Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Adoption and single parenthood

I'm reading Debra Monroe's account of her adoption, as a single Anglo woman, of an African American infant--On the Outskirts of Normal--Forging a Family Against the Grain. It brings back memories. I am the single parent of four adopted children, one of them bi-racial and another supposedly so, though we can't see it and don't believe it. Still Debra had a much harder time than I did. I'm sure it's more difficult to bring a black baby to a small Texas town, no matter how sophisticated, than it is to raise a Eurasian child in a city. Still there were funny moments, like the time on the soccer field when another parent said to us "Did you see that little Mexican kid? He said 'I'm going to kick the S--- out of that ball.'" We didn't even ask, we knew, even though he's half Chinese and half Greek. Or the time when he was about three or four at a bull-raising ranch in Mexico where he hit the pinata but was chased away by some Anglo tourist who thought he was a Mexican ranch hand's kid. He raced for me, calling "Mama," and I held out my hand as we walked back to collect his winnings. The tourist stared at us--dark-headed and dark-skinned child and fair, pale blonde me.
Debra writes that she adopted at a time when inter-racial adoption was rare, and a law had just passed to enable Anglos to adopt African American children if there was no good African American home available. We adopted twenty years before that, and inter-racial adoption was really rare. In fact, we had two children so the adoption agency considered our family complete. But we had always said we'd love a baby, no matter its color--and they called us one day. A lucky call for me, though I remember being so befuddled that I said, "I guess we'll come look at him," as though I were going to market to judge if the tomatoes were any good.
But I had a husband when they were infants, and he was a good father in those days. so I was spared the trauma of dealing with babies alone. And he was a doctor, so he could deal with their illnesses, major and minor. I do remember one time though, after he was gone, when one of them was desperately, violently throwing up, and I said, "Lord, I didn't mean to do this alone."
Debra's child was seriously sick, and so was she, which led to a prolonged--several years--miserable time for them. I thought, well, that didn't happen to me. Until I look back and realize one of my children had grande mal seizures and the other, all his high school years, suffered from unidentified stomach problems that were finally diagnosed as the Crohn's diseases with which he struggles to this day. And then there was the time one had mono, just after my husband left home. I'd take him to the ER and they'd say soothingly that they knew there was upset in the home just then. I wanted to shout: You don't understand. My child is sick. They finally got the picture.
Debra dated but tried to hide it from her daughter. I remember those days--I guess they could be called the days of furtive romance. But one thing I was proud of: I never let social life or my desire for one or my physical longings affect the children. They came first, and I think they always knew it. One of them said to me years later, "You didn't exactly put yourself out there." Ya think? Wonder why?
If I say I had it much easier than the single parent I'm reading about maybe it's because I'm less introspective, though I often thought I inclined too much that way. My children tell me I am in denial. I don't remember temper tantrums (okay, a few--like the time I washed Jamie's mouth out with soap). I don't remember fighting (until the girls got to high school when they hated each other and everyone else around them, including me). I do remember lots of love and laughter. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Debra Monroe's daughter is now thirteen, a bright, outgoing, outspoken young woman from what I hear. They're headed into those terrible years when young girls decide their mothers have ruined their lives. I hope they both skip that phase. I wish her well, because for all her angst, she truly, clearly, deeply loves that child and wants above all to protect her and raise her to be a person who can make good choices in life. I think she's on her way. Her story illustrates once again that poem that the Edna Gladney Adoption Agency (it probably has a better name now) used to quote: You were not born from under my heart but in it. Giving birth has little to do with love, in my own personal book, but raising and loving and sharing experiences have everything to do with it. And though I sometimes felt on the edge of some groups because I was a single parent, I never felt I was on the outskirts of normal.
I'm to review the book for the Story Circle Network and my review will be much more impersonal, but I can't resist sharing the similarities and differences in our experiences.

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