Sunday, October 29, 2006

Random nonthoughts

I'm off caffeine and chocolate today for a medical test tomorrow, and honestly, it's like I'm fasting. Sure, there are other things I could eat, but . . .

Little bun is sick (and I expect Miss I to be sick tomorrow) and he wanted me to hold him "like when I was very small." Little bun, you are still very small, and you will always be my baby.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My friend's beautiful baby girl is still struggling. I'm terrified for them, and completely helpless.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dear McDonalds,
Please stop making us say "two boy toys, please."
Please stop making anyone say "boy toy" just to get a toy with playability value.
And please stop using images of happy black employees all the while making skinny white girls a prize.
The Blooms

Note to self: No way, no matter how much she loves her nuggets.
Another friend's tiny daughter is very sick again in Ethiopia. Fortunately, her parents are able to be with her. Please pray for them too.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The General and the Particular

Manuela's loss and the loss suffered by another family in the ET adoption community have impacted me in ways I could not have anticipated and still cannot quite manage. I'll be doing a fairly normal thing -- folding baby laundry, playing with my daughter's hair, smiling at Miss I in the rearview mirror as I drive -- and be caught off guard by new tears or the sense that it can't possibly be true. I haven't met these families, these women, but I loved their baby girls and I feel their absence. If you pray, please keep them in your prayers.

Much less importantly, I'm not sure I handled this well:

We met a couple today who seemed genuinely interested in international adoption.
They'd been talking about it for awhile.
They really feel that it's right for their family.
They want to help.*

*(If I could add sounds to my blog, you'd hear a record needle scratching across a disc. So just imagine it.)

I tried to ignore (the tone of) the last, but it added a bit to the caution I already feel when asked questions by strangers.

"How long was she at the care center?"
"About three months."

"Why was she relinquished?"*

*Sometimes I say, "I'm sorry, but that's not something we share" (let alone with people we just met at someone else's party, surrounded by others we don't know). "That's her story to tell or not tell as she decides when she's old enough to understand that decision."

Sometimes I answer in generalities, and this was one of those times (I suppose because they really do seem to be considering it).

I said: "Many times, children are relinquished after the death of both parents, the death of mother, absence of the father." But as I said this list of very general possibilities, I became teary.

"What about other family?" she pressed on. "Were they just too poor?" She made the conversation more specific again.

I sighed and answered in generalities again, and added (without lecturing, though I'm sure that's how it reads) that Africans have always -- until now -- cared for children within extended family networks, despite decades of poverty and famine. But now, HIV and AIDS have destroyed those extended families, leaving all children vulnerable (hence the sense in the statement that all African orphans are AIDS orphans, regardless of their parents' HIV status).

Her eyes widened, and the most personal question went unasked. But she did ask this:
"Are the children carefully screened for HIV?"

She looked to her daughter, who was playing with mine.

This is how it went:
"Yes," I said. (I would have wanted to know this as we investigated Ethiopian adoption).
"Oh good," she said, almost casually.

Were we talking in generalities or specifics?

This is how it could have gone from there but didn't:
"Oh good that people who are adopting from Ethiopia know what they are getting into, or oh good because my daughter was playing with yours?"

This is how I wonder if it should have gone:
"Are the children screened for HIV . . ."
"Why do you ask?"

"Why do you ask?" is my fall back, and it's been pretty useful.
I wonder if I should have fallen back on it.
I wanted to answer the question factually, but I didn't want to answer the question behind the question -- even if the answer is "she's negative," and it is, that answer is very, very private.

People I meet socially never ask my HIV status, I suppose because everyone assumes I'm negative (and I am). Doesn't a willingness to answer that question (as I just did) when one is negative contribute to the secrecy, shame, stigmatization when one is positive?

But if I answer questions about her background or health because there's nothing to hide, doesn't that contribute to the belief that if someone keeps something private, it's because she has something to hide? If I don't answer, am I implying something by not answering? If so, that's an implication she has to live with, not me.

So -- When to ask "why do you ask?" and when to answer a question at face value?

I bought my GAP (red) t-shirt -- it was sold out online but is back in stores. While I am more than a little cynical about the suggestion that capitalism contains its own solution to inequity ("Can a t-shirt change the world?"), I hear the numbers are already very promising.

I'm sure I'll edit tomorrow - she's up for the fifth time since bedtime, so I have to run. Again.

The Joke's on Us

Three adoption cracks in two weeks in Entertainment Weekly.
Last week, adoption papers were the "five minutes ago" power baby accessory.
This week, Beverly Hills is quiet this time of year, "with everyone out Third-World baby shopping."

Madonna-inspired, these jokes are still offensive to my family and families like ours.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Damn this is hard. Almost all of my posts are "adoption." Will anyone read posts in a category like "bellyaching?" How to categorize posts about breasts? Ugh.

Out of Africa?

(a companion piece to the one below)
First, read this. What Ji-in has to say is really important. Please read through the comments.

