Every tree limb overhead seems to sit and wait, while every step you take becomes a twist of fate.
Up on the watershed, standing at the fork in the road...

If you are new to our adoption blog please take a moment to scroll down to the archives at the bottom of this page and start with July 2009 post "Watershed."


White Mama

Does anyone else notice how uncomfortably close we get to other humans when shopping?

The mall. It really is equally appalling and appealing. In one building you can find so many strange and tempting things: the overpowering smell of cinna.bonn (yum) mingled with the watery eye, allergy inducing air fibers of new clothing, the soundtrack of tapping high heels and children screaming in the indoor play area topped off with a hint of musky cologne samples. Fake light, fake smells, fake food, fake playground. Real people.

Prior to adopting I never looked at my fellow shoppers. I am usually an in and out by myself, get it done, seek and destroy shopper. Once in awhile I am the shopper who brings a friend to try on expensive dresses neither of us can afford. Either way, no eye contact with fellow stranger shoppers and definitely no chit chat with salespeople.

Ariam and I have been alone to a mall twice together since arriving home. (This post really applies to being alone with her as adding another person changes the dynamic completely. The time I brought my friend Alima everyone thought we were a lesbian couple with a domestically adopted daughter.)

During both of our alone mall visits it's like I've had blinders removed and I can suddenly see race everywhere. (I know I know, a very WHITE thing to say.)

But seriously. Walking in the mall my internal monologue is something like this:

"African American man. Twelve o'clock. He sees her. Eyes widening slightly. He is wondering, he is wondering. Wonder if he is staring because she's so lovely? (glance at Ariam tells me that this is probably not quite the reason given her super grump expression, dried formula on her chin, and shoeless feet propped on the front rung of her stroller.) "

"Ethiopian! Ethiopian man four o'clock. Ethiopan man wearing traditional shirt! Oh! he sees her. He is looking. Should I smile? Should I nod? Should I stop? He's not smiling. Why not smiling?"

"AA woman next to us. Next to us looking at C.arol's Dau.ghters products. I am a good mama. I am paying a lot of money for good hair products (insert more self affirmation of my ability to mother an Ethiopian baby.) I smiled. Should I comment knowingly on one of the products? I did it! I did it! But no more. No more HAIR talk. That's not cool. No more hair talk Amanda. You are so WHITE."

Sitting at table eating frozen yogurt, feeding bites to Ariam who is a. grumpy because mommy is hauling her around the watery eye allergy inducing mall and b. wants yogurt shoveled into her mouth at a faster pace than I can manage: "Ethiopian man. Handsome Ethiopian man. Approaching. Approaching. With a friend. With a stroller. Here they come.Careful now - are they friend or foe? What do they think about adoption. Act pleasant! No, act confident! No, act humble!!! Aaaccckkk!"

I internally obsess over Ariam's dry legs. "Her legs are so dry. If I don't look, maybe nobody will look. Is that dry or is that something I can brush off?? Okay, guess it's dryness. But WHY? I swear I am using Shea butter. I will swear this on my life to any woman who asks me. Maybe I should duck into a store and sneak some lotion onto her. Wait. No shoes. She isn't wearing shoes. Why didn't I put her shoes on? She looks so pitiful with her barefeet and long toenails. OMG. What am I doing in this mall? We are not coming back until I have mastered the hair products, remembered to shoe my child, and fed her enough yogurt to keep her quiet."

And on it goes. I have lost myself. In a good way in general. But in a muddled way in large public group settings. I don't know who I am in the context of who I am with Ariam yet. I can't just "be myself." Where is myself? Myself is some other woman who left for Ethiopia childless. She's back there still. Gone for good thank God. But who is this new person in her place? This new me is still often amazed to be parenting miss wonderful. This new me doesn't always feel so deserving. This new me is so very very conscious of all of the ways I could stumble.

Other adoptive mothers are too quick to smile and greet and ask questions like we are all in some giant mommy club just because their 7 year old Chinese son and my 1 year old Ethiopian daughter are both adopted.

White mothers are quick to compliment. Everywhere we go it is "look at her eyes. no, her lips, no! her hair!" from white people. Never from a person of any other race. Why is that? It seems normal to NOT comment on someone's child. And yet the comments from white people are making the lack of comments from everyone else seem odd.

I wish mall aisles were wider so you didn't have to pass SO DARN CLOSE to people who like to look and comment. Or look and NOT COMMENT. I wish I didn't have to roller over everyone's toes in those teeny tiny aisles inside baby stores. I wish Ariam wouldn't frown and look so darn angry the whole time I am shopping with her like I've just kidnapped her.

Race is so hard. In the peace of our own home and neighborhood and circle of friends I am often blinded by Ari's beauty and light. I have become color blind (yes yes, not a good thing I know - but don't we all become blind to most things about our own children?) I just see her as Ariam whom I love. Nobody around us stares or acts strangely or asks intrusive questions.

But the mall reminds me of why it's dangerous to become too comfortable. Because real life awaits. Real people with real thoughts, perceptions, judgements, and stares await.

