She finally asked. Due to currently being embedded in the “why” phase, This Old Mom should have known it was coming.
Becky shows up for a playdate with 1-month-old Eleanor and 2-year-old Felix, who’s having difficulty sharing his Mama (and her boobs), with an
interloper baby sister.
It’s a win-win afternoon. Cuddling (and smelling) baby Eleanor cures my baby fix. Becky gets to cheer on Felix, who gets to play with Grace, who was so focused on playing, she gave This Old Mom a reprieve from Why-fever. When Eleanor cries, Grace stares profoundly as Becky unsheathes massive, milk-heavy boobs to feed her baby.
When Becky, Felix and baby leave, Grace hugs every single one of them, less an act of affection than a stalling tactic, which works because it’s charming. She wants me to carry her home, which is my CrossFit because she’s 40 pounds of solid muscle and half my height ― at 3 years old. I love carrying her because of the casual way her hands holds me, with the slightest hint of ownership. Then, she points to a freckle on my modest cleavage.
GRACE: Why are you brown right there?
You try and explain a freckle to a three year old.
ME: Uh, some people with pale, useless skin like me get these brown dots all over their skin after a sunburn.
GRACE: Why do you have so much freckles?
As This Old Mom yawns, we disappear into a WHY-hole.
ME: I have freckles due to being a VERY pale girl who tried to be tan like fancy people used to be. But all I got were sunburns and freckles. And that’s why Mama wears more sunblock than clothes these days.
It’s not hard to leave out how the 1960s and 1970s were when sunblock was not yet the billion-dollar a year industry it is today, thanks to that pesky disappearing ozone layer. Back then, only Beatlemaniacs and Trekkies were pale. It’s easy to not add that my older sister has battled skin cancer due to methodically tanning herself tobacco brown back in the 1970s.
By this point we are almost inside our house. She’s getting heavy but soon This Old Mom won’t be able to carry her at all, so it is relished.
GRACE: Why are you so, so SO pale?
Pause. OK. Is this where we are going? Breathe.
ME: Because my skin is white.
GRACE: Why don’t I have freckles?
Since it’s the tail end of a long hot weekend of single momming, This Old Mom relaxes into the tiredness and the fear, keeping “the talk” casual and every day, since this is our every day, normal-ish life, eyeing her carefully while mourning our magical bond of her seeing no difference between us... due to the blunt facts of skin color.
ME: You don’t have freckles because your skin is brown. And you are so lucky to have such beautiful brown skin because the sun won’t hurt your skin as badly as it does mine.
Grace looks at her hands. Both sides.
GRACE: Why am I brown? Why are you white?
Breathe, relax and don’t spaz out. We’ve been to the adoption specialist therapist. And the webinars and the transracial parenting workshops. So, OK. A year earlier than we thought this chat would happen, but it’s happening now. Breathe and relax and truth it out.
ME: Because we are different races.
No longer in the shallow end of the kiddie pool, and seeing a flock of whys looming overhead, I keep yammering, in that control-freak Virgo way that I do.
ME: Race is the word that explains different skin colors. We are different colors, different races. You were adopted. Do you remember what that means?
We’d been dropping the a-bomb regularly over the past three years, incorporating it into our family vocabulary. We also watch “Despicable Me” a lot. She adores the minions; I adore the adoption plot-line.
When she grouses about our two dogs lick-stalking her or our cat giving her the stink eye, I explain that we adopted our animals because they needed us to take care of them and love them, even (and especially) when they are annoying. Watching the hamster wheel spin behind her quick brown eyes, This Old Mom wonders how she will respond.
GRACE: Why am I adopteded?
Of course she has to be adorable at this juncture.
ME: Well, first, you WERE adopted. Adopted isn’t who you are, it’s something that happened when you were born. Mama and Dada wanted to be parents so badly, and I couldn’t grow a baby in my tummy ― like how Becky grew Felix and Eleanor in her tummy. And the really special lady who grew you in her tummy has beautiful brown skin just like you. This special lady loved you so much, even when you were just inside her tummy and she couldn’t see you, but she was unable to take care of you, which made her sad. Meanwhile Dada and I were looking everywhere for you, we were so sad, and waited and waited for you to find us. So, this lady loved you so much that she looked for a mommy and daddy for you. And, luckily this special, beautiful woman and I found each other. And she liked me and I liked her. She really wanted Dada and me to be your parents. We were in the hospital when you were born. That’s where the special, beautiful lady placed you with us, to be your Mama and Dada. Dada and I fell instantly in love with you as soon as we met you. And we became a family.
GRACE: Why wasn’t I inside your tummy?
ME: Because you grew in the really special lady’s tummy. And while I couldn’t grow you in my tummy, I was looking for you to be born so I could be your mama.
Studying her glowing face, This Old Mom tries not to think about how much we can’t go into right now: How This Old Mom didn’t find her husband until her eggs dried up and blew away like tumbleweed with wanderlust. We skip over two long years in the foster care system, where our paperwork was lost over and over again while we nursery-ed out a bedroom with everything we hoped our future child would want. We avoid the grueling, rejection-laden adoption process or what it was like to meet and fall in love with and grieve with her biological mother.
ME: So, even though your skin is brown and my skin is white, and I will never be brown and you will never be white, I’m your Mama and Dada’s your father. And we are so lucky that we found you and that you are our daughter. We love you so much. So… any more questions?
GRACE: Can I get rice pudding?
While hoovering pudding, Grace downloads more.
GRACE: Felix’s mama kept putting her big, BIG booby in the baby’s mouth. Why did she do that? Why didn’t she just feed her soup or rice pudding?
Since I obviously never breastfed her, Grace had no clue what was in those big, BIG boobies.
Adoption is a net gain made up of millions of tiny losses. Since we don’t look like each other, I marvel and mourn at the beautiful strangeness of babies as collage-like amalgamations of generations previous.
Someday Grace will mourn the fact that the people who resemble her more than anyone else on Earth live thousands of miles away. I mourn never having been able to give birth or breastfeed. The loss Grace’s bio-mom endured will linger the rest of her life and mine, since she shared and continues to share her profound grief with me. Grace will be the black kid with the old white Mom and Dad. But for now, we smile and drop raisins into our cool, comforting rice pudding.
Just like that, the first chat about adoption and race was over. We know this conversation is just the beginning of a conversation that will sporadically last our lives. Sometimes the conversation will be awful and painful and sad, like the chats we’ll have about death, drugs, love, loss, sex and whatever the hell kids will be into when she’s older. But for now it’s all about rice pudding and minions.
Thank effing god for right now.
In an attempt to bring the reader up to speed on the origin story of This Old Mom, this is a revised older post from the website, This Old Mom. Visit if you dare.