Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Elephant Doctor

My daughter was born into generational poverty. It is important to me that she breaks that cycle of poverty that her birth family has struggled with for so long. In Bill Cosby's book, Come on, People, he mentions a study, which in a nutshell says, parents who asked their children, "What kind of doctor do you want to be?" were more likely to raise children who became doctors (PhD and medical) than those parents who just say, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Hmmm....interesting...

So I ask my daughter on a regular basis that very question. 

Today's conversation, "What kind of doctor do you want to be when you grow up?"

"I don't know. Can I have a snack?"

"Just tell me first, what kind of doctor do you want to be when you grow up?"

"An elephant doctor."

"Really? Do you mean you want to help sick elephants?" In the back of my mind I was thinking she could have been considering being an elephant that was a doctor. Just last week, she wanted to be a "princess doctor." Not a doctor that takes care of princesses, but a princess that happened to be a doctor. Anyway, I digress...

"Yes, I want to take care of sick elephants."

"How are you going to help the elephants?"

"Feed them water, bananas, and nuts."

"Where are you going to live when you grow up?"

"The North Pole!"

Ok...Probably not a high demand for elephant doctors at the North Pole, but you never know! At least I am getting the idea of higher education into her head and she is goal setting. Right? I know in time she will discover a goal and purpose that will fulfill her and bring her joy...even if she isn't a doctor and even if she isn't taking care of elephants at the North Pole!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Is that man from Africa?

I'm always looking for opportunities to take my daughter to African-American events that embrace her culture. Not long ago, the African Children's Choir was in town and I thought that would be great learning experience for her. On the night of the event, I wanted to make sure I picked a seat up front so she could get a good view of the action. The Ugandan children, mostly aged 7-11, came dancing and singing down the aisle wearing their traditional African clothing. My daughter was literally dancing in the aisle! She loved it!

In moments such as these, I like to point out to her how her skin looks like their skin...brown and beautiful. This particular night, I was also telling her how these children are from a continent far, far away called Africa.  She was so engrossed in the music and dancing I really didn't think she heard me. She is only four and doesn't always pay attention to me when I talk.

A few days later, we were at the mall. There was a black man walking toward us and as she points at him she says very loudly, "Is that man from Africa?"

"Shhh and don't point," I say.

"Well he has brown skin."

"You are right sweetie, he does have brown skin, but I don't think he is from Africa. I think he lives in our town. His ancestors are from Africa"

She stopped the questioning and I could tell she was mulling something around in her brain. Perhaps trying to process why some people with brown skin are from Africa and some people with brown skin are from her hometown or quite possibly why her mother would use a big word like "ancestor" with a girl of only four.

A few minutes later, another black man passes...can you guess?

"Is that man from Africa?"

Ugh! At least I know she was listening! :)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Raising a Strong Black Woman?

When my oldest, and somewhat sheltered,  child was in 4th grade, she came home from school a little frustrated because someone at school had said the "F word." Actually, she hadn't heard the word, but someone told someone that so and so said the "F word." So she sat at the table and told us the story about the kids at school talking about the kid who said the "F word." In an exasperated tone, and hands waving, she said, "kids at school keep saying that someone said the "F word" and I don't even know what that means...Funny? Fabulous? Fantastic? What? What does it mean?"

I hear the label "strong black woman" all of the time. I feel a little like my oldest daughter in that I don't know exactly what that means but I hear that label being dropped frequently.  I think I want to raise my daughter to be a strong, black woman. I think...but since I don't know what the label means, I decided to do some investigating.

First, I decided to look up the word "strong" in the dictionary. Of course, it means the typical "having strength," but I wanted to see what else that word had to offer. Other definitions included: powerful in influence, competent, and having courage. All of those definitions set well with me. I can handle it if my daughter is influential, competent, and courageous!

However, I still wasn't sure what it actually means to be a strong black woman. I found a Facebook page called "Beyond Black & White" by Christyelyn D. Karazin. I read several of her blogs and decided I would pose the question to her: How do I raise my daughter to be a strong black woman when I don't know what that means? I found her answer to be both informative and interesting. Christyelyn basically said that she doesn't believe in the label "strong black woman." She went on to say that she has three daughters, and she is not raising them to be "strong black women." She is raising them to be WOMEN, educated, refined, and with high expectations in what they want out of life and out of a partner.

