Making the World Over

Raising children in this society parents are faced with the challenge of teaching their children to learn how to manage the delicate balance of individual expression with social acceptance.

The worst thing about makeover shows is that they focus so heavily on our innate fears about what other people think about us. The people on the shows are sometimes truly helped but at what cost? Losing their individuality? How much does it matter what the general public thinks about an individual? Sadly, it does matter, one might argue it matters greatly for the individual’s survival. Even if someone exists on the fringe and becomes successful for being a sort of antihero, feeding off the negativity of some and the praise of others, that praise keeps them afloat. However praise is earned it is necessary. There are those who remove themselves entirely from society and live “off the grid” subsisting solely in nature. This might be the only answer to the pressure of social norms the rest of us face, and not a thing possible or desirable for the great majority of us.

Raising children in this society parents are faced with the challenge of teaching their children to learn how to manage the delicate balance of individual expression with social acceptance. We have to teach our children how to create the kind of world they want to live in which does require challenging and changing social norms. However, it is not so easy changing things. My father used to tell me that if one wants to effect change, one must do it from the inside out rather than from the outside in. His mission was to change the way people viewed him and other black people by empowering disadvantaged youth of color through increasing their educational opportunities. He wanted the world to see that anyone could achieve with the right set of circumstances. He himself was something of an anomaly having suffered through a terrible childhood, yet he took the example set by his mother who died when he was very young and used it as his reason to achieve in life. Not everyone is able to push themselves in such a way. As an adult I can see the wisdom in his words and how they guided the way he lived his life. In the same way my father wanted to effect change from the inside out, focusing on working with children and educators, I find myself wanting to do the same.

Another lesson both my parents taught me is that it isn’t about the cards you are dealt but how you play the game. Like my father, my mother is a shining example of this, as someone who pushed herself forward to achieve despite personal hurdles, someone who has given me every reason to believe that it doesn’t matter what cards you are dealt, what matters is what you do with them. I have watched her teach this lesson over and over as her work has been with people struggling with addictions, mental and physical illnesses, disabilities and disadvantaged youth. She also worked with the criminal element of society and the same lessons apply. In her own way she is also changing the system from the inside out as my father did, showing the world that a woman can work successfully as a psychologist in various fields while at the same time raising a daughter and climbing mountains both literally and metaphorically. I myself am now climbing my own mountains, as I fight to change the stigma associated with mental illness in our society. I realize this is a thing one can only do when one has a foot in both worlds. You have to be able to get yourself heard by those in positions of power. Not everyone can do this. For those who are so profoundly affected by their mental illness, or who are for various reasons unable to speak for themselves about their mental illness, I feel a great sense of duty to speak out about mine in the hopes that someone powerful enough to change things will hear my soul’s cry.

Raising awareness about the struggles of managing mental illness in this society is a passion of mine since I was diagnosed with bipolar I with psychotic features. Before this diagnosis, before my bipolar had worsened to the degree where I found myself hospitalized, I lived with a sense of ignorance in a way. I was unaware of how difficult life really is for people battling mental illness. It’s not just the illness that profoundly affects one’s life but the social stigma that goes along with it. It’s a double whammy so to speak. I have written before about how so many of us are afraid to speak out about the struggles we face because of social pressure. This is a very real and legitimate concern because since I have “come out of the closet” so to speak about my illness, I have faced judgment from people who don’t understand and actually lost friendships. The process has been worth it though, because the friends who are still standing by my side are my true friends and I have no doubts that they love me. I’ve also had people reach out to me and tell me that their lives have been changed for the better by my activism and that is worth a thousand rejections from the ignorant masses.

Another factor when considering effecting change is that it be real and lasting. I often wonder when watching these makeover shows how many of the people go back to their lives and resume their old fashion habits. There is a new show on Netflix called “100% Hotter” and the makeovers are designed to bring people who make extreme fashion choices closer to the norm. I was watching it and one of the people getting “makeunders” received a haircut and color that I couldn’t imagine her maintaining after leaving the show without paying an arm and a leg. It seems cruel to create an ideal that is impossible for the person to achieve on their own without the assistance of the show. Likewise another girl’s makeup was done by an expert with expert techniques and expensive makeup that she likely would not be able to recreate or afford on her own.

