My Journey – The Skin I’m In

So we continued to get to know each other over the next few months , me a little more wary than I had been before. You see Forgiveness as I said is not my strongest trait and I found the blatant lie a particularly bitter pill to swallow. Oh don’t get me wrong people lie all the time. In fact only today I am reminded how much we lie to children as parents. Last night my baby girl put the tiniest toothy peg under her pillow and then decided to leave it in a window envelope (given to her when it popped out at school, after many days of wobbling it to help it escape of course! ) . It sat beside her bed with a list of questions for the Tooth fairy. Been here before when the Garden Fairy left her some fairy dust! You know,’How old are you? What’s your real name ?What do you use my teeth for? She told me categorically that neither me nor hubby was to write the answers on the note. Hubby commented that the pen she left could be too big for her to lift. ‘She might be a boy! she replied. Indeed, all manner of possibilities were discussed then..she or he could be black, white, yellow, pink with spots. All manner of images were conjured up. My point is that despite a desperate belief in Santa, The Tooth Fairy, Fairies in general and all manner of other mini-lies we tell our children they are lies with good intention. I see now a shadow of doubt appearing in my child’s psyche but she is scared to voice it or it might destroy what could by some miracle still be true.

I tell you this to describe how my shadow of doubt was now a tiny niggle in my soul as I hadn’t for a second imagined my newly found BM would openly lie to my face (well via Whatsapp anyway. Hiding behind a text that actually came over as very much  accusatory. The suggestion that it was Me accusing her of setting up a meeting with my Biological Brother after I had made it crystal clear that I was NOT ready for anything remotely like that. Yes that is how it was. And yet , it happened, she decided to disregard my clear wish and went ahead anyway. Lesson learned. That shadow of doubt was there. Done.

Anyway I wasn’t going to let it spoil our fledgling relationship and pressed on, pushing it to the back of my mind, assuming it was a blip and she would learn from it. Learn that actually she would get pulled if she fucked up! I felt justified as it wasn’t as if I hadn’t made it clear was it!?. So we continued to learn what made each other tick

I learned she enjoyed her friends, the kindly neighbour E, The Bad Soup Lady and others she touched on in conversation. I loved hearing tales of her day to day life, an ordinary life which gave me a clearer vision of how she lived. She was hoping to retire in a year as had come to a point where the red tape was trying her patience and tying her hands behind her back…we know about that red tape don’t we!?

She told me she had plans to visit Jamaica a second time since I found her! Good for her! The first trip she went on to meet her first born son she took her second born son. It seems she not only paid for the trip including his ‘spending money’ she paid for all the food in house where she was a guest!? Dear Me! so a 40 something grown man is happy to take take take when he knows his mother is soon to retire? Beats me but suffice it to say any respect I may have had for my full blood bro was rapidly diminishing!

She told me how if you ever visit Jamaica, DONT STAY WITH FAMILY! I quote ‘ They take everything they can get and then some’ I took that on board. Not dissimilar to when I took part in the Trinidad Carnival with the mad Trini Hairdresser. Yes, I know! Complete with Peacock Feather headdress, Beaded Thong bikini covered in sequins , wrist and arm bands for detail and literally nothing more than a sheet of chiffon to cover my blushes (or rather the cheeks of my Arse?) Most of the glued on sequins were glistening on the streets by the end of the day. Deliberately apparently. Ready to be swept up and used again for the next years’ costumes. So much of the £170 spent on the costume languished in Trinidad and didn’t even come home with me! I did attract a fair bit of unwanted attention in that get up too!

Anyway, we stayed with her sister on the South side of the island and left luggage for the few days we were on the North side. We returned exhausted . Shimmying our bits around the streets of Trinidad in 40 degree heat with rum and coke to keep us going took its toll. The locks on our cases were bust and she merrily wore our clothes and earrings claiming that as they were in HER home she had the right. She even ate my bloody travel sweets!! Who does that!!?? Caribbeans do that! Ha! Lesson learned!

I know my BM had a lovely time and so much so she went a second time , with a friend and stayed in a Hotel. She told me how she had hundreds of pics for me to see and a few Jamaican gifts. So that Christmas we planned for me to visit again…the first of two Christmas visits…..this time on my own…

Earth Angel and I arranged to meet up in Manchester , she would visit her son as he was at University there and I would spend the Saturday with VS. We would take in the wonderful German Christmas Markets on the Sunday and spend some time dissecting the latest visit. Hotel booked and train ticket in hand I set off on the mammoth 5 hour train journey. Ugh! At least you can sleep in the quiet carriage….really? (Tell that to the jokers with their phones constantly bleeping and the teens with the tinny tinkling leaking from their ‘Beats’ Headphones.)

