Friday, December 16, 2005

Life is like a bag of monkeys.....

At the rest of sounding OBSESSED with my adoption situation, I am posting this anyway. I wrote this over two weeks ago (BEFORE the need to put the "Disclaimer" up on the blog). I thought it was pretty funny and am going to post it anyway. Life is funny....

I gave a talk in church this week. It was a pretty good talk, spiritual and had an actual point--unlike most of the talking I tend to do. During the course of the talk I made a comment that I missed holding my son when he was a baby because now it is like holding "a bag of wild monkeys". I got several "reminders" not to call my black son a monkey. The reminder was specifically because he is black--and it was from white people.

Uhhhhh, OK. Beyond the fact that I didn't call him a monkey (I called him a bag of monkeys), BACK OFF PEOPLE!!! I have since learned that the term monkey used to be a disparaging term in the past and so I can see why there is a tiny, tiny shred of weight to that one. Ironically, his appearance had nothing to do with why I made the comment....it was in reference to an animal that it would be difficult to hold a bag of. In retrospect, maybe I should have said "bag of wild cougars" I forgot to do the racial sensitivity checklist before I spoke. Is cougar ok? Will that make the BYU Alumni upset? Is there any Native American custom I might be mocking? The racial aspect of the comment has to do w/ the facial feature of some African American's. The comment about my son was personality based. But even if it wasn't...so what? I will address this in another paragraph. My son is called a monkey because he can climb ANYTHING. He has been known to take a running leap at my legs and grab on and wrap his skinny little arms and legs around mine and STAY THERE. He is freakishly strong. He can wrap his legs around my waist and make it very difficult to dislodge him. If I grab him by his hands and pull him up, he will bring his legs up and fold himself in half so that his feet are by his ears--all while hanging in the air. FREAK. ISH. LY. STRONG. I see now that I really should have said a "bag of Chinese contortionists". Wait, am I allowed to say Chinese? See, I did it again. He also has the cutest little bowed legs and when he was first leaning to walk, he held his hands straight above his head. We called it his "gorilla walk". It was adorable and I STILL watch the video of it. SO WHAT!!

I also have been "reminded" to take "lots of pictures of my son so that when he is older and compares his pictures with his sisters, he won't think we love him less". Oooookkkaaaay. Clearly this advice giver had given this some thought, and that part is touching and appreciated. But honestly, I defy you to find ANY second child that has as many pictures as the first. Lady, that is not just for adopted kids. Just ask my sister Melissa (the 5th girl) or my brother Jeff (the 7th child). If it was left to photographic evidence, the world wouldn't be totally sure that these children even existed. Her advice was given in the context of us being a transracial family and the fact that he is adopted. I am hoping that when my son is older, he won't think we love him less then his sister because of all the time and effort and parenting we will do with/for him. Of course, if he is like any other child (not just adopted ones) at some point he WILL think we love him less then his sister. I am pretty sure that I wouldn't be doing my job if that wasn't the case at least once or twice.

Is it just me or is the world getting extra sensitive? Am I just naive? I am not saying that we shouldn't be sensitive to the differences around us. I am also not denying that there won't be issues that will come up because of the fact that my son is who he is. I know that there will be. How do I prepare for my daughter? Do I prepare for her to be not good in school? Not popular? Too tall? At least with Jacob there are a few I can anticipate. As a family, are we sensitive to my son's racial and cultural heritage? Of course we are. We embrace his identity. But that is it--I am just not allowed to talk about it, or I have to be very, very careful if I do. I have been chastised for saying my son is back, I was told to say African American. When I have said African American, I was told to say Black American. Who can keep track? I have been told that a white woman couldn't possibly know how to raise a black child. It is true that as a white woman, I don't know what it is like to be a black child. I don't know what it is like to be a boy either, but no one questions my ability to raise a son, just a BLACK son. Yes, there are people in the world that use color as a basis for poor treatment. There are also those that are disparaging towards women, or Mormons, or Democrats. I plan on defending ALL of my children from ALL of these things. I wish that none of it existed, but it does.

