Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I've got myself some new digs.  If you want to follow, email me at:


Sunday, November 27, 2011

... I want you to understand why she can't belong to you

Fictional letter written from an attorney of the Cherokee Nation (Annawake Fourkiller) regarding the welfare of a child (named Turtle) adopted to a white woman (Taylor, non-Cherokee):

"It's difficult, I know, for non-Native people to understand the value of belonging to a tribe, but I know you care about problems Turtle will face on her own.  I appeal to you on these grounds.  Adopted Native kids always have problems in adolescence when they're raised without an Indian identity.  They've gone to school with white kids, sat down to dinner every night with white parents and white siblings, and created themselves in the image of the family mirror.  If you ask them what they think about Indians, they'll recall Westerns on TV or doing Hiawatha as a school play.  They think Indians are history.

If these kids could stay forever inside the protection of the adoptive family, they'd be fine.  But when they reach high school there's enormous pressure against dating white peers.  They hear ugly names connected with their racial identity.  If you think this kind of prejudice amongst teenagers is a thing of the past, think again.  What these kids find is that they have no sense of themselves as Native Americans, but live in a society that won't let them go on being white, either.  Not past childhood.

My boss thinks I'm crazy to pursue this case, but I have to tell you something.  I used to have a brother named Gabriel.  We grew up wearing each other's jeans and keeping each other's secrets and taking turns when our uncle asked, "Who made this mischief?"  Gabe was my ayehli, my other wing.  When I was ten, our mother was hospitalized with alcoholism and other problems.  Social workers disposed of our family: my older brothers went with Dad, who did construction in Adair County.  I stayed with my Uncle Ledger.  And Gabe was adopted by a family in Texas.  No one has ever told me why it was done this way.  I assume they thought my dad could handle grown, income-earning sons, but not Gabe and me.  As for Gabe, probably the social workers knew a couple who wanted a little boy -something as simple as that.  He wrote me letters on fringe-edged paper torn out of his ring-bound school notebooks.  I still have them.  Texas was hot and smelled like fish.  His new parents told him not to say he was Indian at school, or they would treat him like a Mexican.  He asked me, "Is it bad to be Mexican?"

They put him into the Mexican classrooms anyway; his parents were bigots of the most innocent kind, never realizing that skin color talks louder than any kid's words.  He failed in school because the teachers spoke to him in Spanish, which he didn't understand.  The Mexican kids beat him up because he didn't wear baggy black pants and walk with his hands in his pockets.  When we were thirteen he wrote to tell me his new Mom had closed the bedroom door and sat on the foot of his bed and said quietly he was letting his new family down.

When he was fifteen, he was accessory to an armed robbery in Corpus Christi.  Now I only know where he is when he's in prison.

You said, the night we met, that I was only capable of seeing one side of things.  I've thought about that.  I understand attachments between mothers and their children.  But if you're right, if I have no choice here but to be a bird of prey, tearing flesh to keep my own alive, it's because I understand attachments.  That's the kind of hawk I am -I've lost my other wing.

I wonder what you are giving Turtle now that she can keep.  Soon she's going to hear from someone that she isn't white.  Some boy will show her that third-grade joke, the Land O' Lakes Margarine squaw with a flap cut in her chest, the breasts drawn in behind the flap, and ask her, 'Where does butter come from?' On the night of the junior prom, Turtle will need to understand why no white boy's parents are happy to take her picture on their son's arm.

What does she have that will see her through this into peaceful womanhood?  As a citizen of Turtle's nation, as the sister of Gabriel Fourkiller, I want you to understand why she can't belong to you."

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Now that I think about it, The Saturday Evening Post didn't seem to think racial diversity was that awesome

Tesoro and I built our house in this dreamy little mountain village a few years back.  It happened around the same time we were finding out that we wouldn't be able to conceive a child without tons of infertility treatment.  What we thought was an incredible opportunity -moving to a town we fell in love with when we first came out this direction- just sort of jumped into our laps.  Needless to say, it didn't take long until we decided to run with it.  I remember thinking how absolutely lucky we were- this was the place we wanted to raise our children.  This was the Norman Rockwell town I had dreamed about for forever and ever.  This was our little piece of Heaven.  This was going to help make everything okay.

Without going into every little detail of our circumstances, we chose to buy a wee little plot and got busy designing and building.  We both had jobs that were steady, that seemed promising, that we enjoyed.  We had signed up with an adoption agency and were spending spare moments putting together paper work and fingerprints and this and that in order to become parents.  We were tired and exhausted but damn, were we happy.  Things were just clicking along.  Dreams were coming true.

