Guest Post: When lllness Interferes with Motherhood

renee 1 Being mama to two active boys has gone a bit differently than I planned.

This article is the sixth in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

Allow me to introduce you to my childhood friend, Renee. We were close friends in elementary school, but we probably haven’t even seen each other since middle school. (I think we were both pretty dorky. The other girls were fawning over New Kids on the Block while we were making up blues songs about our troubles at age ten.) Like lots of old friends, we re-met on facebook. Even though we haven’t been able to reconnect in person, we bonded over being on bedrest – and death’s door – together. 

Renee’s optimism is astrounding. She deserves a chance to tell her story. Here’s Renee:

The Hubster and I were married for three years when sweet boy #1 came along and we had it all figured out! I got to stay home for a while with him and the three of us had lots of fun together. Weekends were relaxing, mornings were slow, but time flew by. Other than him having pediatric epilepsy controlled by meds, nothing could stop us.

Five years, one miscarriage and many fertility issues later, sweet boy #2 greeted us! After he was delivered, the doctors delivered a 10 pound ovarian cyst that had shared space with our new bundle. We knew it was growing along with him as it was discovered right before we learned I was pregnant! Many ultrasounds took place to make sure he was outgrowing the cyst that posed a threat to us. Removal during pregnancy was too risky so we prayed and took precautions. I had ten weeks of bedrest and my ankles were the size of my knees. Yikes! But that was the least of my worries. As soon as Youngest was born, I started having severe abdominal pain. Even in the hospital, hours following the c-section, I was complaining of increasing pain and the docs said, “That’s to be expected”, or “You just had a c-section”. At the one-week mark, I had my staples removed and I was feeling a bit better.

But two days later, I woke-up with a 104.5 fever and couldn’t move my legs. My husband was home, doing what we thought was a great idea for his “time off”: putting in wood floors. Huh? Hey, don’t plan remodeling projects for maternity leave. Even though it’s your second kid and you think you are a pro. Nope. Don’t. Anyway, we were so afraid of what could be wrong so we called 911. Not kidding: paramedic dudes had to climb over plywood, wood slats, tons of tools and a bunch of new baby garb from just not getting it all put away yet. Hubster had to stay home with the kids, so this was my first ambulance ride, alone. At the ER I was told I had a “wicked” UTI. Also, it was determined I had bilateral sciatica and it “could be six months”. My left calf was also swelling and turning black. I was given antibiotics and steroids. My husband drug our babies out to pick me up. I remember sitting on the bench waiting, thinking, “I can’t walk. I can’t stand. I can’t lay. How am I going to be a mommy of two?” Once home, I literally screamed the whole way in the house. I had to have a walker at all times. Along with that, I needed posture help from my husband. Ok, I went to bed the night before feeling just fine, right? The next three weeks were what I’d describe as heart-breaking. I went to the ER seven times with excessive bleeding, fainting, unexplained pain, etc. They just kept saying, “It’s that wicked UTI.” I went to my family doctor and explained everything. He said, “Renee, what is it you’re doing here? Are you drug-seeking?” Hmmmmm. He was no help.

I decided, “I’m 30. I’m a mom. I’m going to tough this out. Oh, and I will use a walker.” I was in so much pain. I couldn’t walk, lay or stand. No cooking, no cleaning, no running to the baby’s crib when he awoke for a feeding. My husband rigged some pillows in our bed to surround me and the baby, propping me up just right for breastfeeding and remaining pain-free. My oldest climbed in next to me and we colored every page of every coloring book, and found every hidden picture ever drawn. He was a trooper. Everyday when he was home from school he’d bring me something he made to “make mommy well”. It was nearing the end of May (three weeks since birth) and it was time for my oldest’s kindergarten graduation. My leg was still massive and black and blue. I was grey all over and I still couldn’t walk. My husband finished that floor and put a comforter under my recliner. (At that point, I’d slept in the recliner since mid-bed-rest days, with the exception of birth week. Twenty pounds on my abdomen was too much for lying down, and not being able to move your legs makes it hard to get in bed.) He pulled me across our new floor (wee!) to the bathroom. He carried me to use it and back to the chair. He was dressing me completely, cooking all meals, changing all diapers, up all night with Youngest and taking Oldest to and from school and the sitter’s. My sitter was amazing. One of my best friends.

