November 03, 2011

November is...Adoption Month

Quick note about me: Holy cow, I am looooong over due for a post! My apologies! I started grad school last fall ('10) and am in the home stretch (I'll be finished in April '12). It's been an exhausting, but very rewarding experience; I'm getting my masters degree/license to be a K-12 school counselor. I'm hoping to get back on track with my blog, though, starting now...

So, as you may or may not know, November is officially the time to talk about adoption, as it's National Adoption month. To me that means an opportunity to "educate" folks on what adoption is, what it means, appropriate adoption language, where to go for more information, and so on, without it seeming like I'm trying to cram adoption down anyone's throat. The way I see it, I have a free pass the whole month of November to share my thoughts on the wonderfulness that is adoption.

In all seriousness, of course, I find myself talking about adoption year round, often because I'm asked about it and I'm happy to share my experiences and knowledge. I'm not sure how much one month does to promote the awareness of such an amazing and important thing as adoption, but hey, it's something. And if nothing else, maybe it will spark an interest or a conversation , or get someone thinking about adoption in different, more positive ways.

Here are some websites about adoption, should you get asked—or just want share info with friends—about adoption: (great overall adoption website!)
(these two share some history and ideas for ways to celebrate)

Happy adoption month!

September 03, 2010

Just a Quick Comment on “Doing My Part”

I was at Trader Joe's the other day with my son, Kamari, when a staff person (a 20-something, bi-racial woman) came over to help pack up my groceries. Since they were almost already packed up, the cashier looked at her as if to say, thanks but we don’t need your help. She looked at him, threw some items in a bag, and then said to me: “I just came over to see the brown baby.” She followed it up with, “Are you doing your part to keep Portland brown?”

I couldn’t stop laughing. I thought her comment was funny…and odd…and clearly one I had not heard before. I replied that in fact I was, and that I had an even browner child at home. She laughed and offered to help me out with my groceries. Meanwhile, the cashier just stood there looking at us both like we were nuts.

Had she been white, I think I might have been offended by the comment. Or at least, confused. But, I suppose she felt she had the right to be so brazen with her comment because she and my son have about the same skin color. I don’t know. And perhaps on a different day, I would have been taken aback.

As it happened, on that day, coming from her nonchalant, no-nonsense mouth, I found it humorous. Maybe I found the comment amusing because in our family, we don’t refer to ourselves as black or white. My daughter and I talk about skin color often and we describe Ava as “latte colored,” mommy (me) as “the color of milk,” daddy is “cream colored” and Kamari is “caramel colored.”

In any case, I think I’ll make myself a t-shirt that says, “Doing my part to keep Portland brown.” Ha!

August 15, 2010

The Right Moment

Doesn’t everyone, at some point in their life, wonder if they were adopted? What, with crazy family members and my sister telling me I was adopted, of course that crossed my mind—in fact, I reasoned, it explained a lot. But, alas, I was not adopted (at least not until I was 34; another story, another day).

Oddly enough, despite the fact that my husband and I are white and our daughter is black, we used to get asked often if we were going to tell our daughter she was adopted. Really? The question always makes me chuckle (for what seem to me like obvious reasons). But it also makes me a little sad. Of course we’re going to tell her, what possible reason would we have for not doing so?

I’m no expert, but everything I’ve read and all of the workshops I’ve attended have stressed the importance of making sure your child knows he/she was adopted, from the beginning. There should never be a moment in an adoptees life where he/she remembers being sat down and told he/she was adopted. It should just always be known, one of those things on your list that you know for certain: my hair is curly, my eyes are green, I’m left-handed—it’s part of a person’s story, one more thing that makes you, you.

