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Adoption Blog: Familia Means Family


About six months ago, I took my two children, adopted domestically, to McDonald's with a friend and her two little ones. It was a cloudy, mild day, so we sat outside and let the kids play in the outdoor playground. There were several other families with children, and soon the playground was swarming with toddlers and preschoolers. My friend and I caught up on news and chatted as we watched the games. At some point, the kids all began running away from the slide, screaming and laughing, calling out for the "monster."

"He's coming! Hurry, run!"

"Ahh…run! The monster's coming!"

I was half listening to my conversation and half processing this game when I realized that the "monster" they were all fleeing was my four-year-old son, Noah. It looked innocent enough, but I noticed that some were using his name:

"Run away, Noah is coming!"

As any concerned parent, I wanted to make sure that my son was a willing participant and that he was not being shunned by the other children. I caught Noah as he ran past me and asked: "Baby, do you like being the monster?" He nodded, smiled at me, and ran away, growling and making paws of his hands. OK, no harm done. He obviously did not think anything of being the monster they all avoided and was enjoying the role. I silently prayed, as I watched, that he would always have that innocent, open outlook.

When I reflected back on the events of the day, I realized that what happened was natural. Noah is usually the youngest, he enjoys chasing other children while growling, and he doesn't get his feelings hurt easily. What a better combination to be nominated monster of the game? But I am, by my own admission, hypersensitive to my children's future struggles because their situation is, in so many ways, unique. They were adopted into a multiracial, multicultural, multilingual family.

When I taught high school, I used to do an activity to raise awareness among my students about the ugliness of stereotypes. We would openly discuss the origin and validity of stereotypes they had heard, or even believed at one point, about people of other races. I loved how open and honest the kids were, and I always felt that, at the end of the hour, we all walked away better informed and more compassionate.

One of the questions I would ask is how many of them had ever been followed in a store by a security guard, had noticed people crossing the street if they saw them coming, or had, in any other way, been made aware that people feared them or didn't trust them. Invariably, it would be my males of color (black and Hispanic) who would raise their hand. Every now and then I would have females of color raise their hands, as well. I would then tell them that I was followed in a JCPenney when I was in high school. Many of the kids who would raise their hands were straight "A" students, good kids who did not get in trouble. Others were kids who looked rough but had hearts of gold. Usually, they expressed dismay and hurt at being distrusted.

I'm not going to get into the reasons behind this phenomenon. But, lately, the voices of my students have begun to hit very close to home. I started to think about how cute Noah is. He has always been. When he was a baby, people would stop on the street to fuss over him. He has a dimpled smile, big brown eyes, and a winning disposition. As he grows, however, he will turn from a cute little boy to an ugly-duckling elementary school child to an awkward, moody, teenager. And not just any teenager -- a black teenage-boy. I wonder if the same people who flirt with him in the grocery store now will clutch their purses a little tighter when they see him coming 10 years from now. My sweet, compassionate boy, a threat? It is a hard pill to swallow, and yet it may just be his reality in a few years. This is not a rant against society or an attempt at making any kind of social commentary. These are just the ponderings of a wistful mother.

The other week my six-year-old daughter, Isabel, came crying to me because one of her friends had told her they were no longer friends. My heart broke with hers, but I knew what to say and how to console her: Friends may be mean, they may have a bad day, they may be grumpy. She understood; she has been grumpy herself, she has been mean to others before. But, when teenage Noah comes to me, hurt because someone played "monster" with him and he was an unwilling participant, what can I say to mend his heart? How will I explain that one? 

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I was just talking about this the other day with a friend and think about it often. I have a beautiful babbling friendly one year old who just gets gushed over where ever we go, it’s wonderful! People walk by us and smile and he usually returns their smile, and greets them with a wave and a smile.

But he is an African American boy (I am also AA). I can’t help but wonder how he will be perceived when he is a teen and older. I have the exact thoughts that you describe. How many of you will fear him? How many of you will judge him?

Every time I read stories of Trayvon Martin and Darius Simmons, the 13 year old shot and killed in front of his mother by racist neighbor, my heart goes in my throat and I have trouble breathing.

There was nothing that those mothers could have done to protect those boys. All those gunmen saw was race. And there are a thousand more stories like those that we don’t hear.

I AM most definitely making social commentary. I am angry that my boy will be judged not by his actions, but by his identity, and his life is in danger because of it. I have to work on my attitude of course, because I don’t want to pass my anger on to him. My family integrated a neighborhood and we were treated harshly because of it. I didn’t know the difference between hate because of what I’d done or hate because of who I was. I always assumed it was just because I was a bad person (I was not). I would like to raise my son to know the difference and to not take it to heart when he is treated bad.
Sorry for the rambling response, I’m very emotional about the issue and haven’t organized my thoughts on how to deal with this yet.

By tarahj65 on Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 10:17 pm.

