"Today in orientation the teacher said that when people can't get pregnant, they sometimes adopt."
"Did she? What did you say?"
"Nothing. But as soon as she said it, everyone turned and looked at me."
- last night's conversation with Isabel
There are days, and there are "days." Yesterday happened to be one of the latter. At the grocery store, my three boys were the center of attention. "Do your sons only speak English?" the checker inquired curiously. I could understand why she asked, since as she scanned items my little boys were drawing a crowd. Ian and Alec had remembered the lady from the nearby jewelry store and waved to her, so she came out to practice her English on them. Meanwhile all the baggers who weren't currently bagging were watching the show.
Items bagged and Act One finished, we left behind those admirers and had almost made it out the door when we passed the service desk. "My boys!" a woman shouted. She hurried from behind the counter. "Are you leaving without greeting me?" She is a motherly type who never misses a chance to hug and kiss on them, but I don't even know her name. The three boys dutifully responded as we attempted to conclude Act Two.
Finally freedom (aka, the parking lot) was in sight, but gathering shopping carts by the car were two additional employees. "Their mothers must be very happy with how you are raising them." Now that was an unexpected comment, followed by another personal question. "Do you have contact with them?"
Uncomfortable and caught off guard, I stammered out an "I hope so" and "Haiti is pretty far away, but we try" while attempting to quickly pile bags in the trunk. With friendly smiles they waved goodbye as they lauded me with final compliments.
"This is how the world should be. We need more people like you in the world!"
End of Act Three.
Call it disappointment, shyness, embarrassment, growing up, identity crisis ... I'm still not sure which. All I know is that I had taken Owen shopping for sneakers at a large market where he typically seems a little unsure. I noticed that for the first time I can remember, he kept slipping his hand quickly out of mine. He didn't refuse to hold my hand, but he didn't linger. It made me a little sad.
We struck out in the shoe department. It was the second time this week. He was disappointed, but not as sorely as the first time. He was tired. As we approached the kiosk to pay our parking fee, we met two individuals of black Colombian descent. I was happy to see them, always grateful for Owen to realize he is not alone in our city. They were friendly and like everyone else, had questions. "Is he your son?" asked the young man. He looked to be late teens or early 20's, dressed in jean shorts, tank top, baseball cap and sneakers. I replied in the affirmative and his companion, an woman who looked slightly older than him, inquired, "Where's he from?"
"Originally from the States, but now he's practically Iquiqueno," I continued the conversation. I explained our shoe dilemma and the young man continued to be friendly, trying to engage Owen who was frowning and hiding behind me.
"Hey man, why are you so shy?" he asked Owen. "We black men aren't shy!"
"He's usually pretty friendly," I assured him, which is true. "Maybe he's just disappointed about the shoes." We said our goodbyes and I paid my fee, returning to the car with an uncharacteristically silent son. He crossed his arms and refused to answer me when I asked what was the matter. I poked and prodded, even asking directly if he was embarrassed to be seen with a white mom when we met black people.
He said no, but it wasn't until much later that he raised his voice, responding in frustration with tears in his eyes, "I don't even know those people! How am I supposed to talk to them?"
That was as much as he said on the subject.
There are days, and there are "days." Parenting is inherently challenging (and rewarding) but transracial parenting can sometimes raise it up a notch. Curious questions, personal insecurities, unwarranted attention can sometimes all converge on a given day. Sometimes it's hard to know how to respond, both to the questions of strangers and the feelings of our children.
It's not every day. But thankfully, every day this is true: "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." (James 1:5)
When everyone looks at Him ... He gives the answers.