Then, an adult Ethiopian adoptee and poet speaks of his experience as an alien. This breaks my heart, and his situation is so far from anything that could even be imagined in the Bloom household that I, like many parents reading it, want to say "but his beliefs come from his own, specific tragic childhood!"

Yet he's right when he says that international, transcultural, transracial adoption is rooted in the adults' needs to better their own lives. However much I genuinely wanted to parent a child who really needed me, it was about me more than it was to "give the child a better life."

And from my writing you can see that I'm always thinking about this (are you tired of reading it?): I made the decision that a child from Africa would land in a white family in the United States, and she didn't have a choice (when she's a teenager, if not sooner, she'll tell me this). So did the Ethiopia courts, but most certainly under the pressures of poverty, while I made my choice under no pressure but the pressure I applied to myself to enlarge my family. I would hate for anyone to look at my family, or Madonna's son? David, and believe that generally, African children are better served to be taken out of Africa.

Africa's children will be better served when debt relief is offered, when antiretrovirals are available to those who need them, when women and children's rights are protected and their welfare is seen as indivisible, and when there is more than one physician for every lot of 50,000 potential patients -- not when "we" airlift them all out into white Western families.

But then I recall that for every Miss I, there are 10,000 orphans in Ethiopia alone, and changing those things above tomorrow won't change that today, and it won't bring back Miss I's first family.

I am thankful for the adult tras who make us think. But Madonna's controversial and contested adoption will not make me defend mine, or those of the non-celebrity adoptive and adopting families I have grown to love through this process and the children we've shared.

I find it very troubling that we can go from the potentially illegitimate adoption by a celebrity of a child from a country without established intercountry adoption to the determination that all intercountry adoption is imperialist and immoral (though many were already there, and that, strangely, is fine with me). One of Ji-in's commenters asserts that because she has realized that this is so, she would not consider international adoption. At the same time, if the criticism is that this child should not have been placed because family exists to take care of him, domestic adoption of nearly every sort should be out (lots of people already think this too, and I won't debate that here other than to say that I do respect that position and many of the ways it is reached).

But the fact remains that sometimes: The first best option (first family) is gone or incapacitated. The second (extended family) is decimated. The third (same race, same country) is unavailable. The fourth (same race, different country) is also not available to the extent needed. That I am not the ideal parent for Miss I, I get. That she'd still be with me, even after such a search for alternatives, is beyond doubt. That Malawi didn't demonstrate this, that the US doesn't currently require this, is a problem. That Madonna (or anyone else in her position) would not know that she's the fifth best parenting option is a bigger one.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Arrival at the Queen of Sheba

We worried a bit over taking Miss I to an Ethiopian restaurant, for a couple of reasons.

First, we were concerned about her response to my Ethiopian embroidered shirt awhile ago. Would she panic when surrounded by familiar sights and smells?

Then there was the possible perception by Ethiopian Americans that this was the limit of how we would share her culture and history with her.

When we were reading through our first application many moons ago, when we thought we would find our daughter in China, when one or the other of us jokingly replied to the question of how we would celebrate her Chinese heritage that we'd have takeout once a week, the joke was not on the question, but on us and our hubris in even thinking about a transracial, transnational adoption.

There was no getting around, it seems to me, the fact that in the abstract we're the fifth best thing, and no one we meet at a restaurant could know us any more intimately. If our first thought had been our insufficiency to the task, surely it would be others', and well it should be. And then there is the fact that families like mine are a painful reminder to a very proud culture of Ethiopia's present inability to care for its own children.

But we really wanted her to have really good injera, which she had loved not so long ago (has it really only been four months? Was dh ever really in Ethiopia?). So we went to the Queen of Sheba, skipping nearby Meskerem, which is considered more crowded (like Addis) and less flavorful.

When we first arrived, Miss I was very shy before the beautiful waitress who seated us, and she hid her head in my shoulder. Dh was enthusiastic, eager for me to try everything including the honeyed wine (phenomenal). Ds, ordinarily a very wary diner, looked forward to his injera. Miss I. still hid. As soon as I tasted and enjoyed things, Miss I became more confident, and wanted to share her growing enjoyment with familiar flavors, and gestured excitedly to textiles hanging on the wall. Beeful. Prebby. Beeful, Momma, see, see?

Her enthusiasm caught the attention of the party behind us, and began one of the most affirming conversations we've had yet. Mr. E. raved about my beautiful daughter, then gestured to my son. "Is he your own?" I wasn't certain I had heard him over the small crowd or through his accent, and I indicated that. He tried again, twice: "Is he your natural son? . . . Your son as well?" "Yes," I replied. "He is my son as well." He smiled broadly. "You know, I am Ethiopian and I am adopted as well, and what you have done is a blessing."

