Category Archives: adoption

Seeing My Future

January 13, 1993

Dear Me,

This is a letter to myself to let me, in the future, see what my hopes and expectations were when I was almost 16, and to see how my life met up to those dreams and expectations.

In two and a half years I hope to graduate high school and probably go to BYU. I want to get my bachelors in English secondary education. Maybe minor in Spanish.

I would like to be married when I am 20 or 21. I don’t want to have children until I have graduated college and maybe even worked a couple of years. When I do have kids, I hope to be in a financial situation that I do not need to work so I can stay home and raise a large family.

I hope to remain active in the church and serve the Lord. I have given a mission a thought, but I doubt that I will go on one. I want to keep my virtue and stay pure. I want my husband to remain with me forever.

 

I found this letter to myself while I was cleaning last night. I wrote it 17 years ago—it has managed to survive all of those years and several moves. Amazing. Even more amazing is just how closely my life resembles what I envisioned as a high school Sophomore. Really, the only things I got wrong were that I was twenty-TWO when I got married and I didn’t minor in Spanish. Other than that, it all came true (well, I guess forever hasn’t happened yet so my husband had better hold up his side of that bargain!).

Who says that teenagers don’t know what they want? Or that what you do and think as a kid won’t end up affecting the rest of your life?

Today, I am thankful for:

  1. The fact that my boys are old enough to turn on the TV and entertain themselves until I get up in the morning when they wake up too early.
  2. The obvious and extreme amount of effort that went into the activity for the women at church this evening. My soul was replenished and I am so grateful to all the women who took time out of their lives to give me such a wonderful evening away from mine.
  3. Adult female conversation. All of the other speakers in my household are male (and most are kids). ‘Nuff said.
  4. The fact that after I asked Noah today how he feels about his adoption (he said there wasn’t really anything he wanted/needed to talk about) and emphasized that if he ever had questions or wanted to talk I am always willing too, he immediately grabbed a piece of paper and drew a picture of him hugging me under a rainbow with hearts and the words “Happy Birthday” (which I interpret as “I love you” given the overall sentiment and the fact that it is nowhere close to my birthday). And the huge, prolonged hug that followed after he gave it to me. A “moment” definitely occurred.
  5. My mother’s apparent reelection (not all of the polls have reported, but she has a comfortable lead). That job brings her too much purpose and joy for her to lose it.

 

One more thing for this evening. I am a big believer in the power of prayer, even if you don’t actually know the person you are praying for. I say this because I have a friend who could really use some prayers right now. Her daughter was diagnosed with leukemia a little over a month ago. A couple of days ago, she was put on antibiotics for a staph infection. This evening, she tested positive for H1N1. I know that a lot of people reading this blog are already praying for Candace. But I know a lot of you don’t know her. If you can find it in your heart tonight, say a prayer for her. Then say a prayer for her parents because, wow, I just can’t imagine how hard this is. Thanks.

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Filed under adoption, Daily Life, Gratitude, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Parenting, politics, Thirty Days of Thankfulness

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Black Culture—How Black is Black Enough?

As I have already mentioned, Sean has a black uncle and, therefore, four biracial cousins. When the oldest cousin, S~ (whose appearance tends more towards the white genetic influence), was still in high school, she started to go through some rebellion. A conference with the principal was arranged.

On the appointed day, S’s white mother and black father walked into the office of the black school principal. As they sat down, he chuckled.

“Well, that explains it,” the principal said as he looked at S’s father. “We were wondering why she has started trying to act Black.”

Unfortunately, by “act Black” he was not referring to an increased interest in academics (or even sports). No, he was referring to her sudden interest in hoochie clothing, urban slang, and 50 Cent.

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Culture: The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.

The concept of defining Black culture first became important to me about seven years ago, as I began exploring the idea of transracial adoption. As anyone who has adopted a child of another race can attest, the concept of birth culture is given much emphasis in pre-adoption discussions with social workers.

