Monday, August 10, 2009

July Update- Different Colored Glasses

Wow! This has been a jam packed month of fun and goodness. From the sun finally shining, Baby Jake Jonathan (Shane & Shonna’s 4th) joining the family, Tyler & Trav visiting from Michigan (COOME BAAAAAAAACCKK!), trips to Mass, Portland & Acadia, camping, visitors from Tanzania, breast cancer fundraising party, getting my recommended annual allowance of Vitamin H (Hockey) and Lance re-joining the Tour (ok, I had to throw that in) it’s been a fun and crazy month.

2 Questions from folks lately have been: "Have you heard anything about your adoption?” Nope. No. Nada. Truely, from here out, they won’t tell me anything until they find a child to pair with me. It’s just a ‘wait’. But, Hey- That’s what cell phones are for. They’ll find me when they need me. "Waiting for referral", has been known to drive perfectly sane, people absolutely nutty!

Crazee Momma Dodie and girls!

Have you picked out names yet? : Honestly, I don’t know. In all likelihood, she/he will know their name and was named by their birth family. I would never take that away from them. This is a complicated & personal issue in the adoption world. But with considerable thought and sensitivity to those who I know,love & admire- I will not take away their given name. Nicknames may develop and names may be added- but at this point I won't know more specifics until I meet them. (if you haven't noticed- one of the things about adoption - is there are alot of questions that are answered: "I don't know." It is an internal battle of controls... one that is never won... so it is a useless struggle)

Some of you will be surprised to know that I actually started filling out the initial adoption applications and paperwork 15 months ago. Yup. 15 months. Ask a woman in her 8th month of pregnancy how long 15 months would feel. (Hint: do NOT actually do that!! She’s likely to rip your tongue out through your butt)

The newest nephew: Jake Jonathon (or Jonathan??) His older siblings have adamently nixed the nick name- Baby J.J.

Throughout each step of the process- before applications- during acceptance- Home Study – Placing agency acceptance – Post Acceptance – and even Post Placement- adopting parents are required to open our hearts and minds to see what lies before us. Some of which we expect. Most of which- we never knew existed – or never wanted to.

We are locked in rooms for days for basic adoption training - given 200 page books with 80 essay questions to answer – put under the microscope of parental fitness – tested on ‘culture keeping’ – incorporating culture – confidence building – and racial identity. All of these are in addition to specific training and books specific to Ethiopia and developmental development of children. It is A LOT. As beneficial as it has been - it was life disrupting. But I enlisted- so I expected it. (I feel like I earned a Masters Degree. Seriously. I’m not kidding).
Weeding out the stuff YOU need to know is hard. So I asked my “peeps” (other adoptive families), “If you could do it over, what would you have wanted your family and closest friends to know ahead of time?

The responses were overwhelming and clear. (Thank you peeps) The repeated points were specific to Race, Loss & Attachment Parenting. Another one that, as a single Mom, is critical for me to be aware of, and helpful if you are- is Modeling.

This week- let's just get one out of the way. (Then I’ll end with a very exciting update!!!)

I recognize that I’m asking you to look at something you are not accustomed. Looking the unfamiliar in the eye is not comfortable. It transforms your perspective. And the reality is: I’m asking you to broaden your perspective. I'm asking alot. I'm asking you to humble yourself enough to wonder: "Is there more to see here? Have I been missing something all along?"

You see, my child will have brown skin. In America- he/she will be called “black”, “African American” or a number of ugly monikers.

We, here in Maine, live in, likely, the whitest state in America. For most of us, race hasn’t mattered. Some of us may have said, proudly “I don't see color. Race doesn’t’ matter.”

We have had the privilege of not having to look it in the eye and consider its impact on our life- simply because there hasn’t been much interaction/impact at all. We haven’t been forced to see- that race matters.
In an ideal world, maybe, it wouldn't. But we don't live there...

For a lighthearted departure: Yes. Parenting a black child is different than, raising a white child, which is different than raising an asian child, which is different than raising a downs child, which is different than raising an ADHD child, which is different than raising an asthmatic child, which is different than raising a daredevil child... etc, etc, etc. But the basics – all remain. Love. Honor. Nurture. Comfort. Teach. Lead. Laugh. Etc. All those are the same. But I’m bringing home a child from Ethiopia. It would be irresponsible to ignore and be unprepared, for the differences.

As I’m preparing to raise an adopted child – I’m preparing to raise a black child.

There is outright hatred out there. I’ve seen it. But as of yet- it hasn’t personally effected me or my loved ones... An arms length away... As much as we'd like to prepare - I don’t know how we can - but it will show its ugly head. Perhaps the best we can prepare, is to know that it will happen, and envision our best response. I pray that God will grant us Grace when it does show up. But ultimately, Hatred will visit. If you have a moment to read an example: Click here and see Julia's recent encounter.

There is stubborn ignorance. - I'll leave this one alone, ..... for now.

There is passive naïveté.
- It was surprising (and more than a bit disturbing - to be honest) for me to uncover so much ignorance and naivete inside myself. From this understanding, I suspect we may all hold similar unexamined beliefs that, may infact stem from something as simple as INexperience. As I write this, there are all kinds of people expressing and acting on these beliefs - someone you know - someone you've seen- an act you've witnessed - words said, that until now - were easy to ignore as having nothing to do with you.

