Tuesday, September 20, 2011

White Mom, Brown Baby

As a white mom with a brown son, I’m consistently on the hunt for equipping articles and studies that would better prepare me to parent a transracial family.  At the beginning of our adoption process I struggled to see racial identity as a principal matter.  In my heart, I wanted race to be a benign topic.  I wanted the world to wear colorless goggles.  Then, something clicked, and I realized seeing my son as colorless would in fact remove part of him.  There is a pride that comes with his handsome latte colored skin, and I want him to find that pride.  I went into this adoption hoping love would be enough to conquer our differences and instill self-regard.  I really thought it might be; but with each passing day, I am far fearful it won’t be enough for the long haul.   I am inclined, just maybe not fully qualified.  So I read.  And read.  And read on and on.  I ran across this article this past week on transracial families.  It validated my concerns.

The Importance of Racial Socialization on Transracial Adoptees

The Evan B. Donaldson Institute just reported on a research study that found: racial socialization and NOT focus on culture or ethnic socialization decreased adoptees’ sense of marginalization (and by extension—low sense of self worth), and resulted in greater self esteem.  The study sample included 100 adult and adolescent transracial adoptees.  Further details of the abstract can be found on the Evan B. Donaldson Institute website. 
    I wanted to post information about this research finding because, as an adoption professional and veteran adoptive parent, I believe that this is ESSENTIAL information for adoptive parents to get and use in raising their children. 
  Racial identity is THE salient issue for our children and families. Facing up to what we need to do in order to nurture healthy racial identity in them is a major responsibility. We cannot excuse ourselves from fulfilling that responsibility simply because we adopted through agencies/social workers who had no idea how important racial immersion experiences are in the formation of racial identity and allowed us to adopt, despite lack of diversity resources in the communities in which we live. (when that is the case)
We also have to face up to the fact that merely living in a racially diverse community is not enough.  We must help our children connect with adults of color, and we must recognize that our children need to see us doing the same. 
    Over the last couple of decades, I have observed how adoptive parents—especially those who have adopted internationally—focus on engaging in cultural events and activities, instead of dealing with race-related issues.  When they are confronted by adoptees and/or experts (social scientists, diversity educators, etc…) they make excuses for raising their kids in nearly-all-white environments and engaging in white social circles themselves on the basis of all they claim that they do to teach their child about his or her culture-of-origin.  That is and has been very disturbing.
    That is why this type of research is so very important to us, as members of the greater- transracial-adoptive family network, regardless of whether our children were adopted via domestic or international adoption, and which country they were born in/adopted from.  It is up to us to broadcast this information—research findings like this—throughout our adoption communities.  It is also important that we urge adoption agencies to educate themselves about HOW to assess prospective parents for transracial adoption and approve them only if and when they are able to provide the racial socialization that will be necessary for any child they adopt to grow up with healthy racial-ethnic identity.  With more people than ever wanting to adopt, and fewer identified children (internationally, at least) waiting for adoptive placement, there is no reason for agencies to place children in communities where they cannot have regular, ongoing immersion, their parents cannot make and keep friends of color, and there are no adult role models of color to be found. 
    As adoptive parents, we have to make this a priority and stop fooling ourselves that as long as we try to expose our children to birth culture, that is “enough" and they will be “fine.”  Evidence is now accumulating that demonstrates otherwise.  Our conversations now need to be about HOW we find and incorporate those essential people and experiences into the lives of our children and families that will truly help them develop healthy racial identity. 
Jane A. Brown, MSW

I get the article.  It brought to light areas I’m failing as a white mamma of a brown boy…I harp on teaching Mez and our family about Ethiopian culture without focusing on race issues.  I believe the points made are valid; but in a primarily white community (can I say pretty segregated community), it’s difficult to find opportunity to build these valuable relationships.  What’s a girl to do?  It seems rather pious to shop for friends “of color” simply to fill a need for my son.  So, I’m asking what is the way we work to integrate our community and move into a blended community that offers cross-cultural interaction and positive peer relationships?  I’m taking suggestions.  Help.