Similar to the trouble with creating real and lasting change for someone on a superficial level, it is even more difficult to create that level of change on a deep and meaningful level. Change requires effort. You have to try. You have to move long stuck ideas from the back of your mind to make room for new ones. In my case, when I got sick I realized I had friends who could not accept me with an illness. It was a sobering and painful realization to experience. They could not make room in their lives for someone with bipolar even though that person was one of their closest friends. They had beliefs about people “like me” that they were either unable or unwilling to let go of. The difficulty is how to move those kind of people forward mentally. For me, it is less about them and more about empowering other people like me and educating those people who are willing to grow and change and accept new ideas that may challenge social norms. Once enough people who are able to embrace change do so and break down the old stigmas and barriers, creating a new social norm, the people who were so stuck will have no choice but to change or face being the social outcasts they once hated. Until then I will keep fighting the good fight. I will keep working to change one mind at a time and make the world over until it is a better place to be.

Wildflower

It pleases me to see her zest for learning, her desire to master her world. I think she will not be easily daunted by disappointment, rather it will simply drive her to try even harder.

My daughter has been asking me so many beautiful questions lately about being multiracial. She’s very vocal about it, much more so than her brothers were at her age. “I’m a mix of you and daddy right? I have cream skin like daddy but you are on my inside right?”

“Yep that’s right little one.” I smile because she is so confident with this. She does not yet want herself to change. I wonder how long this will last.

My daughter is a confident child. She is quick to point out her strengths and if there is something she cannot do she simply says she “hasn’t learned that yet.” She is my child who is always saying “let ME try, I can do it!” Sometimes it’s horribly inconvenient and I have to grit my teeth while the cookie dough splatters all over the kitchen or the macaroni and cheese takes twelve years to stir. But I know how important it is for this particular child to be allowed to “do it herself.”

Alice has a need to be able to physically manipulate her world the way adults do. She sees how we deftly open cans, pour glasses of milk, slice apples. For her this is fascinating. I see how kinesthetic she is in the way she will touch everything as she moves through life, her fingers brushing objects, picking them up and putting them down or just shifting them slightly. I wonder if I was this way. It pleases me to see her zest for learning, her desire to master her world. I think she will not be easily daunted by disappointment, rather it will simply drive her to try even harder.

For the past six months Alice has been asking for another Hello Kitty birthday party. Her fourth birthday had this theme and she has been quite clear and insistent that her fifth birthday also be Hello Kitty. Until this morning.

“I want a dinosaur birthday!” (I of course have already bought Hello Kitty balloons to be filled with helium later in anticipation of what I thought we had already figured out.) I hear her say this brightly to my husband, both of them downstairs as he is about to leave for work.

“You’re having a Hello Kitty birthday party.” My husband says this kindly and matter of factly expecting that a simple reminder will be enough to squash this deviation from the plan she had already set in motion, Of course with Alice nothing is ever that easy. She immediately starts crying.

“I want a dinosaur party! Whaaaa!!!” This is her whine-cry. the most annoying sound on the planet. I sometimes think this sound could be used as a torture device to elicit confessions from the most hardened criminals.

“Alice, you’ve been saying you wanted a Hello Kitty party for months and mommy already bought balloons!” My poor husband tries to rationalize with what once was a little girl and is now “The Beast.” 

“Daddy, you’re mean! Whaaa-aaaa-aaa!” She is inconsolable.

“Alice you have to talk to mommy about a dinosaur party. I love you very much, I have to go to work.” My husband has given up, he knows as well as I do that once The Beast has reared its ugly head, there can be no winning. He begins making his way out the door.

“I’m never gonna love you again!” Alice yells this as the door is closing. The door stops short of closing shut.

“Don’t say that, not as I’m leaving!” My husband is audibly agitated and hurt. Alice is already stomping up the stairs crying. My husband sighs. “I love you very much Alice.” He shuts the door. My daughter can be such an asshole. Ah, the effortless cruelty of children!

“Daddy is mean!” Alice is crying as reaches the top of the stairs.

“Daddy loves you, he’s not mean.” I’m firm with her, deciding how best to handle The Beast. I can tell how tired she is. I wonder why, she wasn’t up that late.

“Daddy says I can’t have a dinosaur birthday party!” I can’t tell if this is a passing desire of hers or if she’s actually serious. I do know someone with an awesome air powered tyrannosaurus rex costume.

“Daddy didn’t say that, you can have a dinosaur at your party. Now you need to eat your cheerios.” Still crying Alice shoves a bite of cheerios into her mouth. I quickly start Reading Rainbow on grandma’s laptop silently thanking God for technology and walk over to the counter to get my tea. I make a mental note to text my husband later and make sure he’s ok after this morning’s encounter with The Beast.