Certainly, defining the differences in culture are relatively simple when adopting a child from another country. The American experience is vastly different than the Guatemalan experience, the Vietnamese experience, or the Cambodian experience.

But how, exactly, do you define the difference between the American experience and, well, the American experience?

Do not misunderstand—I do not claim that there is not frequently a difference in experience for people of different races in this country. Of course there is also a difference in experience for people of different socio-economic status, or even people from different parts of the country. Yet, I don’t recall anyone impressing on me the importance of developing a twang and participating in pageants if my child came from the South.

But, I was a good little pre-adoptive parent. I attended the classes. I explored my feelings on race. I bought the book, Inside Transracial Adoption. I even read most of it and successfully denied the urge to throw it against a wall on several occasions.

Here’s a little tip: Always know who you’re getting your advice from.

Part-way through the book, one of the authors describes the “small, Midwestern college town” that they lived in, and how they decided that it was too conservative of an area to raise their family in, so they moved to San Francisco. A few pages later, and I realized that I knew the town she was referring to. I grew up near it, and went there often.

My husband, who grew up in northern California, hated that town because it reminded him so much of Berkley. It was that “conservative.” Seriously, the University that she was referring to chose, several years ago, to have their commencement address delivered by a convicted cop killer. That was the kind of area that was “too conservative” for the woman who literally wrote the book on transracial adoption.

What was some of the advice dispensed?

  • If your religion doesn’t have a Black congregation, you may want to consider changing your beliefs.
  • You should consider forgoing the Montessori preschool that your other children attended that was so good at fostering creativity and self-direction so your child can attend the rigid Cambodian preschool and learn the necessary traits to become a good little Communist in a room full of faces like his.
  • While your other kids are off at band and soccer camps, send your adopted daughter to Korean culture camp so that she can be reminded of all of the ways she is different from you.

Instead of focusing on ways to incorporate your child into your family culture, you are encouraged to constantly emphasize the child’s birth culture. And, while birth culture is important (we all need to explore our roots), it frequently turns into a neurotic, academic over-emphasis. There comes a point where it exceeds the well-meaning intention of giving a child a sense of “past” and becomes a constant reminder that “you aren’t like us.” No child needs that.

After research and thoughtful consideration, I came to two conclusions:

  1. A lot of conventional “fact” is crap.
  2. It was important to me that my son see positive, professional examples of people from his (and other) cultures.

I wanted my son to grown up, first and foremost, as part of our family culture. But, someday, if and when he wanted to further explore his birth culture, I didn’t want him to think that the definition of success needed to include a great jump shot or a Wikipedia entry that sported the phrase, “after leaving drug dealing to pursue a rap career…”

In 1972, the National Association of Black Social workers took a “vehement stand against the placement of black children in white homes for any reason.” They justified this by saying (among other things):

The socialization process for every child begins at birth and includes his cultural heritage as an important segment of the process. In our society, the developmental needs of Black children are significantly different from those of white children. Black children are taught, from an early age, highly sophisticated coping techniques to deal with racist practices perpetrated by individuals and institutions. These coping techniques become successfully integrated into ego functions and can be incorporated only through the process of developing positive identification with significant black others. Only a black family can transmit the emotional and sensitive subtleties of perception and reaction essential for a black child’s survival in a racist society. Our society is distinctly black or white and characterized by white racism at every level. We repudiate the fallacious and fantasied reasoning of some that whites adopting black children will alter that basic character.

Looked at from the historical perspective of being written in the early 1970’s, I can almost understand where they are coming from in their assertion that black children needed to learn proper coping techniques.

I am bothered, however, by the fact that the National Association of Black Social Workers has never retracted this statement and, in fact, still stands behind it, claiming that transracial adoption is “cultural genocide.” As far as they are concerned, every child with any black heritage should be placed in a black family. End of story. I am also bothered by the extent to which the adoption community, and even society as a whole, seems to cling to this idea.

In a country where the majority of the voting population just chose Barack Obama (and most of us who didn’t made our decision based on his politics, not his race), you just cannot argue that the same level of racism exists as did previously. However, the fear of racism, and level of distrust because of it, persists.

