Monday, October 31, 2011

Every child is entitled to opportunities to make friends with people of her race or ethnicity.

It feels like fall just happened here, all of a sudden. I know it's snowing in some places where people I love live, but here in Seattle it was just yesterday that summer started it feels like. And just last week the trees were hardly turning. But now in a flash there are fiery autumn oranges and reds all over the neighborhood trees and the sidewalks are wearing a carpet of fallen yellow leaves. We've had some amazing days (today is lovely for example) but also a lot of rainy ones. Luckily I've discovered that our community center has toddler gym time twice a week. This is a godsend on rainy days when J is bouncing off the walls. We can walk across the street and into the big indoor gym and play in the bouncy house or with the many many other toys they pull out of their closet. Sometimes J just runs from one end of the gym to the other, yelling with joy to have all that space.

The first time we went I was surprised to see that it wasn't very crowded. The girls and I were there with our neighbor Jen and her daughter E. There was another white mom with two girls, the youngest about J's age, and a Latina nanny with two white toddler boys who took up noisy residence in the bouncy house for most of the time we were there.  Finally an older African-American woman arrived with a little boy, I thought he was probably her grandson. He took off for the toy cars, grabbing a basketball on his way, and she sat down on the bleachers and pulled out a book. J was enthusiastically pushing a toy lawn mower from one end of the gym to the other, Jen and E were in another corner with a toy and I was tired of standing up with Salome wrapped up on me in the Moby so I sat down on the bleachers as well.

"He's adorable" I said to the woman reading, " How old is he?" She smiled and told me and then asked the same about my girls.

"She's getting big, talking now?" She said about J, as if she knew her. I said yes, and she smiled kindly at me. "You don't remember me, but I met you at the park last summer when you just had the older one there."

After a moment I did remember - she had been there with her granddaughter - and we got to chatting about parks, play times, kids, and the other things we have in common. As we talked J started chasing her grandson around and he shouted "Grandma! Look she's playing with me!"

Every child is entitled to opportunities to make friends with people of her race or ethnicity.

So this is me, continuing my reflections on the Transracially Adopted Child's Bill of Rights, as promised (and requested - hi Carly!!) I want to make sure, as I write these posts, that I am not setting myself up as some sort of example. This is the hard stuff, and I'm just thinking out loud, reflecting on what I've done that's working and how I am thinking about what might be ahead. I think the key to this particular reflection is the word "opportunities." No one makes a friend without the opportunity to do so, so it's  helpful for me to think about what sorts of situations tend to produce friend-making opportunities and how we might need to work to make this particular sort of opportunity available for our kids.  A few things come to mind.

  • Location: If my child is the only person of her race or ethnicity living in our neighborhood that will cut out a lot of opportunity for forming friendships and connections. Now, not every neighborhood is close or acts like community, but if there are kids in a neighborhood then they'll be at parks, playing on athletic teams, and going to music classes and daycare in that community. All of these are places where my kids will have opportunities to make friends. This is a big motivator for Andrew and I to live small and stay in our diverse urban neighborhood.  J and S see and have opportunities to connect with kids that look like them every time we go to the park or community center or pool. If we lived in a different Seattle neighborhood that wouldn't be the case.
  • Example: I make an effort to talk to other parents and caregivers when we are out and about, especially those who are racially different than me. I'll be honest, it's hard sometimes. This city isn't particularly "friendly" and I think white culture in Seattle especially tends to give people "space." That is a nice way of saying that I haven't observed many white parents at parks talking to anyone they don't know and while there are usually both white and black caregivers and kids at the parks close to our home I cannot recall ever seeing them talking to each other. Likewise, while J is often approached by AA kids that we've never met and asked to play, I can't remember a time that a white child has come up to play with her at the park. I can't help but wonder if these are connected - kids observe that their parents don't cross racial lines and so they don't either. I figure that it is  important for J and S to see me and Andrew talking with, befriending, and socializing with black people. This means people we know well and have established friendships with and just being neighborly at the park. What I do, the way I behave is part of creating opportunities for my child to make friends. (Oh and bonus, it's pretty good for me too.)
  • Paying Attention to Race: J started daycare this past September, something that we put in the works last March. When we were looking around we wanted a few things: local, affordable, small, and diverse. It came down to two places, both small, local, and affordable.  But one had diversity in both caregivers and kids. So we chose that one - J isn't the only black kid at daycare, or the only adopted kid, and she also sees her race reflected in the caregivers there. There is a story that some people like to tell about "not seeing race/color." Families who adopt transracially can't afford to tell this story. Giving my girls opportunity to make friends that share their race and ethnicity means that when we are making choices as a family about where to invest our time and energy - whether it is choosing a school, daycare, neighborhood to live in, park to go to, extracurricular activities to try, etc. - we are going to need to consider whether or not that investment of our time, energy, and money is meeting this need for our children. It doesn't always trump everything else. Church, for example, is a particularly tricky one for us given my professional goals. But it needs to be the most important consideration sometimes. This isn't always comfortable, not for me and not for others. But my girls deserve these opportunities, and if I'm always comfortable they could lose out. 

