They Didn't Leave Me Behind.

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I was being watched. I could feel it. Sometimes it was so subtle that I felt I was just by chance in their line of sight.  A casual 'hi' as I passed by.  Looking me directly in the eye when I asked a question.

But other times, the pull of their grazes was so strong, I had to learn to not turn and seek them out. The glances would make my heart beat fast and made me want to run for cover. 

Because less attention was good. Because I was desperately trying to hold in my secret. I wanted to be a shadow in the sea of kids. I wanted to just make it through this moment to the next stage of my life.

But they refused to leave me behind. 

I was smart, so they encouraged my knowledge. Even in the face to the treacherous teasing by other kids. They would call on me even if I didn't have my hand raised. Because they knew I knew the answer. And with each time my name was called or I was asked for my input, my confidence was built so I could speak for myself.

And when my life started crumbing in, they were the ones who made sure, despite hands being tied, that I wasn't left behind. And they let me know they were watching even closer. 

I returned to school the fall of my junior year so thin the skinniest guy in the my class whispered. "Holy crap. Is she anorexic?" as I walked into first period. In my mind I thought "You don't know a quarter of what would cause this." Two or so weeks later (it's a blur almost fourteen years later) I was brought into the counselor's office and he and the nurse sat me down and said. 

"We've been watching you."

My heart sank. I just wanted to make it through to the other side of whatever my current state of being could be called. I couldn't quite call it hell, but it sure wasn't comfortable.

"We've been watching for a while, but now we're concerned." From there on out they checked my BMI periodically every month. They would pull me a side to chat, help me cope with stress. 

But here's the most crucial part of my story.

You see from the moment I stepped foot in my high school my teachers were silently rallying around me. Honestly, the first year or so I was pretty unaware. But even now I remember walking into my history class and my teacher looking me directly in the eye and asking "Are you doing OK?" My world history teacher made me a quiet, but impassioned advocate for sniffing out falsehoods and those treated unjustly. My art teacher encouraged my eye for drawing and painting and to see art everywhere. During every moment I spent in her classroom she fostered my creative spirit knowing that that beauty didn't exist at home.

And my English teachers....they took my love of reading and the DEPTH how I wanted to understand the characters and the twists and turns of each plot line. They fed me large doses of curiosity for breakfast, a good solid plate of challenge for lunch, with  a generous helping of knowledge for dessert on the side. All while showing me how to apply narratives to world; real life...my life.

Earlier, this year, I was sitting in a local eatery and as I chatted with a client about their photos I saw my elementary music teacher sitting with a group of ladies. Instantly, I was taken back to being a kid and she questioned me about black eye I had received from one of my estranged siblings. I remember her asking what my then (and first) adoptive parents had done about it. And even in 5th or 6th grade (again even more of a haze twenty or so years later ) I remember the sad smile/laugh I gave...and her sympathy. At the time that simple emotion was manna from heaven to a girl who was never touched...or hugged.

You see, teachers are the ones who built this woman you see today. The woman who believes she can do anything if she puts her mind to it. The business owner who has found success photographing the real and beautiful pieces of other people's lives. The woman who reminds those who are down to never say "never". And most importantly, that you need to love yourself the most before you can give the best of who you are to others. 

Because they weren't just teaching me. They weren't just showing up for a paycheck. Everyday they were rebuilding a broken girl. A girl who was told no matter how 'smart' she was she was would always be disobedient and disrespectful. A girl who was told that if it hadn't been for being adopted, she would be worthless laying in the gutter some where.

Every day there was a teacher that CHOSE to invest in dismantling and rebuilding the damage done by my nights at home.  

It didn't matter what school district, elementary school, high school, they all showed up. Making sure that I didn't leave myself behind. That I didn't become a statistic. They showed me that I was smart, confident, sometimes outspoken, respectful and always worth of love.

And that I had a place in this world to fill.

So though you're not mentioned. I know who you are. I think of your often, I thank you often for never leaving me behind. 

Protected Spaces are Necessary

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Teach your adopted child to protect their space and their experiences.

Parents who are adopting children of color, please listen, this is so important. On so many levels.

To do this you will need to take them to the people who can teach them. You need to take them to spaces that hold people of their race and culture. There is no maybe about this.

You see as white parents. You can't teach them what it is like to walk in this world as a person of color. Because you walk in this world shroud in protection just because you are white. But when your child of color walks through this world the their adoption does not precede them.

It never will.

There is no way you can truly relay to them the multitudes of microaggressions they will face. From people asking to touch them, to world's assumptions about race, the nuances of discrimination and racism, questions of their birth status and even the rejection they will no doubt experience when it comes to some members of their own culture and race.

You can't teach them this. You can help them access resources and spaces that are created for them.

This means you need to be intentional about having them connect with their own culture, but also with other transracial adoptees.

It's not easy to continuously walk through both worlds. It's rocky and bumpy. Between code switching, having to demand a space that is rightfully theirs in the communities they are in, making sure that their voice is heard, then being discredited because of circumstances that are beyond their control, to being protective of people that they love, its exhausting.

It's isolating.

In my own experience isolation  has fueled me create balance for the many "worlds" I walk in, many of them which I am just a blip on a radar. Many of them where my voice is actively silenced because the fact I am adopted is given as reason that I lose credibility. In other spaces I will be silence because people think I'm play the 'race card'. When all I am voicing is my reality.

When what I am fighting for my past, present and future experiences as a person of color who is also adopted.

Your child is not just going to fight for the right to have their own identity JUST because they are adopted. They will be fighting for the RECOGNITION of their identity in many spaces for their whole life time.

