This photo was taken moments after our long anticipated first visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture this past weekend. I cropped the picture that Sammy snapped with me off to the side and de-centered literally and figuratively on purpose. Here the boys are seen as glowing, radiant young men. My theory? This is what seeing yourself glorified celebrated, and prioritized feels like.
I took in the significance that I was in the minority visiting a national cultural center as an audience member. I was acutely aware of my whiteness passing through the halls seeing all manners of ghastly atrocities my ancestors participated in and I’ve benefited from as a result. I experienced deep joy seeing Marcel and Sam drop in to all the celebratory energy surrounding them.
I feel gratitude for ALL of it-a tremendous mirror into our shared reality today that we’re all just beginning to unpack.
In addition to spending a good part of the day there, we made our way across town (via electric scooters of course) to the National Portrait Gallery to pay the Obamas, Toni Morrison, LL Cool Jay among others a visit.
I was born in Washington, DC during a snow storm and race riots in 1968. Fifty years later I returned home and fell in love with DC through my sons’ eyes and my own historical perspective simultaneously in a way I’ve not experienced before. We were all being held up at the same time and loved on by my brother and his family.
As you might imagine I began to wonder if all of these experiences might expand or deepen if we were to relocate there? What could the DMV area (DC, Maryland, Virginia) offer each of us personally, culturally, racially, educationally professionally and all that and more-ally compared to where we are now?
Walking along the sidewalk downtown Marcel could have been speaking for all of us to a degree when he observed; “Now for the first time I see myself grown up all around me and I realize I’ll make it. I make sense.”
Over the weekend Marcel and I bought two children’s books featuring Black protagonists, written by Black authors to enjoy and then pass along to one of the preschools in the city to support their diverse libraries. One other unifying characteristic of these two books is that they are also a celebration of Black hair.
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James, (picture book ages 5-12) winner of the covetted 2018 Kirkus Prize is described as; “One of the best reads for young black boys in years, it should be in every library, media center, and, yes, barbershop.”
I certainly learned early on the necessity and importance of Black barbershop culture for both Sam and Marcel. (In fact so much so is the setting of one of my most well-known and widely published poems; Black Enough.) This story vividly captures the ritual and deep importance of the barbershop hair cut and culture to a young African-American boy. The dynsmic illustrative painting style matches the celebratory poetry of the narrative.
“Don’t Touch My Hair” by Sharee Miller is as much a story and celebration of beautiful hair and identity as it is a vehicle for introducing empowered language for young girls in particular to have control of their body and what and who touches them. Courageous young Aria takes us on a realistic and magical journey of self-discovery and finding her voice to help the reader understand what she needs and how to arrive in a similar place of self-advocacy and joy.
Call to Action: Would you consider calling your local bookstore and ask them to order three copies of each if they don’t already have them? Explain that you’re getting a set for yourself and giving a set to the local elementary or preschool. (They can keep a set on the shelves.) This will remind them how important it is for them to support Black authors, publishers, and have Black protagonists in the children’s books available to their audience. At the same time gifting these books to the elementary school gives the message how important it is for all children to see Blackness centered at story time. It would also be a really helpful conversation starter for teachers who are managing successfully (or not) the “don’t touch my hair” request of students in the classroom.
According to Marcel he still manages and deals with this all the time in middle school. He shared that his friends are allowed to touch his hair on the first of the month only-and only once. But they still have to ask he said. He was relieved to see his experience both at the barbershop and in the hair patting captured so well.
If you have other hair related children’s book titles featuring protagonist’s of difference please share them in the comments below.
A friendly reminder: just because your teenager is not telling you that they are hearing the same hateful things they heard in elementary school around adoption doesn’t mean it stopped. Negative adoption talk (and even more so with the transracial adoptee) potentially becomes even more prevalent in middle school when the notion of difference is so deeply amplified.
I learned from my younger son that my older son was asked if he was; “Left in a box by his real mother?” last week. What the child added after that was too ugly for me to leave on this blog.
How my son handled these comments from the other child (who was, it has been suggested, jealous of my son for his performance on the basketball court), was completely justified in my opinion.
My younger son chose to connect with the child who made the comments and let him know that an apology was necessary. Because of my younger son’s social capital that apology was delivered. (My younger son said he could not be friends with someone who could hurt his brother that way.) As a family we talked about how we can help create a deeper understanding of what adoption really looks like in the moments that follow. For example did this young man know that my son spends time every summer with his family in Washington State? Did this young man consider how fortunate my son is to have so many parents and grandparents and siblings love him as family?While that is helpful and informative for next time it does not address the pain and discomfort my son experiences every time this happens.
As a transracial adoptive parent is our job to be vigilant and aware that these types of attacks are ongoing and impactful. Thankfully I was given a reminder to check in and let him know that I still want to hear all of it, and at the very least be able to offer my compassion and understanding, to the best of my ability. At thus age, that’s likely all I can do. But, if he needs something more, he’ll let me know.
