Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Blind Side

There was once a time when watching the Oscars was a big event for me. I looked forward to it for weeks, cleared my calendar for the day, and nibbled on otherwise forbidden Oreos and low sodium cheese puffs. I liked to watch the show alone so I could drink in every detail. I was living in L.A. then, I was an actress. Billy Bob Thornton's win for "Sling Blade" was a very big deal.

The Oscars don't loom so large these days. On Sunday, the kids circled while we alternately watched and fast-forwarded the first half. Ben and I had seen probably two of the nominated movies. We made fun of gigantic dresses and inarticulate recipients.

By 9:30, the kids were long ago in bed and Ben and I were running out of steam. We zoomed to the last few prizes. The best actress category was one I had some investment in. I'm in love with Meryl Streep. Have been since I was like twelve. Sometimes in yoga class when the instructor talks about a personal guru, I think, ah yes, Meryl. She is everything I once hoped to be, both personally and professionally. When I was sixteen, I read in Life magazine that she was born on June 22nd. My birthday. Of course. Ben and I promise each other that if we ever get a female dog, we'll name her Meryl Streep.

I had actually seen the movie she was nominated for this year. As a friend put it, it was two movies, one brilliant, the other mediocre crap. I don't think I need to say one she was in. I didn't fully expect her to win. She's nominated every year for a genius performance in one less than genius movie or another. But I was, as always, rooting for her.

When the time came and Sandra Bullock was named the winner, Ben and I were yelling at the TV. We didn't see the movie for which she won, something about a Southern white woman taking in a black teenager, but really, Sandra Bullock? That's the best the movie industry could do this year?

As she took the stage and began her speech, I started to hate her a little less. While we were heckling her largish bottom, she was honoring the other women nominated, by name, in detail. She purported to love Meryl Streep maybe as much as I do.

And then she reached out of the television and took me by the shoulder. She dedicated her Oscar to the mothers in the world raising children to whom they did not give birth. I started crying so suddenly and violently, it was a little like a bout of food poisoning.

We paused the program and Ben sat next to me and held my hand. I explained how very isolated I've been feeling. There is no one else in my daily sphere doing what I'm doing. I don't really know anyone who's adopted a toddler, let alone a sometime Tasmanian Devil who draws stranger's gazes not just for his outrageous behavior but also for the color of his skin.

Shortly after we adopted Mihiretu, we moved from our very liberal enclave in Marin County to San Jose. It's conservative here. Yes, still Northern California, but a whole lot closer in world-view to the MidWest than where I come from. We are the only transracial family as far as the eye can see. Sure, there are biracial families; parents of different ethnicities with kids of mixed race. But there are no white parents with adopted black children. Surprisingly, not even any white parents with adopted Asian children, at least not that I've seen. I often feel like people don't know what the hell to make of us. It's rare a stranger looks me in the eye. I end up feeling invisible.

And here, now, though my fellow mothers say, "Oh, god, yeah, my son at three, what a nightmare", and while I know they mean so well, the fact that I have a three-year-old boy is just the very tip of my experience with Mihiretu. He's a three-year-old boy who is grieving, who has had far too many homes in the last eighteen months, who is pushing every button he can, literally (the TV, the microwave, the light switch, the car radio, the dishwasher) and figuratively (taunting, hitting, scratching, breaking every rule we set down), testing us to see if we'll leave, too.

But when Sandy acknowledged me and my kind, I suddenly, momentarily, felt included. That yes, the unusual thing that I'm doing, other people are doing, too. And that it is hard. Harder than I ever predicted. It's hard to be ignored by strangers. It's harder to drag myself out of bed at two in the morning to comfort a child who then pushes me away screaming. It's a strange, often lonely road I've taken and for a moment I felt like someone was walking with me.

Sandra Bullock closed by again thanking her "lover, Meryl Streep" and I watched her walk off stage with a feeling of great satisfaction. Is she the best actress in America? Probably not. Does it matter? Not to me. Not this time.


  1. I am SO with you. Although I've always liked Sandra Bullock. But, I don't take the Oscars very seriously and was not really paying attention until she started giving tribute to her co-nominees. And then that sentence came out about mamas loving babies wherever they came from and I kind of lost it. Someone else at the Oscar party turned to me and asked what she said, but I couldn't even speak at that point. It was so unexpected, and so genuine, and it went right to the core.

    Sorry you are feeling so alone down there in SJ. We miss you here in liberal Marin!

  2. Hi Liz. Just found you from the Bay Area Ethiopian Group. We have two boys and are awaiting to adopt a girl from Ethiopia. We live in Dublin and from what I can see we will be a unique family in our neighborhood too. I just read the Blind Side and while I thought it was a football story, it was really an adoption story. I think you would be able to relate if you decide to read it.

  3. Oh, honey. You got it spot on. It's a unique journey, this adoptive parenting thing. It gets easier and then it gets harder and then it gets easier again. I suppose the good news is that there are a lot of resources out there for us, for our kids, for people around us who are open to moving beyond the happily-ever-after People magazine version of our stories.

    Thinking of you all and hoping that you find the community that you need!

  4. goddamn, Liz - that's a nice piece of writing. You are very far from invisible.