Sunday, August 30, 2009

OA Roundtable #6: Names and Naming

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don't need to be part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list to participate, or even have a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table.

I missed the Open Adoption blogger Roundtable #5 for some reason, but no worries I will jump in here for #6. It's about names and naming.

Since we don't know who our child is we obviously don't know how the naming is going to go. But I have had more than one conversation with people who seem concerned about whether or not we will "get" to name the baby. The answer is, quite simply, we're not sure. There are a lot of ways that this naming thing could go. To read more from families who have been through it go check out the post at Production Not Reproduction that links to all of the bloggers who've written on this topic already -you'll see a wide variety of approaches to naming.

We have names picked out. To be honest we've had names picked out since before we were on this particular path. Andrew and I have been noodling about with names since before we were married, probably, considering this one and that one, trying one out for a while and so forth. We've got a girl name and a boy name that we really like. But we're not married to the names. We're open to the possibility that our child's first mother will want to name him or her, or collaborate with us on a name. In fact, that's a prospect that I find sort of exciting.

If you have a hard time understanding this, which more than one person I have talked to has, here's how I think of it. My child will crave connection to his or her first family. That's not a bad thing, it's a good thing. Our child's first mother may want to give her baby something that will stay with him or her forever, like a name. That's also a good thing. I will be with my baby everyday, I will get to sleep and wake with him, see her first steps and comfort her the first time her feelings are hurt. I will get so much. Put in that perspective, the name isn't so important. Or, it is, but it's not so important that it comes from me. Unless that's how it works out. In which case, we're more than ready.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Accepting "Alternative"

My phone rang yesterday and I looked down to see Liz's name on the caller id. But I didn't freak out - she had warned me via email that she might be calling. This is how sensitive she is: she knew that without warning the first thing I would think was MATCH!!!! and didn't want to get my hopes up.

It was good to touch base with her using real voices and not the internet, for a change. I was able to ask questions and get a good picture of where we are and what's coming up.

I asked her again about profile feedback, and she assured me that we don't need to change our profile, and that it's normal to wonder when you haven't been picked.

Turns out, we come across as a little, well, a little alternative. She seemed reluctant to tell me this, because Liz loves our profile. In fact, most of the people who work for the various agencies who have it love our profile.

"But you have to understand," Liz said "Texas has a different culture."

I get it. And it's okay. We don't have a big house, a fancy car, a large yard just begging for children to play in it. We have a cozy little condo two miles from downtown and a playground full of neighborhood kids across the street. We don't have a stay-at-home mom, just waiting for someone to stay at home for. We've got two people who both want to be at home with our kids part of the time and also working part of the time. Who plan to make that happen for ourselves. We are a heterosexual Christian couple, something quite popular from what I understand, but we don't look a lot like other "Christian" couples. I am studying to be a priest, and there are plenty of Christians in Texas(and other places) who don't think women should do such things. There are tattoos and drumsets in our profile.

I'm not discouraged by this, because I want our child's first mom to be someone who sees us - as we really are - and thinks our lifestyle is a good place for a baby to live and grow. We knew going into it that being "alternative" could work for us or against us. Time wise it sure feels like it's working against us. But in the long run I firmly believe it'll be a good thing. She'll find us.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Every child is entitled to parents who know that transracial adoption changes the family forever.

Every child is entitled to parents who know that transracial adoption changes the family forever.

To some degree this is true for anyone having a baby - having a baby changes things. If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me "well wait 'til you have a baby, that'll change" this adoption would be more than paid for. Sometimes I agree with them - yes, we probably won't go to as many midnight movies after we have a baby. Sometimes I don't - nope, we're still going to love our cats/use cloth napkins/want to hang out with our friends who don't have babies, even after we have a baby.

So why is adoption, and transracial adoption different than that? Why is every child is entitled to parents who know that transracial adoption changes the family forever?