This graduation was a big deal to me. But I didn’t think I could make it. However, walker and all, I arrived. The ceremony felt like hours. I cried tears of joy for his accomplishment and tears of sadness for our situation. Life was upside down.

My husband’s leave ended and that weekend we were faced with “Who will care for Renee? Who will care for the boys? Should this be the same person?” We thought I’d be better by now. My sitter would come over and literally babysit me, 30-year old me. I had so much pain. We’d cry and pray together. I even confessed that I felt death was near.

My husband suddenly had a brilliant idea! He was approved to use his vacation time to drive us out to my mom’s house in Missouri so she could take care of me before school started back. That way, he could go back to work and not lose his job. Also, we figured I’d be better by then.

Off we went! I had a 104 fever through four states. It was 112 degrees outside and I had chills and a fleece blanket. Once we arrived, I was so ill that we unloaded and my husband got me back in the car to go to a nearby hospital. We sat in the waiting room for nine hours. I was hemorrhaging. When they took me back they said, “Oh you have a UTI. And postpartum depression.” Say huh? That causes hemorrhaging these days? A doctor in Virginia had suggested that as well and I had to go to a counselor. During that first visit, she said, “It’s clear you’re not at all depressed. Rather, you seem scared.” Anyway, the ER treated my fever with Tylenol and it responded, down to 101. They said, “Sorry you have walking problems. It’s your weight.” Fun times.

We left. Guess what?? Fever was back to 104.5. Also, BIG allergic reaction to the IV med they used to treat my UTI. Back we went. A doctor took one look at me and said, “Oh! You are very ill! I’m going to run these tests!” Tests revealed I was suffering from sepsis (a bloodstream infection). He gave me two weeks to live. Hi, I have babies! I got shipped to a smaller hospital two hours away because the Joplin, MO tornado hit and I was not a priority patient. I woke up in a new place, sicker than ever. A nurse was standing next to my bed with a breast pump. “Dear, you must wake-up so we can pump some milk and see if it’s poisonous.” Whaaaa?!?!? I’ve been poisoning my baby? She added, “Fifty percent of babies need serious medical intervention from poisoned milk; the other fifty percent just poop green.” Called mom. Baby was fine. Five days passed and hubby was running back and forth between kids and mommy. He had to go back to Virginia. Vacation’s over. So he got me to my mom’s and left (I’m not cured, but better). Tears!

For three weeks, I sat on the couch. My legs started loosening up and I could take 10-15 steps on my own. I could change diapers, people!!! Oh, I was a happy momma. At night, I sat on the couch by our little baby in his pack-n-play. Bottles, burps, kisses: these little things helped me get through immeasurable physical pain still occurring in my abdomen and legs. I also felt like my heart was beating through my spine. I taught my oldest how to make all the basic foods, as I couldn’t always get up to make foods when he wanted them. We called it “big boy tools”.

The last night before my husband came to get us, I started bleeding again. Buckets. And kidney pain out the yang. He arrived and we loaded the car. I cried all the way to Kentucky, but quietly. I didn’t want my kids to know. I said, “We must stop. I am bleeding to death. I feel death is near.” I fell on the counter inside the convenience store and told the poor teenager workers I was dying and need an ambulance. While waiting, I went back to the car and I put on a brave face and talked to Oldest while holding Youngest’s bottle. The ambulance arrived and we caravanned, oh, 60 miles.

