A Family Story: “The Diverse Fruit of Our Family Tree” by Laura Gross
The following was submitted by America World adoptive mom, Laura Gross. She provides some insight into her family and how they celebrate diversity within. Thank you, Laura, for sharing!
Here’s what I love about kids: They are who they are. Most assert their independence (and attitude) from a young age, flaunting their little personalities like raised peacock tails. And as parents we (mostly) encourage this process, wanting them to grow into themselves-eager to see pieces of us shining through their interests and mannerisms. The grandparents too must absolutely revel in sitting back and watching all this take place. Especially for the times when we throw our hands up in frustration (like I did with Elijah one day) and exclaim, “This child is beyond sensitive and dramatic! What can I do with him?” Then they can stroke their wise, grandparent-y chins, knowingly raise their eyebrows in our direction, and say, “Hmmmm, I wonder where he got that from?” Later my Mom and Dad probably excused themselves to a different room and laughed hysterically, while I dramatically and sensitively stewed over my dramatic and sensitive son. As much as we hate to acknowledge it, nature brings things full circle. That means for better or worse, our kids are made from parts of us.
But adoption adds a different element to the story. While our nurturing may remain unchanged, the biological element does not. Duh, that’s how adoption works. But what a gift families receive in making this purposeful choice. A glimpse into God’s grander, wider design and works. Because no, we didn’t create this child. They were brought into our (their) home by more than the power of us. This union is a sought after, fought for miracle. And so, of course, it’s no surprise that they belong here. They have since before day one.
And isn’t belonging the most important thing? Every son and daughter should feel valued and cherished within their own family. Adoptive families are hyper-aware of this fact, having read all the books and attended all the lectures (Not even slightly joking when I say “ALL”). But the pendulum can swing too far the other direction. Like the “We love you so hard that we refuse to acknowledge any differences between us” direction. For many inter-country adoptions this particular sentiment is difficult to maintain (especially when 3 of the palest people alive -us- decide to adopt from Ethiopia). Honestly, I prefer it that way. The adoption dialogue NEEDS to start from a young age. Not to make your child feel singled out, but to make them informed. Because these differences aren’t going away. Why not celebrate them, instead of ignoring them? Discuss matters openly before it becomes A THING. Every child (Adoptive, Biological, Foster, Step) is different, so why would a single approach to parenting be advantageous anyway? Raising kids is not a one stop shop. To be a successful, you HAVE to be flexible-tailoring strategies best suited to your little ones’ personalities. For instance: When a sensitive bookworm (Read: Elijah) has trouble finishing his chores (because he gets sidetracked reading), just threaten to take away his books. Our precious son shed about a billion tears after we had that conversation with him. Listen, books are a serious motivator in this house. However (removed from a militantly library-minded household like ours), other kiddos may see that discipline tactic as a reward, not a punishment. One size certainly doesn’t fit all.
None of this really came as a surprise. It just makes sense to love and parent each child in the way that works best for them, not based on a cookie cutter method of care and control. What I take for granted is the actuality of my Ethiopian daughter simply clicking into our home life like the missing piece from this family’s puzzle. Because sure she belongs here, but that doesn’t mean the transition will be easy. This idea was further solidified by reading “More Love, Less Panic: 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son from Ethiopia” by Claude Knobler. My favorite chapter: “There Are No Apples On Oak Trees: How Trying to Turn My Ethiopian Son into a Neurotic Jew Taught Me It's Nature, Not Nurture.” You laugh (and so did I), but this was an eye-opener for me. Claude talked about how mornings in his house were quiet before the addition of Nati, his Ethiopian son. Things used to be just so, everyone remaining bookish and reserved in the wee-hours. Then Nati came home. This charismatic, exuberant boy could not be contained, regardless the time of day. His energy was constant, electric. And the Knoblers didn’t quite know what to do with that. For a while the parenting strategy was solely to contain and curb Nati’s big spirit. Then realization hit: No one should be chastened for merely expressing their personality. Nati’s exuberance wasn’t wrong-it was utterly opposite to what the Knobler family was accustomed. This was my lightbulb moment.
We already know with deepest conviction that our daughter is a Gross. Regardless of where she is born or what DNA her body possesses, she’s a claimed and treasured member of this family (Sorry sweetie, there’s no getting out of it!). But her biological makeup may predispose (and equip) her for certain things that had previously been outside of our norm. Like athletics and dancing (We try and enjoy these things periodically, but it’s painful for the spectators). And she may turn out to be a Star Wars loving book nerd like the rest of us. You hear many adoption stories where that is the case, adoptees sliding right into an established family structure without causing so much as a ripple. However for the sake of my daughter, I don’t want to assume anything. We want to leave the door wide open for her to be a Gross AND remain true to herself. To whatever her natural talents and abilities happen to be. I hate that we as parents can unwittingly pressure children to conform to our views of what’s normal (Not unlike the Knoblers with Nati), especially regarding insignificant things-ones outside the realm of safety and morality. Inadvertently stifling the free expression of little personalities; how tragic! In a lesser sense it’s how I feel during the warm seasons, when the world becomes more inclined to share their attempts towards healthy living. My active friends (not to mention my own stinking husband) -on social media and in real life- exercise. In a MUCH less intensive way, I do too. But whenever spring rolls around (Mmmm, spring roll. Now I’m hungry again), I ALWAYS feel guilty about not being a runner. Without fail. It’s not as if I haven’t tried (Imagine an asthmatic, arthritic Darth Vader shuffling along at the pace of a turtle), but -as David says- I’m just not built for speed (or hard labor in general). I’m really not. And instead of beating myself up over it, why not choose to focus on where I excel? Eating peanut butter and being snarky are what come to mind first, but there’s other stuff too. Not that we should use our personalities as a license for apathy, but we need to become comfortable both with our competencies AND limitations. Well, that’s easier said than done. My goal is to try and master this concept before I die…or before my kids go to college. Obviously that’s not a rapid progression (Elijah is 7 and our girl isn’t here yet), but a realistic one considering the pupil. Perhaps my munchkins and I will learn this truth together. Or maybe they’ll be the ones teaching me.
So, I’m not sure if our daughter will slip into Gross family life with a ripple or a splash. Honestly, I cannot wait to find out! Because either way, we are eager to watch her grow into herself, to see unique glimpses of HER personality shine through. Who knows what similarities and differences she’ll bring to the table. In fact the other day, while harassing Elijah about how easy reading “homework” is for a book lover like him, we happened into a funny conversation about this topic. Interrupting his absorption in the latest novel, I teased, “15 WHOLE minutes of reading?! You should tell your teacher you’d rather play chicken on the train tracks by our house.” Elijah looked up from his book and smirked at me, “No, but I’d take that over 15 pages of writing.” Touche son. Shaking my head, I dramatically sighed. “Yes, I know. Maybe your baby sister will love to write like me.” Elijah emphatically slammed his book closed and proclaimed, “No, she won’t! Because I will whisper in her ear, ‘Don’t like writing.’” Goodness. This firstborn is already exhibiting signs of possessiveness and control long before his sister arrives! But our opinions notwithstanding, she’ll be who she is. Perhaps even a writer, much to her older sibling’s chagrin. My real hope is that whatever she ends up doing, it won’t be to prove her mother right or her brother wrong. It will be because she’s discovered what truly makes HER come alive.
Laura Gross is a part-time blogger, part-time librarian, full-time Mama, and full-time peanut butter connoisseur. For more quirky thoughts on life, adoption, faith and parenting, visit her blog at www.ourmissingpeace.blogspot.com