Purple Hair and SPD

The other night it happened again. I was pulling my hair back into a ponytail when Lily let out a loud sigh and said “I wish I could have hair like yours.” We’ve been going through this for three years or so. “Princesses don’t have Lily hair. They have Mommy hair.” (Thank you princess Tiana for helping me out there…) We’ve done everything we can to make this little girl love how she looks and be proud of her natural hair. And the strange thing is, she IS proud of it. People tell her “you have the coolest hair!”

And her answer? “I know.”

But this time, I heard her desire for hair like Mommy’s in a different way. So I asked her. “Is it that you want your hair to look like this? Or that you want our hair to look that same?”

“I want our hair to look the same.”

We’ve been going through some adoption stuff around here. It’s the first round of things we knew would come up. She understands that she was someone else’s baby first, and it is really confusing and hurtful for her. And she sees how different we look.

So I had a brainstorm. Her hair cannot look like mine. Not only would that be impossible without a wig, it would look ridiculous. But.

I offered an alternative. “Do you want Mommy to cut her hair short like yours?”

She smiled and said yes.

“What if we could get it even more alike? What if we both got purple in our hair.”

“YES!”

And plans for Purple Hair Day were in the works.

There were several things at play here. First, her desire to match her Mommy. There are certain things I can do to make that a reality. We have a few matching outfits now (handy that Mommy is so short and Lily is so tall. We can shop in the same section.) and she struts around, so excited to be a physically matching team.

Second, I don’t want anyone to think I am downplaying the importance of her own racial identity. When we match, I pick things that she would wear. We do our very best- from the church we attend to the kindergarten teacher I requested- to make sure she is around as many brown people as possible. She wants to look like Mommy. That doesn’t mean I need to help her look “more white.”

Third. The issue of Lily’s hair.

I’ve written about it here.

And also here.

And here too.

It’s a big issue at our house. If you would like to comment on her hair, I beg you to read the links to my previous blogs. And then decide whether you should argue with me. (You probably shouldn’t) It has come up again several times in the past few weeks. A stranger even reached out and touched her hair and said “you need a comb.” Yes. I handled it firmly and swiftly. And then in the car on the way home we practiced saying “you’re a stranger, don’t touch me.”

But last week, we had a breakthrough. Not a breakthrough that allowed us to touch her hair. But one that explained why we can’t.

Lily quite likely has SPD, or Sensory Processing Disorder. I’m still new enough to the world of SPD that my explanation to you might not be any better than a google search. But it can be totally overcome with Occupational Therapy. Her diagnosis makes so much sense. It is the reason she absolutely panics (literally panics. Violent outbursts.) when someone touches her hair in an attempt to cut or detangle it.

There is so much more to SPD and why it is the most likely explanation for so many of Lily’s struggles. She spins. She is physically unable to sit still. All of the pieces fit. But that’s a story for another day. Let’s get back to the purple hair, shall we?

The day Lily agreed to matching short purple hair, I made appointments for us at bumble & bumble. As we got closer, though, she started to feel incredibly anxious about the hair cut. A check-in with her therapist confirmed that we shouldn’t push it. But I decided to follow through.

I sat down in front of Carrie, who has been doing my hair for ten years. I walked into the salon looking like this:

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I explained what was happening to Carrie, and asked if my hair was long enough to donate. It was. But only if we cut it very short. Psh. It’s hair. It’ll grow back. Cut it off.

And she did.

I had ten inches cut off taking me from long wavy hair to pixie in a matter of seconds. She shaped it and styled it and it was on to the fun part. The purple.

Meanwhile, Ryan and Lily had been enjoying the city. (And when I say enjoying the city, I mean he drove around in Manhattan traffic while she slept in the back.) But she wanted to see the purple happen, even if she wasn’t having it done herself. So she kept me company while I sat around in foils.

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She loved being in the chair and wearing the robe. And I needed to jump on any opportunity that equated salons and getting your hair done with fun.

Then. She told me she wanted purple too. If I could get her to let someone do something to her hair- ANYTHING- I knew the day would be a victory. So I spoke with my colorist who sent over one of the girls with purple spray chalk. And this happened.

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What you see there is a happy girl in a chair with a robe and purple hair.