This blog hits so close to home. We are in the process of adopting a sibling group, 2 boys, 4 and 3 years old and a girl, 2 years old. They are all AA, I am puerto rican and my husband is caucasin.
I have the exact fears! I look into my boys eyes and see all the love and compassion they have. They are so beautiufl and innocent. The first day we met them we also took them to a McDonald’s play ground. I remember watching them run and play. The way they interact and play with each other is so heart warming. But when other kids came to play I instantly turned into a Lioness. My first instinct was to protect them from anyone who may hurt them. Friends and strangers congratulate us on our adoption and gush over how beautiful the kiddos are. And on the flip side of that, I’ve heard some of these same people make racist comments about AA’s. Don’t they realize they are talking about our kids? Look at their big brown eyes and their warm smiles and realize that these are the people you are talking about, not some namless faceless person, MY CHILDREN.

By SunnieMom81 on Friday, June 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm.

To Tarahj, thank you for stopping by. This is the unfortunate reality we live in. But there is hope in mothers like you and I who are not only teaching our children how to navigate the current situation but also pushing them to be agents of change in the world. Thank you for sharing your feelings.

To SunnieMom, thank you as well for your comment. I understand what you mean. We have to get our kids ready for the racism they may encounter, even more poignantly, from friends who think they are making a joke when their statement is hurtful and stereotypical.

By Gaby on Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 2:08 am.
my sister has two black/white foster boys aged 3 and 4. she’s had them for two years and will probably adopt when rights are terminated. (they have 18 siblings.) We just had this conversation about how they will be accepted in their “white” neighborhood when they are teenagers. I’m just hoping the world continues to become more accepting and race and gender are a non issue. Or as non issue as the world can let it be

By carolrn on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 11:46 pm.

This is an unfortunate reality of the world that we live in now.  I hope and pray that as my new son who is only 5 and a half months old will grow up in a changing world.  Our family is a 2 dad interracial family.  One dad being white and the other Hispanic and our son who is Hispanic, African American and white. Although we live in an extremely diverse neighborhood in NYC I know that we cannot keep him protected in this bubble of the city forever. I have moments when I worry that one of his friends may be told that they cant come to his house because he has two dads and how I will have to console him if that happens.  I worry about how he will be treated and percieved by others as he grows into a young brown skinned boy and man.  I worry that I will not be able to model the “right” behavior if I ever saw a store employee following my son.  Just thinking of the situation starts to boil my blood and I would likely not want to contain myself.  I worry about how he will feel when we visit my family where he will be the only brown skinned person in sight.  Trayvon Martin hit home for me too.  That could be my son someday.  I can only hope that I can raise him the way I was raised - to respect all people so that when he experiences the predjudice in this world he will know that it is not everwhere.  When I look back at my life so far - I have been closley surrounded by people of many colors - and I think maybe this was part of God’s plan for me - to prepare me for the best thing that has ever happend to me in my life and that is my beautiful little brown boy. I know that someday we will likley have to deal with narrow minded ignorant people someday but since these first 5 months went by so fast I try not to think about those things until I have to.  I want to savor every innocent moment that I have with him.

By Jameszdad on Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 9:27 pm.

Carolrn, I also hope our world continues to become more and more accepting. It’s people like us, you and I and all the transracially adoptive parents in these blogs, who are the agents of change.

Jameszdad, I think the fact that you live in such a diverse neighborhood is already a great place to start for you. If your son has other Hispanic or African American role models in his life they will partner with you in teaching him things you may not think about like how to behave if he is being followed in a store or pulled over by the police. And the fact that you are sensitive about these issues and think about them already puts you ahead of game!

By Gaby on Sunday, June 24, 2012 at 2:29 am.

Carolrn, I also hope our world continues to become more and more accepting. Its people like us, you and I and all the transracially adoptive parents in these blogs, who are the agents of change.

Can you tell me more what you mean by this statement?  Being agents of change?  I have never heard it put that way before.

By EST on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 5:54 am.

I simply mean that anything that has changed in our world has required people who are willing to be the ones to take up the banner of change and educate others. We, transracially adopted parents, are concerned about things like adoption education, the breaking down of racial barriers, inclusion of minorities etc. Our families by their very nature are already breaking down racial barriers and telling the rest of the world that race should not be a divide among people. Chances are, if you are transracially adoptive parent, you have friends of many races, you enjoy getting to know other cultures, and you seek to find places of worship, hobbies, schools, etc where there is diversity. That alone makes you different than those Jamezdad described as “narrow minded ignorant people.” But those changes in your life come with a price: questions, looks, provocations. So we have a chance to educate and to lead by example.

I hope that makes more sense.

By Gaby on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 2:16 pm.

I wonder how many transracially adoptive parents were racial equality advocates before they adopted minority children?

What do they actually know about being a minority in America, racism, the black experience, Korean experience, culture….

I know some try to educate themselves but saying- I love this black baby is totally different then actually being an agent of change.

By EST on Sunday, July 15, 2012 at 12:24 am.

EST, that is the beauty of transracial adoption in my opinion: it changes your heart and opens up your mind if you let it. Maybe not many adoptive parents were advocates before but I hope many became so afterwards, no longer content with the status quo. They may not know about being a minority in America, but they do know about NOT being a minority. In other words they know about what it’s like to NOT be conscious of what minorities go through and then to become conscious and are, therefore, the best person to help bring about change in their circle.

I know some think that loving a child of color is enough but more and more, transracially adoptive parents are conscious that love is not enough and are making lifestyle changes and philosophical changes to give their children an identity and a sense of pride in who they are.

By Gaby on Monday, July 16, 2012 at 8:05 pm.
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