Based on a previous post here, you might possibly think that I don’t believe it takes a village to raise a child. You would be right. 🙂 I have seen the village and I would prefer to pass on my values rather than the values of the world. Raising children requires committed parents who are not willing to pawn- off their responsibilities on others. However, this doesn’t mean that I think we can raise our children alone in a vacuum. I could never successfully fulfill my role as a parent without mentors in my children’s lives.
If you have entered the world of transracial adoption, you know it is one which is not always easily navigated. I can celebrate Chinese New Year and Autumn Moon Festival and Black History month with the best of them. Problem is, I can’t be Chinese, Haitian, Liberian, or Native American which are the ethnicities of some of my children.
When Ben had been home only two months, some very dear Deaf friends took him with them to see a neighborhood that goes all out decorating with Christmas lights. To be honest, I was worn out parenting a child who came home with no language. Tantrums due to misunderstandings were the norm in our household and were exhausting. Ben loved being in an environment with an entire family who signed and shrieked in delight tapping the Deaf father on the shoulder while pointing out beautiful light displays that caught his eye. Having Ben interact with others who are in the Deaf world/culture as well as gaining other language models besides mine has been such a blessing in our lives.
When Caleb came home, he didn’t speak a word of English and my Chinese was limited to such worthless phrases as “Can you speak English?”, “Where is the bathroom?”, “I am an American” and my all time favorites from Rosetta Stone of “That is an airplane” and “That is an elephant.” I admit the elephant phrase helped me on one occasion in a zoo in China but don’t think I have ever used that phrase since. Actually, I’m not even sure that the phrase was helpful in the zoo as Caleb looked at me like “Yeah, duh!”
As gesturing and a Chinese/English dictionary only went so far, I had a dear Chinese friend who stepped up to the plate. When Caleb would become upset and scream for up to 45 minutes at the top of his lungs while hiding under the bottom bunk bed in his room, I resorted to calling Katrina on the phone and pushing the phone under the bed. When he threw it back at me, I would switch it to speaker phone and she would try to talk him down from his tantrum. When he told me he didn’t love me, she laughingly told me how to say “I hate you” in Mandarin and said, “Have you heard that one yet? You haven’t? That’s a good sign.” Having the Chinese Cultural Center built in Tucson has also blessed our lives as we have been able to spend time in an environment where Ben and Caleb can comfortably blend in.
With Micheline’s adoption, I had new fears. With Ben and then later with Caleb, we already had a few contacts and friends in the Chinese community. When I googled the Haitian community where I live I found an article in the newspaper that showed there were about 35 families here. Not many, and I had no way of knowing how to contact them in a city of 1 million people. I contacted a few Haitian families in a large city nearby because they had a website, but their events consisted of $200/plate black tie dinners. Not exactly an event where I could bring a four-year-old child. One man offered to work with me in keeping up my Creole language skills and wanted a mere $50 an hour. Memories of “Hey you, give me money!” on the streets of Port-au-Prince came flooding back. I politely declined.
The more I spoke with adult adoptees, the more I realized the fact that Micheline was Haitian would probably become irrelevant in others’ eyes. They would merely see her as African-American, and no amount of me saying “She is Haitian” would make a difference. The AA community would be the one she would identify with as she grew up but only if I could find someone as a great friend and role model to help her be comfortable in her own skin. We had met a few AA adults and children at homeschooling events and even a few at the library and grocery store, but none of them really wanted to commit to a long-term friendship. Having the same color of skin is obviously meaningless if your personalities don’t click. We met some great friends in a multicultural homeschool community, but they all lived 1 1/2 – 2 hours away.
I had heard of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program for many years but had never had any interaction with them until someone suggested that having a “Big” might be a great idea for Micheline. At first I resisted the idea. If she was having attachment difficulties, wouldn’t having another adult in her life just make her resist attaching to us even more? Nothing ended up being further from the truth.
Having a mentor in her life who is African-American has made her do a 180 degree turn. After being a little sister to Shayla, Micheline has become far more accepting of who she is. I know it isn’t easy to be in a family where only one sister looks like you and everyone else is of a different race. Since the time she came home I have taught her to look in the mirror while I was putting lotion on her after a bath and say “I am beautiful, I am smart.” Regardless of how many times she recited it, she struggled to believe it. On more than one occasion she has told me she wished she had skin like mine. (Funny, because I wish I had skin like hers!) She told me when she is in public with Shayla, “No one stares at me because we look alike…we look like we belong together.”
It reminded me of when she was in kindergarten and I showed up to her field day only to have her act embarrassed and ask me to leave. I was hurt at the time that she would not want me there but tried to not let it show. It took her weeks to express to me that it was because I didn’t look like her and she didn’t want others to know she was adopted. As long as I didn’t show up, other children could continue to assume her mother was brown and the questions of “Why don’t you look like your mother?” would never happen.
After telling me more than once that she didn’t like her brown skin, I mentioned that she might talk to Shayla about it. She came home from an outing with a smile on her face and told me that night, “I feel so much better about being brown. Shayla told me that she likes being brown.”
Yesterday, Shayla invited Micheline over to her house for a birthday celebration as Micheline had just turned 12. Micheline was there for SEVEN hours. Xbox dancing, eating out, skateboarding, making Oreo milkshakes and watching movies were just a few of the things on the agenda. Toenails painted turquoise yesterday matched her dress for church today and she was thrilled.
This brings me back to the photo above. When God prompted me to adopt internationally and transracially I told Him I would need help. And He of course came through. I am thankful there are those out in the community who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and take a child under their wing. Maybe even a child who isn’t always easy to love due to quirky behaviors. While others are saying “not my child, not my community, not my problem”, it is nice to know as Fred Rogers said, “There are those who see the need and respond.” And like Fred Rogers, I consider those people my heroes.