After a couple of kids and a couple of miscarriages, my husband and I started the adoption process. It is so much more intense than I ever imagined and I have such newfound respect for families that adopt. My husband and I are the type of people who wish that we could, once some agency decided we passed muster, just have someone give us the next baby that was available. We’re really bad at making decisions.
But another term for the adoption process could probably be “142,000 decisions.” Every step of the way requires a new decision. And I agonize over each one. One of the decisions we’ve made is that we’re open to transracial adoption. My husband and I are both white and we’re on the path to adopting a child who is black. In many ways, this is not a big deal. My best friend is black and many of our other friends are, too. We live in an area that is predominantly black and many families in our church, school and neighborhood are interracial.
In other ways, this one decision has been one of the more difficult. There’s no other way to put it — I’ve gotten a bit race obsessed. I’m hyper-sensitive, in ways I wasn’t before, to jokes, internet memes, disparate treatment and everything else that minorities deal with every day. Just the other day some friends were joking about this video below:
So it’s something that is more or less harmless, right? A mock charity for “White Kids Without iPads.” But I imagined my future baby and how my children would respond to that. The subtle messages there include some funny ones and some potentially harmful ones, such as that black kids can’t be comfortably middle class. As I said, I’m obsessed.
I’m fine with joking about race and always have, but some things that are passed off as jokes aren’t funny in the slightest. A father of a friend recently told a joke that was so racist that it just made me sad. He’s old enough to fit into my “too old to fight” category on these issues, but I don’t want my children — white or black — to hear these things.
Even 30 Rock, a show I love, occasionally wearies me with it’s post-ironic racism. I was blessed to kind of grow up in an environment and at a time when race wasn’t a really big deal. Even being the only white kid in my kindergarten was a great experience. My best friend and I have been together since junior high school, so we certainly — she certainly — dealt with a bunch of race-related weirdness. That’s because we had both moved to a very rural and very white area. But the race stuff was mostly of the harmless variety. It didn’t hurt that she was the most beautiful girl in school.
I think that during those years, I developed a certain coping style where the right thing to do was to act as if any racial stupidity that came her way was no big deal. I sort of followed her lead. And since then, I’ve adopted that same attitude. If other people are racist, that’s their problem. And for the most part, that’s right.
But when it’s your own kid? Then it’s your problem, too. I was shopping with a black friend recently and I noticed the thing I’ve noticed a thousand times before — the different way the shopkeeper treats us. My friend is older than I am and grew up in Connecticut. To say she’s used to this crap is an understatement. But by the end of our excursion, I was in tears.
And all that was before Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch vigilante. I can’t stop reading every report about his parents and how they are handling this tragedy. I honestly don’t think I could handle myself as well as they have in the face of this killing of their son.
I know that this is not the way for a white woman to mother a black child. All the books the adoption agency has given me have said that I can’t make too big of a deal about race and that the example I set will be the most important one he can follow for how he should behave. I don’t want him to be a bundle of nerves and anger after a shopping trip.
And I worry non-stop about what my black child will feel like growing up in a family where he looks significantly different the other members. I’ve heard from friends who were transracially adopted that they went through weird phases of wishing they were their parents’ race. One had a mom who refused to acknowledge that they were of different races! I know that race is a social construct but it’s still a social construct and a pretty profound one. How will I learn how to navigate all of that?
This is something that I will have to work on. In that sense, this is the one nice thing I can say about the ridiculous length of time that adoptive parents must wait to navigate the bureaucratic hell that is adoption. I think I need that time to check my obsession and get to a better place where I can parent without such concern, anger and worry.
And I’d love some tips from mothers who have navigated this road before, if you have any.
Photo via ThinkStock.