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The New Global Family

Cheryl and ZoeA New Wave…

by Cheryl Paley,
columnist for New Global Family,
IF mag

my daughter turned 7 on June 15th. 7 years. In spiritual circles that is a full cycle. Full circle. And I feel it. So much has happened and the little face I see when I wake up in the morning is now fully my own in ways I couldn’t have envisioned when I began our journey. It has been, and continues to be rich, divine and loaded with not only joy and laughter, but healthy doses of angst and grief. Because I, like so many of my new friends, did it differently. We broke the mold, challenged the old paradigm, became “one of those people” who changed the tide. And sometimes riding the waves of change stings the skin and pushes us down.

There will be 25 kids at my daughter’s birthday party in the park, and 12 of them are adopted and of a different race than their parents. Some have 2 parents, some have single mothers, and some have 2 moms. They will all eat hot dogs and cake and play games and not much will be said about it. And for me, today, that is a small miracle. They will just be “kids.” But I haven’t forgotten what I saw and felt, the discomfort, trying to fit into a world of people not “getting” us, because along with the laughs and the milestones, that is also part of the fabric of our lives.

I wrote this article 4 years ago as part of a book on multi-cultural families I was passionate about having published. Today, my life at International Family Magazine, has more than adequately taken the place of that and the anger is muted. But I wanted to share it with you because it is important sometimes, to track our progress in life, to honor the journey we take as we ride the waves.

The Trip to Fairway Market

I am a single mother to a child of a different race. In October of 2001, 3 weeks after 9/11, I brought my daughter Zoe home from Guatemala. Unmarried and 40-something, adoptive, transracial, it was a virtual "Full Monty" of single parenting challenges.

I had only 3 weeks off work before I became a sole supporting, working single mom. It was a maelstrom, a whirlwind, a bit of a mess. Still, I had what I had always dreamed of. A beautiful, bright eyed, curious little girl. And she was all mine and I wanted to celebrate that by doing the kind of mundane, everyday activity that used to send me into crying jags in my 30s when I'd see young moms and their babies doing it and I couldn't: I wanted to go grocery shopping with my kid.

I managed to get her into the baby car seat and we were off to Fairway Market in upper Manhattan. Upper Manhattan, the national capital of liberalism, open-mindedness. The Yupper West Side where anything goes. My daughter was in her element, flashing those enormous black eyes of hers and taking in a completely new world.

We swept over to the chicken counter. Following us with his eyes, a man was staring, studying us, clearly amused. He was big, brawny, pasty. Think Shrek with sunglasses. Inserting himself between my cart and the counter, he stopped me. "Excuse me," I said, trying to grab the Murray's organic. He looked at my face, then hers, then mine again, let out a good, hearty hoot and said, "She's not yours, is she? She's so... dark. Looks like a little Eskimo… You can't be the mother..." I put the chicken back, stuttered something unintelligible and hid in front of the Annie's pasta display, crying like a baby as I played patty-cake with my daughter.

It haunted me, this unexpected speed bump. I thought, “Is it just me? Am I 'too sensitive?'“ And then,10 months later, sitting in the park on a muggy August afternoon, a lesbian mom and I shared our stories of “that day” and made a connection. I was the first person, other than her partner; she had ever opened up to about “that day” for her. She was breast feeding in the back corner of a diner on the upper east side of Manhattan, trying to blend into the wallpaper, when a total stranger approached: "I quickly put myself back together, I thought she was annoyed by the breastfeeding, even though I had done my best to be discreet. She had a weird, pained expression on her face, I was sure she was going to ask me to leave. She just stared at us for what felt like forever and then she blurted out, 'well, how nice, baby's out with his daddy.' My new friend in the park then turned to me and said, “It was so surreal.” Then she started to cry.

We sat there for about an hour, and our tales of woe became a life raft - an unexpected port in the storm. After a long pause I said, "You know, someone should write this down - you just can't make this stuff up!" And we laughed the kind of laugh that kind of hurts a little too.

Last December, at a Chanukah party in Washington Heights I was talking to another adoptive mom about my Fairway Market experience. Afterward, a mom in her late 30s approached me, nervously, over the potato latkes. "I have a friend who adopted from China," she said. "Everybody is very nice to her. You must be writing about New Jersey. We just don't act that way in New York. My friend has had no problems." My reaction shocked her. "I think that's wonderful," I said, "I wish everybody had that experience. Good for her."

Some, like the aforementioned woman, are outraged at the mere suggestion that educated, sophisticated people may be involved in anything resembling racial elitism, let alone racism, especially in a big, urban center like New York City. Others are well-intentioned but uncomfortable. All of this is taking a form - not readily understood and seldom spoken of, because it's mostly hidden. But it's hardly hidden to those who live with the stares and the comments on a daily basis. And I believe it is time for this to come out of its closet because there are a lot of "us" out there - we are no longer really even a minority. Gay, straight, single, multi-racial, adoptive, we are out of the closet, loud and proud.

As indignant as I may sound, I have to come clean, fess up. Because, in the process of becoming a “New Global Family” in America, I have had to face my own demons and challenge my own tightly held definitions of what my family would look like “some day.” As I speak of the intolerance, even the racism of others I must own my own process of coming to terms with the seeds of that in myself. Latent, hiding, but there nonetheless.

It’s a new millennium and families are changing. We are part of a new revolution - a new wave. I want people to know who we are, how we happened, and what our children see as we walk down the street with them. I want to introduce us. Because I believe it is time and, given a choice, even the most uncomfortable are curious and would rather understand us a bit better. Ultimately, I would love to contribute to creating a better world for my daughter. If anything I write here does even a little bit of that, I'll be a very happy mom.

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