Right now I'm thinking about this question in terms of maps. Yes, a baby of any sort will change a family forever, that is natural when a whole new person enters the mix. But for people having biological children, there are a lot of maps out there for what that change is going to look like. The twists and turns are, to some degree, defined. The options for how to go are well marked and well traveled by many people that the traveler can easily access. There is a "common wisdom" about how to make those choices, and for most of us there are even hardwired instincts and socialized patterns from our own pasts to help out with the choices. In fact, this is a road that we've already traveled, albeit from a different seat, when we were the children and our parents were raising us. Some of us really liked the route our parents chose, others of us look back and think "when I get to ____, I will turn left instead of right, or I will stop there a while instead of barreling through." Some of us may even want to throw out our parent's map altogether and find a new one, and there are many many resources for doing that.

For a family built through adoption there are just fewer maps out there. And for families that are transracial the well traveled roads really don't exist. Some things will be the same, of course, but every transracially adopted child is entitled to parents who are aware that this is not a well-traveled road, and that all options need to be considered before moving on. Every transracially adopted child is entitled to parents who are willing to get creative, willing to go off-road, and willing to develop instincts that were not instilled in them by their native culture and ethnicity. But more than any of these things, I think this statement is about knowing that this is a different road, and that once you're on it there is no going back.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Defining "Racism"

I've been hearing and reading a lot about "reverse racism" lately, seems like. Aside from some high-profile comments by certain politicians it seems like some of the people in my life use this phrase more these days. Sometimes it comes up in conjunction with politically charged topics like Affirmative Action, other times in conversations about racism in general. "I have met black people who hate white people, too! Isn't that just as bad?"

Well, it might be just as bad, but the question is, is it racism?

I've always wanted to say no. It's not the same. A black person with a prejudice against a white person is not the same as a white person with a prejudice against black people. But I haven't had the language to explain why.

Last weeks' Stuff White People Do post helped me out. Guest blogger Robin F offers a "Racism 101 for Clueless White People." This is the part that turned on a light bulb for me:

The first thing you really need to understand is that the definition of racism that you probably have (which is the colloquial definition: "racism is prejudice against someone based on their skin color or ethnicity") is NOT the definition that's commonly used in anti-racist circles.

The definition used in anti-racist circles is the accepted sociological definition (which is commonly used in academic research, and has been used for more than a decade now): "racism is prejudice plus power". What this means, in easy language:

A. Anyone can hold "racial prejudice" -- that is, they can carry positive or negative stereotypes of others based on racial characteristics. For example, a white person thinking all Asians are smart, or all black people are criminals; or a Chinese person thinking Japanese people are untrustworthy; or what-have-you. ANYONE, of any race, can have racial prejudices.

B. People of any race can commit acts of violence, mistreatment, ostracizing, etc., based on their racial prejudices. A black kid can beat up a white kid because he doesn't like white kids. An Indian person can refuse to associate with Asians. Whatever, you get the idea.

C. However, to be racist (rather than simply prejudiced) requires having institutional power. In North America, white people have the institutional power. In large part we head the corporations; we make up the largest proportion of lawmakers and judges; we have the money; we make the decisions. In short, we control the systems that matter. "White" is presented as normal, the default. Because we have institutional power, when we think differently about people based on their race or act on our racial prejudices, we are being racist. Only white people can be racist, because only white people have institutional power.(more here)

While I, perhaps arrogantly, haven't considered myself a totally "clueless" white person, these categories were new to me. And I think they make a lot of sense.

This isn't the last word on the subject, of course. For another, also educated and race-aware, perspective I also recommend this post from Average Bro. He's not at all sure that black people can't be racist, and the discussion that takes place in the comments is worth reading.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, as well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ebb and flow...

Well, things were exciting there for a few days, weren't they? Paperwork and interviews and all sorts of seemingly new possibilities opening up. I actually considered packing a little bag with the baby things we'll need in it, in case something super short notice comes up. Then we got another not-our-baby email from Liz (Texas does not like us, apparently)and I realized that we're not that close on this.

