Monday, May 12, 2008

Maybe it wasn't the perfect place, but ...

I had a conversation that set me on my ear while at an outing yesterday. I was talking with an acquaintance who has a child that's only a little younger than Madeline. This person has been trying out some Love and Logic-like techniques for disciplining her child, who tends toward stubbornness. She was sharing that her child was angry and told her that, as children are sometimes wont to do, she wished she had different parents. In response, my fellow conversationalist told her daughter that she'd take her to the orphanage that very night. Then she preceded to explain that she'd told the child just how awful orphanages were: "You know, they chain the children to the beds, the children don't get anything to eat, only one small grain of rice a day ...." Yadda, yadda, yadda. And she said all this while Madeline was sitting right there.

What! The! Hell?!

This person knew me well before the time we adopted Madeline, and I know that she knows that Madeline spent her first 14 months in an orphanage. But I'm very bad about letting things like this pass, even though I know that, with an adopted child of a different race, I shouldn't be so slow to speak. I just don't like to make waves, and I don't think well on my feet. I've also been reading Miss Manners for too many years. Usually the best I can muster is a stern glare or, on occasion, an icy, "Whatever do you mean?" After this person left, I ask our hostess and Kevin if they'd caught the remark and, if so, what they thought. For the record, both thought it was appalling.

So, fellow conversationalist, if you're reading this, the children in Madeline's orphanage were not chained to beds there, nor were they starved. You have no business suggesting that to anyone, especially your child, who plays with my child.

No, fellow conversationalist, the children in Qinzhou were very much loved. Perhaps there wasn't money for fancy toys, pretty clothes or even a lot of food, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was love. I saw it in the nannies' faces, and though I understand only a few words of Cantonese, I heard it in their voices. I saw love in the eyes of the nanny who handed my daughter to me and the tears on her face. Those nannies were dedicated to the welfare of our children, and they treated them with incredible tenderness. As a result of being so loved, Madeline mourned fiercely at first, then bonded to us quickly and tightly. Our bond is every bit as miraculous as birth itself.

And lest my observations seem biased to you, a couple of years ago, another family in our little Qinzhou Social Welfare Institution e-group visited the orphanage and spoke at length with the director, the shorter of the two men in the picture above. As they were leaving, the family asked him if he had any thoughts to pass along to the children who'd been adopted from there. "Tell them that the people in Qinzhou love them," he said.

You may think that I've gotten very PC, and perhaps that is the case. But there's nothing like experiencing the sting of stereotyping, albeit through my child, to drive home why such attitudes are heinous. While you may not have intended any ill will, what you said hurt me because it had the potential of tearing her down, and that's just not acceptable. I've forgiven you, as my faith instructs me to do, but I ask one thing: that you think before you speak.


Anne Hendrix said...

You are certainly right about what this woman said in front of Madeline. I would have been furious, and even as non-confrontational as I am, I would have exploded! Beyond what she said about orphanages, I can't imagine telling my child, even as a mouthy teenager (occasionally), that I would send her away.

Anonymous said...

Not only was what was said atrocious to say in front of a child who was adopted, it was also horrifying that a mother would threaten her own child in such a way! I was mortified when I read that.

Anonymous said...

What was said was awful, but I think Edie made the right choice given where we were and whom we were with.