Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Unexpected sacrifices

Three years ago, when my wife and I began the process to adopt children, we expected sacrifices. It doesn't matter if a child is born or adopted into a family, sacrifices are inevitable. Sleep. Finances. Sanity. Material goods. But recently we have found a sacrifice we did not expect, and it's the hardest, most painful sacrifice ever.

Our social workers thought we were the greatest candidates ever. We had clean criminal histories. We were young. We had a supportive family. We had very few stipulations. After we were certified as a foster home we waited months before we received a call. One of our requests was maximum of two children - they had three; did we want to meet them?

We went to the disclosure meeting with the social worker where they told us everything they knew about the children and their families. Ages. Medical history. Why they were in the system. How long they were in the system. They were what is considered a difficult placement because they were three siblings, and they were black.

When we were in our training classes we learned that a majority of people who are looking to adopt do so because of fertility issues (most people assume that's why we did). They want a baby. If they're white like us, they want a white baby. Asian babies are the second most desired. Hispanic and especially black children are difficult to find homes for. This is why the rules for adoption have opened up to allow placement into homes other than the child's race.

We said we would meet them.

Our three new children were 2-, 3- and 4-years old at the time. The youngest didn't talk. The oldest was shy. The middle one wouldn't stop eating. We loved them immediately. We love them so much more now.

Throughout the training process my wife and I were surrounded by loving friends and family. They all told us how we were doing such a great thing. They promised their support. We had a lot of emotional and physical support.

Things changed almost immediately after the children came to live with us full-time. We did take a small break from the world for a few weeks to get accustomed to the children, and them to us. I can't find fault with anyone because it was right in the middle of the Great Recession, people were moving between homes, jobs, etc. One of our biggest support groups was overrun by a cult so it imploded. But we felt isolated from many of our friends. Some who promised they'd help out were always too busy. Others were moving to other states, or out of the area. Others just disappeared.

We had our children for about a year when the biggest blow came; my wife's family packed up and moved four (Western) states away. They had been our rock. Our biggest support. My mother-in-law quit her job to help us out. My brother-in-law was my best friend. The family would get together multiple times every week. They were what made us so confident we could take on such a huge task - three children - all at one time. And they were gone.

It started at denial, and turned to anger, but ended with acceptance. We were on our own. We now had our own family, and our own responsibilities. We would have to raise our family the way most people do.

A year later the adoption was finalized. When all of our social structure collapsed, we refocused ourselves. My wife went back to school. I worked and took care of the kids. I started following Major League Soccer. Life consisted almost entirely of work, kids, laundry, meals, dishes, soccer and the occasional outing with the few friends who were still in the flesh and answered my text messages. The rest of my circle existed in the cloud: Facebook mostly.

The oldest turned 5. Enrolled in kindergarten. They all entered child care. They're now growing up so fast. Breakfast. School. Work. Child care. Dinner. Bedtime. Repeat.

Their little minds began to notice things. Before they assumed adults were white and kids were black. They would say, "When I grow up I'll be white like daddy." But in school they were surrounded by white kids. Latinas. Other black kids. New ideas started to creep in. "I don't like being brown," she would say. "I'm ugly."

She would draw herself in crayon. White face. Long, straight hair. He would say he looked "dirty."

We were always conscious of the need to have black figures in their lives. Their hairstylist, barber, half-brother - we even tried to keep their paternal grandmother involved. We had black dolls. Sesame Street helped with self esteem. So did Willow Smith.


But it still came. We brought in more famous black people they could connect with: Esperanza Spaulding. Yasiin Bey. Questlove. One night they all had questions, so we pulled out a poster with the images and names of the most influential African American figures: Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Hank Aaron, and Barack Obama to name a few. They loved it.

Then Trayvon Martin happened. That young man in his hoodie blew things up. Reliable friends started pushing us away because we said simple things like, "My son does look like Trayvon." They insisted my wife and I couldn't have a rational thought on the topic. We were "too invested" to think clearly. My wife especially got thrashed by what I thought were good friends who belittled her in the most patronizing manner.

