Wanting

May 12, 2010

Sometimes I question our decision to move to Sicily. Don't get me wrong. I love it here. The natural beauty, the food, the vibrant people, the travel, the cultural exchanges. I love all of those things and I feel good about being able to share that with my children. But there have been some sacrifices. By moving here, we left behind a large Jewish community and a great Jewish preschool. Our children suddenly went from being surrounded by other Jewish families to being one of only a handful. Noah is the only Jewish student in the entire elementary school. That hasn't been easy, but it has been the source for lots of good conversations. We joyfully celebrate Shabbat each week. And we enjoy being part of a tight knit group of Jewish families. When we gather for services or holiday celebrations, everyone pitches in to make it work. Most of the time it feels good to pull together and make the extra effort to ensure our faith is strong and our Jewish identity is passed on to our children. Other times, I miss having a Rabbi, weekly services, and a formal Sunday school, but in general our life as a Jewish family here is good. Different from what we had for the past three years, but still good.

However, our life as an adoptive family has not been faring as well. The sacrifices have felt bigger. We left behind friends with families like ours (built through adoption), Taiwanese friends, a very active adoption group, my beloved book club, a city with diversity and two Asian food markets near our house. We know of only two other families who have adopted internationally, but when I attempted to host a gathering there wasn't any response. I am really hoping that this summer will bring a few more families...perhaps I should send out some kind of wanted ad encouraging adoptive families to move to Sicily? Selfish, but maybe it would work?


During our recent trip to Amsterdam, this came into clearer focus for me. We encountered several families who had clearly adopted from Asian countries. It stopped me in my tracks. Literally. I stared and had to fight the crazy urge bubbling up inside to tackle them and tell them that we were just like them. And it hit me then, that I was lonely for those friendships and that support that has always been in our lives until now. Prior to those "sightings" (I sound like a crazed stalker, don't I?) I had been focusing my energy on helping us all to adjust to a new culture.

Since moving here I haven't read any adoption related books, I haven't kept up with many adoption blogs, I haven't gotten on any of my yahoo adoption groups...these are all things that had previously been a big part of life. I think some of that happens naturally with time. Similar to being a first time parent...spend lots of energy and time reading all the latest parenting books, buying all of the newest gadgets and safety items, searching for reassurance that you are doing everything the "right way" and then the second child comes along and suddenly all of that activity seems excessive and there isn't any need or time for it. But I also think that part of my separation from the adoption world is related to this physical separation and it worries me a bit. We are very much in the minority here in Sicily. If we lived in Northern Europe or Spain, we would have larger sources for support. Whenever we travel with Camille...small Sicilian towns, Turkey (lots of commentary there about traveling with an Asian child), Germany, and our recent trip to Naples...we are suddenly under very close inspection. Most of the attention is just curiosity and genuine interest, some of it has bordered on rude, and some of it is religious which doesn't sit well with me (God bless us for "saving" her...see Laurie's recent post where she speaks even more eloquently about this).

Getting attention in public isn't a new thing and in many ways Camille handles it better than any of us, but feeling so isolated is new for us. And I worry that it is happening during a crucial developmental time. Camille is more aware than ever of differences in skin color, family composition, and birth stories. She is trying to make sense of it all and somehow place it in the context of the princess stories she loves so much. I have been working hard to introduce more multicultural stories and characters, but she often refuses and wants to re-read the stories of those lily white princesses that swoon and twirl. I have been pulling out more adoption stories lately (if you have any favorites, please share) and most of the time she is receptive and responsive. And then there is "Year of the Dog" which we have on audio book and she listens to almost compulsively these days. I think she is drawn more to the humor than the Taiwanese connection, but I am glad she enjoys it. But in my heart I know that books and Asian dolls are not enough. I try to reassure myself that she is becoming a Global citizen of the world...speaking Italian, traveling, making friends where ever we go, but underneath it all I also worry that at this stage in her life she shouldn't be the only one. The only Asian child living with a white family in Sicily.


