My friend C. emails me to tell me a story.
She’s just returned from a short vacation with her sister-in-law on which they’ve both brought their kids. There’s a strong family resemblance between my friend C. and her daughters. They have piercing blue eyes and porcelain skin. (I don’t think I ever really knew what that was – “porcelain skin” – until I met these girls.) C’s niece is three. I’ve seen pictures of her – a sweet-faced little girl with dreamy eyes. She was adopted as an infant from China.
C. and her sister-in-law visited a Civil War battlefield, stopping to read the plaques and talk about what happened there so long ago. The children – three Caucasians, one Asian – trailed along, asking questions, dawdling, and chatting with each other. The bigger ones watched out for the little ones, as it should be.
At one point, a stranger approached the group. To my friends’ beautiful daughters, he said, ”Now those two, I’m gonna say they’re sisters!” (I can almost see them wincing at this intrusion and giving each other a meaningful glance. They aren’t the kind of girls who, as we say, “suffer fools.”)
He then pointed at the youngest member of the group, the little girl who had been adopted.
“You got her in China,” he announced, pointing his finger at her. The awkward silence that followed was quickly replaced by the man saying what good people they must be to have adopted a child. Soon enough, the moment passed, they all moved on and it was over.
The little girl’s mother, however, couldn’t help but wonder what this kind of attention would mean to her daughter when she was older.
“You got her in China.”
“You’re a saint for having adopted that child.”
The man, of course, meant no harm.
But what will it mean to our children that some people seem so intent on making it crystal clear that the first thing, the most important thing, they see about them is difference? That they insist on seeing us as heroes or saints for loving the children who bring so much joy to our lives?
Every child, of course, will receive these comments differently at various points in their lives. And we, as parents, can only do our best to engage with our children, understanding that their experiences growing up – in this way at least – may be very different than our own.
Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter which releases in August from Thomas Nelson publishers.