As back to school day pictures flood the social media channels, I feel tender-hearted looking at the three of us. Having taught middle school for fourteen years I know full well that this picture may become more precious to me than most.
Marcel’s sweet hold on me, and his joyful innocent anticipation of all that middle school could be will soon shift. A former principal I worked with for a decade would always start the 6th grade back-to-school night the same way; “You are going to witness the greatest change in your child this year since they started their school career. So buckle up. It’s going to be a great ride.”
As his mother I want to protect that innocence and joy with every ounce of Mama-bear I have in me. As an educator and parent of a now 8th grader too, I know my effort will be better spent accepting, adjusting to and celebrating all that he will become.
As a mother of two beautiful brown boys I start the year with a larger prayer that they are seen and safe in their #BrownBoyJoy by their teachers and peers. That I will not be called in again this year to navigate how the school could or should have handled that racial slur differently. Or find myself on the phone carefully laying out how the curriculum does not accurately represent people of color, or does so in a demeaning or destructive way. Mostly I pray my sons will always walk through the halls standing tall and proud in their glorious bodies with their full hearts and hopeful and hungry minds.
May all of our babies believe in their potential to achieve whatever they imagine their highest version of themselves to become.
Summers in Maine are as magical as they are brief. We are so blessed to live thirty minutes from many beaches with multiple personalaties. On several occasions the boys are “convinced” (forced family fun) to join me on an early afternoon excursion. Earlier this week we stayed for several hours. The fog lifted and the sun was triumphant. The highlight for me was body surfing together with them for almost an hour! Well and the fact that they allowed PHOTOGRAPHS. They were willing, and the light was a generous co-conspirator for some miraculous captures.
We’ve spent a very private summer overall. On my own, and as a family we have been invited to look very closely at the inner landscapes of who we are. This has been some of the hardest and most revealing work for all of us individually.
Fortunately we have been growing deeply in the process, amd learning to see each other in our our messiness, grief, struggle, joy and strength. At times you may choose to be a Greek or Roman diety to help you embrace all that you know you are.
I’m looking forward to returning to the blog soon on a more regular basis to share some of these explorations. In addition we had our third birth family and donor reunion tour in early July, which is packed with stories and ah-ha’s to come.
In the meantime may you all experience the gifts of love, joy, and kindness in both expected and surprising ways.
This morning I woke at five, hugged on Shrek, packed the car, and brought the boys to visit their uncle several hours south for the weekend. Since our arrival I have napped, edited several poems, and “published” my fourth water poem entitled; “Lifeguards”. The boys have been inside once to pee. Their morning started like this:
I must say the recent article in the Atlantic exploring children and “dangerous” play certainly came to mind as I heard myself saying; “please remember we don’t run with the machete.” But, if anyone is equipped and competent at guiding these boys in satisfying and stimulating uproarious play–it’s Uncle.
They have not stopped laughing, yelling, racing, tossing, whittling, tossing, wheel barrowing, or screeching for three hours. They have bumps, scratches, pine needles, and sap stains all over them. They are in total bliss.
Marcel, shirtless, and cell drenched with the smell of smoke just came in to hug in me and tell me they are having an “epic adventure in boys will be….” He ran back outside before finishing the sentence.
It was date night extraordinaire. Everyone woke up excited about it. There were no sitters involved, and Shrek and I won’t even see each other for days. Now that I have your attention, I’ll share with you how this harmonic convergence came about, and perhaps inspire you to shake it up a little at your house too?
Date Night 1: Marcel and Sage For Marcel’s birthday, his fairy godmothers (one of my birth coaches and her girlfriend) asked me what he would like. In my continuing quest for simplicity, and less plastic I suggested they offer Marcel a special night out with just them. The plan: dinner out, then bowling (Marcel’s choice) and Marcel’s first sleep over away from Sammy and me ever! We are meeting up for breakfast at their house this morning.
He almost NEVER gets one on one time with my friends, while Sammy enjoyed such things often before and after Marcel was born. The experience of being seen, treasured, and adored by a loving member of our extended (biological or chosen) family is always memorable. I still hold my walks, dinners, and visits alone with my “Uncle” Richard (the first such weekend alone was for my twelfth birthday in his NYC apartment-incredible) as some of the most cherished memories of my life.
At those moments I was not a daughter, meeting or not meeting parental expectations, instead I was Kate, and she was magnificent. Because that is always how Richard made me feel. He asked the kinds of questions parents would never imagine, like this exchange when I was around eleven that I will never forget; “So you like boys yet? No? Good. Boys your age are not nearly ready for a smart alec like you.” It took me thirty-five more years to realize he was right. Uncle Dick passed shortly Marcel was born, but he remains constant in my musings. I still have his number in my phone. He’d think that is ridiculous. That’s why I can’t delete it.
