Theo is three-and-a-half and has the vaguest grip on what adoption and race mean. Despite Skyping with his birthmom and nana after Christmas coupled with our explanations of this birthfamily relationship, he never repeats it back or acknowledges it. He knows that many of his friends were adopted, and we read to him regularly about adoption but he rarely says much about it. He knows he is brown, Dad is brown, and I am white but seems to be over his vocal fascination with all brown people.
Theo is taking swimming lessons, which means we’re back at the pool where last time I was asked “where I got Theo.” At this week’s lesson, Theo saw an Asian girl in the water, pointed to her and yelled “Mom! Mom! She adopted? That Alex?” I’m still trying to sort that one out because we don’t have a friend named Alex who is Asian and adopted. We also live in a place with a strong Asian population so being Asian is not associated with adoption.
Moments later, a little boy, almost 4, in his class, asked Theo why he’s brown. I could see Theo say something and laugh as they entered the water with their instructor. After class, in the hot tub, I asked him if the little boy asked him why he was brown (pondering explaining some basic biology around his relationship to his birthparents…), and Theo said: “NO! He want to know “why I white … I brown!” Clearly, something got lost in translation. So I just left it as “Everyone’s different.”
Things go even juicier when Theo noticed a severely disabled man and yelled “Mom! Mom! He dead?!” Completely mortified, I fell back on my “everyone’s different” explanation and then added a bit about feelings. He then spotted a short man with Down’s Syndrome and yelled: “Mom! Mom! That man a smaaaaalll man, a smaaaaaalll man?!” To which I replied, “Yes he is. But remember, not everyone wants to be pointed and yelled at because everyone’s different and everyone has feelings.”
The morning at the pool made me realize that the questions people ask Theo or me are tiny and manageable in the scheme of things. I have a strong, healthy, friendly child and we can answer questions openly and confidently as they arrive. There are people battling severe disabilities who have to endure the stares and discomfort of strangers on a daily basis.
How do you talk about differences to your young children?