Dangerous to be too comfortable. Dangerous because as she gets older, if I can't be the person to talk race, identity, and ethnicity with her then who will? At some point she will select someone in her life who can do that for her. I want that someone to be me. A better me. A rational, calm, well rounded, able to educate not just through my words but through my actions, me.

It's a good thing she can't read my scattered mall thoughts.

I really put this race talk on the back burner in the whirlwind of travel and homecoming and getting settled. And then of course there was the blinding aspect of Her.

But she will grow older. And she will see what I see, maybe from a different point of view or maybe in a similar way, and for a little while she will look to me. I will just have that little while to prove to her that I can handle it. That I know how to navigate the mall that is life.

Scary stuff. I feel about 14 today.

We all know how 14 year olds act in the mall.

So I am going to need to seriously buck up and get it together on this topic of race.

(This is J's hand. I don't have man hands.)

PS. I simply don't know how to navigate. I am a white mother with a black baby. It has completely changed who I am. The mother part has changed my internal life and the white/black part changed my external life. Still reeling. In so so many good ways.


  1. Ser..i..ous..ly. I could have written this post. In one way, it's comforting to know I'm not alone with this type of internal conversation. It's also sobering to admit I have a lot of processing to do on this subject, and for the sake of my kids, I want to get it right.

  2. YOU CRACK ME UP!! I think all that stuff is normal. Especially the - lost yourself to this all new internal dialogue stuff-. You'll be back. You'll be different. But you'll recognize a dialoge as your own. I think recognizing the race stuff is important- but right now- you're dealing with mother stuff and that's the primary thing.

  3. Just had a conversation with our daughter upon waking up this morning about why she has a bigger forehead than everyone else in our family...it then led to talking about her skin color, why her nose looks different, why her lips are different (but right now, the forehead it the thing that gets talked about most often!). For the 6 months she's been home with us, I feel like she's been for the most part surrounded by people who just see her as her-in a good way. She's heading to kindergarten in 2 days (2 days-AAACCKK!!) and I'm a little anxious to see how she will fit in and how she will be treated. Thankful for a diverse district, but I still know it's likely she will stand out. I have oh, SO much to learn...and I feel like I've got to get it in gear because she's already 5 and entering the world on her own! (sniffle.)

  4. It does sound normal, I think. I think when we had D, I had all those insecure grooming concerns, although the hair was not really a struggle, since she didn't have much. But what was she wearing, was it cute, no was it her cutest outfit, was it clean, if it wasn't clean, other people must think I'm an awful new Mom who can't handle getting 1 child ready and clean. Now with 3, I'm usually grabbing a wipe to wipe everyones faces after we have already arrived to wherever we're going. Ady sometimes has shoes on. Most of the time, I think. I avoid the Mall with all 3 like it's the plague and go there by myself for relaxation. Occasionally I will miss the clean faces thing and realize after we have left a function that my kids have an abundance of sticky unidentified dirt around their mouth and noses. Most of the time, the clothes they wear are matching and cleanish, but if the morning goes badly and I don't set out clothes, my Dad dresses them in...interesting outfits that may or may not be their own clothes. One morning I ran home at break only to find Willa, who is now 5, wearing Ady's shorts, size 12 months.

    Mostly when we are out now, I am more concerned about their social functions. Can they make eye contact with other adults if they are being spoken to? Do they remember their manners? Can they just manage a small 'thank you' for someone who holds a door for them? Can they shake hands and say 'Good Morning" at Church with the greeters.

    We obviously will not deal with race like you guys will. We never discussed race growing up and now I have an easier time discussing color with my kids than I do the cultures that come with it. We are not forced into the same kind of conversations you will be. Possibly b/c we are white, we do not think much about it. I never considered that to be the reason why though. I had always thought colors didn't matter to me. But maybe that is a luxury I feel b/c I am the race I am. Hmm, something I will have to think about.

  5. Thank you for your honesty, I have had several of those internal conversations in my head as well!

  6. One time an AA mother told me that B's hair was styled really well. She asked if I did it and I said yes!!! I could see that she was happy for B. That was one of my best days! Good hair and someone that knows commented :)

  7. This was such a true, deep written post. I loved it. We all think that, its just I have never seen it written like this before. Now imagine my thoughts when I have my black husband with me and I get all the stares! I think those stares are worse than the baby ones. I can give you some advice knowing a little something of what they are thinking simply because I have a black mil who is very outspoken and gotten many insights from her. She will "TELL IT LIKE IT IS". The one thing you want to do is always have her hair look nice and never have her skin ashy!:) Black people are so into their looks and their appearance is very important to them. Those are the two things people look for when you are out with your kiddo. Otherwise, I can only tell you, if they are looking, stare at them the best you can and than smile as you are the proudest mama in America, and smile with lots of confidence.

  8. I love this post! We all (white mommies, black babies) have similar thoughts whether we admit to them or not is another story. I admit it...I am right there with ya. It gets better though...you find your center and your confidence and you start to care less about what other people think but at the same time you realize the importance of this kind of dialogue with your child. Your daughter (our daughters) are going to walk through the mall one day and start having the same whirlwind of thoughts then they realize just how different they look within their own families and within their community. Better to prepare them for that early on then to let that whirlwind of thought isolate them. So good for you for not isolating your thoughts.