But is it as big of a deal as I am being forced to think it is? In our home, Jacob being black is such a small part of what he adds to this family. I think of him as cheerful, charming, funny and clever before I think black. Am I doing my family a disservice for not being extra, extra PC? My children ARE different. Lauren wouldn't put her face underwater for a million dollars. Jacob sits under the faucet in the tub. Lauren loves to play alone, Jacob is proving to be more attached to me and wants me much closer the Lulu did as a one year old. I take my kids differences and similarities in stride. Their skin color is one of those many, many differences. Am I not allowed to acknowldege it? The reality is that my son is black and my daughter is white. Doesn't not addressing that issue make THEM think it is a bigger deal then it is, or a subject that shouldn't be talked about? I want them both to be comfortable with who they are and what the world might throw at them. This is one thing that I am pretty sure that both of them are going to have to address to strangers and friends as some point. Maybe we don't celebrate Kwanza or eat African food in my house, but we don't eat Tripe or Haggas or German Food either. I am pretty sure that Jacob will know much more about HIS racial heritage then Lauren will. No one cares if white people know about the culture they came from--but wouldn't that be the same thing?

My daughter has a nickname, we call her Birdy. The day she was born, she looked so much like a little baby bird that it just stuck. My son has been called "the Monkey Man" since he was born. When Jacob was born--he did resemble a baby chimpanzee. Look at the picture for yourself and try to deny it. We also said that he looked like an 80 year old grandmother w/ a bad perm and Don King. When we got new white carpet and the fuzz stuck to his hair, we thought he looked like Morgan Freeman. He was also the hairiest baby EVER. The still has more of a mustache then many 16 year olds. I can see how in many ways people would think that is a terrible thing to say. I need to point out that it was his BIRTH MOTHER who first pointed it out. Her oldest son she named Cornelius because she thought he looked like that character in Planet of the Apes. She was clearly comfortable w/ the comparison. Newborn Jacob had an afro of frizzy black hair and a scrunchy little face. He was so skinny, there wasn't much fat under his skin and it was loose and had folds in it. His flat little nose and enormous eyes made him the most monkey-like baby I have ever seen. He would sit on my hip and just hang on w/ his little fists.......it was adorable. Some babies look like turtles when they are born. Others look like shriveled old men. One of my good friends had a baby (white) that looked so much like a monkey it was kind of scary to think about her future. She is now one of the most beautiful children I have ever seen. Lets not forget the "monkey twins" aka Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. (seriously--they did look like monkeys when they were little). Does that mean they weren't cute? The entire NATION tuned in to see those simian featured children say "thanks DUDE" on Full House for many years. It might not be the nicest thing to say, but it isn't just black babies that bring on the comparison. Besides, what is cuter then a baby monkey? Seriously. Why is it ok to call my WHITE daughter a bird because of her resemblance, but NOT ok to call my son a monkey because of his on the basis that someone MIGHT be offended. It's not like I was calling him a serial killer or a pedophile. Isn't that a kind of racism too? Where is the line between respecting the difference between them and not making something a bigger deal then it really is? Or, am I like the people who are really racist but don't think they are? I don't think I am, but I wouldn't then, would I?

That is all I have to say about that. When I really think about it, I would rather live in a world that is extra cautious because that might mean that people are more likely to err on the side of kindness. I will teach my children that we should value the world's opinion as far as it will influence how we are perceived, but that what we DO is always going to be more important then what we look like. I will also teach them that while some people may hurt our feelings, the only opinions that REALLY matter are the ones offered by the people who know and love, or at least respect, us. I will also try harder to accept advice, if not for the actual content, but in the spirit in which it was meant. All I DO know is that I love my kids. I have many talents and goals for my life, but for right now I am going to invest all my time and energy into preparing them to go into the world as good, honest, fun and kind humans. And I wasn't offended by the "help" from our friends. I thought it was funny, and then it just got me thinking...

**Don't even get me started on the all the holiday PC. It is too much for me to even process right now. Let me just get this out in the open. I am going to spend the CHRISTMAS season in front of my CHRISTMAS tree w/ my Birdie and my Monkey Man eating refined sugar, milk that is NOT organic and counting my blessings. Whatever you may call this upcoming week, I wish you a happy and safe holiday.

