Monday, June 22, 2009

I am SO not ready for this

Last week I was talking with my friend Ayana, who is the mother of a little girl just a few months older than Ellie. Ayana is African-American, and is, by her own admission, obsessed with buying books for her daughter, particularly books that portray some diversity. Being the kind soul that she is, she periodically picks up some books for Ellie, too. Thanks to her, we're collecting our own little library of books featuring Asian, Latino and African-American characters.

Since Ayana's little one is a bit older than Ellie, I asked her if she thinks her daughter notices when a character in a book looks like her. She said she definitely sees the difference -- she even points to the African-American characters and says to her mom, "That's me." I said I don't think Ellie sees it yet -- she's partial to a particular book Ayana bought her that features an Asian little girl, but I don't think that's why she likes the book. I don't think she notices any difference yet between her appearance and that of the other kids around her.

Then, literally overnight, that changed. Ellie now gravitates toward the handful of books she has that feature Asian children, and I don't think that's an accident. She consistently points to the Asian characters and studies their faces, and even though she has not yet gone so far as to identify with them personally, I can tell she's noticing that these kids look different from others on the page, and that they look like her.

I know that this whole discovery process is a precursor to Ellie's first adoption questions, and I'm not prepared for that. I'm not ready to tackle those issues yet. In the classes I took during the adoption process, they told us to brace ourselves when our kids hit age four or so -- that's when we could expect the first questions about why they don't look like us. But I can already tell we're going to get there long before we reach age four. I thought I was ready -- I took all the right classes, and talked to my social worker about all the possible issues that could arise. But that was when this whole thing was abstract. Now we're talking about MY daughter, and whether my answers to her questions will be good enough. We're talking about her self-image, her well-being -- things that may rise and fall based on what I say and whether I say it right. And I'm not ready.

A friend of mine is the mother of a three-year-old from Guatemala, and she told me a story the other day that scared me to death. Her beautiful daughter asked her, "Mommy, did you paint me brown?" Dawn told her that of course her parents hadn't painted her -- that she was born with her gorgeous brown skin, and that she's beautiful just as she is. Her daughter's comment was, "I wish I had white skin like you." This, of course, broke Dawn's heart, and broke mine, too, as I stood there listening to her talk about it. Dawn's baby is only three and they're already dealing with this.

I am NOT READY for my daughter's questions about her appearance. I am not ready for other kids to ask her why she doesn't look like her mom. I am not ready to see the look on her little face when she realizes that strangers sometimes ask questions about her based solely on her appearance. I took all the right classes, I read all the right books. I knew the day would come when I'd have to deal with this and other adoption-related issues. But not yet. I'm not ready yet. I need just a little more time before reality sets in. Just a little more time, and then I'll brace myself to deal with these things with as much honesty and love as I can find in my heart. I'll face the responsibility of holding my daughter's self-esteem in my hands, and I'll meet the challenge and do my best to say the right things to her.

But not yet.

12 comments:

  1. I know I'm not an adoptive mom, but I wanted to tell you that I think you're a fantastic mom, and I know you'll do/say the right thing (whatever that may be!).

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  2. My older son said last year (when he was three) "I wish I had white skin like you." I told him I wish I had brown skin like him. He hasn't asked why he looks different, that I can remember, but he knows he was born in Korea. Before we moved, we had a nice little group of families we got together with who had all adopted from Korea. One of the little boys was even one of his foster brothers for a while. I think he figured out from that why he looks different (since all the kids from Korea looked more like him, and he knew they were all born in Korea, too). I guess my point is, start simple. When she askes why she looks different, just tell her it is because she came from Vietnam (and maybe show it to her on a map). If she asks more questions, elaborate apppropriately. Try not to be all heartbroken about it as you talk to her, or she'll learn that she should be heartbroken because she was adopted.

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  3. Yeah, I agree about the heartbroken thing. I tend to be pretty matter-of-fact, and I don't think adoption is anything to be heartbroken about, so I hope I do a good job with that part. I also don't think it's the defining fact of her life, so I hope that comes through in the way I talk to her. But I do worry that being different is something that will make her sad, or at least introspective, and THAT will be heartbreaking for me to see. But I guess all parents deal with that at some point -- there's always something, whether it's adoption or not, that causes your kid some heartache, and that causes Mom some heartache too. Thanks for the words of wisdom -- I like the idea of starting with a point of fact, which is that she was born elsewhere and that's why she looks different. Much better than dealing with emotional stuff at age 3!

