Sunday, September 9, 2012

Parenting Through an Adopted Lens: "You Don't Match Us"

"It's the red one with stripes!"  I hear my almost-four-year-old shout from the living room.  "No, not that one, Bert!"  He says.  "It's the other one!"

I chuckle to myself as I listen to him call out which socks on Bernice's clothesline match.  "M" loves to match things, and this Sesame Street segment where Bert asks viewers to "help" him find Bernice's (his pet pigeon) socks on a clothesline full of mismatched socks is right up his alley.

M makes a game out of things he observes each day.  Sometimes I'll find him starting at two objects intently, trying to figure out what is the same and what is different about them.  I like his curiosity; one thing that I particularly like is that he rarely uses differences to assign judgement to objects he is comparing.  He merely observes them and moves on.

One day, he looked at his family members and compared them.

After a visit to my boys' grandmother's house, the home of my husband's mother, we collected our things in her kitchen and prepared to say goodbye.  "MiMom," as they call her, held M and I held my other son, "W," and we all stood together to bid our farewells.  M paused in mid-goodbye and stared intently into his MiMom's eyes.  His gaze then shifted from her face to my face and then finally stopped at his brother's face.

"MiMom has green eyes, I have green eyes, and mommy has green eyes," he declared.  "W has brown eyes," he said.  "He does not match us!"

The first thing out of my mouth was, "Oh, that's OK!"

I was greeted with a who-said-it-wasn't-OK-? look before M went on babbling about something else.

I interpreted my children's realities through my own childhood in that moment.  Growing up adopted, looking differently than my surrounding family made me feel like I did not fit in.  Two of my cousins in particular look just like my adoptive mother did as a young woman.  They share her long, jet-black hair, high cheek bones, and dark eyes.  They could easily pass for her daughters--though I never could.  When I'd introduce friends to my adoptive mother, often times they'd ask me later, "That was your mom?  You mean your 'step-mom,' right?"  I'd either explain I was adopted or just say, "Nope!" and let them wonder.

It's OK to let people wonder.  I don't owe an explanation to anyone as to why I look differently than my family that raised me.

It was in this moment that I had to stop and acknowledge how being adopted became relevant in that moment in parenting.  My initial internal reaction to M's observation was one of fear that W would grow up feeling left out as I did at times because of differences in appearance.  For me, not sharing the same features reminded me that I did not belong to my adoptive family in the same way that a lot of people fundamentally define family--exclusively by biology.  The last thing that any parent wants is for their child to question whether or not they fit into their own family.  Of course, it's different for W.  Whether he looks like everyone else or not (which in other ways, he does), he unquestionably shares our genes and society will never question his belonging in his family.

It probably sounds silly, but I do not subconsciously take biology into account even when it comes to my own family.  Granted, if I consciously think about it, I suppose I generally assume someone who calls another person "family" is biologically related to that person, like a lot of (most?) people would assume.  But remember, biological family connections are new to me.  As in, only-had-them-for-3-years-now, new.  Sometimes my own childhood experiences help me as a parent.  Sometimes parenting is an uncharted territory for me because it is: I am a new parent to small children.  Sometimes parenting is an uncharted territory for me because being adopted causes me to interpret life events differently than my biologically-raised children might.  And thus, there are things about families that I will end up learning right alongside with them.