By Bev O'Reilly:
Our adoption story begins like many other adoptive parents. My husband and I always knew we were going to adopt. Neither of us can remember a specific conversation or point in time when we decided we would adopt - it was just a fact. The question we had was whether we’d be able to have any biological children and if we could, how many we’d have before we adopted.
Turns out that number was three. Three daughters. In four years. When our youngest turned two we started the adoption process for our daughter in China. My life quickly became a blur of parenting my youngsters and spending countless hours on volumes of paperwork. In my free time, I researched adoption support issues like attachment disorders and read various books about China’s social, economic and political environment.
I bought dolls of Chinese ethnicity for my girls to play with, purchased our family calendar from a group supporting Chinese orphans and wore the ubiquitous red thread bracelet. I tried my hand at making traditional Chinese congee and learned Mandarin. I wouldn’t have impressed a scholar with my language skills but I learned enough to communicate with my daughter who would be almost 2 years old when I met her.
My girls and I joined a kids group at the local Chinese church. I not only wanted to learn more about the Chinese culture but I wanted my three Caucasian daughters to know what it felt like to be the minority in a group, something I thought their sister may grapple with in her new life in the United States. I loved it all. Somehow it made me feel that in some way I was tethered to my daughter 7,000 miles away.
At one point, my mother told me she was concerned that I was becoming, “All things Chinese.” She probably had a good point but I continued on undaunted.
My trip to China extended my love affair with “All things Chinese.” I catalogued everything on film, wrote a journal and updated a blog for my family and friends back home. I was immersed in this country I had come to know so well. I interviewed taxi drivers, interpreters and anyone who spoke English. I knew more about the cost of living, the transportation system and the political climate of China than I did of the United States.
Then along came Christa. She was clearly programmed to be “All things American.” Because she spoke a local dialect with which I was not familiar, she had to immediately start learning English, she was also uninterested in congee but devoured “American” food. She screamed when seated on the big red couch for the traditional Chinese child photo at the White Swan Hotel and worst of all she refused to playfully engage with anyone of Chinese descent.
This trend continued when we arrived home. Attending the Chinese play group was repeatedly met with a resounding, “No!” and the ignored Chinese dolls quickly found their way to the bottom of the toy box. Christa just wanted to be a kid and play with her sisters, cousins and neighborhood friends.
I didn’t take away Christa’s heritage but I did let it get pushed to the side. Life was busy with 4 young children so I didn’t fight with her to engage in it. Looking back ten years later I wonder if it was the right thing to do or was it just the easiest? Will she have regrets as she heads further into adolescence? Will she be disappointed in me for not trying harder?
What’s the right balance? Should we as parents foist cultural activities on our multicultural children whether they want to participate or not? I doubt there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. For me, I plan to let Christa continue to take the lead. Maybe she’ll spark an interest in Mandarin language lessons, ethnic cooking classes or surprise us all and take up Irish step classes. She is an O’Reilly after all.
Bev has been involved in the adoption community for over a decade. She has four amazing daughters (biological and adopted) and a wonderful husband. Her passion for family led her to launch Christa's Connection to bring birth families together. She is a Boston native currently enjoying life in Peachtree City, GA.
Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. If you have a story you would like to submit as a candidate for a guest post, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.