The National Association of Black Social Workers is right; I can’t teach my child to fear white people and the possibility of racism. And I’m glad for that. He won’t be crippled by an overwhelming distrust of society. Heaven forbid, I may even succeed in sending him out into the world with the belief that he’ll be seen as just as capable as the next guy. What a shame that would be.

When I first mentioned, about a week ago, my discomfort with having the slavery talk with my son, Lilola left an interesting comment on my blog. She stated that, appearances aside, Noah is just as much white as he is black. I have known Lilola for several years and know, as anyone who knows her does, that she is very rarely wrong. This time, however, she is.

The fact is, appearances aside, my son is more white than he is black.

And how do I justify saying that? Because he is the recipient of the most horrid of all Liberal epithets: White Privilege (which, good heavens, gets its own—very long—Wikipedia entry). So many of the things that liberal thinkers blame on “Black disadvantage” are not issues for my son. He has a stable home environment, involved parents, access to a good education, security…heck, we even go on family vacations. As the beneficiary of my “privilege,” he is not having what many define as a “Black” experience.

Now, here’s the kicker. The same is 100% true of our current president.

He was raised by a white mother and white grandmother, with almost no involvement from the black side of his family. He had the experience of international travel. He went to Harvard.

The pervasive attitude that Barack Obama is going to understand the poor and oppressed because he is “black like us,” drives me nuts. Like my son, he didn’t grow up with “Black disadvantage.” He grew up in a white (well, and Indonesian) society with some amazing experiences/privileges. But, because of the color of his skin and, I suppose, the fact that he plays basketball and listens to hip hop, he has been certified as Black enough.

Hmmm…I wonder how the National Association of Black Social Workers feels about that?

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Filed under adoption, politics, The Me Behind the Mommy, transracial adoption

I’m Ready to Impose a Vow of Silence

This afternoon, once the kids were all down for quiet time, I decided to call T~ and get that conversation (or pre-conversation) out of the way. I’m sure that she appreciated getting a call that, after the initial pleasantries, started with, “Well, I’m not actually calling for a long conversation this time, but I wanted to talk to you about having a conversation and wanted to warn you what it is about beforehand so you have time to, um, deal with it and prepare…” Yeah, like that wouldn’t make anyone nervous.

There is no question that she was surprised when I told her about the conversations we had been having with Noah over the past couple of days. Like me, she just wasn’t expecting to have to deal with all of this so soon. She suggested getting together, and I told her to figure out a time that works for her and I would make it work for us. In the meantime, though, she said that she would call back to talk to him since he asked to talk to her. She didn’t do it today, but I understand that. I’ll give her time. Of course, as she and I both know, he may not even bring any of it up with her. He has never talked to her about their relationship.

Even though we didn’t talk for very long this afternoon, T~ did seem more willing to open up to me about some stuff than she has in the past. I definitely got some information that I didn’t know before. I know that some of it is stuff that is really hard for her to talk about, so I am so grateful that she is talking to me about it. It is a tough thing, really. I don’t want to push her too far, but I want information for my son.

So, after dealing with all of the open adoption stuff yesterday and this afternoon, I deserved a break today, right?

Right.

For Noah’s history lesson today, we learned about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Would anyone like to take a guess at just how much fun it is to explain to your biracial child that, at one time, people with skin like his were owned by people with skin like mine?

Yeah. Good times.

Tomorrow, I fully expect for him to ask me to explain exactly how the baby got in my tummy, including demonstrations with anatomically correct dolls. That should just about round out the list of possible uncomfortable conversations, right?

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Filed under adoption, Daily Life, Homeschooling, Kids, open adoption, Parenting

Unexpected Education

Maybe he’s better at connecting the dots than I have given him credit for.

Today, I just wasn’t feeling like doing the standard morning of phonics, math, history and language arts. So, instead of sitting in front of a computer screen and books, I packed the kids up and headed to our local children’s museum. That’s right, we had a field trip day (and, yes, I did count it as school time, although we did do a phonics lesson later in the day).

