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

(in)visible

"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 ones....like 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.