As I’m drinking my tea I notice the tulips on the dining room table. They are a mix of white, pink, and lavender, The white ones have opened fully, the pink are open but not as widely and the lavender are just beginning to open. They are poking out at different angles giving the impression of flowers leaping willy-nilly from the vase. This image makes me smile. I decide I love tulips and wonder how long the blooms will actually last. I look at Alice grumpily eating her cheerios. Her hair is as wild as the tulips. The thought makes me giggle. I head to the bathroom to get the brush. Alice starts to whine-cry as soon as she sees the brush. This has become routine for us. “Alice,  now I know it doesn’t hurt because I haven’t even touched you yet! Enough of that noise or I’m turing off Reading Rainbow!” This is something of an empty threat because we both love watching Levar Burton teach us about harvesting cranberries or mixing clay for native american pottery. Alice quiets down and lets me brush her hair into a bouncy ponytail. I think to myself how she has no idea how lucky she is. My hair took three times as long to do and hurt a hell of a lot more when I was her age. My mother had to learn how to deal with my unruly mass of curls. They have better products for mixed race hair now. My children are lucky.

After Alice and grandma left for school and work I was typing at the counter and looked back over to the table to get a glimpse of the cheerful tulips and noticed something Alice had left on the table. Then I remembered she had something clutched in her hand when she stomped up the steps and kept it with her through breakfast. Ironically, the entire time she was throwing a fit she was holding a hello kitty party hat from her fourth birthday. It’s the same little hat she has been carrying around with her talking about her Hello Kitty fifth birthday she is going to have since Christmas. I think about how perplexing that must have been for my husband. I wonder if any other moms have ever done a Hello Kitty dinosaur birthday party before. I realize I will have to check the internet for ideas. I decide my daughter is awesome. Perhaps it is fitting for my mixed race child to have a mixed character birthday party. It could be like subliminal messaging for the single race people who attend. Not that anyone is actually single race anyways and now it’s being argued that it’s merely a social construct but that’s a whole other post. I’m laughing now as I go back to typing on my laptop. I think about how my mother exclaimed yesterday that she hopes I don’t run out of things to write about. Oh no, I told her, there is always something, Especially when you’re raising one of Alaska’s purest wildflowers.

 

 

Honest Words

When you are a young parent it’s easy to forget your child is not your possession. That you do not own them. You are entitled to their raising and responsible for their safety but eventually they will individuate from you, they will crave their independence, their own lives.

These days I wonder where my words go. I wonder what direction they travel, whether straight like an arrow, or curving in a downward spiral to reach the most desperate of us at the bottom of a bipolar sea. Perhaps my words are a flower, each petal a fragrant, delicate wisdom blown by the wind either into someone’s waiting palm or to the ground, forgotten under dirt and other rubble. Even I don’t know which of my words to treat with extreme tenderness and which to forget. Of course I vainly hope my words are works of art delighting the senses of those who read them. Honestly these posts I write are my way to reach out across the void to a world I’ll only see pictures of. Reaching people who would otherwise never have known I existed.

Tonight my sons are on my mind. It was not so long ago I held them in my arms and felt the greatest love any woman can feel. I’ve had so many women tell me “Well, I don’t know how you do it, I could never let my sons live somewhere else for the entire school year.” They say it with an air of possession and just enough judgment. In the beginning I wasted my breath and my time explaining the legal aspects of it and my my promises to my sons not to attack their father legally over them. I waxed eloquent about how boys need their fathers and both of my sons had unresolved issues with their father that needed to be dealt with that I couldn’t help them with. I tried to explain that we are one big family not two competing but I would get these blank stares, more judgment, pity, and even anger. Yes anger that somehow I was failing at motherhood. I tried to explain that it wasn’t my choice to make. But it all fell on deaf ears. So now I don’t offer any explanation to anyone. If someone asks me about my sons I just say they live in Oregon with their father for the school year and with me for holidays and summers. And I leave it at that. Of course it’s so much more than that but I don’t owe those details to every drama desperate woman plaguing me with questions so she can feel better about her life. It’s sad, but we do that to each other. Women. Many women, not all women. We compare and contrast our lives trying to one up each other. Why do we do this? I truly have no clue. Life would be so much simpler if we didn’t.

