Saturday, September 12, 2009
What I Wanted to Say.....
My daughter is obviously not a typical child of Asian descent. Her hair is platinum blond, her eyes crystal blue, her skin is fair and burns easily. She does, however, have physical traits passed on by her biological parents. The bridge of her nose, her eye lids, the gorgeous almond shape of her eyes. I often wonder if both of her biological parents had slim, delicate builds. I wonder if her biological mother had long beautiful fingernails and small feet. If her hair was coarse and straight like Cheeky's, or if that trait was passed from biological father to daughter.
All this to say that despite her blond hair and blue eyes it is obvious (if one looks closely enough) that Cheeky is not of Caucasian ancestry. I think the combination of coloring and features is striking, but the hair is what catches people's attention first. Most assume Cheeky is Caucasian, and then they look more closely, and I see the puzzled looks on their faces and I know immediately when they realize there is something...different...about my daughter.
This happened at the grocery store yesterday. Cheeky is always eager to help put things onto the conveyor belt, and she was chatting away with her sister and lifting items from the cart and the cashier was watching her intently. Finally, the woman looked at me and asked if I'd adopted Cheeky. I said yes and she asked if Cheeky was Chinese.
I said, "Yes, she's been home eight weeks."
And the woman said, "Well, I've never seen a Chinese with blond hair."
To which I replied, "Cheeky was born with albinism. Only about one in seventeen-thousand people has albinism."
And she said, "Oh, well, how much did it cost to adopt her?"
And I wanted to say, "How much does it cost to be so insensitive?" but settled with "We had to pay lawyer and agency fees and travel costs. It adds up to a lot." Then I quoted her a ball park figure for international adoption and decided I really needed to come up with a better response to the question. Maybe..."Not nearly as much as she's worth."
Of course, it was too late for that one.
I thought the conversation was over, but apparently the cashier didn't. As she sloooowly rang up one item after another, she called to the cashier across from her..."Hey...(name deleted to protect the innocent)...have you ever seen a blond kid from China?"
And then to me, "Hey, is her vision okay? Because her eyes are moving back and forth."
And everyone in the vicinity turned to look, and that's when my blood started boiling.
I'm not a mean person by nature. I tend to assume the best about people and to accept them where they are for who they are. But at that moment, I could see nothing redeeming about the woman ringing up my purchases and I wanted to turn to the other cashier (who had the decency to look embarrassed) and ask, "Hey, have you ever seen a supposedly intelligent adult who was so ignorant?"
And I wanted to turn to the cashier and say, "Hey, is there something wrong with your brain that you'd say something so stupid?"
But all five of my kids were there, and I have always told my children that people who act defensive do so because they have something to hide or because they are embarrassed or ashamed. I am neither embarrassed nor ashamed by Cheeky's albinism. I think she is beautiful because of it not despite it. If I act defensive when people are insensitive or rude, I will teach her that she has something to be ashamed of, something to hide, something to be embarrassed about.
She does not.
So, I calmly explained that almost all people with albinism have nystagmus. That Cheeky's vision was functionally good, but that she had poor distance vision. The people behind me and at the other register were listening intently, so the mini-lecture on albinism was to a broader audience than the wretched cashier and her embarrassed coworker.
I know there are differing views on how to handle questions and comments about adoption and specifically about albinism. Some parents believe there should be no explanation and no information given. They feel the questions are intrusive and rude. I do not feel I owe anyone an explanation, but I feel I owe it to Cheeky to be as open and informative as I can. Albinism isn't something to be ashamed of but to celebrate. Uniqueness is a gift, and I want more than anything for my daughter to realize that. I also want my other children to learn how to graciously field questions about their sister, to respond with kindness even when that kindness is not reciprocated.
Maybe I should have been rude. I know I wanted to be rude.
My kids, and I talked about it in the van afterward. My oldest son was quite angry, and I told him that I was, too. Not because the questions were asked, but because of the way they were asked. The lesson, I said, is that we cannot control what others say and how they act, but we can control our response.
Even when we don't want to.