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Friday, February 27, 2009

Failing At This

I think I might have failed a transracial adoptive parent test a couple of days ago. Y'all know I plan for these moments. Y'all know I strive to take these topics seriously. But when they actually happen, I most often find myself freezing, at a loss for thoughts, much less words.

On Tuesday, I heard the Tongginator chanting two words - over and over and over - that made me stop in my tracks. I felt horrified, paralyzed and NOT ready for this conversation. I can still hear it echoing in my head, that innocent, sing-song voice of the Tongginator's, unknowingly delivering an ethnic slur to her own race.

"Ching-chong. Ching-chong. Ching-chong."

We talked, she and I. I didn't know for sure if someone taunted her with that expression or if she, in her innocent four-year-old way, played around with "Chinese words" the way she often does, but this time with a terrible result. I tried to be casual about my questions. I tried to keep my tone light. But I don't believe I succeeded because the Tongginator clammed up when I asked her where she'd first heard that phrase.

It bring tears to my eyes to think of someone taunting her like that.

I didn't know how to respond... I felt at a loss for words. But one thing I've learned is that parents who adopt transracially CANNOT ignore racism. They CANNOT pretend it doesn't exist. They MUST tackle these tough conversations. Even if the Tongginator simply and naively played around with "Chinese words," enjoying the cadence of that phrase, I couldn't allow her to repeat it. That phrase brings too much pain to too many people.

Can you imagine her chanting that during Sunday School next week? At our Chinese-American church?

So we talked, she and I. I told her that she should not say "ching-chong" ever again. I hugged her as I said, "I know you didn't realize it was a bad thing to say." I told her that many people we know and care about would feel very hurt if she used those words again. And then she and I, together, listed many of the people we know who might feel sad if they heard her use that phrase. Oh, how the tears streamed down her face. And oh, how the tears gathered in my eyes as I watched her cry.

I explained to the Tongginator that God wants all of us to examine others' hearts, but that sometimes people forget to do that, instead judging others on the way they look. One question led to another, then another... and I found myself explaining oh, so clumsily, "Tongginator, there are some people in this world - not many, but some - who will not like you because of the way you look. Because you are Chinese-American. That is called racism. And it's a really, really bad thing. Momma hates racism. Daddy hates racism. God really, really hates racism. But sometimes people forget that racism is bad. So if someone ever chants 'ching-chong' to you or does or says something else that makes you feel really icky inside, you need to tell Momma and Daddy. You need to tell your teachers at school. You need to tell us so that we can remind everyone that racism is very bad. And that everyone should look at your heart."

I spoke with her teachers privately at school the next day. I felt so awkward, diving into the deep end when I had yet to learn to swim. It helped that one of her teachers, a Caucasian woman, is married to a Japanese-American man. It helped that the Tongginator's class is ethnically diverse, with four children of Asian or Pacific-Islander descent. And yesterday I ordered on-line a few children's books that delved more deeply into racism than the books we already own.

I still can't quite believe that we talked, the Tongginator and I. It felt awkward. It felt clumsy. It felt horrible. She still won't tell me where she first heard the phrase, if she did in fact hear it from someone at all. But we got through the conversation - mostly. And I hope the Tongginator will trust me enough to tell me the next time something like this happens.

Because make no mistake, there WILL be a next time.

And that makes me cry.


Mom to 5...Daughter of the King said...

And it makes me cry, too. So far we've not really encountered any racism, at least not to the girls' knowledge. It breaks my heart to know that it will happen.

Peanut said...

Awwww, that's hard. I know what it's like to wonder at what my daughter has said but not be able to get the info out of her, no matter how gently I approach it. It is sad that your little girl will have to face prejudice and racism, but I think you are doing a great job of teaching her about it so that she realizes it is not about fault in her, but about fault in the other person. I like your explanation and I'll remember it for when I need to explain these things to my own kids.
It's a hard thing for you to go through as a parent, but your experience is educating those of us who might not otherwise get to see things from your point of view.

The Byrd's Nest said...

I think you did a great job and I know for Lottie if she did just make it up and was singing the song she would have cried if I corrected her....of course we all know Lottie has a temper so maybe I shouldn't use her as an example;)

At any rate, you did very well and you are so sensitive to these things...you are a great Mom.