And that's the constant dilemma. I've read other adoptive moms write about how they spent so much time preparing for the adoption process that they didn't prepare as well as they would have liked for the parenting process to follow. I totally get that. Preparing in real ways is emotionally perilous.

I bought cloth diapers in February, after getting the first notice that we were being shown and spending way too much time on the natural parenting boards on the ovusoft websites. Not only did we buy diapers and a moby wrap, but we got the cradle from my brother, a car seat and baby bath from Kelly and Kari, and a bunch of gender neutral baby clothes. I'm really glad we have that stuff, it's important to me that we're prepared.

But the cradle is just usually full of laundry.

The car seat and baby bath are wedged into our storage space, where Andrew exiled them after I had a particularly hopeless night.

The moby wrap is still at my brother's, where my nephew used it for the first few months of his life.

And I don't haunt those natural parenting boards anymore.

Preparing feels like punishment, sometimes. If six-months-ago me had known that on August 20th we'd be in the same position we were on February 9th would I have rearranged the bedroom and spent hours online wavering between diaper service and washing our own? Would I have read The Happiest Baby on the Block in a day?

It's hard to strategize about this stuff, because it could be tomorrow and I'll wish that I had already secured a diaper pail and bottles and a co-sleeping strategy, or I could be waking up Christmas morning and wondering if I should take the time to fold all the laundry that will have piled up in our still-empty cradle, and deciding whether to laugh or cry at the memory of my certain hopeful old self who thought we'd get chosen right away.

Back in February I tried to start a baby registry at Amazon.com. It seemed like it would be fun, even though we're not going to have a shower or any sort of party before kiddo is here. But they wouldn't let me do it without a due date. So...I didn't. Because we don't have a due date, and the last thing I wanted was to enter a random date, have it pass, and get some sort of "congrats on your new baby" email from amazon.com. I would feel like a fraud. True confession: I often do feel like a fraud, as if this whole "we're adopting" thing is a giant fairytale castle in the sky and I have no business behaving as if I am actually going to become a mother at the end of this thing.

So I am doing my best to keep up on my coping strategies. This is what I've learned so far:
  • It is not helpful to google "WACAP AAI" and look for the blogs of families who have gotten their babies in the time we've been waiting.
  • It is helpful to write a whiny blog entry every now and again, just to get my negative energy off my own chest and out into the universe where it can't hurt anyone.
  • Excitement and hope come and go like tides. Lucky for me how I feel doesn't actually have any effect on the end result of this process.
  • Now is as good a time as any to break myself of using food to make myself feel better. Which is too bad, because damn my husband is an amazing cook.

So there it is: my monthly low point. I will be treating my condition with a strong dose of ladies' night out with two of my best girls (we are going to see The Time Traveler's Wife and we will cry and cry!) and then a pizza party tomorrow night to celebrate the end of Andrew's 2nd quarter of school. Which won't help with the comfort food thing but eh. I'll be right as rain by the weekend, pricing goat's milk formula and pestering Andrew about bottle choices and bedroom decor. Ebb and flow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Every child is entitled to parents who know that being in a family doesn't depend on "matching."

Our alarm started beeping at 5:45am this morning. This is considered An Ungodly Hour in the A+A household, and being anywhere but dreamland is usually unacceptable. But this morning was different, because we needed to be on the phone by 6am to talk with the adoption agency that we are newly listed with in Florida. This was our orientation phone call, a chance for them to get to know us a little bit and for us to ask any questions we have. They do this for all the WACAP families whose profiles they get, because most of us are too far away for an in-person meeting. Of course, in Florida, it was a much more reasonable 9am.

So we dutifully trundled out to the car (no cell reception in our condo, long story) and I sent a little puff of gratitude upwards for the sunshine and relatively warm temperature. We might not be alert but at least we weren't going to be cold. I dialed the number as Andrew slumped in the driver's seat and resumed what appeared to be deep sleep. According to his mother he's always been a good sleeper.

