I married Brian. We adopted 4 amazing kids out of foster care. We became the official local transracial family in our area. Everyone seems to know us or of us. We love Batman, The Avengers, donuts, and parading around sci-fi conventions in costumes. I'm trying to master Lizzie's hair, explain to Antwan why his skin is different, help William deal with his memories, and be a mom to Kaleb who has had a tumultuous past. My life is silly, complicated, and worth it!
I said to Lizzie, "We could get your hair braided. Then we wouldn't have to re-do it every morning." And, then I referenced a little girl in her class so she'd know what I meant by braided.
"No! I don't want my hair like hers."
This didn't please me since I really love the idea of not fixing her hair every morning. But, she was pretty definitive in her opinion and if I know anything about Lizzie, I know that there is no changing her mind once she's made it up.
The fact is, she doesn't identify with the black culture and that's partly our fault. It's not for any malicious or thoughtless reason, though. It's just that we are white and we are, inadvertently raising her white. We've tried to make her (and her brothers) aware of their culture. We've read books, talked about black history, enlisted the help of black friends, and sought out tv shows that featured more faces of color.
But, still, because our area is not very diverse, Lizzie goes to a school full of white girls with long, flowing hair and she comes home and asks me to leave her hair down instead of twisting it like I tend to do. Thankfully, she usually settles for puffs. And, if I do leave it down, it looks adorable...for awhile. But, soon, it gets tangled and just plain messy-looking; and then I get well-meaning comments from random black women in Taco Bell, like "You know that you should moisturize it daily, right?" (True story)
Because of where we live and who we are, Lizzie's been nice and dry under the umbrella of white parents and her predominately white school. But, one day, she is going to have to deal with the fact that she's black. And, being black in America brings extra complications to your life. It just does.
I didn't know about "white privilege" when I was growing up in it. Some don't even believe that it exists. I really didn't give it much thought when I was a kid. And, I didn't give it much thought when I was in college and sat in class, listening to a speech by a black classmate who talked about how often he would hear car doors lock when he walked by. I thought it was unfortunate but, I didn't dwell on it because I didn't have to. I didn't have to dwell on it until I became a mother to black children, anyway. Then, I started to look outside of myself and my front door more and I became aware.
We live in Florida. We have the beaches, the sun, and the recent deaths of black teenagers. And, it really terrifies me. There have been two high profile killings of youth in the last several months and they both happened here, in my metaphorical backyard. We all know about Trayvon Martin. Then there's the Jordan Davis who was shot at a gas station. A gas station that I have used, many times. A gas station that my kids could theoretically be using in a handful of years when they are driving.
My kids are inadvertently growing up with white privilege. They are viewed as the black children who are being raised by the white parents. We're in a class of our own. But, that doesn't mean that one night, Antwan might not walk down the street with a hoodie and looking like he's "up to something." Or Kaleb might not play his music too loud, irritate a grumpy white guy at a gas station, and respond with a little attitude of his own. Or William might not make one of his goofy jokes that come off a little ruder than he means for them to because he's constantly preparing for his future stand-up career. And, Lizzie will definitely give someone attitude because I get it on a daily basis. ;)
How do I protect my children? How do I teach them what it's like to be black in America when I don't completely know?
The answer is, I don't know.
We can tell them to be proud of who they are. I can do my best with Lizzie's hair. We can explain the realities of being black. Yes, there is such a thing as driving while black. Yes, you might get more suspicious looks when you're wandering through a store. Yes, it can be frustrating. No, you shouldn't mouth off to grumpy white guys at the gas station because it's rude and you haven't been raised that way and, yes, you should be more considerate about your volume level on your radio. No, you don't deserve to die over it. Sometimes you'll have to be a little more careful, in general; even though, it's not really fair.
Will it be enough? Am I paranoid? If paranoia keeps my babies alive then I guess I'll be paranoid.