17 comments:

Christy said...

This was awesome! I hope Eva doesn't think we love her less because she's not as black as Caleb. We don't have hardly any pictures of her (in comparison to Caleb). :)

my word is somewhat ironic today: pmonkcyw

~j. said...

Bravo, Rebecca! I've been waiting for you to publish this, and I'm glad to finally read it. I thought of you a few days ago when I was watching a DVR'd episode of Will & Grace - Will's mom explains Will's neice: "She's adopted, but I like her like she's real."

This reminded me of my friend Michael who used to call me Poca (as in, Pocahontas) in reference to my Cherokee coloring. He'd offer to trade me for wampum, etc. His grandfather was from the Philipines, and so he'd make some Filipino jokes about himself that I didn't always get. We laughed so much about it. We could have called my brother and sister Adolf & Eva due to their blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.

When you refered to Jacob as monkey, I knew what YOU meant, and I also anticipated what those around you would say. I am so sensitive to this subject...I was accused of being a racist in the seventh or eighth grade and got beat up about it. It was ridiculous. On the one hand, I'm not racist because I see it as a non-issue. On the other hand...does that make me not sensitive enough, and therefore racist by default? I know that prejudices exist, I just don't buy into them.

Bek said...

See Jen, that is just the issue I am dealing with. It is a fine line we walk between being sentive and treating those issues with the respect they deserve and not going too far over the pc fence.

BTW, that episode of Will and Grace had many people upset. It is kind of an example of how people still view adoption. I know that I would never refer to an adopted child as not being real, but I also laughed at it because so many people do. There were many discussions on the adoption boards about how it was terrible, start a letter writing campaign, etc. That is true, but come on, it is also WILL AND GRACE. Sitcoms often sterotype and those characters aren't exactly pillars of the community. They are flawed, etc. I can see how people want to take away bad examples on TV, but I didn't get that upset about it.

Once Jacob can talk, my whole philosophy might change, but for now I am going to keep straddling the fence........

My word today was: drugybit
Is it me or did these use to be nonsense words and now they are kind of real? Weird.

Bek said...

Jen--you got beat up? Yikes....

Are you part Indian? Hmmmmm, very interesting.....

Bek said...

Oh yeah, I also have been reading books that were recomended by our social worker and the a local organization that deals with trans racial families. All of those books say "don't try and teach your children that the world is colorblind. It isn't. Black adult (especially men) will be treated differently by people who don't know them. It is a fact. Teach them how to deal with that."

Interesting, right?

~j. said...

Yeah...a girl slammed me into the lockers and started hitting me but I wouldn't do anything about it. Then a teacher was drawn to the crowd and broke it up. It's a story I'll have to tell you sometime.

Yes, I've got a bit of Cherokee (or, as Brad Wilcox said to me with his huge teeth, "Lamanite Blood!"), but only a few of my cousins and I "look" the part - Dark hair, dark skin, dark eyes, tan easily, etc. It was something I was very aware of since my brother & sister, who are only 16 months apart, were often mistaken for twins: blond-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned twins. And...who's that other girl with them? She's certainly not RELATED...

That is very interesting, what those books say. I blame Oprah.

Retief said...

Bek, first, unsolicited advice from strangers and acquaintences is part of being a parent of any child. Deal. Second, I know Jocob does look like a monkey and that you can lovingly call him that at home, but that doesn't mean it's OK to say things like that outside of your home. Bag of monkeys isn't Monkey but it's close enough to be uncomfortable. Will your nickname change once he goes to school and discovers that some people who call him a monkey do so meaning that he's not really human? Yes, having to be sensitive to such things sucks. But it doesn't suck because of people who want to avoid slurs, it sucks because of scum like the ones I quote below.

