Sunday, January 31, 2010

Yeah, About That...(My Thoughts About Race)

We now have nine months under our belts as an interracial family. Nine months doesn't sound like much in the grand scheme of things but I can tell you that I've learned a lot during those months. This seems like a good time to share some of what I've learned, and some of my thoughts about what it's like to be a white woman raising a black child. This will be long but it's important for many reasons, not just to other interracial families. I hope you'll keep reading.

The thing is, I don't really know how to write about this topic. I have a lot to say, and I talk about race frequently with friends and family but for some reason writing about it is more difficult for me. Two fellow bloggers, Debbie and Andi discuss this topic on their blogs frequently. Sometimes I wish I could be more like them because I think open discussion of our thoughts about race and racism is central to any hopes our society has of finding solutions to the race related problems and dysfunctions we have. I think it's far better to come out and say what we're thinking or ask the questions we have than to cover it all up and pretend that racial differences between people don't exist or matter. Which actually brings me to my first point:

{For lack of a better way to organize my thoughts, I'm going to make a list of topics in no particular order and share my insights about each as they occur to me.}
  1. Race shouldn't matter but it does. When you look at it rationally, why should the fact that my son has darker skin than the people who love him matter one bit? But it does. The simple fact of the countless (thankfully mostly positive) reactions we get every time we leave the house shows that it matters. In our society, race matters. I would like nothing more than to live in a happy-go-lucky bubble where I could pretend our differences don't matter, and as such shield him from that reality, but that's not possible. It matters and I think we need to acknowledge that fact so we can get past the pretenses of trying to pretend that we are "color blind" in a very colorful world.
  2. Racism is still very prevalent today, it's just much more covert than it was several decades ago. If you look closely enough, you will see it there under the surface, plain as day. This is an edgy time for our society but I think we are on the brink of good change. I see racism in a few of the glances we now get...and occasionally in the wide open looks of disdain on faces in the crowd. It's there but it's submerged, and thankfully it's not everywhere. Racism stems from ignorance and lack of knowledge, as well as lack of personal experiences with people of different races and backgrounds. In this day and age there is no longer any excuse for that. The old adage about walking a mile in another person's shoes before making a judgment certainly holds true here. This is why I'm willing to talk to friends, family and complete strangers about race and about our experiences, because knowledge and information = power.
  3. I want Charlie to understand and love his birth culture, but also feel that he's an integral and valuable part of this family and our culture. To me, the term interracial means exactly that - even though our cultural backgrounds are different, we are intertwined as one family and as such we are unique. Each of our cultures is value added to the equation and should be celebrated as such. Just like Michael and I built a new family culture based upon our unique childhoods and family backgrounds, so too will we now build a family culture that includes Charlie's background and cultural heritage.
  4. I think it's important that (especially white parents raising black children) embrace black people as a whole. This is a tricky one, but I see it time and again. People seem to make an exception for Charlie, or put him in a unique category because of our situation, rather than accepting him as the black individual he part of the whole. Does that mean that I love every black person I encounter? No...but it does mean that I respect and value black people as a whole, not that I make an exception for Charlie as the black child I've welcomed into my life. I hope that makes sense and doesn't come off wrong. Put it this way, I don't love every white person I encounter, but I do still respect and value white people as a group. The same must also be true fro black people as a group. I want my son to learn that he is a unique mix of his birth and adoptive heritage and culture, and that both groups are valued equally within our family.
  5. I don't just talk the talk, I also walk the walk. I'll risk being painfully honest here. There was a time in my life when I was wary of black men. I would drive through what I perceived to be the "bad" part of town and lock my doors if I saw a black man. Those days are gone. This turning point occurred one day while I was at the grocery store, quite a while ago. There was a group of about four or five adolescent black boys right outside the door, blocking the entrance. At one point in my life I would have gone out of my way to avoid having to ask them to move. That day it suddenly dawned on me that my son would one day be a lot like them and that I needed to get over myself. It goes back to #4 a little bit. Those boys weren't causing any harm, and they certainly weren't any risk to me. I simply said, "Excuse me I need to get through." to which one of the boys replied, "Oh I'm sorry, my bad." as he moved out of my way. From then on I have made a point of trying to become more conscious of my own inner race-related thoughts and feelings. My belief is that we all have those (often erroneous) pre-conceived notions going on in our minds, of which we are sometimes even unaware ourselves. Until we start being brutally honest about our concerns and misconceptions, we can never hope to reach common ground or teach our children that there can be a better way.
  6. A good sense of humor and thick skin are essential tools for any black child, and especially a black child being raised by white parents. The brutal truth is that Charlie is going to have to deal with comments and questions about our family his entire life. He has no option of keeping the knowledge of his adoption private. Every teacher he has and all his classmates will know that he's an adopted child. With our ever-increasing acceptance and education of unique family situations, things are getting easier. I fervently hope they continue to do so but the fact remains that as a family we are prominently displayed as "different" and that will (unfortunately) make us an easy target from time-to-time. I hope to be able to instill in Charlie a sense of pride in who he is and who we are so that when these times do come up, he will have a solid shield with which to protect himself.
