Tonight I want to tell you about a little boy.
Nearly nine years ago, my ex-husband and I were waiting. We were preparing. We were nervous, and excited, and awed. We were waiting for a baby. Or a toddler, we didn't care. But we opened our lives and our home and our bank accounts and even our sex life to social workers and licensing workers, in the hopes we would be able to adopt.
One night I got a call. It was our foster parent liaison. My heart skipped about 10 beats before she could say, "Don't get excited. This is NOT the call you're waiting for." I calmed down, and listened to what she said next.
"There's a little boy. He's almost 4 years old. He has fetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD, and we don't know what else. He's been living in a guardianship, and his guardian is having health issues. He's very, very hard to care for, and she cannot keep him. I believe he should be in a permanent adoptive home, but we need for him to be in a quiet, safe, loving place for a few weeks so we can get a good evaluation on him. Do you think you and your husband could take him in? I know you're not fully licensed yet, but we can rush through a certification."
"And he's African-American."
My ex-husband is Russian and German, but if he grows a mustache, he can pass for Hispanic. I'm Russian and French, and except for my potato nose, I could pass for Irish (think fair skin, freckles and green eyes with dark hair). When we filled out our forms, we said we'd adopt a child of any race. And we meant it. So, the last item wasn't an issue at all.
Frankly, the FAS scared the heebies out of me. But we agreed to meet him.
He was living in a home with 5 or 6 other kids, and he was the LEAST handicapped. It was a beautiful home, and absolutely insane. The kids were forced to eat off paper plates in the back yard. Thankfully, it was summer. I shudder to think what they did in our rainy winters. He had really ashy skin, so each night he was taught to rub vaseline into his skin, then clothed in heavy footed jammies put on backwards so he couldn't reach the zipper to remove them. This sweet little 3 year old went to sleep every night, hot and sweaty, without someone tucking him in, rubbing his back, kissing his handsome face.
J and I wanted to take him home that minute, but we completed a few days of "transition" time. He never cried when I drove him away from the only mother he'd known for all of his 3 1/2 years.
He was tall and skinny and looked much older than his years. People expected the response they'd get from a 6 year old, and this little guy was probably not even operating at a 2 year old level. He was a....difficult...child. Difficult to handle, but never difficult to love.
So we brought him home and loved on him. It was easy, most of the time. He had been very highly medicated, and we were able to cut his medication by more than 2/3. When he wasn't the compliant little zombie we'd picked up from his home; we were tested. But we had help. We had a behavior specialist tell us to give him Omega 3s, he had a psychiatrist, and two social workers. We put him on a special diet. I learned infant massage, and worked on him three times a day. I learned physical therapy to stretch his shortened hamstrings. I learned to teach Sunday School so that he could attend, since no one else in our church at the time could deal with him. And I loved him.
When he was evaluated, they added cerebral palsy (how did they not notice this before?), ODD, OCD, and a few other diagnoses. But I wrote a description of him: of his inquisitive mind, his loving heart, his out-of-this-world smile, and a worker took a photo, and within one day an adoptive family was found.
It took eight months before the paperwork was done and I flew with him to his new home in the midwest. Or midsouth. I was never very good at remembering the regions of the US. We're still in touch, and he's thriving. And I pray for him every day.
I could write a lot more about this little guy, the first child to call me mama.
But what I want to write about is the lesson I learned about racism.
When he moved in with us, we took him to Turtle Bay, and were playing with him at the Paul Bunyan park there. A woman was pushing her kid on the next swing over. She looked at us and said, "Wow. Is he your foster kid, or did you adopt him?" Right in front of him. I have to give my ex-husband kudos for saying, "He's ours."
Anytime we went out, we got comments. I was called a n*gger-lover many times. I learned to respond, "Yes, I am."
I heard him called monkey. I heard him called things I'd never before heard. And I was called things just as bad. By seemingly normal adults. I never in my life had considered that such hatred could be focused on one little boy.
Interestingly, a year later we fostered a little girl that was African-American. She was 3, and she had literally been tossed aside by her mother while she was escaping from police. She was beautiful - and sassy as all get out.
And I never heard one word about her race from anyone.
Why was this? Were people threatened by a black male? That's the only conclusion I could come up with.
And today, when I stood in the lunchroom at work, focused on the wall-mounted TV, and saw Obama sworn in as President of our United States, I cried. I cried because maybe someday this little boy will be able to be anything he wants to be. He will be able to love anyone he wants, and maybe even someday father children of his own, and know that our country decided that, as Dr. King so beautifully said, he will be judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.