By Kristina Nohe
When my kids were younger, I used to carry a family picture with me everywhere we went. All too often, security guards and well meaning strangers would approach my children to ask if they were lost even though I was sitting right next to them, because they are African-American and I am white. Living in a transracial family has its challenges, but it has offered our family immeasurable blessings and a greater understanding of the world.
Having become a parent through foster care adoption and birth, I can honestly say that no matter how your kids come to you, no one is truly prepared for what it is like to become a parent. We never had just one kid; our two older kids came to us when they were three and a half and twenty-two months old. It was like jumping into the deep end of the pool with no life-preservers while holding two toddlers. Needless to say, we learned to tread water fast. Then three weeks after they arrived, I found out that I was pregnant. Time to tread water a little faster.
People like to say that all kids need is lots of love; those people have been watching too much of the Lifetime channel. Parenting, especially parenting kids who have suffered trauma in their life, does take a lot of love, because you are going to have to love them enough to put in the work. It might have been a blessing to have come into fostering as new parents, because we had nothing to compare it to. Had we known, we might not have signed up, which would have been the greatest missed opportunity of our entire lives. Each of our kids, adopted and biological, add value to our lives beyond comprehension. They each have their own challenges and gifts, and none of them is more or less our child because of how our family was formed.
There are two questions that still give me pause when they are asked. The first is “Two of your kids are adopted, but do you also have any real kids?” There is only one answer to this oft asked question, “All I have are real kids.” That’s usually followed up with a nervous laugh and, “You know what I mean.” I do know what they mean, but I also know that any my kids could be just out of sight listening to how I respond. So I will reiterate, “I know what you mean, and yes, two of my children came to us through adoption and two of our kids are biological. However, they are all my real kids.” The second question is some ways a variation on the first. People will meet my older two kids and say, “Oh, are they brother and sister?” I will answer, “Yes, they are biologically related, but all four of them are siblings.” There may be some folks who find this off putting since I understand the message behind their words, but word choice matters and I don’t want unintended implications to take root.
Being a transracial adoptive parent has opened my eyes to blind spots I never knew I had from the mundane to the tragic. Before I adopted my children, I didn’t know that there were black hair care stores much less had I ever been in one. The first night our kids were with us, I looked at my daughter’s beautifully braided hair complete with beads on the end, and called an African American friend to ask what I should do with it. She replied, “You are going to do nothing; I will do it tomorrow and you will watch.” Then there have been more painful experiences that have opened my eyes to the struggles that African American families face for which I had no context. The first time my kids were called the N-word, I had no idea how to react or what to tell them. I was caught less off guard several years later when my son was discussing rap music with a friend and an adult got them in trouble because she thought they were talking about gangs. The only blessing in this is the community that has willingly opened its arms to us and guided us through these incidents with generous understanding and support.
My family doesn’t look like everyone else’s family. When my daughter was little she said that we were like a choconilla twisted ice cream cone; the two flavors can’t be separated and they are better for it. We still get the occasional look, but we don’t mind because we know that, for the most part, people are just wondering what our story is. It’s a wonderful story, and I wouldn’t change a word of it.
Kris Nohe is a writer, homeschooler, community activist and owner of NGD Consulting. She lives in Woodbridge with her husband, four kids, and two dogs.