  7. In much the same way racism and bigotry are taught, so too are acceptance and tolerance. We must explicitly teach our children...all children...that acceptance of others, even (and perhaps especially) when we don't agree with them is important. In a big way, this means we must talk openly and honestly to our children about real-life differences that exist in our society and how that makes us feel. We must also be armed with our own information and knowledge so we can be prepared to answer our children's inevitable questions. More than anything else, leading by example and being willing and open to acceptance of other (no less valid) ways of being is truly the bottom line.
  8. We must lead by example and model the behaviors we want our children to develop. Children need and want to see themselves reflected in pictures, books, advertisements, and in the world at large. They need strong, positive models (of both famous and everyday people) of their same race to whom they can look for examples of what they can become. Our current president is a huge step in the right direction, particularly for today's black children but there is still a long way to go. Those of us who are raising black children need to become knowledgeable and acutely aware of when and how black people are portrayed in children's books, on packaging, and in our visual/pop culture at large. Growing up as a white child, I was fortunate to see people and images who resembled me everywhere I looked and I took that for granted. Again I think we have made huge strides in this area, but stereotypes and imbalances are still entirely too common. The first step toward fixing this problem is becoming aware of its existence. Following are a few of the best books I've found featuring black children or culture. These are all unique but valuable stories that I will definitely read to Charlie in the future: "Wilma Unlimited," "Bud Not Buddy," "Anansi the Spider," and "Amazing Grace." I hope to be able to instill a sense of pride in my child by making a conscious effort to make sure he sees his culture in a positive light through books and media.
  9. White privilege is real. Until you've stepped out of that comfort zone, you can't really see it's existence, but being part of the majority class makes life easier. If you are white, ask yourself what would happen if you woke up tomorrow and were suddenly black instead. That would undoubtedly mean big changes in nearly every facet of your life. For this reason, I am happier than ever that we live in a very diverse area with lots of colleges and open-minded people. I think that our proximity to resources and other families like us will help to pave the way for Charlie so that when he does struggle he will have somewhere to turn. But even so, the simple fact that my child is black and will someday become a black man means he will struggle in ways I never could have imagined as a child. As a mother, I want nothing more than to protect my child while I nurture and guide him, but this is one area of life where I will not be able to protect my son. He will be judged (sometimes very harshly) because he is a black male. Ouch, that hurts!
  10. Physiological differences are real, but sometimes overemphasized. One of the very first questions I had was, "How do I take care of his skin and hair?" To be honest, I was a little scared of this at first and concerned that I wouldn't be able to do a good job. After all, this is one area where adoptive parents are often judged, sometimes harshly. Other black families look at our children's skin and hair to find out what we know and how much we've been willing to learn about our children's physiological makeup. There seems to be a lot of pressure and concern in this area.'s just not all it's cracked up to be. Skin and hair care is a concern, but it's by far no longer one of my greatest. I still remember when Charlie was tiny. I was sitting and chatting with one of my close friends, Nancy. She is from an interracial family where her mother is white and her father is black. I told her I was worried about Charlie's skin becoming "ashy," and she said something that has stuck with me ever since. "If you had darker skin, you would be able to see it when there were dry spots too." It was sort of like a light bulb went off for me. To overemphasize the fact that Charlie's skin shows its dryness more than mine is really silly. I put lotion on him liberally after every bath, and then I just touch up dry spots as I see them. Speaking of baths, I only give him once every few days as needed, which seems to work wonderfully. And I use a small amount of olive oil that I mix into his shampoo, which helps his hair stay moisturized. On non-bath days I usually comb a small amount of baby oil or other hair dressing into his hair in the morning and that's it. Granted he is a boy, which makes this part of my job much easier but I honestly find that it's not nearly as big a deal as I once imagined it would be. The other interesting thing about this aspect of parenting a black child is that people often want to touch Charlie's hair. Even little ones when we are out and about seem to have a natural sense of curiosity about his hair and will often reach out to touch the top of his head. I wonder how this will change as he gets older. Right now it doesn't bother me--and I think people sometimes want to touch for the simple fact that he's a baby but if this continues as he grows, I could see it becoming quite a nuisance.
  11. Overemphasis and exploitation can be harmful too. Though I firmly believe in everything I've said here and I fully intend to be open and honest with Charlie in an age-appropriate and child-centered manner, I also think the issue of race and differences can be given too much attention. My goal as Charlie's mommy is to make sure I am informed and that I have access to helpful resources, but mostly to follow Charlie's lead in terms of when and how these topics are addressed. I want him to be a happy and carefree "normal kid" and not always feel like the one who is singled out because he is different. One of my greatest hopes is that I will be able to continually strive toward maintaining an open and honest relationship with my son so that he knows he can always talk to me about issues of race and/or adoption without fear of me clamming up, being closed-minded, or downplaying his feelings (whatever they may be.) Because of the situation we're in and the fact that we have a closed adoption, there will be painful times for Charlie and painful questions to which I cannot provide an answer. My hope is that I can teach him to be strong and to have pride in who he is while at the same time being open and honest with him that there are some parts of his life and his story that are tough.
As with all things adoption related, this has been a learning curve for me. Michael and I were always waiting with open arms for any child who came into our lives. Even though we still have a lot to learn as we navigate these waters, I wouldn't change who we are as a family for anything in the world. I welcome any questions and comments you may have but please be respectful of who we are.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nine Month Notes

