The hardest thing about cross cultural Chinese adoption, for me, is how NICE my new daughter is.
I know, my life sucks, right?
Everyone always tells me what an angel my beautiful third born is. And I heartily agree. She is an angel. Beautiful, smart, hardworking and kind.
She is a good kid.
She is such a good kid that I sometimes want to bang my head against a wall right in the fitting rooms at Old Navy.
It happens when we are having a conversation about a few small back-to-school clothing purchases. I tell her that she gets to choose her clothes and she picks several things to try. I hold my tongue despite my disbelief at t-shirt sporting a dog with crown and large rapper-style necklaces that she finds the most alluring of all.
After all, Naomi bought herself pleather leggings. And I wear mostly hoodies. So it all equals out somehow in the end.
The hard part is when she tries to give me the “right” answer about what she likes, over and over in a million ways. Anything but tell me what she is really thinking. When I ask how she likes the shirt I suggested, she hems and haws for a long time before finally mentioning that it is “too long.” I agree and we try on her favorite shirt (equally long). This one she declares perfect.
Now I should probably have just stopped here but I honestly didn’t get it for the first half of the conversation. She is sometimes so convincing that I really don’t realize what she does and doesn’t like! I am used to authenticity. My first two children vehemently express themselves to me! I value personal expression and honesty VERY highly and have taught our first two in that culture.
So when I finally realize that the “too long” means she doesn’t like the first shirt, things have already gotten pretty far afield. She has explained with strong feeling that she likes BOTH shirts and that the puppy one is SLIGHTLY shorter than the other one, etc etc etc. It is painful for me. And it’s painful for her when I tell her that she needs to tell me what she REALLY wants, what she REALLY feels. We almost come to tears in the dressing room.
Me, I mean.
Trying to uncover Ava’s authentic voice from the rubble (my perception) of cultural mores and her belief in politeness and deference is a moment-by-moment struggle.
We face it together at each meal time, snack time, or special treat time when Ava waits silently in the background to be noticed. It happens whenever everyone is expressing her opinion but she doesn’t feel comfortable doing so. It happens over and over at school, on the park playground, in the pool, around the dining room table.
I feel like I have to serve as her constant advocate simply so that she doesn’t feel discriminated against.
And yet I recognize that in order to survive in this bold, independent land we call America, my daughter must learn to speak up for herself, to ask for what she wants, to state her opinion, to hold her place in line.
And this is why, in the dressing rooms, I coach her through a role play of telling me how she really doesn’t like the shirt I picked very much. This is why I help her say “no thank you mom” even when her fashion sense kind of makes me roll my eyes. Why I encourage her to say “yucky” to her food (in a polite way of course.)
Yea, I’m the crazy mother at the back-to-school picnic helping my child learn to say “I don’t like it!” to everything green and healthy looking.
I just hope I know what I’m doing.