Sunday, November 8, 2015

Baby M.

After I found out about Z's death, I went into research mode. Many things happened, and the long and the short of it is that our family now has connections with our kids first family that we never thought we would. This is a good thing, and of course it is a complicated thing.

Some of those relationships I won't talk about here, at least not right now. But I do want to talk about one. It's the one I dreaded, actually, because I thought that if this relationship ever presented itself we would be faced with a big, hard choice. I was dreading that, dreading the moment we got the phone call that Z had another baby, and was looking to place her child again.

Except we never got that call. Someone else did.

Baby Boy M.
There is a lot about the placement of Baby Boy M that is out of focus for me, things that only the adoption agency really knows the truth about, and I don't have access to that truth. My feelings about the agency's decision to place him with a family that had been waiting a long time, and gone through two failed matches, instead of calling us...well the feelings are complicated. Z did not express a preference, apparently, so the choice was theirs to make. It is not really a choice I agree with. But it's complicated. Complicated because I really don't know if we would have said yes to another baby. Complicated, because for Andrew and I two kids feels right, it is the number we know how to raise, it is the right fit. And complicated because two kids feels right for us, but our girls growing up so far away from their little brother, well that feels wrong. The first time I saw baby M's picture I could barely catch my breath - a picture of a child who looks so much like my child, that my first instinct was nonono, he belongs here, with his sisters! But it wasn't my choice to make, and that is not how adoption works.

The agency refused to put us in contact with Baby M's parents for the first few months we knew about him. I think they knew that I wasn't happy, and they were waiting for his adoption to be finalized. But then they relented, and did, and his mom friended me on facebook and on every rational level and many emotional levels things are great. His parents want him to know his sisters, and we want him to know his sisters, and they have a big family that adores this little boy, and we have the family we always wanted. He is safe, cherished, and so very loved. They don't live close, so the kids knowing each other won't be super easy, but we are all going to try.

J with me, at about the same age.
This is the thing about adoption that is so hard to explain, and even hard for me to come close to, most days. That adoption can be beautiful and hard at the same time. I know my girls are in the best place, that they belong with us. I love being their mom, and am so grateful to be the one who gets to parent them. M's parents know and feel this for M, too. And yet - I grieve that these children won't grow up together. If all was as it ought be Z would be alive, her children with her, and they would grow up just as loved, fed, cared for, and cherished together as they are now apart. I am grateful for what is, for obvious reasons. And I ache for what ought to be.

I can hold both these things together. It hurts, and it is the best way in the world that we actually have, in the world that actually exists. I called baby M's mom, Stacy, several days after we connected on facebook, and we talked for over an hour. She is a good person who also seems to have her eyes wide open going into adoption. Stacy and her husband are experienced parents, and they obviously delight in M and care about connecting him to his sisters and finding real ways to connect him to people who share his race and culture. (And she gave me permission to blog about this, even!) I am grateful for her, for the love and care we share for our children.

Someday, hopefully not too far away, I'll see these three children together, even if it's just visits now and then.  And M will have his sisters as resources as he grows into his identity as a black transracial adoptee, and that's something real and hopeful for all three of them.  M will grow up, and look more and more like his own little person, a dear sweet boy who is my children's brother and someone else's son. I can picture this hopeful future, and so can M's mama, and I think we are carefully, kindly, gently moving together in that direction.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


There is a certain way the burn/pediatric ICU smells, and I don't think I'll ever forget it. It's not a bad smell but it is unique. During my internship as a hospital chaplain that was the only floor I was afraid of. Every patient there represented something I deeply feared. But I have happy memories there, too. I kissed Andrew on New Year's, 2012 in an empty room, watching the Space Needle fireworks. Amazing, precious, and tender things happen on that floor.

Today I took the girls to visit their dad at work, and Andrew took us across the hall to the burn/peds ICU because they had candy, and maybe also because the nurses there take a particular delight in walking, talking, healthy little kids. But S, my sensitive child, hid her face and didn't want to stay. She is afraid of hospitals and doctors, even though nothing traumatic has ever happened to her in one. My tiny Jack Skellington hid her face in her daddy's chest, and not even the promise of candy could convince her to emerge.

Halloween is supposed to be a trinity of days where we face our fears, and remember our dead. The ancient pagan Celts called it Samhain and they believed that on Samhain the dead returned to walk among the living. They would welcome them home by lighting fires and candles, and leaving treats on the window sills.

