‘Mother Wit’

It’s May! Our nurseries are bustling with customers searching for that “ just right“ plant to gift that special someone on Mothers’ Day*. Yours truly has also been searching for some “just right” inspiration for this month’s newsletter. Serendipitously, I came across this quote from Maya Angelou:

“I’m grateful to intelligent people. That doesn’t mean educated. That doesn’t mean intellectual. I mean really intelligent. What black old people used to call ‘mother wit’... intelligence that you had in your mother’s womb. That’s what you rely on. You know what’s right to do.”

Transracial Adoption

What is Mother Wit?

What is Mother Wit I ask, as I sit with April’s cards for the month of May spread before me? Why is this concept reverberating with me? Could Mother Wit help me embrace or face differences of race or culture? I ask myself, “what intelligence or wisdom do I draw from to be a loving, supportive and woke mother to my children?” This is a deep dig for me as much of my mothering journey had been traveled without any peers until I found my community in you, Dear Reader.

In the Encyclopedia of Motherhood, Mother Wit is “... the wisdom women develop based on their lived experiences. It is a type of knowledge that is informed by women's common sense, relationships, informal interactions, and life lessons…In addition, it signals the intelligence and astuteness that women can have, even if they are not formally educated.” Mother wit has been a tool much relied upon to dispense “protective advice and help them [our children] avoid harm and/or learn how to care for themselves.”

In her article, “Black Women: Holding Families Down for Generations with Chewing Gum and Mother Wit,” Desiree Cooper proposes the ancestral wisdom of women in her family and community is Mother Wit. Dr. Camille Wilson writes that Mother Wit is a form of “wisdom especially revered by African American slaves because it guided, informed and inspired oppressed African American families and communities to persevere amidst the grueling physical, social and political conditions imposed by slaveholders.”

Bitter Sweetness of Mothers' Day for Some

Mothers’ Day is a bittersweet day for me. It’s not grueling and I’m not oppressed, but I do experience sadness on this particular holiday of cheery flowers and breakfasts in bed. It’s a day that’s supposed to be bold and beautiful and celebratory, and yes, it is because I love being my children’s mother. However, throughout the day (and surrounding days), I sit in the shadow of another woman’s loss and I wonder, “how is she getting through the day?” Last year, I wrote about our children and the themes of love and joy and motherhood and how they contradict a, perhaps unspoken, awareness or concern of and for their biological mother. This day could very well be oppressive or grueling for our children!

Mother Wit is an old, folkloric concept related to maternal wisdom. What does yours look like on Mothers’ Day? I don’t write about Mother Wit to appropriate it. I write to shine a light on an important part of our children’s culture and in turn, ask you to take stock of your own motherly wisdom.

I have come to rely upon the relationship and community I’ve forged with other adoptive mothers and fathers …. People like you! I look to you for back-up and moral support. I look to you when things get really tense in the world or in my family. I look to you to see reflections and resemblances of my own family. Seeing that reflection makes me breathe a little easier. I need the wisdom, community and support of you.  You are how I experience and build my own Mother Wit, and I’m holding you all in my heart this Mothers’ Day.


Citation: O'Reilly, Andrea. “Mother Wit.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood, SAGE, 2010, pp. 873–874.

This post is from our May, 2022, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


Black Excellence: Kayla, Mary & Tiara

This month’s Black Excellence piece features three of our young counselors.  For more about how our children can transition from young camper to Camp Counselor, read this month's feature article "The Arc of Identity."

Transracial Journeys Camp Counselors

Kayla Bell

Kayla Bell

Kayla Bell

Pronouns: She/They

Kayla is currently a graduate student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Kent State University. She earned her Bachelors of Science in Education from Ohio State University in 2018. She works as a building substitute at Breakthrough Middle School in Cleveland, Ohio.

Kayla’s Favorite Camp Memory:

“My favorite experience from camp was when the kids did their showcase of their many skills and talents. I felt it gave the kids the opportunity to express themselves and all that they had learned at camp.”

Mary Halm

Pronouns: She/Her

Mary is one of our new head camp counselors. She is a recent graduate of the University of Rochester where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health. Currently, she is a Public Services Fellow with the Cleveland Foundation and the Cleveland Transformation Alliance.