I'm not really sure how to transition here, but the thing is, I'm scared out of my mind that this little haven of ours could end up being just the opposite for our boy.  I look out all of our windows and see mountain tops, snow, trees.  If I were to open the front door I could hear the river from across the street.  Depending on the day and hour we might see a band of elk or mountain sheep, some deer, the local fox, or a bear walking down the Boulevard.  The horse-drawn sleigh will make a couple rounds each day carting around some tourists throughout the winter season and the smell of wood-burning stoves will permeate our nostrils for the next several months.  We can grab a quarter and make our way down to the General Store whenever Leone needs a peppermint stick, and if the timing is right we'll be able to listen to the church bells ringing to signify a new hour.  It's beautiful here.  Absolutely beautiful.



Dreams have changed.  What Tesoro and I want now has nothing to do with our wee little house.  I mean yeah, we still want this.  But what we want even more is for our son to grow up with compassion, kindness, awareness, smarts, and a healthy dose of confidence intermingled with humility.

When we built here, when we carried one piece of siding from this place to the other place, we were sure we were doing the right thing.  We were sure that having two beautiful neighborhood children adopted from Cambodia would make this one-street town diverse enough.  And when we looked at the extremely high number of Latino children at the school where I worked, we were even more sure that our son would not feel alone with his skin color.  And when we searched within ourselves and thought about our ability to reflect and problem-solve and love, we were confident that everything, everything, would be okay.

I no longer feel that way.  And now that my son has begun to talk about his skin color versus the skin color of his padres, I feel even less confident.  And when he calls every brown-skinned child he sees in a book "Leone," I want to shrink into my shell.

I recently shared my concerns with an Ethiopian friend who lives upvalley.  She and her brother said we have nothing to worry about.  That all Leone needs is to know we love him and care about him and that everything, everything, will be okay.  As I pushed her a bit more, she acknowledged that while she might notice stares directed at her brother around town, she also thinks that this valley is one of the most easy-going places she has ever lived.  She tells me again, not to worry: "it's better for him to live here, around white people who aren't racist, than in the middle of some city where racism is a part of every day life."

The thing is, whether I agree with her or not, we can't just up and move to the middle of some city.  Real estate.  Jobs.  Finances.  Life.  Reality.

No magic wand for this one.  No easy answer.  No quick answer.  Just wishes that we would have had some foresight before settling down in the land of Rockwell.  Some understanding.  Someone to slap us around a bit and say, "look.  Look around you in a way that you have never looked before.  These glasses of yours?  They're focused through the lens of white privilege.  Things could get tricky so you damn well better reconsider before someone gets hurt."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The rivers dried up and fire fell from the skies

My mom was and is a sign watcher.  For all my life I can remember her mentioning "signs" before or after some event.  Sometimes the devil was involved.  Other times our guardian angels.  Either way, we needed to keep our eyes open.

(I credit all of that to her Roman Catholic upbringings and years spent in the convent.)

A few years ago it started to officially drive me insane.  It was good we were on the phone when she would mention this sign or the other one, because as sure as my name is "il pan" I was rolling my eyes towards the Heavens.

At any rate, a couple weeks ago we made a pretty big decision that will hopefully lead to some answers for our family.  I was pretty excited by the whole concept of our decision, knowing that good things were sure to follow.

I think it was the day after we made the decision that the fear settled deep in my bones and I started noticing things.

All those years of watching for signs, all those glances around me to see if the devil was cheering or if my guardian angel was kicking some ass came back and now?  Now I was looking around.  And I was seeing stuff.

Bad things.  Bad stories.  Bad online films.  Bad choices.

The clouds started to look foreboding.  The cats were yowling more often than not.  Mountain lions were roaming.  My son developed a fever.  The rivers dried up and fire fell from the skies.

Signs.  All of them bad, ugly, awful signs.

Yes, indeed.  It became very clear very quickly that the news we were going to receive would be bad, bad, bad and life was going to be dark, dark, dark for the remaining years.  Yes siree.  No doubt about it.  Time to buckle down the hatches and move into the cellar.

Good news is, I'm on the path of noticing how full my cup is rather than merely halfway empty.  And because I'm open to some good mojo, I found this:

Made me think that things might be okay after all.  And if they aren't, well, damn.  It's bound to get better.

Monday, November 21, 2011

So I'm not a food photographer

But for realz.  You've got to try this recipe out.  Besides the joy I experienced when coring the pears with a tablespoon (it was so easy and the holes were so perfectly circle shaped!), I've got to say it felt damn good to mix this all up by hand.  And the smell that came wafting out of the oven upon opening after approximately 50 minutes of baking?  Hell ja.  Ends up I might just be a crumble kind of gal....



And yeah, it's worth your time to click on the pictures for the enlarged view.  The business that oozed out the sides on that bottom picture was awesome....