It takes a mighty heart to love a child enough to let them spread their wings. To let them use their voices and really listen to what they need. My son Jaden was yelling as loudly as he could with his behavior. He had no intention of moving to Oregon. We sent him there because he was doing so poorly in Alaska. People hear that and they think “What?! You sent your child AWAY?!” Yes, yes I did. Because I would rather have a child I only see on holidays than a dead one. Elliott went to Oregon one summer and never came back. I railed against it at first and then I tapped into my mighty mother’s heart and loved him. I understood he needed his father. I understood he wanted his brother. And his behavior had been tanking too. I’d be lying if I said it isn’t hard. That it doesn’t ache that I’m missing so much of their lives. But I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that the moments I do have with them are so poignant, so precious and full of meaning that I can’t feel anything but grateful for the way things are. My sons are physically far away, but emotionally we are so close. We love each other with an intensity brought on only by distance. The four of us, their parents and stepparents have committed wholly to being a family. A real family. I’m actually taking my daughter next summer to Oregon and spending the summer with them. Because their stepmother is not only the best stepmother in the world she is my friend, confidant, cheerleader, mentor and most of all sister of the heart. We have worked very hard on this relationship of ours and it is built solely on trust. If I had one piece of advice I could whisper on a petal and blow into someone’s palm it would be that you cannot build anything beautiful with someone you don’t trust.

When you are a young parent it’s easy to forget your child is not your possession. That you do not own them. You are entitled to their raising and responsible for their safety but eventually they will individuate from you, they will crave their independence, their own lives. This is an inevitability. To rob them of this would be the greatest crime. My sons have taught and are teaching me how very true this is. Raising their little sister is a different experience because I know what it’s like to have teenagers. I know how a child stretches out, develops, unveils their adult selves in their responses, glances, the way they carry themselves. I know all too clearly how they remember what you say and use it against you as the case may be. When my daughter says she hates something with all her might I kneel down, I look in her eyes, I make sure she’s not just being difficult. I believe her. I let her know I’m listening to her, I can hear her. I do the same with my sons. They know I hear them, I believe them, I think what they have to say matters. And as tempting as it may be I don’t lie to my children.

My husband’s parents and his sister refused to come to our wedding. The reasons are obvious, I lack the right skin color, bank account and ability to play along in a sick family system. It was incredibly painful for both myself and my husband. In fact the pain they caused him raised a rage in me I didn’t know I had. Apparently they told my husband or he assumed they didn’t consider weddings important since they had a courthouse wedding without much ceremony. I always knew that wasn’t the reason but I chose to let it be. Fast forward almost three years and they’re flying up from Nevada for his sister’s wedding. In a sitcom it would be hilarious. In real life it’s disgustingly cruel. My husband is caught between feeling a duty to them as his family to attend and standing firm that since I’m not welcome and they refused to attend ours he will not go. And he certainly won’t bring our daughter while I stay home seeing red.

So often the families we are given are not the families we would choose. I have to let my husband make his own decision. They are his parents. She is his sister. But I will protect my daughter. A very long time ago I was in the same situation my daughter is in now, My mother’s family did not accept my father and although they allowed my mother to bring me to visit them, my father was not welcome. In an effort to protect me I was not told any of this until I was fourteen. I’ll never forget it. I was so angry I never spoke to my grandparents again. I don’t want my daughter blindsided and feeling lied to. I told her that her grandma and grandpa and Aunt didn’t come to her Mommy and Daddy’s wedding because they didn’t want Daddy to marry Mommy. But that we’ve worked out a lot of the angry feelings. I explained that she doesn’t know her Aunt because her Aunt doesn’t like mommy’s skin color and doesn’t think she’s good enough for Daddy. My daughter in her beautiful innocence said she has fire hands and she will fire her. I laughed and told her that wouldn’t be necessary. I said sometimes adults make silly choices and it takes them a long time to learn to make better ones. But we can be an example of love and not hate. Upon hearing that she cried out “I love you Mommy!” and gave me the biggest squeezingest hug that warmed my heart from the inside out.

I know this is not the end of the questions. Or even the end of the drama. But in my house we are safe, in my house we tell each other the truth and in my house we love our differences. When my daughter is fourteen she’ll already know the story. She’ll be free to make her own choices about who she wants a relationship with. All through her life, even when my husband’s parents’ said I was not allowed to set foot on their property I let him take our infant daughter to visit them. It crushed me every time. When she’s a little older and better able to understand I’ll tell her that too. I want her to know that I never came between her father’s family and her, even though they tried to make me into that kind of person.

I know not everyone would agree with my way of handling the situation but the beauty of it is I don’t care. I went through it and I know how it felt and what I wished someone would have told me as a child because I always knew something was wrong I just had no name for it. If anyone is reading this dealing with their own family drama I would urge you to be as honest as possible with your children because they see more than you think they see, they hear more than you think they hear and they know much more than you realize. Of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life I’ve never regretted telling my children the truth. Being honest with your children plants seeds inside them so that when they are adults and talking with others their words can become beautiful blossoms with petals of wisdom able to change the course of the world.

