Drooling on the Pillow

Friday, March 24, 2006


Before we went to China to adopt Gracie we belonged to a newsgroup of people in our situation and people who had already come back, sharing information and advice. We did get some good advice about the trip and dealing with officials, but we wound up quitting the group long before we left for China.

For one thing, it was a creature of an organization formed for parents of adopted Chinese kids and like any organization, it had Policy. They believed that it is the responsibility of us, as parents, to maintain close cultural, intellectual and emotional ties with China and the Chinese community here. They had very clear ideas on how this was to be done and were quite stong in the opinion that if you did not do as they suggested, you were committing child abuse.

I do think you should make available to your adopted child any and all cultural resources that might help them find their place in the world. And I'm not opposed to pushing a kid toward something I believe he needs, but which he's resisting. Up to a point.

That point begins the instant someone presumes to dictate my parenting decisions and claims to know better than I what my girl needs. They don't.

What was, to me, even more irritating were the barrage of stories about the blatant racism encountered by these brave parents. They seemed to be in a constant state of outrage over remarks made, looks given, and subtexts read. I remember a woman describing an old woman cooing over her kid and then making the fatal remark, "She's just a little China doll." You could almost feel the spittle coming out of the monitor. The woman was angry and she wouldn't let it go. You only had to look at these ori/occidental families a moment too long to incur their wrath.

Bah. Let me tell you something. We've taken Grace for extended periods to South Carolina, upstate New York, the Poconos and central Pennsylvania. People do look. Grace notices them looking. It's an odd thing if you haven't encountered it before. And if you acknowledge their look and smile, nine times out of ten they're going to want to ask you questions. The questions aren't always artfully posed. But not once, not one single time in the thousands of people who have met us and the hundreds of people who have engaged us on the subject have I detected the smallest whiff of disapproval. They like it. People like the idea of a different kind of family. If I met someone who didn't like it, the hell with them. But it's been eight years and it hasn't happened yet.

There was an article on the bottom of the front page of the Times on Thursday about children from the first wave of Chinese adoptions in 1991 and their trip through adolescence. Adopted in China, Seeking Identity in America, by Lynette Clemetson (registration required) compares and contrasts these girls, in their middle teens. There is some interesting material there, along with some yammering from a social worker and other 'experts' but I think it misses an important point entirely.

All kids at this age are struggling with their identity. Being Asian with white parents is an aspect of these particular girls' struggle, but all kids face unique challenges as well as universal ones. There are only two things you can do to help them, really, whether they're Chinese-American or California-American. One is unconditional love and the other is a firm hand when they need it. All the Chinese dance classes in the world won't help once a kid is infected with teenitis.

The article does point out that some kids feel very connected to their birth culture and some kids never give it a thought. You only have to spend a little time around foreign adopted kids to know this is true. There is a school of thought that the second type of kid is displaying a social pathology. Well, people are entitled to think whatever they like. But they need to stay the hell away from my kid.
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