When I was a kid my friends were kids that lived on our block, went to my school, and went to my church. Of all those friends there is only one that I can remember who didn't share my race or ethnicity. I don't think this was the healthiest of all possible environments for forming my racial identity, though it is a fairly typical one for a white child to experience in our culture. I grew up completely unaware that I too had a racial identity and a racial culture that influenced both how I perceive myself and how the world perceives me. There is absolutely no way that my kids could end up with the experience I had. Even if Andrew and I were the only white people they knew, my daughters would read magazines and books, watch television, and look at billboards. This item on the TAC bill of right's is about the right each child has feel normal in their own skin. That is a journey, for anyone in any skin it is a journey. Each child has the right to have some peers as they grow and figure it out for themselves, friends who are the same road they travel.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The real question

There is a question I have been dreading ever since we decided to adopt again. When I found out that baby S might be ours and really started to think about what it meant to adopt kiddos who share a first mother I started to think about the question again. And we had S for what seemed like five minutes before someone, I think it was the woman at the front desk of the Residence Inn we were staying at, asked it.

"So they're sisters?" She asked. "Real sisters?"

"Yes." I replied with a tired smile and kept moving toward the continental breakfast.

It happened again on the flight home. We had landed and were packing up the kids, me fumbling to get the Moby wrap back on and the baby in it and Andrew trying to hold S while blocking J's exit. The flight attendant from our section stopped on her way toward the front. "They've been so good," she said. "So I have to ask - are they sisters?"

"Yes" I said, looking in some confusion at Andrew who was doing his not-looking at the stranger talking to me thing.

"That is so sweet," she replied and turned to go. But then she stopped a couple of rows up and shouted back with her southern drawl "I mean REAL sisters, honey?! Are they sisters for reals?!"

I get it. And I think that even if my daughters didn't share a genetic connection to each other as long as they were both brown skinned we'd be getting this question. But I don't like it. I like it the least of any question that comes our way and in the past two years I've been asked plenty of rude questions by well-meaning and curious strangers. It comes with the territory and that's what it is.

The answer is many times over yes. Of course they are.  They are real sisters because Z is their first mom. They are real sisters because Andrew and I are their parents. Either of these would make their connection "real." That's not why I hate the question. I hate it because there is a presumption underneath it that this stranger has the right to know something personal about me and my children. And that "real" is the same as "biological" which is narrow to say the least. And I hate it because if I give out this information there is almost always a even more intrusive follow-up question or comment that is disrespectful to my children's first mother. I hate it because even now there are little ears and eyes watching me answer, learning from my responses, and pretty soon they will be wondering why people ask their mommy this question but no one ever asks their Auntie M the same question about their cousins Sweetie and Cub.

Mostly I hate it because while I know what the answer is, I don't have a response to the question that I am happy with  yet. I want them to be proud of all the ways that they are sisters. But I don't think it is okay, and I don't want my girls to think it is okay, for any stranger who looks at us to ask for personal information about how we and they came to be together.

This is one of the tensions of the kind of family that we are. And I thought I was pretty good at dealing with it, that I had my responses ready and my feelings about the occasional insensitive comment in hand. But this really bothers me. Why, you ask? Maybe that is the real question.

Monday, October 24, 2011

My sweet baby J

Two years old!

It's cliche to say it, but also quite true - I can hardly believe that yesterday my sweet baby J turned two. We're feeling pretty mellow this year, and limited our celebrations to family this time around. Grandma threw J a breakfast party at Grandma and Bobo's house, and there's our toddler chowing down on her birthday blueberry crumble, wearing the family birthday hat. She had a great time playing with her cousin T who is ten months older than J and best of all - no one got bitten. Yesterday Andrew and I woke her up with Happy Birthday, which she didn't seem to love judging from the satisfied "all done" she delivered when we finished. We then presented her with her first dollhouse, which she has been playing with obsessively ever since. 