  9. It's crazy, isn't it? As others have said, I can echo pretty much every single word of this. It's just such a SHOCK, suddenly finding yourself going from anonymous white woman to... not. I keep meaning to write about this, but it's just way too hard! Great post.

  10. I, a white woman, have been home with my Ethiopian daughter for over a year now and my internal conversation is still like this at the mall and several other public places. It makes me feel like I am so unprepared. I have 2 biological boys and never once have these thoughts about them. It feels horrible, but clearly is normal since the difference is so conspicuous.

  11. I can't begin to know what this feels like. All I can do is appreciate your honesty and concern and be proud that I raised you to be so sincere. (Not that I can take all the credit! You are the product of yourself, too!) Believe it or not, though, I can slightly relate to your mall experience with our beloved and beautiful granddaughter.

    You won't remember this, but when we lived in Houston, many years ago, I often took you to parks and malls--just the two of us. Daddy and little girl. Sometimes people looked at us a little funny like "Where's mom?" In those days, anyway, it was more normal for moms to take their daughters places. Because your mom worked a lot and I had a little more free time I took you to the doctor and many other places where one would see lots and lots of moms and kids and not many dads with little daughters and nobody else with them. I was self-conscious about it.

    Then came the dreaded day when we were in the mall alone together and you had to go to the bathroom and you were simply too old to take into the men's room. This was before "family restrooms" existed. It was either the men's room or the women's room. I stood holding your hand in absolute puzzlement for a long time as you wiggled uncomfortably.

    Finally I just boldly (but with my knees knocking together) just went up to a stranger female person and asked "Would you take my daughter into the women's room? She has to go potty." I remember a couple of ladies nearby looked at me strangely. I don't know why. What was I supposed to do? But the nice lady I picked sweetly took your hand and took you into the restroom. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

    This is nothing like what you are experiencing except a little self-consciousness on my part over feeling out of place. I rarely saw other dads just with their daughter in public places. Now it's so common.

    Anyway, your reflections on all this brought tears to my eyes--tears of joy and satisfaction that you are so concerned about Ariam and her place in the world alongside you. But I know this is going to work out as you move ahead. Don't be intimidated; just put on an air of confidence, however feigned at first, and don't worry too much what other people think. Easier said that done, right? Yeah. I know. :)

  12. This is making me laugh...we all become a little crazy in the head over such things, eh?!

  13. I found your blog on the ET adoption blog website and this post drew me in instantly.

    My husband and I are in the process of adopting from ET currenty and being a white couple I can't help but already have these same fears.

    I was feeling pretty guilty about it but you just showed that this is a natural feeling and something we all will probably go through at some point or another. Thank you for being so candid and helping me see that Im normal:)

  14. I love this post so much.

    And I do want to assure you that, while some of this of course is the white/black thing and I am going to be experiencing that right now, a lot of it is just normal first time mommy self-consciousness. I had some of these same thoughts whenever i went out with my first son. Do people think I am a bad mom because I am giving him a bottle and not nursing? Can they tell I forgot a blanket? Are they wondering why I can't make him stop crying? Are they judging me for giving him a paci?

    Worrying about what other people will suck a whole lot of fun out of this mothering thing.

    btw, I am working on an adoption blogroll - would love you to sign up!


  15. I found your blog from the commenter's blog above my comment and I wanted to encourage you about a few things.
    First of all, most people are more into themselves then into other people. You actually made my point for me with your post (I don't mean that rudely), but you are definitely caring a whole lot about what people think about you and your daughter. Understandable, for sure.
    Secondly, as others have said, every mom is insecure.
    Thirdly, it's good you are concerned about your daughter's hair. Keep it up, it's one of the most loving thing you can do with a black daughter is to respect her hair and skin. Black ladies (so far) have loved answering my hair questions. So ask questions!
    Lastly, the Lord obviously called you to adopt trans-racially. Just be confident when you are at the mall or grocery store.
    With two black daughters (my husband and I are white), we get a whole lot of comments, questions and stares. A LOT.
    And I am proud every time. Enjoy it and embrace it.
    Plus, your daughter is gorgeous, they are probably just thinking that in their heads.

  16. We've been living with crazy fro hair in this house for several months now :( I was purposely avoiding taking the kids to see their birthmother until her hair grew back after the awful haircut I decided to give her one night (it needed to be done, but not the way I did it!). Fortunately, I've been able to blame the whole thing on pregnancy hormones and never ending morning sickness. Thankfully, the other black moms at church lied and told me it looked cute :)

    After we adopted our son, I joined a group called Mocha Moms. I've found the other moms to be a great source of information--esp. when I had skin care questions the first year and didn't have any black friends (and our adoption was not yet open). If you live in a big enough area, they should have one where you live. It's definitely worth checking out, even if, like me, you're the only white mom there :)

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About Me

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J and I have been married for almost 15 years. We have shared many adventures and a lot of watershed moments. In 2009 I began blogging and in 2010 we adopted our daughter from Ethiopia. In March of 2012 we began the process to adopt a little boy from Haiti. This blog follows the many twists and turns on the road to our two children and beyond.