When I recently went to apply sunscreen on Camille's arm, she wanted more because she worried she was getting too brown. She said she wanted to have white skin. It hurt to hear those words coming out of her mouth. I wasn't shocked. I have had friends tell me about similar conversations with their kids. I know that all children have things that bother them, that set them apart, that lead to teasing. I have read books. And I have to admit there is some basis for her desire to have different skin. She is surrounded by people with lighter skin. But it still took my breath away for a moment and made me wish we could give her a different experience. I really, really wish I could get on Amazon.com and order up some adoptive families, some darker skin for myself, playmates with a wider variety of skin tones and have them all sent to Sicily by express mail. Guess I will have to settle for ordering some new books and give some serious thought to where we will move next.


***My mom made the doll in the photo. She got the kit last year during her trip to London. Camille loves her new dolly and promptly named her Ni Hao Kai-Lan...which is way better than Ariel, but still...

Anonymous said...

I think that is why I love living in a metropolitan area. We are different but we blend instead of stick out. Ansley is very aware of skin color these days. She has started talking about how Turner's color is brown but she has beige/white skin like mommy and daddy, etc. She has also started talking about her Taiwan mommy and how wonderful she is and how she used to hold her and feed her, etc.

But again, we have families that look like ours in one way or another. Funny how they haven't caught on to how Sawyer is different. I guess that will come when they get older. His differences don't stand out to a young child as much as skin does, I guess.

I wish you good luck. If I could move over there (just for a few weeks), I'd do so.

BTW, I don't read as many blogs about adoptive families anymore either. Nor do I read yahoo groups. It is just the nature of 'moving on' with life, I think.

Jan

boatbaby said...

Hugs, hugs and more hugs to you!I grew up in a neighborhood that was so Jewish that we all knew about "that one Christian family". It was reverse culture shock for me moving away to where we were the only Jews. I realized how little I knew about other religions, specificcally Christianity that I felt dumb.

We're also Latino (my husband is actually also adopted and does not know hi ethnicity, but it is clearly not American). My son is very olive complected and I get comments all the time (I am by fluke a very fair skinned South American). It amazes me that people don't get that humans comes in different colors, even here in the mertro DC area! My son is SO proud of his South American roots and his dark skin. He once rubbed his finger across the skin of a very fair skinned, freckled all-American girl (clearly of Irish descent) and said, "Wow, I have never seen anyone as white as you! Your people must come from a cold country. My people are the people of the sun."
I don't know what my point is in all of this, I just hope you find your tribe. Regardless of where you live, it always takes a while to form a tribe. Keep at it mama!

Laurie said...

I can only imagine how hard it must be, especially, you are right, with Camille right where she is developmentally. I do think your kids are gaining an invaluable experience (global citizenry, and all of that). And they know there are other families 'out there' -that they know but don't live near. I think you are doing the best you can do - and I think that ultimately it will be enough. Having said that, this diverse city would LOVE for you to come HOME in a couple years. We miss you guys, too. Huge hugs...

House Mother said...

I could laugh and cry with you reading this post.

Cry for the homesickness -- home being the place where you 'fit' and everybody just gets it. No explanations necessary.

Laugh out loud at wanting to tackle people, stalking, and 'sightings' -- which is exactly what I call it when I see someone with Down syndrome. Even though I see people with Down syndrome all the time...I never get over the thrill.

I have absolutely loved being a global citizen and traveling with my family this year but I.CAN.NOT.WAIT. to attend a local support group meeting and a Moms night out where every single other Mom in the room will totally 'get it'.

We've also been openly discriminated against here based on religion. Yikes!

I don't have it all figured out yet but my definitions of home, tribe, village, friend, and family have been forever changed thanks to living on the 'outside' of 'normal' for a year.

Thanks for this thoughtful post.

LindyLouMac said...

A very moving post, thankyou for sharing your innermost feelings.

hollysjoy said...

My husband is Chinese American, we live in an area where we don't stick out, and still my son has these feelings.

He's still a minority. In the U.S., at least, he always will be. There is a coming to terms with that. For him, it's tidal, the importance.

Hawaii is the one place we've been where we didn't stand out as a family.

likeschocolate said...

