Saturday, 18 February 2012

And Now, the Hard Conversations Begin

After lunch a few weeks back Tommy stood up and announced,

"When I was a very tiny baby I was in your tummy!"

I had to tell him he wasn't. I cried while doing it. He was so excited about the prospect of having grown inside of me, just like our next little guy, and so proud that he had. It crushed me to see his triumph turn to disappointment as I explained that his story didn't begin with him snuggled up in my womb.

I knew that my pregnancy would bring up questions for Tommy. He is at the age where questions about the past, skin color, and adoption seem to really crop up, and I expected that he might be confused. That said, considering how often we have talked about his adoption, looked at pictures of our trip to Uganda, discussed his orphanage and the nuns who cared for him, and even broached the subject of "first families" and "forever families" he apparently still needed to sort some things out. This makes me feel even worse. I wonder, did he think that I gave birth to him and shipped him to Uganda for fourteen months before deciding to pick him up again?

This week we looked at his life book (which we keep out on a shelf so he can look at it whenever he wants), and Tommy pointed to the only picture we have of him before his first birthday. It was taken June 27, 2008. He said, "Look mom, you took this picture of baby Tommy." Again, I had no idea he thought that. We have always been very clear that we waited and waited for Tommy, and during that time that we were longing for and praying for a child, he was in Uganda. I know that his three year old logic/understanding of time sequencing is the real culprit here, but I still hate that he thinks that we might have known about him and still left him.

We've also been having some interesting conversations about skin color. These started a few months ago, when he told me that his Papa (my dad, whom he is named after) used to be "a little boy with brown eyes and brown hands, just like Tommy." My dad is blue-eyed and white as the snow (which you might guess if you have ever seen me). It turned out that Tommy thought that since he and Papa shared a name, that they also looked like each other. Therefore, Papa was a black child who grew up into a white man, and Tommy would do the same. He also let me know in another conversation that he was waiting for his hair to grow in straight. Yikes.

Tommy is growing up in a home chock-full of African art, storybooks with people of all skin colors, toy characters that are both black and white, and where we frequently discus the beauty of brown skin and curly hair. Really, it is a topic that comes up daily. We make a very specific effort to emphasize that God made people with all different colors of skin, eyes, and hair, but that his creation is good in all shades, and that we all work the same under our skin. It makes me wonder what kids who grow up in (allegedly) "color-blind" homes think about their appearance.

Tommy is also becoming much more conscious of the shades of skin of the children and people around him. We make an effort to ensure that our kids have interactions with other kids who look like them, and I am thankful that we live in a diverse enough community that we have both friends, acquaintances, and neighbors who are not white (not to mention the many other families with children who were adopted that we have the privilege to spend time with). He has become especially aware of other children who look like him, but he also likes discussing the various shades of skin he notices. He understands that not all people who are "black" are the same color, and neither are all people who are "white." This has led to a desire to have many different words for all the shades, and I may need to go look at paint chip samples or something, because I am running out of variations on "white." His current favorite word for brown skin is "chocolate" and he has been known to describe varying shade of brown by adding that some "chocolate" people have "a little bit of vanilla" mixed in.

Tommy recently told me that he is hoping that the baby has "chocolate" skin, because it is so beautiful...and then we had to have a talk about the probability of the baby looking a little paler than Tommy and Nic. I will admit to secretly hoping that the baby will come out with dark skin and curly hair, but given the pasty-paleness of both of his parents it is basically impossible. He has a seventy-five percent chance at brown eyes though. Here's to hoping...


Tom said...

What do you mean "white as snow"? Perhaps if I lived in IL, but not CA. We were just today looking at pictures of Tommy taken during the last two years. My how he has grown. Still the good looking kid he always has been.

Beth Sykes said...

I want to let you know about a book that helped me explain to my children the shades of "black" skin tones.
Shades of Black is the name with great photos and simple explanations. If you don't have it in your collection yet I reccomend it.

Sweet Apron said...

This was so well written, Amy. Thank you for sharing your lives!

Great Aunt Gretchen said...

Love hearing your sweet explanations. :)