Missed Opportunities. Part Two. (Adoption. The Bit Where it Starts to Smart.)

"I am not writing an adoption blog", I said a few years ago.

"I'm writing a fabric/sewing/kid/vintage crap blog".

Adoption has been a part of my life and my story for a really long time. It was there long before we filled out the paperwork for August or talked about how our family was going to look. The definition of family, the trauma of family, the complication of family, the appearance of family– these are concepts that have woven their way through my life and the creation of my worldview more than any other force. When I cracked the door open on our family in this space, I should have either slammed it shut again, or swung wide the gates. I do not get emails or inquiries about bust adjustments or vintage crap, I only get emails about adoption. 

And now, it seems, The Blog is Dead? Maybe I've missed my chance to make it right. 

I want to make sure that I have not misled you or romanticized the choices we have made. I believe, with all my heart, that adoption is about being family for another family. It is about sharing the burden. It is not about finding a child or being chosen from a pile of bios– it is making a commitment to be family to a family that cannot for whatever reason. I am not naive about the reasons that children are placed. I know that in this country, poverty, addiction, mental illness, and lack of support or safety nets create deep chasms. I know that there are institutional systems that make it easier for a white woman like me to adopt a healthy brown or black baby than it might be for that baby to stay with the family that it was born into. I know that many children are growing up with people who are not keeping them safe. I know that thousands of children are aging out of the foster care system every year and that many of them long for a family to call their own, whilst people like me pay thousands of dollars in fees to bring a tiny person into our home. I know that many mothers making the choice to place their infant, feel as if they have no choice at all– while we are being fed the "brave and loving choice" narrative by the industry. I recognize that the story or history we are given during the process of placement might be a different story if we look for it in a year or three or ten. There is so much that we cannot prepare for. There are forces way beyond our control.

There are things, though, that are well within our grasp. We need to identify and hold onto those things. We need to start by telling the truth. We need to figure out if we're up for this kind of parenting… for this kind of family. We need to decide if there are ways we can help and support families that does not involve complete separation. We need to be able to allow people to change and grow and get the help they need. We are living proof that parenthood-via-adoption can be beautiful. I would also like to recognize that for as many happy and healthy situations adoption might create, it can also be devastating for kids and families.

I am parenting children that don't look like me, but that doesn't mean I've entirely dealt with all my bias about race or privilege. It's hard work, because I'm choosing to do the work. If you care about people who do not share your skin colour, you must do the work. Just because we have a biracial president does not mean that we are living in a post-racial society. Just because we participated in Orphan Sunday at our church, it does not mean we don't passively participate in the systems that create these orphans.

***

Paul's dad passed away this last year. He was kind and generous and he and Paul had been very close. He was also an unapologetic bigot. When we told him about our plans for adoption he asked us, very simply, to choose another way. He told us that we would have to choose between having a relationship with him or adding baby to our family through adoption. And so, almost seven years ago, Paul faced his dad and made that choice. We were not blind to the potential problem. It wasn't as though we had not expected a difficult transition. Many people had tried to excuse his behaviour, "well, that's just the way things used to be." They tried to tell us that he would change his mind based on a story they had heard from their brother or cousin or friend, "he'll take one look at how happy you all are, and come around! He loves you guys so much– it will be okay!". It was not okay. It was terrible. Paul had to choose his family over his family.

YOU MIGHT HAVE TO CHOOSE YOUR FAMILY OVER YOUR FAMILY. He never met three of his grandchildren. The last time he saw Sam was just after Sam's third birthday. We left room for him to change his mind… we left room for reconciliation. When Paul called to tell him about Manny, his dad responded by asking about the weather. Still, we never, ever left room for having to apologize for our children. It is the barest of minimums that we could meet. It was an early reminder that Love Does Not Always Conquer All in human relationships.

