Thursday, October 23, 2008

Beautiful. Yes. But.

I went to the park last week with my friend D., my kids, her kids (well her oldest was at ballet, and Ben was technically there but trying to to be as far away from me as possible without actually violating my don't-leave-the-park rule. But I digress).

It was lovely afternoon. At one point, we had Chakisae and J. in the swings and both girls were just having a ball, laughing the way kids do when pushed high. H. was nearby but not on the swings. A woman walked by. Not by the swings, mind you, but outside the playground area, along the paved path. She was walking her dog. I noticed her but paid her no attention.

And then she yelled, "They're so beautiful!"

I'm sure she meant well, but it was actually kind of startling. She was not particularly close to us, she was not engaged with the kids in anyway, and you just knew she would not have yelled anything, if we'd been pushing white kids on the swings. D. said she's a bit de-sensitized to such remarks, maybe because she's six years ahead of me in the adoptive parenting thing.

Maybe the women was trying to show support or approval but why do people think it needs to be expressed that way? Or that parents would want strangers shouting things at them -- even compliments? And that's the other thing, is it really a compliment if it's so over-the-top? And when will the girls start to realize that it isn't that they are the most beautiful things on earth (although they are quite the cute bunch) but that they are different looking, especially when with their white parents.

Jim says I can't criticize people for thinking Chakisae is beautiful when while we were waiting for a referral we would often looking at photos of other people's Ethiopian-born children and say, wow, what beautiful kids. But it's not quite the same thinking it as shouting it across the park, is it?

I mean I tell people all the time that their kids are cute -- when I'm talking to the parents and the kids are right there, chatting or playing with me. But I don't yell it to people who otherwise aren't paying any attention to me.

I have wondered before if some of the compliments I get about Chakisae's appearance are really a comment on difference -- or maybe just an effort to be positive but in a way that, while well meaning, starts to sound hollow. I've read that older internationally adopted kids sometimes tire of such comments because they realize they are not the most beautiful around.

Maybe I'm off base here. It probably sounds funny to complain (and that's not quite what I mean to be doing) that someone called your child beautiful. But I just keep coming back to this thought: If Chakisae and J. were white, or if their mothers were brown, there would have been no shout across the park.

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