It is easy to look at others- so I ask you first - consider to yourself, “Is there something I’m ignoring?” - "Am I being naive?" -"Should I, a white person with my personal history, be making statements on race relations or should I be asking questions?"

When your conversation is overheard by your youngest family members, what are they hearing? What are they learning? Look around you. Notice a child at the park. Picture a black child acting the same way? Does it make a difference if the child is 2yrs vs 10yrs old? What about if there are 2 black children vs. 10 black children at the same park? Would you take your little ones there to play? The innocent best in all of us screams - "Yes! Of course we would."

Would those they encounter react or treat these kids the same, if they had brown skin? What about the UPS man? Your neighbor? What assumptions are being made about that white child? That black child?

I’m not asking you for answers. For the most part, I don’t have any either. I’m asking you to consider it, for more than the moment it takes to dismiss it.

This took me a long time to write. Two reasons really- but this subject is not easy, at first. Its sensitive. It can make people dig their heels in and get emotional.

Being a sensitive issue, indicates that it is important.

So I appreciate those of you that choose to pause, take the time to look at things slightly differently. There will be recurring opportunity to discuss this further. I am no expert, in fact rather immature in my knowledge and dialoge. Regardless, It shouldn't be- and can't be a taboo issue. Questions, points, discussions are welcomed! I hope, this email doesn’t end the topic. This is just the opening...

Ashlee, hope you don't mind me posting this. I love this picture of him!

UPDATE: The friends I told you about last month who found their children and switched agencies: I met with her in Portland last Tuesday (had Ethiopian Food.. YUM!), as she was preparing to send a care package to her little ones. Another So. Portland family is headed over to Ethiopia, to deliver it. When this other family arrives and gives the kids the care package- At that point: they will show them pictures and tell the kids, for the first time, that they have a family! That there are people in this world that love them more than anything in the world and are coming to take them to America soon!

Ahh! Ethiopian food, from ASMARA in Portland. I never thought I'd like it- but I'm totally addicted.


kristine said...

This is a wonderful post. Thank you for writing it.

One thing I've been meaning to post about and don't yet have the heart to is what I think a lot of white parents miss when they have very young children who are a different race. Namely, that even if there is no hatred or nastiness it is still very very hard for a minority child in this country. It's hard even if their family is the same as they are. It's harder if your child is mixed and one parent is not the same color/race and it's hardest for the child who is adopted.

My son who is brown skinned (i'm white) was in a very loving environment in daycare and pre-k, has a father and large extended family who looks like him and lives in a town with a lot of diversity. And still he struggled starting at age 2. This is not true of all 2 year olds of course, but it was for him. It knocked us off our feet as we thought it would be a n issue for him starting in maybe...middleschool. Yup. we had a lot to learn. He's almost 7 now. I need to post some of his experiences around race.

i wish there were people posting these great posts when he was first born.

great for you that you're getting ready! it will make a big difference in your child's life.

Shannon- said...

I'm going to be looking for those posts Kristine. I mostly learn and prepare from those who've walked before me. Thank you!

Liz said...

I've been struggling with some of the same issues around race, starting also with confronting my own ignorance/naivete/biases/prejudices/etc. Now that I've started to see the things in myself that I never knew were there, I'm also starting to be more aware of them in other people, and the next step for me is to start being able to have these difficult discussions with friends and family without getting all accusatory and self-righteous.

I also look forward to Kristine's posts on this, I feel like I still have so much to learn about the day-to-day difficulties of being a minority in this country...

♪~Jenn~♪ said...

great post!! I often wonder about how it will be raising a child of African heritage in our colorful community...there are very few people of African heritage in comparisson with other provinces. I see myself and our family as culturaly celebratory and drawn to the rich heritage of Africa/India/east Asia...there is a part of me that feels hugly humbled when I think about racial prejudice and how privelaged my skin color makes my life...without me even being it will be different for our children by virtue of the world we live in. The fact that they will be to little bits of chocolate surrounded by vanilla (did I mention our family is addicted to chocolate!) We already stand out as a family because we are young and have 4 kids...we dress colorfully and wear our children, who are always with us. We celebrate our differences as well as similarities...surround ourselves with people who do the same. There is so much to learn and I think the best we can do as adoptive parents is love our children, celebrate them and provide them with the tools they need to deal with the varied challenges that the world presents them with.

I am excited that in the area we are moving to they actually have an association for families with children from Africa!! regular get togethers and events. I am VERY looking forward to that.

15 months....gestanting elephant style, hey?! (me too...or maybe whale style)

Bridget said...

Thank you for writing this. It is wonderful and needed and so very so many ways.

I think I need to be a copy cat. You o.k. with that? Or maybe (Plus, rather) link to this post. You o.k. with that, too?!

Bridget said...

Writing a series.....sounds GREAT! I can't wait to see the rest of them. :)

Such insight, perspective, and true love.....the wanting to educate and let-in those around you!

Thanks, again!

Shannon- said...

For Bridget and anyone else- yes- feel free to copy but I suspect you are all better writers than I so I look forward to reading the new and improved versions. Love you all for your kind words of support.

Erin Moore said...

I need to get connected with you guys - I live in Southern Maine and have a heart for Ethiopia.

My Ethiopia trip blog is: and my personal blog is:

I would love to connect with others in Maine with a heart for Ethiopia!


optimum nutrition said...

That is really a wonderful post. Thanks for posting. I am excited that in the area we are moving to, they actually have an association for families with children from Africa, regular get togethers and events. I am really looking forward to that.