Last week was Kofi’s open house at school. Some parents knew that he was adopted, but some were genuinely surprised that our son had white parents. It happens at the grocery store, where we may be a few feet apart looking for things, and then Joy will yell “Mommy” and people turn around because they don’t see a woman with a matching skin color. It happened at the pool this summer when the lifeguard wasn’t sure if my son had a parent in the water with him. I was standing right next to him. It happens at boys sports, where people are unsure how to ask the questions about race, culture or adoption. But the truth is, we are a multicultural family, we do not blend in easily. We know it, and we are more than ok with it. Our decision to adopt from West Africa wasn’t made without considering how we would live as a multicultural family.
Our communities are pretty divided around here. We have predominantly white communities (well to do and poor) and we have predominantly black communities (well to do and poor). We don’t completely blend in at either one, but we’re for the most part embraced by both. We also purposefully seek other multicultural families so that our kids don’t feel alone. My boys are especially proud of their twin status and like to make it known. I hope they are always as proud to be siblings as they are currently. I should also add that our family embraced two different cultures before we adopted but it was not as obvious because my skin matches my husband’s.
So what is it like to be a multicultural (especially multiracial) family? I think sometimes people expect us to be hesitant to talk about race or I see a nervousness when we talk about it so openly. My daughter knows her skin is a beautiful shade of brown. She knows we don’t match and we don’t pretend that families have to match to love each other. What’s there to hide? My son knows he has a white Momma and we know our family came together in a unique way. We celebrate it, we love and we live it. I am fully aware that their take on having me as their Mom may change as we encounter the teens years and we will continue to figure it out together.
One of our first outings after Kofi and Joy arrived was to a chick fil a for lunch. It was 3 weeks into our adventure as a family of 6 and we were still pretty overwhelmed. A lady stopped me and asked if my children were from Ghana. Turns out her mom was visiting from Ghana and saw Kofis Ghanian soccer jersey. Joy spotted the women and immediately stood next to the grandma. Before long Joy rested her head on her shoulder ( a big no no for attachment purposes, but my heart longed for her to feel comfortable for the first time in 3 weeks). This lady was a grandmotherly type, she began to speak Twi to my children and that is when I realized that I could never be ALL my daughter needs. She longs to be with people of her race and while she loves me, creating those relationships for her is so important. In Sunday school, she loves other girls with brown skin. And we are fortunate in being able to provide this for her. But at times, we need to be more aware of this need and step out of our routines. And it’s not just about the skin color. They need the cultural connection as much as they need a racial connection.
This past year has opened our eyes to our entire community and we are better for it. We step into situations where Eric and I are the minority to give our children a chance to blend in. I have danced the African dances, I have sat in the barbershops so that Kofi will get the style he wants, I choose a restaurant based on their demographic rather than the menu. And I am so thankful I was shaken out of my white bubble. I have always considered our family to be inclusive and our circle of friends reflect it. But I didn’t go out of my way to seek out a community where I was a minority.
Last summer, we went to learn about West African drumming and dancing. It was taught by musicians from Guinea and most people who were interested had a connection to Africa. Oh, how they loved my children, all four of them. And the questions were so different (for the first time) than what we had encountered before. Some could guess pretty accurately where Joy was from. Maybe she has a Ghanaian look, I don’t know. Kofi was harder to guess, but once they heard his name, they figured it out. We were welcomed as his parents and while my drumming was awkward and off beat, we had a wonderful time. I would never have these opportunities to meet such beautiful people, if it wasn’t for being Kofi and Joy’s Momma. I just hope it’s enough for them, that we are truly embracing and welcoming people around us who help them navigate their racial and cultural identity.
Adoption starts with loss, and my children have lost a lot in the process. While I can’t replace any of their losses completely, I hope we can find a different way to build up their identities as it relates to their West African culture and their race.