Sep 24, 2009

Adoption Adjustment: the difference is, no differences

OK this is a post that has been wanting to get out for a while. I have to say that, as a white adoptive mother of black children, the overarching truth is that black children and white children are not much different. They have the same stages of growth and development, the same personality vulnerabilites and strengths. They cry for the same reasons as my white children. They are as easily upset and as easily consoled. They don't have any kind of "natural propensities" for any one thing... they don't jungle gym any harder, run any faster (my little loli is a blur when she wants to be), they don't learn any quicker or slower.

And you're all reading this and going "duh. Well of course not. Skin color is just that... skin deep."

Let me just say that I was unaware of the lingering prejudices/preconceptions I still had (deeply ingrained, not because of how I was raised necessarily, or where I was raised... I blame my psych classes and the media more than those influences.) until I started raising my two African daughters. And now everything's completely blown wide apart, and I suddenly see things I didn't see before too. Those natural assumptions, those little lingering ideas of "difference" between race... they now look to me like prejudice, even though coming from the other end I know how that is never what is meant.

I also realize that I have become a mean, defensive, she-bear of a mom when I feel that race might be rearing its ugly head in any interaction with my kids. I have to tone it down in myself, because I know it's probably not the case in most circumstances. But sometimes I do things that surprise me. Case in point: the other day we were in Sam's. I was lingering, looking for sales on the cereal aisle. Several feet away was one of those little sample tables. Loli asked for some; I told her to run ahead and ask and I'd be there in a second. Bella went with her.

She came back almost immediately, with Bella, and her eyes were tear-filled. I was startled, asked her what was wrong, and she told me that the lady had said she had to wait for her mom. It wasn't what was said, that was a perfectly reasonable response to two kids asking for samples without their mother. I was the WAY she said it... Loli repeated the words in a tone that was scolding, short, snappish... and as I rounded the corner I saw the lady's grim expression.

I was sooooo mad. I don't know that it was because Bella was with Loli that the lady responded the way she did... probably not. Probably she was having a bad day. Probably she was just a crochety old lady. But because of my defensive mean-red rage, instead of just smiling placidly at her and moving along, I kind of chewed her out. I told her that if she wanted to sell things to people she needed to be more polite, that I understood there were policies but she didn't need to snap at my kids. She sputtered. I didn't raise my voice, I just gave her one of those looks I do best and in a few short sentences told her what I thought. And then I walked away.

Yeah. I don't know that I did anyone any favors. I think I embarrassed Loli.

Anyway, I'm writing right now to say there ARE differences between my black and white children. What I have noticed, different, about my African children, the older one especially, is that they seem to be constantly active, a notch up in activity level from my other kids. But this isn't necessarily because their black, it is mostly likely because they haven't had a lot of movies or TV in the past due to their circumstances, and so aren't in the habit of zonking out in front of the screen.

I've noticed that their skin feels rich and soft, almost like velvet, while my bio kids seem to have smoother, thinner skin. This is not neccessarily because of their race, in fact it is most likely because I'm a lot more conscious of taking care of their skin, because when it's dry it shows.

I've noticed that both of my African kids' voices, especially the younger, are richer, a pitch lower, and seem to come from a deeper place. If I have my way I'll have a gospel singer in May. :) I don't know if this is because they are black necessarily, or because they just come from a family that has that tendency.

I've realized that the way I was prejudiced wasn't that I was seeing other races as inferior. It was more a readiness to judge differences, whether I perceived them positive or negative, as due to race. For instance, my "Ethiopian kids can run" from a previous post. Of course Ethiopian kids can run. So can American kids. Kids run. Kids run fast. All kids run fast... some faster than others, and skin color has much less to do with it than how they are raised, and what talents and abilities are encouraged by caregivers and those that they love and admire.

IN short, even after caring for my children for several weeks, I can't pinpoint any differences between black and white. And it seems to be less and less of a worry as they settle in and become a seamless part of our family, and become more and more "My Kids" period, and not my Adopted Ethiopian Kids.


Blaine said...

Amen, way to put her in her place!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, Mama Bear.

David L said...

Perhaps jumping to the defense of the lady giving out the samples at Sams....

They are probably instructed not to offer free samples to kids without the parents because of allergies and other potential liabilities. It's not an excuse for any behavior, but without witnessing it first hand, I'd be VERY hesitant to put tone and meaning in someone's mouth.

And like you said, you have no idea what their day might have been going like.

I have a friend who, when she encounters a person who comes off rude, she likes to imagine up the most pitifully sappy sob stories for why they might be acting that way. For example, if she gets cut off while driving, she imagines the person in the other car just got a phone call that his wife is being rushed to the hospital to give birth. But not just that, but the dog is also in labor. And let's not end there... she left the pan on the stove when she was rushed to the hospital. Before long, she's laughing and back to enjoying her day.

The basic gist is this: We can't choose how people respond to us, but we can choose how we respond to them. When we assume the best, we make everyone around us better. "Putting her in her place," like Blaine said, is no more constructive and helpful than what she did in the first place.

Sorry if that seems like I'm attacking you (or Blaine); I'm not trying to. I just don't see the point of treating anyone with anything but the utmost respect and kindness, especially when we haven't stood where they are standing. It's how I'd like to be treated.

NoSurfGirl said...


I agree. And in normal circumstances, that's what I do. I think that this race thing has me teetering on the edge a lot more though... even if race had nothing to do with my interaction with the lady at Sam's, the fact that it could have something to do with it, theoretically, automatically sets my "ire" up a notch... sometimes past the threshold of letting it go.

I'm honestly not sure what's right. I mean, standing up for Loli was OK I think. But also considering the other person is important... and as my kids get older, they'll get more and more self-conscious if I draw attention to them in that way.

So yeah... I've got to figure this one out, for sure.