At the hospital, I was told to lay down on the bed at the hospital, but I begged them to let me sit. They have no idea what we’ve been through. The girl across the hall had my same first and last name, with the exception of three letters. Really??? So she got my doctor first by accident. I waited three hours, alone, as I told Hubster to get the kids to a hotel with a pool and play. Finally, the doctor. “Ma’am, you are not urinating, only bleeding. I bet it’s a stone. Oh here, tests show a UTI. And your sepsis test takes 72 hours. So here’s your walking papers!” Really? I begged him to admit me. It was 3:00a.m. My pain was a ten out of ten, and I am bleeding so much I couldn’t keep it from getting all over the place. A nurse cut off my wristband and I went to the lobby. Hubster and kids drove out and took me to the hotel. The next morning I was crying at the continental breakfast bar. I could see how I was no longer a necessary element to our family’s function. People were dressed, fed and packed. It took all I had to walk from the elevator to the car.

We got home to Virginia about 3:00p.m. I had Hubster drop me at the hospital. I said bye to my boys like I had once before. Like when I had had pain and bleeding so immense that I thought I should get in my last kisses. After argument from staff about how I was a frequent flier, I got a CT scan, which I demanded. They found 66 kidney stones. I met with my urologist four long days later and he had read my whole, entire chart. “Renee, this bloodstream infection usually eats heart valves. I need you to get an echocardiogram.” My infectious disease doctor does a heart check before the echo and jumps back from me. “Do you have a murmur? Because right here, I hear a large hole in your heart!” Ok. Echo, done. “Hi, I’m a cardiologist. You need open heart surgery. Now. You have 48 hours to live. If you want a second opinion, call them on my personal cell phone because there’s no time.” Ok. My kids are at the sitter. My husband’s at work. My mom drove in yesterday, before any of this was known, because she “felt like something was wrong”. She was holding my hand while we got the news and I think I broke her pinky.

I was admitted and tests started immediately. I was too sick to operate. I had to wait. But could die. My kids weren’t allowed in to visit until the night before surgery, as my “valve is hanging off and excitement could push it to the brain causing immediate death.” The night before surgery, I said goodbye to them. Like for real this time. I was convinced those first two times were practice. I bawled like a banshee when they left. One of my best friends and my husband spent the night with me. I had taken two antiseptic showers and I had my game face on. I looked at the sunrise and told the doctors I would see tomorrow’s sunrise.

Nine hour surgery. Recovery. Five weeks more in the hospital. Cardiac rehab. Home.

I have to re-bond with my little baby who is now three months old. My oldest is overjoyed mommy is home. But I still can’t be alone. After several weeks, I was feeling better, fully bonded again and part of our family mechanics! Oh, did I mention I lost my full-time job during these events, where I had worked as a counselor for several years due to “restructuring”? And you aren’t allowed to draw unemployment if you’re under a doctor’s care. Yeah. We couldn’t get food stamps, Medicaid, WIC or any other government support. Still had all the same bills with half the income. Add in monstrous medical bills, a home nurse for three weeks and picc line maintenance charges. Yeah, we made $80 too much per year for federal assistance. For reals? That’s two gas tanks.

Anyway, it was time for kidney surgeries. Sixteen in all. One surgery went horribly wrong, causing another “you have 48 hours to live” and required two extra corrective surgeries and 16 blood transfusions. I was sent to a larger hospital for these life-saving procedures. My husband had to be home with the boys, as these things happened so often, we got tired of asking friends to care for our boys, fearing they’d feel taken advantage of. A dear friend rode in the ambulance with me. I spent the next three days throwing up and bleeding profusely. Even my nurses said, “Oh sugar, I dunno if you can pull through this one!” I had blood thinners on board due to my mechanical heart valve in place, so that exaggerated the bleeding.

Oh my poor babies. Weeks of curtains closed, babysitters for mommy, mommy stuck to the couch, trips to the doctor. But you know what? After that last surgery, it was over. Mostly. I just had to endure many ureter stent placements for draining my kidneys.

