Scared every day.

If you had asked me, twenty years ago, to name examples of police brutality, systemic racism, or white privilege, I couldn’t have. Sure, I would have agreed that such things existed, but I thought of them as some other era’s problem, or some other nation’s. Coming off of some really ugly experiences with male privilege in Wyoming, I would have taken the conversation in that direction–although I’d seen a lot of racism there, as I worked primarily with immigrants from Mexico. I just didn’t get it.

But then I moved to the South Side of Chicago.

It’s hard to live comfortably in a place where violence permeates. Muggings, break-ins, shootings affected the people I knew, marked the community around me. Sometimes, the gangs seemed wholly in control; sometimes, the police shot men in the back. Many of our friends simply couldn’t handle it, relocating as soon as they could. But for others, including Danelle, this is reality, year after year.

Ron and I accepted that we might be affected personally, and we refused to be intimidated. We embraced the South Side, venturing into blighted neighborhoods in search of good food, a blues band, or just to see what they looked like. We began to interrogate our own racist assumptions. As I may have mentioned, we are unusual.

Even so, I didn’t realize how very scary it is to raise an African-American boy in this country. I didn’t realize how many ordinary things would just be harder for him, from the get-go. Yeah, no one likes to see a toddler let loose in the candy aisle. Guess how much worse that is when it’s a Black toddler. No one likes to see the bully show up at the playground. Guess how hard it is when everyone just assumes your son is the bully.

We thought we had it figured out. Move to a safe, diverse suburb. Make sure we have “The Talk” early and often. Make sure respectful attitudes towards authority are mandated. Point out how not to behave, as when we walked by an arrest being made when the Original Wailers headlined our street festival. Don’t allow toy guns at the park, even when everyone else has them. Don’t allow toy guns in the backyard. Don’t allow toy guns in the house. Don’t pretend you have a toy gun.

But the events of this week, beginning with the murder of George Floyd, have made it painfully clear that there is no safety for my son. I see him in the man lying on the ground, unresponsive. Until he lives in a society that does not judge him by the color of his skin–and does not teach others to fear him–I will be afraid. And thus, I will know something of the fear that Danelle has known her whole life.

But therein lies the rub–how do we get to such a society? It is even possible? The Seattle Times had an article this evening that gave me some hope. They quoted Bishop Reggie Witherspoon Sr., senior pastor at Mt. Calvary Christian Center in Seattle’s Central District: “How we are going to fix it is when white America comes to the table and says this is categorically wrong and we are not standing for it anymore.”

My fellow white Americans, can you join me at the table?

So how does this work, with two moms?

As I mentioned on the Home page, in my experience, people are generally too polite to ask anything super personal about our family. I appreciate that, because we just want to function like normal people (and, naturally, we do consider ourselves to be normal people).

But, despite the general reluctance, the question that has come up, more than once, is: So how does that work, with two moms?

On the practical level, for the kids, I am “Mom,” while Danelle is “Danelle.” This manifests is statements such as, “I hate you, Mom,” and “Danelle, you are the nicest!”

Danelle is also “birthmom,” as in (overheard when talking to friends): “Hey, did you know I have a birthmom? She looks like me, and she gives me the best presents.”

Hmm, upon reflection, it would appear that one mom gets to be “Disney mom” and the other gets accused of being mean (which I own–I’m the meanest).

So, how does it play out? Ron and I make most of the day-to-day parenting decisions, like chores and homework. We reach out to Danelle to consult about bigger decisions, and I always welcome her input on pretty much anything, from hairstyles and books to how to address situations at school. We do our best to keep the channels open.

We also encourage the kids to develop their relationship with Danelle without going through us. Right now, that is taking the form of sending video messages (we’ve been using the Marco Polo app), in which the twins let loose as their goofy nine-year-old selves. (It’s hard for me to not come in over the top on these, but that’s a good lesson in boundary-setting for all of us, right?)

Bottom line: two moms means twice the love for the kids and more support for us all — an extra ear for ideas, an extra shoulder to cry on. For me, what I value most are the insights Danelle gives us, on everything from family dynamics to growing up Black. I can’t imagine navigating this crazy journey called parenthood without her.

A final note: Because Dawn’s birthmom isn’t involved with her, or us, it’s sometimes hard for Dawn to see the closeness we have with Danelle. For her part, Danelle is very aware of how Dawn feels, and she goes out of her way to make sure Dawn is always included. She always has time for Dawn as well as gifts, even when it’s the twins’ birthday. She actively encourages their relationship, and we are so thankful!!

This all started back in 2002…

Where to begin?

Okay, we’ll start with moving to Chicago in August, 2002, right after Ron and I got married. There’s a whole crazy relationship story before that, which I’ll probably share at some other point. But he was in law school and I was finishing up my thesis to get my Master’s degree. We lived in a cramped apartment on the South Side, counted quarters to go to dollar movies, and made great friends. I got to know Ron’s grandmother, one of my very favorite people, and his aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Fast-forward a couple of years. Ron is working at a law firm in downtown Chicago, I’m teaching and studying for a Ph.D. at Loyola, and we buy a condo a few blocks from Lake Michigan. But we are looking at our twenties in the rear-view mirror and really wanting to start a family. Unfortunately, I’ve had two surgeries to fix gyne problems, and fertility issues aren’t covered by our insurance.

So we decide to pursue adoption. We start a program through Lutheran Social Services of Illinois that, sadly, is no longer operating. This is doubly sad because we had such a good experience with them. It was a long, uncertain road, full of hope and heartbreak and every other cliche, but ultimately, we were united with a beautiful baby girl, Dawn.

Time to call it good, right? Not if you’re Ron. One kid was a good start. When she was two years old, we re-opened our search, hoping that lightning would strike again, so to speak.

And it did! On my favorite day of the year, December 21st, I got a call asking if we wanted to be matched with twins that had been born prematurely. I said yes. Our counselor said to talk it over with Ron. He was in the car, on his way to Cook County Hospital, before I could even finish the question.

At first, their beautiful, heartbroken mother, Danelle, thought that she would need to say good-bye to move on with her life–at least, that’s what I’m remembering. She’s going to be sharing her story, too. But when the twins, Danielle and Darnell, were about three months old, we got together at LSSI’s South Side office for a facilitated meeting. A few months later, she came to see us at our house. As we made connections and our friendship grew, we came to realize that Danelle was part of the family.

By the time the twins turned 3 or 4, we were getting together weekly. And there is so much to share about our dynamics and, well, everything. But I have to fast-forward again, because a once-in-a-lifetime dream job opened up for Ron. The super downside was that it meant moving across the country, to the Seattle area, which we did at the end of 2017. It was the first birthday that Danelle didn’t get to spend with her children.

It is still a tough situation for us all, especially with the current global pandemic making our next visits uncertain. But we are keeping in touch electronically and making plans, even if they feel more like pipe dreams right now, to get together in the future. And we are starting this blog!

So how’s that for, oh, nearly twenty years in 8 paragraphs? I promise there will be more–there is so much more to say!