Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Big Adoption Series - Chapter 19

One of the things that rubs me most wrong is when people make comments such as, "Is he your adopted son?" or, "We have our own kids, but we also want to adopt".

I'm not saying I necessarily judge those sorts of comments, because I know they are often said from a very different perspective than the one in which I live. I know it is possible that I have said similar things, in the past.

Still, imagine a life where you repeatedly overhear people refer to you as anything other than the child of your parents. Imagine how years of being told that you were not really "theirs" might scratch away at your already shaky sense of security and belonging.

My children were adopted, but I would hope that this singular fact will not define them forever. There is a difference between "She was adopted" and "She is adopted". All children come into a family on the wings of a miracle, and in our case, the miracle was wrapped up a little differently, but it was no less miraculous. They are ours, wholly and completely, with no disclaimers or caveats.

Slightly confusing the entire bag of goods is the fact that we want them to be proud of their heritage, proud even that they came to us through the sparkly gift of adoption. The question is, how does a parent instill pride in and acceptance of the journey while still honoring the inherent loss pulsing at the core of it all?

I don't pretend to have all of the answers here. What I can do is tell you how we handle it.

We talk about it, all the time.

We don't sit down for family meetings and say, "Calvin, how are you feeling about your personal history today?" (Although now that I think about it, he would probably love that.) What we do do is celebrate their heritage. We talk about our Asian boys and our Brown-skinned girl. We point out our differences as well as our similarities. We notice these things that define them. We are not color blind. I think it would be a huge bummer if everyone was color blind. How sad to miss out on the contrasts, the blends.

Our two oldest kids understand that they look different than we do, but they do not yet understand that they are somewhat singular, at least in this community. They haven't put it all together that they are the only one in the class with almond eyes, or the only one with crazy/beautiful hair.

Recently, Calvin returned from school and pulled the corners of his eyes back, saying, "I'm Chinese!" In a flash, I wanted to seek out "that kid", whoever he was and lay into him. I wanted to smack him, is what I wanted to do. Calvin thought the whole thing was silly and fun. He didn't understand that the kid was talking about him. Or maybe he didn't understand that in saying that, the kid was singling him out, possibly even picking on him. The truth is, I remember pulling my eyes back, trillions of years ago. I didn't mean any harm. I just happened to notice a difference and, lucky for me, I had the benefit of naivete behind me.

So, I decided to extend a little grace to the nameless kid. I talked to Calvin and Ruby again about how God makes each of us to be exactly the way that we should be and it's ok to notice, but it's never ok to laugh about it or physically point. (I'll never forget a couple of years ago when Calvin first started adding some of this up. Public places were treacherous for a while as he would gleefully point right at a Hispanic person and yell, "Look! He's Asian!" or, "Mommy, that lady is from Africa!")

Remind me again why someone decided in the first place that these are things that shouldn't be pointed out? When did our differences divide us in these ways? When did we grow so fearful of unintentionally offending that we just closed our mouths entirely?

For now, under my own roof, while I am still able, I will talk about different colors of skin, different shaped eyes. We will marvel together over the fact that resemblance alone does not a family make.

As my children get older/smarter/more self-aware, I want them to already have a bank of answers in their hearts, available for withdrawals. I don't want any of it to come as a shock to them. I most definitely do not want to be faced with an adolescent girl who only recently understood that she was born from another tummy.

is the time to talk.

I stress out a little if I think too hard about the conversations and the hurt-feelings that lie in wait for us. I'm well aware... But until then, my kids will know that it is always ok to ask. They will believe that all of their feelings are honored, even when my five-year old tells me through tears that he wishes he lived in Korea.

In honoring their history, I am validating who they are now and who they will become. It would be impossible to untangle the strands. Impossible and pointless.

It was decided from the beginning of time that our children would be ours and we would be theirs. I take comfort in this and I hope they learn to do the same.


(To catch up on Chapters 1-18, click here and start from the bottom.)