Wow! That sounds like a big task, doesn't it? But you know, there was a great sense of relief there for me because, even though that task is monumental, I can do that! Forget about the label. Forget about being exasperated because others are saying so and so told so and so that I should be raising a strong black woman. I just need to raise my daughter to the best of my ability and teach her along the way to be a WOMAN...educated, refined, and with amazingly high expectations!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's OK if She Screams!

One time we were in Kansas City on a short trip. At the time, my daughter was only about 6 months old and her hair was short and fairly straight.  There was a black woman that was working in a department store that stopped us and asked us a few questions like, "How old is she?" And "Where is she adopted from?" After we left the store, she came running out. She was hollering, "Wait! Wait!" I couldn't imagine why on earth she would be running out of the store...while at flag us down.  We stopped, a little apprehensively. She ran up to us clearly out of breath, and said, "I just want to tell you that white people that adopt black girls don't always comb their hair out very well and it gets ratty. You need to really comb her hair out, even if she screams. It is the best thing and eventually, she will get used to it."

So began my journey into black hair.

My hair is straight as a string. I've never had a curl on my head that wasn't put there by a curling iron, blow dryer, or hot roller. I have always wanted naturally curly hair, but that just wasn't in the cards for me. Since I have no knowledge of what it is like to have curly hair and I have no experience with African American hair, bringing our little, black baby home was an eye opening experience.

I can't really compare my daughter's hair to any other black person, since I have no experience with Afro-American hair. But I can tell you that her hair is the curliest, thickest, hardest to comb, hair I have ever seen. Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not complaining. I love her hair. Her hair is soft as cotton and when it is down I could just touch it all day. I love her hair in her afro-puffs (little pony tails), braids, corn rows, or just in an afro. It is beautiful.

Today it is time to wash and braid my daughter's hair. It is a day I both dread and love. The challenge of having a toddler sit for hours while I remove the braids, wash her hair, and then re-braid is a pain. It is time consuming and makes both of us slightly irritable. On the other hand, it is a wonderful because we spend hours of quality time together, talking, singing, and watching our favorite Disney movies.

Since black hair is very different from white hair, I have had to learn a lot of new things. For example, black hair is very dry, does not have to be washed daily, and breaks off easily. Unfortunately, I have first hand experience at how easily black hair can break off. I can't really explain the trauma it causes in a mother when you realize the cute hairdo you put in your daughter's hair, the one with all of the little plastic hairbands, begins to break off at the root. The root! All of the hair, at the root, around the perimeter of her head...gone! Did I say, at the root!!! It was like something out of a horror movie. I actually thought about suing the company because there was no disclaimer on the package  that said, "WARNING! This will cause your daughter's hair to break off at the root!" Needless to say, I have not used that hair do again and hair moisturizer is my friend.

To learn how to work with her hair, I watch videos on YouTube and talk to lots of black women. I have been known to stop strangers on the street for the sole purpose of discussing black hair. "Excuse me ma'am, sorry to bother you, but I have adopted an African-American girl and I was wondering if you could tell be about how you got your hair to do that?" or "Excuse me, but what hair cream do you use?" or "Excuse me, but does your daughter mind sleeping in all of those beads?" I don't know if these women appreciate my curiosity or just pity me, but they always oblige and answer all of my questions.

When I am combing out my daughter's hair and she is screaming, I tell her about the kind woman in Kansas City who told me how important it was to have her hair combed out. She doesn't seem to appreciate my story of the sweet women, but maybe, one day, after the screams fade and she is grown, she will.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

I'm Not Brown, I'm Peach

"I'm not brown, I'm peach!" Those are the words said to me, a "peach" mother, by my chocolate brown, 4-year-old daughter. The words came as a surprise, because I have spent the last 4 years telling her all about her tummy mom and how she has brown skin, too. I've praised the beauty of her skin, taken her to African-American cultural events, read her books about children of color, just to name a few. How could she not realize or forget that she is chocolate brown?

Not only did she seem to think she was peach, but she also acted completely surprised and astonished by the revelation that she was chocolate. She actually examined her hand very carefully just to make sure I was telling her the truth. It broke my heart. 

I was heartbroken because I want her to embrace her race. I want to her to be comfortable in her skin and be proud of who she is. I want her to know she is as good as, if not better, than everyone else no matter the color of her skin. The part that is actually the saddest to me is that as a white mother raising a black child in a home full of white people, I feel that I've failed her in some way. 

That leads me to this blog. This blog will be documenting my quest to help my daughter find her inner black girl. I'm not sure where this journey will take me and it could be years before I know if I have reached my quest. Let the journey begin!