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.

February 04, 2010

Am I Enough?

I’ve been asked if I think I can love my “adopted children” as much as I would love a biological child. I’ve been asked if I have any remorse over not giving birth to my “own child.” After deep introspective pondering, I can honestly say, WTF, did you really just say that?

Yes, yes, I know. I’ll be providing adoption education and awareness—free of charge—to the masses for, well, the rest of my life. And I don’t mind, for the most part. Sometimes I get a little weary answering questions, though; questions with answers I think are no brainers. But I have to realize that not everyone shares the same perspective as I (unfortunately—ha!).

So, a refresher (as I’ve said this numerous times before): I cannot image loving anyone more than I love my daughter (and I’m sure I’ll feel the same about my son; of course I love him madly, but he’s just five months old and we haven’t finished bonding yet). She is the bee’s knees, as the old folks say. I don’t have a biological child to, uh, compare my ability to love, but (I just can’t say it any plainer), I can’t imagine loving another child more.

Next…in all honesty, the answer is no, I have no remorse or sadness over not giving birth to my “own child” (FYI, Ava and Kamari are my own children; they are mine to love and care for and raise and nurture. I know you “didn’t mean it like that,” but that’s what you said—I’m justa educatin’.). Giving birth wasn’t in the cards for me (nor was it something I was particularly interested in).

Oh sure, I’m curious what a child with my genes and my husband’s would be like, look like, etc. (I’m betting tall, funny looking nose, and slightly crazy.) But I also think that’s kind of narcissistic—I knew I wanted to be a mom (and I’m loving it!), which to me means raising a child, loving a child, nurturing a child, parenting a child. Said child doesn’t have to come from my loins for me to be a mom.

But here’s what does worry me, and on occasion, keep me up at night: will I be enough for my children (in particular, my daughter who has no ties with her birth family)? There are certain things I may not understand—identity or racial issues, what it’s like not to know your birth family—and maybe Ava won’t want to discuss these things with me. Maybe she won’t think I’m enough of a mom. Maybe she’ll think I let her down or failed her. Maybe she won’t think I gave her what she needed.

This isn’t about me worrying about feeling like a failure. Don’t all parents feel like failures at some point? And this isn’t about me needing to be her one and only “mom”—she has a birthmom out there and I truly hope she gets to meet her one day—I don’t think I’ll have a complex about that (but only time will tell!); I will always be her mom, the woman who raised her. I guess maybe I’m worried she won’t think I’m good enough for her, that she could have done better.

Yes, it seems my insecurities are getting the better of me today. But, when people ask me if I can love a child who was adopted as much as a biological one, all I can think is, will that child love me as much as a biological parent? I know my answer to the first question is without a doubt yes. I hope the answer to the second question is an enthusiastic yes, as well.

January 29, 2010

One (or Two) of These Things is Not Like the Other Ones

When we were initially looking into adoption, we discussed the pros and cons of international vs. domestic adoption, whether we were hoping for a boy or girl, and if race mattered to us. After determining that a domestic adoption was the right choice for us, we decided the rest (sex, race) should be left up to whomever or whatever was looking out for us.

As luck would have it, we were blessed with a healthy, beautiful, African American baby girl. Living in a relatively diverse neighborhood (for Portland anyway) and having friends of all colors, races, and sexual orientations, we were completely comfortable (and even thrilled) to have a child of a different color. We felt marginally equipped going into it to handle any challenges and are continually trying to make sure we are doing right by our daughter by celebrating our differences and our sameness.

When we decided to adopt baby number two, we knew we wanted to do a domestic adoption again, but this time, we also knew we want to adopt a baby of color.

Our concern was that we didn’t want Ava to feel singled out in our already “unique” family. We thought if we have two children of color, they could discuss racial issues with each other, should there come a time when they aren’t comfortable talking to their white parents about how they are feeling (I hope they’ll always feel they can talk with us about anything—and I will continue to work hard on this—but I’m not that na├»ve!).

So, we held out for a long time to bring home a baby of color. Our agency, as it turns out, doesn’t get a lot of African American women through their doors, so the wait was long. There were other opportunities to adopt along the way, but we politely declined. It just didn’t feel right. Those who have adopted I think will agree that there is a feeling you get about “your” child. You just know.

So, along comes our son, Kamari, the birth child of a multi-racial (black, white, Native American, and Greek) couple, and low and behold, he’s the whitest multi-racial baby we’ve seen. Ha!

Seriously though, he’s pretty darn white, and at first, I was a little upset about it. I realize how awful that sounds; believe me, I’m not proud. It’s just that I had my daughter’s possible future feelings in mind and was being a protective mother, worrying about how she might react one day. I was being unnecessarily over-protective.

What I’ve realized these past few months, as I watch Ava with her brother (that many may have realized way before me), is that it doesn’t matter and really, I have no control. While I do think we made the right choice in “holding out” for a child of color, the two kids will bond in other ways, have other things in common, and have other differences (beyond the color of their skin, and the obvious, their gender).

We have no control over how Ava will or will not feel. In fact, there’s more evidence to suggest she may have bigger issues with Kamari’s relationship with his birth family (where she, as of yet, has no relationship with hers) than with the color of our family’s skin.

And so, alas, another lesson is learned. With all things in life—especially when it comes to raising children—I just need to let go of my expectations and let life happen. Things have a funny way of turning out the way they’re supposed to all on their own—without help from me.