The Color Of Love

My father made a decision after that encounter. He would never again leave the house unless he was dressed well enough to attend a business meeting. He knew what all black men know. What you wear matters. because white people unconsciously see the derelict crack dealer on the corner.

One of the hardest things about being bipolar is your every emotion being blamed on it. People tiptoe around you like you’re in a mine field and you might be an explosive device. You show a hint of irritation and suddenly people think you’re sliding down a slippery slope and they start mentally taking notes. How much as she been sleeping? Too little? Too much? Did she eat lunch yesterday? Was she wearing a little too much blush?  It’s nothing short of infuriating. Sometimes I get angry. Not because of my bipolar but because I’m angry about a situation, or I’m grumpy from my period, or I have a headache and my daughter is acting up or a million and one other reasons that are NOT related to my bipolar. But it’s so hard for those closest to me not to immediately jump to thinking it’s a manic episode and I can tell they’re evaluating me as opposed to actually just listening and it drives me nuts and makes me even angrier.

[‘ve learned to swallow my words. Not all of them, because they still get me in trouble but a good amount of what I want to say never makes it out of my mouth. I have to be careful you see. I have to be mindful that everything I say holds more weight than it did before the diagnosis. Everything I say is a potential land mine.

It must be nice to have people. To have a group you belong to. I always wanted that. Rather than this hodgepodge mixture of racial identities that belongs to no category and has no name other than multiracial. I suppose in some ways it makes me superior, it takes me out of the battle between the races and I view it from afar like a concerned spectator. In other ways it makes my life hell because people call me names like “mulatto” and “high-yellow” both ancient slave terms for children born of the master-slave relationship if you can even call it that. I’ve also been called a “house nigger” a term I hope my daughter is never ever called in her life, it’s so ugly. People see my face and it’s as if every insecurity the’ve ever had comes boiling to the surface, and racism comes tumbling out of their mouths in a mighty gush. I’m so used to it I hardly bat an eyelash. It’s as if I’ve forgiven them before they’ve even said anything. I know how stupid the human condition is when it comes to anything outside the box. What I find so strange is these derogatory terms have to do with looking part black. The less black I look the less negativity I get. When my hair is straight people think I’m Asian or Polynesian. Or Spanish. I have to wonder why that is. Why there is so much hatred of the African American.

I remember an incident that happened to my father who was the new principal of an elementary school and was rightfully very proud of his accomplishment. He had some shopping to do, and rather than dress up as he usually did he opted for sweats and a t-shirt as he was in the middle of a home project. After he had gotten what he needed and was heading to his car he ran into a colleague- someone who also worked in the school district. They chatted for a few minutes and then the man asked my father what school he was working at. My father told him he had just changed schools. The man then said “Oh, that’s great! Are you the new janitor?” My father was quiet for a moment. He felt a thousand things at once, most of all the sad truth that nothing had really changed. “No, I’m the principal” my father said. The other man was of course speechless for a time then offered a jumbled pathetic apology. My father just shook his head and headed for his car.

My father made a decision after that encounter. He would never again leave the house unless he was dressed well enough to attend a business meeting. He knew what all black men know. What you wear matters. because white people unconsciously see the derelict crack dealer on the corner. The gangster with a gun in his pants. The predator on the news. The lazy drunk living off the government. Really, they can’t help it. They’ve been conditioned to fear what is different and to hate what they fear.

Then there are the white people like my mother. The ones who truly don’t see color. Or my dearest and most beloved friend Amy and her mother Bea. My wonderful husband. The select few who are truly lovers of humanity and don’t care a whit what your racial make up is. I only wish there were more of them.

Just like race, bipolar doesn’t play favorites. You’re born with it. Bipolar doesn’t say Oh, she’s got a lot on her plate already so I won’t manifest in her, I’ll choose someone with a fairly easy life. Oh no, bipolar doesn’t care about your circumstances. It doesn’t care if you have kids, money, no money, if you’re the head of a company, if you’re newly married trying to be the perfect housewife. If you’re mixed race and dealing with being bullied and misunderstood and just trying to survive. Bipolar stretches across race, sex, financial status, age…it plays no favorites and has no mercy.