We're not so good with death, in modern USA culture. But ignoring our mortality doesn't make it less scary. It may even have the opposite effect. Nobody talks about death, and so it becomes an unspeakable thing that is even more terrifying.

We've been talking about death in our family a lot this year. Andrew's grandfather's health has been failing for years, and this year was his last. He died a couple of weeks ago at home, surrounded by his wife and children. My mother-in-law told me that it was beautiful, which is not how people usually talk about death and dying. In my hospital internship I saw a lot of people at the moment of death, though, and I think I know what she means.

Early in 2015, the girls' first mother died. I have always called her Z here, on this blog. Z's death was devastating to me. It was sudden and unexpected. I still don't know how to talk about it. So many of the hopes I have held for the future died with her - hope that someday she would see the beautiful children she lost, meet them, give them answers for all the someday questions they will have that I don't know the answers to. I wanted a better, happier ending for the story of Z and our children.

We told the girls pretty soon after we got the news, and they have incorporated this new information fairly smoothly into their lives. It has given me a chance to talk about death with them, and to explore some of the bigger questions of their lives. I hope that talking about this stuff now will mean that we can also talk about it later, as their understandings and feelings develop.

So in my faith tradition Halloween has sort of fallen by the wayside, co-opted by costumes and candy. But tomorrow is All Saints and after it All Souls, and I framed pictures of Z, and of Pop, to take to church with us. We'll put them on an altar alongside photos and objects that others bring, to mark, remember, and welcome home their beloved dead. We will light candles, pray, and keep again the tradition of celebrating the loves we hold that death cannot touch.

Like death itself, remembering the dead is sacred work. Both are hallowed by tears and love and sadness and hope. And perhaps one helps us get ready to someday face the other.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ahmed, innocence, and how brown kids get "read"

I am completely captivated by the story of Ahmed, which tore up social media and then regular news yesterday. I'm sure you know it but here's a recap. A fourteen year old kid makes a clock, takes it to school to show his teachers, and gets arrested for making a "hoax bomb." 

Also, the kid's name is Ahmed Mohamed, and he is Muslim. 

Ahmed's story has a pretty happy ending - invitations from all over the place to visit with his clock, the White House, Facebook, MIT, etc. He's an obviously bright, loveable, typical geeky teenager and while nothing anyone does at this point can change the fact that he was betrayed by his teachers, school, and local law enforcement I'm sure all this helps. In his interviews he seems giddy, triumphant, and above all child-like. Which is appropriate, because he is a child. 

Right? Fourteen, Ninth grade, these are still descriptors for children. And it seems like Ahmed is the sort of teen who is still in his childhood in great ways - given room to geek out over tech stuff and concerned with showing off what he's made to the adult authority figures in his life. 

So why did his teachers and school see him as a threat first? Why did they fail to see the child that all of America is so taken with?

I think about this a lot, for obvious reasons. There is a lot of evidence that our society encourages adults to over-estimate the age and maturity of brown children. This means that white children benefit from the societal assumption that children are innocent and deserving of protection longer than black children do. An article in the Atlantic a couple years back, covering a study on this topic, explains it this way: "black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent." 

I wonder if this is what happened to Ahmed, that because of his skin color and ethnic group he was read as a threat, losing the benefit of the baseline assumption that he would be innocent and deserving of protection first, before entertaining ideas about him being a potential threat.

I also wonder when it will happen to my kids.

This summer I watched the video of the "Texas Teen Pool Party" with tears streaming down my face. The whole thing is a mess, of course, but what disturbed me the most was the teenage girl - 14 or 15 years old, screaming for her mama while a white police officer kneeled on her back, holding her by her braids. I saw a scared child being mistreated, but the officer of the law obviously did not perceive the same thing. He saw a threat. And I cannot imagine that he would have treated a white 14 year old the same way. Even worse, his fellow officers and the other adults present allowed him to continue to abuse and humiliate a child. I don't know if it was solidarity or fear, but no one stood up for her, even those who are sworn to serve and protect.

My girls are tall, and already it is clear to me that adults who do not know my oldest assume that my not-yet-six year old is at least eight or nine. Some of this is due to her height, but I suspect that some of it is due to racial undercurrents in our culture, undercurrents that push all of us to forget to see some children, and whisper to us that they are dangerous adults instead.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

fourth time around

Somehow, last week, my baby completed her fourth circle around the sun and now she is a big, proud four year old. She talks and understands so much, and is a funny, creative, wacky, charming, big personality sort of kid.

I love her so much.