Is her hair still crazy? Yes. Will we need to cut it all off in order for her to grow it out when she’s ready? Yes. But maybe when it’s time for that, she’ll remember this happy time in the chair and not be so scared. I call that a purple hair victory.

And then there was Mommy. I left bumble & bumble looking like this:

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Quite a change, yes?

I left there feeing grateful.
Grateful for the excuse to get short purple hair.
Grateful for the staff downstairs who made a huge deal out of Lily’s hair, even though it wasn’t all that different.
Grateful for the receptionist who told me, after watching us for a few minutes, “I’m adopted too. You guys are awesome.”
Grateful that she shared with me her own identity struggles, and that she had them even though her parents were black just like she is.
Grateful for the understanding of why Lily gets so traumatized by have her hair done.
Grateful for the chance to show her that getting your hair cut really short can be awesome.
And grateful that maybe she’ll remember this happy experience when the time comes for her to make the big chop.

I went into all of this thinking whatever, it’s just hair.

But you know what? It turns out purple hair can be pretty important.

Wild Thing, I Think I Love You: Why my daughter can wear her natural hair however she wants

This is my daughter.

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She is not-quite five years old. She has a bold, confident, larger-than-life personality. She sings loudly in public. She dances with strangers. She makes friends everywhere she goes.

And she chooses to wear her hair in a way that reflects that.

And this is a problem for people.

Lily’s hair has been an issue for a long time. In fact, it has already been the subject of this blog. Twice. I’ve spoken about it in national media.

It’s a whole thing.

What I don’t understand is why it’s THE thing.

I did an interview with a radio host in Atlanta a few months ago. We had such a nice chat about transracial adoption. It seemed like I had really gotten through to her. (She opened the interview asking why white women adopting black babies was a trend.) And then. The very last thing she said before signing off, leaving me no time to respond, was “but those white women who don’t know how to take care of their daughters’; hair. That just makes me crazy.”

That is what you take away from learning about my family?

Before I go on. If you are new to this blog (hi!) please click the links above where I have talked about Lily’s hair issues before. I don’t want to repeat myself. But there is stuff in there you need to know. Really. Please.

I’ll wait.

(Jeopardy theme song)

Welcome back!

So as you can see, this is not a new issue. And it is exhausting.

Imagine my frustration, then, when someone who is on the fringe of Lily’s life asked me yesterday what “we” are doing about her hair. He is concerned that kids in kindergarten may make fun of her. (Heaven forbid a kid getting made fun of in kindergarten.) He had lots of advice. None of it was new information to me.

Immediately on the defense, I felt the need to go into everything I’ve explained above. I eventually brought Lily into the conversation because she was within earshot and I didn’t want her to overhear people she cares about talking about her like she’s not there.

And then he told her, “Do you know how pretty you would be if you let Mommy take care of your hair?”

And I saw red.

True, he tried to back-pedal a bit, saying that of course she was already pretty, she just would be even prettier…. And it would really bring out certain features… And she would be so pretty…

I got her out of there after an offer for him to go with her to the barber (I kind of want to take him up on it, for entertainment value. But I won’t put her through that.)

Shortly after I got home, I vented on Facebook. Because Moms don’ have afternoon coffee around the kitchen table any more. We have Facebook.

And yikes.

68 comments later and I realized how high emotions run with this topic. Almost all of the comments were supportive in the beginning. Then someone I hardly know told me the teacher was right, and white women need to understand how to take care of black hair. I won’t go into detail because it got really out of hand. I was so SO thankful to have so many friends stand up for my family. (Many of these friends are not white.) It went on for quite a while, and eventually she went back and deleted all of her comments. I am still getting messages of support from friends this morning.

So.

Here are some things I need the world to know.

1. My daughter is not pretty. She is gorgeous. She is stunning. She stops people on the street because they can’t getter over her charisma.

2. She calls her hairstyle “Lily Hair.” She chooses to wear it that way. Just like she chooses to wear princess dresses and sunglasses.

3. I believe she will outgrow the drama surrounding her hair. Just like she outgrew needing to poop in a diaper until she was 4 1/2. (“But WHY won’t she poop on the potty?” people wanted to know. “Have you asked a doctor about it? What about kindergarten?” I felt pretty strongly that she wouldn’t be pooping in diapers in college. One day she decided to be done with it. So she was. And never used a diaper again.) I feel strongly- as a Mom who knows her kid- that this will be the case with her hair. She is one of those kids who needs to decide things for herself.