Think about it this way: Imagine how it would feel if the life you knew suddenly turned out to be a complete lie? That may seem harsh, but it really isn’t. If you grew up believing your mom (and dad) gave birth to you, and that all your relatives were your biological family members, and then one day you were told that wasn’t true, the world you thought you knew could come crashing down. You would likely wonder why you were lied to—what possible reason would your parents have for keeping your adoption a secret? Is adoption a bad thing? Were my “real” parents awful people whom I was taken from? Do they even know where I am? Maybe they’re looking for me?

Hopefully you’re started to get the picture.

These are real ideas that can run through a child/young adult’s mind, as he/she grapples with the unknown (why their adoption was kept a secret from them). I would guess that that moment of “truth,” when an adoptee realizes he/she was adopted, has got to be completely terrifying. If it were me, I would wonder what else was being kept from me. I would be confused about what was “real” and what was a lie. I would think a “secret” this big meant that everything I thought I knew, everything I counted on as truth, was not. And I would feel completely turned upside down.

I heard a woman say recently that she doesn’t plan to tell her two year old anytime soon that he was adopted, because she’d read that when talking with a child about adoption, it should be a “non-issue” or “no big deal.” The truth of the matter is that adoption is a big deal, and this woman completely misinterpreted what she’d read.

What I believe was meant by what she read (as I have read similar stories) is quite the opposite: there shouldn’t be a “moment” in an adoptee’s life where he/she is sat down and told he/she was adopted. (That would be making a “big deal” out of it.) But rather, he/she should just always know. And he/she should know before they even know what the word “adopted” means.

There’s not necessarily a “right moment” to begin talking with your child about adoption, but I believe it’s never too early. We’ve been telling our daughter her adoption story since before she could talk. I believe that an adoptee needs to know that adoption is a wonderful way to form a family—it’s nothing to be ashamed of, which is what I fear keeping it a secret might suggest.

June 09, 2010

Family Ties

Have you seen A Family Is a Family Is a Family , the HBO documentary by Rosie O’Donnell? It’s actually a really fun look at what makes a family a family, told through the eyes of young kids. It’s appropriate for all ages, and showcases how families are made up (mom and dad, two moms, two dads, black and white, grandparents, adopted, etc.). My daughter watched it with me the other night, and didn’t get all of it, but she got the gist of it: family is the people who love you and take care of you.

It got me thinking though about how I’ve been asked if I think my children will be confused about their relationship to their “extended” family (i.e. birth parents and birth siblings). That seems like such a silly question to me, but I’m guessing those asking either come from a small family or haven’t really stopped to think about what they are asking.

Basically, the extended family of a child who was adopted is no more or less likely to be “confusing” than the extended family of a child who was not adopted (“confusing” is in the eye of the beholder). Most of my friends still can’t figure out my family or remember which of my siblings and relatives are half, step, or adopted. But because it’s what I grew up with, my family makes perfect and total sense to me. Why wouldn’t it? It’s all I’ve known.

I’m not sure why the assumption is often made that because a child was adopted, their familial relations are automatically more confusing than anyone else’s family. If an adoptive family is unaware of any extended family members (birth siblings for instance) that their (adopted) child may have, then there really isn’t much to be confused about (as far as an “extended” family is concerned). If the family does know about extended family members—even if they’ve never met—it’s as easy as keeping a life book (or baby book) with that information. Though we have never met our daughter’s birth mom or her birth siblings, save one, we know all their names and ages, and have that information written down for our daughter.

Our daughter may not have the opportunity to have a relationship with her extended family on her birth mom’s side, so maybe she won’t consider her biological relatives her relatives at all. And maybe she will even if they never meet. That’s up to her. Either way, it’s her story and we’ll make sure she knows it. It’s not confusing when it’s what you’ve always known.

Speaking of confusing, though, this has got to be my favorite example of how a family is a family is family, no matter whether you were adopted or not.

Our neighbors—who have numerous grandkids—have two granddaughters in particular that are technically “half” sisters (same mom). The older one has a half-brother from her father, and the younger has a half-sister from her father. The older one considers the younger one’s half-sister her sister, as well, but there is no blood relation. But the younger one thinks of the older one’s brother as just the older one’s brother.

