This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the different manifestations of family in our lives. As an adoptive family, we’re living proof that clans are formed in all kinds of ways. But there are less obvious examples of this, too.
A band, for instance, is a family. Scott’s band is a family with whom I’ve traveled the world for the past eight years. We don’t always like each other, but we share an intimacy and a common purpose that always manages to unite us in the end.
For those of us who live far from our families or who might be estranged from them for one reason or another (writing a memoir, for instance), chosen families are an essential part of holidays. We’ve spent the past four Thanksgivings at my beautiful, graceful friend Claire’s house, along with her generous family and a coterie of interesting friends. Tariku is obsessed with Claire’s teenage daughter and while he was stalking her, I actually got a chance to breathe and converse with grown-ups.
There is a banner at their house on which people write what they’re thankful for. This year, T did a little drawing on the banner and not far from his picture was a note that Scott wrote two years ago, saying he was thankful for Tariku, the son we were waiting to go pick up in Ethiopia. My chest contracted for a moment remembering that unbearable limbo state, when I carried a picture of T around with me and wielded it like a shield against an endless barrage of well-meaning questions. I remembered the terrible holidays that year, when we knew about T but we couldn’t go get him for another three months.
And now we were spending Thanksgiving with this same chosen family and my biggest worries were that T would pull the dog’s tail or that he’d eat too much sugar and have a freak out. I looked at that banner and the gratitude beyond words washed over me. I’m immensely grateful for my family this year. I was so filled with the spirit that I even went into the garage today and eyed the ornaments and lights. Then I turned around and walked right back out. This week, though…
Auntie Jo came back from gymnastics class yesterday and told me in horror that the background music had included a song with the lyrics:
Mammy’s little baby loves short’nin’, short’nin’,
Mammy’s little baby loves short’nin’ bread.
I told her that I was sure she was wrong. The lyrics are, “Mama’s little baby…” Right? Everyone knows that song. But I googled it just to be certain. Sure enough, “Short’nin’ Bread” is an antebellum slave children’s song, the lyrics of which made my toes curl.
Auntie Jo asked three other mothers if they heard it, too, just to be sure. They all agreed with her. But it’s interesting to me, that Jo was the only one who noticed it in the first place. Tariku’s gymnastics class is in a not-exactly-diverse area of Pasadena and for the rest of the moms there, the song was just white noise. None of them seemed phased by the fact that their kids were learning somersaults while a folk remnant of the atrocity of slavery played in the background. It’s not that they were engaging in active racism, but overlooking can also do damage. How are we to change things if we don’t even notice they’re there? I’m pretty sure that I’m the only mom who called and complained.
More white noise… As you can see above, Tariku’s strong man costume included a shirt that looked like a chest with muscles. Well, I had to transform it by sewing brown stretch nylon over the top of it, lest this go down in history as the Halloween that I dressed T as a strong white man. It’s impossible to find a “flesh” colored costume made for a child of color. Here’s the before pic.
Honestly, I’ve walked through a million costume stores in my life and never noticed that white is the only skin color represented. I’m sure I’ve passed by thousands of worse representations of racism and committed the sin of not being aware, of allowing injustice to be white noise. I’m committed now to turning up the volume on it.
A few weeks ago, my friend Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan blogged about actions all of us (particularly people who aren’t in a position to adopt) can take to address the global orphan crisis. I woke up thinking about it this morning so I thought I’d share the link to her amazing and solution-oriented post.
Here’s an excerpt:
I’ve written pretty passionately about the global orphan situation recently, and several commenters asked: “What can I do if I’m not in a position to adopt?”
I’m so glad you asked.
Adoption is not for everyone. Nor is it the answer to the world’s orphan crisis. In the best of circumstances, adoption creates a loving family for a child who has been orphaned. But it does not address the root causes of why a child has been abandoned or orphaned to begin with. It is a band-aid on a much larger problem. It is estimated that 99% of the world’s orphans will not be adopted. Adoption is an answer for some orphaned children . . . but not for most of them.
There are two sides to the orphan crisis: finding families for children without, and preserving families that are intact. Prevention is the side that is not addressed by adoption. If we profess to care about orphans, then we must care about the circumstances that lead children to be orphaned. If we care about adoption, then we must care about seeing less children enter orphanages to begin with…
The Japanese call it kawaii, and we are all about it round here. The Halloween cuteness at Castle Shriner was enough to put you into a diabetic coma. We dressed as a circus family, with T as the baby strongman, Scott as the ringmaster and yours truly as the girl on the flying trapeze.
I don’t throw all that many parties, mostly because I get all bourgie and competitive about table linens and it winds up giving me social anxiety and massive self-loathing. But I do shelve the self-loathing long enough to throw a Halloween party every year.
Our hood is Halloween heaven. This year we got over 800 trick-or-treaters and we went all out to show the kids a good time. Our rocket scientist friend Steve played the Theremin on the porch and we got the whole fog machine and spooky lighting thing going. We even had some awesome ghost performance art in the graveyard.
I considered not having the party, because we’ve been having some real challenges with T-bone’s aggressive behavior in response to over-stimulation. I was terrified that I’d spend the whole night trying to get my little vampire not to bite every piece of exposed flesh at the party. Then a neighbor of mine said, “When you have a sensitive kid, you can either put your whole life on hold or you can try to find solutions to help him deal.”
I took the advice to heart and decided to go ahead with the festivities and try to find solutions to help T enjoy himself (and us along with him). The first thing I did was hire a babysitter to stay with him the whole night, so I could be sure that he was safe and that he wasn’t going to start pitching the dishware across the room the minute my back was turned. I also set up a quiet room for him upstairs, with toys and books (and his Gabba DVDs, of course). That way he had somewhere to go when he got overwhelmed. I kind of can’t believe it, but it worked beautifully.
I love Halloween and I spent a lot of years handing out candy and waiting for the day I could trick-or-treat with my own kid. We made it all the way up the block and back and it was bliss. Truly it was. T has no idea what candy is, but he sure enjoyed visiting all the neighbors and saying, “trick-or-treat.” If that’s not kawaii, I’ll eat my Hello Kitty backpack.
Also extremely kawaii- our friend Ricky came dressed as Scott:
Family Roots December 9, 2014
A woman finds an unexpected new family when she adopts a son, a bad soldier learns to write from personal loss, and a man is working at a nuclear power plant when disaster strikes. http://themoth.org/posts/episodes/1425