4. I teach at a special needs school. I am around children with all kinds of special needs every day. Lily does not have very much in common with my students. There is a chance she could have sensory issues. I am looking into it. It would explain a lot. But she is bright. And she is passionate. And she is stubborn. (See “pooping in diapers.”) Given that, if there are issues she doesn’t outgrow, I would be the first person (Dad would be second) to say “let’s talk with someone about this.” Not only am I a teacher, I am someone who suffers from mental illness.

If there is an issue here, we will seek help.

5. I am not interested in teaching her that she needs to wear her hair a certain way so that the kids in kindergarten don’t make fun of her, nor so mommy and daddy don’t get judged by strangers. This is not the sense of self I have chosen to help her develop.

Now that all of that is out of the way.

Why on Earth does anyone care?

Seriously.

I mean, SERIOUSLY seriously.

It is hair. She likes it this way. It is a choice. She is a crazy kid. Her hair fits her personality.

WHO CARES????

I have been told it needs to be moisturized every day.

Yep. Just getting her hair wet in the bathtub is a two-man process. Getting any sort of product into her hair (wet or dry) is a wrestling match. LITERAL wrestling. Sometimes we don’t have it in us.

I have been told multiple times that it will lock and we’ll have to cut it all off in order to do anything with it.

Yep. Fully aware. This even feels likely to me.

And when that day comes, she will rock her super-short Afro just like she rocks her craziness now.

We have standards. She must be clean. She must be fully clothed when she leaves the house. She must eat healthy foods.

But this is hair. She is a small child. There are more important things in life.

Like friends.

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And ice cream.

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And helping.

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And the animals at the zoo.

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If you see these pictures and your takeaway is hair, I humbly suggest that it is your world lens that is out of focus. Not hers.

H is for Hair

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I have really good hair. It grows freakishly fast and it’s straight when I straighten it and it’s curly when I curl it. I can wear it down or pull it into short pigtails. (They’re short because I donated a bunch recently) I get expensive haircuts and I haven’t dyed it in 8 years. I’m really picky about my hair. It’s one of my best features.

Lily’s race is a mix of Black, Latina, and White. (In descending order by percentage.) I knew when we decided to adopt outside of our race that hair would likely be an issue. I knew I’d have some learning to do, and I was ready to accept the challenge.

What didn’t occur to me was how my hair and my feelings towards it would affect Lily. Nor how my feelings towards her hair would affect me.

When we got Lily she was twelve days old. Her hair was slick and curly. Throughout her first year the curls got tighter, starting in the back and working their way towards the front. By her first birthday she had the cutest afro you’ve ever seen. So we let it grow out that way. Or… we tried to.

For the next two years we managed her afro the best that we could. I would trim it at home, and a few times we took her to a kids’ salon where she could sit in a car and watch a movie. It looked cute most days. But we knew it was tangled- badly tangled- at the roots. And on days when it didn’t look so great, we felt judged. Sometimes strangers would even stop us. Did we need help with her hair?

Now, my feelings towards these strangers and whether this is appropriate is a whole other blog. Or series of blogs. (I don’t stop strangers who put their kids in dorky outfits and ask if they need help with fashion. And I don’t stop strangers whose kids don’t sing on key and ask if they need music lessons. I understand it’s not a perfect comparison as there are major culture ties with Black women and hair. But still. Keep your opinions to yourself, total strangers.) But the point is that something needed to be done, and we knew it.

Her tangles weren’t for lack of trying or caring. But Lily is tender-headed. How could we possibly work through those tangles to pull it back into any other style? We couldn’t imagine getting her to sit without writhing and screaming.

Enter our good friends from church, who explained that we wouldn’t do it without writhing and screaming.

They came over one Sunday afternoon, armed with cupcakes and more hair products than I have ever seen. And the four of us got to work. We worked for four or five hours. We worked until we were all exhausted. We worked until Lily started screaming for help. “Grandma! Grandpa! JESUS!”

And we made it to about the front of her ears.

