Monday, June 27, 2011

Raising Black Childen in a White World

iAdopting black children changes your perspective.  I find myself drawn to other black people now.  I also find myself saying things like "other black people" because I now think I am one. : )  I worry about race in a way that I didn't before.  I knew racism existed and I knew that I wasn't a racist.  But, I was white and had the luxury of not worrying about it much.  That has changed.  I think about it a lot now. 

My area is white. Really, really white.  We ended up here by sheer coincidence when we were looking for a place to live.  It was a happy coincidence, though.  My sister lives in this area and the school system is the best around  This was a really great thing since William was a little behind when he started kindergarten.  All the smarts were there, but he needed a little extra help.  And, he got it there.

I was really worried at the beginning.  There was only one other black child in his class and his grade. 
That made him very different.  But, for the most part, there turned out not to be much reason to worry.

One day, though, on the playground, a child told him that he couldn't climb on some of the playground equipment because he was brown.  To their credit, everyone at the school took it seriously and handled it well.  I got a call from the principal, advising me of the situation, apologizing, and letting me know that he would handle it.  The child was talked to, at length, and had to write an apology letter.  William moved on and I held a grudge against a 5 year old for a year.  I didn't say I handled it well. : ) 

There was one other comment that he should be going to a black school (ugh).  But, then I never heard anything else from William about any problems at school due to his race.

Until the other day...

Driving home from the store, William blurts out, "At school, someone said I look like poop, because I'm black."

I started with the popular, but not overly helpful, "Are you poop?"
"Well, there you go."

Then I started trying to think of something more helpful to say.

I later kind of wished that I had told him to tell them that they look like bird poop because they're white.  (Brian's mostly joking, initial response to me, when I told him. haha)  But, I suppose that wouldn't have been appropriate.

Then he goes on.  "And, sometimes, people say I'm not as good because I'm black.  In kindergarten, they said I should go to a black school.  And most of the kids there are white."

I started trying to cover all the angles.  Kids can sometimes be mean, but they will learn to be nicer.  You have every right to be there.  It's just a color and it's a beautiful color.  Yes, there are more white kids;  doesn't make them better, just means there are more of them.  How you feel now is why it's so important  that you never treat people this way.  etc. etc.

I discussed one of the most challenging things he'll face while navigating traffic on a busy road.

William doesn't like discussing serious topics.  This is why the heart-to-heart from the other day/two blogs ago was evcn more significant.  When we try to explain something serious to him, we usually end it with, "Do you have any questions?  Anything you don't understand?"   William will almost always say yes and then ask some version of why the sky is blue. 

I really couldn't believe he was bringing it up at all.  (I also couldn't believe he was waiting until summer when I couldn't do anything about it...) 

At the end of my hopefully inspirational, but more likely, rambling speech, he says "Mom?"

"Yes?" I say, anxiously, wondering what else he will share.

"How about we move on from this?"

"Ok" I say, totally confused, but I guess we were done.

 He then asked me to turn the music back up.  He sang along, happily.

This was so William. 

It's so hard to get in his head.  So, I might never know if I effectively reassured him, if he shut down as a defense mechanism, or if he just got bored and wanted to hear the music.  Maybe a combination of all three?

William is different, in so many ways and it's something he's going to have to deal with.  Ironically, if you get him talking about it, the fact that he's small seems to bother him more than anything else.  (Antwan is only 3 pounds less than him but 4 years younger.)

 I worry that we've made him more diffferent by adopting him.  And, well, we have.  But, I know in my heart, that those three are supposed to be with us and any other challenges that any of us face, will be worth it. 

From the beginning, we've tried to instill pride in his color.  We bought books about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.  We've talked about his skin and how pretty it is.  We've even talked about how lucky he is that he is unlikely to ever get lice. ( :

I often wonder when Antwan and Lizzie will figure out that they're black or understand what it means to be adopted. 

Brian talks to Antwan about his skin.  I've told Lizzie repeatedly how pretty her hair is (partly, in an effort to off-set all the talk she hears about me not knowing what the heck to do with it). We talk to them about being adopted and how happy we are that they are ours.  We're trying to make them aware of it without making it a constant issue.  Hopefully, we're doing a good job with that.  Only time will tell.

