Written by Angelica Amesquita-Carter; Originally published at Mama C and the Boys
My husband, D, our five month old son and I were casually shopping in the produce section of our local grocery store when a very exuberant older woman approached us with a big, eager smile. Without hesitating, she cornered us and began asking questions about our baby, who was quietly perched on my chest. Something about her allowed my usually guarded defenses down, and at first we listened to her with the kind of interest you give a stranger in a grocery store – you listen, but it takes a minute to really give her all of your attention. She asked about his adoption and volunteered that she had also adopted transracially many years before, and that she had a 16 year old African American daughter that would be an excellent babysitter for our son. I wasn’t ready for a sitter just yet and especially someone I hadn’t known or even met, but at the end of our conversation she handed me her phone number, told us to call when we were ready, and added that we must think she’s crazy but – and this is where the teaching moment happened – she said, “That’s just what you have to do for your kids, you’ll learn to talk to anyone. Because it’s not about you, it’s about them. You’ll do anything for them.”
Over two years ago, D and I started our journey like a lot of hopeful adoptive parents, we wanted a baby, any baby, I’ll take him or her or them or… You get the picture. We knew we could love a child without their image being a reflection of our own. We took our adoption classes very seriously, and enrolled in a transracial adoption class to learn what it would be like to raise a child of color. While it covered the facts – information packets neatly stapled in piles and a few adoptive parents and adoptees sharing their stories – nothing prepared us for the journey but life itself. When our baby finally arrived, all of our time and energy was spent nurturing and fussing and building the beautiful life we wanted to make for him. Family and friends began trickling in and making appearances to greet our son, and to our surprise, this is when things started to get tricky. Inappropriate questions and curious probing about his birthmother and his story came without warning.While we were slowly getting used to questions, stares and puzzlement in the eyes of strangers, we thought we’d find support and strength in our small circle. But it wasn’t that simple.
One particular moment I won’t forget was at a big family wedding, the first time our nine month-old son was introduced by his great-grandmother to other family and friends. She presented him as her “adopted great grandson.” Instantly I wondered what made her feel the need to state the obvious. Was she ashamed, or did she just want to make it clear in case someone may have misunderstood? It broke my heart, and yet I was unable to say anything.
Now our baby is fast approaching two, and this boy does not miss a beat – he hears everything, and he feels the vibes of sticky situations and tricky confrontations. To help handle the inevitable encounters to come, I sought out more resources and took a day-long transracial workshop through an organization called PACT. It was the first class that honestly revealed the true meaning of transracial adoption from all perspectives. The personal testimonials and insightful teaching, combined with our now numerous real-life experiences, opened up my heart and mind to the realities in a way that the first class couldn’t. Afterwards, I was spinning from all I had learned and needed to share it. Around the same time, I read a blog post from Mama C where an adult adoptee had posted his take on being a transracial adoptee. His eloquent story echoed what I had heard three adult adoptees state in the class, and I knew then that I wanted to forward it to both of our families, and so I did. Sadly, I never even received a simple acknowledgment of the hopeful email I had sent.
Later in the month we took a trip to visit D’s parents. As always, they were excited to see him, gave him lots of love and attention and we were having a great time together. And then we started talking. D excitedly mentioned an encounter at our local cafe where I had talked about transracial adoption with a stranger. It had been an amazingly honest moment of sharing what it means to be the parent of an adopted African American child. At the end of the conversation, he had actually thanked me for opening his mind to a new way of seeing adoption, and that he’d never be the same. It was one of those positive moments that we all look for, and D wanted me to share it. As his mom and I sat together and I told her the story, somehow it turned to the topic of our ongoing concern about where exactly to raise our son, and what would be right for him as he grows older – all the usual parental worries, but with a transracial adoptive angle. Finally, for the first time, D’s mom said openly that she was baffled by our desire to always bring up race and that it actually didn’t matter at all to her and she was concerned that we were going to give our son some sort of “complex” as he gets older by bringing it up or being overly-concerned.
I couldn’t help thinking, “This, my friends, is White Privilege 101 at work.” It was the familiar “colorblind” argument, the discomfort that some of us have in admitting that race is a real thing, not a bad thing, just real, and a factor in everyday life. So while I understand where she was coming from, it was hard to hear. Because even after patiently explaining the ins and outs of what it means to be him, and a transracial family, somehow the point was missed. In moments like these, I always try to remember that not saying anything is like saying you agree.
Just as the woman in the grocery store was reaching out to us for her daughter’s sake, I reach out to people now in the interest of my son, no matter how awkward it may be. She taught me that it’s our job as adoptive parents to advocate for our children, and to turn unsettling conversations into teachable, positive moments. I never expected that the best lesson I would learn wasn’t in a book or a class, it was in a grocery store, from a complete stranger who cared and understood. It was like meeting myself, 16 years from now.