Birthdays can be interesting and complicated in adoptive families. I have a friend who adopted her daughter internationally, and they don't know what her child's actual birth date is. I know adoptive moms who were present in the hospital room when their child was born who were unexpectedly bowled over with grief for the woman giving birth, instead of the expected joy of meeting the baby who would become a son or daughter.

And for me, like many, I wasn't present or aware of my children's birthdays when they happened. My storyline intertwines with theirs, for each of them, a couple of weeks later on.

So on S's birthday this year, after cake and candles and promises of a fun party on the weekend, when she was sound asleep in bed, I pulled out her file and looked through it. I read the hospital's clinical description of her birth, and looked at the tiny inked footprints. I let my eyes linger over Apgar scores and precise time of birth, and the social worker's notes. I thought about Z, and what that day must have been like for her. I thought about the hopes I have cherished that someday S would be able to talk to her first mom about the moments in her life that only Z would be able to describe to her.

Sadness and happiness can live in good company with each other, I am learning. Life is full, to the brim, with both.

Birthdays can be complicated.

Friday, August 21, 2015


"She's right there" J says to the teacher's aide who is monitoring the line of kids waiting to get picked up. It is the last day of kindergarten "jump start," the practice week, where kids come and experience the teachers and routines of school for half -days before the official school year begins. 

"Look," J is jumping up and down a little anxiously, pointing at me as I walk across the parking lot toward her.  The aide has her arm out, not touching my child but obviously signaling her to stay back. She looks past me. None of the children in her line are white, and so the white woman walking toward her (me) doesn't register. 

"You have to wait for your mommy, honey," she says. Her eyes search the parking lot. I am sure she is looking for someone who matches my daughter racially - maybe a tall and statuesque Black woman with piercing eyes that match J's. I see my girl's nose wrinkle up in frustration. 

"Right there!" She says again, and I can tell that she is about to lose it. This is probably why my tone is a little sharper than intended. After all, I'm only about 8 feet away. 

"Right here!" I echo back at J, then wave at the aide, catching her eye. "I'm her mom, and I'm right here, " I say firmly. The woman drops her hand and J runs out toward me.  

"Oh," the teacher's aide is obviously embarrassed. "I didn't know what she was pointing at." I do my best to smile.

"It's fine, I get it." I turn my attention to the papers J is holding and fuss over them, over her. My big girl, who has completely rocked this week. 

We've chosen our neighborhood school for J, and we are really excited about it. It's a newly remodeled K-6 with a lot of diversity and a lot of kids who qualify for free lunch. The principal is dynamic, committed, and interesting. There is a lot going on in terms of classroom support, innovative curriculum, and blended learning. At the parents' meeting, the first day this week, Andrew and I looked around and spotted one other white couple in the room. The meeting ran over because everything had to be said twice: once in English and then translated into Spanish. 

"Are there many adoptive families here?" I asked the principal when we came to tour the school. I could see her pause, really wanting us to enroll and worried about her answer. 

"Not really," she replied. "Or, at least, not like your family. There are kids here who have been adopted by relatives, or who are in foster care situations. But I think you'll be the only you." 

So, here we go. I don't think it will take long for everyone to figure out who J's mom and dad are. I firmly believe the best educational environment for my daughters is one that is not majority white, one where they will learn the skills needed for a diverse world and have opportunities to make friends that share their racial identity. But I am acutely aware that in these environments my kids will fit in better than I do. We've been lucky so far, in this way, surrounded by people who know our story. My kids haven't had a lot of situations, yet, where they have to explain to their peers or others that yes, I'm their mommy, for reals.

But those times are coming.

This evening, after J and I pick up S from her Seattle daycare we drop by the farmer's market in our old neighborhood and then head to one of our favorite parks to eat dinner, and play. It's a great park, and full of kids on this sunny late summer afternoon. Unlike our new neighborhood, where most of the kids are Hispanic, some are Black and just a few are white, this park is dominated by Black families. The girls are quickly swept up in a game with a bunch of other kids on a  merry-go-round of sorts. I watch from a bench, aware that my kids are the youngest of the bunch. Things get rowdy, so I start to hover a bit. Because the pick-up from kindergarten is fresh in my mind, I am aware that to most of the kids on the playground equipment I am a random white lady with a mysterious interest in the merry-go-round crew. It's just my two who see their mama, watching to make sure they are safe. When I call to them to stop playing because it's time to go home they protest ("Mom!! Not yet!!") and the other kids react with shock and surprise. 