***

Our family sometimes invites unsolicited attention or makes other people uncomfortable. There are times when we trigger people's frustration or contempt. Their disdain of our choices comes from their own experience or bias. Sometimes (more when the boys were smaller) women stop me in the grocery story with small talk, and I know they're checking to see if the boys elbows are ashy or if their clothes are clean. They might finger their hair and cluck their tongues at me– offering advice or encouragement. On good days, I am grateful for their attention and I know that they are not looking out for me, but for my children. When I have run out of the house without paying attention to the lotion situation, or I have gone too long between visits to the barbershop, I cringe and smile and offer up lame excuses. Sometimes the You're-Not-The-Boss-Of-Me version of myself (think strong minded 15 year-old) rears its head and I feel self-righteous and frustrated. This is not helpful. We are choosing– without apology– to raise our kids within a community where they have role models and peers that look like them (yep, even in Portland!). This means we will face criticism. We are not alone. There are families-via-adoption (even international adoption!), that are doing this work every, single day. I am forcing myself to show up even when I'm uncomfortable. I am constantly acknowledging that we probably don't know what we're doing. I am getting better at asking for help. I see my son stare adoringly at black families and I want to wrap him up and tell him that it's okay and I know that it is confusing. I want to work harder and do better to make sure that he never has to apologize for who he is or how he was raised.

Most days I am a generic teeth brushed/don't hit your brother/homework done sort of parent. Most of the time our lives are filled with the every day stuff that has nothing NOTHING to do with these conversations. Sometimes I'm super crappy at keeping the every day stuff all together, let alone dealing with these Big Conversations that we are committed to having. These conversations are going to come whether or not we're ready for them. In an effort to avoid being knocked flat on my ass, we are trying really hard to have them.

What I want to say is this: all of this… all of this is the very, very least I can do. This is the barest of minimums that we must undertake.

This is the least I can write about. Swing wide the gates.

 

 

28 Comments

  1. I love reading what you write. Not because it’s romantic or easy (although it is always well written) but because it is hard and it always makes me think. I love that you are willing to talk and think about the hard stuff because often times people are not willing. It is hard. It makes your head hurt. And that’s before you smack it into the seemingly endless walls that this kind of conversation seems to reveal. I am a black woman in an interracial marriage with a mixed race baby. And while the adoption themes you write about are new to me, the racial themes are not. It’s so weird and complicated with race. I live in a predominantly white neighborhood, white workplace, white daycare mamas and sometimes I just long to be among black people. I don’t even have to know them. It could be strangers in a salon, strangers in some professional group. I just want to sit there and not stick out. Not be different. Just blend in. It doesn’t even mean I want to know or befriend them. I just want to sit a while and not be different. Does that make any sense? My husband does not understand this at all, but he’s never been a minority. I worry for my son. That easy sense of belonging, will he ever feel it? I hate the hard stuff.

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  2. “it is making a commitment to be family to a family that cannot for whatever reason,” these words will stay with me for a long time. Thank you.

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  3. i remember when you told me the story about paul’s dad and i could not imagine how difficult that was for him and you. i applaud you both. i wish i had half your guts. xo.

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  4. This is really great. Giving up family for family. Yes. We’re there too, for different reasons, but I can understand. Thanks for sharing. Lots of love to you.

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  5. You are a great writer…such a gift that is. Nothing in life is easy. Both of my grown children were hard to place adoptions…One is a classical musician and one is in jail with me the new guardian of his three young children. I make no excuses. I love them both. One is half Cuban and one is part American Indian. My husband is from Europe and I am born American. You receive adoption emails because you communicate so well the issues involved and you keep pressing on. That gives folks encouragement to be strong and brave and true even when they do not feel it. I do the best I can do. I am not God. Life is very very hard. At the end of the day, I live with my decisions because they were right for me and my family..that is all…and keep showing up. There are no guarantees in life…so disappointing!! Someone wrote, ” You cannot please everyone, but sure enough you can piss everyone off”. Guess you struck a cord…I am back now to quilting.

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  6. “you might have to choose your family over your family.” yep. For SO Many reasons, not the least of which is yours.
    The blog is not dead. Swing it on open.

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  7. “The definition of family, the trauma of family, the complication of family, the appearance of family– these are concepts that have woven their way through my life and the creation of my worldview more than any other force.”
    You and me both, sister. My heart breaks over and over from the realization that love isn’t enough. But fierce love has motivated me to change our narrative and to start the work. These posts help.

