Trips to the grocery store were always an event in the Hofmann household. Usually, Dad would be working so Mom would load up us four kids all under the age of eight in to the dark blue station wagon and we would trek to the local A and P grocery store.
The one order we would get before we walked through those magic glass doors that opened by themselves was simple; “Make sure you stay with me,” Mom would say. Then the adventure began. Mom would whisk up and down the isles checking off items one by one on a list written on the back of an envelope or on a scrape piece of paper. Her mission was to save as much money as possible and our mission, job and responsibility was to keep up with her.
The phase, “No child gets left behind,” meant nothing to Mom. If you were slow, you got left behind. If you got distracted by the toy aisle that sat next to the cereal aisle, you got left behind.
I can remember several times seeing and feeling my mother right beside me and then I would look away for a fraction of a quarter of a second and she would dissolve and be gone. If I was lucky, I would catch a blur of her whipping around the corner of an aisle, but usually she would just be gone. I would stand in the middle of the aisle in dead silence as the shelves of groceries seemed to grow taller as I shrank. I would frantically whip my head around but I knew it was no use. When she was gone, she was gone.That feeling of being lost, cut off from the world in the A and P was terrifying. I felt alone in a store full of people.
Last summer, at 42 years old, for the first time in my life I sat down with a group of transracial adoptees. For three days, I got to move in an environment with adults who lived their lives like I have lived mine; as a minority in tour own families.
I was excited to hear their stories, their experiences, and their interpretations of life as transracial adoptees. Over this 72 hour period, I heard, saw, felt, and experienced the pain, hurt, and anger of several transracial adoptees. There were meetings we had where I just wanted to run out and away from the confusion, the tears, the shouts, and the cussing.
At night, I would lie awake wondering if I missed it. Anxiety would seize me and descend on me like a blanket. Was I in denial? Was I ignoring the powerful feelings that so many shared during the day? Why was my experience so different?
About 48 hours in to this new world the answer to my last question was clear. My experience was different.
My experience of growing up in a white family but always in touch with people who looked like me, I was finding out was unique. Many transracial adoptees are adopted by white families, live in white environments, and never have the vital connections I had.
Often this lack of connection is compounded by the fact that race is never talked about in the home. This creates what someone called “Racial isolation.” That term hit me across the forehead when I took the time to really hear it.
To live in racial isolation where you are treated differently at school, at church, on the playground, in your neighbor, and then come home where you can’t or don’t discuss it would be a torturous existence. Growing up like that, in my opinion, would be a living hell.
Over those 72 hours, I got to see and understand a side of transracial adoption that I didn’t experience but now I understand better. To survive such a life would not be easy and the hurt, pain, and anger that would throb in my chest would be very difficult to contain.
The alone and isolated feeling I felt in the A and P felt like it lasted an eternity but in reality lasted one to two minutes. Once I ran down the aisle and checked the aisles to the left or right, I would find my Mom, pushing the shopping cart, with one to three of my brothers and sister. My siblings were not immune to our mother’s disappearing act so rarely were we all together at one time in the A and P. Once connected I would fall back in line behind the shopping cart that was quickly being filled and I was no longer alone.
Living life surrounded by people but still isolated and alone will change a child and the road to finding themselves as they grow will not be as easy as running to the next aisle.