Does She Speak English?

August 18, 2008

Today was another first, but not a good one. It's one that I have been dreading for awhile. An older boy chanting "Chinese girl, Chinese girl" while pointing at Camille. I didn't hear it or find out about it until driving home in the car with Noah and his cousin. She reported that one of her classmates was making fun of Camille. My heart sank and my inner mama bear roared. I was proud of how Isabella told him to stop and we discussed how to handle future incidents. But several hours later I am still mulling it over. The whole thing kind of transported me back to childhood when I would also mull over teasing incidents. Feeling sad and mad and thinking of all the great things I should have said. I know that all children get teased at some point about something and I know that my children will not be immune from that especially because of their minority status in terms of religion and/or ethnicity, but it doesn't make it any easier.

I think the incident also feels even more raw because I have been very conscious of the fact that Camille is clearly in the minority here. I haven't seen any other Asian faces in the small town where we are temporarily living and only a handful in the larger surrounding towns. Last week while taking a walk around town an older woman with a strong Cajun accent stopped her car in the middle of Main Street to shout out "Is she one of those adopted ones?" Startled I replied "Yes" and took note of the traffic starting to line up behind her. She then smiled and said "Mais, chere she's so pretty". Then she asked "Does she speak English?" I quickly answered "yes" and then started to pull the wagon along the street. She smiled, waved and drove off. I kept walking down the street with two sweaty children bickering in the wagon. It was such a strange exchange and another one that left me thinking about how I could have/should have responded. It seemed as if her interest was sincere, but at the same time I also felt as if we were a moving cultural exhibit on Main Street and that didn't feel so good. I was grateful that Noah and Camille were too busy jostling for a better spot in the wagon to really take note of the conversation in the middle of the street.

Both of these incidents are ones I have thought about and as much as I have tried to read or prepare for them it always seems to catch me off guard. I am just not as eloquent or quick witted as I would like to be. Both of these incidents also feel like the tip of the iceberg of what is ahead for us and for Camille. I wish it wasn't so, but it is. But the conversation I had in the cell phone store last week (yes, I had to get another new cell phone...that's for another post!) has left me reeling with revelations on a very different level. The woman at the counter made the comment "she must really look like her dad" without thinking I responded "I imagine so" (stupid me, why did I say that?). And seeing her puzzled look, I added "she's adopted". She smiled and went about giving me another poor quality phone to replace the new one I bought that barely lasted a month,while I stood there and felt as if I had been hit in the stomach with a bag of bricks.

Camille will never know her birth father as I knew mine. She may never know anything about him including what he looks like. One of the reasons we chose to adopt from Taiwan is the ability to have contact with her birth family. But at this point that is only her mother and her mother's family. We don't have any information about her father. That has always made me sad, but it never really hit me on such a guttural level until that moment in the cell phone store. I am sure my response is more intense now as I am dealing with the grief of losing my father, but I think it is also heightened by Camille's recurring statements during the past few months: "I lost my daddy (deployment). I lost my grandpa". She is struggling with the absence of two of the most important men in her life and yet she is too young to realize that there is another man missing in her life. The one who shares her genes, her looks, and perhaps her love of reading, eating, and dancing.

So, yes,she does speak English but some days I wish she didn't. It would be so nice to somehow protect/insulate her (and Noah) from all of the sadness, cruelty, and loss that is a part of our world and her story. But I can't and that is one of the most painful aspects of parenting.
Anonymous said...

I had that melancholy/blue feeling yesterday too. (it carries over today) Randy was telling me about meeting our son's birth mother and extended family. The loss that my son will someday come to understand. The loss the birth family must have felt. It tugs at my heart. I had that same overwhelming feeling with Ansley too. Wishing I could protect them from the pain. Wishing I could protect them all from the teasing. If I ever find a way to handle it, I"m going to write a book. I think we all struggle with it.

Funny how folks believe they have the 'right' to ask those questions. I usually just say 'yes' or "no" and move away very quickly before anymore questions can be answered.


Tisra said...

Whew. So much to mull over. And what conflict of heart and mind- to analyze it all so that we explain well to our children and make it a learning experience and the impetus for character growth. But, do we make to big a deal of it all and take offenses too easily? Hmmm. I won't know until we have our very own daughter who "looks Chinese". *sigh*

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Jan, Congratulations on your son! Please, please send me the link again to your blog...I can't find it anywhere and I would love to read about your journey!

I know that I am feeling more sensitive about issues of grief and loss, but in some ways I am grateful because it gives me a little more of an understanding for the grief that comes with the loss of a parent whether it be through death or adoption. That may sound dramatic but I truly believe the loss of a parent touches one's core in a very different way than other losses. Don't get me wrong. I am thrilled that Camille is a part of our family, just sad that she also has a family out there that she will never know in the same way. Have you seen this blog yet? It is written by an adult adoptee from Taiwan. Not always easy reading but it is an honest expression of her experience and one I think we, as adoptive parents can learn from.

Andrea said...

I think you are handling things just fine. It is always hard to think on the spot what you should say or what you would want to say because it's like it comes out of nowhere when people question your family. I honestly forget my daughter is Asian sometimes because I simply don't see her as Asian, she's just my wild two year old.

I am glad you have other children who look out for your daughter. I think that will help her if or when she starts to pick up on things. Kids can be cruel and sometimes they surprise you too, and think nothing of someone different. Let's hope for more of kids just playing and being kids having fun.

I'm sorry about your father. I liked the little story about the paint balls. That is a neat way to have something unique and special to remind you (and your kids) of him.

Kellie said...

It is disquieting to have the harshness of the world bump up against the safe haven you have created for your family. The walls of home will hold, though, and your kids will always be able to come there to find refuge and gain strength to go back out into the world. It is a powerful mother's blessing that I have seen work over and over again as my kids have spread their wings ever wider. Take comfort, friend.

Melissa said...

I live in South Louisiana!! I can't find an email address for you. Mine is I am also trying to get through Unconditional Parenting (I have a 2 year old so reading an entire book takes a really long time now).

I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry that happened to Camille.

Corinne said...

The end of your post made me teary - she HAS lost a lot, and you are such a good mommy to be so aware of the troubles that face her. You are giving her the love and tools she needs to have an amazing life.

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