Monday, July 28, 2014

Where are they from? And other adoption conversations with strangers...

Last week I took Lily to a local botanic garden. While she was clamboring all over the Children's Garden, an older woman caught my eye and said,

"I hope I'm not assuming... but is your daughter adopted?"

"Yes, she was born in Ethiopia." I replied with a smile.

"I have a daughter, who is black, and adopted. She's now, oh, 45 years old." She smiled wide, and I smiled back. Then I said, leaning in a bit,

"Did you always have people asking about her hair?"

The woman laughed and said, "Yup. My daughter was just saying to me, 'Mama, that's the one thing you did wrong. You didn't keep my hair tidy enough!' You always have to keep her hair nice and neat."

We chatted for another moment, and then moved on.
thumbs up for our neighbors swing

Later, an older man approached us as Lily as exploring the Fairy House Forest, and asked "Where is she from? Haiti?"
No, I said, she was born in Ethiopia.

We chatted for a minute, and before walking on he made a point to get Lily's attention and say, soberly, "God Bless You." Lily shrugged at him and skipped away.

The man driving the shuttle bus to the parking lot admired Lily, and said, you look just like my granddaughter!

The attendant at the ticket booth said, "What a beautiful family you have."

A woman in the cafe laughed and said, "What about her hair!? I bet you can't do a thing with it!"

My mother, after being asked "Where is she from?" while escorting Lily to the beach snack shop said to me, "Do you get asked these kinds of questions all the time?!"

Yes, I said.  Being an obviously adoptive family means fielding lots of questions and stares, pretty much all the time. I find it doesn't bother me, most of the time.  Most of the time I take questions from strangers as an opportunity to educate folks. I didn't know they don't speak English in Ethiopia, either, until about 4 years ago. I didn't know how to braid curly hair either. Sometimes meeting someone in a park or garden or beach is a lovely opportunity to make a connection.  It's fun to talk with some one who is also "in the club." Occasionally someone has said something rude, but usually out of ignorance, not malice. ("Where is their 'real' mother?", or "Is their mom dead?" or "I couldn't adopt, I don't know how you do that.")

I'm happy to have some kind older gentleman say "God Bless You" ponderously.  I'll take all the blessings I can get.

Being an obvious adoptive family means that I am very conscious of what we look like and how we act when we are out in public.  People are going to be looking at us; the least I can do is have the kids in clean clothes.  I die a thousand tiny deaths when the kids act up in public. Because now I'm "that white mother with those adopted kids."  And sometimes I'm that "tired white mom with those out of control black kids."

Which is why, when at the end of our month at the beach, at the end of our two day car ride home, at the end of our patience and our clean clothes and our ability to sit in the car,  it was tough to walk into the diner.  Lily's hair, braided so beautifully by her teacher before we left, and kept mostly sand and damage free for a month by my inexpert hands, was free. She was sporting a gloriously wild and beautiful Afro, slightly smooshed in the back from sitting in the car.  I didn't even think about it until we walked (sweaty and cranky and in need of home) into the diner and I saw the African-American hostess and her neatly coiled hair and I realized... oh *#$%, Lily's got "white momma" hair.

When we adopted our kids I made a vow, perhaps a silly one, to never let my daughter have "white momma" hair. (Meaning, under-moisterized, tangled, un-braided, I-don't-know-what-to-do-with-my black-daughter's-hair, hair.) Thank God for the internet and Lily's patient kind teachers, Lily's hair is well maintained and usually braided or styled carefully. I take a lot of pride in it, and hair time takes up a good portion of our weekly schedule.

A few weeks ago an African-American woman stopped me at a carnival and asked me how I did Lily's twists. That was huge for me. HUGE.

So here we are in the diner, in all our end of vacation, didn't-have-time-to-braid-hair-at-the-motel glory, and all I want to do it shout. "I know how to do hair! We ran out of conditioner and patience and as soon as we get home I'm going to do a hot oil treatment!"

Thankfully, that proved unnessary.  No dirty looks were cast in our direction.

And as soon as we got home, I did a hot oil treatment and braided her hair into a mini-mohawk, as per Lily's request.

So the next time you see an obviously adoptive trans-racial family, go ahead and say "What a beautiful family you have." and add, "nice hair."

in all her natural glory

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