Brookti came from Ethiopia 8 months ago when she was around two. Initially I’d tried to adopt domestically, but it turns out that adopting in the U.S. as a single mother, aside from being a 21st century version of some kind of slave trade, (i.e. black/interracial children are ‘a third of the price’ of Hispanic children), and assuming you’re not a celebrity or loaded, is a slow and ludicrous nightmare.
So when I came across an article about adoption programs in Ethiopia, I thought, why not. Not because I knew much about Ethiopia or Africa, although I had taken my only liberal arts class while at art school on the history of Africa (partly because a friend of my brother’s was the teacher) and had more recently read a lot about the genocide in Rwanda. And I had Africa-obsessed friends who hung out in enclaves of wealthy white American and European quasi-hippies, who maybe went on a couple of romantic safaris, and who, quite frankly, seemed disturbed mostly by the extinction of the poor animals by the nasty hunters, conveniently ignoring the extinction of the poor people by the nasty wars and the nasty disease. I cringed when they raved about how beautiful the ‘people’ were in the same breath as how beautiful the countryside was.
It wasn’t the idea of ‘exotic’ Ethiopia and its exotic people that caught my attention. It was common sense. Here was a country with plenty of orphans who needed parents. So I called Americans for African Adoptions, Inc. in Indianapolis (which turned out to be an excellent agency run by a superhuman woman Cheryl Carter-Shotts) and that is how I found Brookti.
I chose Brookti from a list of available children because she was delivered to the orphanage on my birthday. She was described as ‘tiny, 18 -24 months, hepatitis B positive, able to stand for a few seconds.’ After I’d ‘claimed’ her, it turned out she was no longer hepatitis B positive but that she still wasn’t walking and they were worried she never would, although there was no specific diagnosis. (It also turned out nothing was known of her origins except that she’d been found in Adwa, the city where the Ethiopians—one of two countries in Africa never colonized by the Europeans—beat back the Italians for the final time—whch means that Brookti is a member of the Tigre tribe, the original ruling tribe, no surprise there.)
Six agonizing months of waiting and pictures and videos followed and in May 2003, tiny Brookti arrived at Newark Airport and tottered into my arms with a huge smile and huge red sneakers. (The huge smile was a fake-out; she was sobbing bitterly moments later in the car). Eight months later, she is 7 inches taller and has 24 pairs of shoes (at press time) in which to show off her particular ‘don’t mess with me’ strut—and, in ways I will subsequently demonstrate, in which to reduce little blond white boys to tears.
It was not an instantaneous process, neither Brookti’s learning to strut nor Brookti’s reducing little blond white boys to tears. It was a gradual process. As was the attachment process between Brookti and myself (some of which I have blocked out, such as Brookti’s initial distrust/distaste of me, which manifested itself in a mute pissed off Brookti or a loud wailing pissed off Brookti or a generally going-nuts pissed off Brookti.) It is well documented that the attachment process is a dicey affair when a child is adopted as a toddler especially one who has not had a stable background, ie been shuttled around to various orphanages, etc. Brookti was (and still is, of course) highly unusual (and highly intelligent, of course); by the end of one month she had become my third leg, although not necessarily an obedient third leg. In fact, she was a goddamn stubborn mule third leg, and bossy, and some would say, aggressive. (And some would say, still is.)
Which brings us to the first entry in this occassional column about Brookti and Me, concerning another gradual process: my growing distaste for white people, females in particular (which could very well be part of a growing distaste for modern mothers altogether). And that other gradual process: black females’ distrust/distaste of me…and eventual championship, that is the women (mostly the babysitters) I’ve had a chance to win over. Yet another gradual process in the bizarre world of race and class relationshipes/warfare.
I realised I was starting to hate white people (females in particular) when…
I realised I was starting to hate white people (females in particular) when one prissy member of the race (of which I too am a member, in this case a Jew) yelled at my two year old daughter Brookti (who is black, in this case, a genuine African direct from the old country) for pointing her finger at said white person’s little boy who had begun crying (the kid was clearly a pussy) , telling my daughter it was ‘impolite to point.’
I realised again when the two of us were trapped at a birthday party in an indoor playground, no less, sitting on the sidelines with Brookti’s people (who are rapidly becoming mine), the babysitters, after Brookti had returned from a scuffle with yet another blond little boy dissolving in tears and mother glaring at the offender, Brookti. Who is inordinately gregarious, some might say bossy, some might even say rather aggressive—but my feeling is that two years old is two years old: it takes one to know one.
I realised my distaste was not abating after the fiftieth time yet another grinning caucasian had saluted Brookti with ‘Hey girl (or ‘girlfriend’)!’ usually accompanied by a hearty ‘Give me five!’ Perhaps all two year olds are greeted with a grinning ‘Hey girl (or ‘girlfriend’)! and a hearty ‘Give me five!’, perhaps I am becoming as par-for-the-course paranoid as a black person, but I don’t think so, at least not according to my source, Amowei, Brookti’s morning babysitter (and mine).
The first time I realised (glaringly, that is) some black women were not so terribly fond of me either was during an innocent visit to Buy Buy Baby (a plastic paradise of ‘gear’for sucker parents). Brookti had a high decibel breakdown in the line to pay which required repeated exits and re-entries from the line and not one of the cashiers (black) would make an exception for the crazy white woman who had committed the sin of perpetrating a misbehaving black child on the American public (a misbehaving black child in public is unheard of). No, they looked at us disdainfully, if they deigned to look at all. Needless to say, the white people would not allow us back in line either. Finally, a kindly Puerto Rican took pity and waited on us.
Now the Asians: they really hate us…
The next episode of the “Brookti & Me” can be read here.