Creating connections with Adoption Choices families

Posts tagged ‘transracial adoption’

Love and Reflections

The other morning, my youngest and I were in the girls’ bathroom getting her ready for the day. I dabbed toothpaste on her snoopy toothbrush and handed it to her. My youngest then jabbed the toothbrush around in her mouth until it was full of suds, drooled the suds out into the sink, wiped her face on the hand towel, and smiled a big toothy smile at herself in the mirror. Next, I reached back into the closet, and grabbed a green polka-dotted washcloth, ran it under the not-too-hot water, and rubbed it across her face, cleaning off the sleepies, the leftover oatmeal, and the dribbled toothpaste smudge on her chin. As my youngest’s face was revealed to her in the mirror again, she looked at me through the reflection, and said in a very matter of fact tone, “Why doesn’t the brown come off?”

I replied out loud to my daughter, back though my reflection, “that’s a great question!” Then I started to talk about melanin,  skin cells, genetics, and, then, without hearing a word, she ran off to get her lovely tucked into bed, or “school,” as she calls it.

I have spent a good amount of time, since that morning, mulling over my daughter’s question, and my response. I’ve responded in my head to my daughter over, and over, changing my response depending on the weight of the meaning I placed on her words. I thought deeply about how we approach skin color, race, differences, and our multiracial family. I wondered, have I read anything new about children adopted trans-racially  Have I done enough to feed my daughter’s self-image and self-esteem so it can grow strong and beautiful?

I took a moment to look at our family, neighborhood, and community through my daughter’s eyes. Does she see her beautiful brown face reflected back to her through her teachers (no), in her classmates (some), in her neighborhood (a bit), in our church (yes), in her family (no), in her birth family (yes)?

My husband and I feel that having an open relationship with our daughter’s family, positively impacts our family as a whole, but also gives our youngest a direct, and authentic tie to her family, and culture of origin.  In our family our daughter sees her reflection, of her image, in her birth mother, of her heart, in her adoptive parents. Together, I have confidence that we will lift up our daughter to see her own image, of a strong and beautiful young girl, with a lovely brown face.

Love and School

My oldest started Kindergarten earlier this month. It’s awesome! My youngest started Pre-K and that is awesome too! I love back to school. It’s so great to see the girls make new friends, experience new things, and to see how they integrate our home life into their school life (and vice versa).

I’ve preceded the start of each school year with a letter to the classroom teacher (and this year the guidance counselor too) which outlines our family makeup for them. My hope is that this letter will help the teachers and staff understand adoption, adoption language, and how adoption is for us. I do this in order to spare my kids the dumbfounded look of adults who don’t get adoption (or differences in family make up in general).

When I write the letter each year I have a line from the poem Black is Brown is Tan by Arnold Adoff, “This is the way it is for us, this is the way we are” running through my head. Basically, I like to spell it out as simple and clear as possible for the reader. I don’t give back story, nitty-gritty details, or write anything that my kids don’t already know themselves. I give labels to all the family members, what role the family members each have in my child’s life, and what open adoption means, and doesn’t mean for my family. I try to stick to “This is the way it is for us, this is the way we are” as this is also the motto I have for my family in general.

My girls talk about their birth families as they talk about everyone else in their life, integrated into their wondrous universe, which they are the masters of. But sometimes, I am taken aback by my girls’ depth of thinking about our big crazy open adoption family. This happened late last week. My oldest daughter had created an “All about me” project which was displayed for Parents Night in her classroom.  It was adorable, and pronounced her age, eye color, hair color, favorite color (blue!) and then for the last page it said “One important thing you should know about me is ________________.” My oldest wrote “i HV BUTHi”. I looked at the illustration she had drawn above the writing and it gave me no clue about the meaning. So I asked my oldest what it said, and she told me, “I have a brother”. My heart stuck in my throat, I turned to hug my sweet girl, and looked up to see her teacher beaming at me with a huge smile.  Thank god, I thought, this is a safe place where it is ok for us to be just the way we are.

Love and Reading part III

I’ve completed two books this month in the Adoption Reading Challenge, and I’m currently searching for my third. Upon completion (finally!) of Jaiya John’s memoir, Black Baby, White Hands: A View From The Crib, I came away with many conflicting feelings. However, I am glad I read it, and feel I have many takeaways from it. As I read Jaiya’s words, I felt as if a friend was telling me stories of his life, a little bit at a time, rewinding over the very good, and really bad parts, to make a statement, and to gain my understanding.  I do not think this book is for everyone. Jaiya is a poet, and he writes like one.  If you are looking for a concise book on the feelings of people who are transracial adoptees, this is not your book. However, if you are looking to understand the depth of the soul of one man, and his journey through life as a transracial adoptee, or to challenge your thoughts on what to means for a black child, to  grow to become black man in a white family, then this book should be a must read. Black Baby, White Hands is not an easy read, it’s musical like Jazz, and it’s painful, like a sunburn, but it’s worth the time for the insight that is gained.

