It was one of those parenting moments in which I had to take a breath, hide my emotions and proceed with caution.
“Because I want my family to look like me.”
“Well your little brother and sister look like you.”
“Yeah but not the whole family.”
I hugged him and apologized for not being brown. What else could I do? I mean, there was a time when I was small when I operated under the notion that I was part African-American, but the fact is I’m not. I distinctly remember when I found out the truth. I was playing Barbies with my older sister; I was probably about 4, making her around 9. I chose a White Barbie for the Mom and a Black Ken for the Dad for our game.
“You can’t do that,” my sister informed me.
“You can’t have a White one and a Black one be married!”
“Why not? Daddy’s Black.”
And with the whack my sister gave me for saying so, I thus learned my Portuguese-Italian father, while certainly the darkest man I saw in rural New Jersey where we lived, was not, in fact, Black. And therefore, neither was I.
That was the extent of my own childhood racial identity crisis. Of course there was no real crisis to be had. Even though my dad is dark and my Polish-German mother is fair, they are both Caucasian. There was no loss of birth parents or cultural heritage for me. There was no wondering about my ancestry or why all the other kids at school resembled their parents and each other.
I always knew a day would come when E would start to work through his own valid identity issues so I don’t know why I felt so blindsided by it. Maybe I thought he’d drop some hints first, or that he’d be a little older.
When I tucked him in that night, we talked some more. Or, more accurately, I talked while he mostly cried and nodded.
Was he still feeling sad?
Did someone say something recently that made him start feeling like this?
Does he know how much Mommy and Daddy love him?
And even though everyone talks about how happy adoption is and we ARE so, so happy he’s part of our family, did he know there’s sadness to adoption too?
Yes, E, because we love you so very much but if the world was perfect and there were never any problems at all, you probably would just have stayed with your birth mother, don’t you think?
And my boy sobbed when I said this. My sweet, sweet first grade boy, with pain more suited for an older person to deal with.
Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?
Well I want you to feel at least a little bit better. You might always have sad feelings about this, and that’s okay. But I want to help you…find peace about it. Do you understand what that means?
Would you like to spend more time with your birth family? Great Grandma and Auntie you just met and your sister that was adopted by another family? Would that help?
Then I will do my best to arrange it, my love. I promise to always do my best to keep you in touch with the brown family you long for.
Gina Sampaio likes to challenge the notion of what being a stay at home mom means by not only staying busy with her husband and five kids but also with acting, writing, social activism and rabble rousing in general. Gina blogs about her daily adventures with kids, crafts and cooking, navigating a post-foster care transracial open adoption and the ongoing journey of surviving a sexual assault under the name Sister Serendip (follow her on Facebook and Twitter).