Most of our 30 minute phone call was fairly routine - we spoke with N., the coordinator there, about their process: how they find birth mothers, what they do to counsel them, how far along they are before they are shown profiles, the different sorts of assistance they offer to them and the way they deal with birth father issues. She loved our profile. We didn't have a lot of questions, and the early hour may have had something to do with that.

"So tell me," N. said finally. "What is your greatest fear about adoption?"

Ah! I thought, finally a chance to give a good answer to something. I started scanning through my options for the best answer. Meanwhile Andrew woke up.

"I don't know," he answered. "I don't think there's anything about the adoption process that scares me, nothing unique to adoption. Just, you know, the usual fears about fatherhood in general."

Oooh good answer, I thought. Way to come through, baby. Wait, what fears about fatherhood "in general"?!?

"What about you, Alissa?" N. asked. Focus..

"I'm not sure," I replied. "But I do think alot about what it will mean to parent transracially. I'm trying to be as prepared as possible for that, but I know there are parts of it that I don't understand fully, that I'll probably screw up."

Mornings make me honest.

Then N. told me a story, about her best friend. Her friend M. has adopted three black boys - she and her husband are white. The boys are almost grown now, the oldest is 18, and N. spends a lot of time with them. The other day she was shopping with the oldest and they were in the checkout line together waiting to pay. He edged in front of her in the line and the checker immediately reacted, saying "excuse me, but she was in line first, she's in front of you."

"I was offended," N. said, "and immediately corrected her and said 'no, you don't understand, he's with me. We're in line together.' But the boy turned to me and said, 'don't worry, N. It's no big deal this happens all the time. People just don't understand how we could be connected to each other.'"

I'll admit it, this is one of my fears. And it's a story I've heard from many white parents, biological and adoptive, whose children have darker skin. I have probably been guilty of making that assumption myself, of looking immediately for familial resemblance between a child and the adult whose hand she is holding, or a baby and the parent who is carrying him.

But I know that being a family doesn't depend on matching. This part of the TAC bill of rights isn't really about changing others' reactions to my family or even developing strategies for dealing with those interesting and inevitable times when strangers assume we don't belong together because we don't look like we "should." (although that is probably a good idea.) It's about knowing it, in a deep and lived way, within my family unit itself.

I know being family doesn't depend on matching because I don't always "match" my own family. Sure, I look like them. But my personality, politics, and many of the choices I've made don't match much of my family. We still belong to each other, even if we have differing opinions on health care reform and social policy.

I know being family doesn't depend on matching because I've been family with people who I couldn't even talk to, completely dependent on my Russian host family for everything and loved by them as if I had always been in their home.

I know being family doesn't depend on matching because there friends who have become family to me with no blood relation at all.

It's a very optimistic thing to know - it can be the matching that lets us know we belong, and race is an important thing. Life can be confusing when race doesn't match. But I think it's also freeing - I don't need to try to make my child over into an image of myself. He will be free to explore who he is, and the similarity of that identity to my own will not be the decider for whether or not we love each other or belong to each other, it won't be what defines us as family.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I won!

So, remember that little local blog contest that I was entered in via Nickelodeon's parenting website?

I won! I am shocked! And so flattered - thank you so much all of you who voted for me!!


For Local Blog
in Seattle


For those of you who are curious, no there were no cash prizes for this. Just some more promotion from a popular parenting site for this blog, and hopefully this will be a positive resource for more adoptive parents out there.

I do feel a bit sheepish about not actually being a parent yet. But trust me, readers, I am working on that!

And also quite humbled, as the other nominees have great blogs as well. Check them out if you get a chance, especially Daring Young Mom and Carrie's blog, which I've added to my own reader.

Fun!

It's all golden...