Well, Mr. C. is a whopping nine months old today, I am shocked! Where has the time gone? Where has my tiny, squishy baby gone? Who is this crawling, babbling, drumming, adorable, and lovable little person who now follows me from room to room? He has quite the little personality emerging, that's for sure!

Month eight has been my favorite so far. He learned so much this last month that it's even left my head spinning a little. I'm still trying to figure out how it all happened so fast. Here are the things our 19.4 lb, 28 inch-long little man either does or understands:
  • He crawls! And he's apparently going to be one of those babies who goes directly from crawling to cruising since he already wants to pull himself up on everything!
  • He plays peek-a-boo (as can be seen in the preceding video blog post) and other games like when I smell his "stinky feet" and make a face. He laughs so hard!
  • He waves and clearly says "Hi" when he sees us or other favorite people.
  • He shares his paci and food with us--a high honor indeed!
  • He loves to read books. Today he even cried when I only had time to read Brown Bear once.
  • He's beginning to indicate what he wants with body language. Leaning towards books or toys, raising his arms to be picked up, etc.
  • He sometimes babbles or laughs in his sleep. It's the cutest thing in the world. I may have mentioned this in another post, not sure, but I find it interesting that I've always talked in my sleep and now our son does too. :)
  • He's practicing cause and effect by doing things and then watching to see what happens. This is most evident when he tries to pull my glasses off my face, or yank on my hair/earrings. All of these things are habits that we are very much trying to curb but I still find the observation of his behaviors and their consequences interesting. He's beginning to understand the words "gentle" and "no."
  • He's mastered the sippy cup like a pro now and for some reason thinks drinking water is extremely funny.
  • He seems to love just about every food I make for him. His all-time favorite is still sweet potatoes, but he also really loves brussels sprouts, peas, carrots, broccoli/cauliflower/carrot medley, lintel soup and whole wheat spaghetti with ground turkey and veggies. I'm really enjoying making him "real" meals in addition to the simple purees I've been creating all along.
  • We thought we had lost all of his pacifiers (a strange phenomenon in a baby-household, similar to disappearing socks) but today Michael found four or five of them under C's bed. I guess he must be throwing them out of his crib.
  • Speaking of his crib, he seems to have suddenly made peace with that part of his life. I won't lie, we've been struggling with the whole sleeping habits thing (another post) but now he seems to have gotten the idea that we do come back when he needs us or when he's ready to get up.
  • He loves to be sung to and will almost always stop what he's doing and listen when I sing. This is one of our nightly rituals, cherished by both parties.
  • He loves other music too, especially wind chimes. There are chimes on our porch that he likes and also chimes at my parents house that he looks for every time we go there.
  • He knows about the moon from "Goodnight Moon" and tonight he saw the real deal for the first time ever. He grinned from ear to ear, which was adorable!
  • He is really and truly happy almost all the time, even when it's clear he doesn't feel well. As such, he makes me remember what really matters in life.
Overall my adventures in parenting this amazing little boy throughout the past nine months have been tremendous! I continually learn as much from him as he does from me. There are parts of being a mommy (as with any job) that are mundane, gross, boring, and overwhelming but by and large, the joy I get from our son far outweighs the challenges. I can't wait to see what month nine brings!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Charlie's New Game

If I had to wager a guess right now, I'd say our little boy is going to have a pretty good sense of humor. :) He's recently started playing games, and his laughter is contagious! I am hopelessly in love with this little person!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Be Glad You Adopted...