That was nearly a year ago. Since that day, Ryan and I have looked at the whole… hair thing… in a new light. We learned that we have to hold her down. We learned that she will scream. We also learned that eventually we won’t have to hold her down, and she’ll stop screaming. (Last Sunday she sat for four hours. We would have bought her a pony had she asked.)

And four days ago we finally got all the tangles out.

There have been some crazy hair styles along the way. Pony tails in just the front with tangles in the back. Twists on just one side of her head. Hair sticking out in all directions. And it’s not that we thought these styles were OK. Or that we didn’t care. We were trying.And she lost a good hunk in the back that just couldn’t be saved. Not that she has bald spots or anything. It’s just much shorter there. Fortunately we can cover the spots with pony tails, and we can keep it detangled as it grows back.

So we’re learning about her hair and how to take care of it. We’re getting much, much better. And she’s learning that it’s a lot of work to keep her hair pretty. And she’s learning to be patient. And she’s learning to sit still. And she’s learning that she’ll probably get a lot of treats if she just stays calm.

But what we haven’t learned yet is how to deal with the emotional issues that come with having different hair. Both hers, and mine.

For her, it has come up twice. About a year ago she was playing with my hair. And then she looked sad. And she said “princesses don’t have Lily hair. Princesses have Mommy hair.” Fortunately I was able to find “The Princess and the Frog” in a hurry and pop it into the DVD player. I showed her how Tianna (as a little girl, anyway) has hair just like hers. And she was immediately placated.

And then yesterday, I was wearing pigtails. Not because it’s age-appropriate, but because I was running around and needed it out of my face. She asked if we were going to put her hair in pigtails, too. We told her we would. And we did. And she cried.

“NOOOOOOOOO! I want them like YOURS!”

I didn’t know how to explain that her pigtails couldn’t be hanging from the back of her head in two sleek curls like mine. All I could tell her was that we had different hair, that I loved her hair, that she was beautiful. I reminded her that everywhere we go people comment on her awesome hair. (Which is unique in our uber-white town.) She eventually settled down. But it broke my heart.

And then there are my own issues with her hair. I don’t want to feel judged everywhere I go. I don’t want to have to worry if we can run to the mall because we didn’t get very far in the detangling process the night before and her hair looks crazy today. I don’t want to wish I could explain myself to strangers who look at me with judgement. I don’t want to try to convince Lily to wear a hat, because I don’t ever want her to pick up my discomfort and make it her own.

There are tons of blogs out there about taking care of Black hair. There are even blogs written specifically by White women who adopted Black children who are learning to take care of their hair. And they’re really helpful

But what we don’t talk about much is how we deal with the learning curve. I may need to discuss it more here, in fact. Because I’m learning. But I make a lot of mistakes. And I need support in that.

Please Don’t Give Me Advice About My Daughter’s Hair

Today in Blog Challenge Land…

It’s Whiney Wednesday.

It doesn’t feel right to whine today. Not on a day when we celebrate coming together and remember the events that happened twelve years ago.

However.

There is something that has been bothering me for quite some time. And since I often write to give a voice to concerns I think others share, it seemed like as good a time as any.

So. Here we go.

Please don’t give me advice about my daughter’s hair.

If you are a person in her life, then you already know that we are working on it.

But if you are total stranger, your attempts to start conversation with “Is she yours? What products do you use?” are just thinly veiled judgements. Even if you do not intend to judge. That is how it is perceived.

Here’s the deal. If you are a total stranger and you give me advice about my daughter’s hair, you are operating under four incorrect assumptions.

Incorrect Assumption #1: You have the right to give me advice.
I see things I want to correct every day. Parents making different choices from the ones I make. Overweight kids drinking soda. Tentative kids with helicopter parents. Kids who clap on 1 and 3. But you know what? It’s none of my business. It’s just not. And my daughter’s hair is none of your business.

Incorrect Assumption #2: Because I am white, and because her hair is often leaving something to be desired, I must not know what to do with hair like hers.

Anyone who thinks this is the problem is welcome to come over on hair night.

My daughter is big for her age. And strong. And strong-willed. And tender-headed. She kicks. And punches. And screams. And cries.

She does it for everyone. White, black, at home or at a salon.

She really- REALLY hates to have her hair done. She has been this way her whole life. We assume she will grow out of it. So far she has not.

So when we’re out and about and her hair is a mess, it’s not because I don’t know any better. It’s becaue this is how far we were able to get this time.