On my first day with no scheduled surgeries, my oldest climbed in bed with me and started crying. He said, “Mama, you don’t know, but I cried at night while you were gone. I beed brave for you. Now, it’s time to cry together. Let all your tears go in my hair so they don’t get wasted on the ground.” Really???? You’re 5??? All of us were bawling.

It was a new day. My nightmare had ended and I began mourning the long nights awake with my newborn, piles of 0-6 laundry, walks with the stroller, and so so much more. I couldn’t even hold my three-month-old until November and it had already been since July. I now completed laundry with joy! Nothing could shake me! But there was that whole now-you’re-losing-your-house and have-to-sell-everything-but-your-kids just to eat. Sure, food banks were nice, but having both worked in a field where we helped with food banks, or drove clients to the food banks, those people knew us. And we were not always received kindly.

I can tell you, I’m not your average parent of small, growing kids. I’m not the mom with the jogging stroller at the park. I’m not the busy carpool-driving mom who “does it all”. In the last two years since surgery, I missed my oldest getting dropped off by the bus due to passing out; I’ve had a heart attack; I’ve needed two surgeries to stop bleeding and in turn required several blood transfusions. Most of my surgeries since 2011 have made me sterile. I’ve logged 137 days in the hospital away from my babies and husband. I’ve sat in an empty hospital room, wondering when my last breath would be. Would I know? Who would find me? I’ve made thousands of friends who are nurses and doctors, because I make time for them in my schedule (that was a joke, but true). I’ve learned a lot about health, and although my problems were caused by a freak occurrence of endocarditis, I’ve worked hard to save the rest of my heart by losing 154 pounds since surgery. I can run, but I mostly walk. I can be mommy! I can get on the floor and play! I can go to Chuck E. Cheese! I can be me. I have great stories to tell! The craziest one is that I called my son’s school to cancel the parent/teacher conference we had scheduled… because I was busy having a heart attack. I sit in waiting rooms with 30 ninety-year olds and learn so so much.

Jesus is our source of strength. We trust him through all of the crazy twists life throws at us. We are thankful for me being alive. And for Youngest not being poisoned.

In addition, many friends and family have helped us through these years of hard times. People sold vehicles to pay for our mortgage so we wouldn’t lose it all. But we couldn’t hold on anymore. We sold the house but had to bring 1/4 of the mortgage with us as a personal loan due to poor housing prices. We are trying not to let that eat us alive.

renee 2We now live with my mom in Missouri. I went back to work full-time for nine months last year. I was stuck at work many times, as we didn’t have money for gas to get home. Not to mention health scares here and there, adding to our medical debt. Most difficult was the $800/month health insurance, for myself. The kids were never hungry but Hubster and I shared plates. We wouldn’t change our journey, but we don’t want to do it again.

Today, I’m a stay-at-home mom! I love it! My medical team just isn’t sure I should work out of the home at this time. We are closer than ever as a family of four. My husband is working hard to rebuild our financial stance, as it had completely disappeared.

We will get back on our feet! And I will take each step with joy.

renee 3.

Note/Update from Okayest Mom: In my post Please Consider Helping My Childhood Friend this Christmas , I asked for my readers’ help in passing Renee’s Indiegogo fundraising campaign along. We were hoping we could help her and her husband pay off some of their staggering medical costs. I personally thank each of you who prayed, shared, or even donated. I am happy to report that they raised a take-home total of $10,330.75! Renee writes, “We are filled with gratitude. Thank you for every prayer & share – each one a treasure. Thank you also to Jesus. Each and every donation was a blessing and brought freedom. We are taking a sigh of relief tonight and every penny has been used to pay off my health insurance and 47 doctor visits from 7/2013 thru 2/2014!! That was chunked in one bill and it was eating us alive! NOW, it’s PAID in FULL!!! Thank you. We take none of you for granted.”

