We made it! We survived the first year! And my “normal” brain is maybe starting to return, at least a little… Hallelujah!
So, here I am getting back to writing. I’ve missed doing it. And sooo much has happened in the last two years!
Much of it, I’ve wanted to pen or capture in writing somehow (some of the posts that will follow in the weeks and months to come were initially drafted when such moments of inspiration hit) – indeed, I couldn’t silence that geeky, sociologist/anthropologist in me forever. Not to mention that having kids adds a whole other set of dimensions to this “mixed up” (mixed race) couple/family business of ours. Fascinating dimensions too, I think you’ll agree once I catch you up a little. But, man, where to begin…?
How about the time we walked into the doctor’s office and they presented us with two new forms (one for each of our six month old kiddos). We were asked to check off our children’s racial make up using descriptors such as “primary”, “secondary” etc. The purpose, as the form explained, was that many risks and illnesses present differently based on race and/or ethnicity.
Well, there’s something we hadn’t prepared for! Knowing us, you can be sure we had talked at length about how we wanted to raise our kids and how we wanted to encourage them to self-identify socio-politically (something we’ll surely return to a lot on this blog). But this was a different question from whether they should check the “black/African-American”, “white/Caucasian” or “mixed race/two or more races” box on the Census. This had consequences, not “just” for how they would be treated socially, politically or structurally, but how they should be treated medically (as I imagined, in a potentially life threatening situation).
But… ‘they don’t have a “primary” race…’ I looked up at the friendly administrator as the words slowly tumbled out of my mouth… Then I turned to my husband who was standing over my shoulder playing with one of our babes while I held the other in one arm… ‘Or, rather, they have two “primary” races…’ I looked at the administrator again, the question — accompanied by a bit of confusion and a creeping sense of anxiety — probably evident in my eyes. She quickly said not to worry about it and I could just write whatever… implying that it wasn’t as serious as my serious, scholarly, perfectionist mind was about to convince me that it was.
Against my “better judgment”, I accepted her directions and wrote “P” next to both Dan’s and my race. After doing the same on our second little person’s form, I turned to Dan with a smile and laughed: “I’d never thought of that one before!” We took a seat in the waiting room.
I really wasn’t prepared for that one. And, as Dan would tell you, I like to be prepared so I had thought about every possibility I could come up with and read about anything and everything that it seemed might soon become pertinent. Well, there was another one of those pesky lessons parenthood was teaching me: as much as you’d like to be (as much as it drives you crazy not to be!), it will not be possible for you to be prepared for every eventuality that comes your way on this journey… and what a learning fest — and a blast — it will be… “Smile! This is going to be fun!”, parenthood seemed to be saying to me.
And I thank God that it really has been fun (so far)! Of course, it’s been hard too at times. But one of the wonderful things about babies is they have very short memories so their sad, teary faces can just as quickly turn to broad, beaming smiles and giggles. They remind me that it’s not that serious! There’s levity and laughter to be found at every turn, if I just open my more serious and stressed self up to it. Passing these slow, rapidly-moving days with these precious beings makes it easy to remember the wise words I am grateful others shared with me: “the days are long but the years are short.” How simultaneously long and short the last 365 days have been! And I am so thankful for all of it, and all it has and continues to teach me.
Thank you for allowing me (really, us) to share some of that with you. I imagine it being a bit like the proverbial unpacking of “the invisible knapsack” of white privilege that Peggy McIntosh first pointed the world to in 1989. I suspect there are some things one totally takes for granted when one has a “simple” or unitary racial identity. Though it would seem patently obvious that no “racial category” is in fact simple, some are surely more complex than others and navigating those more complex racial identities and the embodied experiences to which they give or deny us access can be either easier or more challenging — especially as the permission or denial thereof can often be “in the eye of the beholder”, decided by observers, as it were.
That relative simplicity of identity as an embodied experience based predominantly on phenotype is something seemingly basic that, as individuals, Dan (a WASP, or very privileged unambiguously white-presenting, Anglo Saxon, Protestant, American-born, heterosexual male) and I (a less structurally privileged unambiguously black-presenting, African-born woman) share. “What are you?” is not a racial identity question either of us is regularly asked to answer … if ever.
Yet, this relative identity-simplicity is something our family together does not have. And, more importantly at this point in our lives, the same is something our children do not possess. Just as navigating our “unconventional” mix of identities as a couple has been incredibly eye-opening for Dan and me, walking in the world alongside our little boy and girl and learning to see the world through the lens of their (possible) experience will teach us more still. And just as we have sought to give you a window on what we have learned as a “mixed up” couple, we invite you to journey with us as we learn and grow as “mixed up” parents.