"How is that your mom?!"

"You have Black kids, what???"

The girls giggle, not sure why there is a fuss, but pleased to have caused it. I smile, and calmly say that families don't always match. I can tell they don't really believe me, but my daughters don't seem to notice.

As invisible as I felt, picking up my daughter today, I am certain that by the time school starts for real in a couple weeks everyone will know about us. My relationship to my girls is invisible until it isn't, and then we really stick out. J will be in school without me now, one of a bunch of kids in kindergarten who will have to figure out how to talk about herself and her family. 

Here we go.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


It's always hard when we realize that our heroes are flawed. Or that there exists, in some alternate universe, the possibility that they could be flawed.

I've been binge-watching season one of The Flash, which deals with this theme a lot, as many superhero stories tend to do: how to figure out who the good guy is, and who the bad guy is. What to do, when it turns out the lines between the two are blurred. There is a character that seems to be good, but turns out to have been the Big Bad all along.

I haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird in a long, long time. And, I haven't read To Set a Watchman at all.

Five years ago I read a post on Stuff White People Do, that changed the way I think about To Kill a Mockingbird in a very dramatic and devastating way. Macon, the author of the now on-hiatus blog, is lifting up a critique of the book that was levied by academic Isaac Saney in his 2003 article The Case Against To Kill a Mockingbird, published in the journal Race and Class. Saney is working off of efforts by African Nova Scotians to ban To Kill a Mockingbird because they read it as a racist book.

That's right - not the new book, where the central character is openly racist, but the old book. The one with the Atticus Finch that we all love so much.

Saney's case is basically this: yes, Atticus Finch is portrayed as noble, moral and upright. But there were not many white people who behaved in this way, in that time. Maybe there weren't any. To write a story about one fictional white man who did stand up against white supremacy erases the reality of the vast majority of white people who not only didn't resist but stood in solidarity against recognizing the full humanity of their black brothers and sisters.  Saney looks at how the black people in the book are presented and sees people without agency, victims waiting for the efforts of a White Savior. Even the title suggests that black people are useful, harmless pets. Mockingbirds. And finally, he notes that in reality it was not the heroism of white people that brought civil rights to black people, but the willingness of black heroes to march, fight, sacrifice, and risk.

When I first read that blog, and article, I agreed.

Then the last few years happened, and I agreed even more. Black men still die at the hands of white men who hate and fear them, without repercussion.

So I've been reading through the reviews, and the astonishment, with the release of To Set a Watchman. And it seems to me that while it might be hard to read a version of Atticus Finch that is openly, horrifyingly racist, there is also something that feels right about that. The first Atticus is a myth, and a damaging one. This Atticus, perhaps, is something closer to real life. This one really lived, in many, many regular white men all over our country then. And he still lives now.

To Set A Watchman sounds more realistic than it's beloved cousin. Reviewers say it is less satisfying, more disturbing, not as well done.

That's probably all true. I lost my love for Atticus several years ago. So, for me, there is something satisfying about learning that before she wrote him perfect, Harper Lee tried to write him real.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

postscript to the match that wasn't

I log in to social media today and look through the many posts from the weekend - family photos, people having fun with friends, pictures of fireworks, sunsets, cookouts, camping trips and other fun.

I linger over one photo in particular. It's a picture of a family: a mom and dad with four kids ranging in age from a teenager to a five year old. "Great 4th with the fam!" the caption reads. It's obvious that this family is related by blood - they resemble each other, and I can see elements of mom and dad in all four kids. They are all beautiful, especially the sweet littlest one, a girl with her hair braided in a crown and then up in one single puff.

Y and I reconnected on social media a little over a year ago. I found her and sent her a message - we exchanged photos of our kids and exclaimed over how beautiful everyone is. When her youngest turned five I sent a little happy birthday message, and we talked for the first time about the day I held that baby and thought she would become my daughter. I got to tell her how grateful I am for her decision to trust herself and parent her child.

When it happened, when Y changed her mind, I was full of complicated feelings. Underneath the disappointment and sadness, much quieter but just as present, was relief. I was relieved because I could see that she knew how to parent, that she was emotionally capable, and this felt so dissonant with her stated desire to relinquish. On several levels I wasn't surprised by her choice, despite disappointment. I was clear that if her choice was to parent, we would support that.

Now I look at her pictures (and she looks at mine) and I cannot imagine another way. I am grateful to see the little girl who wasn't my baby safe and happy with her mama and papa and siblings, big and strong and almost six years old.