I think when I look back on this summer most of my memories will be rather hazy, fuzzed with gold around the edges. Hazy because there's not a lot, so far, that's happened. A lot of our weekends and weekdays have been similar to each other, all of them variations on a particular domestic routine. Oddly, I've loved it.

Most of the six summers Andrew and I have spent together haven't been like this at all. Our first summer we lived on different sides of the water and were both playing shows with our bands, working full time day jobs, making records and going out a lot at night, catching time together however we could. Our second summer we were married, but Andrew was gone for all but a couple weeks on tour. I don't remember much about summer #3 except that Andrew was still touring, and I spent a lot of weekends on the peninsula with his family, sometimes with him and sometimes by myself, working in our garden. The year after that we lived with his dad for most of the summer and things were not calm - I spent a lot of time on the daily commute, and we were in the midst of buying our condo which was a harried process at the best of times. Last summer- and the year prior - we were dealing with infertility and an extremely uncertain financial future. Andrew just didn't have work. I just wasn't getting pregnant. We couldn't afford the cost of the ferry each weekend to keep our peninsula garden. There were lots of beautiful moments, but the general sense was one of impending doom.

This year is just different. The axe dropped on Andrew's job last December, and after some examination he realized he didn't want to be an electrician anyway. He's finishing up his second quarter of school now, with a 4.0 I don't mind mentioning, and will formally start his Respiratory Therapy program at the end of Sept. Our adoption paperwork has been done since February. We don't have the money for big trips or fancy treats, but we've been enjoying our DIY projects (Andrew made cheese!), each other, and the opportunity to truly inhabit our landscape: to live in our home, enjoy our neighbors, explore our city. We wake up every day together, and for the first time in our marriage we're both home most evenings together. We go to the farmer's market on Fridays, we use the grill several nights a week and are often joined by neighbors to share food and company. Maybe it's the heat, or the sunshine, or the undeniable and inescapable beauty of our city in the summer, but I will admit to feeling quite content.*

I was in the living room, last Friday night, watching t.v. and working on website stuffs while Andrew bustled about the kitchen in pursuit of homemade cheese and I couldn't help it. I just felt wonderful.

"Babe?" I shouted to get his attention, because I can never keep things to myself. "Andrew!"

"huh?" He poked his head around the corner, cheesecloth in one hand and wooden spoon in the other. "What?"

"Remember when we were younger and playing shows and it just felt every day like we would always look back on that time and remember it as the best time of our lives?"

He smiled. "Yes." With a glance back toward whatever mysterious process was taking place in the kitchen he gave me his attention. "I remember."

"Doesn't it also sort of feel like that now?"

"mmmhm," he replied, but I had lost him, there was something compelling happening with the cheese. He darted back into our little galley. "It does!" he shouted from the milky depths. I chuckled. There's something so satisfying to me in watching my husband in the grip of a new idea/project/obsession.

Maybe there's lots of those times, little golden times between crisis and transition, when you can relax and live life and truly be in your space. Don't get me wrong, I'm more than ready to trade this away for sleepless nights and dirty diapers. But I'm not going to let my readiness for something different steal away the joy of my right now. It's a pretty great life. And thank God I'm not lactose intolerant. I'd be missing out on some amazing cheese.



* subject to change or revision without notice or prior consent.

Monday, August 10, 2009

moving along

My attention has been elsewhere the past few days - thinking about school and ordering books, working on freelance projects and Godly Play stuffs.

I had the honor of preaching this past Sunday at church, part of my role at St. Paul's, and the text is on my other blog here.

Seattle has remembered her identity this past week, and treated us to the clouds and rain temperate thermostat that we are more familiar with. Usually this sort of weather happens in June and July, but things seem to be topsy-turvy this year.

Andrew and I are half-planning a vacation for labor day weekend that will definitely include camping in Northern California and may also include a visit to Sacramento and/or San Francisco. I say half-planning because of course it would be nice to have that plan superseded by a trip to, oh, Texas or Georgia or Florida or Mississippi.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Every child is entitled to parents who know that she will experience life differently than they do.

