My partner [at the time] and I went through DCF [Department of Children and Families] here in Massachusetts, where you become a foster home thatâ€™s strictly for foster parenting or fostering with the intention to adopt. At that point we were looking to adopt. We adopted Ishi first, when he was four months old. Heâ€™s biracial. The social workers told me it was very hard to place biracial kids. Then, when he was 2, we were contacted and asked if we would take a sibling group â€” Jiji, who was eight months old, and Kordell, who was 5 years old. So they came home as a unit.
I wanted to be a parent but I never wanted to actually give birth. I also felt like there are enough people in the world and that weâ€™re overpopulated, and that there are so many kids in need â€” there are 500,000 kids in foster care in this country, and that, to me, is just astonishing. My partner was on the same page. We knew that the likelihood that weâ€™d get a kid of color was very high. And because we lived in Boston in a mixed-race neighborhood, it felt like, okay, we can do this â€” because I couldnâ€™t raise kids of color not in a racially diverse community. Iâ€™d done a lot of research, and felt like you have to raise kids around people who mirror themselves back to them.
Itâ€™s interesting, because in some ways I feel like I walk this line: When Iâ€™m out in the world by myself itâ€™s a very different experience than when Iâ€™m out in the world with my children, especially as theyâ€™ve gotten older. When they were little, a lot of well-meaning white people were much nicer and more open to my children; now that theyâ€™re grown and my 17-year-old looks like a black man, we walk into a grocery store and I just know that weâ€™re being watched in a different way. I feel a different vibe from people. Itâ€™s hard to put into words, but I know itâ€™s different because I know how people relate to me when Iâ€™m by myself. I get very protective, like, â€œDonâ€™t look at my kid that way.â€ But because a lot of it is so subtle thereâ€™s nothing you can really say, yet you know exactly why you feel it and see it.
And it goes both ways. For a long time my daughter had dreadlocks, and I would take her to this salon and spend hours there with her. Now theyâ€™ve known me for years and everybodyâ€™s much looser, but in the beginning they didnâ€™t know who I was. They didnâ€™t know if I was doing the right thing with these kids. Now they talk to us as if weâ€™re family.
I talk about [race] more than my kids do, and my older son gets annoyed with me. I do a lot of safety talking with him about what itâ€™s like to be a black man â€” which I do not know. But what I do know is I pay attention to whatâ€™s going on in the world, and Iâ€™m scared for him a lot of the time. Itâ€™s a terrifying thing to be the parent of a young African-American man and be afraid every time he goes out with his buddies or without you because you never know what is going to happen. Trayvon Martin could totally be my kid, and that is terrifying. I try to have that talk with my son and he doesnâ€™t want to hear it from me. Is that because Iâ€™m white, or because Iâ€™m his mother? Iâ€™m not entirely sure.
Ishiâ€™s parents are both dead. His bio mom died when he was 6 months old. We have an open adoption with Kordell and Jijiâ€™s mother, and last year Jiji expressed a strong desire to meet her, so I reached out (Kordell was not interested). We went out and had lunch with her, but we have very limited contact. Itâ€™s complicated, because she didnâ€™t relinquish the kids â€” they were taken from her. She was only 14 when she had Kordell. But I want them to know her, and am of the mindset that love grows love. So the more love in my kidsâ€™ life, the better for them. But I also need them to know that Iâ€™m the parent, so itâ€™s a very tricky line.
White people raising kids of color is a complicated issue. When my son was little we got him a big brother through Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and Iâ€™ve had friends from law school that Iâ€™ve kept in touch with so he can know black men who are successful, who are raising families. Itâ€™s so hard to fight the cultural stereotypes in the news and movies and in the world, but I try with real life people. Same with my daughter.
So Iâ€™m trying to provide role models. But you have to work at it as a white person â€” you canâ€™t just act like itâ€™s nonexistent or it doesnâ€™t matter, because it does matter. Iâ€™d be remiss if I wasnâ€™t having these kinds of conversations with my kids about who they are and what it means to be young African-American men and women in our society. When Kordell was about 12 he said to me about racism, â€œMom, I thought that was something that was way in the past.â€ He thought it was all over. I said, â€œI really wish that were the case, Kordell, but unfortunately itâ€™s not.â€
I think what makes a parent is being the person who is there. They know Iâ€™m the person who comes through. Iâ€™m the one they call, and Iâ€™m the person whoâ€™s been there every day of their lives. Thatâ€™s what they know.
Please follow @YahooParenting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, andPinterest. Have an interesting story to share about your family? Email us at YParenting (at) Yahoo.com.