People will laugh at bipolar jokes as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. People who don’t have bipolar. Who don’t know how deadly it is. How soul-crushing it can be. Bipolar is cruel but fair. It is an equal opportunity disorder. In order for people to take this disorder seriously, it helps to understand something about what causes bipolar and why it isn’t something to laugh at. How it’s not just “somebody else’s kid who has it.” Scientists are actively researching this condition in the hopes that new medicines can be found, new treatments can be discovered, or even permanent actions could be taken resulting in what could be considered a cure. According to WebMD Experts believe bipolar disorder is potentially caused by an underlying issue with specific brain circuits and the functions of the brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Three brain chemicals are involved in both brain and bodily functions: noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine.

Noradrenaline and serotonin have been linked over and over to psychiatric mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and other forms of depressive disorders. Nerve pathways that regulate pleasure and emotional reward are regulated by dopamine. When circuits are disrupted that communicate using dopamine in other areas of the brain there is a connection to psychosis (a symptom of Bipolar 1) and schizophrenia.

Serotonin is connected to sleep, wakefulness, eating, sexual activity, impulsivity, learning and memory. Researchers believe abnormal functioning of brain circuits that involve serotonin as a chemical messenger contribute to mood disorders: both depression and bipolar disorder

In a nutshell, bipolar has nothing to do with someone just being “moody” or “difficult” or “flaky.” Bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain with serious and sometimes deadly symptoms. I’d be lying if I said people’s ignorance of this disorder doesn’t make me crazy but it fuels me to keep talking about it, keep educating others so eventually the stigma is eradicated for good.

In the same way I talk about bipolar and consider myself an activist in my own right, for bipolar disorder and mental health awareness, I also talk about being multiracial. Being more than one race is as misunderstood as bipolar disorder. We are our own culture, a culture of people who don’t identify with any specific racial group. Instead we exist on the outskirts of a polarized society, craving acceptance, looking for understanding- even within ourselves.

There are so many reasons for me to be angry that have nothing to do with my bipolar. I’m tired of being made fun of. I’m tired of being misunderstood. I’m tired of being called black when I’m multiracial which is so very different. I’m tired of having to fight to be seen. I’m tired of my friends ignoring me when I’m in the hospital because they don’t want to go to the mental health wing. I’m sick of the bipolar jokes, the stupidity of others, I could go on. But I can’t surrender to that anger. Because there is no bottom. I would rather take that energy and educate those around me. I would rather write about my life honestly. I want to make people laugh, cry, and most of all think. I want to share the real parts of my life. Not just the few and far between breakdowns. Here’s one example:

My daughter pooped in the bathtub yesterday. My husband cleaned it up. I saw a text on my phone: Don’t go in the bathroom until I clean it! My daughter poops like a man. The other day she pooped and it was the biggest poop I have ever seen come out of someone so tiny. I went and found my husband and told him “You have to see this”

“No way.” He had no interest in looking at poop.

“No seriously you HAVE to see this.” I wasn’t giving up. He relented and came in the bathroom.

“OH MY GOD!” He was definitely shocked and somewhat impressed.

“See? I told you! I don’t know how she does that! It’s like a superpower.” We both almost collapsed in laughter.

“I made a BIG poop!” Alice was pleased with herself.

“Alice, life with you is never boring.” I told her as I was helping her get cleaned up. She just smiled.

So that’s what you get. A multiracial family, getting through the days, mom has bipolar disorder so I have to take care to manage it. We have a wild, wonderful daughter and two sons who spend the school year in Oregon. We live with Grandma who at sixty-eight has more energy than all of us put together. We have a crazy but loving dog and the world’s best cat. We fight, we make up, we work hard to make our lives work. We love each other with a ferocity unmatched. As much as I hate it, I’d rather have people who care about me enough to pay attention to my behavior and make sure I’m not heading toward a manic episode, rather than a family who couldn’t care less. When I think about my daughter and her box of crayons matching them to people’s skin tone, I realize what color I am. I’m the color of love.

Some Kind of Mistake

That night I prayed as hard as I could to God to make me blonde and blue eyed like my mother. I never wanted anyone to think I was someone else’s child ever again. To stare at me like I was some kind of mistake.

My daughter was born with fair skin, rosy cheeks and strawberry blonde hair. As she grew her wide eyes turned from a soft grey to a beautiful hazel. Her hair grew out in honey gold ringlets. Early pictures of her show a child akin to Shirley Temple, except that unlike Shirley, my daughter’s curls are natural and need no pinning up during the night. To put it bluntly my daughter was and is absolutely beautiful.