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  8. Thank you for sharing. You have made me think about many things I never had cause to before. Thank you for opening the gates of your life.

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  9. I’ve been reading your blog off and on for a couple of years now and I always appreciate your truth.
    My husband and I-we are African American- are raising our two beautiful brown girls(elementary and middle school age) in a town that is not that diverse at all-we are in in the Pacific Northwest as well. It breaks my heart a little when my daughter insists on straightening her lovely curly hair-because I sense she wants to “fit in”. Sometimes I wonder how to parent them in a place where they see few people that resemble us.
    I just want you to know that I’m reading and that I truly appreciate your words, your story.
    and for the record-there have been plenty of times my girls leave the house and they have forgotten to oil up there hair and their elbows-I just have remind them-constantly (:
    Thanks Melissa

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  10. I loved the sewing and the vintage crap, but this is altogether much more stimulating and insightful. Thank you for the window into your world.

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  11. Thank you for your post. Thoughtful and eye-opening for me. I’m a married resident physician with no way to take care of kids right now, but I desperately want to adopt. Someday maybe I will just quit working altogether and go for it. It’s important to read these posts. Thank you.

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  12. I have to first confess that I only skimmed…I’m at work. I am an American woman and I want to thank you for adopting children and caring for them. I am an African American woman and I want to thank you for adopting children who happen to have brown skin. I don’t know if their race had any baring on your decision to adopt your boys, but thank you. Any time I see a white family with black children I want to thank them. It is a multi-layered issue. Ashy elbows, nappy hair, well loved. The latter is far more important.
    PS. I used to read your blog while I was in grad school. I read it for the fabric and vintage crap.

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  13. I started reading your blog for the fabric and vintagey stuff, and have loved how you have shared little peeks into your family life. You sound smart and caring and brave and I love how honest you are about your struggles and fears. You have a special family and I think you are all lucky. Lucky because your hearts are in the right place. I wish the hard parts were not so hard for you. Bit by bit, people like you are helping to change the world. I bet it doesn’t feel like it somedays, but you are good and what you do today is making a difference for the future.

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  14. As I read what you wrote about Paul and his father, I’m so thankful my father came around. My children are also adopted and my father was also quite racist when I was growing up. When my husband and I told him about our plans to adopt, from Congo, I kept stressing that the kids weren’t going to be white…he would cringe and try to talk us out of it. We left the door open for him, and I’m glad we did – once he met them, he completely changed. He fell so in love with them, and had four years with them before he died this past winter. I’m sure my kids won’t remember him at all as they’re still small, but at least the rest of us know that even if he was kind of a jerk to us, he loved his grandchildren (I was told at his funeral that he talked about them all the time, which surprised me).
    ps – I get so paranoid when women stop me to check out my daughter’s hair! Oh my goodness, I always make sure her hair is perfect before we leave the house. It’s a learning curve. 🙂

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  15. I’ve enjoyed all your posts for many years, sewing and others alike. I do think, however, that you are particularly eloquent when you write about your adoption experiences, and your subsequent experiences in raising your expanded family. I’m not sure how you can best utilize your experience, whilst I love reading I feel sure there is an even bigger forum for you to be involved with. I look forward to seeing where it takes you.

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  16. This post allowed me to talk to a friend whose son adopted a black child whose mother was not a mother and whose father abandoned him. No family member wanted this little boy until they found out a family of 4 blond, blue-eyed white people wanted to adopt him. His potential (and now) grandmother questioned the sanity of this move, and I told her about your very moving post and also told her to be careful not to make them choose. She melted as soon as she met the adorable young man they have since adopted. It hasn’t and won’t be easy, but they have been through health issues unresolved since birth (almost 2 years when he arrived), all the stares and rudeness some people so willingly share, and people who ask why. Even some racial tension from me who refused to make a monkey quilt for him since we live in the south and I grew up hearing a derogatory name associated with race. It will be difficult and they like you anticipate hard work throughout the years. I wish you well in your endeavors and happy children to share your life.

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