I arrived in the bustling city at about 12.30 and we checked in to a lovely city centre hotel so my BM could come collect me easily and take me to hers for lunch.

Again she had laid on a massive spread of food…I immediately felt a panic that again I was not the only guest. Thankfully it seems she has learned from her mistake…maybe?

This time the table was laden with two types of salad, Roast veg, fried fish, rice and peas and the list went on. Not an ‘Orrible Okra in sight..maybe there is a god after all!Ha!

We enjoyed our lunch. I did start to dig in as I was starving….she told me we had to say Grace. Out of respect I dropped my fork and shut my eyes. I was respectful , after all I was in her home.

A nice bottle of Pinot was produced from the fridge ….she had asked previously what wine I would like so I guess she doesn’t really have wine in as a rule.

After lunch in her little dining room, I wandered around the living room looking more closely at the family photos. There was a clear resemblance, even in the offspring of the brothers. Now, what I didn’t tell you was that my Half brother NC had in fact sired no less than 4 children, all by different baby mommas. Yep! , and I got the impression he had no real interest in any of them, the offspring or their mums. Nice! The deeper into this world I ventured , the more I felt ill at ease. My world is just so different and so it would appear are my feelings of responsibility to myself and those I have around me. How can someone have so many family pictures all nicely framed around the walls yet actually never have direct contact with them or even the promise of it. Beats me. I gaze into the eyes of these children and feel a real sadness for them. One of the little lads beaming down from the wall at me had strange burnt orange hair. This threw me a bit. She explained that for years she has been sending him black hair dye as he hates his ginger hair! Firstly I do know about genetics. Black hair is dominant , red hair is recessive. So how the hell did this poor lad with a white Mum and black Dad end up with red hair. Not that there is anything wrong in red hair, not saying this to offend BUT you have to admit that’s a bit bloody odd isn’t it? I wondered if in fact this was doing the lad a favour or not. If he was encouraged to love the skin he was in wouldn’t he grow more confident than to try desperately to hide what nature had given him. Isn’t that true of all of us. Heavy make up, Baggy clothing, hair dye, paper bag over head?? Ha!

As an adopted child , and a black child raised by a white family it wasn’t like I could hide who I was. Furthermore no one needed to ask the burning question ‘When did you know you were adopted?’ ..Am I? No shit, really?? Pretty damned obvious wasn’t it. However if we are discussing the nurture and nature process, it is fair to say I never ‘felt’ black. In my world I never saw myself as ‘not fitting in’. Others did and made me know it from their own point of view. The merciless bullying on the school bus, the meanness of the ‘N’word ringing in my little girl ears…the fact that if I was seen holding my mummy’s hand, even by racist adults , we’d be given a look as if to say ‘WTF is that about? Oh yes, the 70’s were not the best era to be an adopted black child into a white family.

black shepp amongst white

 

I will always remember episodes in my life that I know shaped me to become who I am now. Incidences I see so clearly, as if it were yesterday. For example, and this is not to make you feel sorry for me in any way. I am trying to get across how much we are all expected to front it out in our lives and those who put shit in our way have no clue the effect they have on our futures.

I moved with my family in the late 70’s from the North to the South. I lived in a city known for its hosting of Snooker tournaments and the like. All through my first primary school a mean boy used to call me Bad Apple. Openly and loudly . As I was so little, for the years I was there I turned the other cheek as was the advice from my mother. This went on and on and I never really thought it would end, decided my skin colour provoked this from people and likely always would. Then my parents announced the move to the South and I suddenly felt there may be some reprieve, at least from this particular prick…On the last day I was to attend this school , leaving behind some dear friends, including my oldest BFF who I recently reconnected with on Facebook! I recall standing near a single skin brick wall used in the playground by the boys for kicking a ball against on one side. Also for picking on the smaller kids on the other. I was eating a juicy apple. It must have been morning break time. My nemesis sat atop of this wall, of around 8 ft high. Clearly this was actually forbidden. He was calling me his favourite nickname from the top in a goading snarl. Red Mist. Sorry, but it happens to the best of us. I lobbed my half eaten apple as hard as I could and hit him square on the chest. He fell off backwards. Oops….

Apparently he broke his wrist. No-one ever knew how he lost his balance. Except me. I look back now and think about it often. You see my index finger and a thumb ache regularly with the start of a little typing arthritis. I do wonder if this mean boy, now all grown up with children of his own ever grabs his wrist and winces with the sharp pain of arthritis. A condition likely triggered all those years ago from a nasty fall off a playground wall. Who knows? Karma?

