Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Skin We're In

We've known since the moment we decided to adopt transracially that the questions would start someday. Every parenting class and book on adoption talks about the importance of addressing racial differences within the family and I thought we were prepared. However...

Last weekend, Atticus and Paul were chatting on the sofa and Atticus casually said, "I'm not as good, because my skin is brown." You could have peeled both of us off the floor. Where would he get that idea?! A few days ago while watching cartoons, he commented, "I want to have a white tummy like Kipper the Dog," and on our way to Christmas dinner he said, "When I grow up, I'm going to have pink skin like Papa and Mama." All three times, we've responded by talking about how everyone is different, has different hair colors, different eye colors, different skin colors, and nobody is better or worse because of those things. We tell him that we love his brown skin. We remind him that his Ethiopian mommy has brown skin and that we're glad that even when he grows up he'll have brown skin because it's part of who he is. ("But who would I be if I had white skin?") We expected for our kids to have questions and opinions about our racial differences, but I don't think either of us was prepared for our three and a half year-old to start the conversation by expressing unhappiness with his own skin color. It's heartbreaking.

A significant portion of the students I've taught have been biracial and I've seen that this search for identity isn't limited solely to transracial adoptive families. Almost every single multiracial student I've had has commented at one time or another that they struggle with "which side" to go with. Did you know that many of the state tests and other forms students are asked to fill out still don't have a "multiple races" box to check.? It doesn't seem that significant, but I can't tell you the number of times I've had students freeze trying to decide which part of their background to acknowledge and which side to give the shaft to. It's a big deal to a kid when people classify them in a way that fails to take account of half their family. In many ways, I find it comforting that this type of grappling is so common. Atticus and Norah won't be alone in trying to reconcile their feelings about not looking like their parents.

I've also turned to a couple of other adoptive moms whose opinions and advice I value. Both replied that their techniques for dealing with these dialogues is much the same as the ones we're using. One thing that Shannon from Peter's Cross Station suggested doing that we haven't tried is dispassionately asking Atticus why he wants white skin. I assume he just wants to look like us, but it would be helpful to know if that's true in order to guide our conversations with him. We're going to ask him the next time he brings up the issue.

Norah loves to name the colors of peoples' skin, hair, eyes, etc., but she hasn't shown any signs yet of being uncomfortable with the differences within our family. Today she saw this picture of Rihanna (I read Don't judge.) and exclaimed, "Oh look! She looks just like me and she's gorgeous!" I hope she continues to feel that way.

We live in a diverse neighborhood and have the kids enrolled in a diverse public school. These decisions were very intentional and if we ever decide to move in the future we will again make sure that our kids are not the token Black kids in their new neighborhood or school. We're trying to keep the dialogue open about skin colors and differences and to instill pride in our kids. Our extended family has been great about trying to do this while also pointing out ways that Atticus and Norah are like us. My dad, for example, will remark that Atticus's ability to figure out how to open doors, windows, and baby locks reminds him of himself at that age. My mother-in-law comments that Atticus's peacemaking nature and empathy are just like Paul's. We all comment on the fact that being genetically unrelated didn't exempt Norah from being cursed with the bad vision that the women in our family have. As they become increasingly verbal, we do see so much of ourselves in their mannerisms and the words they use. I hope these commonalities will provide comfort to them when they're tempted to feel alienated and different.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

The finished product isn't fancy, but the kids are thrilled. We surprised them with the basement room yesterday afternoon and they've been playing down there nonstop ever since. The dinner table was abandoned a couple of times last night so that they could go down and "make sure the basement is still there" and they both headed straight downstairs when they woke up this morning. We ran into a few problems along the way including three holes accidentally drilled in the furnace ducts, discovering after applying sealant to the window that it needs to dry for several days before we can paint it, and being one square short on floor covering, but all the effort was worth it. Success!

Hard Work for the Holidays

Merry Christmas! Our mission for this year was to turn part of the basement into a play area for Atticus and Norah. (I can't believe I'm about to post these Before photos on the internet.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Vacation, Day One

The Peep-Eye Family very kindly invited us to make cookies with them today. With four busy kids and only two moms who were trying to keep at least some of the cookies intact, there wasn't much time to take pictures. Suffice it to say that a delicious time was had by all.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What They're Saying...

"Mama, Papa, will the polar bears eat Santa Claus?"

"When the new babies come home, I'm going to keep one in my bed. I will keep it warm and won't let it fall out of the bed."

"No, Norah, Johnny can't go to preschool with us tomorrow. He's not three enough yet."

"LOOK! IT'S SANTA! MAMA, IT'S SANTA!" (in regards to an unsuspecting employee at Home Depot)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow Day!

Our school district declared a rare snow day today. The kids and I celebrated with a milestone: I'm pretty sure this is the first time ever that the time spent outside in the snow has been greater than the time it took to put on all their winter gear. We rounded out the morning with their first hot chocolate. Atticus has declared it to be "my most favorite, specialist, drink ever".

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

World AIDS Day 2010

December 1st is World AIDS Day. Did you know that there are over a million Americans living with HIV or AIDS? There are over 33 million people worldwide living with HIV right now. In the United States, medical advancements have made it possible for HIV+ individuals to live full lives with an outlook for an average life expectancy. Even here, however, in a country where people should know better, one of the biggest challenges that people with HIV face is the stigma attached to their disease. I've been horrified by some of the misconceptions that my students voice in the classroom. Last week I was asked, "How many people can you sleep with before you get AIDS?" Saying that someone has AIDS is still considered to be a perfectly good insult among some of my pupils.