As we started our drive home, Wyatt started talking about having step-parents. I explained to  him that he didn’t have any step-parents, just a regular mom and dad. He honestly seemed disappointed that he was missing out on something (some of his cousins have step-parents). I explained to him (once again) why that was really not a bad thing.

Predictably, as I finished my explanation on step-parents, Noah said, “I have a birthmother.” We have a completely open adoption and have been very honest with him about his relationship to T~.

“Yes, T~ is your birthmom,” I responded.

“I also have a sister,” he said.

Thwack!

At that moment, I was broadsided by the realization that he may be making connections that I had never really discussed.

Honestly, at first I really wasn’t sure if it was some off-handed comment that didn’t really mean anything, or if he really knew what he was saying. But, then he continued.

“Actually, I have two sisters. And I think there is another one. Is that one a boy?”

He has met T’s two daughters a few times, but only seen her son once. If he is saying random things, he is doing one heck of a good job of guessing everything exactly right.

Wow.

“Yes, you have two biological sisters and one biological brother,” I told him.

“What does that mean?” he wanted to know.

“Well, it means that you and T’s kids all came out of T’s tummy, just like Wyatt, Caleb and Eli all came out of my tummy.”

None of this shocked him. He didn’t disagree with any of it (like he did when we told him he also has a birthfather).

Really, I’m floored that he knew this. You see, while we have always been very open about his relationship to T~, we’ve never really expanded beyond that. We’ve never hidden the rest, and never would. We just wanted to be sure that he was ready for it. I know that there are people who disagree with this, and they can feel free to criticize me (as long as they are raising an adopted child with biological siblings in an open adoption and siblings in his family who are all biologically related to each other—walk a mile first…). We’ve had our reasons.

The birthfather discussion was just a few days ago (I checked with Sean, and the siblings didn’t figure into that conversation at all). We have held off on bringing that one up because his birthfather has never been involved, and never will be.

And the siblings? Honestly, I had always thought that when that conversation finally needed to be had, I would be telling him how T~ had chosen to place him because she wasn’t ready to parent, but she was in a different position when she had the parented siblings. Except, that didn’t end up being the case. She was only in a slightly better position to parent when the other kids were born. The big difference was that, at that point, she knew what placing a child feels like. She couldn’t handle doing it again.

But he’s spent time with them (heck, they even spent a day together at that same museum once) and he knows that they are T’s kids. I’ve just never sat him down and connected the dots. The potential for painful reality was enough to make me wait until he brought it up.

So, now, he’s brought it up. He hasn’t asked the “why?” questions that I dread having to answer, but he has asked to talk to her. I had been planning to call to talk to her some about Noah’s birthfather, anyhow, so I’ll probably try in the next few days. I feel bad, though, that I’ll be hitting her with a lot at once. I remember how surprised she was when he first started asking specific questions about her. I’m afraid this might be a difficult topic for her.

But I’ll still call. And I’ll let him talk as much as he needs.

It is amazing how much can end up being learned when you take a day off of school.

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Filed under adoption, Kids, open adoption, Parenting

God, Adoption, and PB&J

Today is the last day of November (Holy Crap! Where did the month go?). That means that it is also the last day of Adoption Awareness Month. I didn’t want to let this month pass without some discussion of adoption here, so I’m going for a last minute adoption post.

It never ceases to amaze me when I see someone angrily lament about some stupid adoptive parent who thinks God put their family together. Or an adoptive parent who proudly proclaims that they believe in God, but don’t think He played a role in the creation of their family. They argue that, by believing that God played a part in bringing a family together, you have to effectively believe that God caused the birthmother to become pregnant. Or that God gave one person pain in order to cause another happiness.

This perplexes me. It is so counter to everything that I believe about a loving God.