Guest Post: One Adopted and Brown, Then One Birthed and White

This article is the fouth in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

 Allow me to introduce you to my college friend Claire*. We lost touch after college, but found our way back together when we realized that both of us had our first child around the same time – and both those children happened to be “brown”, adopted, and male. We both went on to birth white children. Here in this blog post, she has the guts to say many of the things that are in my heart. It is good to have a friend with a trans-racial family. Here is Claire’s point of view:

I have two kids, both boys. One is almost four, and the other is almost two. The first and oldest is adopted and brown. The second and younger is birthed and white. There is a long version of how my husband and I ended up here, but I have a short version too. Essentially, my first post-college career was foster care social work, which led me to wanting to adopt through foster care and not have bio kids. My husband, Jim, knew this because we’ve known each other since always. He was totally up for adopting, though he did want one birth child so we could have a variety of experiences. After five years of marriage, we became foster parents. Our son, Nicholas, was placed with us as a baby, and we adopted him when he was a toddler (shortest version ever of the hardest 15 months of all of our lives). Shortly before the adoption was finalized, Jim convinced me that Nicholas needed a sibling close in age and whom we could raise from infanthood. And we were lucky, or whatever you want to call it, and became pregnant right away. Our son Alexander was born six days before Nicholas turned two. That’s how we ended up with our two sons. And yes, we do expect to foster and hopefully adopt again, though we want to parent a teen next. Our son Nicholas also has special needs, while Alexander does not. All of this about fostering and special needs kids is its own topic, however, and I’m here today to write about how parenting adopted and brown versus birthed and white. Nicholas is Cherokee, Korean, black, white, and Hispanic. Alexander is European white bread.

1. What goes on in my head around this topic?

On an everyday basis, I think a lot about books for my kids. I like to spend time thinking about the things I can actually control, and for me for right now that means deciding which books they borrow from the library or own. We read a lot at our house, and I like having books that align with the subjects Nicholas is learning about in preschool. For money and shopping week that meant books about going to stores, for October that mean autumn and Halloween books, and last week that meant books about different types of houses and house-building. The trouble has been that most books do not include people of color, and I’ve had to search to find the racially-inclusive books that I want in our home. I have found some good ones: Gabe’s Grocery List by Jenck; Fall by Roca; and Wonderful Houses Around the World by Komatsu. We also end up with a lot of books about animals because I just cannot buy another book with an all-white cast of characters due to how many we already own. I love having the opportunity to show Nicholas people in books who look like him, and I’m excited that Alexander is also being exposed to more racially diverse books.

In terms of books I’ve read, my favorite book on parenting in a multi-ethnic family is “Does Anybody Else Look Like Me?” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. The book discusses the ways that multi-ethnic kids are objectified, and it provided me with useful ways to handle those situations. It helped me think and talk about things that were already on my mind, and it gave me more to ponder too.

I also think a lot about how the world sees my kids, in terms of the opportunities that are available (or not) to them because of race and racism. There’s so much to say here, I’m not even sure how to begin. I think about things that people talk about often, like hiring practices when my boys look for jobs someday. And I also mean things that I haven’t heard people talk about, like when Nicholas is older and makes new friends who are people of color, and those friends then learn he was adopted by white parents. What about when he is dating and eventually looking for a mate? What will those people and their families think of me and our mostly white family? Will he be seen as “other” because his identity is that of a multi-ethnic person in a mostly white family? What will they think of us white people? The stuff about employment opportunities and such bothers me of course, but I spend more time thinking/worrying about the implications for Nicholas’ identity and his personal relationships with everyone he’ll bump into in life. I have none of these worries for Alexander.

I sometimes think about Bruce Springsteen’s song “American Skin (41 shots)” and it gives me the chills and sometimes tears. I don’t want to talk about the particulars and the politics of the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo in 1999, but the lines that speak of a mother sending her son out into the world are hard for me to stomach. This is the verse that’s really hard for me, “Lena gets her son ready for school/ She says “on these streets, Charles/ You’ve got to understand the rules/ If an officer stops you/ Promise me you’ll always be polite,/ that you’ll never ever run away/ Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”” I would not have the same reaction to those words if I, as a white woman, only had a white child. I often think about my boys when I interact with authority figures, and I know that Alexander will be privileged in interactions with authority figures while Nicholas will not be.