There is this story my mom told me, oh, several times over the course of my childhood. Yesterday I found myself telling the same story to a friend of mine. It has become one of the seminal stories of my life, a story that shapes a lot of what I do professionally in the world, actually.

Here's the story:

My mother was in college and living with some of her girlfriends. One of them, V., was an outgoing, vivacious, opinionated, powerful young woman. My mother, on the other hand, was shy and introverted. V. worked at a department store and she got my mom a job there over the holidays when they were taking on extra staff. They had a rather inefficient boss, and V. was always contradicting him, or going about completing tasks in a different way than he requested. My mother, on the other hand, always did exactly what he said even though there were plenty of times when she could have come up with a better and more efficient way. At the end of the holiday season, he decided to ask my mom to stay on, and let V. go.

The moral of the story was, as I understand it, that even though V. was usually right - usually her way was the best way or at least a better way - her tactics were all wrong. When you're working with a boss the best way to work is to start by doing everything exactly as you're told, to show that you have the capacity to take direction, and then later perhaps you can improve things.

I have to say, this system has served me well in almost all of my paid working positions. However, this story came to mind in connection with this part of the TAC Bill of Rights in part because I don't think this advice would work well for everyone.

Our society expects a certain amount of deference from women in the workplace. What my mother described to me was basically a survival strategy, how to be innovative in a situation where innovation is perceived as a threat by those in authority. Pretty clever, but an experience that in my opinion was driven in part by gendered expectations of how a young woman in a lower paying job with an older male boss should behave. V. didn't follow those rules and she lost out. If V. had been a young white man, would she have been perceived as a threat? If my mother had been a young white man would her subservience have been seen as a positive trait?

Of course I don't know the answer to those questions. But I do wonder. And the point for this post is that one of the functions of this story in my life has been to teach me how to deal with a power differential in the workplace. My mom could tell it to me knowing it was good advice, in part because she knew that my experience in the world would be similar to hers. She knew it because I am her daughter, because we share so much experience, and because we share the experience of being white women in the same society and culture. This is part(not all!) of what makes her a voice of wisdom in my life.

Every child is entitled to parents who know that she will experience life differently than they do.

Of course this is true for all of us, right? No one experiences life in the exact same way as our parents, and none of our children will experience life the same exact way that that we do, biological connection or not. But for a transracially adopted child this difference is more pronounced, and the gaps between the survival-story realities of a white parent and the actual-reality of a child of color are going to be very, very different. The ways in which the world responds to a white man are different than the ways in which the world responds to a black man, or an Asian woman, or a native American teenager.

For example:

When I was in college I was pulled over while driving in slow traffic on the freeway. The police officer was rude and aggressive. True, for some reason I didn't have my driver's license on me and my car's registration was expired, but I didn't feel that was enough justification for him to yell at me, rifle through my purse, or force me to speak Russian to him to prove that I had been coming from the Russian embassy where I had just applied for a visa. (He was intrigued by the fact that I had several passport photos of myself on the floor of the vehicle but no passport anywhere in sight.) I told him that I didn't appreciate the treatment, and asked for his name and badge number. He declined to give them to me, but also declined to ticket me despite my complete lack of identifying information.

Now, if I were not a small blond bespectacled white woman (like my mother), I wonder if this would have played out the same way?

Every child is entitled to parents who know that she will experience life differently than they do.

I am starting to see how reflecting on the racialized and gendered aspects of my own life and my own reception by society and the world help me think through how that experience of life and reception by the world of my child might be different. My wisdom will not always be wise to my child's experience and every child deserves a parent who is actively aware of these nuances. He deserves a parent who is connected to people who can help him in the ways I cannot, who are wise in ways that I am not, wise in understanding the parts of his life that are so different from my own experience. This way my child can gain the skills to make real meaning, and find real wisdom in his own special, unique, not-like-me existance.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

There is a really wonderful post up on Anti-Racist parent today for anti-racist white parents of white kids. I recommend reading it, if that's something that interests you.