To me—even with my own crazy familial ties—this is confusing. But to the people in that family, it makes perfect sense. As it should.

So, here’s to all the wonderful, amazing, and sometimes crazy, families out there, no matter how they became a family. Because it’s not the “how” that matters so much as the “ever after.”

April 13, 2010

The Formality of Forms

So, did everyone fill out their census form? Did you notice the question about how this person is related to you: adopted son or daughter, biological son or daughter, stepson or daughter, etc.?

In the adoption blog world, this has been a hot topic. Most of what I’ve been reading seems to divide the “issue” into two categories: postings and comments from adoptees who are excited and proud of having a box to check and adoptive parents who are confused and/or worried (or offended) about “labeling” their kids.

Please forgive my ignorance about the census form, but I’m not “getting it.” As a transracial adoptive mom, I seem to be missing the point of asking whether a child was adopted or is biological.

What I mean is, what is the census trying to derive from that question? Is the government trying to determine how many people currently live in the US? If so, why is it relevant if they were adopted or not? Is the government trying to find out who was born in the US, in the last 10 years? If so, shouldn’t the question then ask whether or not a child was adopted internationally or domestically? Is it to understand how many people out there have adopted a child or who were adopted (in order to provide more funding, services, resources, etc.)? I get that, but couldn’t there be a separate question(s) asking: Were any of your children adopted? If so, how many? If so, domestically or internationally?

I hate categorizing anything, it’s just how I am. So, yes, I was stopped by this question. (Let’s be honest, I’m the one who checks “other” for my race and then writes in “human;” yes, I’m that person, so of course this box stopped me.) I see people and their stories, places, history, everything as not black and white/cut and dry, but rather multi-faceted.

That said, knowing why someone needs/wants to know something that specific usually helps me determine whether or not I find the question offensive, labeling, or something to be excited about. Being hesitant about the question does not mean I’m not proud of how my family was formed, or that I’m trying to lump all kids together and that I don’t celebrate the differences between biological children and children who were adopted (because yes, there is a difference). I have no problem sharing with people that our family was formed through adoption (as if that’s not obvious by looking at us! Though these days, you can never be too sure.)

I love my family, I love how it was formed, I love how we all have our own individual stories and that together we are creating “our” story, and I’m proud of our differences. That said, I still don’t “get” the question—why it’s being asked and why I as an adoptive mom should be proud or excited, or offended by it. I just want to better understand the point of the question. I’ll take my answers off the air.

February 24, 2010

Mamma Mia

It’s my understanding (but I don’t know this for sure) that most kids go through a phase where they call their parents by their first names, rather than calling them “mom” and “dad.” It’s probably some developmental thing (at least it sounds like it could/should be) or maybe kids just think it’s funny. And really, it makes sense.

We don’t call our siblings “brother” or “sister” (unless you’re a Berenstain Bear). We do usually say “Aunt So-and-So” or “Uncle Such-and-Such,” but even then we use their name.

So, it should have been no surprise when our daughter, Ava, started calling us by our first names. What did come as a surprise was my reaction.

I was really upset by this. And believe me, I realize how ridiculous that sounds. The more I asked her to call me “mama,” the more she protested and kept right on calling me Amy. She really did think it was funny. It took me awhile—though it probably shouldn’t have—to figure out why this bothered me so.

I know I’m Ava’s mom, but because we are different colors, I want to make sure other people know I’m her mom too. Again, ridiculous; who cares, right? For some reason, I did.

Once again, I think I have a heightened awareness or hyper-sensitivity to this because our children our adopted. I am so happy, proud, excited, filled with love, and on and on, that I want to make sure everyone knows that Ava is my beautiful, amazing, wonderful daughter (unless she’s having a tantrum or serious “sass-itude” as we call it, then she’s my husband’s daughter…). In all seriousness, I just want to make sure people know that she’s mine and I’m hers. Even though rationally, I know it doesn’t matter at all what people think. I wondered if I would feel this way if we shared the same DNA, so I asked some friends how it makes them feel.