I can't imagine what it's like to grow up black.  Or what it's going to be like to grow up with a couple of goofy, white parents.   But, they are and they're going to. ( :   But, the one thing I know is that we're the Parkers, for better or worse.  (See! I'm goofy!) The good news is, it's mostly the better! 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

People in the real world and their questions

Perception is an interesting thing.  I live my days with three children that are so much mine, in my heart, that I practically have memories giving birth to them.  I know I didn't, though.  No need to be concerned for my grasp on reality. : )  I don't dwell on the fact that they're adopted much unless I'm reminded.  Well, that's not true, exactly.  I do dwell on it, in a way, because I am so amazed at how the universe brought them to me.  And, how my tears at not being pregnant, month after month, were actually necessary evils so that we would go looking for them. 

When we go out, I'm often asked questions about our family.  I don't have the ability, if I wanted to, to hide the fact that they're not biological.  I'm one pale chick and I've got 3 beautiful, black children.  The boys are darker and Lizzie is a little lighter.  So, maybe Lizzie could be mistaken as mixed, but not a chance with the boys.  So, people sometimes ask.  And, I don't mind.  I feel it's an opportunity to try to educate and encourage others to make the same choice that we did. 

The only thing that I do mind is when phrases such as "real mom and dad" are used.  Because that just hurts.  I am fully aware that I didn't give birth to these children.  But, in our situation, that's pretty much the only good thing the biological mother ever did.  (Forgive the anger.)  That makes her the biological mother, but I'm the mom. 

I've blogged about this topic before and I'm sure I'm repeating myself a little.  But, it's a recurring topic.  So, I guess this is a recurring blog.  ( :

I've made a promise to myself that I am not going to let it pass anymore.  I truly believe that no harm is intended in these situations, but if I don't speak up, who will?  And, as the kids get older, hearing these things, will just give them one more thing to be confused about.

Yesterday, we were playing at the mall play area.  Somehow I ended up in a conversation with another mom.  She knew that Lizzie, who was staying close, was my daughter.  Then the boys came by. So, she asked "All three are yours?"  I told her that they were and waited to see what she would ask next, because they always ask another question.

"Do they all have the same daddy?" 

Well, this was new.  But, I was determined not to let the moment pass, so I said "Yes, my husband.  We adopted them.  So, he's their father."  I think (actually, I know) that my attempt at calmly correcting her came out more angry and ticked off than constructive.  I really felt bad about that, but, there it was. 

Then she said, "Oh, they're adopted?  I totally thought they were completely from you."

It was then that I realized that she was not asking an intrusive question about the adoption or trying to take away Brian's title.  She had no idea that they were adopted and just figured my children have a black father or two or three.  (Well, they do have black biological fathers, but you get the point..). 

I didn't know how to respond.  It was a little funny.  It was a little embarrassing.  It was a little rude.  It was a little cool that she thought they were biological.  And, it was definitely not the conversation that I expected to be having.

I'm used to people wondering about the adoption and I think it's important that the kids hear me talk about the fact that we adopted them and understand that it's totally normal, ok, and definitely nothing to be ashamed of.  But, wondering how many baby's daddies I have?  That I wasn't ready for. ( :

I can add it to the list of things that I didn't expect when I thought I knew what to expect.  I definitely don't hold the monopoly on unexpected parental experiences. ( :  But, these are the experiences in our reality.

Wherever we go, people will notice us.  Sometimes, people will ask us questions.  Sometimes, people will compliment us (that's way more than sometimes).  And, sometimes, people will ask me how many different dads my children have.  I've learned my lesson on that one.  Next time, I'll just say one.  Yes, they all have the same daddy.  Because they do.  And, he's pretty awesome. ( : 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Adopting foster children and their issues.

He was born 3.5 pounds, 6 weeks premature, at home.  He had crack in his system.  The biological mother was allowed to go home with him because she was cooperative and, therefore, it was labeled "low-risk."  Two years later, he was put into foster care, with his three siblings, when it was obvious that it was not, in fact, low risk.  He was a foster child until he was five years old.

Then we met him.  And, were thrilled at the chance to adopt him and Antwan! 
(This is the first picture that we were shown.)