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cranes and beauty and hope and leukemia

One of my first graders has leukemia.  I knew going into the school year he was diagnosed last April; truth is, I would be lying if I didn't admit right here and right now that my glass half-empty mentality didn't encourage me to promptly start building a wall.  Thing is, I'm so damn busy that the thoughts (positive and negative alike) jump in for a moment and then get taken away by something else within minutes.  Well, it's either that or the daily medication I'm on that ensures I'm on some sort of Cloud 9 for the majority of the day.

Either way....

So what I was saying was that a perk to running this way and that way is that I don't get totally hammered by my own sense of negativity on a constant basis.  Works out pretty well, especially when we're talking about making the mental decision as to whether or not I could handle connecting with a student who I believed could possibly die sooner than later.  I know that sounds shitty, but it's where I was at.  I hear "leukemia", and I think back to the 10,564 books I immersed myself in during my middle school years regarding youth dying from leukemia- and well, let's just say it's not good.  Oh- and Beaches.  Yeah.  Beaches.  That movie ruined me.

Anyway.  Ends up that I was too busy to worry about much.  My student walks in that first day with a scarf wrapped around his lovely little head and charmed me.  CHARMED ME.  Then he started feeling all brave and confident and beautiful and threw that scarf to the side so we could all revel in his baldness.  What a day that was.

A week or so ago he received two boxes full of paper cranes.  It was a gift from someone else who has leukemia.  My student, all full of smiles and silliness, stood in front of the class and declared his new-found love for cranes and humanity:  "The people who made these cranes?  They don't even know me!  And they made these so I could feel hope and make wishes!  1,000 wishes!"

This kid.  Amazing.  Courageous.  Heavy.  Thoughtful.  He's taught me a thing or two about fear and life and trying my hardest to not mix them together.

Thanks for the lesson, kiddo.  You're the best.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


You know when you should really spend a great deal of time studying up on a topic, finding great quotes to include, supporting your thoughts with research, so on and so forth?  I should be doing all of that.  But instead I'm thinking that I've got a moment or two so I need to just get it out there.  Hope that it makes some kind of sense.  Hope someone out there gets it and doesn't misread.

One of the reasons blogging has gone on the back burner has been the amount of reading I've been doing from the view point of the adult adoptee.  Powerful stuff.  Lots of thoughts, lots of truth, lots of, well, back to thoughts.  Yeah, lots of thoughts.

It's important to realize that this post is not a whine.  It's not a complaint. It's an opinion, and one that I have to get out there or I fear I will remain stuck.

Truth is, I started my blog at the beginning of our beginnings of making our family.  We were a bit lost at the time, and I needed an outlet.  We went from a focus on infertility to a focus on adoption to a focus on international adoption to a focus on Ethiopia to a focus on motherhood.  My eyes went from being shut to being wide open to the point where I eventually froze.  Afraid of saying the wrong thing.  Afraid of offending someone.  Afraid of everyone out there hating me.  Afraid of ruining my son's life. 

I have read so many books out there.  Books on adoption.  Attachment.  Ethiopia.  Children.  Transracial adoption.  Being Black in America.  Being African in America.  Obviously I'm a reader.  It's one of the ways I gather information and make decisions in my life.  With that in mind, and with my interest in blogging, I began searching the Land of Blog for viewpoints from the adult adoptee.  Although I have my own history with adoption, I knew that I needed more.  Information from people who were placed immediately after birth.  As toddlers.  Into families whose skin color and culture and history and background were different from their own. 

It didn't take long to find that many, many people out there are unhappy.  Abused.  Lied to.  Hidden.  Angry.  And while I was able to find some stories in which people had some joy to spread about their lives, those were minimal.

As a new mother who had started out on this journey with the plans of forming my family with love, love, and more love?  All those questions, all those anxieties, all those wonderings I had as we waited to meet our son, as I walked the streets of Ethiopia, as I glanced at the stares in the airport, as I watched movies and television shows, as I watched my son glob onto my husband but push away from me.... I quickly became aware of the thought that had been settling deep within me:  I was an imposter mother.  This blog said it.  That blog said it.  The stares said it.  The attachment struggle said it. 


It can make you freeze.  It doesn't diminish your love for your child, it doesn't necessarily mean you're lying in your bed with the sheets wrapped around you for days on end- it just meant, to me anyway, that I began to doubt myself in a way I had never doubted myself before.  And I still couldn't write about it because I certainly didn't want to come off as someone complaining.  As someone who couldn't know what it was like to be adopted as an infant, so who in the hell was I anyway.

I'm tired of apologizing to the Land of Blog for being an adoptive mother. 

I am a mother.  I am providing love, a home, warmth, comfort, security (the list can go on) for my son in the best ways I know how.  No, I'm not perfect.  I screw up a lot.  But this continued thinking that I'm an imposter mother for my son is doing nothing but harm for him.  For me.  For my family.  For our lives- both present and future.

I'm tired of hiding. 

I am a mother.  And I'm not sorry for it.  Not in the least.