Unfortunately, Camille is not alone when it comes to wanting her skin color lighter. We had neighbors who were African American and wouldn't let there sun play outside because they didn't want his skin to get too dark. No adoption in that family, just a sad story where society has told them they are not beautiful. My son was one of the only toe head children in his class a couple years ago and he wanted brown hair. I just told him that I loved him just the way he was. I think the issue of having other Asian friends will not be as a big of an issue until she is a teenager when everything about her idenity will be an issue. I would try to take this opportunity to really get to know some of the locals. As to the religion issue, I can understand. I am in a minority religion (Mormon), and just about every where we go we are few in number and often mis-understood. However, I am not moving to Utah anytime soon, so I have learned to deal with all the questions and jokes. It strengthens my testimony as I am sure you have found yours has grown a little stronger too. You can't take it for granted when you have to work so hard to maintain it.

Tisra said...

We live in the South, but on a cul-de-sac where there are, I kid you not!, 5 adoptive families. So, while I may feel a bit odd at times out and about, our very loving neighborhood provides some normalcy and acceptance. But, I also think it won't be like this forever and we'll just have to take it as it comes! I'm only 6 months in, with a 2 year old (who is less aware, obviously) so check in with me in a few years! :-)

Tara said...

Camille's skin comment hits me hard in the stomach, since our girls have the same gorgeous skin. Ugh.
Tara

Mom2Isabel said...

STrangely, Isabel has not made the "different skin color" connection yet but has focused on our eye color. Almost daily she points out that the sunshine is bright for my eyes but not for hers...because they are brown. To which I respond with comments about how my siblings and I all have different eye color.

She hasn't assigned value to one color over another yet.
But (sadly) I know it's coming.

PS I feel guilty about loving the JCA. We joined in January (LOVE IT!) and Isabel will be spending the summer at Tovim in Camp Gan Yeladim.

Lori and Brian said...

Hi Lucia! I sent you an email but not sure if you check that account. I was tagged to make a post about my 5 favorite italian words. So I need to tag someone to keep it going. Was wondering if you wouldn't mind if I tagged you?
Hope you're having a great week!
-Lori

Anonymous said...

Hi House Mother, I'm "Anonymous", Jan.

My son Sawyer has Down Syndrome. I do the whole stalking thing too:
1. Down Syndrome
2. Asian child
3. African (Ethiopian) child.

I"m dangerous in public!

Jan

Chinazhoumom said...

You know - I have heard the same thing fm K - I want to be white like you mommy- to which I tell me - we both have olive skin - show her our palms - and explain that since she plays outside for a few hours a day everyday - she is more tan - and show her my tan line...and yep they notice - she went thru a period where she mentioned it about school - next fall K will be attending a n more diverse school...

Good Luck - and you can COME HOME anytime - !

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Thank you for being my on-line "tribe". I am sorry I didn't respond sooner to these comments (sick for the past couple of days). But I really did appreciate each and every one of them. Thank you for letting me vent and wallow for a little bit and for not letting me feel quite so alone.

In addition to these comments, I got a very nice e-mail message from a family in France who also shares a connection to Taiwan and a few weeks ago a message from a family in Germany...starting to think about organizing some sort of gathering for families in Europe. If you are interested, let me know.

lisa said...

Lucia- a very thoughtful post, some of what you said surprised me. The last few weeks I've been wallowing (drowning?) in my own homesickness. My wonderful husband offered a 'cure' in the form of taking a week off of work so I could fly home (by myself!!) and go to my to-be SIL's bridal shower. I put up a blog about what its going to be like to travel without kids, but also touched on the sacrifices a military family makes. I think its easy for people to think its just hard when your husband gets sent TAD or is deployed to a war zone but there is also a lot of sacrifice in being rooted up every couple of years, being sent to live on the other side of the world far away from "home" and family, missing all kinds of important events (weddings, family get togethers, holidays) because $/distance limits how much you can do, trying to find meaningful connections with people every time you move or friends leave. Anyway, I can relate to some of what you've said. I really hope this trip home gets me out of my funk because I don't want to spend our last year in Japan wishing it would just be over.

lisa said...

