Tuesday, July 10, 2012

on being a Visible Family

This afternoon Daniel got an impromptu haircut! I've been trimming his curls myself every since a traumatic hair cut experience last summer... but Mom can never get his hair to look as cool and neatly edged as a professional, so every time we pass a barber shop I say, "Wanna get your hair cut!?". To which I usually get an eyeroll in answer, but today he said yes!  So in we went.  It turned into a very positive experience, and not just because of the trim.

During our pre-adoption training we were introduced to the term "visual family".  (I know, as opposed to the invisible family- a shy troupe of super heroes?) Like much else in our pre-adoption training and reading, we nodded and said, "oh yes, mmm, mmm," without a clue.

Visual family = trans-racial family = family that doesn't match.  This is not a bad thing, most of the time. It just means that when people see us, they have a moment of cognitive dissonance. We humans are used to family groups looking alike.  When people see a family like ours, they do a little double take, and then you can see the internal questions starting.  I do this too- maybe even more now.   Are they a family? Just baby sitting? Adopted? Inter-racial? Foster Care? Blended family?  When I see a family that looks like mine, I think, are they Ethiopian!!? Then I go ask, because I have no shame nor embarrassment left.  Just ask Marcus Samuelsson of The Red Rooster about the crazy lady who made him look at photos of her kids.

We are a family that people stare at. Which means we (okay, I) now have a new set of "rules" about how we appear when we go outside.  Which means, when we go out, we look put together.  Clean faces, clean clothes, neat hair, no rips or stains allowed.  Lily's hair is done.  I remember to brush mine.  In the mix of questions and comments that people have flowing through their minds when they are trying to figure out my family, "That white lady doesn't know how to do black hair." or "Look how that boy is dressed." or  "Look at those poor kids." will NOT be on the list.

I know, I sound over-protective and a little crazy.  Maybe I am.  Maybe I underestimate my fellow humans.

Today in the barber shop.  Three black men, two cutting hair and one getting his hair cut, one black woman watching the T.V.  Daniel holding it together as the buzzing commenced.   Lily, being Lily: dancing around the room, climbing into the chairs, shouting, spilling orange juice, charming everyone in the shop, etc.  I start out being on the defensive, apologizing for the state of Lily's hair (why! won't she wear a sleep cap!?!)  But then the woman says with a big smile, "I just think it's wonderful, what you are doing."

Yes, sometimes I do underestimate my fellow humans. I forget that this thing we are doing... not that many folks do it.  I forget that it's not normal to go to Africa and bring two strangers home and raise them as your own.  I forget that not everyone is judging me too harshly.  Some people think I'm saintly. (ha!)

We'll definitely go back to that barber shop.  Not only because Daniel looks so handsome and didn't cry, but because sometimes Mommy needs to be validated by African- Americans that we're not doing these children wrong.  That Lily is just a baby and it's okay for her braids to get fuzzy.  That having a family is way more important than having a black family.  That being a visible family means you are teaching others something about the world and the human experience- just by walking around!

How marvelous.

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