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Monday, January 27, 2014

All or Nothing: We Deal with Both at This House

Just when you (mistakenly) think you've got everything figured out, life throws you another curve ball.  I've spent the past nine years walking through the minefield of "adoption and race stuff" with the Tongginator, trying my best to hear and support her voice.  After years of wandering around, blindly trying to lead and follow at the same time, we've come to a good place, she and I.  I have made and do make mistakes, of course, but I feel confident that we have a level of trust between us that allows her to express her opinions without fear of hurting my feelings, making me feel angry, or whatever.  I hope I don't screw that up as she ages.

But I'm not just parenting the Tongginator anymore.

Because now I have Squirt, too.

And three-year-old Squirt is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.  Squirt's feelings and thoughts about adoption at the moment are completely different from a then-three-year-old Tongginator's.  By age three, the Tongginator grieved almost daily for China, for her foster family, even - to some extent - for her first family.  She craved all things Chinese, spending endless hours watching Mandarin DVDs and always eager to eat a traditional Chinese meal.  She sought out other Asian-Americans and spoke constantly of her adoption.  Most of her favorite picture books involved adoption themes.  The Tongginator fully understood her adoption story, and felt such anger and sadness at being adopted.  If I had to sum it all up in one sentence, the Tongginator's view of adoption was "why did I have to be adopted and leave them/there?!?!!"

Squirt is so different.  I don't know that she fully understands her adoption story at this point.  Maybe, but I don't think so.  We don't talk about it very often, Squirt and me, because she doesn't want to.  (Seriously, y'all, when I pull out adoption-themed books to read her her, she puts them back.)  On the rare occasion that she does ask questions about her life in China, she focuses on me... why didn't I come "get her" sooner?  Why wasn't I there?  And y'all?  I really don't know what to say to her.  I've told her that we came as fast as we could.  I've answered her questions when she's asked - sharing that she had parents in China who, for some reason, were not able to care for her, and that she lived in an orphanage her first year of life.  But I don't know that she understands the answer.  Or maybe even that she wants to hear it... she's more fixated on the fact that she didn't "grow in mom's belly." 

So I'm left walking through another minefield.  With the Tongginator I worried, "am I talking about this too much?"  And, nearly ten years later, I'm wondering if I'm not talking about it enough with Squirt.  I know that many of y'all have navigated children whose reactions more mimic my Squirt's reaction.  What did you do?  How did the conversation evolve over time?

Advice, please.


Debby said...

I think with your first child you were so afraid that you wouldn't tell her enough. I was always surprised that she was so into where she came from. I seriously thing Squirt's reaction is more common.
My adopted son worried about his birth sister all the time. He is now an adult. He recently said he wanted to find his birth mom. He saw a picture of her on Facebook and hasn't said any more about it.
Just answer Squirt's questions and it will be okay. I like that you told her that you got there as soon as you could.

Casa Bicicleta said...

It's interesting having two, right? You see how much of the situation is your parenting and how much is the child's unique temperament. Personally, I find it humbling.

Anyway, I find that my DD's reactions change over time. Sometimes she asks questions, sometimes she shuts me down like Squirt does with you. The only thing I know to do is to keep chugging away, bringing it up every once in a while because sometimes she takes the bait and we talk. Sometimes she shuts me down and I let it go. But the important thing is that I take my cue from her. If she wants to talk, we talk, if she doesn't want to deal, we stop. But I ALWAYS bring it up because she never does.

Complicated doesn't begin to describe it. hahaha

Anonymous said...

My son is similar to Squirt. I tell him his adoption story, he listens, and then starts talking about monster trucks or what happened in preschool. He has a very happy nature; he's not a brooder and probably never will be. We have adoption books and we read them occasionally, but they aren't as exciting as his car/truck/train/shark/etc books. Whenever we run into something or someone Korean, I point it out and that pleases him. But otherwise, it's a non-issue at age 4. I wonder about it too, but everything feels all right when we do talk about it. If Squirt seems okay, then it probably is okay. Let her emotions be your guide.

Linette said...

Well...I wish I were further along, because with a six-year-old who is not passionately interested in her adoption either, all I have to say is that it's too soon to tell whether it's really not a big deal to her, or whether she's not telling me everything she thinks!

When she was two, she was very interested in her personal history, but the part that fascinated her was how she grew inside a tummy. For a while she was miffed that it wasn't my tummy, but eventually she accepted that and moved on. Even now she will sometimes talk about how tiny she was "when I was growing inside my birthmother." I will mention from time to time that I wonder whether someone in her birth family shares one of her traits (athleticism, curiosity, the ability to curl her tongue...), and that has gone over well. The other day she announced, "I bet my birthmother loves blueberries, because I love blueberries!" She mentioned once (after reading the book Rosie's Family) that she would like to meet her birth family someday, but the part of China that she is really nostalgic about is her orphanage. She loves to look at pictures from there and make up stories about what she did when she was a baby, and she has been adamant for a long time that she wants to go back on a visit and see the babies who are there now. She did go through a stage at age five where most of the stories she made up about her time at the orphanage were ones of loss (e.g. that another baby had broken her favorite bottle), and I believe that was a form of grieving. She has enjoyed a variety of adoption-themed books over the years, but for the most part no more than many other books. (But Over the Moon was a favorite for a long time. I changed a few words in the ending when I read it out loud to her.)

She will describe herself as Chinese, but for a long time talked about hating her black hair (although she does like her eyes!). Unfortunately we live in a overwhelmingly Caucasian area, but there is a little girl in her gymnastics class who has similar coloring to her, and I was very pleased the other day when she said that "So-and-so is so pretty that I can't take my eyes off of her!" She does like many Chinese things (like dumplings!), but for their own merits, not because they are Chinese.

Now that I've gotten so long-winded, I just remembered that I blogged about some of those five-year-old conversations at the time that they happened: http://chasingstarshine.blogspot.com/2012/11/threads-of-adoption.html

Linette said...

And I found another blog from when she was two: http://chasingstarshine.blogspot.com/2010/04/tell-me-about-my-tummy.html

All this interest in tummies was precipitated by reading library books about babies growing in tummies, not by books on adoption, although she liked several of those as well.

Christina said...

I just stumbled across this today- you may have already seen it- I found it interesting and helpful- http://www.pattycogenparenting.com/a-guide-to-articles/thinking-developmentally-about-birth-parents/

a Tonggu Momma said...

Thanks, y'all for your comments. Much food for thought.

And Christina, wow, I hope lots of APs click on that link. Very helpful. I think temperament plays a large role in this for my two. The oldest is a tremendously deep feeler. She also had a lot more awareness of babies and where they come from at a young age.

But there was so much more. This, especially, stuck with me: "Consequently, children who are caught up deeply in the sadness of birth parent loss, may in fact be imagining losing parents who are just like their adopted parents. " We lost the Tongginator's best friend's mother/ our next-door neighbor to cancer when she was four-and-a-half. I think that played a very large role in things - Rosie's death, her grandfather's death just weeks later... it makes more sense to me now. Thank you for sharing that article.