Work hard and be intentional to prepare your child and walk through this journey with them. 

Kindness & Clemency

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This polar vortex has me reminiscing.

One particular blizzard was bad. For multiple days I laid near the end of my bed that had a west facing window. I watched the snow blow and make hills while an occasional car or truck or snow plow would make their way by. I would press my fingers into the frost that had collected on the windows and play with the worn headphone cord of my little hand held radio to make sure it was just so so latest pop and country hits would play in each ear.

I laid there for hours. Switching from staring out the window or the wall. Occasionally picking up a book to read. The wind whistled through the warped old windows loudly cutting through my tunes. A chance glance outside had me slipping headphones off as I watched figures struggle to move a stalled car in the south bound lane. Voices floated from up downstairs. Soon another figure joined them a few moments later all three of them headed towards the house.

I don't remember meeting these strangers. I heard the murmur of their voices from upstairs settling into conversation as I settled back into my music that drowned out the whistle of the storm. Making sure I assumed my camouflage again. Quiet as possible never wanting unwanted attention. But I was always wondered why their kindness and clemency didn't translate to the kids that they adopted.

A Lesson on Worth

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When you stand in front of people knowing you are worthy, their attitude about you will change.

This is one of the deepest lessons I have learned in my life, because it taught me that while love can be unconditional, you can't always expect it to be.

One of the most freeing moments of my existence were the words I told my first adoptive mom when she demanded I tell her I loved her.

"I have respect for you as a human being, but I will never love you." 

You see she thought that she deserved and earned my love BECAUSE she adopted me. Because without her I could be in her words "laying in a drainage ditch somewhere." And because of her assumption she crowned herself my savior; to her owed her every ounce of my love, loyalty and obedience.

I still hold the image of her face in my mind as she reacted to my words.

Pure.

Utter.

Shock.

Anger.

In her own twisted way, I think she thought she loved me. That how she treated me was because she loved me. But again it was twisted. It took me years to fully accept that the abuse I endured was more about her demons than my faults as a child or young adult.

But standing there in that moment with her in the entryway of a house that was never a home another stone was added to my personal foundation that I would use to guide me. This would help me always give myself respect even when others wouldn't give it. It would help me respect others, even if we are on opposite sides a line drawn in the sand.

Fond Memories

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A dock on a lake will always be my safe space for contemplating life. 

In the summers when the sun would sear my skin I would jump in to cool off. Floating on my back listening to my breathing swish in and out. Letting the water calm me and show me how alive I was.

I especially love the lake at sunset. The colors restored the brightness to my soul preparing for what the next day would bring.

These are fond memories grasped in a time a chaos.

364 Days to Progress

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When accountability is conditional, or only as deep as some one has treated you, or based solely on our  own experiences is when you know  we as humans are have formed a new level existence. Social media presents us a lot of situations on that we react to instantly. I always get a kick out reading the comments of posts and articles. It always reveals how the lines become blurred when personal responsibility and humanity collide.

On a day like today it makes the comments stand out starkly.

MLK has been known for his calls for action and discourse when it comes to racism and discrimination. His famous quotes running from "I have a DREAM" and one of my favorites: "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

There are many more quotes that could be repeated. But what's the worth if we are only going to repeat them one day?

Let's face it. We are a meme and motivational quote culture. We hoard words that make us feel good about how we live. But for me I become jaded when its becomes such of the norm that our belief in those words only lasts until the likes and hearts stop showing up.

That's why MLK Day is such a sore spot for me. Because in 364 days of being bombarded with how humanity uses less and less of its empathy, grace and critical thinking, its not enough to have ONE DAY when we pay homage the quotes of a man who was asking us to grow our consciousness to look outside of ourselves to listen to understand other's experiences, to hone in on the barriers that keep them from their dreams, to work on solutions to better our country for all people…and not just for ourselves.

That means we have to work on ourselves and ideologies that we hold that damage our communities while on the surface they appear to help. We are by far from perfect, but we are responsible for our own accountability. To make sure that we are not slaves to our opinions and justifications so much so that someone else suffers.

This work on ourselves will be never ending. We cannot change in ONE day, but we have 364 days to make progress.

I Am Not a Neat Box

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I remembering being as young as three or four and know I didn't belong. The old adage of "children should be seen and not heard" the epitome of how my life was structured and was repeatedly echoed until it was the only thing that echoed in my head when family came to visit. Well, that was with my first adoptive family.

So as a child I learned not to linger too long, or speak loudly, and in essence distance myself from people. And THAT is how I believe I began existing as an other. Early on I was not given the privilege of building bonds with those who I was supposed to call family. I remember so many memories from the first part of my life on the outside looking in or more accurately, listening from the other side of a wall or a door. Because when people want you to be seen and not heard their first inclination is to not include you.

This "otherness" would follow me into adulthood. This otherness shows up often, it helps fuel my adoptee consciousness.

As I navigated into adulthood I found that people wanted to define who I was in a neat box. And that's just not possible as a transracial adoptee. From childhood through high school was dubbed as an outcast regardless of the fact I was intelligent, well behaved and well liked out of the walls of my house.After high school I discovered I was just as much as an outcast. I was labeled as the black girl who wanted to be white by my cultural group.

While still facing the subtle racism that I swear the Midwest has perfected.

Neither of these I was fully prepared for and just like when I was a kid I was fighting some one else's perception of who I was. Sick of it, I promised myself to never be apologetic of who I was and the experiences that defined me.