At two years old J has lots of words and is working on sentences. (Her first sentence was "poo-poo all gone.") She is fascinated with bathroom stuff but not quite ready to commit to using the potty on a regular basis. Her favorite song is "Now" by Mates of State because she loves to sing the chorus, a string of now-now-now-now-nows that I am pretty sure she thinks are nononononononos. I suspect saying no that many times is something she finds empowering. She surprises me constantly with her willingness to help with baby sister, even when I need her to help by skipping a story at bedtime or forgoing a cuddle with me because baby needs me. She will even interrupt to say "Mama! Baby up!" (pick baby up) if she feels I am not meeting S's needs properly. It's adorable.

Happy birthday lovely one. You're amazing inside and out. 
hugging on a delighted S

Monday, October 17, 2011

Two months old!!!

S smiling at big sister.
My baby is two months old today! (or, likely yesterday for many of you reading this in the morning tomorrow) We're so so completely in love with our darling second-born it's nuts.  This also means she has been with us for over five weeks. I remember now how quickly it seemed like J hit her first milestones because we came in a little after her beginning - with S it seems even quicker. But it's every bit as sweet.

working it at the gym
 She is smiling now, and cooing up a storm during her happy times. S is so much more alert than the noodly and, I think, somewhat shell-shocked little infant we met in early September. She is content to sit without being held for longer stretches - yesterday she played on her baby gym happily for almost 45 minutes while big sister orbited around her and I folded clothes. (the ones behind the gorgeous babies in that photo above.)

So internet, I have a question for you on this, the occasion of my second child's second month birthday, just days before the day my first child turns two years old. You may have noticed that I haven't been posting all that much since S came into our lives. This is, of course, totally normal given the insanity of two under two and whatnot. But I'm finding that while I don't lack material I do lack focus. So here's my question - what do you want me to write about? Are you more interested in posts about our space and how it's changing or our experience of it is changing? Or plan vs. reality posts for second baby? Or reflections on adoption and how my views have changed or not since this second one? Or just general updates? Or do you have a question for me that you've been wondering about and would like me to answer? Comment and let me know - I'll try to get to everything anyone requests. I know that most of you out there who read don't comment, which is completely fine with me. But if you're inclined now would be a good time!

And let's end with comparison photos of the girls! I find myself often looking back through our photo archives to find pictures of J that match up with where S is now and looking for similarities and differences. It is an amazing thing, and something that in all of the options Andrew and I explored for family building never really made it into any plan: children who bear a familial resemblance to each other.
baby S, two months old and smiling at Daddy.
Baby J, same age and also I think looking at her Dad.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Place Holder

I have lots to say, internet, really I do. But somehow finding the time to say it here just hasn't been happening. I may jot down a note or two to remind myself "hey - write about this thing later" but that's been as far as I've been able to get the past few weeks. Which, I remind myself, is just fine. There is school, new internship, and of course new baby to adjust to. Someday, hopefully someday soon, I'll tell you all about how daycare is going for J and why we chose to send her there twice a week, what exactly we're doing to adjust to a fourth person in our home and the neat new ways we are flexing our space to make our home make sense with two growing kiddos, and all the amazing stuff I'm being exposed to through my independent study readings in Child Theology and Kierkegaard (yes, I'm still working on Kierkegaard).

But for now I'll put a place holder here, and just be newsy and brief. I'll even use bullets!

  • All sorts of people have come to call in the weeks since we got home with our S, but one of the very most important is almost here - Nana! My own sweet mama is driving here as I type and I can't wait to have her around for the next week.  I have been dreaming of this.
  • J is almost visibly maturing, right in front of me, and I think I have the combination of growing into her new big sister role and her two days a week at daycare to thank for it. Her vocabulary is exploding and her social skills are growing, too. I'm so proud of her. 
  • S is gaining weight and already not so much the floppy newborn we met just four weeks ago. It's so fast!! She is helping me work through a whole new set of Plan vs. Reality blog posts in which I write about how we had a plan with J for _____(eating/sleeping/whatever), and we did it and then afterwards we said "man, if we have another kid we are going to do x, y, and z differently!!" and then S came along as was all "yeah - I have a different plan for that thing you thought you were going be so much better at. Suckers." Maybe I'll call it Plan vs. Reality vs. Revision vs. New Reality SMACKDOWN. It'll be awesome you guys. 
And now some photos, so that you feel like there is something worth looking at in this post!
Baby S, not quite grabbing but seriously considering it!

This, friends, is what happens when Daddy tries to help J hold the baby while also taking a picture.  It's my favorite picture today.