So today was the day I received the first blatantly ignorant comment from someone when she found out I'm an adoptive mom.

This little exchange occured during my not-so-favorite class, math. We were doing introductions and after walking around and exchanging pieces of paper with three personal facts about ourselves with each other, this is what the girl said to me:

"Just be glad you adopted because man - having to give birth to a baby hurts like hell."

Really? I just smiled blandly at her and said, "An entirely different kind of pain." At that point, I think it was fairly obvious that I was annoyed, and she attempted to make more small talk with me. To be fair, this girl is extremely young, and quite probably simply doesn't know any better. But seriously?

And the really annoying thing is that I've been letting her comment bother me all day, which bothers me even more. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I wish I'd said, "Oh I am very glad we adopted, but that has absolutely nothing to do with my wish to avoid physical pain."

I wish people could be more informed and less blatantly ignorant. I wish they could see and understand that while adoption also creates families, it is really not comparable to child birth at all. And pain? I wish I had said, "Yeah...let's talk about pain." I certainly can't claim to have gone through any physical pain close to child birth, but I'd wager millions that the girl from my class can't hold a candle to the emotional wars through which I've come either.

Whatever. There is nothing to do but process today's events and move on. And of course, try to educate my new classmate when future opportunities present themselves...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

He Made My Day!

Of course, he makes every day for me...but what you'll see in the video below is pretty much what he's been doing all day long. Am I lucky or what?!

Monday, January 4, 2010

But I Don't Want to Go...

I know I'm about to sound incredibly crabby and whiny, but I can't even help it. School starts again for me the day after tomorrow, and I honestly just do not want to go back yet. The "break" flew by entirely too quickly, and I am NOT ready to go back!! {Insert mental image of me kicking and screaming here}

There are a lot of things.

School is a lot harder with a baby than I ever imagined it would be...honestly last semester surprised me. Before Charlie, I can remember wondering what all those women who were moms before me and in school full-time were complaining about. At least they had babies!! Funny how I have eaten a lot of my own words since becoming a mom. It's a job that is inherently more difficult than it looks to casual observers.

And this coming semester entails both math and physics, neither of which are easy subjects for me.

Which brings me to my next point, I wish I could just be "Mom" for a little while longer. I'm very much NOT looking forward to all the multitasking that comes with being a full time student, wife, and mommy. The managing of chores, school projects, preparation...and so on. It's honestly quite exhausting at times. This morning after my shower, Charlie was ready for a nap so I cuddled up in bed with him for a few extra minutes of mommy/baby time. It was simply delicious, just me and my baby snuggling close with nothing else on the to-do list. I honestly wish I could have more of that before all the chaos begins again.

That's not to say that it will all be bad. I'm well aware that I have it better than many moms out there, simply because I don't have to be gone from the house five full days a week...and my son gets to stay here where he's most comfortable. I guess I'm just in whiny mode tonight, and I need to get a grip so I can start the semester off on the right foot. Hopefully my little rant will help!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Our Holiday Whirlwind!

Hello again, Blogland! Can you believe 2010 is upon us? I absolutely can't, and truly can't begin to fathom where all the time has gone this year, and in particular these past few weeks.

Happy New Year to all of you, and a belated Merry Christmas too!

It seems a little bittersweet to me to be saying farewell to 2009, since it was such a momentous year for our family. There are so many joyful moments that I will never forget, it's hard for me to believe they are now part of last year! A fellow blogger, Patti put it very well with the following quote:
"It's actually kinda sad to leave 2009 behind ... the year our prayers were answered and we became...the most blessed parents ever!!!!!"
Christmas and the surrounding celebrations and festivities have been a joyful whirlwind around our house and with our family! We've had two big Christmas celebrations, our 13th wedding anniversary, a big New Year's celebration, and somewhere in there, we also celebrated three birthdays including Michael's! Oh, and little Charlie turned eight months old too!

