A year ago, there were so many things I didn’t know, things I didn’t really understand and still don’t. Although I’m desperately trying to, there are still things I didn’t know to say, to feel, to watch for, but now I have to know. My son needs me to.
When we were still dating, my now husband asked me if I would consider growing a family through adoption. Without hesitation, I gave an enthusiastic yes, knowing that his desire was to carry on the legacy of his parents who adopted him. While my intentions were sincere, my desire was true, and my enthusiasm was genuine, I had yet to realize the implications of my choice.
From the moment we met, my husband and I have shared our cultural heritages with each other. We have explored traditions, travels, and foods. We had a bagpiper and jumped the broom at our wedding. We have embraced and respected our differences, and we have found they add a richness to our life that many don’t get to experience. Additionally, over the years, my husband has shared anecdotes with me about what it was like to grow up in a predominately white small town with white parents and a mix of white and black siblings. I cherish these stories because my husband shares intimate details of his life and his family. He told me how his mom would travel over an hour away to the closest city to buy him products for his hair, how his family often met with stares—some curious, some unkind—when they traveled together, how he told his classmates that his mother drank chocolate milk when she was pregnant with him just so he could explain the differences in their skin, and then he shared as he grew older he was told he wasn’t “black enough” or didn’t “sound black” or didn’t “act black,” claims that broke my heart for my well-educated, well-spoken, beautiful, melanin-rich husband.
But I never realized how important those stories, those experiences, translated by my husband to me, were going to be until last June, when a chubby, smiling, beautiful boy with dark skin was placed in my arms and called me mama from the moment we met. Through my husband’s gentle, and many times unknowing, guidance, wisdom, and experience, I have learned…
1. Not everyone, in fact, will love our family dynamic.
I need to love him fiercely.
We’ve already had our fair share of hard stares in public places. I’ve been questioned harshly several times where “that boy’s mama” is. Assumptions have been made about his adoption placement. We’ve had friends silently pull away and others, including complete strangers, question our decision and motivation. It’s not okay. It never will be. But excuse me if I don’t respond. I’m busy over here loving my babies.
2. While my son’s hair is obviously different from mine and our blond-haired daughter’s, the care of his hair goes so much deeper than the obvious.
I need to care for him impeccably.
There are expectations, unwritten rules, multiple terms, complex steps, and cultural nuances associated with the care of African American hair. And I have found that, although it is a lot, I have the sacred opportunity to embrace my son’s ethnicity, his cultural traditions, and his unique beauty. I show love for him by the way I care for him that is deep and personal. I understand now why my mother-in-law traveled so far for the blue goo. She loves her son. And now I get to do the same for mine.
Also, just a note that deserves its own article: don’t touch his hair. It’s very important that you just don’t.
3. My son is beautiful (really, he’s striking) and loving and huggable, but he will not always be that way to strangers.
I need to educate him fully.
Right now, he is a two-year-old ball of chubby deliciousness. He giggles; he snuggles; he loves dirt and racecars and chasing his sister down the hallway. He loves to sing at the top of his lungs, and holy moly he can get rowdy when he’s having fun.
But his skin is dark. He is destined through DNA to be tall and wide. He can be shy and often looks away around strangers, which is adorable in a toddler. (It is not in an adolescent). My son, who loves to lie in his bed each morning and make dinosaur noises, who is fascinated with books and butterflies, and who is terrified of worms, will one day be perceived as scary. My husband was once approached by a police officer, hand on his gun, while reading his Bible in the parking lot at church. I know women will hide their purses over their shoulders when my son walks by. Others will click the locks on their car doors when he crosses the street. Security officers will keep a close eye on him when he walks into a store. Deeper lessons will come later; but even at his tender age, I snuggle next to him in his bed filled with stuffed animals and dump truck blankets to teach him to be brave and kind, to look at people in the eye when they speak. Not everyone will think he is the best boy in the whole world, but mama always will. Someday, people will be mean or afraid of him, but he needs to be proud of the color God painted him (his sister taught him that).
He will always have a safe place with dada, mama, and sissy.
But the world will not always be kind to him.
There is so much I still have to learn, especially as my son grows, but I am so grateful for my husband. He walked a hard road and leads our family with grace and respect. I am proud to be his wife, proud he is the father of our children. I am proud to follow his example.