P.s. Ummm...that hair in the above post is not bad at all. I have WAY worse pictures of HUGE Texas hair that you will NEVER see on my blog! LOL

Jennifer said...

As clumsy as your conversation might have been, you should take comfort in the fact that all parents have clumsy conversations with their kids, about a wide range of subjects. There just isn't easy language to use when trying to overcome some of the big issues of our day.

We just have to stumble through it and hope our children see our hearts as we try to correct them, just as we are asking others to see their hearts.

Dawn said...

Oh, I am so sorry! Your words made me cry.

I think you did a wonderful job explaining it. As a mom of teens, I can tell you that the "hard" conversations never really do get easy. I think, at best, they simply just don't catch you off guard as much.

We had to explain to our children last night that a well-liked faculty member at the high school was arrested for molesting a girl and had to have "that" conversation about what's appropriate, what's not, what to do "if," etc.

The main thing is to keep talking. It's much less uncomfortable when it's an "ongoing" conversation that happens.


Sharie said...

Oh how I know that hurt and how awkward that conversation is! Amelia came home from school one day about a year and a half ago chanting the N word. I was almost throwing up I was so upset. She had just turned 3 - I chose her school because of its diversity - and THIS?

We had a conversation about hurtful words - I talked to her teacher and of course she was as shocked as I was. It did come up again when she was a little older - we had a better conversation about it. Now I haven't heard it again.

There are certain things you NEVER want to hear come out of your child's mouth - that is one of them. Having never faced racism it is really hard for me to explain it to Amelia - but it is a part of life she will face...and I certainly don't want her using derogatory words about another!

Briana's Mom said...

I am sorry you even had to have the conversation. I think you handled it wonderfully. It is something I will have to face with Bri myself one day. I am actually liking the fact she is still so unaware of racism right now. It is going to be so hard when she really starts to understand everything.

Maddy said...

Newbi visiting from scribbit. I certainly know about repetative language around here and the anxiety is causes. I'm so glad you managed to talk about it.
Best wishes

Marla said...

Oh man, that is one tough subject! I think you handled it well, we have to do the best we can when it comes up, and unfortunately it WILL come up.

Anonymous said...

It does not sound to me AT ALL like you failed. You handled a really tough situation with grace and wisdom.

I remember the first time my child was taunted for being Chinese. My oldest is such a private child, that it was weeks later before I learned about it...and then only after intensive probing. She was four years old. She had always LOVED performing on stage, be it dancing in her dance recitals or singing in front of hundreds of people at Silver Dollar City with her daddy's bluegrass band. She had NEVER shown the least bit of stage fright and, though not outgoing by nature, she GLORIED in performing on stage...the bigger the audience, the better. Which, is why, a few days before yet another dance recital I was stunned when she announced that she did not want to participate in the recital. It was just so out of character for her. Gently questioning, I eventually got to the bottom of the matter...two older girls of a different minority had cornered her up in the tunnels at McDonalds weeks earlier, safely out of sight of any one else, and had pulled at the corner of their eyes while sneering at her and calling out ethnic slurs.

Our daughter hadn't told us...but that moment had seared her little heart and left its ugly mark. Weeks later, she was still carrying the shame of it with her and had decided that she never again wanted to ever go out on stage or get in front of other people because they might laugh at her if they saw her...because she was Chinese.

That was a heart-wrenching time to go through with Darcy. She did go out on stage a few days later and she did glory in it...but, it took a lot of untangling of her feelings to get back to her old joy and confidence. It scared me to realize that had the dance recital not been coming up, I probably would have never known my child had been hurt and abused by other children that day in McDonalds...because I didn't see the signs of it at the time that it happened...like I said, my child has always been very private about her feelings. She will not let is show when she is hurt.