Today, William is a happy, goofy, silly boy who drives me crazy on a daily basis.  This, I've learned, is his job as my son.  He puts on a good show and it is way too easy for me to forget his past.  And the fact that it still affects him.

When you adopt a child, you want it to be easy.  Of course you do and that's ok.  Why wouldn't you?  The trick is to be willing to do the work when you have to face that's it's not.  We knew it wouldn't be easy, we did our research, we thought.

When we met William, we were amazed at how well-adjusted he was, despite what he had gone through.  He seemed so happy and quick to bond.  This was something that I said to my friends when telling them about him.  These assessments of his personality really show how naive we were.  We understood that kids in foster care would have issues.  We had talked about it and researched it.  But, we thought that somehow we had hit the jackpot and gotten the one kid who had seen it all, but really didn't care all that much, because now we had swooped in and saved him!  Naive.  But, we learned.

It's true that he was a generally happy kid, but some of the bouncy enthusiasm was due to undiagnosed ADHD which probably drove his apathetic foster parents crazy.  He did bond with us, but he was in tears just a few days ago, because he still wonders if he'll have to one day leave us.

William doesn't like change.  He never has.  At the end of kindergarten and 1st grade, he wet his pants "accidently" (a defense mechanism that he utilized way too many times).  After all, it was the one thing that he could control.

This year, he didn't seem to have any interest in following rules.  He was breaking basic rules for no apparent reason.  I felt like I was losing my mind.  Finally, it dawned on Brian that it was the end of the year and this might be his new way of responding to it. It made me feel a little better to realize that, but not particularly less frustrated.

The next night, at bedtime, I said, in my full-on, weary, mom tone, "If you're freaking out about school ending, this is not the way to deal with it."  He instantly broke down into tears.  Having trouble switching gears (like I said, he was driving me crazy), I muttered something unhelpful and left the room.  It took me just a couple of seconds to realize what I had just done and the damage that could cause.  I broke down into tears, too, swallowed my pride and when in to talk to him.

And, we talked and talked.  We started with talking about the fact that school was going to end, no matter what he did, and what he could control was his reaction to it and how breaking our rules, doesn't make things better.  We moved onto how change scares him and his memories of his time in foster care.  He told me that he went to a bunch of different foster homes to see if they could be his family.  In reality, I think it was actually respite care (temporary care while regular foster parents go out of town, etc).  But, really all that matters is that he thinks that he was rejected by several families.  No wonder he didn't really believe us when we said that we wanted him to be our son forever.  He admitted that he still worries that he'll have to leave.  After all this time, he doesn't get that it's forever.  That just broke my heart. 

A couple weeks after we got the boys, we moved.  When Brian told William that we were moving to another house, he said "But, I want to move with you."  We emphaticlly explained that he was.  That seemed so sad.  Three years later, that seems somewhat minor or unsurprising, compared to the fact that he still has that fear.

I didn't know how to make him feel better.  I said all kinds of reassuring things.  I told him how much I loved him.  And how I wish I had gotten him from the very beginning.  I said all kinds of things and gave all kinds of kisses.  But, is it enough?  I don't know.

I compare William to a bucket with a hole, in the bottom.  It doesn't seem to matter how much I put in there, it always leaks out.  I can only hope that the hole gets smaller over time.

I do know a few things.  I know that I love him.  I know that I love him so much that my eyes are welling up as I type this.  I know that he has added an unbelievable amount of joy to my life.  I know that even if he always has emotional scars (and I'm guessing he will) that he is better off with us than in foster care.  I know that he is where he belongs and that I was meant to be his mom, just like I was meant to be the mom of Antwan and Lizzie.  I know that I don't regret a thing. 

When explaining to him that it doesn't matter how mad I get at him or how mad he gets at me, we are a family forever; I said "I would rather fight with you every day, then not have you at all."  (This was too complicated a statement and required a few minutes of clarification. But, hey, I was trying every different way that I could think of to drive the point home.)  But, the point was, that I really would rather fight with him everyday than not have him at all.  But, fingers crossed that I won't have to fight with him everyday, because my strong-willed, afraid of nothing, Lizzie is getting older and older and I'm gonna need some energy left for that. : )

It's easier for Antwan and Lizzie.  And, it will always be easier raising them.  But, it doesn't make it better.  Just easier.  Good thing I like a challenge! :)