Yes even in the time of the Third Reich the hooknosed kike was advocating associating with niggers and other mud races as the picture shows. We have two of the hooknosed tribe whooping it up with a couple of Blue Gummed Bubble Lipped Apes at a Nightclub. The hebes look really happy, this is because they have worked out if they can sell the idea of race mixing to the White race along with monkey log thumping music then they can make enormous profits and destroy the White race simultaneously thus helping them on the way to implementing their New World Order agenda and thus rule the world.
http://www.heretical.com/ohrdruff/errata.html

The stereotypes within Ethnic Cleansing are not surprisingly extreme and ubiquitous. The black gangsters, wearing red shirts emblazoned with the words Nigzs, make monkey and ape noises each time you shoot them.
http://www.popmatters.com/multimedia/features/040226-whitesupremacists.shtml

Interrupting its usual round-the-clock agitprop in favor of mixed-race sex couplings set to Monkey Nation hip-hop, the Jew-owned channel premiered a movie about the martyred, HIV-positive queer cruiser Matt Shepard, followed by a brief and carefully controlled "discussion" of hate crimes.
http://www.vanguardnewsnetwork.com/index57.htm

Augh! My computer doesn't work so I'm at the public library, where I'm sitting across from a black woman and her 2-ish year old child. The child is so loud and annoying and her mom can do nothing to control her. (Either that or she won't.)
The child's running around crying and screaming and the mom stares into the computer mindlessly typing saying things like "Quiet!", "hush!," etc. while completely ignoring the squealing child. (Not to mention the mom looks like a monkey because she just finished scratching her head:p) Now I see why the black kids in my school are the way they are. Poor parenting.
http://www.stormfront.org/archive/t-124432


If you can stomach more of this swill you'll find plenty more human garbage talking about monkeys and mud-people over at stormfront. Now maybe the people who said something to you were well-meaning or maybe they were just interfering busybody twits, but either way, they said something not because they want you to be extra careful of anybody's feelings but because the same losers who routinely call some people monkeys also believe that only the "white race" have souls, etc.etc. Avoiding being like these people isn't reverse racism, it's common sense. I haven't seen any signs of your being "really a racist", but thanks to the scum who are, calling a black child a monkey and calling a white child a monkey is different.

Stephen said...

or is the world getting extra sensitive ... nope, people just are feeling more and more free to but in with advice. Sigh.

At least you know what they are thinking. ;)

Bek said...

reteif--good point. I had thought about that too. Thanks for you opinion.

wendysue said...

Bek, just a thought for you to share with those PC's that drive you crazy. . . This whole thing reminds me of a framed quote I saw in a friends house. . . all it said was "Build a bridge". . . It took me a second, I thought it was all lovey-dovey, like build a bridge of friendship and love, but really she said, oh, no, it means. . "Build a bridge. . . and GET OVER IT!!!"

compulsive writer said...

Great post! I would love to get over the PC thing because while I applaud being sensitive to people, I think being overboard on the PC train just accentuates the differences I wish we would all get over.

One example: I hated it when Condi Rice was applauded so pointedly for being the first black woman to be appointed to such a high position in the US government. It seemed to actually detract from her personal achievement and from the value inherent in her race and her gender. I long for the day when one would even notice or care that Condi Rice is a woman and/or black but just applaud her for being who she is--this amazing person full of poise, grace and intellect who worked hard to get where she is and who is doing a great job at her job.

There's a fine line between embracing differences and acknowledging commonalities. Ideally, we should all be able to accept people and whatever they might say at face value: What is is what is. Being synthetically hypersensitive will not compensate for the evils of past and present bigotry. Truth, honesty and love are the only ways to overcome bigotry, ignorance and hatefulness.

The best advice I ever got was that it is a complete waste of energy to be offended when no offense is intended. Let's teach our children to be sensitive and kind to others. But let's also teach them not to take themselves so seriously they can't laugh at themselves or at the absurdity that sometimes surrounds us all.

cyndi k. wren said...

