Monday, June 28, 2010

Those questions

Natalie was running to meet me at the playground gate, right past the little boy who sat at the base of the tree and shouted to her:

"Hey! Why is your mom white?"

She didn't hear him, or she ignored him. This child has been unkind and aggressive to her and others before, so perhaps she smartly tunes him out.

He tried again. But this time to me.

"Why are you white and she's ... brown?"

I followed my daughter's example and ignored him. I took Natalie's hand and as she skipped along I asked whether she had heard that boy and what he said.

She hadn't, so I repeated it. And told her he was rude. That people ask questions when they don't understand things and when they see something that doesn't match what they have in their own life.

"Yeah. Some people dark, some people brown, some people light. Everybody different," Natalie said. She raised her eyebrows and shrugged for emphasis.

"My Green Team friends never say that to me," she said of her kindergarten class. The offending boy was in another class.

So as we drove home we talked about China and her birth parents and how she came to be here with us. And she listened to the story for the hundredth time and asked questions that she knows the answers to but loves hearing anyway. And then, she was all done with it. The conversation turned, as it often does, to Baby Miss Ann, who didn't want to take a nap that day despite her mother's urging.

Yet I was left to think. About how all those questions, until now always aimed at me (What's she mixed with? Where'd you get her? Is your husband Asian?), are now going to be directed at her. About how it's hard to be different. And about what do I have to draw on from my own life, except being an odd child who spent an inordinate amount of time alone, in snow forts and trees and didn't quite fit in with the rest? At the end of the day, a woman who looked like me picked me up from school.

I thought about seeking out more families like ours. I thought about making her strong and sure of herself. About coating her with a Teflon confidence to repel rude questions and comments.
But I have a feeling she will be just fine.

I caught Natalie's eye in the rear view mirror.

"You're smart and you're kind and you're beautiful," I told her.

"Yeah, I know," Natalie said. "Mama is, too."


  1. Have you read anything about W.I.S.E. Up! The World About Adoption from the CASE Foundation? It's a really wonderful program with information about how kids can respond to such rude and intrusive questions. You can find the Powerbook here:

    That said, I agree: Natalie is smart, kind and beautiful. Thanks for sharing your and her journey on your blog!

  2. Wow, thank you! I just ordered a copy of the book.

  3. Beautiful answers from a lovely daughter. I didn't know about the snow forts!

  4. I have no experience in these matters, but I'm impressed with your grace.

  5. I have to respectfully disagree on this one. I don't generally perceive it to be rude when other children ask this question of us. And they have. But rather, I believe it is a genuine quest for an explanation and I file it away in my kids-say-the-darndest-things category. Then I try to use the opportunity to teach the child a bit about adoption and, if my daughter is present, hope that she is learning how she, too, can respond when she is asked. Of course, ignoring the question is also appropriate for her.

    My good friend's very smart, very inquisitive 8-year-old daughter recently asked me straight up, "Ruby's black. And you're white. Is her father black?" And I took the opportunity to explain to her that families are formed in different ways, that Ruby's daddy and I adopted her but that her birth mother and birth father are black.

    Anyway, just my two cents. Everyone needs to do what works best for them. Now. Had this comment come out of the mouth of an adult, I probably would have had to cover my child's ears so she didn't hear what I had to say about that.

  6. Hi, Aaryn.

    I know the difference between a child who is being inquisitive and a child who is being rude. Yet this post wasn't about the child's behavior. It was about Natalie and me, and my concerns about protecting her - and realizing she's stronger than I give her credit for.

    But I appreciate the feedback - always helpful. :-)

  7. I was referred to your post by a friend. This hits home since I was adopted by a Midwestern family and I am from Southeast Asia. Growing up, I ALWAYS knew I looked different. Despite my parents encouragement and support, I felt different. We never talked about that difference. I was told that I was loved and to ignore all the questions, but they were questions that I thought of, too!
    It's really wonderful to wish the world can overlook obvious differences but that's not the way the world works. I wish it was a subject I could talk about more, and the more I was told they were being rude, the more I thought there was something to be ashamed of.

    It's obvious you love your daughter, and I think that she is very lucky. Best wishes to you both.

  8. Sorry. Didn't mean to offend.
    Going away now...

  9. Thanks for reading. I too wish that we could overlook these things, but it's just human nature.

    We've had her little friends ask me whether Natalie grew in my tummy and how come Natalie has brown hair and I have blond. I answer those questions as best I can for a small person to understand, and now Natalie is handling those queries herself.

    I have three siblings whom my parents adopted from Nicaragua and that experience taught me a lot about handling good natured questions and the others.

    Yesterday I was reminded that Natalie is sensible, forgiving and comfortable with herself.

    Thanks again for your kind note.