Sideline Family

My immediate circle of friends is…well…pale. In fact, I can count on my two hands the number of kids in my graduating class in high school who were not white. While that demographic has changed in the nearly sixteen years since I graduated, our community is still noticeably…pasty.

There is a chance I could have gone through all of my adult life and never really considered this. I may have done just that, except my husband and I made the decision to adopt a child…and that child is black.

I’ve written several posts about my son, how his race has influenced my thinking—shifted my paradigm. But this post is about another “male of color” who has come into my life and helped me to see my world differently.

Late last summer, Hubby and I agreed to serve as host parents for our local community college. We would be a touchstone for two young men new to our community. The responsibilities were really quite simple. Try to make these two boys feel at home in a place which is far different from where they have come, and where they know virtually no one. Be the sideline family for these kids who would otherwise not have familiar faces in the stands. IMG_3608

I’ll admit. Our commitment was mostly selfish. Hubby and I both love basketball. These boys were in our community to contribute to the success of our local college team. We were all for helping to that end. We were both college athletes and understand how even small amounts of support can make all the difference. It was an opportunity to give back in a small way for the blessings our college athletic careers provided each of us. But most of all, we knew the racial makeup of the team was such that we would likely be hosting at least one young man who “looked like” our son.IMG_2527

I want my son to see and be around people who look like him. I want him to have positive roll models who look like him. There are some who may turn their noses up at this—try to argue that what we look like is of no importance. I believe people who feel this way have never been in a situation where they were a true minority.

In my own limited experience, I can tell you there was almost nothing more building to my confidence than my time with my college roommates and teammates. Being around women who looked like me—6’0+ tall with strong, round muscles—gifted to me a feeling of belonging I didn’t know I was missing until I found it. To this day I look forward to my annual meet up with My People.

It is not that we should only be with those who look like us. I actually believe we should do the contrary. But this world can be a difficult place, and our culture makes it so easy to feel lonely and isolated if you do not meet the perceived standard of what is acceptable…normal…beautiful. Knowing you are not alone in how you experience the world makes it a much more welcoming place to call home. And that is a universal truth.

While I hoped whomever we were chosen to host would be a starting point for positive associations for my son, I had not planned to find that same thing for myself. I most certainly did not plan to find someone I would grow to love. And yet, that is exactly what happened.

We cheered for him on and off the court. There were nights of homework after dinner, and chats about relationships. There were endless laughs and a few tears. And in-between those mundane life moments…we came to know one another. We grew from strangers and metamorphosed into family. Over the course of ten months, our family grew to include Mom, Dad, 11 year old sis, 8 year old sis, 3 year old ninja…and 19 year old big brother G.IMG_4944

He already has a wonderful family. We were not a replacement for a missing part. But he allowed us to be an expansion. We gave to each other our time, shared laughter and heartache, talked honestly about life, and in doing so, we gifted to each other parts of our hearts.

And we loved him for it.

We love each other for it.

There is still much I don’t know about him. How well can you know a person in such a brief period of time? But there is enough that I do know to make me care for him deeply. His life is now connected to ours in a way I never would have predicted. I keep him in my prayers each and every day.

Just as I do not know what the future holds for each of my children, I do not know what the future will bring for him, my eldest “adopted” son. No matter what that might be, we will be on the sidelines cheering. Because that is what family does.