Fast forward almost a decade. We have moved from a richly ethnically diverse area to a part of the country that is uniformly Caucasion as far as the eye can see...and a part of the country that is pretty ignorant when it comes to different ethnicities...steeped in ignorant stereotypes. Darcy occasionally talks about racism, to me, now. Mostly she just shakes her head and laughs off the stupidity of others. Or, gets her own revenge by taking advantage of the ignorance of stereotypes...working it to her own advantage, to her own amusement. When she started school a year and a half ago and kids expressed amazement at how good her English was, she just smiled. When they asked her "How did you get here?", she furrowed her brows in shock of the stupidity and said, "I FLEW in a PLANE." What she didn't add was that it was 12 years age...she decided that since everyone was so quick to jump to the wrong conclusions, she'd just leave them there...in their wrong conclusions. She rather enjoyed the notariety and instant popularity of being "the foreign exchange student who speaks incredibly good English"! She also liked the fact that though she was the smallest person in the school (now at age 13 1/2 she still wears size 10 clothes and weighs 85 pounds), anyway, even though she was the smallest kid in her grade, rumor had it that she was a martial arts expert (after all, didn't you know all Chinese people are born knowing martial arts?), so everyone gave her a respectfully wide berth.

I had suggested to my oldest daughter that she could help educate those around her...but, she has preferred simply to turn to her advantage the stereotypes and assumptions of others. I guess that works, too! Either way...so long as she does not internalize the insidious message, the lie, that being Caucasion is better.

It is definitely harder now that we live where our children are almost the only children in a very large school that don't "match" everyone else. It was easier for them when we lived in a diverse area. And I think it helped Darcy tremendously going to the Chinese School of Greater Kansas City for the two and a half years she attended...where EVERYONE was ethnically Chinese in the crowd of a couple of hundred, except for a dozen or so adoptive parents. It was THERE that she first began to identify herself in her own heart as CHINESE...and do so with pride.

Every child is different. Darcy NEEDED a place where she could identify closely with other Chinese adults and children. My other two children don't seem as fragile as Darcy was...they wear their feelings on their sleeves where I can see them and know in a heartbeat is something is amiss. Darcy always kept her heart hidden so deeply that transversing the difficult terrain of facing racism was a lot harder. I think my other two children are doing okay...happily acknowledging and easily comprehending in their own hearts that they are CHINESE...not growing up thinking they are caucasion or wishing they were caucasion. But, quite possibly, this is due in large measure to the influence of their older sister, too...not just their difference in temperament.

Rayna, my youngest (just turned 7), delights in commenting that SHE is Chinese, but we (Mom and Dad) aren't. She glories in the differences/uniqueness of everyone...to her, it is a celebration and a joy that we have variety! And she is thrilled to be exactly who she is! And, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. She is delighted with who she is and it rubs off on her classmates...they are delighted with her...and delighted with how special she makes each and every one of them feel to be them!

jen@odbt said...

I think you explained it beautifully. It is hard -ism to explain. As a Asian growing up in a predominantly caucausian/rural area, I was always the different one. Most were accepting but there were moments when I got the slanty eye gesture and the ching-chong thrown at me. I still remember it to this day. It really does have an impact. I am hoping that the world changing as it is - more diverse, more biracial kids, more people aware of other cultures that our kids will be less judgmental and more accepting. I have to hope that for my children. It hasn't happened yet to my children but like you, I know there will be a time. That too makes me so sad b/c I remember what it was like.

McEwens said...

First YOU are a great mom, you opened it up to talk to her. Opened up lines of communication for YEARS to come. However, it saddens me that there is still rascism.... when will we get it? When will we understand we are all Gods children?

3D said...

I am sorry that your sweet girl had such awful words spoken to her. It may feel like you did an awkward job of talking but to me it sounds like you did exactly what was needed. Difficult conversations are hard to have between adults, nevermind kids. Do not be too hard on yourself.

Hugs and Keep smilin!

Andrea said...

I think you handled that conversation very well. It stinks that people will judge others by what they look like, not who they are. Praying for you all!

Patricia/NYC said...

Sigh...this made me cry...knowing that, as adoptive parents to children of a different race, we will all face this at some point...most likely sooner than we expect.

I think you handled it beautifully...so beautifully that I might have to print this post out for myself for future reference.

Thanks so much for sharing this...this is the kind of stuff we all need to bounce off of each other so that we all can be as prepared as we can.

And, would you mind sharing the list of those books? If it's too personal, I understand.

You rock, TM!!
Hugs to Tongginator too!

Kerry said...

It makes me cry too. Hugs to you- I think under the circumstances you handled the entire situation very well. She knows that she can talk to you and she will. She is still little and trying to figure things out.

The hard conversations always feel a bit messy- and I think this conversation will ALWAYS feel horrible.