I jumped right from Black Baby, White Hands, into another memoir written by an adoptee. The Mistress’s Daughter, written by A.M. Homes, tells the story of the author’s reunion with her birth parents in her thirty’s.  I cheated a bit on this Adoption Reading Challenge, as I actually listened to the book on Audible.com. It is narrated by Jane Adams, who I had to often remind myself, was not the author, as she narrated the memoir so genuinely. I felt as if Ms. Homes wrote like a journalist while telling the story of her reunion with her birth mother, Ellen, and her birth father, Norman. Her writing is to the point, pragmatic, and almost devoid of feeling. However, the stories Homes tells are both touching, and revealing, about the void that is filled by knowing where one comes from.

Homes takes the reader on a journey through the everyday nitty gritty of living in a once closed, and now open adoption. Homes also explores her own fantasies of her birth parents and her adoption. Even after the reunion, the continued not-knowing in the story drives the author to genealogy, to look for a connection to her families and her place in them. Reading/Listening to Homes’ memoir has confirmed for me that having an open adoption, no matter how it plays out in the future, at least provides a door for my children to walk through on their path towards discovering who they are, and who their birth families are. Knowing who we are seems such a basic right, that I am often perplexed by the stories of hidden truths, or falsehoods by omission, about children who joined their family through adoption. Although the truth is sometimes hard to swallow, sometimes hurtful, sometimes scary, I think untruths’ can create deep wounds that are hard to heal. Again, I pray that I am on the right path for my girls. I pray that they truth will heal them and make them whole.

Love and Reading Part II

Life has gotten in the way of my Adoption Reading Challenge this month. Although, I have read 179 out of 350 pages of Jaiya John’s memoir, Black Baby White Hands: A View From the Crib, I have failed to complete it. I tried to overcome the obstacle of reading while in a darkened hospital room, watching a  sick relative sleep, by bringing along a book light, but those places are so jacked full of oxygen and warm air, I’d fall asleep 50 words in.  Then, I tried to read last week while my husband was away on business, my babysitter was on spring break, and both my girls were home with the flu, but apparently when the girls watch Caillou for the 70th time in a day, I am meant to watch along. 

Life; it sucked the life out of me, and my reading mojo. So, I am breaking up my response to reading Black Baby, White Hands into two parts. Honestly, I could break my thoughts about this young man’s journey, up into a hundred parts. This book is chock-full of thought provoking poetry, mind-rattling storytelling, and such raw and honest self reflection that, I had to re-read several parts, to gain the full meaning of Jaiya John’s words.

Jaiya John’s book retells his story of being an African American child adopted by a white family, with powerful images, and unforgettable pain and insight into himself, his family, his community, and the historical impact that race in America, had on his soul. Jaiya John was placed for adoption by his mother, Mary, at birth in the late 1960’s. Jaiya spent most of his first year of life in a foster family and then was adopted by the Potters, a white, middle class family from Los Alamos, New Mexico. Jaiya John was the first transracial adoptee in New Mexico.

Jaiya’s description of his feelings towards the social workers that worked with his mother during his placement into foster care stung my heart. Jaiya described the services provided by the social workers as having “built a wall of shrunken possibilities” (John, p. 17). This description of social workers in the late sixties offering no supports other than placement into foster care, and eventually adoption, made me want to reach my arms back in time to embrace his mother. Equally as powerful are Jaiya’s thoughts about his father’s role (or lack thereof) in his placement into foster care; “the first step in being a father is to be informed that you are one” (John, p. 17). This part of Jaiya’s journey, made me reflect on my own girls adoptions. Did their birth mother’s feel a “wall of shrunken possibilities” surrounded them? If so, did I help lay the bricks for that wall? Did our greater community and individualistic society lay those bricks? Or did my girls’ birthmothers feel they had pathways of hope? Hope for themselves, for their child, for the future? I don’t know the answers to these questions, nor do I know how to ask them.

The love that obviously flows from Jaiya’s parents, siblings, and extended family is poignant, but just not enough to heal his soul.  Jaiya repeatedly explores his feelings of loneliness, isolation, otherness, and not being “seen” by those around him. The issue of low self-esteem also reoccurs in Jaiya’s description of his childhood, despite his loving family and his excellence in his education, social circle, and in athletics, he yearns for confirmation of himself as an African American. Jaiya’s words describing how he himself and his brother (also an African American child) are perceived by their family, friends and greater community also hit home for me.

               “That we should feel lucky to be growing up in such a wonderful town, in such a loving family.They took for granted the thing most lacking but equally important to our true happiness: Seeing our face looking back at us. Most of these people had the comfort of being White in a White community.  (John, P. 10)”

When I comb my daughter’s curly brown hair, and we stare at each other in the mirror, I both love and despise when she says to me, “we are the same, our eyes are the same, we both have green eyes.”  We don’t, her eyes are certainly brown, and my eyes are for certain green.  I feel that yearning for connection emanating from her soul and pray that I can be enough for her, that I know more, and have more resources than Jaiya’s family did. But what mark will remain on my daughter’s soul from being a bi-racial child being raised by a white mama?  Will the open adoptions help with my daughters’ connectivity to their birth cultures? Will our diverse community be reflection enough for their hearts? I am doing the very best that I can, as I am sure Jaiya’s family did, but will it be enough? I pray.

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