Adversity

When I look back on my life, it amazes me how far I have come in the face of adversities.

During uncertain times, we hope that no matter what, we can always count on our family for unconditional love and acceptance but sometimes it just isn’t so.  Such was the case for me when I was expecting my son, Jaren.

What began as a loving supportive family of my unplanned pregnancy, which included a distant baby shower for me (I lived in Texas, they lived in New Jersey) turned suddenly dreadful when my family learned of my child’s mixed ethnicity (African and European American).  My mother was noticeably distraught.  She seemed more concerned as to what she would tell all those who attended the baby shower and even wondered if they would want their gifts returned (by-the-way, they didn’t).  Apparently, they were okay with me being an unwed mother to a white baby.  But being a single mother of a bi-racial (half black) baby was another story all together.

I went along with the charade for my son’s sake.

After my baby was born, some of my family members tried to put their prejudices aside.  Going home was always a divide between love and hate, right and wrong and I strongly debated if I even wanted my son to have a relationship with these relatives whose love for him was initially tarnished solely based on the color of his skin.

I went along with the charade for my son’s sake.

From that moment on, I would not be invited to another holiday dinner or family event due to my step father’s prejudices.  My family made it very clear that they didn’t want to be caught in the middle.  My mother would provide halfhearted excuses and say things like, “That’s the way your father is and he isn’t going to change.”  My older brother and sister would personally tell me to my face that they didn’t think it was fair how I was being treated.  And like our mother, they were unwilling to stand up for me.  Whether they feared openly debating their perspective with our father or whether they were masking their own prejudices internally is unknown to me.  Either way, they all had it in their mind that since I didn’t play by the rules (no interracial dating), that I should have expected this reaction and be happy with what they were offering.

I went along with the charade for my son’s sake.

When Jaren and I flew back home, my step father would go away for a few hours or an overnighter at their summer home so my mother could bring us home for a short visit.  We were on a tight schedule.  Orders were…me and Jaren needed to be out of my parent’s house and out of sight by the time my step father returned home.  I can remember the nervousness my mother had trying to get us packed, out of the house and into the car so she could drop us off at my brother’s or sister’s home.  She had a great fear of running into her husband before we left.  It’s a sad way to live, in my opinion.  And it always left me feeling slighted.

I went along with the charade for my son’s sake.

Whenever we went home, the other grandkids would talk about Poppy, and Jaren would ask questions as to who Poppy was.  Jaren was curious about Poppy.  Often times, my mother would evade questions from Jaren, sometimes becoming flustered by his inquiries.  I remember on one occasion, she responded that Poppy was her husband, for which I gave her a sharp look.  I had to bite my tongue so many times; I’m surprised it didn’t literally fall off.  Truth is, Mom didn’t have any plausible excuses for her young grandson.  She would send pictures either by mail or email to us in Texas of Poppy and the other grandkids, depicting a wonderful loving grandparent and I wondered why my mother felt the need to share them with me and my child.  I finally had to request she not send pictures to avoid confusion.  No child deserves that.

I went along with the charade for my son’s sake.

I remember on one visit back home, me, my sister, her daughter, and Jaren stopped by the local custard stand.  We were sitting at a picnic table when my sister saw our parents in the parking lot.  My sister egged me to go over and introduce my son to his grandfather.  I think my sister wanted to end the divide in our family.  We walked over and stood alongside my father’s car window.  I had Jaren sitting on my hip and said, “Hello.”  My father looked straight ahead.  My sister did most of the talking.  He glanced once or twice at my sister and my niece but never acknowledged me or my son.  My mother sat in the passenger side, eating her desert, saying very little.  Once I returned back to Texas, far enough away, I learned how hateful, prejudice words were said about me and my mixed-race family by some family members and close friends.

Yes, I went along with the charade.  It was a game that I learned to play very well by their rules.    Any disturbances from the rules would have jeopardized the ties that bond and at that time, I was trying to hold onto whatever was available to me.  I thirsted for the love of my family and did not want to be left alone in a world with no family ties.  I wanted my son to have his extended family, even if they were fifteen hundred miles away, even if they were prejudice, even if they were willing to stand and watch one of their very own blood relatives be rejected and rebuked.

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  Matthews 25:42-45

Twelve years later, my step dad finally had a change of heart.  My younger brother and his wife were vital in the evolution of our family restoration.  I had the idea of having a 70th surprise birthday party for our mother.  I proposed the idea to my brother and sister-in-law.  They liked the idea and my brother said he would talk it over with our dad.  We needed to make sure he was on board.  I had gone along with the charade for a very long time, but to ask me to help plan something and then say that me and my mixed-race family would not be welcome, well, that’s another story.  I don’t know what my brother said to our father that day but our dad agreed to go along with the party.  This event was the first time that my son and I were at a get-together with our whole family and long-time friends in one place at the same time.  After twelve long years, I felt like a member of this family again.

If you asked me today if I am totally healed from this experience, I will tell you no.  I swallowed my pride and quieted my voice for many years as my wounded heart broke and my eyes filled with penetrating tears.  The ill treatment we received by the ones who were supposed to love us without seizing, with no apology or remorse still haunts me.

I wonder how much one person can bear, how many times one wounded heart can break and how much one soul can withstand before its spirit is weakened.  These are the questions that I may never know the facts and the answer may lie within each lesson.

In the end, I’ve learned a great deal as a mother.  But I would say what I learned from having my biracial family has taught me much more than I could have ever imagined.  It’s taught me to be strong in the face of adversity.   Image

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