Meze and Mama

*to view article in original publication click HERE

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Birth-day Letter to Birth Mom

Dear Awtash,

Tonight is the eve of our son’s birth.  Although we are worlds apart, I am sure similar thoughts consume our minds tonight.  I’m taken with notions of you and a small baby entering an unjust world not so long ago.  Can you remember this night two years ago?  I wish I did.  I wish I could pinpoint in my memory the weather, the sounds, and my feelings.  I wish it were imprinted in my heart the way it’s forever imprinted on yours.  It seems fair that you alone should hold this memory; after all, you carried Mez in your womb.  But I’m jealous.  I’m grieving.  I hurt over each moment I missed with him.  Tonight, when I tucked our son into bed, I whispered to him every detail you apportioned to me about his birth, but it was vague and seemed too brief.  Tonight, I wish not only to regain the moments of Mezekir’s birth; I also wish for more time with you.  I need to remember your hands and your eyes and the sound of your gentle voice.  How will I tell him about you when the details of you seep from my memory?

Tonight, I watched Mez carefully construct a tower of Legos.  His pudgy hands, oversized for an almost two year old, seem so strong and sure.  As he played, I pictured him magically transported to northern Ethiopia, only a tuft of hair covering his fontanel (in true Tigray style), sitting in a meager home, half of his “westernized” size, falling asleep on the hard floor.   Strangely, I wasn’t comforted knowing the difference in that apparition and reality.  Instead, my heart aches for the loss of an intact culture and being loved and held by the woman who brought him life.  Sovereignty.  I’m hanging on to that.  It’s what there is.

Mez lied down in his crib tonight as a baby.  Tomorrow, he’s a toddler.  It is not cliché.  Time is going too quickly.  Do you relate?  Or does each day without out your son drag on endlessly?  You would be so proud of Mez.  He’s has such tenacity for life.  I suppose he learned that from you, to fight, to press on, to persist.  He’s no quitter.  In fact, even with three older siblings, he rules this roost.  You would relish watching Josh and Mez together.  Never have there been any more kindred spirits.  They mirror one another as though he carried each one of Josh’s DNA.  Jocular.  Ardent.  Ballsy.  He’s our joy.   My grandmother put it like this, “The first child is for the mamma.  The second for the dad.  The third is to perfect parenting.  The fourth child is for the pleasure of the entire family.”  She pegged it.  Mez is the joy of our entire family. 

Tomorrow, we celebrate Mezekir’s birth.  We will celebrate all that his life has given us.  I hope one day you will know that Mez (and you as his first mother) brought new life to our family.  He shifted our vision.  He expanded our horizons.  God used him to broaden our ministry, our hearts, and give us a tangible understanding of the gospel.  I will celebrate, but part of me will grieve.  My joy is your loss.  Thank you for loving our son enough to give him life.  We will celebrate the part of your life you gave when you gave him to us.  Thank you, Awtash.  We love you. 


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sisay, Yemamu, and Goliath

Meet my friends, Sisay and Yemamu, whose spirits drew me in and whose hearts captured my heart from the moment we met. 

Sisay far left.  Yemamu far right.
 Sisay and Yemamu were born into the community of Korah.  Yemam and Sisay may not be “brothers” by formal definition, but their bond goes much deeper than genetic connection.  With parents infected by leprosy and snared by poverty, there was little hope these boys would escape the stigma associated with the station of their families.  Imagine a community, not one common to you and me.  Instead, imagine this.


Kitchen in Korah

Gathering Food at Korah.
Imagine the smells, the sounds, the necessity associated with just existing.  Imagine living unnoticed, unwanted, and with no value, and you’ve just merely peeked behind the curtains of Korah.  As so many, Yemam and Sisay began laboring day in and day out as shoe shiners at a ripe, young school age.  Schooling was an illusive dream desired but not attainable.  School would mean hope and change and possibility.  It would also mean one less meager income, one less contributor, one less person scavenging for food left in the garbage.   One day while the boys shined shoes on the roadside, a Young Life leader sauntered into their lives.  Through friendship evangelism, Sisay and Yemamu chose to leave the grasps of Islam and hunker into the arms of a Loving Savior King.  As young believer, they continued to see the goodness of God’s provisions as Young Lifers sponsored them through primary and secondary schools and college.  Psalms 40:1-3 virtually took life for Sisay and Yemam as they read, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth…” Sisay and Yemam’s lives sing of God’s glorious love.  They have returned to Korah, to their humble and painful beginnings, to those they love in order to share an eternal hope.  By feeding, educating, business building, and respectful employment through an NGO these young run, they continue the cycle of friendship evangelism to a place full of hurt and pain.   

