Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Wonderful Moment at Culver's

Sitting at Culvers eating, enjoying our meal as best as one can while making sure five kids are eating, cups aren't spilling, the youngest isn't sucking on the salt shaker again, no one is climbing around under the tables etc...a wonderful, simple, but rare moment occurred.  The whole time we had been there an elderly lady was eating daintily by herself at the table next to us.  I kept glancing every once in a while at her, wondering if she was annoyed at our slightly rambunctious group.  Yet, to the best of my knowledge she didn't seem even to notice or acknowledge our presence.  I was completely caught off guard when she spoke to me as she was gathering up her things to leave. She simply said, "You have a lovely family.  I have five children also and there are four boys and one girl."  That was it.  I think I smiled and said something, but I can't remember what.  What I do remember is how her simple comment made me feel.  Even now as I wright about it, I am getting teary eyed.  The majority of families get these sort of comments daily.  It probably seems so ordinary.  They most definitely would not be blogging about it, calling it wonderful and rare, or getting all emotional and weepy.  Yet, for our family this simple comment means the world! It shows that even a stranger recognizes that this is what we are; we are an ordinary family with four boys and one girl.  We are a beautiful family!

I think I was very naive before we began this adventure of growing our family.  I knew there would be people who would be interested about the make up of our family.  That there may be curious questions or glances.  Yet, I wasn't prepared for the unthoughtful comments or the way my children have been put on the spot by other kids wondering whether or not they were "really" siblings. I really had no idea that I would worry about strangers questioning my parenting when discipling my children in public. These are just a few of the ways I have been surprised.

 Let's start with the general run of the mill comments that may seem innocent enough, but can really be hurtful to adoptive families.  One time I was in the library when a man asked if I was the babysitter.  Hmmm...I guess this white women couldn't possibly be the mother of all of those children especially because some of them are brown skinned.  What can you do?  I simply smile and say no I'm the mother.  Another favorite comment that seems very unthreatening to the unadoptive ear is, "Are all these yours?"  Who asks that?  Even if there may be a possibility that they aren't all family, why ask the question? Yet, I think the one I hate the most is this last one, which is spoken often by people I know and love.  It is more often than not spoken when all my children are present.  Someone will say, "All your boys look so much alike!"  Or "All your boys look like their daddy!"  My heart hurts because Juwan, if he doesn't already, will someday know that he does not physically resemble Scott.  How does that make him feel?  Does this mean he is not one of Scott's boys or that his brothers are not his brothers because he does not resemble them physically?  Absolutely not!  This seemingly innocent remark however, disregards the feelings of our adoptive children who look absolutely nothing like the rest of us.  When we get these comments or questions all I can think of is how is this making my children feel?

Kids are naturally inquisitive and I admire their courage to ask questions that adults do not know how to ask.  Yet, when it comes to adoption or transracial families in general, I would think that in this day in age more kids would understand that "real"  brothers and sisters or "real" families do not always look exactly the same.  Many times my kids have been asked how can they be siblings if they have different colored skin.  Each one of my kids deals with it differently.  Samuel tends to get a little angry, Brennan feels sad about it, Lola usually just says she's adopted, and Juwan is pretty quiet about the whole thing.  We have recently had some laughs at home when discussing some funny ways they could reply.  Here are some of my favorites:  "Oh, those are my parents. They are white because they have that Michael Jackson skin disease."  "What...what!?! We are different colors?!!"  or "Oh, I just got left at the beach too long...that's all."  These are silly ways to deflect questions that maybe my kids just do not feel like answering.  They do not always want to have to educate other people about adoption and transracial families.  They want to be able to say that's my mom and dad over there, or these are my brothers, or this is my sister, and people just be ok with that because that is how it is supposed to be, especially when you are a kid!  A child does not want to have to validate the fact that his/her family is actually his/her family.  Especially when the next question for adopted children is usually, " what happened to your real parents?"  This is a very personal question and often racked with grief, guilt, loss, and sometimes embarrassment.  Lola has done a great job choosing how much of her story she wants to share with her peers. Scott and I have clearly expressed to all of our kids that each person is allowed to share his/her own story if they so chose.  But no one is allowed to share  another person's story.  I feel very strongly that this is our child's story to tell or not to tell.  (This will be a whole other blog post for another time) Even I as a parent will not share the details of their stories.  We have even told our kids that they do not have the right to say any of their siblings are adopted.  It is not a shameful thing to be adopted, it is wonderful, but it is their right alone to voice it if they so choose.  I also, had an experience with a little preschooler in Juwan's Sunday school class.  I help teach in Juwan's class every Sunday and one day not too long ago as Juwan and I were leaving a little boy stopped me at the door.  He was very sweet and not at all rude, asking with his little lisp, "Does he go home with you?"  Now, I knew he was asking if Juwan went home with me because his little mind had not been taught or exposed to the reality that a beautiful little brown boy could actually have a white mama.  I told him, "Why yes honey, he is my son, of course he goes home with me."  I am not mad at this sweet little boy who could not understand that Juwan was my son.  I'm not upset with the little girls that did not understand how two white people could be the parents to our beautiful Lola.  Nor am I angry at the kids in dance class that could not fathom how Lola and Brennan were brother and sister simply because she is brown and he is white.  However, I am disappointed with parents these days.  How is it that they have not educated or exposed their children to different types of families.  I am frustrated with children's books, movies, and media in general that portray families in one certain way...where all the siblings and parents match.  It should not be left to our children to defend the "realness" of their families.

Lastly, I have struggled with my personal insecurities that come along with being a white mother to brown skinned children.  This may seem strange to parents who have not adopted.  Heck, it may seem strange to adoptive parents also, I don't know.  I even almost hesitate to write it down because I am a little embarrassed by these feelings of mine.  But here it goes.  Not only do I worry wether or not I am doing a good enough job raising any of my kids.  I worry if I am doing enough to educate my children about the African American community that they are a part of or if they have enough opportunities to interact with those in the black community, to make lasting friendships.  I know that Scott and I are trying, but I worry.  I also often feel self conscious in public.  I worry that someone may question my parenting abilities when it comes to discipline, simply because I am white and the child I am scolding is brown.  When this happens I often wonder is someone going to think I am kidnapping this child.  I know these are probably unfounded worries, but none the less they are there, with me, in the back of my mind.

So, when that elderly lady simply said, "What a lovely family you have."  My heart smiled and those nagging worries seemed to fade ever so slightly, because she spoke the truth.  She recognized what was right before her eyes.  A lovely family, with four boys and a girl,  enjoying a somewhat rambunnctious meal at Culver's.


jeena said...

Excellent post Emily! I am SURE you and Scott are handling it with grace (even if it doesn't feel like it). Well done!

Scott and Emily's Blog said...

Thanks Jeena, I pray that we do handle it with grace. I know that I too have said some pretty unthoughtful things out of my ignorance :)