First, let me say that I do not believe in the concept of predestination. I believe that one of the main reasons that we are placed on this earth is to experience agency–the idea that we are given choices, but have to accept the consequences of those choices. I don’t believe that God “makes” anyone get pregnant. Pregnancy is a natural consequence of sex. By making the choice, a woman risks the consequence.

So, how does that play into the concept of God bringing families together?

To explain that, let me tell you about lunchtime around my house. Every day, I ask my kids what they want for lunch. I may offer suggestions like a turkey sandwich, hot dogs, or macaroni and cheese. Regardless, every day, N~ will tell me that he wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I know that he is going to answer this way because he is my son and I know him very, very well. That doesn’t stop me from giving him the choice. I always ask. But I also make sure that I always have peanut butter and jelly in the house.

I believe that we are children of a loving God who knows us very, very well. He always gives us choices. But he knows us well enough to predict the kinds of choices that we will make. And he is prepared.

Sometimes, that preparation means having the right family in the right place at the right time for the right person who is making a terribly difficult decision. He’s not forcing things to happen, just preparing for them to. And that is no less of a miracle for the families it affects.

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While on the subject of adoption, I want to encourage you to read a post by an adult adoptee. So many of the adoptee blogs out there are people writing about how they feel that adoption had a negative impact on their lives. I don’t frequently see things written by the adoptees who are happy with how things are (let’s face it, that kind of goes against human nature, to write about when things feel normal and right with the world). That’s why I was so glad to see a friend of mine write about her feelings about her own adoption this month. I always enjoy her perspective when we discuss different hot button adoption topics that come up on the internet, and I’m so glad that she wrote some of her thoughts out.

I’m sure that there are those who will disagree with her positive views on adoption, but that’s what makes hearing her say it so important. We need to remember that the negative opinions and theories about adoption that are thrown around are not held by all. I can’t think of a better way to end National Adoption Month than with the positive thoughts of a wonderful woman who just happens to also have been adopted.

 

Today, I am Thankful For:

  1. The hand of the Lord in bringing my son into our family. And, yes, I see it there. This doesn’t mean that I don’t grieve for the pain that his birthmother went through (and still goes through). It doesn’t mean that I think that I deserved him and she didn’t. It just means that I know that God brought us together in a time when it was right for all of us. And something wonderful has come from that.
  2. Kids who listen and are thoughtful in matters of compassion. Today, W~ had a new little girl in his class at church–a friend’s new four-year-old daughter who just came home a couple of weeks ago after living her life in a Ukrainian orphanage. As W~ told us how class went today, we discussed what it must be like to be in a primary class for the first time after leaving everything that you have always known, and not knowing what anyone was saying (or having anyone understand what you are saying). My kids really listened, asked questions, and tried to understand. I really hope that W~ will use that knowledge to find ways to be a friend to her and help her feel comfortable in class.
  3. The cute things that my kids say. Today, W~ asked Sean if he has a girlfriend. Sean told him that Mommy is his girlfriend. Not being able to resist the chance to gross my kids out, I chimed in, “That’s why Daddy kisses me.” W~ rolled his eyes and said, “Oh brother, why did you have to tell me that?” Priceless.
  4. C’s decision this evening to go to the potty on his own because he needed to! More than once!!! Each time, he giggled and grinned as he proudly told us that the tires were still on his pull-up (truck theme–the tires disappear when the pull-up gets wet). Major breakthrough. I’m praying it continues.
  5. The return of normalcy after a long holiday weekend. Of course, it would have been nice to have a couple of days to recover from all of the cooking and puking before having to go back to the daily grind tomorrow, but I’ll survive. At least until it sinks in that Christmas is less than a month away and I need to decorate a tree, make photo albums, buy presents…sigh.

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Filed under adoption, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Potty Training, Thirty Days of Thankfulness

Sometimes, It’s Better Not to Know

Yesterday, as we sat eating dinner and watching Fox News (I know, I know, how horrible to do both at the same time!), the kids asked, once again, if the person on the screen was Barack Obama. They really have been quite fascinated by the idea of the election. Sean looked at me and said, “You know, it’s kind of too bad that N~ is too young to understand the social implications of all of this.” That would be the social implications, of course, of having a President with the same racial makeup he has.

