“No, no. I’m not going to tell you because you’ll tell me to write about,” she announced. She had me there.
So I made hand motions to show my lips were zipped and I was all ears. “No, no,” she insisted again. My persistence was stronger than her reluctance. She told me all about her lazy brother-in-law and how this related to her writer’s block. True to my word I held my tongue, but I nearly cried with laughter because she was right, I wanted her to write about it. I’d been asking her to write about her writer’s block for two weeks.
This is now our joke. She tells me something, and I tell her to write about it, no matter what.
Today she turned in a response to the prompt: write a table of contents about major events in your life, and then write about one of them. She turned in the table of contents along with an essay about her miraculous birth, but I wanted to know more about chapter 2, her epiphany.
“What was your epiphany?”
“Oh, no. I can’t write about that. It would only be a sentence anyway.”
“I didn’t ask you to write about it. What was your epiphany?”
“I was adopted.”
“So, what do you mean? One day you woke up and thought, ‘Man, I just don’t belong with these folks, I must be adopted?’ And then you asked, ‘Hey, Mom, am I adopted?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, now eat your breakfast.’ Is that what happened?” I was a little hyperbolic to keep her from getting upset, and I succeeded in getting her to laugh.
“No, it wasn’t like that. I should’ve known, you see, because they were Caucasian, and, well,” she gestured to herself. She’s the color of milk chocolate. I’d heard of this kind of thing before back in high school when we watched Losing Isaiah in Psychology class. The white sister pauses in the middle of giving Isaiah, her black, adopted brother, a bubble-bath and takes his hand. “Isaiah,” she says, “look at our hands. What’s different about them?” He replies, “My hand’s smaller,” and goes back to splashing in the water. He couldn’t see the difference in color.
Growing up around Asians (in fact I was the only white girl in my group of friends in Elementary school) I remember having to learn somewhere along the way that my friends weren’t just more beautiful and talented than myself, but that they were “different”. Racial tensions didn’t exist for me until the three races of my county merged together from four distinct middle schools into one high school. A six-year-old, without being told, doesn’t understand these things.
As a mother of a pre-schooler in this modern age I’ve had to grapple with the problem that in the name of teaching tolerance my child’s teachers have instead instilled intolerance in my toddler. Like I don’t have enough to teach or re-teach or un-teach my child in the two or three hours I get with her each evening. I’m not alone. The sister of a friend of mine also sends her prodigy of a child to a pre-school. From what I know of her, I’m sure it’s a nice school, yet the other night their wonderful son greeted his dad with, “What’s up m’nigga’.” This of course led to a phone call, a conference, a dumbed-down conversation about things a four-year-old shouldn’t have to know, who knows how many corrections, and two grievous parents who’d like their child to remain ignorant of certain, ugly aspects of the world until a more appropriate age.
All of this explains, therefore, why I didn’t laugh when she admitted she didn’t see the obvious for many years, even though she feels foolish now. She wrote (yes, I convinced her to write about her epiphany) that classmates and teachers had questioned her for years, and she would always deny being adopted. She went on to spill her story to me.
The family was on their way to an amusement park one morning. Excited, she was the first one ready and waited patiently in the minivan. All of a sudden a woman came up and tried to hug her, tears in her eyes, saying that she was my student’s mother. My student ran inside, scared. As she rushed past the family pictures, her epiphany started to take shape, and when she reached her mom she demanded, “Am I adopted?” Mom and Dad exchanged glances and said, “We need to talk.” There would be no trip to the amusement park that day.
For three months she refused to eat with the family, she was so shocked and hurt. They admitted that morning that they never intended to talk about her adoption; they never wanted to see the pained look in her eyes. So much for that. Unfortunately, for several reasons my student wouldn’t completely divulge, her family unraveled shortly after. They still try to keep in touch with her.