I'm 12 years old, having dinner at my Gran-Gran's house. It's a big weekend spread: ham, corn, green beans, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, biscuits, apple pie, bundt cake. "Momma, can I get another slice of pie?" The family laughs, they look at me like I'm an adorable alien, like I'm ET. "Say it again! It's so cute when you talk like that!" I'm confused, I talk the same way everyone else talks. "Can ah please hahve a slahce of pah?" The whole family laughs again.
I'm 27 years old, a young mother. My 2-year old daughter plays in the background. My dad, in front of her, complains loudly about Hispanics and "colored" people. He is angry they are "taking over." I snatch my child up, sick of it. "Dad!" I snap. "In case you haven't noticed, we're not white either."
I'm 35 years old, with my 4 kids at The Avengers. We love it, it's fun and exciting and so well done. We cheer on our heroes Thor, Captain America, Natasha. The comes the moment (harmless?) when Iron Man points out that evil Loki is his brother. And the snappy comeback: "He's adopted."
Some people tell me I'm too sensitive because I remember these moments. Is it possible for a 9-year old child to be too sensitive? I've always been careful to not be too sensitive by not responding in those moments, even when it was my own family telling me in their unintentional ways that I was different, that I was other, that I didn't belong. I didn't want to make it their fault. It was all my fault, for being too touchy, too observant.
Is that fair? Even now, I find that I want to temper my response to the ways I'm called out in the world. Your English is so good. No, where are you really from? You must be really grateful. I want to make excuses for the people who love me, who separate me, who marginalize me. I don't want to be that person who is too sensitive, who overreacts.
I have become the opposite of sensitive. I no longer feel. That's what happens when we tell young people that their feelings aren't valid, that they're not willing to understand the "bigger picture."
Do we still do this? Do we still drive daggers into our adopted children, and at the same time tell them they are loved and beloved? And if they sense the conflict, we assure them they are overly sensitive, their experience is invalid? And in doing so, press the knife in deeper. What are the messages we send our adopted children--you are loved--your voice doesn't matter. Do we tell them we will always hear them, while simultaneously dismissing the parts of their experience that we can't understand or recognize?
I'm an adult now, and the world still wounds me. I remember those moments from early childhood, and they still wound me. I don't like to admit it. The world wounds my adopted daughter. I wonder how I can help. I understand firsthand the world she walks through, and still I don't know how to help. But I watch all these other adoptive parents who think they've got it all figured out, who think they're enlightened, and I wonder what they know that I don't. All I know is how insidious the daggers are. How my own mother, father, family held me in their arms with sincere love and pressed the knife into me.
Maybe I can't do better. Maybe all I can do is understand that better doesn't exist.