Squeaker and I met Pottergrrl and Izzy for coffee and formula this morning. We haven't known each other very long, but the conversation always seems to dive deep to the heart of things, and I walk away feeling understood -- something that has been sorely missing in my life these days. It's so fun watching our babies grow and change, while navigating the messy maze of post-40 first-time parenting and recovering from our respective difficult journeys to this place of relative abundance. Today, Squeaker could not take his eyes off of Izzy, stunning goddess that she is. Last time they saw each other, he was still in the unfocused lumpish stage, a standoffish date at best. This time, he stared, drooling and awestruck at her mobility -- she crawls! she grabs what she wants! she eats cereal! -- while she threw coquettish flirty looks back over her shoulder. Meanwhile, we mamas sipped our all-important caffeinated beverages and nibbled pastries, conversation flowing over topics light and heavy. I'm telling ya, it doesn't get much better than that.
A man approached us at the coffee house. He had beautiful dark skin, a big bright smile, and spent several minutes cooing over the babies, reminiscing about when his daughter was young. Izzy waved, Squeaker smiled. The man laughed as he waved goodbye. He was so warm and friendly that I wanted to invite him to pull up a chair, but he was working and we were deep in talk.
Later, Squeaker, the Mister and I lunched out with my brother's family. At the end of the meal, Squeaker started to fuss, so the Mister took him out to the entry hall while we dealt with the check. We emerged to find Squeaker -- still wailing and weeping -- cuddled in the arms of a 50-ish black woman. She clucked and cooed, swaying and bouncing Squeaker gently and talking to him with a cheerful, clearly-familiar-with-babies patter. She nearly succeeded in quieting him, but then he started up again. She looked at our small group. "Where is mama?" (or maybe it was "Who is mama?") I held out my arms, and Squeaker snuggled right in, quieting immediately as I shifted him into his familiar nap postion. "Ohhh, he knows his mama! Mama knows what to do!" she said, with a big smile. We all said friendly goodbyes and took our leave.
Somehow, these encounters meant a lot to me. I haven't gotten to the point where I can explain my thoughts on race properly, but I know that I worry a lot about how Squeaker's community of origin will view us, the Mister and I, white people parenting a black child. I probably worry too much, but worry I do. I probably just need to relax and be the best parent I can be, making sure that our personal community is diverse and Squeaker has the opportunity to have a wide range of experiences, knowledge of his history, and tools to cope with difficult situations. But I have such a painful awareness of the struggle that comes with being a person of color in this race-conscious country, that I am hyper-sensitized to anything I might do that shows anything less than the deepest respect for that struggle and for those who made it possible for Squeaker's life to be just a bit easier than the last generation's. I want him to honor that struggle, and I know that it is our responsibility to prepare him for the struggles he will face -- struggles that we escape by virtue of our skin color. I think about this a lot, I read and read and read, and I plan how to handle difficult situations that we will undoubtedly face as a mixed-race family. And I worry that someone (of any race) will come up and yell at me, tell me that I shouldn't be parenting this child, that I have no right, that my love for him is just a weird manifestation of white guilt, that he'd be better off with his birthmom.
And then I wonder whether some of that feeling might exist even if Squeaker and I had the same skin color. My adoptive mother friends and I have talked about the feeling of having to "earn" the right to mother our children, to be referred to as their mothers, to feel in our bones that we are theirs and they are ours. On the night that the Mister and I met Squeaker, I knew that we were supposed to be his parents, but referring to myself as his mama and believing it -- as opposed to saying it because I was supposed to -- took some time. It's different if you've carried the child in your womb because, even if you suffer from post-partum depression or have some other anxiety about parenting, there is never a doubt that you are the child's mother. In adoption after infertility, there is a gap, a time during which you can't believe that someone had the strength to give you their child, a time when you're so thrilled to be a parent and so terrified someone will take the child away, a time when you refer to yourself as a parent but can't really believe it deep down.
Eventually, it comes. One night you sit in the dark feeding your child, feeling his trusting little body cuddle up against you, and you know that you love him and that he recognizes your voice. The mama bear instinct takes hold. You become his mother, and woe to the person who says otherwise.
But the fact that strangers have to ask "Where is mama?" keeps me on tenterhooks. I suppose I'll eventually get used to it -- I just haven't yet. I'm comfortable that Squeaker has been welcomed into our family and immediate group of friends, and our wider community has been great so far -- but I'm still unsure of our place in Squeaker's birth community, or whether that place will ever exist. We live in a very white (albeit liberal) city and although our Big City friends hail from many countries, our local friends look a lot like us, and that worries me. The fact that we haven't heard from Squeaker's birthmom in several months adds to my worries. I want so much for him to know her, and she will be such an important connection to the black community for him. Of course she can't be his only connection -- it's up to us to make sure there are others, that he has stromg black role models who are part of his everyday life. Which will be a challenge while I'm still fearing disapproval from the people I want to become closer to. I'm hoping I don't screw this up. And fear is an unattractive trait, so I'm busting my a** to get over it. Squeaker will need me to be strong, not tentative. My fear tells me that I still have a lot of work to do. It's going to be an interesting journey.