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The Unsugar-Coated Version of Adoption

A few days ago for Adoption Awareness month, I posted about adopting my son. It was a truthful post from the deepest part of me. But there is another post that I didn’t share at the time, the unsugar-coated version of my adoption experience that I will tell you about now.

The other day, I had gone to go see Twelve Years a Slave with a friend. We came out of the theater barely able to speak to each other. We then went to go pick up my son from school nearby. We were waiting outside his classroom because the children nap for a bit and usually wake up groggy and have to get themselves together before they walk out to their parents.

When my son came out, he bustled out in his usual excited way, took one look at my friend and fell on the floor crying and then ran back into the classroom. I went after him and tried to console him but he wouldn’t speak and he kept sobbing.

Here’s what went through my head: I had just watched a movie where a Black woman’s young son was ripped from her arms and sold to the highest bidder by white people. My friend who was with me is Black. She and my son have a good relationship, and as her daughter is now a teenager she thinks of Tin as the boy she never had. When he looked at her and began to cry, inside of me, I thought he might have woken from a dream where his birthmother was holding him and he might have come running out and seen my friend first and she reminded him of the dream of his birthmother.

And I felt awfully like I was part of the same history that has perpetuated since the days of slavery: the Black birthmother is poor and illiterate and her child is taken from her to be given to white people who have more resources. This is the story of adoption that is wrenching and so hard to get your mind around that most adoptive parents leave the details of it behind.

That is what I was thinking as I tried to get to the root of what was making my son so upset. A lot of times with children it could be anything – the air molecules are not quite right, but when you have an adopted child, when you are the white mother of an African American son, when you are an older mother, when you are a bald mother, when your child has two mothers, when all of these things are stacked up, you look twice at what is happening, you try not to bring complications up but as you are trying to be casual about all of these things so as not to create hardship for your child, you cannot help but feel that there are themes that cannot be diminished, that never die away.

My son told me later he was upset because he had hoped his other mother was picking him up, even though she never picks him up from school – that is my role. I still didn’t feel quite sure that he was articulating what had really happened. Something happened. Something definitely happened.

But still when people ask me now how I felt after watching Twelve Years, I cannot tell them because I walked into a live drama right afterwards that is still unfolding and I never quite know what roles we are playing exactly and how we might grow out of them.

I just want to keep my eyes open even when it hurts.



November 13, 2013 - 12:56 pm

Rachel - Thank you Seta – my son will have all of what you mention along with the rest of it – the hurt, anger, and disgust over some of our shared history as well as our present day reality. It’s our journey together before he goes it alone. Love, R

November 13, 2013 - 3:35 am

Seta Majkia - 12 Years A Slave is a profoundly moving film that from my perspective was unenjoyable. We go to movies to escape harsh realities. This one does not allow you to do this. That being said, the movie was well done and well acted. Perhaps it is Karmic that this event happened with your son. Perhaps you needed to reflect on the movie and how it makes you feel. The reaction you had was almost exactly what my experience was. I couldn’t talk. I will say that I was angry, I was hurt, I was disgusted. Part of my feelings on these things stem from my belief that the slavery experience has not been removed from this society. This experience has kept us from REALLY getting to know each other and RESPECT each other’s cultures. Until these type of conversations are had, until we learn to RESPECT and ENJOY each other’s cultural differences, this divide will always be there.

I believe your son, and I also believe there was no other hidden meaning. He did articulate what he felt. It’s just this event happened right after your emotions were laid bare by the movie. If you step back from this a few weeks, I believe this will change.

What your son needs from you (my opinion) is your love, your patience, your commitment to making sure he knows ALL of his cultural background and your participation in it. Being an adoptive parent is always a bit unnerving. You worry that your child will want his birth parents more than you. It’s normal. It’s even more stressful when you are talking about a child who is a different race than you. But the foundation you set NOW, will pay dividends when he gets through those “wonderful” teen years (note the sarcasm here!) as long as you make sure that he fully knows his heritage (there is so much beauty in it he will ONLY learn if you search it out) and make sure he fully knows how much you love him. After all, the most important thing a child needs (and unfortunately doesn’t get much in this time period) is UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Stay strong, get plenty of help from those around you (it takes a village) and he will see; his eyes will be open….

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