Friday, August 15, 2014

Parenting Mixed Race Children

I recently read a blog post written by a white woman with adopted black children.  The post is about how no one had prepared her for the true reality of adopting black children as a white parent - that her children could be killed by police for walking down the street, that they would be labeled as gang members or sluts for doing the same things as white teenagers, and that she would have to teach her children to be guarded because they would be treated differently than their white peers. 

This got me thinking about my own mixed race children.  While I suppose I’m “lucky” that my mixed children probably won’t have quite the same challenges as the black children this woman adopted – my half Chinese children are more likely to suffer from stereotypes of being good at math and science rather than being identified as dangerous gang members - there are still people in this world that will hate them for what they are, because more often than not, people with multiple ethnicities are simply classified into whatever they “look” like – usually based on skin color. 

I never truly understood the significance of what this means (or the additional challenges it can add to parenthood) until my mixed race son was born.  Although he looks like his Dad, he is light skinned like me, and often this is all people see.  The worst experience I’ve had yet was in the restroom of a rest stop in Montana when on my way to my parent’s house.  I was changing my then, 6 month old son, on the changing table and an older white lady came out of one of the stalls and came to stand over him while I was changing him.  At first she was very friendly, and just kept commenting on how cute he was.  Then she proceeded to tell me that her daughter had just had a baby, and that the baby had come out looking CHINESE, as she wrinkled her nose in disgust.  Somewhere between the urge to punch her in the face for simultaneously insulting the two loves of my life, and just being too stunned to say anything at all, I managed to reply sweetly through gritted teeth that her grandbaby must be beautiful since my son is half Chinese.  She spluttered something about how yeah, but her grandbaby isn’t Chinese, so it was weird she came out looking that way.  Then she went quickly on her way out the door. 

As we are expecting our second little boy, I can’t help but wonder if this baby will look like me and have Nando’s skin color.  How would that have changed this interaction? Would she have assumed he was adopted?  Would she have just kept her mouth shut?  Or would she have been more blatant in her racism?  I know this is not the last time my children will experience prejudice based on assumptions made from their skin color, and it both makes me sad and enrages me at the same time. 

It also raises so many more questions for me.  How do we as parents of mixed race children help them identify with all of their cultural heritages?  (I personally identify with much more than just “white”).  How do I, as a blond, white mother, truly understand the prejudice my half Chinese children will face throughout their lifetimes?  Or can I ever understand how deeply it could impact them?  How do I help them to be strong enough to overcome it without taking away any single piece of their identity? 

I try hard to make sure that my son and I are at least trying to learn his father’s Chinese dialect.  We eat foods that I grew up with and I’m trying (albeit not very successfully) to learn from Nando’s Mum how to make the dishes he grew up with.  We follow both Chinese customs, and my family’s holiday traditions because Nando and I both want our children to grow up identifying with their whole self.  Yet, I still can’t help wondering if they will someday have an identity crisis because the world will categorize them by their skin color and treat them accordingly.  Will my light skinned son shun his Chinese self for an “easier” life as a white man?  Will this second baby, if he’s darker skinned, identify more as Chinese and forget that part of him came from a different world? 

Ultimately though, I can’t prevent any of it even though I desperately want to protect them.  All we can do is love them unconditionally, teach them where they came from, and raise them to be the men we want them to be regardless of skin color.  If we are successful at that, they will be strong, confident gentlemen, capable of dealing with anything life throws at them and of defining themselves by any identity they choose.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

19 Months Old, 30 Flights, 4 Countries, and 2 Continents – Flying With Under 2’s

We've been fortunate enough to be able to travel a lot in Ayrton's 19 months of life on this planet.  After 30 flights with him, we've gotten our system down to a science.  Knowing we travel a lot, I’ve had many people ask me for tips on traveling with a baby in particular, so I’ve decided to do a series of posts for traveling with under 2’s.  For this first post, here are my tips for flying with babies and little people.

1.     When booking flights, check the infant policy for what you are allowed to bring for an infant.  Most airlines allow you to have a carry on for the baby as well as checking 2 – 3 infant items such as a car seat, stroller and/or port-a-cot.  Some airlines are specific about which items you can check and others just say how many infant specific items you are allowed.