Lucia- a very thoughtful post, some of what you said surprised me. The last few weeks I've been wallowing (drowning?) in my own homesickness. My wonderful husband offered a 'cure' in the form of taking a week off of work so I could fly home (by myself!!) and go to my to-be SIL's bridal shower. I put up a blog about what its going to be like to travel without kids, but also touched on the sacrifices a military family makes. I think its easy for people to think its just hard when your husband gets sent TAD or is deployed to a war zone but there is also a lot of sacrifice in being rooted up every couple of years, being sent to live on the other side of the world far away from "home" and family, missing all kinds of important events (weddings, family get togethers, holidays) because $/distance limits how much you can do, trying to find meaningful connections with people every time you move or friends leave. Anyway, I can relate to some of what you've said. I really hope this trip home gets me out of my funk because I don't want to spend our last year in Japan wishing it would just be over.

Francesca said...

Your post really touched and moved me Lucia. Trying to give any advice would seem a little presumptuous on my part. Sending you warm hugs.

Jocelyn said...

Oh my, on twenty-seven different fronts. You articulate so well the pangs of living in a new place--but you enrich those observations with your very specific needs, hopes, wants. I suspect, even if you were living elsewhere, much of what Camille is starting to think about and measure would still be happening. Our good friends (who are white) adopted an African-American son nearly six years ago, and he started, about a year and a half ago, really remarking his difference. It got to the point where our friends found themselves overstepping boundaries when at the playground in their attempts to sidle up to African-American families and MAKE FRIENDS, so they could HAVE PLAYDATES.

Kind of like shipping some very particular families over to Sicily!

Lost in Sicily said...

So much going on for you but so glad to hear you are making such strong connections. I do relate to what Noah is going through, though, having grown up in a mostly non-Jewish neighborhood I quickly discovered what it meant to be the different one and had some painful moments with that. But there is no doubt in my mind that the love and support and simple strength of identity my parents showed me is what helped me get through those rough spots, and I have no doubt that you and A. are doing just that!!!! I admire you so much.

Heather said...

Lucia, I've been thinking about your post for quite awhile now, trying to come up with just the right response. Mostly I just want you to know how much I appreciate you sharing your experiences, thoughts, feelings, in such an eloquent way. It's always a pleasure to see the world through your eyes, even when it breaks my heart.

The other night at dinner, Katy, who is just about Camille's age, looked at each of us and declared, "You're white, Mama, and you're brown, Papa, but what color am I?" I wasn't ready for that, but I coughed up something like "You're just the right color for you." It would kill me to hear her say she wanted to be white like me or have blue eyes like mine. I can just imagine how hard it was for you to hear that from Camille, and I ache for you, for what you can't give her at this impressionable time in her life. I know from experience how much more comfortable it is for a family like ours (or yours) to live in a multicultural area, and I'm grateful that our little Spanish-speaking congregation has such a range of skin-tones and hair color, so our children can grow up without being preoccupied by looking "different."

Anyway, good luck getting an adoptive families support group together. I'm thinking of you and your Camille.

Dana said...

We do take America's diversity for granted, don't we? Or at least, I know I do.
I do miss it, terribly.

Cami said...

Oh, it's a hard situation. I know it's hard to shut out what other people say about your family--I've had lots of comments from strangers about my boys when their autism was the most pronounced. I am sure you told Camille how beautiful she is just the way she is. I think you've done such a wonderful job of mixing cultures and keeping everyone true to who they are in every way. You're doing great. It's hard to be homesick too. We're surrounded by people just like us here in Utah, and somehow that makes us feel more alone sometimes. It just all depends on what you're used to.

Tree said...

I love your sentiments in the post and understand how it must feel to be one of few as opposed to one of many....I smiled at the idea of you stalking other families - you know, I am sure that they would love to have chatted!

I love the Clothkits Doll - I still have mine, that my mum made for me 32 years ago! You can see the original doll not reprinted to be made for the next generation of little girls on their website.

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