Yesterday at school, my son retold the story of Yemamu and Goliath.  I mean Sisay and Goliath.  SO SORRY, David and Goliath.  God took the most unlikely and used him to conquer the unconquerable.   Today, I see the modern day Davids facing off with the contemporary Goliath armed with the ever-present, never-changing power of God.  I imagine Yemam and Sisay armed with a their metaphorical sling and stone constructed of the hope of Jesus delivered with the FULL gospel by the least likely of candidates, who were disregarded by the world, firing against the giant of despair.  Encouraged by their tenacity and humbled by God’s faithfulness, I rejoice to be a part of Hands for the Needy Ethiopia at Korah and cannot wait to be reunited.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Redefining Weird

Rule 1 in blogging:  Don’t blog about blogging or write like you have an audience.  Well, I’m breaking the rules as usual mostly because I’ve gone MIA in blog world for more than just the normal sabbatical.  Excuses are endless, and the truth be told, I have A LOT of them for not blogging.  I didn’t blog during our last tip to Ethiopia because the Internet was down at the guesthouse most of the time.  I didn’t blog when we returned because I was on re-entry overload.  After re-acclimating, I didn’t blog because I was processing emotions and information.  Processing complete, I found myself n the midst of a new and unintended path.  I didn’t post about this new path because, frankly, I just didn’t know how to discuss where HE was leading this family.

Months ago, we announced we rejoined the ranks of families adopting from Ethiopia.  We officially sent over our dossier and completed EVERY piece of paperwork that our agency needs.  Yes, the program has changed.  Yes, there seem to be more hurdles to clear this round, but we are in! 

Until our last trip to Ethiopia, we didn’t realize the direction our next adoption would take.  On paper, we’d prepared ourselves for a child with special needs like HIV, Hepatitis, and clubfoot or cleft lip.  We’d committed to a child between the ages of 2 and 8 years old.  Surely, God would fit that child into our home.  Truth is, we are compelled to loving the least of these in the world’s eyes.  Being committed to this seemed to blind us from where He wanted to take us.

God changed the path the last Saturday we spent in Ethiopia.  (This tends to be His way in our lives.)  I’m not sure why I continue to be amazed by this; but I am.  In a miraculous, God-scripted-manner, God set our path toward the adoption of 3 (yes I said 3) siblings.  (Pause.  Breathe in.  Exhale.  Repeat.)  Putting this in print terrifies me to the core.  No HIV.  No Hep.  No medical needs…just lots of children.  For those of you mathematicians, yes, that does make the kid count in our home at an all time high of 7.  Whew…said it.  Way in if you’d like; but be gentle, please.

Our family prays ceaselessly for God to script this road for His glory alone.  Each of us is scared yet sure. The moment the Spirit makes a depository of peace into our hearts, the words “college funds”, “weird”, “mega family”, and “passenger van” pop up and slay the faith we have in his plan.  I feel like I teeter-totter back and forth from faith to fear and back again.  I can only see God responding to me as I do with my sweet daughter when she grieves the “weird” of our lives.  “Weird” by the world’s standard, is what I am called to.  Not conformity.  Not ease.  Nor normalcy.  I remind her Jesus was in every way “weird”.  Paul- weird.  Noah- weird.  Abraham- weird.  Purity, eternal mindset, righteousness with out judgment, and sacrifice are peculiar by the world’s definition.  It’s just making peace with the fear of judgment by the world and accepting the isolation that comes from our differences.  If I can tell her, why can’t I take it in?  In the end, I resolve.  I am far more fearful of disobedience than “weird”. 

When we adopted Mez, we found ourselves catching our breath at each turn if anxiety, in desperation, fully consumed.  This time around, we can best describe the journey like the lazy river… We have settled in and feel like God is moving us around each bend.  At certain bends the aversion to the road less taken forebodes; but it’s different.  We don’t have a lot of control, but it feels good. 

Join us in praying for God’s will for our family and for the terrific trio that is still in Ethiopia.  Pray that he will open and close the appropriate doors.  Pray for us to abide in whatever “Weird” He calls us to live.  We are praying for your weird and willingness to walk there, too.