Of course I ran the gamut of well-meaning, curious onlookers trying to figure out how a woman with my caramel complexion could have had this poster child for caucasian beauty. I went through the process of explaining that her father is Scotch-Irish with a big red beard and I’m half Irish-Nordic-German so combined our daughter is a strawberry McDermott beauty. Ahhhh they say. Ooooohhhhh how interesting they remark as though my daughter were a specimen under a glass. I’m immediately catapulted back to my own childhood when I was in the grocery store with my blonde, blue-eyed mother and having brought along my blonde, blue-eyed friend. All three of us were slowly making our way through the two sets of doors and after the first, my friend and I had stopped to evaluate the candy. My mother stood beside us laughing as we drooled over the sugary gummy treats, the lollipops and the chocolate, candy coated discs. It was then that a well-meaning, yet ignorant older woman remarked to my mother how beautiful her daughter was. It seemed a harmless enough comment until my mother said, “No, that’s my daughter,” pointing her finger at me.

“Oh, I see.” The woman said and continued on her way but not until after she spent a good amount of time staring at me, then staring at my mother then back to me. I could feel my cheeks under my brown skin getting hot and my tight, unruly curls that stood out in a defiant springing mass becoming even springier and more defiant. The woman finally left us be.

“Did you choose your candy Kimmy?” My mother asked. Suddenly my mouth was as dry as the asphalt outside. The brightly colored gummies, lollipops, chocolates and other sugary treats made me sick just to look at them.

“No, I don’t feel like candy anymore.” I replied, blinking back tears. My friend ended up with a lollipop and the smell of it sickened me. I followed my mother and her should be daughter through the second set of doors and into the store. That incident left me with two truths. White people were beautiful. White people like my mother, like my friend. Brown people were not beautiful. Brown people like me. And I didn’t belong. That night I prayed as hard as I could to God to make me blonde and blue eyed like my mother. I never wanted anyone to think I was someone else’s child ever again. To stare at me like I was some kind of mistake. I woke up the next morning holding my breath, squeezing my eyes shut and willing myself not to move. Finally I couldn’t stand the anticipation any longer so I ran down the hall to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Of course I looked exactly the same. A single angry tear of betrayal slid down my cheek. I resolved to pray harder that night. And the night following. I’d pray until God heard me. Of course He never did.

My daughter has a different kind of experience. Everyone tells her she is beautiful all of the time. As she has gotten older her hair has darkened to a dirty blonde and her eyes are copper colored. She is still fair, however she is developing an olive tone to her skin and more of my features are showing themselves in her beautiful face. her hair is still wavy with ringlets when she lets me comb it. Otherwise it takes on a life of its own. She is four and 3/4 years old. I know when she is sixteen all bets are off. Multiracial children are beautiful, changeable beings. Their hair may go from straight to curly. Their skin may go from light to dark. Their eyes may go from blue to green to grey. Alice’s older brother Elliott had hair so straight it merely waved in the wind. On this latest Mother’s day he showed me a dark brown tightly springing ringlet on his head that I could not believe was there. “Look mom, I’m getting blacker!” He was so proud of himself. He was born with the biggest, bluest eyes I’d ever seen and straight honey colored hair, the lightest shade of brown.

My oldest son is the darkest of the three, with my complexion and my dark eyes and curly hair. He wears his ethnicity proudly, far more proudly than I ever did. I hope I contributed to that. People remark that we look practically like twins and of course I feel proud, considering I’ve experienced the opposite. I wish it were enough to take the sting out of the adoption jokes and the “maybe you stole her” comments but it’s not. People are far too stupid and its happened far too often. I’m just sick of  it. I want to grab them around the neck and say “Look white person. That. wasn’t. funny.” Of course I don’t grab anyone. I do however stare at them until they start blushing, hopefully realizing they shoved their foot not just in their mouth, but all the way down their throat as well.

Having spent my whole life biracial I have heard wonderful things. I have also heard things I wish I could wash from my mind forever. You’d be surprised how many times the phrase “You’re really nice for a black girl” has graced my ears. Or the litany of racially insensitive jokes people tell when they can’t define me and therefore feel safe letting their ignorant flags fly. Sometimes I think if one more person asks me “What are you?” I’ll slap them. And then I’ll say “See? I’m a human being. Who slaps.”

Coming from the era of little test boxes where you would be sitting in school and suddenly you were supposed to check a box labeled with your race. There was no choice to check more than one and when you gingerly walked your paper up to the teacher’s desk and asked her what to do she gave you an impatient/pitying look and said just choose the obvious one, implying the black one, hearkening back to the old one-drop theory wherein a single drop of “negro” blood rendered one a “negro.” My parents of course as I got got older always encouraged me to check African American for the scholarship opportunities. “Sweetie, they see you this way anyways. You may as well make them pay for it.” That just never felt right. It felt like a denial of who I was, who I am. I’m not black. I’m not white. I’m a biracial being with a wholly new set of characteristics deserving of recognition. Because of our country’s system of identification I have always either felt invisible or far too VISIBLE never in-between. At forty-one I imagined I would have gotten used to being a circus attraction but no. One never does get used to that.