White Noise: White adults raising white children to resist white supremacy.

A taste:
Somewhere around four years old, we started to notice Luca, when describing her friends, only “raced” her friends of color. Meaning, when she was describing people to us who she knew, she described her friends of color as “Black” or “Native” but her white friends as “with red hair” or “tall.” Already, at four years old, and living in a multiracial community, white had become normal for Luca. Normal in a way that means invisible. So, one of the first steps is to just plain make whiteness visible. This means making sure that all of us, when we are describing people, talk as much about white friends as we do our Black or Asian friends. But making whiteness visible is more than that.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

oh yeah - it's also okay to be excited!

Yesterday Andrew made a trip to our agency's office and dropped of 16 new profile books to be sent to two new agencies that will be added to our roster. I honestly don't remember how many we have on that roster now. This either brings the total number of agencies with our profile to eight or ten.

So I'm riding on a bit of a paperwork-high at the moment. This is a feeling similar to how I felt back in February when we were first out there. Anything can happen! And it can happen soon!

It's a nice place to be.

Liz emailed me today to let me know that the books are on their way to the agencies, and to let me know about some of the special procedures these agencies follow. One will want a phone conference with us to get to know us better, the other will be sending an acceptance letter to us once they've reviewed our application materials. At the end she signed off with the following:

I go back and forth on what I predict you will be matched with (right now I’m leaning toward girl).


I don't know why it surprised me, but it did. She's invested in us! I thought to myself with a grin. She thinks we're special! And then I started to wonder...will it be a boy or a girl? I haven't even thought about it, not for weeks. In fact, I've been spending so much time dealing with my own emotions, thinking about racial issues, and obsessing over financial planning that I've forgotten to wonder very much about our little one. It's been months since I've even looked at the cloth diapers I bought on a whim in March, much less practiced with them on my cabbage-patch doll. She was getting changed regularly for a quite a while there don't laugh it can't hurt to practice!! We loaned our moby wrap to my brother and sis-in-law, and even though they don't use it anymore I haven't bothered to get it back.

I'm leaning toward girl, too, turns out. We'd be more than happy for a boy - really we have zero preference- but thinking about it I realize that I've had baby-girl on the brain more often than not lately. Our girl name rocks, I have to say. But our boy name is also pretty super.

I've told a couple people lately that we're excited but not excited. Because really, it is impossible to maintain high levels of excitement for 6 months without loss of mind.

But, today, I'm excited. Because Liz is leaning toward girl, and it's not hot outside anymore. Because there are new profile books headed towards Georgia and Florida, because for every day of waiting there is a possibility in the wings, also waiting to find me. I feel excited, I feel like life is good, and I'm gonna go with it, as long as it lasts.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Every child is entitled to parents who know that this is a race conscious society.

Race is a big deal right now. Not just for me in my own life, but in our country. We have a black president, we are about to elect a latina woman to the Supreme Court, and a black woman doctor is going to be our surgeon general. It seems like real progress is in the works.

On the other hand, this summer a white country club canceled a contract with an inner city daycare for the kids to use the pool when their patrons complained about the "complexion" of the pool changing. Not long ago, when Twitter's trending topics had a large percentage of black stars and issues featured, the site was flooded with racist comments about it.

Our neighborhood is a historically African-American urban neighborhood that is partially gentrified and has also gained a significant Ethiopian and Hispanic immigrant population in the past few decades. We've got our share of issues, and race is definitely part of the picture. I had a look at the violence we've experienced since January. There have been four shootings near the high school that is a couple blocks away from our building. Three of them happened during the school year, and one happened the first weekend in July. We were outside, eating dinner with friends and neighbors, and heard the shots when that one happened. When I got to work the next day, I poked my head in to a co-workers office, whose sons go to the high school. "Glad school's out for the summer?" I asked her, knowing that she would have heard about the shooting.