January 11, 2010

What’s In a Name, Part 652

Our son’s name is Kamari. Yes, Kamari, pronounced just like it is spelled: kah-mar-ee. I love the reaction we get from some people when we tell them his name. Head cocked to the side, quizzical look on the face, nose scrunched up, followed by: the birth mom chose it, eh?

I guess that’s to be expected, after all the “drama” we went through with our daughter’s name. [Recap: birth mom hated the name we’d chosen, birth mom made threats, and on and on until we settled on “Ava” (which she loved). To put it mildly, it was a painful ordeal]. And with “Kamari” being a bit (just a bit!) more unique than Ava, I can see how people might wonder where the name came from*.

Actually, we found the name, and then chose it (with a little help). And the reason I wanted to write about it was because the process by which we chose the name—with help from our birth mom and dad—was actually sort of fun, and such a contrast to our first experience. So, to those who, like us, have struggled with the whole naming thing, I wanted to share our story.

Our agency coordinator, knowing that our son’s birth mom had a name in mind that she loved (and we did not), suggested that all four of us write down the names we liked and bring them to a meeting that she would facilitate, just to see what happened. For the next hour, we tossed around our names, and one by one picked through them, laughing and joking about things like the kids we’d known (and didn’t like) with some of the names. Finally, we narrowed it down to four names, two of which happened to be from our list and the other two from the birthparents’ list.

One name was quickly eliminated because it was, coincidentally, the name we’d chosen for the child we’d hoped to adopt in August '08 (our daughter’s birth sibling) that fell through, and that just didn’t seem right. Another was a tongue-twister when paired with our last name. Out of the remaining two, we were leaning slightly toward the other, but the birthparents loved “Kamari.” We mulled it over with our last name and it worked, so Kamari was it. For fun, I made everyone sign the piece of paper with “Kamari” circled and all the other names crossed out—you know, to make it official and all—and that’s going in Kamari’s baby book.

As for a middle name, none of the other names from the list worked with “Kamari” and our last names (it would have made for about a 15 syllable name!), so we all stared at each other, stumped, until my husband remembered that through the course of our conversation, we’d learned that both our birthmother and birthfather have the same middle name: Lee. My husband threw that out as an option, and the birthparents were truly flattered; it just seemed right. So, Kamari Lee it is.

As if naming a child isn’t hard enough (coming up with something you and your partner can agree on), add to the mix a birthmother and sometimes even a birthfather, and you get several opinions going at once, which could potentially be explosive—as I’ve mention a time or 652, naming is very personal.

I understand there are lots of birthparents out there who don’t care to be involved with the naming process; that just hasn’t been our experience. But, if you can remain a little open-minded about it (open-mindedness when it comes to names?? certainly not my strong point), it might just work out and the process might actually be fun. I was mentally prepared to go into battle once again this go ‘round, but was pleasantly surprised by the birthparents’ openness to different names. I even surprised myself. “Kamari,” like “Ava,” was not my first choice. But both names have really grown on me and the names we had originally chosen now don’t seem right.

What do you know? Apparently I have grown as a person through this experience. Yay, me!

January 04, 2010

8nt Texting Gr8? LOL

I just realized I’m inadvertently and unwittingly teaching my daughter what I consider to be a bad habit: incessant texting. Let me start by saying I hate texting, really I do. Not only is my cell phone ill-equipped to properly do the job in an even semi-timely manner, but I prefer to actually converse with people.

Believe me, I understand why people like it. You can quickly and easily let someone know you’re on your way, running late, whatever. I get it. And in the beginning, I thought it was sort of cool that our birth mom texted (that’s not even a real word!) me at least once a week throughout her pregnancy, and really cool that she texted me during labor (“getting ready 2 push…”). No joke. (Though I later found out that the text reading: “In delivery, head almost out” was actually written by the birth father, it was still cool.)

But now our son is four months old and I’m still getting texts. Several texts a week. And if I don’t respond within a couple of hours, I get the same text again.

People who know me well know I’m not a cell phone user. I basically have it for emergencies. I prefer good, ol’ fashion communication; you know, talking on the (land line) phone or face to face. Even emailing. So this texting several times a week (several texts per exchange, of course) is making me crazy. But more importantly, it’s turned my four year old daughter into a texting maniac.

Using a piece of paper, her plastic princess phone (*groan* given to her by our neighbor), or even her palm, our daughter texts her (make believe) sister, her “boyfriend” as she calls him (the 14 year old, yes 14, next door that she has a crush on), or even our son’s birth mom. She does this at the dinner table, in her bedroom, in the car. At first it was kind of cute. Look at our daughter, all grown up and texting, I’d said to my husband.

But that’s just it. “All grown up” at four. Call me old fashioned, call me behind the times. Whatever. Pre-teen, teen, young adult—it comes at you fast. The longer I can keep my kid a kid, the better in my opinion.

Yeah, it’s just texting, what’s the harm? It’s not so much the “harm.” It’s just that I want to raise children that interact and engage with others, not bury their noses in cell phones, texts, computers, video games. They can bury their noses in books, that’s cool with me.

Okay, it seems I’ve gotten a bit preachy; not my intent. (sorry!) My daughter takes her cue from me and here’s what’s on my list for 2010: less texting, more talking.

Though I will admit, I think it’ll be pretty cool for our son to read all the texts his birth mom sent during the three months prior to his arrival (I’m writing them out and saving them in his baby book). Oh how the adoption times have changed!