Incorrect Assumption 3: Giving me advice is just trying to help and does no harm.

I wish that was true.

But man. Being a mom is hard. Am I right? I mean seriously.

And on some days, a critical stranger is enough to push me over the edge.

Except when you’re a mom, there is no edge really. You just have to keep going. Feeling like a failure. And keeping it together for your kid. I wouldn’t really put that in the “no harm” category.
And there are days when I know her hair is a mess. And I want to stay home and avoid the potential criticism. Not only is that highly inconvenient, I know my daughter has to feel some of this tension. No harm? Not hardly.

And speaking of my daughter.

As a transracial adoptive family, we have racial issues built in. Some of them have already come up a bit. I am as proactive as the next mom. I’ve gone to workshops and have participated in on-air forums and follow blogs and more importantly I have a community of in-person friends who understand. But I know there will be difficult times.

Frankly, I do not need any of these times to be brought on by my daughter wondering why that lady feels the need to tell Mommy how to do her job.

And finally.

Incorrect Assumption #4: Because I have a daughter of color, all of my values must align with all people of color.

This is a tough one. And I’m hesitant to say it. And maybe I’ll face criticism. And maybe some of you are shocked that this is an issue.

And let’s just acknowledge how crazy that is anyway because all people of color have the same values? Really?

And yet.

My abilities to raise my daughter of color “correctly” has been called into question by strangers. StrangerS. Plural.

I get that hair is a really big social issue for people who identify as black. I want to raise my daughter with pride in herself, and with pride in her gorgeous natural hair.

But sometimes as a mom, as HER mom, I have to say OK. Enough with the hair for today. Go play. Or go to bed. Or go be a kid. Or go focus on something else.

This decision is not out of ignorance. It is out of knowing my child, and having the prerogative-as her mother- to decide what’s best for her.

So. The next time you see me at the mall and you feel the need to start up a totally nonchalant no-harm-done conversation with me about hair products, don’t be surprised if I look at you like this.

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Teachable Moments

(Originally posted November 3, 2011 on blogspot.)

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In celebration of National Adoption Month

It started with a simple conversation about Halloween with two second grade girls. Did they have fun trick-or-treating. Did they get a lot of candy. That sort of thing. Then we talked about Lily and how much fun she had. What her costume looked like.

“Would you like to see a picture?” I asked. One of the little girls is a returning student from last year and has met Lily. The other has not.

“She’s cute!” the newer little girl said. But I could see it in her eyes. “She doesn’t look like you.”

“No, she doesn’t.” I planned to elaborate, but I could see her trying to work it out, while trying to stay polite.

“Does she look like your husband?”

“No, she doesn’t look like him, either. Lily is adopted!”

“Oh! OK!” she responded, handling it with more grace than some adult strangers I’ve met. “She looks JUST LIKE Princess Tiana!”

“Do you know anyone who is adopted?” I asked. They both had met people, but didn’t have anyone close in their lives.

The other girls arrived, the class began, and I moved on.

But it made me wonder about the other girls, and whether they had an understanding of adoption. It usually comes up with each new group of kids I teach. I decided to test the waters with the Halloween conversation again.

“I was showing a couple of the girls a picture of Lily in her Halloween costume earlier,” I said to the ten bright eyes looking up at me. “Would everyone else like to see?”

I had planned to let them react on their own, but the first girl was far too excited, and feeling extremely special. “She doesn’t look like Mindy or Mindy’s husband because she was adopted!”

I showed her pictures to each of the five girls, including the two who had already seen it. And then the questions began. Some of them I anticipated. How old was Lily now? How old was she when we got her? Did we pick her name?

Those questions were easy to answer.

But then I got some others.

Did someone leave her on our doorstep?

Why couldn’t her first Mommy keep her?

Could that Mommy ever take her back?

What if we wanted to give her back?

Some of this was straight-forward enough, since Lily absolutely was not left on anyone’s doorstep. The adoption process is complicated even for an adult to understand, let alone an 8-year-old. But I did explain that the lady who carried Lily in her belly decided at the hospital that she wasn’t ready to be a Mommy, and that the hospital contacted some people who knew we were looking for a baby.

