Monthly Archives: January 2017

Adventuring as a transracial family

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Last week, we took our first family vacation, to the Mexican Caribbean, Riviera Maya. It was a chance to escape the craziness of the city during inauguration as well as hit a tropical beach during one of the Mid-Atlantic’s coldest months of the year. (As it turned out, the coldest week of the month was the previous one, which we were very much in town for, but whatever, we still got a week of hot sun and sand, which is way better than what we left.)

We had an early morning flight out of Dulles, so we  woke the kids quite a bit before Teddy usually gets up (he was so excited, he was fully awake immediately) and called an Uber. Since we brought Teddy and Lydia home, the airport has made us a tiny bit nervous. We always wonder if anyone will think we’re trafficking or kidnapping our kids. We have passports for them, but those can be forged, and we never travel with our adoption decrees. Presumably all airport officials are trained to spot the signs of a trafficked child, and our non-trafficked kids obviously won’t show any red flags, but Mike always likes to give the person checking our IDs and boarding passes a little extra assurance that our dark-skinned children belong with white-skinned us.

Me, to security officer (SO) checking our IDs: “Good morning!”
*SO takes IDs and boarding passes and scans each ID as he matches it with our faces*
SO, looking at Teddy: “What’s your name, son?”
(I used to have to follow up with, “Tell him your name, bud”, but he responds on his own now. We’re still working on volume.)
Teddy, barely audibly: “Teddy.”
Lydia: “Teddy!”
Mike: “That’s right, that’s Teddy. And what’s my name?”
Lydia: “Daddy!”
*SO smiles, finishes verifying IDs, and wishes us a pleasant journey.

And through that simple interaction with Lydia–which appears completely organic– Mike has shown the officer that Lydia unequivocally–and enthusiastically– identifies him as her father. It plays out a little differently on each occasion, but Mike does this every time we go to the airport. It’s probably completely unnecessary, but it certainly does no harm.

After an uneventful flight (complete with the cinnamon cookies Teddy was so excited about as soon as we told him we were flying Delta) and a longer-than-expected wait for our shuttle to the resort, we arrived at our week in paradise. We stayed at the all-inclusive resort, Dreams Puerta Aventura. I heartily recommend it. I’ve always been skeptical of all-inclusives, convinced there must be a catch. But nope, we didn’t spend a dime while we were there (except for our half-day expedition to Tulum, a Mayan ruin). The service was amazing and the place was astonishingly clean. I kept expecting to find a thin layer of sand down the corridors, but they were always spotless.

We spent the next six days alternating between the pool and the beach. I have a confession: I am not overly concerned about my children getting sunburned; I do not slather them with sunscreen. Don’t get me wrong: I know black skin burns. But I don’t layer *myself* with SPF, and I know they are even less vulnerable to UV rays than I am. Like most kids, Teddy wears a swim shirt with his trunks, so I had him rub sunscreen on his face and feet, and sometimes his legs, in the morning–and that’s it. For the day. Now, in my defense, we would go back to our room around noon to change for lunch, and then we’d chill in the room for Lydia’s naptime and wouldn’t return to the beach or pool until late afternoon, when those UV rays weren’t nearly as penetrating. And we returned home with no burns among the four of us. But I probably could’ve been a little more protective of my kids’ beautiful brown skin.

Before we left, I determined to try again to braid Lydia’s hair properly, not in thick braids that I had to take out at bedtime, but in thin braids that would last the week, and would look tidy during days spent in the water. And in the sand. Turns out eight months makes a big difference in a toddler’s ability to sit still; a video was sufficient to keep her attention for the 25 minutes it took me to weave her locks into a couple dozen braids. (Helps that I’ve improved, too; I can plait her hair much more quickly now.) My plan worked beautifully. Her hair stood up to frequent splashing…and strangers’ ruffling… I imagine her hair in all its wild glory might’ve drawn the same amount of affection from the resort workers, but no doubt the braids made her head especially magnetic. They just couldn’t resist fingering those tight twists!

They also couldn’t resist picking her up. Evidently this is a cultural thing in both black and Latino communities. I had to stifle my urge to grab Lydia back whenever a friendly resort employee would swing her up and fawn over her. Lydia wasn’t bothered in the least, so it would’ve been weird if I’d shown my discomfort. She would just smile, clearly enjoying the attention.

During our week in the sun, in between building sand volcanoes and ordering drinks at the swim-up pool bar, we also fielded questions about our family. Turns out we’re conspicuous in other countries, too. One woman made the oddest comment. After telling me how much she loved watching my kids play, she asked if they were biological siblings. I said they were not, and at that moment, they came right by us, acting particularly affectionate. She said, “They play so well together; they don’t act like siblings.” And before I could assure her that they’d been siblings their whole lives and most definitely acted the part, she continued, as if to reassure me, “But that’ll probably come in the next year.” All I could do was shake my head.

Another woman, whose tranquil morning snooze in a hammock we disrupted when Lydia and Mike claimed the remaining two hammocks and enjoyed pushes from Teddy–by no means a quiet process–asked me where the kids were from. I was momentarily distracted by something Teddy said, and when I turned back to respond, I opted to intentionally misunderstand her and declared that we were from DC. To her credit, she didn’t clarify her question, and we were able to have a nice chat. And when Teddy tired of his hammock-swinging duties a few minutes later, she was able to return to swaying blissfully with the only soundtrack to her thoughts the white noise of the waves.

We also had many conversations that did not make us feel conspicuous. We met one mom of three as she was attempting to capture candid shots of her two boys with a professional camera. She was a photographer by trade and shared that she made a photo album for her kids for every family vacation.

As someone whose only memory of my family’s trip to *Disneyland* when I was six is being bundled into the car super early to drive there, I loved the idea. It was my first project upon our return. We had such a great week, and I want Teddy to remember not just the early-morning wake-up call, but also making sand-volcanoes, conquering his fear of putting his face in the water, and splashing around in the bubbles during the “foam party” our last afternoon. Another “first” for our unique family, it was an adventure I’ll cherish forever.