Last night I took Caroline and Mia Grace to Orange Leaf for some frozen yogurt. I haven’t had any since returning from China, and on long, hot summer evenings, yogurt always sounds like a treat. (Obviously, from the past few posts, our family is not on a gluten-free, sugar-free diet. We are on more of what you would call a “Welcome-to-America-and eat-cake-and-ice-cream-and-french-fries-kind-of-diet.” Maybe we will decide to go back to healthy eating when MG starts sleeping through the night.) But I’m going to be really honest; while the yogurt was good, I was a bit taken aback by all the stares. I’m just still not used to them. They startle me. Jar me on the inside. Take me aback.
I’ve never been one to like to have attention drawn to myself (just ask my mom), but it’s pretty clear that staring is something I am going to have to get used to now that Mia Grace is a part of our family.
I was used to the stares in China; they actually didn’t bother me. And I really didn’t blame anyone for staring. The stares were an expected response to blonde heads, blue eyes, and white faces with one Chinese baby smack dab in the middle.
But I wasn’t prepared for the stares here in the States. I don’t know why – I should have been. I should have taken a clue from the guy sitting next to me in the waiting area for our plane from Houston to Chicago before we even had Mia Grace. It came up that we were headed to China to adopt a baby, and he said, “Can I ask you a question? Why are you adopting a baby from China when there are so many babies here in America that need to be adopted? Just curious.”
Wow. I don’t think that’s a question I would even ask a close friend, much less a total stranger.
I think I mumbled something about feeling “called” and “led” and used trite, overstated Christian jargon that probably made no sense to the man and walked away trying to collect my thoughts. Jason had a really eloquent response when I posed the question to him later, but eloquent responses usually elude me in the urgency of a moment.
But that should have been the heads up. Many people in America are thrilled that we have added a Chinese daughter to our family; but some Americans also don’t understand why we would spend so much money, take so much time, and travel half way across the world to adopt a child that is not only miles but cultures away from us. The reasons why should be saved for another blog. But his comments should have prepped me for the stares.
From the moment we walked off our sheltering runway from our plane from Hong Kong to America, we were assaulted by stares in wide open spaces. Me especially, since I’m usually the one carrying Mia Grace.
And just a word of caution to all of us who want to stare – and I am including myself in those who stare because I’ve done plenty of staring over the course of my 38 years – PEOPLE KNOW WHEN YOU ARE STARING AT THEM.
I’ve always thought I could sneak a side glance and the person I am watching would have no clue.
They always know. Why? Because I know. I can feel it in the back of my baby carrier or see it from the turn of people’s heads from my peripheral vision. And immediately, I start sweating and begin to ask questions, “Why are people staring? Is it because I have an Asian baby in my baby carrier and I have white skin? Or is it the faint scar above her lip and the flattened nostril on the left? Is it just plain old curiosity? Or genuine love or appreciation for the child on my hip who is close to my heart?”
And let me give us starers one more piece of advice – if we are going to stare, and let’s face it, we all are going to stare at some point or another – SMILE. Smile at the person. Smile at the child. Smile at the family. I don’t blame people for staring; I probably would stare too and try to figure out the story behind the baby carrier. But what really jars me is not the stares; it’s the stares without the smiles. It the lingering looks, the side glances that continue throughout our meal, or our walk, or our frozen yogurt outing. So just know (at least from my very limited experience with stares the past few days), if you see a family who has a child with different color skin, or a handicap, or a different look, or is just plain ODD, a smile goes a long, long way. It takes the edge off of the stare and says, “I’m not staring because I’m wondering why you didn’t adopt an American baby without a flattened nostril or cleft lip, I’m staring because whatever your story is, I like it, and I like you, so be at ease.”
It was a relief to take our frozen yogurt to the tables outside and sit in a stare-free zone and enjoy the faces of my two girls in front of me. I didn’t get one smile in Orange Leaf last night; just stares. And one smile would have made all the difference.
Trust me; I’m not feeling sorry for myself or crying tears over tonight. It’s just the reality of adopting a baby from a different race. I just have to get used to being an anomaly. And I will get used to it – over time.
But until then, just remember to smile when you choose to stare. It makes the bitter edge of being different…sweet.
One more thing, as we drove home from Orange Leaf, Mia Grace started to fuss in her car seat. I looked back and this is what I saw:
Mia Grace had stopped her crying and fallen asleep while holding Caroline’s hand. Our differences are giving us the capacity for comfort. It’s a lesson our whole family is learning, one little hand at a time.
We are so thankful for each of you and the joy and comfort each one of you brings; in the days ahead, I am looking forward to seeing each of your encouraging smiles.
The Baker Six