When I go out in public with my little siblings, we often face an awkward conundrum. Though we walk in a little clump through the isles of Target or the grocery store and all pour in and out of the same car, strangers often mistakenly think we are not together.
It wouldn’t take that much observation to figure it out. After all, do you see anyone else barking at those kids to stay close, stop touching that, hurry up, other than myself? And do you notice how we’re all kind of putting food in the same grocery basket? And we all smell like the same body wash? No?
The thing that always throws folks off our scent is, of course, the fact that I’m white and nearly half my family is black. Sam is a barrel-chested teenager with mahogany skin. I’m skinny and pale, to put it bluntly. Jubilee has legs like a gazelle and hair like a firework. Willin has caramel skin and pouty lips. Did I mention I’m skinny and pale?
But we laugh about it, and sometimes even enjoy it a little. I mean, who doesn’t like listening to strangers trying to reword a question that’s already done-come out of their mouths? Smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave…
Thankfully, my little siblings know plenty of other black kids with white siblings and/or parents. To them, it’s really not a big deal (at this point.) But we also know a lot of adopted kiddos whose adoptive parents look…exactly like them. I’m not talking about people who requested a certain race. I’m talking about “Are you positive, beyond a shadow-of-a-doubt, that you did not give birth to this child? Maybe you blacked out for a sec and don’t remember??”
It seems like there is an uncanny amount of “randomly referred” children who wind up in Forever Families that they “match” with. We joke that we’re the only ones who don’t match at all. No one will ever look at Jubilee and back at my mom and say, “She looks just like you!” But the reality remains: this happens a lot in other families. What gets me though, is that people sometimes find it offensive when other people make remarks about their adopted kids looking like them.
Now, I understand if someone was bemoaning the fact that your child does not look like you. That could be hurtful, for sure. Or if they were saying “It’s a good thing they look like you, because you can never really be family to someone who looks different than you!” That’s just wrong. But saying something like, “Wow, he has your eyes!” or “She actually favors her older sister, doesn’t she?” Isn’t necessarily rude. Sometimes it’s just true. Just the facts ma’am…
And you know what? Celebrating those similarities can actually be a good thing. I’ve written before about how I don’t want to teach kids to be “color blind” because differences are beautiful and worth celebrating. But that doesn’t mean similarities are evil and we must always focus now what is different. Cliques aren’t cool, but if every kid in middle school was taught to only focus on how they are unique, they would never make a friend. It’s when we find something in common that we are able to bond, and that goes for physical appearance too, especially for adopted children.
Jubilee, like I said, has amazing grasshopper legs and crazy hair, which we love her for. But she also has a little tiny waist and loves that our old clothes fit her. Seems like a little thing, doesn’t it? You should hear her talk about it. She loves having that link to her big sisters and imagining that she was here all along. (SO glad we saved some of our clothes!)
My friend Danielle inspires me by how close she is to her much younger, adopted brother. She writes:
“When we adopted my youngest brother, there were three little babies up for placement at the same time and we were willing to take any one of them. But the agency leaned towards Tain because he had blonde hair and blue eyes like my mum (the other little girls had Asian heritage) and the agency thought that could be a special bonding thing!”
Would it have been wrong for Danielle’s family to adopt one of the Asian girls? Would it have been right to make sure Tain went to a non-white family? Multi-racial families are great, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to feel like you “fit in.” Finding things we all have in common sometimes feels like holding onto the one thread that’s keeping the tapestry together. We are a patchwork family. Things aren’t always smooth and matchy-matchy.
Dorothy and Jubilee have recently watched the Chronicles of Narnia movies. It was Dorothy’s first time. After they watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe I found a little pile of used Kleenexes on the couch. When I asked Dorothy to clean it up, she told me that was where she was sitting when Aslan died. Oh my heart! The poor little dear couldn’t have known the story yet, that Aslan rises from the dead to conquer The White Witch, and she was moved to tears. Just like I was the first time I watched Aslan die.
Now Jubilee is voraciously devouring the books. She is enchanted. Just like I was the first time I read them. Finding these links is really helpful to them. After all, they are little girls and they think my sisters and mother and I are the most beautiful, smartest, most admirable people in the world. They naturally want to be like us. Just like I wanted to be like my big sister and my parents when I was little. And still do!
So let’s not stop celebrating the differences that make us so unique. After all, a patchwork quilt isn’t nearly so beautiful when all the pieces look the same. But let’s not throw away the stitches that bind us together, either.