But, if I step away from the freaked out mom routine for a moment, I remember to tell them something else. I'll tell them that the world is getting better and better. That most people are inherently good. That they can do anything that they want to because Daddy and I will see to it.
And, when the world gets scary, they can come home to Mommy. I've got Batman on the DVR and popcorn in the pantry.
"I think you're amazing!" she said as the others agreed. I was sitting in a meeting at the kids' school. They had done some assessments on the boys and I was there to learn whether or not they thought that they thought that they could give them extra help. I thanked them and gave a little back-story for the lady who had only recently started working with the boys. Amazing. I've heard this a lot through the last several years as we've become who we are. After we became the couple who adopted kids from foster care. (That's how I imagine that we are described around town.) We have found ourselves in many conversations with many different people and they tend to have the same reaction.
I'm not going to lie. I really like being told that I'm amazing. I mean, who wouldn't? ;)
And, yes, we're very proud of what we've done. We didn't set out to change these children's lives. But, I will admit that we have. We didn't set out to have the majority of a sibling group in our house. But, we do. And, truth be told, I think we would've tried for all 6 if it had ever been an option. We didn't set out to be the racial minority in our family. But, it's kind of hilarious that we are.
It wasn't our plan, but, clearly, it was someone's plan because here we are. And, despite my efforts through my blog posts, there really are no words for how grateful I am that we are.
But, I don't feel amazing. I don't feel like a person who did a noble thing. Or the mom to my "adopted" children.
I feel like a mom to my children. Most of the time, I feel like a frazzled mom to my children. I feel like the mom who noisily drove her van through the parent pick-up line again, today, because she forgot to put power steering fluid in the van again. And, I feel like the mom who apologized to Lizzie's teacher, today, for not turning in her valentines box yet. I feel like the mom who dressed her kids up and took a little extra time on Lizzie's hair, today, for the school pictures; but, couldn't find the checkbook or the order forms so they weren't called to get their pictures taken, anyway. So, you might say, they were all dressed up with no where to pose....
Yes, that all happened in one morning. I am that mom.
But, in my defense, it's not always like that. I do occasionally redeem myself. After the meetings, that day, I was also the mom who, much to the cafeteria staff's amusement, went through the line 3 times so I could have lunch with my younger three. I also pondered what Kaleb would do if I surprised him by showing up at his school, next door. But, I kind of doubt that it's as cool when your mom surprises you at your middle school. (Move over, kids! Ok, now, who likes Batman??)
And, thankfully, I got to feel like the mom who squeezed in a nap before going back to the schools to get the kids and then play the "do your homework" game with them.
No, I don't think that I'm amazing. I'm not going to say that Brian's not amazing because, well, that would be rude. And, I need him to open a jar for me later. ;) But, this much is true. We have given them an opportunity for a better life. They are getting an education and a loving family. They have a dad who knows a startling amount of trivia about absolutely everything and a ridiculously unorganized mom. Meanwhile, they have given us the chance to build our life around them, to love them, watch them grow, to dress them up in costumes, and, also, to ponder the eternal question: how do we get them to pick up after themselves? How??
Do you want to know what I think is amazing? I'm guessing that you do since you are still reading! I think our life is pretty amazing. Our quirky little family has just the right amount of, well, quirk. I think it's amazing that we found each other and that I've kept my kids alive and well for this long. I think it's amazing that the life that they have now was not the one originally planned (for lack of a better word), but it is clearly the one that they are supposed to have.
You know, when I stop and look at them, I am blown away. When Kaleb tackles me with an unexpected hug, when William lingers in the kitchen while I wash dishes because he "wants to be with me," when Antwan pats my back to reassure me after he kicks my butt (repeatedly) in Kinect Sports, and when Lizzie smiles a big smile when I surprise her at the school; I can see that they love me. They love me just as I am.
Yeah, I know, I'm over-using the word, but, seriously, how amazing is that??
Well, I better stop discussing all this amazing stuff and go help my little girl decorate her Valentine box. Or she might have a different word to describe me... ;)