Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Talk Talk Talk...and: "Am I Adopted?"

Nothing is sacred when it comes to conversational subject matter in this family.  There are no unacknowledged elephants in the room, to the best of my knowledge.  If something needs or wants discussion, it gets talked about.  There are lots of conversations where age-appropriate language and content are applied, of course, but I think the kids feel pretty free to come up with whatever topic they want to.  In fact, if more than a day goes by when we haven't engaged in some kind of big discussion, one of the kids always pipes up that we need to have a "big talk" or "big conversation."  I love, love, love these times, and often feel like I'm doing my best job as a mom when engaged with them in this way.

We've always had lots of conversations around here, but even more so since we became unschoolers. One of the things I've noticed over the course of the last five months is that the more time we spend as unschoolers, the more stuff I can let go in favour of things that are more important - namely conversation and exploration.  With less of a set agenda for what we need to do, I find I simply have more time to participate in both planned and spontaneous conversation - not a day goes by when I don't have time with each of them, and all of them together, chatting about whatever is pressing upon their minds.

I'm not someone who believes that every question needs an answer - I'm happy to leave a discussion point open-ended, either for a time, or even permanently.  I also think that it's not me who has to come with an answer to a kid's every deep (or otherwise) kind of question.  I love encouraging their exploration of ideas, and feel like I'm a participant in the conversation as much as I often am its facilitator.  All three kids participate - Matthew most of all, Lizzie next and, increasingly, Seth.  Seth is not as forthcoming about his ideas and beliefs - whether because of uncertainty about what he thinks or because of his language hesitations depends on the situation, and sometimes I'm not sure which reason it is.  Often Seth's contributions are made less at the front end of a conversation and increasingly as we delve further into a conversation and he becomes more comfortable with the language being used and begins to understand the issues and his perspectives and feelings on the subject.

Here's just a sampling of some of the topics we've covered in the past few days:
  • Starting a lemonade business in spring and the advantaged/disadvantages of using a cheaper, (chemical-laden) powdered lemonade mix vs using more expensive, but higher-quality real lemons.  Also discussed was various locations for the lemonade booth and whom we might have to ask for permission to sell there.
  • The discussion about products and costs led later to an hour-long conversation about how existing companies in this country might struggle with the same issues as they think about how to make themselves unique, how to choose and price their products, how to promote them, and what kind of philosophy they want to be known for.
  • Child labour issues in countries overseas:  What life must be like and how our life is so very different; why countries would allow this to happen (both the country where the children are workers and the country where the company using those resources is located); why a company would knowingly use child labour to make their products and the ethical and marketing issues involved; what could be done to stop these kinds of things from happening; what we might be able to do to make a difference; whether there are companies here that pay fair wages and how can we encourage that; what does fair trade mean; etc etc etc.
  • How God talks to us.  We talked about the work of the Hoy Spirit's work inside of a Christian's heart and conscience; about the Bible as God's word and how we can listen to God through it and test against it what we hear elsewhere; and about how God sometimes uses other people to speak to us and the wisdom of getting insight from those in our lives who are wise.
  • As always, we talk about anything related to adoption...these questions and topics come up almost daily.  We talk about the kids' birth father and community, we talk about what adoption means and how it impacts our family; we talk about race and, increasingly, race issues; we talk about loss and how that affects our lives; etc etc
Given how much we talk about stuff, imagine my surprise when I picked the kids up from a mid-week program one evening last week and Lizzie greeted me with this:

Lizzie:  "Mommy, can I talk to you in private for a minute?"

Me (pulling her to a quiet corner and crouching down to look her in the eyes):  "Sure.  What's up?"

Lizzie (very sober):  "Mommy, am I adopted?"

(cue internal shock on my part, which I did not betray)

Me:  "Yes, Lizzie, you are.  What led you to ask me that?"

Lizzie:  "Well my friend in my class asked me that a few minutes ago and I was just wondering."

Me:  "Ahh.  And what did you say when she asked you?"

Lizzie:  "I said that I think so but that I'd ask my mom to make sure."

Me:  "Well, that's a good thing to say when you didn't quite know the answer.  What made you wonder if it was true?"

Lizzie:  "I know I was adopted, but I didn't know if I should say so or not.  There are some things that are private for our family.  And I was surprised when she asked me. And all the sudden I forgot what it meant to be adopted and I couldn't remember if I was."

Me (squeezing her): "Ahh, well that makes perfect sense.  Sometimes we're so surprised by a question that we forget the answer!  And you know, in all of our talking about adoption, I don't know if we've ever just said out loud that it's totally fine to tell people that you're adopted. And you're right - there are some things about your life in Ethiopia that we agreed would be private for now.  How smart that you wanted to find out for sure.  Adopted is when you left your birth family to become part of this family.

Lizzie: "I remember now.  I just didn't know what to say and usually when people have asked that you've been with me."

Me: "Do you want me to go with you to talk to your friend?"

Lizzie:  "Yes!"

We then went and found her little 6-year-old friend and I crouched down with the two of them while Lizzie said that "yes" she had been adopted.  I added, with a big smile and a friendly heart (because I never, ever mind those lovely, honest, curious questions from kids), that Lizzie had been born in the country of Ethiopia, which was part of Africa, and that she became a part of our family 2.5 years ago and that her daddy and I felt very blessed that she was our daughter.  The friend was all excited, and said that she thought Lizzie must be adopted.  Without taking a breath, she then explained that her favourite doll was a girl who looked exactly like Lizzie and that the doll was from Ethiopia, too!  I was, internally, a little uncertain as to how to respond to that one, but without any pause what came out of my mouth was "well if she is as beautiful and as lovely as my Lizzie, then she must be very amazing indeed."

It was the right thing to say because Lizzie beamed.  The message I wanted to convey was for Lizzie's benefit because, even though I want to educate other people about adoption, my biggest priority is always the child of mine standing beside me.  I always want Lizzie to hear from me that I am proud of where she comes from, proud that she's my daughter, and that her brown skin is very beautiful - as she is on the inside.

It was an interesting experience for me, given the extent of the conversations we've had on the subject of their adoption; and I was even more surprised that she had (sort of) forgotten that she was adopted.  It's not common to see Lizzie short on words!  But I guess now that she is of an age where kids are going to approach her directly, and where she's not always in my presence to help her if needed, this is the next step of awareness for her.  I'm very thankful that it was a positive experience and Lizzie skipped out the door with me, holding my hand on the way to the car moments later.

Since that experience, we've had umpteen more discussions on the topic, and conversations about what makes our family special and a little different from other families; Lizzie said (as she has before) that she is very glad that our family is a mix of brown and peach colours and that she's glad there's someone else in the family who has brown skin.

I couldn't agree more.


  1. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this story…… and I love your family. The ability to talk freely and have open conversations is the best gift you can give your children. This story is a lovely reminder that sometimes we need to slow down and talk to one another. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, whoever you are, for your encouraging comment, and for the love you have for us. How lovely!!!

      Yes, slowing critical. Sometimes I think that I've spent the better part of our last few years just slowing things down...almost to the point of the ridiculous at times. But it still requires a huge balancing act: To keep things slow and still get done what needs doing. I am constantly paring things down so that we can maintain this pace of having time...lots and lots of time.

      Thanks so much for commenting - I beamed when I read your words!!