't happen over night. Most of it didn't happen in response to transracial adoption. Rather, to the contrary, we decided we could handle transracial adoption because of the racial circumstances of our lives. Cole chose to live here 13 years ago and she chose to live here because at that time, it was not the transitional block, but still part of the mixed-income, more Black, less white neighborhood and that's the kind of place she felt comfortable and at home after years of living in majority Black neighborhoods in LA during graduate school, for example. And the fact that we both studied different areas of U.S. culture that nonetheless involved a lot of Black/white race history meant we bumped into and thus made friends with Black people a long time ago.
I'm not saying that if you have zero racial diversity in your life, you shouldn't adopt transracially. But I am saying this kind of conscious race thinking preceeded our decision to adopt and if you didn't have it before you adopted, well, it might be a steep learning curve. We of course, continue to learn about the complexity of race in America every single day. Having Nat in the family teaches us stuff we'd have never learned otherwise and we're grateful for the opportunity to learn it. As she gets older, no doubt the challenges will get stickier. I worry a lot about basic freudian identification issues, for example. I know it's common for small children to wish they looked like their parents. So I am already laying awake nights fretting about how to drum it into her that she sure as heck doesn't want to look like me because she's ten times more gorgeous. And other things of course. It's just not easy to be Black in America. But I do think it's an incredible gift and I hope and pray we can raise her to really understand that.
Thanks for the feedback, folks. It is reassuring. I am going to answer Beate's race question in detail here soon. (I sent her an email about the other stuff.)
But right now, I am ill, ill, ill. Sinus infection returned on Monday and Cole made me go to the doctor on Tuesday. She (the doctor) gave me the same big-gun antibiotic stew that she gave me last year after two rounds of the ordinary stuff didn't work. The problem was, I hadn't really eaten in two days and the drug gave me convulsions and other unpleasant--even unmentionable--side effects all Tuesday night. So Wednesday I switched back to the easy drug. Hopefully that will be enough.
Meanwhile, Cole and David have picked up the Nat slack while I've lolled in bed and Nat, as a result is feeling all insecure and clingy to me every time I venture within leg-grabbing range. In addition to the daytime clinging, Nat has decided that she can no longer just roll over and go back to sleep when she wakes at night, so I was up with her four or five times last night so she could yawn happily, pat my arm enthusiastically, declare "awww!" (her hug sound-effect) and snooze contentedly in the rocking chair like she did when she was wee.
Which means, no sleep for me and thus--heh--no recovery for me. It's a vicious cycle, see?
So rather than write about race just now, I'm headed in for a nap as long as Nat allows. Catch you later.
When planning certain kinds of (somewhat) predictable international adoptions, parents can tell their existing children about the expected baby at appropriate times in age-appropriate ways. When pregnant with a second baby, most parents can wait a safe interval and let their first child know whatever info about the birds and the bees is appropriate and give a sense of when the baby will arrive. A few weeks before birth, parents can take their kids to hospitals for kid-friendly courses on becoming a big sibling.
But in the sort of adoption we are doing, we have no way of knowing if a baby will arrive tomorrow or a year from tomorrow or any time in between. Right now, Nat is too young to understand anything that theoretical. To prepare her for a new baby I've tried to spend a little extra time playing with the doll baby with her. I tell her, "the baby is hungry!" or "the baby is sleepy" or "the baby is crying" and we take care of the doll accordingly. When we see or visit babies, I say, "oh it's a baby! We're going to get a new baby too! You have to be gentle with babies." And then there's the Elmo dvd about babies.
And that's it. If Nat's new sibling came tomorrow, she'd be absolutely shell-shocked. And since she's too young to get "could be tomorrow, could be next year" it seems like pretty much any time the baby comes will be tomorrow for Nat.
Hopefully, the waiting list will be a bit more accurate this time than it was for Nat (we waited less than half the time we expected) and we can try more explicit baby preparation when it seems a baby is likely to be a month or two away. But we don't want to tell Nat a pre-birth match is to be expected, as she's really too little to get "maybe this will be our baby/maybe it won't."
In short, does anyone have any ideas about how to prepare a toddler for the disruption of a baby sibling without a clear time line for the arrival of that baby? I know some of you have been through this. Books? Activities? Help!
I was talking to some non-bloggers about blogging yesterday and it occurred to me that I have never really written an obligatory "my blogging philosophy" post here, though I've commented extensively on others'.
My Blogging Philosophy:
In a nutshell, it's the Internet. Everyone I ever met or ever will meet whether they love me or hate me or something in-between WILL read it. I choose content accordingly.
I take this view even with people in my face-to-face life who I know for a fact will never find my blog. I assume in that case that someone they know will find it and tell them all about it.
So if you read it here, it's something I would say to the face of "everyone I ever met or ever will meet whether they love me or hate me."
For some bloggers, this is too stifling, but for me? I'm a loudmouth and always have been. The teachers at back-to-school night used to say to my parents "she's smart, but opinionated." It took me a long time to understand why they used "but." I always thought opinionated was a good thing. And I still do, but I try (most of the time) to be kind, as well. So if I ticked a reader off,* I probably thought long and hard before I wrote whatever and decided I was willing to tick some people off. I prefer not to tick anybody off as it is usually alienating and not helpful in my pursuit of decency and respect for all, which is high on my blog agenda.