Mr. E shared that he hails from Addis, that he was not familiar with Miss I's village to the south, that he thanked God for the gift we were to Miss I, and that he was even more thankful because we (protested and) considered her the gift to our family. Then he asked what ds thought of his new sister. "He's so thrilled with her he's already talking about his little brother," I said. This was met with great enthusiasm and many congratulations: "but I only meant he was talking about one. He isn't having one." And they discussed among themselves when we should return to Ethiopia for a son, how much time to allow our own Queen of Sheba to remain our little princess. (They thought not too long).

When we were ready to leave, Miss I kissed our waitress on the cheeks and waved fondly to our new friends.

Dh had told me that Ethiopians were the most beautiful and most gracious people he had ever met, and while this seems like a sweeping generalization, it also appears to be true.

If you're ever on tenth, have the dabo, vegetarian sampler, and honeyed wine (but make sure your companion orders the Ethiopian beer to taste).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Read this.

It may seem to some that I worry incessantly about this, but it's less anxiety than awareness:

I have made a choice forever for someone too young to protest it to be forever between cultures, Ethiopian and "American" (for whatever that means), black and white (though an affluent black friend also shares that she was asked accusingly if she was "black or white?" by black women she met in college, and she feels that Miss I's biggest challenge may be less that her parents are white than that they are overeducated. I had the same problem in the rural years of my youth).

But I secretly worried yesterday that since her parts weren't straight (she's a wiggler) someday people would look at her hair and ask her "was she raised by a white woman or what?" So I spent $80 at Carolsdaughter so she could have Jada Pinkett's hair, and I can't wait for it to come.

I wonder if she'll identify closely only with other Ethiopian adoptees, transracial adoptees, black women with white mothers, and I wonder how others will relate to her.

Sorry Miss I, it seems you will not escape the showtunes, as you clap anytime I finish a song from Guys and Dolls.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Bronx Tale

A beautiful boy, age eight, he said, had many questions for me when I sat beside him with Miss I and ds both on my lap. The most important of these, for him, was this:

"Why you don't look like her?"

I started to answer his question, working from the assumption that what he actually meant was "Why doesn't your daughter look like you?" This is not a manifestation of my white or maternal narcissism (or do I protest too much?). It's this: even if I didn't want to discuss reproduction with this child who isn't mine, I was still working from a bio-centric position, and the parents come first. I reframed his question in more familiar terms (I'd had these conversations with precocious children in parking lots, restaurants, etc several times before):

You're wondering why my daughter doesn't look like me, but my son does. Families, I began, don't always look alike and families aren't always made in the same way . . .

But biology, genetics, parental priority did not order his logic. So he tried again, in terms he thought I could better understand.

"Look," he said seriously. "She has brown eyes. Everybody's got brown eyes," and he gestured around the train car. "You don't," he said, indicating dh, ds and me. I couldn't argue. On a train between the Bronx and Harlem, we were (at that time) the only white people and in our vicinity, the only blue eyed people, both facts I hadn't noticed before he pointed it out. Then he leaned in to look closely into my eyes. "Do you have any brown?" I don't. I suppose I could have explained "recessive traits," drawn the diagram, told him any number of things he'll learn soon enough. I could have told him what ds knows, which is that his ancestors came from cold places, hence lower levels of melanin. But these answers would have been beside his point.

Later his nine year old sister would state firmly but kindly that I had "too little hair" and I shouldn't have let "them" cut it.

Only in New York: Stop (reading) if you've heard this one

Dh had a conference in Manhattan. I miss it very much, so we decided to take the fam.
This was a huge mistake, but it can't be considered a complete failure, as we've come back with many stories, which is, in the end, the most important thing.

There are many stories to come, including our visit to the Queen of Sheba, my education in the Bronx and the reasons why you can't ever go "home" (if you've added a toddler in the meantime).

I'll share the briefest anecdotes now for anyone who's still reading after the unintentional hiatus and then I'm off to load the dishwasher.

1. For the first time, a celebrity stared at us. In a chance encounter on the street, Miss I batted her eyelashes at Rosie O'Donnell, who beamed back. I was a few steps away, so as dh told me to inform a View-viewing friend, if Rosie mentioned "gay dad," "transracial adoption" and "cutie patootie" any time soon, you know of whom she speaks. And so you do too.

2.The best encounter of the trip (voted unanimously so by dh, ds and me):
A homeless man approached us on the subway, and declared "I don't know how in the world you all found each other, but God bless you anyway." Priceless.

Domesticity beckons.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

In Brief, on Strangers

Strange women always assume that I am an adoptive mother. Stranger men always assume I am a babymomma.

One strange white woman asked dh today who his daughter belonged to (and she made some remark about "a communal child," having seen Miss I with both Grammy and Daddy). She did not ask the white parents with daughters from China, just feet away, who their daughters belonged to.

A restaurant employee looked horrified when he believed Miss I. was alone. He looked scandalized to discover her mother, less than a foot behind, white.

But then . . .

When we visited GG at the nursing home, a man we'd never met before, visiting another resident, said "You have very beautiful children," and in one very ordinary sentence offered a gift that should be a right -- very ordinary treatment.