Thanks to an email from a reader, I went back into my archives and re-read two pieces I published in CityBeat that I’m putting here today and tomorrow, not because I don’t have fresh material (do I ever have fresh material), but because both of them still apply. And this one, as serendipity would have it, was published on this day two years ago. Which completely flummoxed me. Had anyone asked me to estimate, I would have said I wrote this six-months ago. God, I’m getting old. Did you know I used to walk ten miles to school, always in a blizzard? Uphill both ways! True story.
The first night we met Ruby, she pooped in Sam’s hand. It was 11 p.m. in a rented apartment in Chicago. We were exhausted from an entire day of travel, preceded by two sleepless nights spent absorbing the holy-shit-we-have-a-kid realization that most people have nine months to make. Just three days earlier, we were all, I know it’s late, but do you wanna go to the movies? and I think I’ll take a nap before dinner and Forget about dinner. We’re grown-ups! Let’s have martinis and ice cream! It was like we’d slipped through a wormhole and were suddenly wandering around in a parallel universe with zero resemblance to our previous life.
And now here we were, broiling in the oppressive summer heat, two fools crouched on the floor in our underwear, brought to our knees by an 8-day-old human. “How does the diaper work?” we asked each other. We were flailing. Badly.
That’s because we didn’t front load by consuming the What to Expect series like most anticipatory parents. Noooo. Instead, we took an intellectual approach and spent months educating ourselves about raising an adopted baby. An adopted black baby, to be exact. Swaddling’s for the birds, we thought. We will know how to discuss feelings of abandonment!
So we studied about loss, identity and connection, about transracial parenting, white privilege and black history. We took classes and watched documentaries. We learned about the racial hierarchy of adopted children and listened as black adult adoptees discussed the experience of being adopted outside their race. Determined to do right by our future child, we scoured the Internet for resources. And we sifted through reams upon reams dedicated to the importance and care of black hair. We had no clue what a receiving blanket was, but we were prepared for anything.
Except, of course, the need for receiving blankets. And, too, for what we’ve come to refer to as The Soft Serve Incident when—after having been parents for an entire three hours—Sam put his hand where the diaper should have been, in an effort to save the carpet.
After that, we jettisoned our course of study in favor of the less compelling but more pertinent 900-page User Manual. Still, as much as our kid just needed to be fed, clothed and cuddled, all of our diligent research came in handy when faced with every looky-loo and inquisitor who crossed our paths in Target. It was a prep course for something that one cannot prepare for. Truly.
Today, after four years of public parenting and being some sort of perceived expert on All Things Black for too many sheltered people, I admit, it can be tough to remain pleasant. I want to be an advocate for adoption, a staunch ally in the fight against racism and, mostly, to model the best possible responses for my child. But I sometimes struggle to find my balance between kindly addressing curiosity and lashing out at stupidity. I want to be approachable, but I also don’t want to indulge a never-ending cascade of questions from strangers while I’m in the pool helping my kid learn to use her big alligator arms. Not that alligators have big arms, but she doesn’t know that and the imagery is working.
Here’s the thing: Sometimes I just want to hurl my fantasy responses at the too-many nosey barkers of the universe.
I understand, Woman at the Zoo, that your brother’s wife’s uncle’s third cousin’s step-daughter is thinking of adopting if she can’t get pregnant with her second baby. Nevertheless, I will not tell you how much our adoption cost. Incidentally, did you crap yourself in the delivery room? Did you have an episiotomy or did you tear? Do tell!
I know that Ruby and I don’t look alike and that to some folks, this has all the excitement of a 12-car pile-up behind a jack-knifed big rig. But do you really need to know whether I like the color of her skin? Because I’ll tell you right now, Lady at Home Depot, I’m not so much digging the pasty look of yours. Also, you have a booger hanging out of your right nostril, which I would discreetly mention, but I’m not going to, since now you need to know whether I intend to tell my child she was adopted. My answer is: Un-unh. Shhhhh! It’s a secret between you and me!
I, too, learned that black absorbs heat while white reflects it. That doesn’t mean black people get hotter when out in the sun. Last I checked, 98.6 degrees is the normal temperature of a human being who isn’t fighting an infection or in the throes of a new love affair. And to the Woman Who Just Couldn’t Drop It, UVA and UVB rays cause cancer. Sunscreen is for everybody! Oh, and I promise you, there were actual black people living in England in 1968. Don’t argue, there were. They just didn’t live in your neighborhood.
No, I’m not babysitting. No, I’m not “just like Angelina!” And, no, you may not stroke her hair in wide-eyed wonder (though, had you asked first, the answer might have been different). And not that it’s any of your business, Mrs. Electric-Scooter-Rider at Henry’s, she’s not a crack baby; nor does she have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. By the way, are you riding in that thing because you’re fat or because you’re lazy? I mean, in my opinion, you really could stand to do a little walking.
Look. I know you have questions about why my family looks the way it does. But if your question has to be prefaced with “I don’t want this to come out wrong…” or if you feel a little skeevy before you ask, it’s probably best to simply go on wondering. And if you can’t bear the not knowing, I suggest you jot a note to consult Google when you get home, and let me be just another mom parenting her child.