Our girls are about the same age and I know that sometimes mine will say a word that she has NOO idea what it means. Let's just hope that T was making up words and did not hear it from anyone. But oh so appropriate that you discussed it with her.


Stefanie said...

I'm with Patricia, please share the books you are getting to help broach this subject that we will encounter at some point.
How your heart must have broken hearing your precious girl saying those words... sounds like you handled it remarkably well. And props to you for going straight to her teacher. Your actions speak mightily to the Tongginator, even more than your words.
Done good, mama :)

prechrswife said...

I think you handled it well. I dread the day when I have to have that conversation, but I know it will come. It won't be an easy one, either.

Misty said...

i'm still digesting a lot of what i read thru the various blogs dealing w/ the miley cyrus photo.... and i can only imagine how hard this conversation must have been for you, especially not knowing if your daughter had been hurt or not by others. shame is often the horrible outcome felt by a person who experiences racism directly, and i pray your sweet daughter never feels ashamed for being different or for being Chinese american.
hugs.... you are in a situation that i have not experienced, but i think you did a great job as the previous commenter said, just opening up the lines of communication. (can i just say how much it irks me that there are still americans who think racism is a battle won??!)

Elizabeth Channel said...

Explaining this kind of issue to my children has been one of the greatest challenges of parenting. Differences of any kind are so trying to explain--be them differences of race or behavior or appearance. I think you handled it with great aplomb and I will think of your calm reaction the next time I deal with something similar.

Hugs to you both!

Colleen said...

I think you handled it beautifully! Yes we live in a world of racism and yes we as AP will have to deal with something that we are not quite comfortable with. I am overly sensitive and protective of my girls but my boys are like vultures....heaven forbid someone says something to either one of them...=: 0
These talks are so hard {{{hug}}}} You are a wonderful Mommy and so lucky to have that sweet Tongginator in your life : )

Sherri said...

I haven't encountered THAT particular issue, but we've experienced kids saying things about Mia, who is missing her left arm. I even read just yesterday about a woman in England who has an incomplete arm, who hosts a children's tv show. The parents in the UK are complaining about how the woman is SCARY to the children. Ugh.

So yeah, I think you handled this well. You're not a failure!

I dread having to deal with this.


Patty O. said...

I admire you for not ignoring this, which might have been my first instinct. But you are right, you need to address these issues immediately, because as much as I hate to admit it, she will be dealing with this again. It is so unfair. I think I am naive sometimes in thinking we Americans have come so far in eradicating racism, but there is so much more work to be done and I am sorry that kids like the Tongginator will have to suffer from the ignorance of others. This really reminds me, though, that I need to address racism and differences with my own kids and teach them not to judge people on their outward appearances. Thank you!

Kiy said...

I honestly feel you did perfectly. No matter the topic, parents fumble the ball from time to time.I also think it's okay for our kids to see us do that. It shows that we are human too, and allows them to fumble things themselves. Back to the topic, I also think that maybe you got through to her better this way, than if you had waded in with all the right answers right off the bat. It sounds like it was a very gentle , loving conversation. You kept her talking to you, and maybe conversations like this will KEEP her talking to you. You know, like when she's a teen (yikes).

Hugs gal, you rock. You ARE an amazing mom. Your little sweetie knows it, as do we.


P.S. After you get those books you ordered and if you like them, will you post about them? I keep looking for more to have in our library.

Becky said...

You said it feel awkward and horrible, but I think you did beautifully. And I admire you for tackling it head-on. Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

I give you an A+. Period. You hit it head on and entered the pain your daughter will deal with in her life. You did not leave her there alone and shut your eyes.


Anonymous said...

PS Did you see Miley Cyrus doing the Asian eye thing with a group of her friends? I was so enraged. It made me sick to think this hero to little girls could be SO ignorant. UGH.

Ivy said...

TM, this made me cry! How naive I am to think I can protect my daughter from the world and comments that others make. I think you did a terrific job handling the situation. I know all too well what comments can do one's self-esteem, however the open and honest relationships in families can overcome these obstacles. Perhaps the "next time" she will echo your words right back!

Oh please give the Tongginator a big hug from us!

CC said...

I'll have to tell you in a private email what the kids used to call my husband. He also didn't realize it could be a racial slur and would chant it at home for a while (until he was stopped).

All Rileyed Up said...