With frayed strings of relation, we got over it. We have more important things to do. I've got to teach my kids to swim. I want my kids at least half-way through the year's curriculum before the school year starts.

But it doesn't go away. Facebook makes everything public and not a week goes by when I don't see a friend or family member commenting on some public forum or image with no self-awareness to how racial their words are. Or they're simply in agreement with friends or acquaintances who spew vile racist ideas into the ether because they want to be like their favorite radio personality.

It's not just the blatant racism disguised as political thought either, it's the subtle racism in "politically incorrect" jokes. They say, "Lighten up." The bully's defense. But it hurts. It saddens me. It saddens my wife. The way these people disrespect my children. The way they hide behind might be funny to a bunch of white kids with no black friends but is really dispiriting to my children. They don't know how hurtful it is because my kids are already hearing these things at school.

Sure, you'll bounce my kid on your knee and then say mean things about him when he's not around because it's just so funny. Ha. Ha. Ha.

That's not even the most hurtful thing. It's the defensiveness they take when we make simple comments about how raising a black child in white suburbia is different. We say something about how our daughter doesn't like her hair and it's like we called every white person in the world a racist. "Every girl is like that," they'll say, not realizing the other girls at school are making fun of her because she's different! Every girl isn't the odd one out. I make one comment about how I'll have to teach my sons things about social interaction that me, as a white man, take for granted, and it's like I told the closest people to me that they're hate-filled scum.

When other parents talk about the issues they face raising their children they get sympathetic platitudes or thoughtful advice. We get arguments. Because we're not emotional beings struggling with the issues our children are facing, we're simply political punching bags.

It hurts.

About 18 months after Trayvon was killed, the verdict is in: not guilty. It doesn't matter what my opinion is because what I see are my family making senseless comments about the animal behavior of black people, because we've never seen a white person take to the streets in anger. (Oh, but that's different, these black people are angry over a white man's acquittal; those white people were angry because a sports legend was fired for covering up child sexual abuse, so it's different!) They post articles to the few cases of violence that have sprung up making comments about how the entire black community are responsible for this behavior. But it's not a racist comment, because I"m sure they also claimed every white man in America is responsible for the Lane Kiffin Riot.

It doesn't just stop there, but it keeps building and building. They say they're not racist, but they take to their Facebook pages like a virtual riot. They say they love my children but they continue to criticize black people as a bloc, and even directly insult my family. They say they love me, but they dismiss any and all concerns I have over the very experiences my children are already facing - at 4-, 5- and 6-years old.

Three years ago, when my wife and I began the process to adopt children, we expected sacrifices. But recently we have found a sacrifice we did not expect, and it's the hardest, most painful sacrifice ever. We sacrificed our white identity.

6 comments:

Jen Martens said...

Hey, I love you guys. I know I have been absent and not around. I don't have excuses. Bring the kids over anytime Mon-wed. I am off those days!

Joy said...

As a fellow transracially adoptive parent, I'm doing that thing where I point to my eyes and then point to yours.

EnoNomi said...

Wow, just...wow.

Nicole said...

I'm confused what you mean Joy?

Deb said...

Nicole, she means she gets you. She sees eye to eye with you. Took me a minute to figure it out.

Stinks that you guys have had such a rough time. Makes my small issues seem even smaller in comparison.

I'll never forget telling someone we wanted to take Isabel to the MLK parade and they just couldn't understand why we would want to do something like that. Afterall, we're white.

Nicole said...

Ah, ok Debbie that makes sense. I thought she was loosely referring to the biblical passage suggesting we take the logs out of our own eye first, and I just couldn't comprehend how that applied here. Haha.

Thanks for the support. Yes, as I've mentioned before at the Black History Month parade last year there were only about 20 white people scattered in the crowd of hundreds of black people. And half of those white people were reporters =(.