Things have gotten better for my children, although they are not perfect. The boxes have gone from other because they didn’t know what to call us, to one or more races which I’m actually happy with. One day the box will read multiracial and then I’ll know the walls are coming down. Other things are different for my children as well. When I was their age you did not see interracial families on television. No way. The families were one race, the children easily defined. It was daring to even have a side character that was another race on the show. Television was agony for me as a child because I didn’t identify with any of the families. The storylines were confusing, the way the people interacted was not the way my family interacted. And no one talked about the kind of bullying I experienced at school for being different. The only show that made any kind of sense to me was Star Trek. Star Trek was profound. Not only were there different races but there were different species and they all mixed. There were Multiracial humans and interspecies beings and everyone acted with a modicum of decorum the way my family did, not some stereotypical narrow set of behaviors the rest of the tv families seemed to portray. I spent many hours watching Star Trek with my father. He loved it, and now that I’m older I can see why. It was miles ahead of its time for so many reasons. One reason in particular that touched my heart deeply and gave me a sense of belonging the rest of the world lacked.

My daughter says she has cream skin. “I have cream skin Mama and Grandma has cream skin and so does daddy! But you have brown skin like Jaden right? What about Pop-pop? (Her name for her Grandfather. She used to call her Grandmother Grandmommy which was so cute while it lasted) Pop-pop had dark brown skin like dark chocolate right mama? what color does Elliott have? Is it darker cream?” I love how she is gentle and accurate in her observations. Her colors come from her box of crayons. She doesn’t understand the racial terms “black” and “white.” She doesn’t see one color as superior to the other and she doesn’t see anyone as fitting those descriptions. It’s beautiful, her state of mind, her level of development. It makes me wonder why that ever has to change. Why someone’s color has to matter SO much in this society. Why the colors can’t just mix and match into a marvelous rainbow.

My sons argue over who is blacker. I tirelessly tell them they are the same quarter African American. This does not satisfy them. “Jaden stole all the blackness and the tallness!” My middle son Elliott cries out. “It’s not fair!” He scowls at Jaden as if his older brother had any choice in his outward appearance.

“Dude, you need to chill.” Jaden gives his little brother his stock answer. Of course this is easy for him at sixteen, standing over six foot tall with caramel skin, naturally curly hair, a strong jaw complimented by Hollywood cheekbones, large dark eyes with a fringe of lashes and a gorgeous girlfriend.

“You will grow Elliott and you are just as handsome as your brother, you hear it all the time. You need to embrace your own version of beautiful. Look at those eyes. You know your eyes could stop traffic.” I’m not exaggerating. Elliott has a pair of the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.

“But am I black enough to say the N-word?” Elliott asks this partly genuinely, partly to push my buttons.

“I would not recommend you use that word. I don’t think it’s good for anyone.” I tell him this knowing his favorite music is full of it and although my father was against its usage, these days things have changed. But still my multiracial son is fair enough to raise not only eyebrows but fists and for his safety I caution him to steer clear of that word. For his own good. “Out of respect for your Grandfather keep your language clean.” I tell my sons, knowing my daughter already uses the F word but luckily NOT at preschool.

I absolutely love being a mother. I just run out of steam sometimes and wonder if my children are secretly plotting against my sanity. I think it’s a mom thing. Perhaps we do lose a few brain cells along the way. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I disagree with that. When you’re the mother of young children who turn into teenagers and then you have another young child, I think what doesn’t kill you makes you stupid. “Huh? I said I’d do what? Has anyone seen my keys? I don’t think I showered yesterday…or did I? Wait! Don’t throw that out, that’s my yesterday coffee! I know my shirt is on inside out, I’ll fix it before I go anywhere. I seriously think I forgot my kid’s middle name…” The list goes on. At the end of the day I congratulate myself that they are alive, well-cared for and they all know I love them. This is especially important for my boys who spend so much time in Oregon. I have to remind myself that the myriad conversations I have with their stepmother about them counts to a tremendous degree. Ultimately I know each and every one of my children was wanted, loved and meant to be. Their undefinable quality is part of their unique beauty, their multiracial identities are not a mystery for the rest of the world to solve but rather part of their own profound natures and their business alone. My kids are marvelous to behold, just by existing in the world, and they remind the little girl inside me that I’m not just some kind of mistake.