Okay so I wasn't going to blog about this. It happened a couple of months ago. The entire month after it happened, I felt like a big fat failure. Like I made him feel this way. Like I am "less than" because I am white and I completely screwed him up.
But I'm not. It's normal. I know this...my brain does, but my heart can't seem to grasp it. You think you are prepared for this as a transracial adoptive parent. You think that you have heard enough stories that you are pretty confident how you should/would/will approach it. You expect it to happen (well deep down I think we all believe and hope it won't). Yet when it does, it is still pretty much similar to running face first into a brick wall, and then getting kicked in the gut afterward.
It is so so hard. Expected maybe yes....but still SO darn holy moly hard.
I decided to suck it up and write this in hopes that it will help others out there. It's not a specific black / white transracial family issue either. I have many friends with brown babies (Black, Mexican, Guatemalan, etc. and some of the mommies and daddies the same race) but a lot of them still go through this (yay for the racist thinking of the world that lighter = better). However, if you are a transracial adoptive family you can all but be guaranteed that this will happen to you. It's natural...your kids want to look like you, and they don't.
So first things first - if this happens to you, stay calm. This is not about you, this is not a reflection of your parenting. This is 100% normal. Do not blame yourself, but most importantly do not blame your child. Your first reaction will be to think "How could you say that!? I never have made you feel this way!" Don't. It's not about you, it's about them, it's about being different, it's about wanting to be like you because at this age...you are their idol. They just need to cry about it for a while.
This is much easier said. Believe me...I know.
I have no idea if what I did is right, so it sort of terrifies me to write this and find out I did the wrong thing. I am almost positive someone out there will tell me I did it wrong. I hope I did it right. I can tell you that he seems satisfied and happy, and that I 100% just trusted my gut. Only you know your kid, only you know what they need, I take comfort in that. Do your research, yes...but trust that gut.
Here we go. Here is what happened:
We were getting ready to go to bed and I was reading a book to them about different skin colors (The Skin You Live In, love this book). I stopped and talked about it a little bit when suddenly Lil'Dude stares up at me, eyes sad, and says "Mommy, I don't want to be brown. I want to be white like you." I immediately stop and panic. I ask what he means and he clarifies that he doesn't like being brown, that he wants to be white like mommy and daddy, he wants his skin to look like ours too.
I start by just hugging him. I am wondering if maybe this is just a moment for him....I tell him that it's okay to feel that way but he is very beautiful. He then starts crying, and I know this is it. He means business. This isn't just a passing whim.
So I gently push him back and I talk to him about WHY he is a different color than us, and bring up adoption. (by this time Brewerman is in there too. We both are a little pale as we watch our child cry that emotionally-painful-cry that we so very rarely see). I tell him about his birthfamily, about his culture, and how much we love him for that.
I think about telling him that I wish I was brown like him, that I love his color so much but I don't. I want to teach him to love himself, and that's not a good start if I am showing him that I don't love myself. By this time he is sobbing, he doesn't care if he is adopted, or about his birthfamily, or even about his culture.
He is just a five year old boy that wants to look like his mommy and daddy.
I give him one last hug and sat him up. I sit back and his daddy sits down beside me.
I ask him how many eyes he has. He tells me two. How many does mommy have? Two. I ask him how many arms he has...two. How many does daddy have? Two. How many toes do you have? Do you have an elbow? Can you snort like a pig too like mommy can? Where are your eyes at? Where are daddy's eyes at? What color is your hair? Black. What color is mommy's hair? Black. What color is your tongue when you eat a blue sucker? What about when mommy eats a blue sucker?
See? We are similar in other ways too. We are all the same in some ways and different in other ways.
By this time he is still sniffling, but not sobbing.
I then ask him what color his daddy's eyes are? Green. What color is mommy's eyes? Brown. What color is daddy's hair? Brown. What color is mommy's hair? Black. Does daddy have freckles? Yes. Does mommy have freckles? No. How long is mommy's hair? How long is daddy's hair?
We are all different if you really look at us, that is what makes us each so beautiful. Daddy's skin is red, and mommy's is more olive. Daddy's voice is deeper than mommy's and daddy has bigger feet than mommy (barely). Doesn't Mommy look nice with long hair? It would be pretty silly if we all looked alike, how would we tell each other apart?
By this time he has stopped sniffling and is calmed down a little, though still upset.
The next thing we do is talk about people that he knows that are black. I get out pictures of his birthfamily, pictures of our friends, and talk about a few of his friends at school that are also black. This doesn't really start to help until my husband mentioned Rangers baseball players that have brown skin. That peeks his interest. So we go on more about that, and how they wear their skin color with pride.
By the time we are done he seems to be better. We were getting ready to lay him down when he said again..."But mommy I really just want to have skin like you, not brown skin." and I just sit down next to him, gather him in my arms, hug him tightly and tell him that I know baby, and it's okay. We love you just the way you are and your beautiful brown skin is part of who you are, and we wouldn't change a thing......but it's okay to be sad, it's okay to think it's unfair, and if you need me to, I'll just hold you for a while.
Because sometimes they just want to cry about it....but they do hear you.
So far we haven't had another episode, but I know there are more to come. I can only hope that I can keep guiding him and not lead him astray. I have some very dear friends that help me along the way (BBC shout out) and feel lucky that I have them there because I would surely feel like the blind leading the blind otherwise. I ask them direct questions and they tell me what they think, supporting me and guiding me. It is so important to have friends that you can talk to that are black, that truly get it. That can say "You are being stupid." or "Please don't do that to that child."
Because gosh darn it....I am white, and let's face it, I have no idea what it's like to walk around in brown skin. All I can do is listen, learn, and love him the best way I know how.
Oh my though, there is little else than can hurt your heart more than to see your baby hurting.