“You know,” I told him, “I’m actually glad.”

The thing is, I have been thinking about just that topic for the past couple of days. It started with the revelation, the day after the election, that virtually 100% of the black vote went to Obama. Honestly, it bothers me that this is seen as neither surprising nor appalling. Honestly, if 100% of the white vote had gone to McCain, there would (rightly so) be screams of racism. Because, really, an entire race of people is not going to all vote the same way if they are voting on issues and beliefs and who more closely aligns with their world views. It just doesn’t happen.

With this in mind, I started thinking about some of the attitudes I encountered when first making the decision to adopt transracially. I learned about the long-standing declaration by the National Association of Black Social Workers that placing a black (or biracial) child in a white home was committing cultural genocide. Even organizations like Pact, which was founded by parents of transracially adopted children, stressed the importance of having strong same-race roll models and involvement to teach racial identity that I, as a white parent, could not.

I’m beginning to think that my inability to teach certain aspects of racially identity will be a blessing in my son’s life.

(Pausing to duck while some of you throw stones.)

Here’s the thing, it is absolutely true that my son won’t grow up with an ingrained understanding of racism like he would have gotten in a black family (which, incidentally, is not what he would have had if he were raised by his birthmother–she’s even whiter than I am). Instead, at five-years-old, he has no idea that there are narrow-minded people in this world who won’t like him because of the color of his skin. He doesn’t know that there are people who will have lower expectations of him for something as inconsequential as race. He doesn’t know what a big deal it is for the majority of our country to have decided that the black man is the one better qualified for the job.

And I like it that way.

Don’t get me wrong, he will learn. He will have to. You can’t shelter a child forever. But you can let him develop a strong sense of self worth before making him deal with the stupid ideas of what our country has now shown to be the racist minority.

Have you thought about that? The kind of racism that claims a black person is less intelligent or qualified has to by dying. Our country just proved it is dying. Because, not only did over half of the voters pick Obama, but there are tons of people who voted for McCain who still would have happily voted for him if he were black because they aren’t racist. They voted against Obama’s politics, not his skin color. Racism isn’t dead, but you can’t look at what just happened and believe that it still holds even a fraction of the same power that it once did.

Instead of teaching a child that he should go through life on the defensive because of his color, you can let him internalize the idea that he can be anything, even President of the United States, regardless of his skin color. He doesn’t need to grow up believing that he will instantly be a victim of society because of his race.

No, I can’t teach N~ what living with racism feels like. But I can teach him what living with it doesn’t feel like.

I think that is going to serve him pretty darn well.

 

Today, I am Thankful For:

  1. The fact that my kids are already totally “grossed out” by the sight of Sean and I kissing. If they want to continue to run, screaming and giggling, every time kissing comes up until they are, oh, 25 or so, that would be just fine by me.
  2. Lucky Charms. If you’ve ever wondered if an eight-month-old has the cognitive ability to sort objects, just throw a handful of Lucky Charms on his high chair tray. In no time flat, you’ll have a tray of tan cereal and a baby screaming for more marshmallows. (And, of course, a smile on your face.)
  3. Birthday parties. And any other reason for my kids to have all of their cousins together at the same time, for that matter. Because my kids love spending time with their cousins. (And I certainly don’t mind hanging out with the adults in the family!) Happy 2nd birthday, little niece of mine!
  4. Kids that actually enjoy working. At least, most of the time. I may never understand why vacuuming and raking leaves are fun, but making beds and picking up toys require a battle of epic proportions. But, whatever. I’ll take the leaves and vacuum with a smile on my face.
  5. Being part of a family that includes a black uncle, cousins who are also biracial, and cousins who were also adopted. Because, racial identity (or adoption) issues or not, it is always a bonus to have family that you can relate to on any given issue.

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Filed under adoption, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Soap Box, Thirty Days of Thankfulness, transracial adoption