Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fourth Time is a Charm

I really want to write tonight, but it keeps devolving into whining and navel gazing.  It would be like putting my 8th grade diary on the internet.  After three tries, I'm giving up on analyzing my current angst.  Instead of writing about what's on my mind, I'm going to jump back two months and write about something that I'm still mulling over from time to time. 

Part of our adoption situation was that because we were adopting from a country some of my ancestors were from (maternal grandfather emmigrated from there as a baby), we were moved up the line.  Less than a year after we adopted, international adoption was closed entirely, except in cases of large sibling groups and those with special medical needs, so that was a significant help in getting matched with our kids.  The expectation, non-binding yet clear, was that in return, we would have the ability and motivation to help our kids know their birth culture. 

Before adopting our kids, I found a lady who speaks their language, and she tutored me once a week for months.  I didn't learn as much as I'd hoped, given that I already speak a similar language,  but I did get enough to survive those first few crazy months with some small ability to communicate with our kids.  My tutor was also our introduction to the local community of ex-pats and immigrants.  The first year home, I tried to get them involved in the children's program of the Christmas program.  Oak balked, but Linden danced and recited poems with the other kids.  The community's president brought our family onto the stage and introduced us, and suggested that the fund-raising side of the evening's events go towards supporting the Children's Home our kids came from.  This was so well intentioned that I dealt with the embarrassment of standing on a stage being gawked at.  Linden danced again at the Independence Day celebration last spring, and again we were brought onto the stage, and the results of the fund raising campaign and the response of the Director of the Children's Home were shared with the group. 

We missed this year's Christmas event.   Life was too complicated to add that in just then.  Linden and even Oak asked about it though, and Linden insisted that I get her signed up for participating in the independence day event again.  So I did, and she did.  We were on our way there when Oak asked, "Do we have to go onto the stage in front of everyone again?"  I laughed and said, no, I think we are done with that.

The kids danced.  Some big girls danced.  There was a keynote speech, then speeches of thanks.  Then one of the moms who organizes the kids' dancing stood up with a bouquet and directed everyone's attention towards our table.  "We want to thank Wendy and Winemaker for bringing Linden and Oak," she began.  Oak gave me a LOOK.  The Winemaker and I shifted uncomfortably.  She went on for a bit about how wonderful we are to do what we do, then brought me the flowers. 


This is the kind of thing that drives adoptive parents nuts.  Being singled out as different.  Being praised for wanting what every other parent in the room already has--kids.  Being respected for simply parenting your children (even though you know what a shitty job you are doing).  The implications for the kids are squirmy too.  That they are "lucky we took them in."  That we rescued them.  That they are weird. 

That was my knee jerk reaction, anyway.  I'm wondering though, if (like most knee jerk reactions) this was entirely fair or accurate.  As I listened to what the Baltic mom was saying, I don't think the message was "Thank you for rescuing these poor little children."  I think (and hope) that the message was "Thank you for maintaining cultural ties.  Thank you for walking into a situation where you feel out of place in order to provide your kids with a situation where they feel in place.  Thank you for honoring their birth culture in a tangible way." 

I feel more comfortable accepting those thanks.  I could say that this, too, should be part of the basic expectations for parenting internationally adopted kids, not something praiseworthy, but frankly, it's not always possible.  People adopt from multiple countries, or from countries they know little about.  People live far away from communities that represent their kids' birth cultures.  People are wonderful, loving, and therapeutic parents who simply don't have the cross cultural background to integrate a second culture into their family life.  It was and is important to us.  We specifically chose to adopt from a country we knew we would visit again anyway; a place we felt competent to teach our kids about.  Then we overcame a great deal of shyness to reach out to strangers and find ways to stay connected to the local community from their country.  When I discovered that the other moms were all 15 years younger than me, gorgeous blonde marathon runners with marble countertops, I kept coming back anyway.  I think it would be a disaster to force Oak to participate in folk dancing, but we insist that he dress up and show up for the final events.   Maybe it's okay to be thanked for that. 

What do you do to help your kids maintain their roots?  How necessary do you think this is to their overall sense of self?

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