"Oh, yeah," She smiled wryly. "And did you notice? This shooting didn't even make the front page, like the others. I guess if the white kids aren't around, it's not really news."

I hadn't noticed - we get our news online and our neighborhood news blog had been all over the story, naturally. But I checked back. Yes, the shootings that have happened in our neighborhood have all been gang related. They have all involved young black men, with the exception of the July incident, when a young black woman was shot. And every single one that happened while school was in session - a school where a lot of white kids attend from all over the city - was front page news. This most recent event? Despite the fact that it happened in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon to victims that were sitting on the steps of a community center where many, many (mostly black) children gather and play every day? It barely made a ripple in the major news outlets of our city.

Every child is entitled to parents who know that this is a race conscious society.

On the second day of our weekend adoption training session last winter we were divided into groups and given some scenarios to work with, scenarios that all of us might run into as our transracially adopted children grow up. Ours was something like this:

Your 16 year old black son comes home from hanging out with friends and tells you that he was followed by a security guard while he was shopping at the mall. What is your response?

The other couple we were grouped with and I fell right to discussing this. We considered going to the store and demanding a policy change. We considered having a sit-down talk with our fictional son about racism and how to rise above these behaviors. Andrew was quiet. When it came our turn to report back to the class, however, he spoke up.

"Security guards followed me around when I was a teenager, and I'm not black." He said. "I just looked like a punk. Actually, it was probably a good idea for security guards to follow me around. I think I'd ask my kid what he was up to in the store, before jumping to conclusions." The rest of us looked sheepishly at each other. Oh.

Every child is entitled to parents who know that this is a race conscious society.

This item from the Transracially Adopted Child's Bill of Rights is tricky. I think primarily it speaks to those who would claim that race isn't a factor, that it doesn't matter, those who would really claim what Stephen Colbert makes fun of that they "don't see color." Our society is designed to see color. We don't have to like it, but this is one of the ways in which our culture constructs identity. And that experience of identity through race is not the same for white people as it is for black people, or for black people as it is for Asian, etc.

This means acknowledging that race plays a role in almost every interaction we have with each other, and with the world we live in. One of the goals of parenting is raising an independant adult who is able to reflect on and analyze her experiences and make good judgements about where her own responsibility lies and where she is battling something bigger than herself - societal projections about her racial identity or sex, for example.

The shadow side of focusing too much on being "race-conscious" is the risk of raising a victim-oriented person, someone who blames everything on one facet of his identity that is out of his control. The risk of ignoring it is raising someone who isn't able to actually deal with the realities of our race-conscious world.

Tricky.

As I work on this, tease it out for myself there's a couple related thoughts that keep floating to the surface for me.

1. Race does define my/your/our/my child's identity. This means that neither my child or I can have a robust and positive sense of identity without a robust, positive, and realistic grounding in our racial identity. To deny this, to leave it out while I parent or pretend it isn't vitally important, or even to fail to attend to my own racial identity will do a dis-service to my son or daughter. The fact that our racial identities are different from each other, and their histories - white and black - have a complicated past and present, needs to be acknowledged and worked with from day one. Personally I think this diversity can be a strength, but not if it is ignored.

2. Race is not the only thing that defines my/your/our/my child's identity. There is a lot more to a person, to a family, to a society, than race. Talking about it, acknowledging the role it plays in our society and therefore all of our psyches puts race in better perspective. Sometimes in a transracial family, adoptive or not, race will seem like the biggest game in town. But there is also love, security, shared experience, faith, and commitment to each other despite differences. There is self-awareness and differentiation, gender, sex, orientation, and geographic location. There are parts of identity building that my child will teach me - related to race and unrelated to it. Being aware that our society is race-conscious, being critical and knowledgeable of this fact, actually reduces the chances that my family will become enslaved by the shadow side of that race consciousness.