I’ve been answering tricky questions about race lately. And, for the record, I’ve not been as prepared or eloquent about them as I’d like. With the release of my book, Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter this past week, I’ve been surprised at how often my daughter’s race is what grabs people’s attention.
When my husband and I were going through the process of adopting her, we gave careful thought to the fact that her race would be different from ours. We’re Caucasian; she’s Latina. We talked with friends who had “mixed” families themselves about the challenges and issues that difference presented. We read books, examined our own feelings, and looked around the community to see how many examples of families we could see that looked anything like ours would after our daughter’s homecoming.
And, in the end, we determined that adopting transracially was the right choice for us.
What I was more concerned about was her age. Could a toddler attach to her mother after spending the first almost year and a half of her life somewhere else? Didn’t everyone write about the importance of breastfeeding (she wasn’t breastfed), that birth to three years old is the most important time in a person’s life (I’d missed half of it), and that the very architecture of the brain was pretty much mapped out and walled up by the time a child is three (Yipes!).
Her race was important, but not the most important issue I felt we were to face.
When asked about it, I’m able to talk about what made us decide to create a multiethnic family. But I was less prepared for another question that keeps surfacing:
“How do your other children feel about having a child of another race in the family?”
That’s when I begin to fumble. “Fine,” I answer, cheerfully. But then I don’t know what else to say. One word answers do not make for a good interview. As a person who has spent much more time on the other side of the questions – that is, as the journalist asking them – I want to give more.
“They, um, like it.”
“Well, they love her, so they love her race. ‘Cause, you know, that’s a part of who she is.”
I find myself sounding superficial, saccharine-sweet. The truth is, I have rather chatty and confessional kids, two of whom are teenagers, and they’ve never brought this up to me. I think, if it were on their radars at all, we’d have spent hours by now dissecting it.
A few days ago after taking a call from a radio program and again fielding that question, again, I walk into my son’s room and flop down on the bed next to him.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” he says, barely looking up from his book. He’s thirteen and on summer days can often be found stretched across his bed, reading. This week it’s The Da Vinci Code, loaned to him by our babysitter.
“I keep getting asked in interviews how you older three kids feel about Mia being a different race than you.”
“What?” He says, closing the book slowly, keeping his right hand on the page he was reading, a make-shift bookmark, a message that this conversation, he hopes, will be a brief one.
“That Mia’s Latina. What do you think about that? Does it affect you in any way? ” I ask. “I mean, because you’re Caucasian.”
“What? Really? Weird question,” He says, losing interest and beginning to open the book again. “Of course it doesn’t. I never even thought about that.”
And then he turns back onto his side and begins reading again.
“Anything else?” I ask, trying to keep the conversation open.
“Yeah, actually,” he looks over his shoulder at me. “Can you tell me how you’d pronounce this? ‘O-P-U-S D-E-I.’ It’s from the book.”
I say the phrase. “It’s Latin. Means ‘book of God.’”
“Oh,” he turns back to reading.
“No, I’m sorry. That would be ‘work of God,’” I correct myself. “I think.”
“Whatever,” he mumbles.
Later, I’m driving home from the grocery store with my 11-year old daughter Isabel. “Do you ever think about Mia’s race? That she’s a different race than you are?”
“No. Why?” she answers.
“I keep getting asked about that. I mean about how you older three feel about Mia being a different race than you are.”
“Geez!” She exclaims. “What a question! Of course not. She’s my sister! What difference does it make what color she is? Do I sit around thinking about what race the boys are? I gotta tell you Mom,” she says, a bit scoldingly. “I don’t know who it is asking you about that, but you can tell them that it’s a very strange and very inappropriate question.”
For the moment, I consider the case closed and decide that a one-word answer in interviews, for future reference, will be sufficient.
Jennifer Grant is the author of the recently-released memoir Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Grant