Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Family Perspective Week!

I'd like to tell you all about my wonderful little sister: she is thoughtful, tenderhearted, and loving (sounds like I'm naming Care Bears here, doesn't it?), AND she has organized a family perspective sharing week in preparation for our adoption! Because of the weight of words like black and white, and because of the way that those concepts will be transformed and will transform our family dynamic, Karen (my thoughtful, tenderhearted, loving little sister) thought it would be helpful to set aside a week to challenge our individual ideas about race and share our discoveries with one a family. She could not have planned a better adoption gift for me if she had used all of the time and resources in the world to try. Josh and I have spent the last year and a half examining our own ideas about adoption and race and our family. We have reimagined our dinner table and our grandchildren and ourselves. We have admitted weaknesses and embarassments and developments to one another nearly every week (sometimes, every day) throughout this entire journey. Wouldn't it be bizarre for us to expect (or even hope, for that matter?) that our family would instantly evolve to a place that has taken us months and months (and months and months) to even approach as parents? We don't, but opening up a conversation wherein people can admit their perspectives without fear, where we can feel safe to challenge, confess to, and accept one another as we grow toward love together can be difficult. (Now I sound like one of those weird new greeting cards that seems oddly specific...). That's why I'm so grateful to Karen for holding this conversation for all of us.

NOW, for my first contribution to our dialogue:)

A couple of months ago, I responded to a post on a forum for Ethiopian adoption. Another mother was struggling to reidentify herself and rediscover her ideas about race as she prepared to adopt a child who would be African-American. In my response (which I tried to think through carefully, though it only got one, very caustic, reply), I shared my own struggles with the same ideas. I'm going to paste my response here with as few interruptions as possible:

What lessons our new children teach us....before they even arrive in our arms. This process (and I keep thinking of words like whiplash or crawl or hurdle as I type that phrase) compells me to evaluate parts of myself I was entirely unaware of before I "met" my children. Following your example, I am going to share my starts, steps, and stumbles in muddling through the minefield of race, motherhood, and far.

First, the decision: After a series of loosely connected encounters with the question of international adoption, [Actually, the night after Josh and I had decided not to have any more children during a conversation at the WalM*art.....and I don't think we are the only people on the planet who have ever reached a decision like this one at the Walm*art....I began to pray. I prayed for my children, and then thought to add "and for any other children that you may give to us....though you're going to have to beat me over the head with that one because I'm pretty comfortable with two." At that moment, I had an uncomfortable (uncomfortable like when I tried to mail the unsigned check to our adoption agency!) sense that if someone in our church had a child that needed a home, I would open our family...and mother(*verb*). After I finished praying, I went to the computer, where I had just received a congregation-wide email from our preacher that mentioned a blog of someone connected to our church who was adopting from Ethiopia. I opened the link (Dani and Brian West....I'll post the link to my sidebar), just to kill time before hitting the regular blogs I regularly use to kill time. Within an hour I was crying. Within two, I was purposefully sifting through agency requirements and country-specific facts.] I opened up one night to the possibility and began to surf the web.....researching. Ostensibly, I researched agencies, costs, wait times, etc. More honestly, I was researching myself. Every time I opened up a file with a photo of a family completed by adopting internationally, a blog about adoption, or photos of waiting children, I stared, searching faces, studying eyes, trying to decide if these could be MY children, my babies whose skin and hair don't resemble me....or my husband. Yes! Yes! Yes! and so we began discussions. {More accurately, I left a voicemail on his work phone, saying something like "Josh, I think we should adopt internationally. Let me know what you think when you get home."}

Second, the quest: Was I a racist? The magnificent mystery love from that first night slowly evaporated, burned off by the harsh light I turned inward to search for answers to that question. Love and hate cannot occupy a common space; mothering and racism cannot coexist. An urgency to justify my un-racist heart obsessed me. I read pages and pages of internet material by writers [of several different racial identities] convinced that caucasian parents could not adequately parent adopted children of color because the gulf (racism) could not be bridged. I have been raised around the insidious us/them mentality of latent racism, confessing equality and clutching my purse. Could I think of black people (and not just black babies) as family? I began to watch, stare really, at the black people I encountered throughout my day (my life) thinking, could you be my grandmother? could you be my sister? could you be my grown up child? could I love you like I profess that I do?

My heart exploded.

Third, harder questions: Questions that weren't really questions at all but truths that flattened me. I had lived a lie. I fought for equality and cherished friendships, but I kept words like "they" close at hand.....little racist safety nets should I be rebuffed or rejected. I flailed about inside myself, loving children I had never met and hating myself for loving so badly all of my life. The big question: would I whip out my racist "they" (from the back to the front of my heart) on hard days with my children?
Suddenly, peace: the floor broke.
I fell through. God smiled, and I learned, from my children, the love and connectedness that has made me ALIVE and has stilled and invigorated me. There are no words for this stage in the process for me. [I typed that last sentence on the forum in a moment of efficient, maybe evasive, delerium. Of course there are more words! Sometimes, I have described my efforts to investigate my race and my heart as an elevator. On the top floor ...the floor near my eyes and mouth.....I say and see...or at least I say that I see....the right things. Children of God. Multiplicity as a miracle. Individuals as infinitely particular, etc. Floor two, the level that lands me right at the center of my heart, is a nightmare. Distances I hated to admit. Stereotypes I never wanted to believe I believed. Smallminded stupidity that I couldn't acknowledge.....I thought....if I were going to continue with this adoption. I kept pushing the up button. Finally, I resolved to open the doors to level two, face whatever I found, and trust God with whatever followed, even if it meant ending our adoption. That's the moment I described before with the phrase "the floor fell through," and I really did feel like God was laughing (with me? at me? at least near me.) I had just tried to tell him that the Red Sea was too deep or a mustard seed too small or a minivan just too expensive (wait until I tell you all about that one!). I felt like I had fallen into a warm sea. And people were not scary; they were all small, like me, and swimming in the same big sea. Brothers and sisters. FAMILY. Ideologically, I have always wanted to believe that family.....big, boundless family, was possible. Now, I was soaking in it!] Along the way I have toiled over other issues, the particulars of mothering (empowering without terrifying my children...caring for them properly...etc.) and of mothering a child born to and loved first by another mother....a mother I would learn to love as I continued to sift through my fears about adopting. [See She's my Baby's Mama] I'm not afraid of what I'll find anymore when I look inside. I run deeper than I would have ever learned had it not been for my children.

I have a million (or so) more thoughts on this topic that I hope to contribute to our dialogue this week. Thank you, Karen, for organizing this week, and thank you, everyone, for participating.

By the way, I think we should have a family perspective week every year, guided by developments in all of our lives. Think about it (perhaps we should have a family perspective week to gather everyone's thoughts about what it would be like to have an annual family perspective week....perhaps).

1 comment:

ltdave06 said...


First off, I love Akeelah and the Bee -- it might have cracked my Top 10. Javier is awesome -- came across "ratatouille" and "rhesus" in each of the last two days, amazingly enough.

Second, I haven't found Perspective Week 2007 as difficult as I thought I might (what with my preconceived notions about myself as I regard other races). Serving in the military, it occurs to me that I have come to appreciate the people around me for the measure of their sacrifices -- the guy next to me in class is willing to give his life for the same cause that I am willing to give mine. In essence (and despite the fact that it also sounds more like it should end up on a warped greeting card than on Fishburn's wall), no matter the shade of the skin we're in, the blood that we shed is red.

Have a great day.