Thursday, August 27, 2009

Families Like Us

Laurie and I aren’t always in the mood to share our family’s story. At any given time, strangers approach and say, “Are they yours?” or “Did you adopt them?” It always surprises me how these questions arise after the stranger has heard one of the kids refer to us as Mom and Dad. “Really?” I want to ask. “Seriously? How is it you are able to manage other abstract concepts like operating a motor vehicle?”

When we first became a multiracial family, we took the stranger’s questions as an opportunity to educate them. Everyone who approached us got a good earful of the awful plight of children in foster care and the need for people to adopt outside their race. The listeners politely nodded their heads and stared at their watch with great purpose while we nattered on for a few minutes. Laurie and I had stupidly assumed the best in people and quickly learned that people were usually more nosy than genuinely interested in our story.

A breath of fresh air came when we heard another adoptive family tell their story to a group of us. “You don’t owe the world an explanation about your family," they said. "It’s your story and it isn’t their business.” Laurie and I breathed a sigh of relief. We found freedom from wasting our time and exhausting the listeners. Our new approach to “Are they yours?” became a simple yes and we left it at that.

It was during this period when Laurie and the kids were eating at Chick-fil-a, that mecca of minivans and soccer moms, and a woman approached them and asked, “Are they yours?” Laurie later told me she silently huffed and thought, “I just want to go out to lunch with my kids in peace.” But she feigned patience and said yes.

The lady smiled. “Because my two sons were adopted. They’re African-American too.”


“Oh?” Laurie said, stumbling to perk up.

The woman continued. “My husband and I head an adoptive ministry at our church which is mostly Caucasian parents who have adopted African-American children. We’d love to invite you.”

“That’s great,” Laurie said, still trying to gather her wits.

Our first event with “Families Like Us” was a unique experience. We walked into a large classroom and were immediately greeted by Jena, the lady Laurie had met at Chick-Fil-A, and her husband, Brian. As they introduced us to the other families, we immediately felt a sense of familiarity. Over the years, Laurie and I have taken the kids to numerous events with adoptive families of color. Never before had we seen such a large group of families that looked exactly like us.

After the kids played for a while, the parents were directed to drop their kids off at nursery where they had pizza waiting for them. Once we came back to the classroom, an adult adoptee and her parents told their story while we ate a potluck dinner.

Each event differed from the previous one. One day was nothing more than playtime for the kids while the parents visited. Sometimes, families told their stories. Others, professionals from adoption agencies came to talk about how to coach our kids through elementary school or talking to our kids about race and giving them a positive sense of racial identity.

Over the next few months, we got to know the parents and their kids at the events. There was an immediate bond unlike anything we’d had with any other group. Mothers could finally talk about their struggles to moisturize their sons’ skin and keep up with their daughters’ braids with other equally clueless mothers. Fathers could talk about disciplining their kids in public with other fathers who felt the same judgmental eyes on them as well.

In any group of children, our son, Isaac, typically stands out not just because of his color, but because he is clearly the loudest and wildest. However, surrounded by hoards of loud, hyperactive black boys, he blended right in.

The biggest trip was watching the biological, Caucasian children interact with their siblings of color. Anywhere else, they would have blended right in. But here they stood out as the minority while their siblings blended in. It was like looking into an alternative universe.

Laurie and I decided a long time ago that surrounding our children with other children that looked like them was important. Once we got involved with Families Like Us, we learned the importance of surrounding ourselves with families that don’t look like each other.

I thought back to the previous January when we took the kids to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade. Laurie and I assumed we might be two of only a few Caucasians attending the celebration. So it alarmed me when we walked up and down the streets of downtown Dallas without seeing a single white person. I might have been self-conscious had people stared at us, but no one did. We set down our chairs on the sidewalk and our neighbors smiled and initiated conversations with us, not once asking “Are they yours?” Some kids even asked Isaac to play. The feeling of acceptance lasted until we noticed swarms of families that all matched one another. My mind flashed forward to the day that Isaac notices that even African American families resemble each other. “Why don’t we know any other families whose kids don’t look like their parents?” I imagined him asking.

It would be months later when Laurie met Jena at Chick-fil-a and our family got hooked up with a whole group of mixed-race families. Since then, I’m constantly on the lookout; restaurants, libraries, malls. I’m seeking out hyper, multiracial kids and their weary, guarded parents. “Hi,” I’ll say. “Are those your kids?” After a brief bout of huffing and rolling of the eyes, they’ll say yes and wait to see exactly what kind of nosy adoption question I ask. That’s when I’ll move in for the kill.

9 comments:

Gloria said...

Yay! Another Goggycoffee post!

A very thoughtful essay, Billy.

Debbie B said...

Excellent post! Something that I think about a lot right now. While trying to get my husband to get out and socialize so he sees the benefits as well.

That last about going in for the kill is great. I always want to ask other parents but never want to be nosy, but I guess sharing that common bond that we do, like you said, makes it okay to be a bit nosy.

laurie said...

Honey- Eve at Adoptive Families is going to want to read this one for sure! Love you!

Jeff said...

Billy, I probably learn more from your blog than any other that keep up with.

BCD said...

Hello, I don't know you, but I have already learned so much from your blog. My husband and I are adopting a little boy from Haiti and are curious to the types of situations out of our comfort zone we will come across. I really enjoy your writing. Keep it up, you are inspiring those you don't know. Thank you.

BCD said...

Hello, I don't know you, but I have already learned so much from your blog. My husband and I are adopting a little boy from Haiti and are curious to the types of situations out of our comfort zone we will come across. I really enjoy your writing. Keep it up, you are inspiring those you don't know. Thank you.

BCD said...

Hello, I don't know you, but I have already learned so much from your blog. My husband and I are adopting a little boy from Haiti and are curious to the types of situations out of our comfort zone we will come across. I really enjoy your writing. Keep it up, you are inspiring those you don't know. Thank you.

Smita said...

Hi, to some extent these situations apply to us too...........though we are still considering adoption, i can not stop myself from staring at couples whose kid doesn't resemble them esp. in colour and keep wondering whether they are adopted. How does one get the courage to call it quits regarding treatment and trying for a biological kid??? i dont want the hope of getting pregnant to linger on after adoption.....thats unfair to everyone!!!!
Can anyone help???

Goggy Coffee said...

Hi Smita

These are all very common issues. I'm going to turn this over to my wife who is remarkably more capable of addressing your concerns. Good luck

-Billy