2. What do we talk about with Nicholas and Alexander?

We have always talked to Nicholas about being adopted. And he was aware of his coming brother when I was pregnant with Alexander. Because of hard things about the situation and events that took place, Nicholas doesn’t yet know details that relate to foster care and his birth family. We have a good deal of contact with his aunt, whom both Nicholas and Alexander refer to as their aunt because we’ve encouraged them to do so. But other than that, Nicholas knows only that he came to us when a social worker brought him to our house. The story goes like this, “When you were a tiny baby, you needed a family and so Diane brought you to our house. She drove her car into our driveway, and Dad went out and took you and the carseat out of her car. He carried you into the house, and then we held you. You were so little that you needed to eat a lot in the middle of the night, so we would feed you and then change your diaper, and then put you back to bed. When you were older and almost ready to walk we went to the judge together and the judge said we were a family forever. That was when you were adopted and we knew that we could stay together forever.” Nicholas knows that story and loves to hear it, particularly the part about us feeding and holding him at night. He seems to find comfort in hearing about the care we gave him as wee one. He also knows that Alexander grew in my belly and then came out when he was big enough and strong enough. While I was pregnant, we had talked a lot about what it means to be a family and have a younger sibling. Nicholas understood more than we had guessed. When Jim first brought Nicholas (who was still a week away from turning two) to visit Alexander and me in the hospital, he was already protective of his little brother. He’d seen Alexander fuss and cry when the nurses came in to do all their checking. When another nurse entered the room, Nicholas pushed the bassinet on wheels away from the nurse, shook his chubby little pointer finger at her, and said, “No, no, no!” He did not want anyone else coming near his baby. And so Jim and I witnessed the first of many, many moments that have displayed the boys’ strong bond. On the one hand, sometimes it is odd to think of our boys as having two different birthmothers when they’re clearly so connected. On the other hand, it does make sense because it isn’t blood that makes relationships; it’s all the choices we make to love, protect, and serve one another.

Right around the time he turned three, Nicholas seemed to notice skin color for the first time. He and I were at the pool at the local recreation center, and he saw a boy with dark skin. I should say that we live in a state that is 80% white, with the other 20% being a fairly even mix of people who are black, Asian, Hispanic, and multi-ethnic. Our town’s demographics reflect that of the state in general. At the pool that day, everyone other than Nicholas appeared to be white. Then the boy with dark skin arrived. Nicholas soon noticed the boy’s father (a very dark skinned black man) and mother (an extremely pale skinned white woman). Nicholas was fascinated by the family and clearly had a lot of questions, but one of his challenges is an expressive language delay so unfortunately he didn’t have the language to express his ideas. We have learned Sign to enable Nicholas to communicate, however, so I gave him the language (in oral English and in Sign) to be able to communicate about skin color. I gave him the words for skin, dark, light, and brown. At the pool we had some conversation about the skin color of that family and our family, and that conversation ended up continuing for weeks. Mostly he wanted to review the concept that people have different colors of skin and that this variation, even within families, is fine and good. We still talk about skin color, of course, but Nicholas has moved on somewhat from his fixation on skin color and now has questions about eye color. Most people in our immediate and extended family have blue or blue-green eyes, and Nicholas has very dark brown eyes. He wants to know why he has dark eyes but pretty much everyone else has light eyes, and so I point to his birth aunt and also Jim’s sister-in-law who have brown eyes because we want him to feel like he fits. He also wants to know why Buzz Lightyear has blue eyes, Jessie has green eyes, and Woody has brown eyes even though they all have light skin. Preschoolers have so many questions and notice so many details! We work with an adoption/attachment therapist regularly, and she’s helping us traverse this complicated ground of having differences because of adoption. Being an individual and being unique is important, but so is fitting in and feeling like you belong. Alexander looks like Jim and me, especially like me, but Nicholas of course does not. It will probably always be easy for Alexander to feel like he fits. One of our main strategies, based in the work we do with our therapist, is to focus on the behavioral ways that we’re all alike. Nicholas is the one who has my temperament and interests, so we have no trouble identifying many similarities in those areas.

