Just another day as a transracial parent

As I wrote about here, Odette dressed up as Doc McStuffins for Halloween and attended Zoo Boo with us in her costume.  I was a little intimidated about going out of our little comfort zone where we live and are widely accepted as a transracial family, to venture to the big city and the more diverse crowd we would be interacting with.  Before going, I attempted to put Odette’s hair into poofs to both fit with her costume and because honestly I know that it is more accepted by the African American community for her hair to be done (and yes, I know that poofs are quite a stretch for being “done”).  I ended up abandoning that plan because we were in a hurry to get there to get back for church and because she was complaining about it pulling and her shirt getting wet as I was trying to quickly dampen it to stretch it into poofs.  We fluffed it a bit, threw the headband on, and called it good enough for Zoo Boo.  I promised that I would be sure to plan ahead on Halloween and have her hair detangled and stretched so that it could be put into poofs. 

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With her costume on and huge smile glued to her face we set off for the zoo with me thinking that she couldn’t be any cuter.  It seems that other people seemed to agree with me.  Before we had even hit up the first candy stand we started to hear lots of “There’s Doc McStuffins.”, “Look, it’s Doc McStuffins.”, “What a cute Doc McStuffins.” “It’s Doc McStuffins,”, and other ways of pointing out Odette and her costume.  We would smile and Odette would say hi or thank you.  It wasn’t long though that she turned to us and asked why everyone kept talking about her being Doc McStuffins. 

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We gave her an answer that was most appropriate for her and kind of true.  “Because you are so cute. Everyone loves Doc McStuffins.  They watch Doc McStuffins on tv. Because just like you say there’s a witch, they say there’s Doc McStuffins.”  It seemed to appease her curiosity, but the conversation between me and Jeff continued on.  Why did they keep commenting on, or to, or about Odette?

The costumes are sold out every where.  It wasn’t like her costume was unique or special.  It wasn’t handmade.  She was one of over handful of Doc McStuffins of various skin colors that we saw there.  She’s cute, but that cute?  People didn’t seem to be commenting on lots of other costumes.  What’s going on? 

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The only thing we could come back to was what we think is the reasoning behind us getting comments everywhere we go every time.  Odette is a very pretty girl who has brown skin and white-skinned parents.  I really think that regardless of Odette’s costume she would have garnered the same attention.  Would a white-skinned Doc McStuffins earn as many comments?  Was it because she was a brown (and more authentic looking) Doc McStuffins? Maybe.  We pondered that for quite a bit.  But then we couldn’t help but think about what the reaction might have been if Odette was part of an African American family.  Would so many white people go out of their way to acknowledge her?  Pretty safe bet that the answer is no.  We do recognize that Odette is charismatic and has a large presence, but it has to be more than that. 

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It doesn’t bother us at all.  We are completely used to it. Sure, I would like to crawl into a hole when she carries on random conversations with people behind us in line, but I could use her outgoingness to rub off on me a bit.  It is just very interesting to see her treated almost like a celebrity when we go out.  In fact, just today at the dentist, I think every hygienist in a 5 county radius stopped by to say hi to her and comment on how much she’s grown.  And it really was said that she is like a celebrity around there.  We took the classes.  We read the books.  We knew going into it that being a transracial family would bring about unique experiences for all of us.  Thankfully 99% of the attention we get is positive.

How about that other 1%?  It too happens. 

We’ve had our fair share of looks, mumbled comments, and finger pointing.  We know to expect it to some extent and always do what we can to shield Odette from it.  The very same day at the zoo we had another experience that being a transracial family sometimes comes with.  Before leaving I ran to use the restroom (any of you who have been pregnant know that comes with the territory)  while Jeff and Odette waited for me.  I came out to see that somehow she had conned her way onto his shoulders.  I met up with them and we walked out the exit.  Except someone walked out with a us.  A very kind woman (I’m sure she was.) practically ran to me and asked if Odette was my daughter.  I knew immediately that this conversation was going somewhere but I was waiting to see exactly where.  I then got the, “She’s beautiful.” line followed quickly by, “Who does her hair?”  Ah, ok.  So that’s where she was going.  While I know I shouldn’t (YOU SHOULDN’T SARAH!) I revealed my lack of confidence and said, “I attempt it.”  I wanted to face palm myself as soon as the words left my mouth.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.  I might as well say, I have no idea what I am doing and desperately need your help. (which isn’t true!)  It was her help that I got.  It came in the form of a name and phone number that she had taken the time to write down (all while I pee’d?) of a friend who is natural hair stylist.  I politely thanked her and took the paper she shoved at me.

