Sunday, November 25, 2007

For the record

Last week I had one of those “I’m exhausted and I can’t fall asleep nights.” My usual solution to that problem is to surf the web in the darkened living room until my brain slows down to feel the tiredness of my body.

This is not a good plan. Usually, I end up reading blogs from various perspectives on the adoption triangle. And usually, I find at least one post that freaks me out, neatly highlighting that I have NO idea what I’m doing, or clearly underlining how little I truly get what Rosie’s experience of the world is/will be.

So, as usual, I’m up surfing. And as usual I find a blog post that fills me with complete dread. What is unusual about this post is that I’ve already seen it multiple times - it is yet another link to the October 10 Seattle PI article , interviewing me as part of their announcement for the “Which Way Seattle: Transracial Adoption of Black Children?” panel discussion. What filled me with absolute horror about this particular link is where is was posted: Harlow’s Monkey . Harlow’s Monkey, as far as I’m concerned is one of the Meccas of the transracial adoption blog world. The writer is filled with knowledge, compassion, honesty and authenticity in droves. She is a pioneer and one of my current heroes.

So why do I care that she posted the link? Well, because of the article. Because working with the media is a messy thing. When a reporter interviews me regarding a topic I am passionate about, I expect my words to go through their filter, the editor’s mill and come out an imperfect version of what I really said and meant. When this article came out, hubby asked me what I thought, and my complimentary response was, “well, he kind of quoted me sort of right most of the time.” My mom loved the article (okay she loves anytime any of her children or grands end up in the media), my friends said it was “nice.” And usually I’m fine with that. They know me, they’ve already heard me talk at length about the subject. They understand when something the writer said doesn’t really jive with my point of view.

But this is different. Here is someone I deeply respect who barely knows I exist, has no idea who I am, and has no basis for determining if what the article says I said really aligns with who I am. And this is her (an all her readers’) introduction to me. Yikes!

To be honest, interviewing for this article could not have been easy that day. Apparently the PI decided at the last minute to run an article. I’m not sure John Iwasaki was given much time to think through the subject. I was contacted by WACAP, our adoption agency to see if our family was available to do the article. I figure they picked us because they know we’re homeschoolers and would probably at home during the day and in time for Mr. Iwasaki to do the interview, write his article and still meet the deadline. Also, interviewing me could not have been easy. Theo’s in a shy-with-strangers-cling-to-mommy phase. Rosie loves new people and was pelting Mr. Iwasaki with her own line of questioning. It was lunchtime, my kids and I were hungry and working on low blood sugar. And we were babysitting a friend’s two year old. Which means Mr. Iwasaki and I were trying to have a complex adult conversation with three hungry kids demanding our separate attentions.

So just to put it out in the ethers and for my peace of mind:

  • The article says “Through the first three years of adopted daughter Rosie's life, Cole busied herself with being a mom. The sociological effect of the adoption never seemed particularly relevant to the white woman.” What I said was that my primary focus was on creating a strong attachment with Rosie and that the focus on our relationships to the outside world were a far second.

  • The bit about Rosie noticing other African Americans is right, though off a little on our time line. She was in her 2’s when she made it really clear that she was aware who looked like her and who didn’t. “I thought this was a big deal” was an abbreviation of my reaction that, “Oh, we’re at a new developmental level. This is a big deal - It’s time to change our focus from filling her baby-love cup to creating her attachments with the outside world.”

  • Before Bill and I were married, we hatched a plan to have 4 children in our family. At the time, the idea of birthing 4 children into a world where so many kids are not getting their basic physical and emotional needs met seemed highly irresponsible. I’m a little foggier on the “high mindedness” of this idea now, but we’d still really like to adopt more kids into our family. Our basic agreement is still 4. I say I have options on 6. Bill laughs.

  • I have two refinements to the final paragraph: "My biggest responsibility is to prepare her for how people perceive her and make decisions based just on how she looks," Cole said. "I think that's the challenge for parents of any child of color."

    • In my conversation with the reporter, I believe what I said went something more like this: “As far as transracial adoption goes, one of my biggest responsibilities….” I really did get at Pact Camp that for most transracial adoptees race trumps all other questions of who and how to be in the world. And Rosie is a complex little person who will need to have a full understanding of the multiple layers of own racial identity. Helping her navigate how other people perceive her is important, but probably not as important as how she defines and accepts herself.

    • About this being a challenge for the parent of any child of color, I would just add that my next sentence got edited out. It went something along the lines of, “And for those of us who don’t have the personal racial experiences our children will have, it has an added level of difficulty for which we need to be truly diligent and resourceful.”

      I’m extra sensitive to how John reported this comment because of a recent post by Tama Janowitz in the New York Time’s series called “Relative Choices.” I, and others in the adoption community, found her post astonishing and offensive from a variety of perspectives. I fear being lumped into her camp, “parenting an adoptive child isn’t really any different than parenting a biological child.” Personally, I’m of the deeply held conviction that parenting our TRA children comes with challenges we will never face with our biological children. Two specific ones: being separated from their biological mothers creates a deep primal attachment wound I am convinced will affect our kids their entire lives. Secondly, being a different color than intimate family creates the “Outsider Within” phenomenon that necessitates that these children question and search for their racial identity in a way my look-like-me children never will.

And with that, balance is restored to the universe.

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