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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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