3. What’s it like to interact with strangers?

I very much like talking about adoption and foster care, but much of that conversation is not appropriate to have in front of young children because of the topics it encompasses (e.g., teen pregnancy, abuse and neglect, and choices about contact with birth family). Additionally, these aren’t topics I want to discuss with strangers! Anytime Nicholas is with me in public, which is pretty much all the time, people ask a lot of personal questions and objectify him because he’s obviously adopted and because he’s multi-ethnic. They act as if he is not right there, and they act as if he isn’t a person at all.

First, there’s the way people love to ask questions about adoption or make observations because we have one adopted and one non-adopted child. Here’s a common one, “I’ve heard of so many people who adopted and then ended up getting pregnant!” This is still completely offensive even to me as a person who hasn’t struggled with fertility challenges; a whole lot of assumptions about extremely personal things are wrapped up in this comment. It ignores the science that says you don’t actually magically become pregnant because you’ve “relaxed” (as people love to tell me) after adopting. Plus, it assumes that I wouldn’t have wanted to adopt Nicholas if I could just have had Alexander by birth first! In response, I always say something like, “Hmm, I have heard of that happening too, but I don’t think fertility is usually affected by adoption. And in our case we were really excited to adopt, and that was our primary goal. Alexander came along later because we found it so special to know Nicholas as an infant, and we wanted to be sure we could have that experience again.” Primarily, I want my kids to hear me, but I want to tell those nosy folks a thing or two as well.

Another topic on strangers’ minds is Nicholas’ ethnicity. One common question is, “Where did you get him?” This is framed in a way that sounds like someone is asking me where I acquired a pack of gum or maybe a pair of shoes. “Get him?” Is that really a way to talk about a person? Jim once told a woman in a store that we found him in a vending machine, and he told another woman, “You see, there’s this thing about a sperm and an egg…” but then she walked away. And there was also that time he told someone, “Earth.” Jim tells me that if they ask a stupid question, they will receive a stupid answer. Sometimes I wish I could be that sassy, but most of the time I just smile and walk away in response to those crazy questions.

“Where is he from?” is the same question but packaged slightly better. I always say, “He’s from here.” I mean, what are you even asking??? He was born in the capital of the state in which we live, so answering “here” seems like a good enough answer for a complete stranger. Okay, okay, I know what they’re asking: they want to know about his ethnicity and what country we adopted him from. It’s just none of their business so I mostly refuse to provide information. This is Nicholas’ story to tell, not mine. And I can’t imagine him wanting me to tell strangers all of this stuff. Another good comment along the same lines is, “He’s so exotic!” Oh, or the one we received at the hospital the other day when we were checking Nicholas in for surgery: “Are you his legal guardians?” Nope, I did not hear that one asked of the other families around us who had kids with matching skin color. And of course every person at the playground, grocery store, library, post office, etc. loves to ask me about our boys, “Are they both yours?”

But my favorite question ever was, “Are you his personal trainer?” Nicholas and I were at the pool together, and since we are different colors clearly I could not be his mother. Therefore, I must be his personal trainer. Because three-year-olds have personal trainers?! I would bet any amount of money (by which I mean up to $50 because I’m cheap like that) on the side that says I would never have been asked that question had I been with my white son.

Raising an adopted and brown child is different from raising a birthed and white one. We’re raising them together though, and I know that Alexander will benefit from the experience of having a more ethnically diverse family and seeing racism first-hand. I hope and pray that Nicholas ends up understanding that we’ve worked hard to do the best we can to protect him from being objectified by strangers, and we’ve tried to create a world in which he sees and knows people who look more like him than we do. Whatever happens, I know they have each other.

* Names have been changed.