Sunday, November 21, 2010

A must-read

I'm only halfway through this book, but it is so outstanding that I wanted to share it. It's now on my must-read list for all parents, teachers, and care-givers.

The book is I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World, by Marguerite A. Wright. Of course, I am not raising a black or biracial child -- but because Anya Rashi has very brown skin, she will look different than 85% of her classmates at school, and already is the focus of many questions and comments in public settings. (The conversation in the grocery store a few posts back also reinforced to me that bigots don't care what your cultural heritage is, they just see the color of your skin.)

Truthfully, though, I'd recommend this book to every parent, even those who are Caucasian parents raising Caucasian children. There was a great Newsweek article (Sept. 2009) called "See Baby Discriminate" that mentioned that Caucasian parents do the worst job of talking openly about racial differences or discrimination, operating under the altruistic but dead wrong idea that children are color blind. The article detailed a variety of fascinating studies that show young children do notice differences in skin color -- they just don't attach any negative meanings to them, unless they've been taught to do so.

I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla is actually fun to read, because in addition to the interesting and readable scholarly writing Wright does, she also cites many conversations with real children. Their answers are humorous, poignant and uncensored. She also includes memories of adults, some famous and some ordinary people, that shaped their racial identities and ideas about the world.

One of the most valuable elements of the book, though, is that it's broken down by ages and developmental stages. I was totally enthralled by her chapters on pre-schoolers, because it so closely mirrored our experiences and some of Anya Rashi's conversation. Just yesterday, Anya Rashi was building a play fort, and happily said, "I wish my skin looked like yours, Mama."

Many of us adoptive parents would be cringing and thinking, "What have I done to make her think white skin is better than brown skin?! I must tell her she's wrong, that brown skin is gorgeous, etc. etc. etc." Instead of unleashing all that, I asked her, "Why is that, sweetie?"

Her answer? "Because I love to eat vanilla wafers because they're so good, and your skin looks like a vanilla wafer." All with a beautiful smile. So I answered, "Your skin looks delicious to me because it reminds me of chocolate, and you know that's one of my favorite things." This isn't the first conversation we've had -- she usually tells me I look like a peach -- but I found it funny that she used vanilla (as so many pre-schoolers do) while I'm reading this book.

One of the book's main points (so far!) is that adults misread what children are saying at different developmental stages, and often ignore obvious differences in appearance that children are aware of, or overemphasize racism and instill fear and mistrust that outweigh what the child might actually experience in life.

Practically speaking, some of the most useful parts of the book are the quizzes, exercises and suggestions for parents and teachers. I love that the author doesn't just throw a bunch of theories and research on the table, but actually shows how to live out better ways of handling charged racial situations.

I hope you get as much out of this book as I am!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


This week we recognized the Indian holiday Diwali, that celebration of light winning over darkness, good over evil. With Indian food and candlelight, we placed our thoughts on the Light of the World, and read a few verses about light. I've been thinking a lot lately about the cultural part of adopting a child from one culture and raising them in another, entirely different one.

When we were in our first adoption process, a parent at our school asked us if we were planning to raise our daughter to be Hindu. The obvious answer is that, since we ourselves are not Hindu, we would have no idea how to teach her to be! Another reality to consider is that India itself is home to Muslims, Jains and Sikhs, as well as Hindus and Christians. We love India and are repeatedly asking ourselves how we can honor the traditions and holidays of her birth country (many of which are Hindu), while also teaching her about and including her in our own devotion to Christ. We want her to be proud of being Indian, and we want her to know the history and modern-day realities of the country we've grown to love.

We are still learning how to combine cultures. We want Anya Rashi to know about all things Indian -- and so we teach her what Diwali is about. In our own family celebration, we make Chicken Makhani and Pav Bhaji (full disclosure: the Makhani is homemade from scratch, and the Pav Bhaji is by our good pal Trader Joe), we light candles in Indian candle-holders, and we celebrate the victory of light overcoming darkness.

We think of our friends Usha and Murli, and other Christians in India doing amazing work caring for the poor, tending the sick, loving the abandoned, and feeding the hungry. We think about the boys from Mumbai who visited our church this summer, and marvel over their stories of rescue from the streets thanks to the love of K. K. Devraj and Bombay Teen Challenge. They are all living the victory of good over evil every day, and we pray for them.

So our Diwali is a bit of a mosaic. How about yours? I'd love to hear how other families navigate this part of parenting.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Costumes & grocery store adoption bonding

Just wanted to share a few photos of our fun weekend. Peter and I dressed as, umm, geezers for a costume wedding reception. Much of our costumes came courtesy of my Mom: I was sporting her fabulous cat-eye sunglasses from the 1960s, along with her hat, gloves, and fur-trimmed coat, while Peter carried my grandpa's cane.

The kids, however, were way cuter! Building off Anya Rashi's wish to be dressed as cheese, Aaron and Nathan agreed to be a mouse and a mousetrap. Nathan even made up a name for his rodent trap: The Mouse-inator 3000!

* * *

This morning brought one of those blessed moments that seem to happen at just the right time along this adoption journey. As Anya Rashi and I were headed toward the check-out at our grocery store, a woman in her late 50s stopped us.

"Excuse me," she said, "but is your daughter adopted from India?" She went on to say that she and her husband have two adult children who were born in Pune! Her son is now the director of aquatics at one of our local YMCAs, and her daughter works for a city Park & Recreation Department. Hoping to gain some wisdom from her, I asked how their experiences had been when their kids were older.

She said her kids have a positive view of being adopted, but ran into a few bumps in the road as they grew up because of other people's perceptions. When her daughter was in elementary school, she came home from school one day and innocently asked her mother "What does n----- mean?" She had never heard the word before, but another child had called her that at school. Her son has been subjected to extensive searches at airports EVERY single time he has flown. He gets profiled as a terrorist every time he sets foot in an airport, and once was pulled out of line for a second search after the first one.

She congratulated us on our upcoming adoption, and said she remembered how hard it was to wait -- she and her husband got the call about their first child during a New Year's Eve party at their house, and her eyes still glowed as she retold the story. She also showed me photos of her gorgeous grown children. It was such a joy to talk with a mom who has raised her kids and navigated some of the difficult parts of having children from another culture.

We said goodbye -- my frozen food was melting, and she was visiting the store with her clients (she works in an assisted living center) -- and both of us walked away feeling blessed, I think.