When I used to venture to cities with a high population of randy black men I was like a rabbit in the headlamps. They stare so! Not discreetly at all… but like a lion licking his chops as it stalks an unsuspecting gazelle! (Not that I am built like a bloody gazelle in anything but my dreams you understand!)

I am not great at being chatted up anyway, call it a suspicion. Even worse when I feel intimidated by the poor chap trying to chat me up. Don’t get me wrong: Luther, Usher, Will Smith, Denzel, even Obama have figured in my childish fantasies but if I am totally honest with you, I  don’t really’see the appeal, I got my own tastes thanks all the same!’

two sheep

This is simply because of how and who raised me….which brings me neatly to the phrase ‘How I was raised ‘ which I heard recently. I arranged a 30 year school reunion. I hooked up with 44 old school class mates, it was a tall order but I pulled it off. Looking at the Facebook profiles of these people with whom I shared my early adolescence , I had many a flash back. One such face was in a pose with his dad. Immediately I had a sickening feeling in the pit of my tummy, rather like when you know you left your bag on a bus?! I had a flash of how openly dismissive and mean he and his dad were to me. Not only do I remember the vibe inside school but also waiting for the bus or a lift outside the school. All those years back, a 12 year old me with a 12 year old him, and his father staring menacingly at me with open disgust.

So on the evening of my successfully planned reunion, this lad, who I must add, held off accepting my friend request until it became impossible to avoid. I don’t want you in my FB either you rascist knob-head but I need to add you to sort out this event. He is of course restricted to my profile but for goodness sakes, give me strength! Almost as if I had no memory of his behaviour he sidled up to me in the venue for a selfie. Here we go…Knob head alert! Clearly a drinker, bright red cheeks, glazed eyes and a slurring mouth he attempted to strike up a pose…and a conversation. He began tentatively to say ‘ To be honest , I don’t really remember you at school! Whhhhaaaattt? Really? I replied ‘ That surprises me , given I was actually the ONLY black face in the entire school and knocked around mostly with the only mixed race face in the school as well??? You sure??

He said ‘ Well what I mean is….erm…well…its not my way now you understand??’

He was squirming like a maggot caught on my hook…..I said ‘Not really no, try me!’ He replied ‘ My Dad’s way was that way so I went along with it! Ha and there we had it. An excuse. His dad was a bigot so therefore so was he. Not good enough BUT I felt sorry for him as he was in his clumsy way trying to apologise. I said ‘Sins of the Fathers? Hmmmm. chill out love, I don’t care , its unimportant, life is good’ and I sauntered off to my other guests. The poor lad was left wondering if his apology had been accepted and continues to poke and like my public posted stuff on Facebook as if we are now mates. Why is he so keen to be forgiven? Who knows!? …Whatever…I still don’t care 🙂

Anyway my point here is , I have grown into my skin and I am grateful for it. It is what holds my bones together after all.!? I am who I am and I make no excuses and all that. If I experience racism these days, I make a point of making the person feel shame. That’s the best weapon.

I teach this to my child. Mother SheepUse your words. She does. And very eloquently too!;-)

Most of the adopted people I have ever met , whatever their appearance know instinctively that they are responsible for how they show themselves to this world. Not everyone is as outwardly confident as I am. This I know for a fact. I am however inwardly more wary of how others see me than most of my closest people realise. You see if you have to spend years ‘pretending’ you don’t care yet inside you care a great deal it gets a bit wearing. I care a lot when someone sees me and makes a judgement based on the colour they see. I care a lot when someone sees my child and points out her difference. We were invited as a ‘Mixed family’ to join a ‘Rainbow Club’ at the local Nursery. My child was 6 months old . Luckily Hubby was keen to attend check ups and baby related appointments, work depending, and on this occasion came along. We were greeted en route to our Childcare advisor. A middle aged tweed clad woman in those ‘Oh so comfy’ closed toe sandals and a lose tatty plait down her back,  raced up to us in the corridor. ‘Ooh how lovely, you are a  Mixed Family, come join us on a Sunday at the Rainbow Club!!’ …Maybe because it was held in a Church she felt her little club was a stepping stone towards the great man in the clouds…Suffice it to say Hubby replied thus ‘ Do you not see how out and out racist that is? To point out to Us and our child that we should be given our own special little club?