I do strive to be the same person in every aspect of my life. So my blogging isn't hampered too much by my imagined audience of "everyone." But there are some things I just don't blog, because I don't want everyone to know them, or because they intertwine too closely with the stories of others.
When it comes to my kid on the internet, I fall between the extremes of parents who put pictures up and tell about their kids' most embarassing moments and parents in deep anonymous mode who never post pictures. I decided that one year of baby pictures, free to the public was fine, since babies are pretty generic little beings. But I decided not to keep posting pictures into Nat's early childhood just because I'd rather not be in an airport somewhere and have a stranger run up and go, "hey Nat!" If you do think you see us in an airport (or wherever) by the way, please DO come up, just talk to me first! I still post photos with a password. That way the grands and other interested parties can see them, and you can to, if you send me a friendly email. I'm pretty liberal with the password. I'd just like to have a sense that the folks who want to see her love her (or at least wish her the best).
If you blog, have you ever been in a highly public place, like a library or an electronics store, and brought your blog up on a computer and walked away? We were in Chicago, checking email at the Apple store and I did this. I felt really nervous about the strangers in the store seeing my blog. I had to sit with the feeling and decide what that meant. Because that's what blogging is. I think bloggers often feel that we are an intimate little group of folks having friendly chats. I know when I imagine my audience, I imagine those who've commented or sent me email. But my stats tell me that only about 5% of folks who come here and stay long enough to read leave a comment. So those strangers milling around in the Apple store are my audience too. That is: unknown strangers.
Again, it's the Internet.
I've had face-to-face acquaintances come up to me and say in a kind of "gotcha" voice "I found your website!" I have to say my reaction is just, "so?" It's the WORLD-WIDE-WEB. It's not my private journal hidden under my bed. I put it here. Of course you found it.
As far as the axe-murderer thing goes, I have never understood it. Frankly, the Internet, being virtual and all, doesn't seem dangerous to me at all (short of identity theft issues). If someone wants to harm me, following me home from the grocery store would be a lot easier than figuring out where I live from my blog and coming to my house. I see the Internet as just another anonymous public space in our world, like the grocery store, the park, the Apple store in the middle of Chicago, the airport or where ever. And when it comes to meeting other bloggers or blog readers face-to-face, I think that's safer than talking to a stranger at the art gallery. After all, you've had a chance to vet them through some email conversation before coming into physical contact with them.
I like the Internet, because it gives those of us who are reader-and-writer types a strong platform in which to hang out and meet each other. And that is my blogging philosophy!
* For my international readers: "ticked off" is U.S. English slang for making someone angry.
My old college chum, Heather Murphy is one of those rare geniuses who can pick anything up and master it in ten minutes. She's funny, smart, beautiful and knows how to bring people together and create a good time. A really good time. With almost no alcohol. She's just that good.
She's also a stay-at-home mom to two little boys, living on a cul-de-sac in the middle of Missouri. In the scads of spare time this doubtless allows she does many creative things, including drawing, writing and publishing her own 'zine, "Hinky;" you know, with a pen flowing with ink, held in her hand and moved across...paper. In short, she was a blogger before blogging was even a thing.
I interviewed Heather about her 'zine. Here's what she had to say:
Q: What does "hinky" mean?
A: Well, 'hinky' means something amiss, awry, or otherwise off. Which was how I was feeling when I started writing.
Q: Why did you start the zine?
A: I felt very isolated as a SAHM in a town full of social conservatives, with the only other SAHMs being fundamentalist Christians. I needed a creative outlet to keep me from freaking out.
Q: What are your hopes for the zine and its circulation?
A: I want to get the zine in bookstores, hopefully in major cities like San Francisco, Boston, and maybe NYC, if God is smiling on me. I want people to read it and think I am hysterical, and cast me in a movie which will launch my celebrity career. Seriously, although I still want to be a movie star, I don't think this is my vehicle to get there. I want to keep writing the zine to give me practice for a book I hope to write someday. I also hope to educate young people (any people, really) about zines and get them to make their own. Nobody, I mean nobody around here even knows what they are. They think when I say "zine" I am trying to be cool, like saying "zuh" for "pizza." And meaning it.
Q: Do you have any other projects that keep you sane?
A: My other projects are hand-embroidered baby onesies, fleecy blankets and burpcloths, and eventually silkscreening, although I am taking a dog's age getting around to learning that one. I'm not sure what my ultimate goal is...fame and fortune, maybe, although this hobby stuff isn't going to get me there. I also love to paint and do crafty artworky sort of stuff.
You heard it here, first folks. Get your very own copy of Hinky so you can say you have one when Heather's name makes it up there in lights. She is gosh-darned funny, people. And the price of 'zine barely covers its production and shipping, so you'll be getting maximum laughs per penny.
What I don't get is how a republican Congress member during the Spy-On-Citizens Administration thought he could send the least confidential form of communication--email--to minors whose parents he encourages to read their email, and not get caught.
It just goes to show you that these guys assume they are not subject to the laws they make. Anybody that full of hubris or stupidity needs to resign anyway.