It was a beautiful day on the playground. Four-and-a-half-year-old Alice Catherine made a new friend, a girl on a bike who was slightly older. As they played and talked, the questions started. “Where’s your mom?” asks the girl. Alice Catherine points to her parents who are watching nearby. “I have 2 daddies,” she says.

The older girl bikes over to the men. Speaking in hushed tones, she asks, “Is she adopted?” Tom Tracy, one of Alice Catherine’s dads, answers. “Yes, and if you ask her, she’ll gladly tell you about it.”

That was a pivotal moment for Tracy, who had navigated similar situations as a gay father of a biracial child. This time, however, he saw it through the eyes of a child. It became the inspiration for his children’s book, “Scoochie & Skiddles, Scoochie’s Adoption Story.”

“This experience was a reminder to me of how important it is to help others, especially children, feel comfortable in exploring differences,” he says. “Adoption is not something to secretly whisper about, nor are other elements of one’s identity. These are the characteristics that make us unique, and we should always be proud of them.”

Tracy is a published children’s author, and Alice Catherine has been his longtime muse, ever since he and his husband Elliott Wilson decided to grow their Gloucester Twp. family through adoption. “We explored surrogacy and all the different avenues – foster to adopt, private adoption, domestic vs. international adoption,” says Tracy. “We decided the option that felt the most right was private domestic adoption.”

The couple started the process in January 2016. By March, they found an agency and by May, they were matched with a birth mom who was in her first trimester. “We were the first family she looked at,” says Tracy. “We had an instant bond. She herself is adopted.”

That’s when the stars truly aligned for this hopeful couple. “She chose us because we were gay not in spite of it,” says Tracy. “She said, ‘I picked you because I fell in love with you guys. There are gay members in my family. If I was going to give up my child for adoption, I wanted it to be with a gay couple.’”

In December of 2016, Alice Catherine was born, named for Elliott’s grandmother, Alice, and Tom’s grandmother, Catherine. “When we brought her home from the hospital, she was just this very wiggly kid in her crib,” says Tracy, “and so my husband did what we all do as parents. He gave her a nickname. It was Scoochie Pants, which was later shortened to Scoochie.”

Scoochie, aka Alice Catherine, with her father Tom Tracy’s first published book

In the back of his mind, Tracy knew that Scoochie could be a great name for a children’s book character. In fact, just watching his daughter explore her world gave him ideas for a book. Add to that the fact that in the stacks and stacks of books in her room, there were none that truly represented their family. That’s when he decided to write one.

It was hardly a snap decision for Tracy, a healthcare executive and licensed clinical social worker. In fact, he had been leading up to that pivotal moment for years.

“I wanted to be a children’s author ever since high school,” he says. “I was one of those kids that hated gym class. I would write stories at home so I could skip gym and bring them to my guidance counselor who took a real interest in my writing. As I became an adult, I still had this desire and passion to be a children’s author. But when I put pen to paper, everything became super contrived and forced. It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I found my inspiration.”

The book “Scoochie & Skiddles, Scoochie’s Adoption Story” is the second in the series about the Gloucester Twp. family. It features Alice Catherine and her cousin, nicknamed Skiddles. “The 2 were playing together at their grandparents’ house,” says Tom. “My father-in-law looked at them, and said, ‘if that’s Scoochie, then that must be Skiddles.’ At that moment, I knew they were my character names. That was the final inspiration to get the book written.”

The first book, “Scoochie & Skiddles: Fun at Gramma’s” showcased a series of interactions between the cousins. For Tracy, the book was a proof of concept. “It was watching my daughter and creating the narrative,” he says. “It was finding an illustrator. It was learning the process of writing a children’s book. I was finding my way into this space.”

He used a small publisher but soon realized that he wanted more control. For the second book, the one that told the highly personal story of Alice Catherine’s adoption, he chose to self-publish. “I wanted to have control about how it got marketed, and especially how the story about the book was told,” he says.

Tracy worked with illustrator Dustin James to create realistic images of the whole family. “We have a bunch of shared files, which I call inspiration photos,” says Tracy. “He’s got those pictures so he can turn something real-life into an illustration that is meaningful. There also are a lot of ‘Easter eggs’ throughout the books. You might see illustrations of a flying pig or a rooster. My husband collects flying pigs; I collect roosters. There are 2 pages that have images of clocks. One is a digital clock that says 12:20; that’s my daughter’s birthday. There’s another analog clock. The time is set to 3:22. That’s the date her adoption was finalized.”

The book has won critical acclaim for its sensitive portrayal. The story earned first place in the Adoption category in the Firebird Book Awards, as well as first place in the LGBTQ+ category and second place in the Parenting & Families category. Yet it was the reaction of one reader in particular that mattered most to Tracy.

“She loves it,” he says of daughter Alice Catherine, now 5 1/2. “There’s this one picture I took of her holding the first book, and there are no words needed to see how she really feels. But I will tell you she thinks it’s the coolest thing. She’s taken it to school, and her teachers have read it. All of that is fantastic. But the thing that was totally unexpected is that all of a sudden, we have, all around the house, these scraps of papers that have been taped together with pictures drawn on every single page. She tells us that she’s the author and the illustrator of her own books.”

Proud parent moment aside, Tracy realizes the importance of this work and plans to continue it. “There are a handful of books about gay families, but very, very few about mixed-race gay families,” says Tracy. “I am so excited about this one, perhaps more so than the first one, because of what it will mean to other families like mine whose family has been brought together by adoption.”

Race and culture were not factors for Tracy or Wilson when they began the adoption process. Alice Catherine is biracial, African American and Caucasian. The couple also adopted a second daughter, Micah, born in August 2021, who is African American. “We were open to any race and committed to whatever the universe brought us,” says Tracy. “We knew we would make it a point to learn about our children’s cultures and keep them connected to their heritage.”

“One of the biggest compliments I ever got,” he says, “was from a colleague of mine. She said, ‘I read your book to my nieces, Tom, and the whole family paused and had a conversation about gay families and adopted families. We’ve never been that open with each other before. Your book did that for us.’”

Plans are already in the works for a sequel, and to keep the conversations going. “There is a point in the book where Scoochie says she hopes to one day have a play date with her biological sister,” says Tracy. “That play date has already happened, and I’m going to tell that story.”

September 2022
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