One mommy friend of mine is Italian with gorgeous olive skin and dark brown eyes. Her children are sandy-blonds with light eyes. When they were younger, they had extremely blond hair and my friend said it didn’t matter what her boys called her, she felt like people thought she was the nanny. I can relate.

A daddy friend of mine, who is black and married to a white woman, said this about his blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter calling him by his first name: I just assume people think I’m gay, and I’m one of her two dads. Ha! That never crossed my mind!

I guess what it boils down to is my own personal issue. Who knows what someone may or may not be thinking about our situation when they hear Ava call me by my name instead of calling me “mama.”

It’s time to let it go. That is, until Kamari starts calling me "Amy."

February 15, 2010

Dispelling the Myth

There’s this perception that if we physically give birth, we know what we’re “getting.” Whereas if you adopt, you have no idea, and therefore perhaps you should be leery. Hmmm. This is a perception that I like to call a myth, and I’d like to take a moment to banish that myth.

I should back up and say that, yes, sadly this is a comment I have received. Prior to adopting, I was asked if I was concerned about what I might “get.” To me, that’s such a ridiculous comment, I just can’t believe people ask it. Alas, for some reason, when it comes to adoption, most people have no filters.

I think I understand where the question might stem from: there is a perception that most children placed for adoption were taken from their birth parents (especially if the child is black, like mine) because of drug use by the birthmother. That inaccuracy is a conversation for another day, but might offer some insight into why people ask that question.

Nevertheless, I’m baffled by the question because it seems fairly obvious that you don’t know what you’re getting no matter where a child comes from. Sure, if you physically birth a child, you’ve got an idea of your genetic makeup (hair and eye color; height; weight; predisposition to X, Y, or Z; etc.), but what if you’re not sure who the father is? (Hey, it happens a lot.) You might have some info based on the two or three people you were with, but I’m going to guess if you don’t know who the father is, you don’t know much beyond hair and eye color, height, weight, etc.

Even if you’re married (with your partner, etc.) and have all the info you could want and then some, you still don’t know exactly what you’re going to get. From a NY Times article titled Genetics: Why children aren't just like their parent, Carey Goldberg had this to say : “There is a multitude of genetic variants that influence who you are, and another multitude that influence your partner, so your children end up a unique mixture that differs dramatically from each of you.” In other words, you don’t know what you’re going to get.

This is of course the same case with children who are adopted, but not because we (as adoptive parents) lack any information about the child. It’s simply for the same reason as cited above. (Note: I can only speak to domestic, open adoption, as I haven’t adopted Internationally; I realize when a child has been adopted from an orphanage or the like, there is probably little or no information available.)

In our case, we have a relationship with our son’s birthparents—and their parents—so we have access to a wealth of information about his genetic makeup, and we knew, as much as anyone can, what we were “getting” before he was born.

Our daughter’s situation is a little different, as we only have the basics—hair and eye color, height, weight, no drug/alcohol use—and a few other minor tidbits of information. Still, it was enough to paint a picture of what we might be “getting” when we brought her home.

The bottom line is that no matter where a child comes from (your belly or someone else’s), there are simply no guarantees. No one knows for sure what messed up genes might be lurking in their DNA. And genetics is a wacky thing—those genes could show up anywhere at any time. All we can do is the best we can with the information we do have.

I’ve learned to tailor my response depending on whom I’m talking with. If it’s someone I know well, or I’m in the mood to educate, I give a lengthy response (much like this post). If it’s an acquaintance or (gasp) a stranger asking, I simply say: nothing. Only because I have yet to come up with an appropriate zinger to hurl at people. I will let you know when I do, or better yet, let me know what you’d say.