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The Hart Family: Speculating on the Dead

It’s detrimental to all involved.

At the end of March 2018, a vehicle went off a cliff and into the Pacific ocean.

Inside were six adopted children and their two mothers. This family and I were connected via a large and loving West coast community, so these words do not come lightly, and unlike many other articles you may read here (like this one), it doesn’t come from news speculation or internet debate. It comes from a place of knowledge, a village of heartbreak.

The internet went crazy over this story, and mostly because one of the children had hugged a cop back in 2014 during a Ferguson rally in Portland, Oregon. This act threw the family into the nationwide media spotlight, and their mothers (yes, their mothers, their white, lesbian mothers) now had additional challenges when it came to raising six adopted black children — two sets of siblings who’d come from unimaginable circumstances. The struggles they, and thus, their parents, dealt with as they all worked to overcome these childhood traumas were also unimaginable to most people who haven’t been there (though in true internet fashion, everyone is a perfect parent, until they actually become one).

Most people have no idea…

I can’t profess to have any idea either, frankly, except what’s handed to me by other people I know who are raising foster or adopted children, especially those who suffered early childhood trauma (you know, most of them). What I can tell you is this: if you simply google “raising foster children” the first page of search results is enough to scare most people away from the thought. Google “fostering experiences” and again, the majority of first-page search results is already terrifying, and that’s a pretty gentle search term. But here are some related searches people perform on this topic:

You don’t want to read what’s there.

Trust me. Reading about many peoples’ experiences raising children from the foster system will make you hate humanity. It will make you hate the people who birthed these children into such circumstances. It will make you hate good foster parents and bad ones. It will make you hate much of the “foster care” system. It might make you hate the world. It will make you hate yourself for hating, hopefully, and perhaps make you develop a little compassion for the women who took these children on, willingly, and promised them a childhood of safety, love and security.

Now, imagine if you were raising six of these children. Imagine if you were white women, lesbian women, raising six black children with heavy-duty childhood trauma.

Then imagine that you were constantly judged. You were constantly judged for bringing these children into a world that you found “safe” — a world that accepted you and your wife, a social set that, sure, while it has its issues and misguided attempts at growth sometimes, still made every attempt to promote love, inclusion, safe space and healing for all.

And so you learn how to deal…

Here you are with these six children, two sets of siblings that you’ve adopted. Like any good mothers, you want to show them a world that’s good, that’s loving, that’s kind, a world that offers them opportunities. You understand that as a white person, people are going to give you shit for the fact that your children aren’t. You understand that as lesbian mothers, there are people who will give you even more shit for that.

And also, you’re human. In addition to raising children like this, you experience your own health issues, you experience stress, you experience unwanted media attention, you experience discrimination and you experience neighbors who haven’t yet taken the opportunity to get to know you — they just can’t explain your children’s behaviors (which can be odd sometimes, yes, because early childhood trauma imprints people for life), and they call CPS on you (it becomes a regular occurrence for many foster parents raising children with behavioral issues). They don’t understand that a kid who grew up without food security will probably become a teenager who still exhibits some of these fears (my grandmother, who grew up in abject poverty abuse and abandonment during the Great Depression, was a hoarder until death).

Like any parent, too, sometimes you might lose your shit. Sometimes, even with all the warnings and counseling and preparation you get in this process, your adopted children exhibit behaviors that boggle the mind and challenge even the most dedicated (and human) parent.

And also… you have to teach your black children how to stay alive.

Yes, there’s this. You take your family to a Ferguson rally and other events because absolutely, you’ve got black children to raise, and you’re doing it in the Pacific Northwest, which is maybe the whitest place in the country (at least it looked that way to me, coming from Brooklyn), and you want them to know that you, too, are with them, that you, too, believe that black lives matter — and not just their lives, but the lives of all black people. You want your children to know that you are not colorblind.