Mary’s Favorite Camp Memory:

“I have many great memories from camp and being part of the TRJ family. I am not sure I can pick just one. Two really significant ones stand out for me. The first is my first year coming to camp. I was maybe 14. My mom and I went together, and it was the first time I walked into a space with my mom and didn't get a weird look. No one asked the question (you know the one) because everyone looked like us. I was 14, and this was my first time being in a space where I didn't have to answer the question I dreaded the most. The second most significant memory for me was coming to camp with my sister Maggie for the first time. She makes my TRJ Camp experience complete.”

Mary Halm

Mary Halm

Tiara Sargeant

G. Tiara Sargeant

G. Tiara Sargeant

Pronouns: she/her

Tiara serves as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator for the Shaker Heights School District. She is a graduate of Hampton University with a degree in Strategic Communications and of Case Western Reserve University with a Masters Degree in Positive Organization Development.

Tiara’s Favorite Camp Memory:

“My favorite moment from camp was getting to connect with the families via meals. During our last in person camp at Bellwether, I loved getting to cook alongside the chef and share stories with other family members.”


The Arc of Identity

In our April, 2021 Newsletter article entitled “What’s in a Name?,” We wrote about identity and the names our children carry. In this month’s set of cards, April writes,

“When your child is adopted, there’s another world, another narrative, and perhaps another name that accompanies them along with their “who am I?” journey. The way in which we build a strong and healthy identity often begins with our names as one of our central building blocks.”

Finding Community

Identity development is a large part of a child’s journey throughout adolescence and young adulthood. Finding community is also a large part of answering this “who am I?” question. For those of us who have been involved with Transracial Journeys for several years, we’ve had the privilege of witnessing our children and some of our camp counselors mature and enter young adulthood.

Trans Racial Journeys Camp Counselors
Family Camp for Transracially Adoptive Families
Support for children in transracial adoptions

On The Board, we work to provide support to our families and children - that’s a given! But, in the wings, we also work to nurture, train and support our camp counselors who themselves are often adopted persons and therefore older versions of our children. When you come to camp, you’re not only supporting the healthy growth of your own family, but you’re also supporting this community of your child’s future peers.

For the past few years, we have been fostering the transition of our young campers into counselor-in-training and counselor roles at camp. We have been observing a “rite of passage” of sorts from camper to counselor. We’ve discovered one of the gifts of growing up in TRJ is this transition where a child leaves their family of experience and enters a new family of friends, advocates, and peers who share a lot of the same lived experiences. Finding your people and availing yourself of their support, friendship and wisdom is incredibly nurturing to the development of your sense of self and to your identity in being part of a group.

"Who Am I?"

The community building that’s happening with our counselors, and their friendships forged is pretty amazing. Several of our counselors have been coming together now for years to work with our children, and in doing this work, they’ve also formed relationships with a community of peers who share intersectionalities of race and/or adoption. Finding a network of kindredness and support will help our children in their search to answer the question “who am I?”.

We look forward to helping our young adults find support and reflection of themselves on their journey to adulthood and beyond. Who knows, perhaps your child will be a counselor someday too.

This post is from our April, 2022, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


April Beginnings: What’s in a Name?

Your name is central and significant to who you are and, in essence, can be the keystone of identity. When your child is adopted, there’s another world, another narrative, and perhaps another name that accompanies them along with their “who am I?” journey. The way in which we build a strong and healthy identity often begins with our names as one of our central building blocks.

April Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck, given to all our families at Family Camp 2021. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for April. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

April Pro-Tip for Parents: : Becoming more fully aware of the deeper elements of adoption related to names will prepare you to authentically hold the realities of identity formation experiences. Diving into these delicate topics may evoke strong emotions. Have confidence in yourself to take steps on this journey. As part of the TRJ community, you have the support, love, and guidance of this community to commit to moving toward complexities in service of a healthier, fuller experience of adoption for your child/children, your family, and for YOU!

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• How do you feel about your name? Love it? Dislike it? Have never really thought about it?
• Did you ever change your name?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• How did you choose my name?
• Do you know if I had a different name before I was adopted?
• Did you discuss my name with anyone in my family of origin?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• Does my name have cultural significance?