2.     Don’t underestimate the value of red eye flights with tiny babies.  It was perfect to have flights that took off right around bedtime when Ayrton was really little.  The older he got though, the more that became a bit of a nightmare – I would discourage red eyes whenever possible once kids get to be around 1 – unless you know you have a row to yourself (and/or you’re buying a ticket for your kid) so they can lay down to go to sleep.

3.     When flying internationally, call your airline as soon as you book to find out if there are bassinets available on your flight, and if there are, if you can reserve one.  Some airlines let you pay a small fee to guarantee you get a bassinet (worth it!).  Others don’t charge but are first come first serve, but they will at least note that you want one and you’ll get it unless there is a younger baby that needs one.  Bassinets really only work up until about 12 months at the max – but they are a lifesaver, especially if you’re traveling alone.

4.     When checking in, ask if there is any possibility of getting a row to yourself.  If you’re nice and they have open seats, usually they will try to block a row for you so that the open seats in your row will only be used if they have to be.  (Often this ends up being the row reserved for wheel chair passengers if they don’t have any, which means you also end up with extra leg room.)

5.     Check your stroller and use a carrier in the airport, even if the airline will let you gate check it.  That way you can skip the elevator search and get through the airport faster.  Just keep in mind that most babies will not want to be carried in any carrier that is not forward facing by the time they hit 4 months, until they are big enough to go in a carrier on your back, so I suggest investing in a carrier that has multiple options for carry direction.

6.     At security, always ask if your baby has to come out of the carrier.  Usually the answer is yes, but every once in a while someone will let you go through without taking baby out.  This is more often the case when you are traveling alone and look flustered.

7.     Baby liquids are not the same as other liquids.  I’ve never had a problem taking any full bottles, baby food or baby medications through security.  As long as they are for baby, you should be fine, just ask if they need to be taken out for security screening or if they can be left in the bag.  In the US, they usually just want to screen your bottles in a separate screening process.

8.     Bring a blanket to wrap baby in (I usually bring a warm blanket and a muslin so I’m prepared for any temperature) to keep the infant seat belt from rubbing on sensitive baby skin.  (Other items to have with you will be in my post on packing lists).

9.     Some flight attendants are really helpful in warming up bottles, but they usually have to do it by putting it in a bowl of hot water so it can take quite a while.  We travel with a thermos full of hot water (for formula) or warm milk (once they are drinking milk).  It usually stays warm for about 12 hours and it keeps you from having to deal with a baby that is getting more and more worked up while you wait for the bottle to be warmed.  The other option is to try to get your kid used to cold formula or milk ahead of your flight – that didn’t work very well for us, but when he’s starving he will drink it cold. 

10.  If your baby is drinking formula, invest in the individual packets of formula rather than carrying your formula in one of the split containers or the can.  Not all brands make these packets, but if yours does, they’re worth it.  You can carry a lot more extra formula in case of delays, they are more compact and easier to pack, formula will be fresh, and you won’t have to worry about it spilling all over your bag if the lid comes off.

11.  Make sure to have something for baby to suck on at take off and landing.  If you are breastfeeding, no worries.  Otherwise a bottle and/or pacifier will work great.  Most babies fall asleep shortly after take off anyway since the plane engines are great white noise.

These are the biggest things I’ve learned flying with Ayrton, but please feel free to ask me if you have any other questions, and watch for my posts on ground transport, hotels and packing lists!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Things I've Learned Living in the Southern Hemisphere

There are certain things I have learned throughout my life that I have sort of taken as absolutes, or at least for granted.  Moving to the Southern Hemisphere, I have to laugh when it’s the little things that give me reality checks, even after 2.5 years.  For example, when you live in the Southern Hemisphere…

1.     Birds fly North for the winter, not South.  (This little tidbit is what inspired this post, since I just made this realization today.)
2.     There is no such thing as a white Christmas unless you are spending it on a white sand beach.
3.     July is the middle of winter.
4.     The stars and constellations you can see here are different.
5.     The water may go down the drain in the opposite direction.  (In fairness, my Dad has been trying to get me to prove this definitively for the last 2.5 years and I have yet to verify it despite numerous attempts – although according to Google it does, all forces being equal.)
6.     There is such a thing as a Southern Hemisphere compass that is balanced differently for the Southern Hemisphere.

I’m sure I will continue to learn new things living here, but I always think it’s funny when I realize that I’ve always taken the simplest factoids for granted.