July 13, 2010

At the Intersection of Transracial and Open Adoption

We'd been saying that we needed to get together again with Beth, Firefly's first mom, for ages. This past Saturday we finally all said let's just do it already. And so on Sunday we did.


This recession has been the proverbial wolf at Beth's door. It has been an incredibly hard year for her, especially the past several months, and while we've stayed connected by phone she hasn't always felt up to seeing Firefly in person. So while there was nothing particularly significant about our day together, it felt significant in a way to know that enough good has re-entered her life that she felt eager and able to meet up.

Beth brought up the question of a younger sibling for Firefly, which sent us sent us tumbling through a whole conversation about transracial adoption. It's a topic we visit a lot: the ethics of transracial adoption in our particular locale, the racism of so many race-based adoption programs, her own life experience. Beth was herself adopted by white parents, growing up here in the Northwest after being born in the South. (Beth identifies as biracial; Firefly's birth dad is African-American.) She is the youngest in her family, adopted so that her sister wouldn't be the only brown face in the family. (They also have two white, non-adopted brothers.) Her parents embraced colorblind parenting with a passion, something her stepfather once talked to us about with a certain amount of regret. She shares often about some of her anger and sadness about how her childhood unfolded.

Beth keeps us honest in our transracial parenting and I love her for that. If ever we're tempted to slip on the rose-colored glasses, even just for a spell, I know she would be there with a seemingly casual observation or a telling anecdote. We were talking about some pictures from Firefly's birthday, a party attended by three white, blue-eyed two-year olds.  "That was one blond party," she observed with a laugh and a raised brow. "I know, I know," I groaned, biting back the excuses my mind immediately wanted to toss out. (I'm biting them back now!) "The next one will look much different, I promise."

Becoming a mother to a Black child has changed her, too. (I've heard her talk about this with people she just met, so I think it's okay for me to share it here.) She loves her daughter unconditionally, sees beauty in every inch of her. And over the past two years she's begun to turn that love back on herself. For the first time in her life, she says, she's embracing the curl in her hair and the hue of her skin. I overheard her telling Firefly at lunch, as she held her tanned arm up to hers, "Look, our arms are the same brown color in the summer! I used to try to wash this off when I was little because I wanted to be white like my family. But we're such a pretty color."

I'm humbled that Beth has been chosen to open herself up to us like she has; she's under no obligation to be a resource to us, after all. And I'm grateful that she's committed to being there for Firefly, too, as she grows. There is nothing tidy or simple or even commendable about the choices the three of us have made, and continue to make every day, on Firefly's behalf. But if Firefly is ever able to consider Todd and me as allies as she grows (when she's not rolling her teenage eyes at the whole lot of us, of course), she'll have Beth to thank in part for that.

10 comments:

Jess said...

Lovely, all of it. :)

luna said...

it really is just perfectly lovely, all of it, I agree. so wonderful that you all have beth in your lives, that she has shared so much with you, that she is committed to firefly, that she can offer that prospective, and of course connection.

thanks for sharing this!

sara said...

My daughter is multiracial...African American, Chinese, Caucasian and Native American. All present enough to be listed, there are others, but in minimal doses. She is also the whitest mostly AA baby ever. You would never guess she's anything other than white. I often wonder how to address her many cultures. I want her to know herself fully and that includes much more than her white appearance. I just don't know quite how to handle that yet...

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Heather. An insightful post.

Lori (in MI) said...

Oops, that anonymous post above was from me. Just hit the button too fast.

planetnomad said...

Lovely, thoughtful post. We had a black foster daughter for a while, and she almost immediately began to face racial issues while I was still blind to them. She didn't stay with us, but I shudder to think of the errors I would prob have made, all with very good intentions.

Kathy's Korner said...

its a continual growing learning process. My black daughter starts kindergarten this fall. And I'm nervous. I've talked and shown and done so many things I hope are "right" to make her proud of who she is just the way she is. But its like we are now starting that part where she will be on her own in a world that doesn't see her as perfectly wonderfully black.

susiebook said...

I'm glad it was a good visit--that picture is lovely. :3

Debbie B said...

I always learn from you. Always read your posts and think how can I make our relationship better with our daughter's firstmom. Reading this post, it's refreshing to see you mention changes in Beth as time has passed. We're experiencing a whole new level of contact with our daughter's firstmom, I hope it continues.

Leslie said...

This is such a wonderful post- I'm tearing up ;) I am an adopted child, via closed adoption, so I know very little about my birth parents. How blessed you and Firefly are for having her first mother there too (as it's obvious how blessed Beth is to have your family)

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