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  4. Em I am white like my parents and I still got goofy questions from kids ...kids can be cruel well and quite frankly as we know so can adults.While my parents haven't always been the greatest, when it came to discussing my adoption at a young age they pretty much nailed it. My parents always told me they chose me and I was special because I was hand picked and That lots of other familys just had to take what was given to them.
    I remember a girl in my first grade class making comments about my parents not being my real parents and I looked at her and said oh yeah? Well my parents chose me ...yours just had to have you! lol I always was a smart a$$ huh?
    Hang in there when the time comes you will have the right words to say. If there is one thing I know about you you are a loving mommy and you will only have her best interests at heart.
    I love you my friend hang in there this roller coaster called parent hood has just begun. I'm just heading up the next hill from you so if you need a hand just yell and I'll jump off for a bit for you :)
    Hugs,
    Julia

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  5. I don't really see myself telling her that I chose her, because I didn't. The Vietnamese government made the match, and like a biological parent, I just took what I got. So, while I like the thought behind that answer, I don't think it works for me. The bottom line for me is that I would like to avoid all pain and heartache for my child, and that's just not possible. I just have to tell her the truth so far as I know it, and make sure she knows I love her. That's all any parent can do, isn't it?

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  6. One of my favorite bloggers adopted from China and she's connected to a whole bunch of other bloggers who adopted their children internationally.

    I can't paste a link, but if you google Our Little Tongginator you'll find it.

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  7. I don't know what religious beliefs you hold or what you're going to teach Ellie about religion, but I believe that EVERY child is hand-picked by God to be given to the parent(s) He feels would be best for that child, whether natural or adopted. I could spend my time thinking in terms of chance -- what if that sperm that united with my egg and resulted in my oldest son hadn't been the first to arrive? Would I have a daughter? If not, would any other boy have adorable freckles across his nose and big brown eyes like the son I do have? You could spend your time thinking along the same "what if" lines. The Vietnamese government might have chosen Ellie for you, but ultimately the match was made in Heaven by an almighty, omniscient, loving God who knew just what/who you and Ellie needed before you did.
    from Kari who doesn't know how to post a comment other than anonymous

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  8. Kari,

    At this point my religious beliefs are a bit up in the air. But no matter what you believe about God, how could you believe that he hand-picks parents for each child? What about children born to abusers, drug addicts, and child molesters? Did those kids do something to make God angry? How could a loving God ever sentence an innocent child to a life like that on purpose? So I HAVE to think in terms of chance. Nothing else explains why God would allow kids to be born to people like that.

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  9. Emilie,

    I just wanted to post my 2c about skin not matching.
    My 2 boys are my bio-kids. I am covered in freckles. My older son tans lightly and my younger son just gets kinda pink like I do, except w/o freckles.
    I am the only redhead. DH is dark brown hair, Son 1 is light brown and Son2 is blond.
    They find my freckles very interesting LOL and sometimes tell me my arms are dirty. :(
    Son1 told me something like he wished he could wash them off of me or something liek that the otehr day.

    We talk about how lots of people look different. And God made everyone special. Different eye color, hair color, sizes (son2 is husky and son1 is tall and thin) heights, etc, etc.
    so, just wanted to share that diffences dont have to be because you dont share DNA. :)

    About the God picking kids... I dont think God gives child abusers, drug addicts,e tc kids to put them in a bad home. I think that those adults are making the bad choices. Maybe those kids were destined by God to be with those parents LONG before they ever became "bad people." God allows us free choice. Those people are CHOOSING to raise their kid in a bad, sad, terrible environment. Maybe it is God's way of revealing himself to them and yet they still make the wrong choices. :(
    Just some thoughts....

    :)

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  10. Another thought.... I have really struggled with a "Father figure" because my bio-dad left me when he heard I was on the way and my stepdad treated me like crap.
    I hold on to the fact that my Heavenly Father created me, (chose to let that sperm and egg unite... it was no accident.... it is in the Bible... i KNOW he created me) gave me life and saw me through the heartache. HE is my Father.
    I am adopted by HIM and have forgiven (w/counseling ;) )those that chose not to accept me or love me.

    Psalm 119:
    13. For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother's womb. 14. I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Thy works, And my soul knows it very well. 15. My frame was not hidden from Thee, When I was made in secret,

    {note from Amy... I am pretty sure I was made in secret HAHA!}

    [And] skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. 16. Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Thy book they were all written, The days that were ordained [for me], When as yet there was not one of them. 17. How precious also are Thy thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18. If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with Thee.

    Hugs and prayers Emilie!
    You are an awesome mom!

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  11. sorry I logged in as a different user.
    Still the same me!
    Amy West

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  12. I think Amy meant to say Psalm 139. These verses were on my heart as well when I was reading your blog Emily. And to know that God chose you to be her mother and that He ordained that for you too is so awesome.

    And like Mary you will treasure up all the special things about her and ponder them in your heart. One day you will take these treasures and share them with her. That you think she is a Big Deal and so does her Father in heaven because He gave her to you.
    You are truly blessed Emily.
    Love Ya!
    Kim Porter

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