It is a hard moment when the child probably doesn't realize the impact of what they're saying and I think you handled it magnificently well.

Heather of the EO said...

You handled this so well. You did! What else could you do but the hardest thing? And you did it, because you're in love with that little girl and such an amazing mom.

Beverly said...

yes we will all face it. When you go through the books maybe if you would give a summary of how well done the books were or how they helped foster conversation. Maybe will help others (and me) to use the books or what not.

Kim said...

I think it sounds like you did a good job talking to her about racism. I am not looking forward to that day!

Let us know how the new books are.

happygeek said...

I'm not an AP. I have no advice. But I do know this, at least you are an aware AP. I used to read the blog of an AP mom who referred to her daughter (on more than one occasion) as her little Ch*na Doll. Being aware that your daughter will face racism, and not perpetuating it yourself, you are well on your way.

Half Gaelic, Half Garlic! said...

I commend you on the way you handled the situation......I think you did a wonderful job explaining it to her and I am thankful that she has a teacher who seems very open and understanding. It is ashame that we live in a world that is filled with people that see color and are racist....and unfortunately, our children are going to have to face it at a very young age.

Kimberly said...


I thought you handled this situation really well. I already have the same fear of just not knowing how to handle dealing with this the "right" way when the time comes. I cried a little myself just thinking of the first time I will have to confront racism that is directed at my daughter. Thanks for sharing your story because it helped me prepare for that day in the future and I know it will help someone else, too.

Myrnie said...

Good job, Mama- I think you did just fine. I cried when I read your post. As mothers, there are so many things we all need to guide our children around, and it seems especially daughters. I grew up with the firm knowledge I was fat. Still am. In high school, my mother informed me a few times that I was cute, but if I lost 10 pounds I'd be beautiful. Now, just the other day she said my beautiful three-year-old Ernie could never be a dancer, because she's not "built" like other children. She's too fat. Oh the things we try and shield our children from... I think you're doing a fine job, Mama.

Special K said...

That's a tough one. But I think you handled it just fine. Maybe you could share those books if you decide you like them.

PS. Sorry if someone else already asked that. I didn't read all the comments here. :)

Mamatini said...

Good for you tackling this head on. Conversations like this are hard and I've found that how we handle it improves with practice (and sadly on this topic, we will get practice.)

I personally thought you handled it well. And I appreciate your sharing it with us because along with practice, I've benefitted from hearing other's words on the topic.

Well done.

LaLa said...

Oh, this makes me so sad and scared as I know I will have to have this conversation too. I think you handled it so well. I hope I can do the same when my time comes. Yes, please share the books : )

Janet said...

Um....it sounds like you handled it perfectly! I think we all feel awkward about racism, like we might say something wrong, etc. But if we tell them the TRUTH about it, and are open, it should be okay. You did great, girl. :-)

Kayce said...

You did a wonderful job! You talked to your child about it, you opened up the lines of communication. That's huge. You are far from failing.

Debbie said...

You are right - there will be a next time. And it isn't fair. But with you to support her, she will be fine!

mama d said...

Great job, TM. Really great job.

Recently, The Boy named one of his bears "Nippy" and we had to have the same kind of discussion. That's when I decided to use all the bad words so the kids could hear them first from me. It was a bit on the edge, wondering if they'd feel the words were validated by my use of them. But, I said them once, told them I would never say them again, and they took it all in. The bear's name is now "Cat."

Anonymous said...

just breaks my heart.

you handled that so, so well.

Anonymous said...

So sad that we have to "go there" with our kids. Sad that racism isn't going anywhere and we only have more of these talks to plan on in the future. Good job and keep at it - I don't think we ever feel "ready" when these things come up.

sarah bess said...

My daughter has features that, when she was born, made her look like a Chinese child (my husband is Indian; I'm Caucasian American). My husband's brother nicknamed her "Ching Chong" and still calls her that. It grates on me, but I haven't said anything. I don't want it to look like I object to being told my daughter looks Chinese. Not sure with my BIL's limited English whether it would come across right. I hear ya, though.

Upstatemomof3 said...

Oh I hope she was not teased!!! That makes me so sad to think of. I dread sending my little man into the big bad world to go to school for the first time in the fall. I worry that he will get called names because he is Hispanic. I know I cannot ignore it but I am constantly glad that I have not had to deal with it yet.