This afternoon I went to Matthew's class, at his request, to help him with Show and Tell. Guess what his Show and Tell was? Toktogul...he wanted to share with the class about his new brother. So along I went with Joshie in tow carrying a few Kazakh items to show the class. Matthew reminded me no less than 5 times during the past week, which was quite abnormal for him. He was very excited to show everyone the photos of his new brother, and to talk about his upcoming trip. He will miss the last week of school.
I was so proud of Matt, and it was obvious he was very proud of his new brother. He told about him, what his name was, explained he would not speak English and would need new friends. He really didn't need me there at all, except for maybe moral support, and he easily speaks in front of others with no fear.
I was touched by many things today. Joshie came in to his class wearing his Kazakh outfit pictured here on the blog, and Matthew lovingly gave his brother a hug and then took the Kazakh hat and placed it on his own head and told Josh "Now we look like real Kazakh brothers!" with a big grin on his face. He sat at the front of the class with such confidence in himself and his family's story. I could easily picture the man he will one day become, and I was filled up with that thought.
When we got home, we stripped the beds and put new bunk bed comforters on them, and as we did so Matthew was singing a little song about Toktogul coming home, and then pretended to talk to him while laying on the top bunk after we made them up. He is so ready to accept this new son of ours, his new brother. There isn't a sign of jealousy yet, and frankly knowing his personality and our family I sincerely doubt there ever will be much. Now I know many of you are reading this thinking how naive I am, that sibling rivalry and jealousy are par for the course and I just don't know it yet...but you also don't know my Matthew. He is truly a remarkable child who accepts life on the terms it throws at him, he is seldom ruffled by anything, has absolutely no temper whatsoever, and I think has the most amiable personality of any little boy I have ever met.
And he knows how to love unconditionally. What a wonderful trait which I hope life doesn't stomp out of him.
But today, for the first time, I think I realized just how much his new brother means to him, how the anticipation of having another child in our family who looks like him and comes from his part of the world is really having an affect on Matthew. I am so glad we forged ahead with our plan to bring both Matthew and Joshua along. I know many think we are nuts to spend the money, but that is because they do not live our lives. They do not understand what this undertaking means to our family and how adoption, especially adoption of children from different cultures and races, presents it's own special and unique challenges in terms of incorporating it into your life in ways that are more than just skimming the surface. Our family was formed differently, and we are parenting with purpose and intent in many areas. Sometimes it is gut instinct that we should do something a certain way, other times it is based upon seeing what has or has not worked for others.
It is our desire to make our family truly multi-cultural, not by simply preparing a meal or having a Kazakh or Kyrgyz item around, but by all of us embracing our diversity and exploring it in as many ways as we can think of. As I watched Matthew matter of factly talk about our family, his adoption, and Toktogul today, I couldn't help but think that maybe...just maybe...we are doing something right. His obvious pride and lack of self-consciousness about it all spoke volumes. He KNOWS where he is from, he KNOWS our family is different, and yet as he said one night not too long ago, he sees our family as different because we really, really love each other. That has nothing to do with race, adoption or culture...it is all about what we are as a family, our connectedness. That is why we are leaving no one out of this journey we are about to undertake.
You know, this generation of international adoptive parents has learned a lot of lessons from those pioneers who went before us. We have learned that pretending our kids are just American kids is a mistake, we have learned from them that there is pain and loss that sometimes doesn't show itself until our children are young adults yearning to know more about where they came from. We have learned that parenting as if our childrens' lives started when they arrived in our family is ahuge mistake, that they must have their past lives acknowledged in order to feel as whole as possible. I am grateful to those who learned these lessons from experience and have shared them with those who would follow.
There is also a fine line we walk between embracing our family's diversity and mixed backgrounds, and making their adoptions the focus of all we do. I know of adoptive parents of kids from China who immediately thrust them into Mandarin classes, think they have to have tons of playmates that are also adopted from China, force China in their daughters faces over and over again. They go so far overboard, mainly due to their own fascination with the culture, that they also don't allow their kids to embrace their American-ness for fear that means they are betraying their Chinese...or Russian...or Korean...heritage. They walk with both feet literally in one country while being told they MUST remain loyal and connected and interested in their previous culture. Somewhere along the line, there must be a balance of old and new, of birth culture and adopted culture. We, the next generation of international adoptive parents, are trying to figure out where the line is drawn, how much is enough, how much is too much. It can be hard to discern sometimes, and with each child the needs are different.
But what we feel is most important to our sons, all 3 of them, is that they feel cloaked in the culture of love and acceptance that is the core of our family life. Nothing else is as important as that, not skin color, not country of origin, not abandonment stories...nothing. Sure, these explorations of adoption and birth culture are vitally important, and as Matthew proved this week it means even more than I initially thought even if the words are not there to express it. But the fundamental issue that dictates how a child turns out is the family culture they live in day in and day out. We could be barefoot and living in a grass hut somewhere, but if we love our children with all we have, offer discipline and encouragement on a daily basis, they will thrive. This does not at all take away from those families who are struggling to help a child heal from damage done by their past, it is not a statement meant to simplify a complex relational dynamic. Hurting children who live in families such as the ones I described above at the very least have a chance, a chance to heal and make a happy life for themselves. Some will make it, and some will not. But their odds are better than they otherwise would have been.
None of us have all the answers, and sometimes issues will surface at varying times in our children's lives. We may often be surprised by how deep the feelings run, things may mean more than we thought. But it is ok to be surprised, it is ok to keep learning and growing as parents. Unless we ourselves were adopted internationally and, as in our children's case, trans-racially, we will NEVER be able to understand the thoughts that run through their minds, we will never be able to fully comprehend how their life story affects how they view themselves. All we can do is try with all our might, and that is what we all do.