But those other questions were tough. She just wasn’t ready to be a Mommy. I wasn’t about to tell these little girls the specific circumstances surrounding Lily’s conception and birth and her birthmother’s life. So she just wasn’t ready. And I left it at that, and refused to say more.

And those last two questions. We talked about it until I was as sure as I could be that they understood.

Her birthmommy cannot come and take Lily away, and we would never ever give Lily away, any more than their parents would give THEM away. She is our baby forever. And we are her Mommy and Daddy forever. I even told them about going to court, and how a judge changed her birth certificate. We are her Mommy and Daddy. We are the only people she knows as Mommy and Daddy. And that will never change.

November is National Adoption Month. For the third year in a row, I’m opening myself up. (although, let’s face it. I’m always pretty open.) I have a feeling grown-ups have the same questions these little girls do, they just think they’re not supposed to ask. So I’m officially telling you- please ask. I would love to answer.

The Decision to Adopt

(Originally posted May 6, 2010 on blogspot.)

This morning we had what will very likely be our last home visit with our adoption case worker. Soon, a two-year process will come to an end. (the process. Not the result. The result is, thankfully, quite permanent.) It’s been an often exhausting, always emotional, forever rewarding experience. But how did we decide to take this journey?

For Ryan and I, adoption has always been on the table. Even when we were dating we discussed it. We just knew, somehow, that our family would be at least partially built this way. Maybe because both of our extended families were built this way- the branches of
our family trees that include adoption outnumber by far those that don’t. Of course like all young women, I assumed that I would give birth to children first, and adopt later.

Then, in a moment of frustration in the spring of 2007, I said, “Maybe we should just adopt.” I was certain I had solved all of our problems and that my life would soon be complete. So when Ryan answered with, “I don’t think it’s time yet,” I was angry, disappointed, and fearful we were not on the same page when it came to starting a family. I understand now how wise he was being, and how difficult this was for him, as he desperately wanted to adopt. It’s what he’s always wanted.

But here’s a hint concerning adoption readiness. If you phrase it as “maybe we should just adopt,” you’re not ready.

Then, in May of 2008, I had a very different moment. I don’t remember what sparked it. I don’t remember what day it was or what time it was or what I was wearing. But I remember the feeling of certainty. I looked at Ryan, and I said, “Oh! We’re supposed to adopt!” with a smile on my face and excitement like I’ve felt about very few things in my life.

“I was just waiting for you to say so,” he answered.

But once the decision is made, where in the world do you start?. The Internet, naturally. There is an overwhelming amount of information about adoption available, and I soon became frustrated. But I took a deep breath, and I read things carefully, and I reminded myself that I didn’t need to have all the answers. In fact, when it comes to adoption, it is impossible to know all the answers, since each case is so completely individual.

We had some decisions to make:

– adopting through an agency vs/ hiring an adoption lawyer or going through the foster system.

– open, semi-open, or closed adoption

– domestic or international adoption

– infant or older child

And there’s no right or wrong. We just went with what felt right, and the answer always felt really clear to us. We decided we were interested in a domestic, semi-open, infant adoption through an agency.

I called the agency that sounded like the best fit for us- Bethany Christian Services- and learned that they were not accepting applications for parents looking for Caucasian babies for another several months, as they wanted to serve the families that were already waiting.

Disappointed, I shared the news with Ryan that evening. His response surprised me. “So, there are people waiting for white babies, but there are babies who aren’t white who need homes?”

“Yes-” I said, confused.

“Then why in the world would we wait for a white baby? That doesn’t even make sense. What do we care what color the baby is? We want to give a baby a home. That’s all that matters.”

And I felt like an idiot. Of course it didn’t matter. Now please understand that for many people, it would matter. Transracial adoptions can bring a whole slew of issues. But with our family, living where we live, those issues are manageable.

So I called Bethany the next day, and made a reservation to attend their next informational meeting. These meetings are held every month or two. There was one in two days.

Attending the informational meeting just made us all the more ready, so we started to share the news with friends and family. For the most part, the reaction was the same. “We’re so glad you know so we can talk about it now. We’ve all known you were going to adopt for a long time.”

And the journey began. May, 2008.

Adoption Stories

(Originally posted March 23, 2010 on blogspot)

In the spirit of people saying really stupid things, my sister and I collaborated on the following cartoon. It speaks for itself.

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