My story is the age-old tale of black and white, my mother being white, my father black. It goes back to the story of an older man with a younger woman. She was a teenager, got pregnant, and had me. She tried to keep me for a while, but for whatever reason, she couldn’t.
I always had this dream from when I was little, but now know it was not a dream. In it, I could hear my mom’s voice. I knew it was my mom, that she was coming to pick me up. I could never actually see her face, but I could always hear the voice, which was always the same.
In one of my only memories of her, I am sitting on a bench, she walks out, I see her back, and I call to her, but she never responds or turns around. That was the last day I ever saw my mother.
From what they say, I was just older than a toddler, probably about four or five, when my mother gave me up. I have learned I was in close to eleven different foster homes before I was adopted.
I don’t have a lot of memories of my childhood and think that it was probably very traumatic, which is why I was moved around a lot. There are reports that in one foster home, one of the children there was touching me inappropriately. There was another foster care where the daughter was jealous because I was mixed and had what they called ‘good hair.’ I don’t know exactly what that is.
But they couldn’t control me – nobody could handle me. I probably had an attachment disorder. I didn’t want anybody to hold me or even be near me. I kept calling for my brother, and kept telling everybody that I had a brother. He went to live with his father. I couldn’t understand why my father didn’t come and get me? Why didn’t my father want me? Not knowing at that time, my brother was all white, not understanding that back in the ’70s and the ’80s, you were either black or white. It was not okay to be in the middle. I never really fit in with the white kids. I didn’t fit in with my black friends either. So even having friends growing up was very difficult.
I got in trouble because they would ask us if we were black or white when we were in school, and I refused to pick one. I’m black, white, Hispanic – I’m just not going to choose. I got in trouble for that. When you get in trouble, they want to call your mom or your dad. Well, if you don’t have a mom or a dad, who do they call?
It’s not just the in and out of the foster homes that get you – it’s the parents that come and go. Because there’s always turnover, it’s hard to give your life to raising children that are not your own, that have emotional problems. You go back and forth with the foster home and have parents coming in and out. It’s a revolving door. But the only thing that’s constant, that stays, is you. That took its toll.
Back then, teachers didn’t keep stuff like that private, so everybody knew. I was a handful – I didn’t like affection, yet craved attention. You could get just arm’s length close to me, but that was it. I didn’t want you to be any closer.
As a kid, you can only be told that you’re not wanted or given back so many times before that’s what you believe. So, I developed the “I have to be the best at everything,” syndrome. I must be great in school. I was a gymnast and played basketball and volleyball. I did everything possible to be that perfect child so that somebody would want me.
In the third grade they told me they wanted to be my parents. “Sure, you can be my parents,” but I had a few requests of my own. “I want wicker furniture, and I want to take gymnastics. If you want me, these are the few things that I need in return, and my room needs to be purple.”
Here I was, haggling at a very young age. But even when you get that sense, “Okay, I have a family,” you’re different. They are white. My hair is different, my skin is different. Their kids are mostly grown and out of the house. Both older sisters are in college or married.
My new brother, David Russell, amazing human that he is, reading Bell and Grindle for a bedtime story is probably not the best idea for a kid. Hence my love of the medieval. I didn’t like bridges for the longest time because I was always worried that The Billy Goats Gruff would get me. Because those were the bedtime stories that I had. He introduced me to Star Trek because “What well-rounded child doesn’t know anything about Star Trek? We can’t have that.”
Those are the things that I hold on to because the other things are not pretty, and nobody wants to talk about them. Nobody wants to talk about going to the grocery store with my mom and somebody at the register ringing something up, her paying for it, and then, they ring up my stuff and her paying for it separately. You couldn’t tell them, “We’re all together” or “That’s my daughter”? Or when somebody says, “Oh, you’re such a pretty child. What did your mother do to get you?” And I respond, “Nothing more than your mom did to get you.” But I’m the one who had to apologize because that wasn’t ladylike behavior.
At what point do you step up and say, “That’s my daughter. I am proud to have her as my daughter.” Because if my behavior is good and my grades are good, “Oh, that’s great. That’s a reflection because she’s a teacher, and she’s done so well.” or “Y’all were so great to take this child in.”
I so often heard, “Well, maybe you would have been better off with a black family adopting you.” But my parents adopted me because if they didn’t, who was going to? What kind of life was I going to have? None of the other children at the home had been in and out as many times as I had. Back then, you could place a black child, or you could place a white child. But where were you going to place a mixed child?
Mom and I went rounds when it came to doing my hair, running through the house, her trying to get a comb through it, then me getting to a certain age and her just saying I had to do it however. Well, I didn’t know how to do my hair – didn’t know what I needed to do to take care of it. Being made fun of in school, my dad started taking me to get it braided. In my high school years, Salt-N-Pepa was popular. I went to the beauty shop and wanted the Salt-N-Pepa haircut because I thought it looked good. That’s what black kids were supposed to have. But when your dad allows you to do that, you come home, your mom freaks out, and then you go to a private school that’s predominantly white, and you’ve got that haircut, you get in trouble because then it’s a distraction.
