On the eve of Black History Month, I received an email that would change everything and nothing all at once. We received our daughter’s DNA results from a popular ancestry website, unlocking an altogether unknown reality that simultaneously always and never existed.
We learned that she is Black – descended from Africans who were brought to Virginia on slave ships. In the instant it took to open the email, a parallel universe came to light.
In February 2019 I published a blog about the redacted history of children in foster care. It was a commentary on the pain of raising a child whose history had been blotted out, line by line, in thick, cruel sharpie strokes. It was a protest against a System that would both strip a child of her heritage and then coldly erase any record of it – all in the name of protecting parental privacy. It was a protest against a System where children have no rights, and adults with sharpies play god.
At the time, I was raising a brown-skinned little Mystery who had come to me with not much more than a blanket and a pile of redacted paperwork. We had been told her beautiful skin was of Hispanic origin, but there was no evidence – just birth-mom’s word. As she grew, clues began to emerge, but I had no categories in which to put them. Her gorgeous full lips, her legs a mile long, her soft curly hair. She is exactly who she is meant to be, and as her parents, our love is deep and unconditional. We knew what we knew about her history, and it was okay if we didn’t have all the details.
As 2020 unfolded, and the global conversation turned to racial injustice, I realized that my unconditional acceptance of our daughter would not be enough. The world would demand to know more, and indeed, she deserved to know more. I needed to give her answers or help her find them. We could see the color of her skin, but there was a whole universe – a whole history – inside it that remained unknown.
To me, the content of that email was life-altering. To her, it was generally underwhelming. It didn’t change who she is or how she sees herself, and for that I am thankful. Her DNA results are a glimpse into a new reality, but it’s only a glimpse. We have peeked into the portal, but we have not yet opened it. I will follow her lead when the time is right.
Children in foster care need to know their history. The business of redacting family details needs to stop. A child who is raised by a family not biologically related, is like a child growing up with one arm. They are not whole – they are not complete. They will always compensate for the missing pieces, and so it is our duty as adoptive parents to help them find those pieces. They need roots to keep them tethered, and the grafted roots of adoption are simply not enough.
As parents and caregivers, we must have the courage to walk with our children through the portal if and when they are ready to explore their heritage. Her second cousins on the East coast exist in a parallel universe that may help repair the gaps and holes created by state sharpies. Or it may not. The choice will be hers when she’s ready. I am honored, terrified, and humbled to begin peeking into this universe with her – this universe inside her skin.