Now normally I do an awesome job at ignoring unsolicited advice.  Not so much this time.  It was just a few weeks ago that Jeff returned home from taking Odette to gymnastics with a business card of someone who knows someone who could do Odette’s hair because as she told him, “We have to stick together, you know?”  Um no, I don’t know that. 

For some reason the lady’s comment really got to me on Sunday.  Maybe it was because we stayed at my parents’ house the night before and didn’t think to bring Odette’s hair stuff with me.  Maybe it was because I had attempted to do her hair that day, but it just wasn’t going well for us.  Maybe it was because I am a hormonal, tired, pregnant lady just trying to give my daughter a fun afternoon at the zoo. 

Before I go on, let me say that I do think she was trying to be kind.  I do.  But…that doesn’t mean I want to hear any tips, tricks, or suggestions about how to care for MY DAUGHTER from A STRANGER. I’ve never been stopped at the grocery store for not buying organic chicken breasts even though I am sure there are plenty of people who are passionate about that.  I’ve never been stopped by someone telling me that my kid’s clothes aren’t right.  Why do I get stopped about my kid’s hair?  Because she’s black and I’m not.  That’s why.  It’s fine.  I’m good with it.  I know it comes with the territory.  I know (so please don’t feel the need to comment with links) how important it is to many in the African American community.  I see it as a parenting choice that I am making and am entitled to make. Do I wish I was better at/had more time to do/took her to have her hair braided?  Yes.  For us, we just haven’t gotten there yet. But you know what, Odette’s hair is clean, moisturized, and healthy. And personally I think that she rocks her ‘fro!

So there you have two examples of what it is like to go a typical day as a transracial family.  I know that our experiences are unique to us.  Many families go through vastly different experiences.  Some families are looked at as being no different from any other given their community.  Some families are one of a kind in their community.  We are neither of those.  We live in a heavily Caucasian populated area, but there are also many African American and transracial families.  To all the prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) (outside of your own race obviously) reading this, I hope that you too have read about the issue and are prepared to accept the challenges that come with the territory.  To our family and friends, please be mindful of this.  It is true. It is real.  If you are out with us or with Odette you too may find yourself in one of these situations.  It doesn’t always work to just put up blinders.  That isn’t fair to us and it isn’t fair to Odette.  We (you included) represent the transracial adoption community.  Jeff and I fight to ensure that we always reflect it in a positive light. 

I think next year I am just going to have to make this costume for her.  I can’t wait to hear the comments we would get then!  At least they probably wouldn’t be about her hair.  : )

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5 thoughts on “Just another day as a transracial parent

  1. I had to stop and say, I came a crossed your video on YouTube and your blog because I was looking for inspirational families that had DRC adoptions.. and I had to say you have a wonderful family and Odette is a gorgeous glowing beauty and her hair is nothing but gorgeous and her afro puffs are heart melting!!!

  2. Well … yes … THAT Cute. She is very beautiful and, even in still photographs, her self confidence and big outgoing personality shows through.

  3. It’s funny, we had one of our first of “those” experiences this past week (although it wasn’t about her hair)…we were in the ER with A late at night after she had tripped a little too near the fire pit and burned the back of her hand on the grate (turns out it wasn’t that bad, but it was enough that we figured it was worth getting looked at), and the gal who was taking the patient and insurance information asked us if our daughter has the same last name as we do, and gave us a pretty funny look when we told her yes. Awesome. My wife wonders if it would have been different if we would have had the boys with us as well.

  4. I *hate* when women stop me and ask about my kids’ hair!! It drives me crazy! It used to happen a lot more when we lived in TN than it does now. I actually just stopped being polite when women would stop me – I think it’s presumptuous and rude for women to stop us and ask about our children’s hair (unless it’s to give a compliment, of course!).

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