I was of course mortified and proud in equal measure but he had a point. I wanted my baby to grow up in a world confident in herself, with a totally positive self image. She is undoubtedly the most beautiful and spirited child . I am not prepared to sit back and let her be dragged backwards to an era where those differences where highlighted and in many cases loathed. Oh No, Not on my watch!!

When my baby girl was about 5 she pointed to a thumb nail size white patch she has below her belly. As it happens she has a few similar birthmarks and each have a name. She told me ‘ This patch is from Daddy and you gave me the rest of my colour didn’t you Mummy!?’ Her innocence had calculated that she was indeed made up of the sum of two halves, which at 5 left me pretty damn impressed…..and moved to tearsPercentage

I remembered back to the first night she was in the wider world and not just the world from within my womb. I was silently changing her first of many many nappies on the maternity ward. For once it was peaceful. I flicked on the night light by my metal hospital bed and set to work. Now, in my semi conscious state I wiped and wiped away at the green black meconium that greeted me from my newborns’ nappy. I felt panic rising in my throat as I realised this bruise like stain on my babies tiny butt was NOT coming off. OMG!!!! I had broken her already and I’d only had her a day.:-(

I had momentarily forgot that babies of mixed race are more than likely to be born with a Mongolian Blue Spot. A tell tale sign of mixed Heritage which lends itself the appearance of a blue/black bruise! So here she was , almost raw from her mummy trying to wipe away the very mark that proved her to be born of love between two very different gene pools. Another lesson learned. I told very few people this as did feel a proper Muppet!!

So there I am in Manchester,  looking at a veritable rainbow of faces on my BM living room wall. The strangest feeling was realising I was biologically related to each and every one of them. Never to meet them but related nonetheless. Weird…I almost chewed my tongue off trying not to suggest she stop sending the lad black hair dye as it looked way worse than natural auburn ever could. I hope all these years later he learned to love his look as it was. I will never know so I put it to the back of my mind where it belonged.

Christmas Sheep1That was the first Christmas I visited my BM so it was nice to be near her around my Birthday. Of course it was totally surreal and a lump sat permanently in my throat every time I thought about it. I would nip to the loo and take deep breaths realising the borrowed slippers on my feet were hers, and the same shoe size as my own. Little things like this make you aware how utterly natural it should all feel.

It wont be like that always I am sure. You need to keep focus on who you are. You cant let go of the fact you were raised independently of this woman and her life. You have no real say in how she lives so need to keep it to yourself if you see something you would criticize. The same applies to her in respect of your life too of course.

Now I had made it clear my goal was to learn the past, the truth of both of us. N0-one else need be involved. There was no need…..

She sent me off in a cab with another huge gift bag in exchange for mine. This time she told me there was a gift for my daughter. I explained that this was lovely but as she was so little and knew nothing of her I would re- wrap it in my own paper and take a snap of her opening it. I would then text over a Whatsapp on Christmas Day to show her how happy she was with the gift from ‘A friend of Mummy’s’.

She seemed happy with this idea so we left it there…It was to my detriment that I didn’t reiterate the need for discretion when it came to my child…more of that to come, put it this way, T’was another bloody lesson to learn!

So back at the Hotel to continue my weekend away with Earth Angel. We enjoyed the city and plenty of hours shopping, eating Tapas and drinking fine wine…We loved the Christmas Markets, with their range of two foot standing Santa and Reindeer, the unique illuminated decorations , festive wooden wall plaques and of course the warming Hot chocolate with Baileys, served in a cute souvenir painted china boot!!

It always felt right that I should spend this time catching up with my dear Earth Angel. After all the hand holding and counselling she had given me over the Journey it just seemed right.

Another page in my Chapter. Dec 14th spent with BM, 11 days before the memories of giving birth to me would hit her head on. This year we would shed tears of a different kind. Tears of Pain? No, I dont think so now….Fear? Maybe slightly or at least the Unknown….but Relief? Most definitely. Me because the actual search was finally over and I now had to look ahead to learning as much as there was to learn

My BM’s tears were likely Gratitude, Thanks to her God for bringing me to her…I humour her as I don’t hold her believe but I respect it and would never want to hurt her. You see it was clear to me on that visit just how much strength she had needed to garner for herself over the years since my birth. Strength also for her sons, who seemed to lean on her constantly , bear her grandchildren she would never know. Those she would  know would lean on her just as much. She is an exceptionally strong woman and is 100% human with failings as have we all…………..

Unfortunately another trait we share is a strong will….and often this clouds our judgement? More of this next time…..

Black Baby Sheep

Thanks again for reading

Love and Peace

Black Sheep

xxx
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