Date Night #2: Sammy and Mommy. Our date fell in my lap in the form of two great (and free) tickets to see the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. He plays the Ukelele at home, has taken himself busking (with impressive results) and is now in a uke club at his school. Prior to the show he requested sushi at a place in town that includes an acrobatic display of juggling knives and onions drenched in oil that erupt in flames inches from your face.
At one point I said; “crazy to think that without Marcel or Shrek this would be what our life would look like all the time.” We both indulged in that fantasy for a second and our eyes got big. Then Sam said; “Well I really know how much Marcel loves me, and that feels good. He had to come up and give me another hug goodbye. He is mostly a good thing.” I melted, and reminded Sam that we are all mostly a good thing. I shared how much I know Shrek would love the show we are about to see, and yet, I was really happy he was where he was too.
For me the real gift of alone time with Sam, is to realize that it takes a different kind of focus to be on on one. You take the i-phone and the flames away and you have two people who are very different in a zillion ways. Our glue: we made each other a family, and that is something we really know at the core. That is ours forever. The kid is funny, and we really laughed, a lot. After the show, which was wildly entertaining for both of us (talk about arrival) although so starkly white compared to say, BB King the week before, Sam said; “Mom that was cool. Really cool.” Then he just hugged me in the middle of the street. Ka-ching.
Date Night #3: Shrek and the Fellars. Shrek is taking off tonight on a retreat of sorts that involves old friends, new friends, and listening to and making music. He has not had the opportunity to spend extended time with these particular friends probably since before meeting us. I am thrilled for his adventure, and also a little sad that I don’t get to spend all the long weekend lazy easiness with him. But rather than get my pout on and shut down (oh yes I do, and how) I chose a nobler route. I made an explicit ask that we spend some uninterrupted family time with real intention around the “fun” and “together” part from Sunday to Monday. He was all over that. We have a sweet ritual of hiding goofy cards somewhere for the other to find when apart. OK, so sometimes one of us thinks they need to remind the other not to forget this ritual, but hey you get your needs met right? He left before the rest of us, and was slightly giddy.
The text at about midnight saying he began missing me at 6:29 (the minute before he left) was one of those melty moments for me. The texts following telling me how great the gathering already was, and how much music he was playing also thrilled me. We have had some rough patches lately, so a week ago the thought of him leaving was upsetting because I was wondering when we’d have time to land back on solid ground. Solid ground, I am coming to understand is a state of mind. And, one we can share apart as well as together.
All of this reminds me that I have so much healing still to do around being left, and that moments like this do just that: affirm that in his leaving, he is actually closer to me in ways. His connection to me, and to us deepens when he can see his whole self realized in the context of his new family too. Ka-ching. Hopefully for Marcel, his overnight will strengthen a little of his independence and at the same time see how his connection to all of us is internal too. Sam? Well he is snoring on the couch a few feet from me as happy as can be!
One of many highlights of this summer was watching the connection between Sam and Marcel deepen and take on a language and code of behavior unto itself. It is a foreign thing to me-the potential and power of brotherhood. From the outside it appears at this moment to be thick, rough, edgy, gentle, goofy, vulnerable, manipulative, celebratory, reliable, trustworthy and solid. It seems odd I didn’t imagine how cool it would be to watch one form in front of me. I can remember when Marcel was a few weeks old, and Sam threw a Nerf football at him in his chair, and was wildly disappointed that this long awaited playmate was in no position whatsoever to make good on my last six months of promises. Now almost six years later, it appears I was on to something.
Tomorrow marks the return to school and to the routines of the days, and the week. Like 99% of you, my family is acting out a tad around this transition period. The tantrums, the deer in headlights look, the foot stomping retreats, and for me the desire to purge and clean and somehow reinvent myself entirely or at least move all the furniture around. Apparently my days of shaving my head, or moving to a new state when I felt this way have passed.
Note to self: it is 5,000 times more important that I mediate, exercise, drink gallons of water, and take many of those deep cleansing breaths to keep us on some semblance of a steady course. I’m a lousy advocate for taking it easy, when I appear to be in survivor mode myself.
Our tanks are full of the good, deep rest for sure. We had an amazing summer with three camping trips, many family connects, and long luxurious days on the beach with friends from all areas in our collective circles. We jumped off docks with bonus siblings, gawked at giant moons, swam with loons, screamed our way down giant water slides on an raft for three. We learned many new tricks at the skate park, refreshed most every room in the house in one way or another, and showed the world some serious dance moves. We laughed. We loved a lot.
We found sweet reassurance in the crook of our brother’s arm. Perhaps the next step in the journey is noticing what it means to have your brother’s back, and not just jump on and tackle it?