Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In the Faces of My Children

Earlier today I had a brief phone conversation with a woman who worked for the adoption agency where we adopted our two older girls. She mentioned having seen recent photos of my girls, and then exclaimed, "They look so much like 'V,' don't you think?" 'V' is my daughters' birthmom, and yes, both girls do look very much like her. It's something that I notice frequently, sometimes taking it for granted and sometimes having my breath taken away by a flash of likeness that is so like 'V' I could almost reach out and touch her.

A small comment on her part, but one that I carried around all day long, so warmed by the thought that someone else saw a connection that I see everyday. While we have an open adoption with our daughters' birthmother, she lives several states away, and there aren't many people in my daily world who can say with firsthand knowledge that my girls look so like their birthmom. It made their connection to their birthmom somehow more real, more valid, more acknowledged not only by me but by someone else who is a relative stranger.

Tonight I took the older girls out for the second shift of trick-or-treating. At one of the last houses, Grace turned around as we were leaving to call out a Happy Halloween to our friends. Kim gasped and said, "Oh my goodness, Wendy, Grace looks so much like you! As she turned her head just now I swear that was a mini Wendy I saw!"

Kim's compliment (let's assume it's a compliment--Grace is stunningly beautiful, so I choose to take it as such!) is still warming my heart. Parents of transracially adopted children don't hear much about how their children look like them. My girls obviously don't share my genes, so I don't expect them to look like me. I love to catch glimpses of their birthparents in their faces, their mannerisms, their expressions. I also love the (rare) times when someone notices a similarity to me or my husband in the faces of our children.

We're certainly not alone--every time a new baby is born one of the first responses is to start figuring out who he looks like. Being physically like our biological families may be a blessing, it may be a curse, but it always reinforces a primal connection, an intrinsic understanding that the mysterious bonds of family can be physically visible at times. Something in this connection seems to transcend mere biology and border on the divine. Certainly Jesus Christ expressed something similar when He said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9, KJV). Maybe it's the inward made outward, our hearts visible on our sleeves (or faces, for a less poetic simile).

Whatever it is, I love the miracle of it. I love the fact that being raised in a different family, thousands of miles and a world away from their genetic roots, nothing can change how clearly my children are the obvious offspring of their birthparents. I love the fact that while I clearly don't share the same genes as my children, and in fact look so different from them that most people would see the differences as too extreme for any similarity, there are those who still see a tangible likeness between us.

It's a wonder to me--but then, everything about my children is a miracle, in my eyes.

Monday, October 02, 2006

What it REALLY means to be grown up

Yesterday was hairstyling day at our house. This is generally a traumatic day, because combing out three little 'fros is a time-consuming and often painful process. It's followed by scrubbing up in the tub--also traumatic for those who hate water in their faces--and then by more combing, twisting, braiding, and such.

By the time I got to the last braid on the last girl my arms were aching from six+ hours of working on nappy little heads, and my patience was quickly fading. Grace began a dramatic, overly-exaggerated cry. I snapped at her, "Grace, stop being a baby! If you have a real problem then handle it like a grown-up. If your hair hurts, tell me like a grown up; don't just sit there and do a fake cry."

Silence ensued, and even though I felt guilty for using such a cheap, manipulative, shaming technique, I was also relieved that it seemed to have worked.

I hit one last tangle in the braid and tugged. From her perch in my lap Gracie took a deep breath and shouted out, "OUCH! Dang it, that hurts me! Doggonit!"

She turned around beaming at her very grownup way of handling the pain this time around while I was turning the other way so she didn't see me laughing into the towel. Later that night I heard her explaining to her sister Mia that when you get hurt, you don't need to cry, you can just say "dangit" and then you will be a grownup.

Sometimes the thought that I am her primary teacher and mentor in life scares the pants off me.