Your son, your black son, is asked by a cop if he can take advantage of one of the “free hugs” he is offering via the sign he’s wearing on his chest and yes, your son cries, because there he is hugging a white cop while he’s at a rally for a black man shot by a white cop, and he is a young black kid who will soon grow up to be a young black man (or not). And also, you’re human, and he’s human, and the cop is human, and maybe no one ever thought something like this would happen or how anyone would react in the moment or that a photographer might see it happen and capitalize on it and then of course, the internet would go mad.

But there’s you, and you’re human, and you have ideals about the world, and you want to make it a better place, and (again) you’re human, which means your only perfection is the beautiful imperfection of your species. You post pictures of your kids enjoying life, looking happy and peaceful, because goddamn, it took a world of work to help them get there, but there they are.

Not only are you trying to show your kids a world full of love and kindness and food security and opportunity and standing up for what you believe in, but simultaneously, you’re having to teach your black children how to stay alive in a world that, eventually, may shoot them in their own backyards for holding a cell phone. Oh and yes, just a reminder, you’re a white lesbian, raising six black children with your wife. You don’t know what it’s like to be black in this world.

And also, people keep asking you why you adopted black children.

Statistics? Right now, forty percent of the kids in foster care are black. God, yes, this is a rabbit hole right here, and I’m not going to go down it too far right now, but simultaneously there aren’t, yet, enough black foster families to take them all in (yet another rabbit hole — but I suspect that, with all I’ve read of CPS visits, investigations, and such that many foster families already go through, black families are probably even more hesitant to offer themselves up to this kind of scrutiny and discrimination, and for good reason).

There are people working hard to create change here, but in the meantime, there are children languishing in group homes or being bounced from one placement to another, which adds a whole other pile of trauma onto it all. The world, and this, is a pile of issues, to be sure.

Why do we choose to speculate on the dead?

For some reason, the internet has spent more time attempting to dig up dirt on two white lesbians raising six adopted black kids than they have trying to figure out why white cops shoot unarmed black men in their grandma’s back yards, and this I do not understand. Not at all.

Many have speculated abuse. Many have speculated that they used these children as some sort of media show. Many have accused them of “white savior” complex, or of intentionally driving off the cliff with the whole family in the car.

Here’s the last of what I have to say about this: I wish people would drop the speculation and perhaps think about something else instead. Think about how many children there are who could use some kind and loving homes and parents, some food security, and some chance at opportunity in their lives. Think about how many black people are already, and for good reason, suspicious of anything involving a “system”, and why this might mean that there aren’t enough black foster families at the moment to take in black kids. Think about how you might feel in the face of constant scrutiny when all you’re trying to do is instill hope in people and make the world a better place, starting in your own home.

So did they drive off a cliff then, or what?

Did they abuse their children? Did they lose their shit as parents periodically? Did they pinch the kids under the arms to get them to smile for photographs? Did they withhold food? Did they do this? Did they do that?

Maybe. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe they did. The world will really never know, and really, the world should stop asking. The family has left the building, and they have also left a legacy, and they have also left the windows wide, wide open to glaring issues in our society that need to be dealt with. People can either sit there and speculate about the maybe-crimes these women committed, or they can shut the hell up and think about how they might have done things differently and then go DO them.

They can think about how maybe they can help create a reality where little black children can grow up in a world that doesn’t introduce them to severe trauma as soon as they exit the womb; where black people don’t have to be terrified of discrimination, unfair “investigation” or their lives and thus, too scared to foster children; a world where parents of any race, gender, or sexual preference don’t have to try and figure out how to show their children all the beauty this world can hold while simultaneously navigating some the ugliest things it has to offer. Is it a world that has any potential of existing?

Quite honestly, I don’t know, but, and especially as a parent, my faith in that is probably the one thing that keeps me from driving off a cliff. I also know that there are many moments in a day when my faith is tested, and in comparison, my life, and the life of my child, is easy.

Dori Mondon-Freeman lives with her wife, daughter, two rescue dogs and a rescue cat in a rambling old house at the foot of a 14,000 foot mountain in far northern California. Writes for food, welcomes intelligent discourse. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Medium.