Here are some facts that I wish everyone would spread:

  • HIV is a fragile virus that cannot be transmitted through casual contact. You can't get it from hugging, kissing, swimming pools, mosquitoes, pets, snot, vomit, pee, sharing baths, toilet seats, food, silverware, doorknobs, tears, sweat, or in any type of normal daily activity.
  • HIV is spread from an infected individual only through sex, sharing needles or syringes, or by being exposed to HIV before or during birth or through breast feeding.
  • Because the risk of transmitting HIV through daily casual contact is nonexistant, people with HIV are not required by law to tell anyone (employers, daycares, schools, etc.) of their condition. You may very well already know someone who is living with HIV.

Project Hopeful put together the video above as a way of spreading the truth about HIV.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Strangest Christmas Decoration Ever

Norah made this ornament at preschool today. It was a pinecone coated in glitter topped with a chocolate coated marshmallow, pine needle "hair", and some pipe cleaners. What I want to know is how the teacher managed to get Norah to attach the marshmallow before gobbling it down. I knew it wouldn't last more than five minutes in our house, especially since Atticus was clambering to hold it and sniffing in the air as I took it out of the bag. Within seconds of taking this photo, a melee ensued between the two children as they both tried to bite the ornament at the same time. I managed to extract the googly eyes from their mouths.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Early Morning Activities

Atticus woke up this morning and decided he needed to read Bear a story. He very carefully sat "criss-cross-applesauce", positioned Bear, and proceeded to recite the book several times through.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dossier Mailed

It feels fitting that we mailed our dossier today. It was exactly three years ago that we received the phone call telling us that we had been chosen to adopt Atticus and Norah. That night was one that changed the course of our lives and I'm so grateful. Putting our paperwork together last night brought up all sorts of feelings for me - especially fear about what challenges we may face and panic about whether we'll be able to rise to the occasion. This afternoon, however, there was giddy excitement. We're actually doing this. Eventually, we're going to get to experience The Call again when someone tells us that we have more children to love and make a part of our family. I was scared before we adopted Atticus and Norah, too. I was worried that we would be overwhelmed, that having children would destroy our marriage, that we were getting in over our heads. The last three years have been overwhelming and challenging at times, but they've also been some of the very best years of my life and I wouldn't change anything if I had the chance.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


a minor dispute over the crown

The princess and the panda thoroughly grasped the concept of Halloween this year and were delighted by trick-or-treating. By the time we were done, all of us were ready for a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Son Knows Me Well

"Mama, I have to stay in my bed and sleep all night so that the chocolate fairy can come leave me chocolate. You have to go to Mama and Papa's bed and sleep all night so that the coffee fairy can bring you coffee."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Zoo Boo

I think this picture captured the exact moment that Atticus discovered that the packages being dropped into his bag contained candy. It was kind of a big deal.
He got to try a flute and was also allowed to use a bow on a cello and play the keys on a clarinet while the musician played.
The "spooky" train
Waiting in line to trick-or-treat at the zoo
Norah is in love with this costume that my mom found for her. She has been dying to wear it and once it was on today informed me, "You can call me Her Majesty now." I'm not sure where she acquired her deep interest in princesses. We tend to avoid pushing them and the few times we've tried watching Disney movies during hair time they've been too scary for Atticus. At any rate, princess apparel makes her really, really happy and I guess that's enough for us.
Atticus wanted to be a train for Halloween and I actually did look up how to make an appropriate costume. When I pulled out their outfits from last year, however, he asked to be a tiger again. Since this conversation occurred last night and I hadn't even started the train costume yet, we were more than willing to follow his lead.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Great Pumpkin 2010

Unlike the pumpkin carving events of 2008 and 2009, Atticus was very enthusiastic about tonight's adventure with my dad. According to Atticus, fear of pumpkins is only for babies. Now that he's a mature man of three years, he wasn't feeling scared at all. He forgot, however, that he's completely repulsed by the smell of raw pumpkin. I should have seen that coming. Last weekend he woke up requesting that we make pumpkin pie and then spent the entire time that the pumpkin was in the oven talking about how stinky and gross it smelled. Weirdo.
Norah, on the other hand, maintained her enthusiasm throughout the carving and was a great helper. She's the one who requested a smiley face. There's also a grumpy face drawn on the backside of it because she needed it to feel true happiness about the pumpkin situation.
Thank you Grandpa Terry!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tonight's dinner was bean soup. It's not the most popular meal with the kids and I thought they'd hit their threshold after a few bites each. However, that was before Norah had the bright idea to pretend that she was the mommy and Atticus was her baby. She spoon fed him his entire bowl and then he got a turn being the daddy feeding her. Although not the cleanest possible way to eat a meal, it was super cute and I was impressed by how much they ate.

We've started talking to the kids a little bit about having new babies join our family. We're not going to get super specific in our chats until after we have referrals, but they are tossing the idea around. They've made a unanimous decision that a baby sister should be named A-B-C-D-E-F-G while a baby brother should be X-Y-Z-O. Atticus is insistent that he needs two brothers and two sisters. He also asked us very seriously one day if he has a baby growing in his tummy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze with a Sprinkling of Goat

To fully appreciate the picture above, you should know that Norah had her hands on her hips and was yelling, "Baa! Say baaaaaaa!" at the stubbornly silent goat.