This post is from our April, 2022, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp - registration is open now!


Venus and Serena Williams – Black Excellence

During Women’s History Month we shine a light on Serena and Venus Willams.  These two strong sisters are the epitome of strength, grace, and excellence. Whether on or off the tennis court both women have continued to show and prove how dedication and commitment can turn gifts and talent into winning records, successful businesses and fulfilling personal lives.

“I love me. I’ve learned to love me. I’ve been like this my whole life and I embrace me. I love how I look. I am a full woman and I’m strong, and I’m powerful, and I’m beautiful at the same time.”
– Serena Williams taking on body shamers in a 2013 interview with ESPN.

"You have to let fear go. Another lesson is you just have to believe in yourself; you just have to. There's no way around it. No matter how things are stacked against you, you just have to every time."
- Venus Williams

Even under the harshest conditions when folks are coming at them, they stand tall, are not afraid to show their vulnerability, and to fight for what is right.  We salute Serena and Venus.  We also can’t wait to watch “King Richard” to have deeper look inside the lives of this amazing Black family.

 


The Luck Code

It’s March! The spring equinox/first day of spring is on March 20 and March is Women’s History Month. It’s also St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 - a day when “everyone is Irish” and, more than any other time of the year, “luck” is in the air.

For families formed by adoption, there’s a type of “code talk” surrounding the concept of luck. If I had a dollar for every time a stranger told my child how lucky she was to have been adopted or how wonderful I am to have rescued a child from the system… Well, I don’t have to explain this conversation to you, my beloved, village of families formed by transracial adoption because you know the lingo.

Having lived a life on the receiving end of these messages, April writes:

"If I was lucky enough to be rescued from whatever situation I was in with my first family, I should be happy, grounded, have no issues whatsoever, and of course, I should never ever question my identity related to adoption. And heaven forbid, I should never search for my family of origin."

 

"These individuals (sometimes close friends) had no earthly idea that in fact, an adopted person loses something even when they are adopted by an amazing new family. I am not sure they meant harm."

What can help is to hold some space for having a conversation with your family about this month’s prompts. These conversation starters on our cards will really help when it comes to others’ reactions to our children and families, as well as the ensuing comments of luck and saviorism that may also be aired. As April says,

“these are intricate and complicated realities and thinking about them and talking about them will help ease what often lies under the surface."

This post is from our March, 2022, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


Preparation: Transracial Adoption: Be Ready!

Have you had strangers ask inappropriate questions of you and your family? “Is she/he/them yours?” - “Where are they from?” - “Your child is SO lucky”. These invasive questions are part of being a family that does not match and where differences of race are obvious to the world around you. It is important to be prepared for these intrusions.

March Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck, given to all our families at Family Camp 2021. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for February. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

March Pro-Tip for Parents: Make sure you have thought about specific times when moments of intrusion or inquiry have happened to your family. Think about the conversations you have had with friends and extended family when they were reflecting on how they feel or think you and your children should feel about adoption. These are intricate and complicated realities and thinking about them and talking about them will help ease what often lives under the surface.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• Do you feel lucky to be my parent?
• Do you think I should feel lucky to be your child?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• How do you explain our family to friends and family? How about to strangers that ask about us?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What are some unlucky things about adoption?

This post is from our March, 2022, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp - registration is open now!


Who Do You Love?

In February, we honor Black History and it’s also the month lean into love.  In April’s February card for identity, she opens the door for children to ask parents: “What is one thing you love about yourself?” and “What is one thing you love about me?”  Let’s break those questions down a bit more….

Whether you sit down with your children or not, ask yourself, what do I love about my child? Write down your answer. I know there’s loads to love about our kids. I bet your list is really long. Once you’ve written down some things, come back to this article.

Black History and love come into play for families specifically like ours, families that are Black and White. In your list, did you write anything about loving your child’s Black culture, their Black heritage, skin or hair? How are you expressing your love of your child’s racial identity?

Our Relationship With Black History, Black Friends and Racial Identity

Black History and love come into play for families specifically like ours, families that are Black and White. In your list, did you write anything about loving your child’s Black culture, their Black heritage or even their Blackness? How are you expressing your love of your child’s racial identity?