Short of stopping a parent from physically damaging their child, I don't believe that any unsolicited advice from ladies at the grocery stores, church (and bloggers on a soapboxes should have to be tolerated. It seems that as parents, we receive this advice under the assumption that we don't know what in the world we are doing. What's wrong with assuming that the parent in question knows how to deal with their child better than a random stranger, no matter how old they are or how many children they have raised. Not long ago in Wal-Mart, Jay couldn't keep quiet after we watched an older lady scream at a young mother (who was wrestling a baby and a toddler) to pick up her crying baby. The mother was shocked at being acosted, but she did it and the last view we saw of her was trying to simultaneously push the cart, hold her baby, and keep her two year old from diving over the edge, while blinking back tears. The woman's defense was that she is a nurse and knows what babies need. Please. My point is that we all may have to smile at and be nice to opinionated people who think they can parent the world, but the bottom line is that it is rude and offensive and no, we don't have to "deal". We don't have to be rude, but we also don't need to have implications that we are doing things wrong. If anonymous, crazy old lady at the store can keep my kid from shrieking through the store better than I can, please give it a shot!
That being said I will now get down off MY soapbox...
Good post, bek!

La Yen said...

I agree with almost everything that has been said, and I understand your frustration! I think that it is interesting that white people are the most sensitive about calling other people things, especially when other people don't seem to care at all. As far as being a black young man, you will have different challenges. There will probably come a day, maybe at a baseball game or something, where you will hear another parent refer to your son disparagingly, because he is black and they don't expect you to know him. (You should beat the crap out of them.) There will also come a day when your son gets accused of something he did not do, because he is black. There will also come a day when he gets treated differently because he is Mormon, or adopted, or black, or short, or tall. I think that our jobs as parents are many--and one of them is to teach our kids what to do in those situations. We all got the message from Barbie--we girls can do anything--and my feeling is that we need to be instilling those things into our children no matter what the color. The Jooj is going to get called a bi*ch simply because she is a girl who will attend public school. Do I tell her now that that is going to happen? No, but I prepare myself for when it does, and if it doesn't by sixth grade, we have a talk about it before jr. High. I'd do the same with Jacob about his issues.
As far as traditions, whatever. Make your own. We don't know a single person who celebrates Kwanza, but we do know a bunch who would rather be called black, than african-american. We also know friends who will say "My people are from the islands, not Africa" or "We changed my name to distinguish it from our slave-owners." None of them would have a single problem with you and your son. They would correct you, and then move on. My advice, as he gets older, is to maybe find a black man who can help him figure things out about his race and society that he can't figure out from you. It is never bad to have an extra "uncle" when they are growing up, anyway.
You rule.

Carolyn said...

Hi Bek - Now I am the lurker (is that a word?). I loved this blog. Yes, the world is getting increasinly more sensitive and I for one bemoan the fact. My company can't have a holiday party and call it such. It's not a Christmas Party. It's not even a party. We could offend someone whose religious tenets might include no partying, after all. So we call it our "Year-End Gathering." But I'm really afraid one day it's going to offend one of our employees who lives off of the Chinese calendar or any other calendar in conflict with the more commonly used Gregorian/Christian calendar. God Bless America!

La Yen said...

W is now referring to people as bags of monkeys.

Bek said...

Jen G,

You were able to clarify some of the things that I was trying to say. I KNOW that there will be times when he be confronted with other peoples issues. That will be hard. I know that as a black man he will have some things worse then the things that my daughter will confront. I wish the world didn't have to be that way, but it is so I just need to give my kiddos a safe place at home and prepare them for the world. I do think that with this I can at least see it coming. I hope that I am able to prep ALL of my children for that day. None of us make it into adulthood w/out having these things happen to us.

One of the biggest reasons that I am sad that our adoption is now closed is that I really, really wanted to have his birth family available as a resource for him--especially his three older brothers. I am currently in the market for an "uncle". The birth father of the baby we didn't get has become a really good friend of ours and I hope that we can cultivate a relationship with him. He used to live with birthmom and knows Jacob's bio family very well.

I do appreciate everyone's input and opinions. I have been trying to break the habit of calling him a littl monkey (although today he clung to my leg and went "whoo, whoo, whoo" for hours...) and I catch my self. I say "you little mo........onster". Ironic huh, calling my son a monster is less offensive. I need to think of another good word that starts with Mo.

Bek said...

Carolyn--

My sister works at a company here in SF that is VERY PC. They don't even have a year end party (b/c of the Chineese New Year thing..really). They call it an "end of the fiscal year" party.

Rock on.

Jen-Tell Waldo that if he was a bad boy for Christmas this year, Santa will bring him a bag of monkeys.