Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On my mind

For the past year or so it has become quite apparent that Emma is really aware of the fact that she doesn't look like everyone else in our family.

It started with little comments when we were out doing errands like..."oh look mommy, that baby looks just like me!" or "mommy look, that lady has hair like mine!"

I thought it was sweet to watch her make those connections.

Then last fall there was a little melt down about gloves...she wanted a pair of yellow gloves so that her hands would look like Caroline's. She was so sad and crying and begged me to make her yellow. I don't remember all of details because it was months ago, and my mommy brain is on the fritz lately, but I do remember how it broke my heart. It was the first time that she had shown any sadness about not being the same color as Caroline or the rest of our family. I knew it was a big thing. I started to struggle with what to tell her. Do I start with the why she doesn't look like us? Do I start to talk about adoption? Do I focus on how we are the same on the inside? I struggled with trying to figure out how much a four year old could really take in and understand?

So instead I started to really emphasize how beautiful and special she was. Making a point to have her hair done in a way that she liked, or wearing the pretties she so loves! When I put her cream on after her bath I would tell her how soft and beautiful her skin was. Then she'd tell me "my brown skin. my brown skin is beautiful."

She started to seemingly feel proud. of her color. of her hair.

The more comfortable she began to be in her own skin, so to speak, her personality began to shine even more.

She definitely notices color, obviously. But she seems happy and content not to be blonde haired and blue eyed. She still thinks its fun to shout out "look mommy there's another Memmers! Do you see her? She looks just like me!"

So overall, the interracial side of things seems to be going well...I'm sure we'll have times were it will be a bigger deal than others but for now, everyone is happy.

On the adoption side though, I'm struggling.

From the very beginning, we have followed Emma's lead. Trying not to give her more information than she was ready to handle. Our first and foremost priority ever since Emma came into our lives was to make sure she felt a part of our family. period.

That together we were all one.

We whole heartedly wanted to keep a pride and love for Ethiopia, but we needed to establish a strong family bond first and foremost.

Now that we feel confident in that bond we've been talking and learning more about Ethiopia.

She knows that she was born in Ethiopia, she thinks it's pretty cool because she has friends that were "born in Ethiopia" too!

Until recently I really didn't think that she understood what that meant, "born in Ethiopia".

One day, Sam, Emma and I were shopping, I was in my usual daze of running my list of what we needed through my head, when I heard Sam saying something to Emma about when she was in my belly. Em cut him off, planted her feet on the ground, and said, "no Sam. I didn't come from mommy's belly." I was caught totally off guard. I had no idea that she had made that connection. I felt bad that our first real conversation about her birth story was about to take place in Target...but I knelt down and said "yes, Em your right." I asked her how she felt about that. We had been talking for a few minutes when I realized we were attracting quite a crowd so I told her we could talk more about it when we got home.

Of course when we got home she didn't really have much interest in talking about it.

And she didn't bring it up again.

Then a few weeks ago we heard Julie's great news. I was noticeably happy and giddy and the kids of course were wondering what was going on. I told them all about my friend Julie, and the news of her two beautiful children.

Emma was fascinated. It was like the flood gates opened and the questions just came pouring out! She wanted to know their names, what did they look like? Where does Julie live? Will she go bring them home soon and take care of them? Just like we got her when she was a baby and took care of her?

It's really hard to know just what to say to her.

The way that sounds, we got her and took care of her, it makes me feel guilty. It is far too simple. There is so much more to it than that.

Even though she made the connection about not being in my belly, she so far hasn't asked who's belly she did come from. Which I admit, I am relieved about. But I have a feeling that it won't be long before that question is asked, by a beautiful set of big brown eyes...

We absolutely want to be 100% open and honest about her birth story. But I don't want to give her more than she can handle emotionally. And I do not think that she is ready to hear about having another family. another mother. the sacrifice. the pain. the unfairness. It's too much to put on her. It's still too much for me sometimes...

I'm worried about how I will answer her questions. Many of which I will likely not have the answers to.


rebekah said...

I have a lot of thoughts about this, as usual, I know, you're rolling your eyes.

First of all, this is a beautiful post.

Some of what Emma is learning is as simple as same/ different. And, of course she admires her older sister. (we all make that mistake:))

Have you read I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla? If not, I'll lend you mine. It will help allay some of your sadness in that it will help you understand what is developmental and that at her age, the differences she notices are just that, not weighted down with all of our racial baggage.

Of course that doesn't mean she isn't aware of being different than you guys - that's the crux of the pain for all of us. BUT - there is strength in numbers and we've got numbers in our community!

You do know we'll be showing up at your house right after the truck leaves, right?

hotflawedmama said...

What a tough deal. Definitely one of the hardest parts of transracial adoption, because it's so "in their face" about not coming from our belly. Probably didn't write that correctly but you know what I mean.

Since we adopted Tariku when he was 3 (probably closer to 4) he has solid memories about his time in Ethiopia so a lot of those questions are answered better by him than our referral information; however, it's tough on the other hand to make sure he knows we'll be his FOREVER.

All that said, good luck!