A friend once asked how to help his child form friendships with other Black children. I asked him, do you have any Black friends yourself? Does your child see you loving Black people in addition to them?  This dad had no Black friends, so it wasn’t any wonder that his child didn’t have any either. How can our kids be or achieve something they’re rarely exposed to?

Ask yourself, do I just love my Black child or do I go further and have relationships with people that are Black? In working to build these relationships, we’re not only availing ourselves of the joys of new friendship but we’re also showing our children we don’t just love one Black person, but many. And remember, children are often noticing and internalizing things even when they don’t always have the words to articulate how they feel about things.

Sometimes, walking this path can be lonely. My Black child didn’t want to participate much in reading about Black history or literature. My Black child didn’t want to attend marches with me for Tamir Rice. Tamir was shot and killed by police outside the very city recreation center we attended for swim meets and family art classes. My Black child didn’t want to attend Black museum exhibits with me much either.

Some White friends and family members thought I was crazy for raising my kids in the middle of the city. It was alienating for me and I didn’t have the support of Transracial Journeys families because some of this happened before our small transracial adoption support network existed. I walked, I cried, I attended, I viewed, and I listened for years often alone. If either of my children came along with me to these events, it was more often my White daughter.

I didn’t realize until recently that doing these things was an act of love and support for my Black child and her racial identity. All along this journey, she was really watching me with big eyes. I know now that doing all of these things not only contributed to the growth of my child’s racial identity, but as she grew, it set down more of an ease to have conversations about race that were initiated often by her. I know it made her feel much more certain of my love for her because I worked for relationship and community with other people like her.

If I could go back in time and ask advice from “future Avril”, I’d love to have heard,

 “love your child, love her culture, love her family of origin… just love her people and in turn, you love your child and your child will have a better chance to truly love themselves””...

This post is from our February, 2022, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


Simone Biles – Black Excellence

On the Transracial Journeys Facebook Page, we recently asked for Black Excellence nominations. You did not disappoint! With nominees such as Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, Resmaa Menakem and Simone Biles, it was tough to choose. However, there’s one candidate who strongly represents this month’s themes of love and history (in the making) and she is Simone Biles! Thank you for your nomination Nicole Zistler, and please keep your nominees coming.

Simone’s strength and grace is not simply about her gymnastics but it’s also present as she has had to navigate inappropriate discreditation of her family structure. Born in 1997, Simone and her three siblings spent their early childhood in foster care until her maternal grandparents adopted Simone and her younger sister, Adria. Her two older siblings were adopted by her grandfather Ron Biles’s sister, Harriet.

Inspired by Gabby Douglas at a young age, Simone has said, “Growing up, I didn’t see very many Black gymnasts…So whenever I did, I felt really inspired to go out there and want to be as good as them. I remember watching Gabby Douglas win the 2012 Olympics, and I was like, if she can do it, I can do it.”.

Simone Biles is not only the most decorated gymnast of all time with 7 Olympic medals and 25 World Medals, but she’s also known for mental health advocacy on behalf of herself and others. Under incredible pressure and under the world’s spotlight, she stepped out of the Tokyo Olympics to take care of her own mental health. She stated,

I have to put my pride aside. I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being. That’s why I decided to step back.”

At past Transracial Journeys  Family Camps and Zoom meetings, several of our kids have excitedly voiced their love for Simone. There are many books about her available at your local library, but only one of them is written by her “Courage to soar: a body in motion, a life in balance”. Check it out!


February Intersections: Love and Black History Month

With St. Valentine’s Day and Black History Month, this short month brings so many foundational elements of transracial adoption to explore.

February Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck, given to all our families at Family Camp 2021. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for February. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

February Pro-Tip for Parents: Be extremely honest with yourselves about what may be a real lack of knowledge and experience with differences of race/class/culture prior to parenting transracially. As you think about this, also think about ways you are addressing and will continue to address this lack.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• What is one thing you love about yourself?
• What is one thing you love about me?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• Who was the first person you loved?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What makes us different?
• What makes us similar?
• What are some new ways we can honor and celebrate Black Excellence, Joy, Resilience?

This post is from our February, 2022, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp - registration is open now!