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Adoption Blog: Two Brides, One Adoption Story

Mandantory Viewing: “Off and Running,” a Documentary About Transracial, Lesbian Parenting
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A Movie that Explores One Adopted Teenager’s Birth Mother Search

Last weekend, my wife, Nadia, and I previewed Off and Running: An American Coming of Age Story, a documentary film about a young African American girl, raised by Jewish adoptive moms, Tova Klein-Cloud and Travis Klein-Cloud, with adopted brothers Samuel, who is biracial (African American and white) and Zay-Zay, who is Korean.

Together, the family practices Jewish traditions, while living in Brooklyn. Shot with an intelligent and insightful eye, Off and Running, has a warm, intimate feeling, and rises to the challenge of depicting the complexities involved in transracial adoption, as well as adeptly demonstrating the trials and tribulations that parents face when dealing with any young adult who is coming of age. Perhaps most refreshingly, it does not take the easy route, by casting either the birth mother or the adoptive parents as the role of the villain.

The film’s focal point is when Avery turns 18, and feels compelled to communicate with her Texan birth mom, "K," through the help of her adoption agency. To her disappointment, she receives a rather lukewarm response from "K."

During this excruciatingly slow "snail mail" exchange, Avery’s adoptive moms, Tova and Travis, become frustrated with Avery. They don’t understand why their daughter feels the need to connect with her birth mom. They appear threatened and, at times, downright angry that she continues to talk about and agonize over her lack of connection to her birth mom and her four siblings by birth who live with K. At one point, Avery says to her birth moms, "I just want to know who I am."

To which Tova responds, "You take after me."

This quest to find her birth mother, paired with a true identity crisis, leads to several setbacks and challenges that ultimately have profound impact on Avery’s young adult life—all while her adoptive parents watch, unsure what to do, why this sudden change has happened, and how to help their daughter. At one point, Travis says, "It’s like something really traumatic happened to her, but I don’t think it did."

I think that Avery’s loss is compounded by her lack of African American role models.  One day while walking down the street, Avery says to Tova, "I want to get my hair braided."  Tova responds, "Well, Travis always braided your hair," but it seems as if the motivation behind Avery’s desire for braids (braided extensions, really) is more significant than Avery’s moms realize.

Later in the film, Avery confides to a counselor that she doesn’t "know how to be black."

Frankly, I don’t think that her insecurity is only due to the fact that she was raised by white Jewish lesbians because I was grew up with two Caribbean (black) parents in a white neighborhood and I remember feeling insecure about my blackness as a teenager. There is something very distinct about the African American experience that any parent of an African American child needs to acknowledge and proactively address.

Ultimately, the love that Avery receives from her adoptive moms, provides her with tools she needs to become an adult.

The film has such a raw honestly—I really admire the courage of everyone involved in Off and Running, including the entire family, the filmmaker, Nicole Opper, and especially young Avery, who, in addition to being the central character in the film, is one of the films co-authors, for being willing to share that with the world.

It was great to watch with Nadia because it got us to talk about how we would deal with the challenges of a transracial adoption. We talked about how discussions on race would be a natural part of our lives and how we would continue to have friendships with people with diverse ethnic backgrounds so that our kids would feel comfortable with and accepted in a wide range of social spheres.

We also talked about how we will deal with the racial issues that are bound to emerge in our transracial, alternative, adoptive family, and we pledged to try to keep the lines of communication open, even though we know that "theory" is easier than "practice."  After all, we haven’t even adopted the baby yet!

I highly recommend this film to any adoptive family, especially one touched by transracial adoption.

Off and Running will air on POV, on PBS on September 7, 2010 along with some other documentaries on adoption, including Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy (August 31, 2010),  about a Chinese adoption, and In the In the Matter of Cha Jung Hi (September 14, 2010), which deals with Korean adoption.

Check out the POV website for more details.

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