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October 08, 2009

"Didn't their mother want them?"

We ask our Garmin navigation system to lead us to a new park almost every day.   Sometimes the parks are duds but sometimes they're awesome! Today, we found a hidden gem nestled into a little neighborhood right next to a major expressway that we travel several times per week.   Because of a chain link fence dividing it from the major roadway, it was challenging to get to it even though we could clearly see it from the busy 4 lane road (as our van zipped by at 50 mph). 

Finally, we zigzagged our way through the 30 year old maze of streets connecting hundreds of identical tract homes and finally came to a stop in front of the park.  The girls leaped out of the van and made a bee-line for the play equipment stopping only briefly to observe the three tweenage boys (still in their school uniforms) who were misusing the swings.  When they left, the girls swooped in and did their best to copy every unconventional thing they'd seen the boys do.   

Before I could say "stop it!" for the third time, four little girls -- age 8 to 11 -- showed up and started an enticing game of copy-cat where each girl would attempt to do exactly what the 'leader' did.  They giggled as they performed various gymnastic feats in an obstacle-course style. 

The leader was a smallish girl with light brown hair who wore a common school uniform (tan pants/white shirt ) and sported a missing front tooth.  She climbed up on the monkey bars and sat there with one leg over the bar (just beneath her bent knee) and one leg under.  Then she did an impressive 360 degree rotation followed by a clumsy dismount and smiled her challenge at the next girl.

Girl number two was a tall skinny girl in the same uniform who seemed very graceful and flexible but her legs were impossibly long so her foot dragged on the ground when she tried to spin 360 degrees around the same horizontal bar. 

The third girl was at least 40 pounds overweight but also wore same uniform.  We learned that she was Missing Tooth Girl's sister.  She seemed awkwardly aware of her physical limitations so she didn't show very much enthusiasm for taking the horizontal bar challenge.  Instead, she laughed nervously and stepped aside to clear a path for the last girl to give it a try.  I was paying close attention because Gwen was smitten (as usual) with these bigger girls and was wasting no time trying to get herself involved in the game.  A game she was very much too little to be able to play.

The last girl was the oldest by at least a few years and was wearing a different color school uniform.  She climbed up on the bar just as Gwen appeared beneath her.  She seemed relieved that Gwen was in her way because she didn't really seem to want to accept the physical challenge of twirling around that bar using only the back of her left knee to support her.   Given her height, it was possible that she'd have nothing to show for her victory but a bunch of playground wood chips in her hair and, probably, a sore knee.

Gwen LOVES making new friends and she's not the least bit shy about marching right up to any kid -- regardless of their age or gender or how many of their peers happen to be around.  Brave girl!  Her confidence gains more strength every time her tactics pay off and since she's never been rejected, they always pay off. 

I'm constantly in awe of her fearlessness.  I sure as heck wasn't comfortable doing this when I was a little girl so I always watch VERY closely to make sure today isn't the day her bubble bursts and she's verbally abused by the big girls she idolizes.    Seriously, I'm always a bit nervous when I see her approach a group of adolescents or pre-teens and I'm on high alert - ready to swoop in and pull her away - because I understand the forces at play here and I don't really fault the bigger girls for wanting to defend their boundaries or not wanting to be pestered by an adoring 5 year old fan.  By the way, Maddy always hangs back a bit and waits for Gwen to clear the way, socially, before she dares to join in.  I'm not even sure I was that brave when I was her age!

Anyway, so Gwen is standing there smiling up at Blue Shirt Girl and BSG seems relieved that she has a good reason to not do that 360 degree spin so I stand up and casually start to walk toward them.  The other girls have moved on to some other physical challenge but they take note of me when I approach and start to gather around me.  I smile at my beaming little girl (who clearly believes she's in the presence of childhood royalty) and invite her to move out of the way so the bigger girls can play their game.

Missing Tooth Girl saunters over and points at Gwen and Maddy and asks if I'm their mom.  When I say I am, she immediately asks if their dad "is like them".    Obviously, she wants to know if my husband (Gwen and Maddy's father) is Chinese and since he very clearly isn't I don't even wait for their next question and simply say "No, their father isn't Asian and you probably noticed that I'm not either.  Our daughters are adopted.  They were born in China."

I was so proud of myself!  Gwen and Maddy didn't even blink and everyone seemed happy with the answer and eager to get on with their play.  Then Missing Tooth Girl asked the question I always knew was possible but didn't think anyone would ever actually dare to ask: 

"Didn't their mother want them?"

I threw a quick glance at my girls and they seemed oblivious (thankfully!) to the question so that gave me time to draw a deep breath and think up an answer that didn't also include a firm scolding.    None of these kids were the same ethnicity as Gwen and Maddy and things that make us different also tend to make us curious.  Too often, I think many of us CHOOSE to be offended when people don't don't use politically correct terminology when discussing something we're emotionally connected to (like adoption) but I've also believed that most don't really have any intention of offending us.  They simply haven't given their question an abundance of thought.  So I used this (as best I could) as an opportunity to teach these kids a few things about International Adoption in the hope that they'd never need to ask such an ugly question ever again.

If they were an adult, I might have called them to task for not choosing different words (or speaking in front of my kids about such a personal issue) but these were kids and the only point of reference they know is the life they have.  In THEIR life, they can't fathom any situation where their own mother would give them away to an orphanage or another family. 

I didn't think a Chinese history lesson or a discussion of China's one-child policy was practical so pulled a page from the Disney Movie playbook and went straight to the two most easily exploitable childhood emotions:  Maternal death and poverty

I said, "We don't know anything about their Chinese mommy and daddy.  Maybe they died or maybe they were really really poor and couldn't afford food or clothes or medicine for their baby".  I threw in a sentence or two about how China and America is very different and then I added "We're just glad there was a safe place for their baby to live until someone could adopt her!" 

I thought that might be the end of it but the questions and comments kept coming! 

  • "What's her name?"
  • "No, not her name NOW but her name back then?"
  • "How old was she when you adopted her?"
  • "My aunt wants adopt because it's easier than going through the pain of having a baby"
  • "Our friend in Mexico has three jobs and no time for taking care of a baby so she wants my mom to adopt the baby" 
  • "Did you go to China to adopt her or were you visiting China and just decide to adopt?"
  • "Did you have to give money to them to adopt her?"
  • "Did you pick them? (I responded that China had to approve us!)

and finally, my favorite:  "You're lucky China said yes!"

.....Yes, we sure are!




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