I've had a great time through and through, don't get me wrong. Charlie's first Christmas has been very special for all of us, but still, I had such good intentions for this much-needed respite from school! Here we are almost at the end of the break and my to-do list still remains glaringly full. I meant to catch up on all your blogs, write more blogs of my own, clean my house, help my parents around their house, cook more dinners, start scrapbooking Charlie's first year, make more baby food, on and on. Instead, it seems every day I've been consumed by getting only the essential items completed with no time left for all the other things I want to do. There are still a few days left, and we all know a lot can happen in a few days but I'm left feeling a little shocked by how very quickly this holiday season has come and gone.

Our first Christmas with our baby boy was full of such joy. Waking up to the sight of our beautiful tree complete with gifts from Santa and stockings stuffed was momentous. Watching Charlie experience so many firsts, including his first Christmas Eve candle light service, his first stuffed stocking, and opening his first gifts was really special for me.

We just got home from our joint Christmas and New Year's Eve celebration with my family a few hours ago, and it was also full of joy and special memories for me. In order to accommodate everyone's work and travel schedules this year, we had to plan a late celebration. We also made a lot of changes to our normal traditions this year, the biggest of which was our collective decision to have dinner at a restaurant rather than spending a majority of the day cooking and cleaning our typical big meal.

I had a great time tonight, and as usual, there was an abundance of generosity on the part of my family.

Our bunch is beginning to get big to the point that celebrations are joyfully busy and messy. Chaotic is too strong of a word, but it's not entirely off the mark. I love knowing that Michael and I are part of this beautiful, growing group of people. I hope the coming years bring even more joy, laughter, and new faces into our crowd!

Where Charlie is concerned, he's getting so big! He has quite the litter personality these days...starting to play games, gesture, and be very specific about what he likes--or doesn't! The one thing that really gets on his nerves is having his face wiped. He flips a switch the moment he sees the towel coming, and he screams and fights like you're trying to hurt him! But the best part of it is that his outbursts end as quickly as they begin, then he's right back to his fulfillment of the title, "Happiest baby on our block!" He's on the verge of crawling any day now, which is so cool to watch. At the moment, he can scoot backwards about two or three feet, and he gets up on all fours and rocks back and forth pretty regularly.

He clearly wants to go, and one of these days he's going to figure it all out, then it will be watch out, World! He's also (at long last) gotten his first two teeth. They came in on the bottom first, and they definitely change the way his face looks. I know they've been hurting him quite a bit these past few weeks so I'm glad to see some progress being made. He is still babbling all the time, and definitely starting to piece together sounds of words he hears all the time. He still consistently says "Hi" and "DaDa," but other words have yet to emerge, even though I can see him trying to figure it all out when he watches me talk. He is such a happy little baby, so full of joy and wonder at the simplest things in life. We are truly blessed to have such a content little man with whom to spend our time.

In other big news, he spent his first night away from home this past Tuesday. I mentioned earlier in this post that Michael and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. Charlie spent the night at Auntie Holly's house as part of that event.

Not having him here was very strange for both of us, but overall the experience was a good one. To be honest, we both seriously thought about going to pick him up at one point, but we decided it was better to leave him be since that moment occurred at around 1:00 a.m. You'd think we would have slept soundly knowing we didn't have to wake up for him, but (even though we are so thankful to have family members we can trust with our son,) his absence was unsettling to both of us. It's peculiar how you can get used to something so quickly. We spent 12 + years sleeping in this house sans baby, and now that he's here, one night without him was just plain weird.

All in all though, we did have a great time celebrating our anniversary. We went to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie, which was quite good. Sometimes I really can't believe we've been married as long as we have. Somehow in my mind I tend to hover around the eight year mark, and then I think about it and realize we've been together much longer. I'd do it all again though, even the ugly parts. I've learned and grown so much as a person, and as a woman in these past years, with Michael by my side. I truly do feel blessed to have such a strong, supportive, and charismatic man as my partner in life. He definitely brightens my days considerably!

Okay...I think I've managed to cram about enough photos and discussion of major events into this one post, so I'll stop for now. I do apologize for falling so behind on so many of your blogs lately. I've been trying to stay abreast of any major events by scanning post titles and doing a lot of skimming, but I honestly haven't had the time I need to read and really stay up-to-date. Hopefully the coming days will afford me some time to get back to the top of my reader list!

Peace and love to you and yours for 2010, here's to another great year!