I got put into another school with more black children and didn’t have as hard of a time. But through it all, my parents didn’t go to school when there were problems. Once again, they didn’t stick up for me.
Ultimately, they moved from that side of Tulsa to Broken Arrow, to a more up-and-coming area, and for a while there, everything was okay.
When I was nineteen, I was raped. People asked, “Well, what did she do?” Why did I have to do anything?
I remember my dad had told me if you get pregnant, we’ll just pluck it out like a grape. I didn’t believe in abortion, so I didn’t say anything until it was too late. My sister came to visit her older friend I was staying with, and she ran back home and told them I was pregnant. She doesn’t discuss it with me. She didn’t ask me about it beforehand. What do they do? Shipped me off to a home to have the baby at. Then they announce it in church – let everybody know what happened. I’m getting letters and phone calls, saying our prayers are with you, but my parents didn’t visit.
I was devastated by the whole thing that happened. They didn’t believe me until the same thing happened to somebody else, then it was okay. Then it was, “We need to get you counseling,” or “we’re so sorry this happened.” When it happened, I was asked over and over what did I do? Did I provoke the person? I was so damaged physically that I was told I probably would never be able to have kids again. So not only am I told that but to give up the one child I had.
Now I must make the same decision for my child that was made for me. Knowing how I felt and grew up, I chose an adoption that was open, or as much as one could be at that time.
I wanted to pick his parents because I wanted them to understand that the baby I’m giving you, you must love as your own, treat as your own – if you can’t do that, you can’t have him. The family I chose had two older children at the time, and they already had a mixed child. So, I knew that there wouldn’t be as many questions.
She [the adopting mother] showed me what it was to be a mother because she would call and check on me. She told me, “It doesn’t matter if you choose us or somebody else. Right now, you need a mom. You need to be loved.” She did that every day until I gave them my son. They allowed me to name him. Of course, they renamed him.
But they allowed me to name him so he would have a birth certificate from me, a letter that I wrote him, and a quilt that I made him. Shortly after that, I went into the military. They tried to keep up with my parents, but my parents didn’t even want to see him. There’s a picture of my mom holding him, but that’s the only one.
His mom was a wonderful woman. She always kept up with me to know where I was because of the deal that I made her that I wish somebody would’ve done for me – was that he was to know about me. But he was not allowed to meet me until he was eighteen because I wanted him to understand that that’s your mom and dad. I loved him more than myself – that is why I gave him to a family that could love him.
When he graduated high school, I got a message on Facebook, “Hey, this is Shaw. Is your name such and such? I’m your son.”
He said, “I am in Lubbock, and I would like you to see me graduate because I want you to know that everything you did was worth it and that I thank you for what you did.” So, my two younger boys and I went down there. They met their brother, Shaw, and we watched him graduate. His mom gave me the biggest hug – that whole family embraced me, thanked me for giving them Shaw.
I say that because that is how an adopted child is supposed to feel. Parents adopt us, and they don’t think about the thing that’s in us that is broken. That part of us needs to know we belong and are loved.
By all standards, looking from the outside, it appeared this was the perfect childhood – private schools, gymnastics, a car at the age of sixteen, parents that came to every game, and family dinners. But nobody ever once stopped to ask me did I feel loved? Did I feel wanted? Not once.
I don’t think it matters if you’re adopted as a baby or as an older child. That one feeling of why I was not good enough that my mom kept me resonates with almost all of us.
The day my parents took me to MEPS [Military Entrance Processing Station], that was it for me. I was done. I wasn’t going to college or staying with my parents, and refused to return to that house. I was not going to be a dirty little secret. I was going to be seen as a person, not the color of my skin or the situation for my being on this earth.
Twenty-eight years later, with my dad just passing, I would say that’s the one regret I have, that I didn’t get to tell him thank you for what he did. Whether his motivation was good and pure or whether it was out of what he felt was a Christian obligation, I owe him that thank you. I wouldn’t be the parent I am today without the structure I had.
I told my mom, and I hope that she relayed to my father, that I got the pick of the parents. I won the lotto when it came to my parents.
I have a lot of bad memories, but there are good ones. It’s not just a sad story of a kid that nobody wanted. I have the memory of having a beautiful white dress with ruffles and frills and a bow in the back, and my hair was picked out, and I was clean. Many people won’t understand what that feeling is. I had a bath and my hair done, and have a picture of that. Every time I see that picture, I can still remember just feeling clean.
People will never understand laying down in a bed for the first time, and you know it’s yours. Nobody else had it or is going to sleep in that bed. I don’t have to hide my toys because nobody will take them. I don’t have to eat all the food at once because I can go to the refrigerator, open the door, and there’s food. I was told I was a picky eater as a child. It wasn’t that. As a child, what I put in my mouth was the only thing I could control. I couldn’t control my living situation or whether I was accepted or not accepted. If you think about it, that was the only thing I could control.