Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Failures and Hurricanes

Yesterday a circumstance arose which I really didn't know how best to handle. I am still mulling it over in my mind as I write this and wish I felt more confident about it. I haven't even yet had the time to tell Dominick what happened as our schedules have conflicted the past couple of days and we have both been on the run.

The boys were at TaeKwonDo class in the afternoon, and there are only 8 students total in the class right now. Kenny was paired up with a little boy who has been a challenge for the teacher from the beginning with his behavior...he doesn't remain on task, always interrupts as he seems to need to be the center of attention, etc. Well, this little boy is supposed to grab on to Kenny's wrist as they learn a new technique to escape their partner's grasp. Kenny ended up being grabbed quite hard and asked several times for this boy to stop it. The teacher made it clear this is for practice and they should hold firmly but not too tight. As usual, it was not a surprise that this boy took it too far.

But that was not the problem. I looked away for a moment and the next thing I notice when I glance back is that this little boy is doing an incredible exaggeration of Asian eyes, trying to get his to be as slanted as possible and is pushing his face close to Kenny's. No other parent was present, and the teacher did not notice this. It went on for a good 3 or 4 minutes as he kept saying "Hey!" and then making the face.

And there I sat, not quite sure what to do. I took stock of the situation and realized Kenny had no idea what this boy was meaning by making that face, and Josh and Matthew in the same class were occupied and did not see it at all. Kenny seems quite oblivious most of the time to the fact that his parents and he are of different races. He doesn't really identify with "Caucasian" or "Asian" yet, and I think that perhaps developmentally he just isn't at a place where he sees that. His concerns run 100% towards his cleft lip and his perception of its unattractiveness.

I was waiting to see if the teacher would catch it when the boy finally stopped and moved on to some other annoying behavior. Kenny seemed no worse for the wear, and later when we got in the car and I brought it up from a sort of oblique direction it was clear to me that he had not taken offense, that he thought the boy was just not well behaved but had not at all internalized what had happened.

I was left pondering this one all day today. Should I have stepped in and stopped class to say something? Did I do the right thing in letting it go? I am not at all sure. I took the position at the moment that I would be drawing attention to something that I had a gut feeling was not being understood for what it was by Kenny in the first place, and that it would be better for me to remain quite and see if it escalated...which it didn't. But did I do all the boys a disservice by not making a stink over it? Should I have hopped up from where I was sitting and stormed up to that boy and made an issue of it? Was it a one time occurrence or will it happen again? And if so, what do I do then? Making a point of it is not going to change this little boy, as it is obvious from his behavior that there is something lacking in terms of discipline, so would going to the parent do any good at all?

Normally I would not hesitate to say something, to step in, but for some reason this felt like something I would be better off just letting slide and waiting to see if it becomes a problem again in the future.

So why do I feel like I failed on this one?

On another, happier not, today I made a little leap. I may not yet be ready to allow myself to work on getting a bedroom together with frills and lace, or to set out to buy much in the way of much needed clothing or "girlie" toys, but I did spend some time at Target early this afternoon selecting 2 photo albums and a couple of sets of stickers. I think it is time to take a baby step and start putting together "New Life" albums to send over to the girls to show them what their new life will be like. We did this for Kenny and discovered it was a much beloved item so I want to do it again and include photos of our family, home, school, church, friends, etc. I am not sure when I am going to start it, as I need to print out a bunch of photos and take a few more, and at the moment I happen to have at least 5 or 6 projects on my plate that need immediate attention. But one of these mornings after returning from dropping the boys off from school, I might spread out on the kitchen table and begin putting a dream together encased in a couple of photo albums. This feels a bit scary, I don't mind admitting, like I might "jinx" something by moving forward. It's definitely a part of the bonding process with an older child adoption, and one that most people don't understand is a bit of a stretch as it pushes us a little closer to feeling like we are "nesting" and preparing for a new addition to arrive. I guess I am taking tentative nesting steps and not quite ready to really fluff my feathers just yet.

I also am not very creative at this sort of thing and I have not a single girlie item such as paper or anything to begin with other than what I bought today. But part of what is also holding me up is how in the world can I convey to them in a limited space and with few words just what their new life will really be like, how much I personally already feel for them...how firmly I feel I am their mom, and that they will really be safe with us. I guess what I am having a hard time expressing even here is how do you say "I love you" in a meaningful way, how do you encourage them to hang on to hope, how can you cast away fears that must be co-mingled with excitement. I know most of you think I never lack for words (especially those few readers who know me in real life and are laughing as they read this knowing I NEVER shut up!), and indeed sometimes the words flow easily. Then there are other times when you try so hard to express what is in your heart and it is just too closely guarded to let it out.

It seems there are lots of deep, meaningful, challenging discussions going on in my life right now, both internal and external. Working with the older youth of our church I am trying to find ways to reach them and have no skill at this whatsoever, and yet it matters to me deeply. I see them yearning to come to a better understanding of God in their lives and I am ill-equipped to help them on that road, and yet here I am in that role. Daily I find myself in unusual, thought provoking conversations with the boys which leave me baffled and often with more questions myself than I feel like I have ever answered for them. At school and with Scouts I find myself torn at moments as I try to come up with creative ways to help kids see things in a new light, and yet I am not a teacher and often walk away disappointed in myself. In the virtual world I am frequently involved in long, continuing email conversations about adoption issues, fears and concerns. Often lately I step back and look at my life and wonder how in the world I end up in some of the situations I seem to be led to, as if I am supposed to have answers when really all I have are more questions that at any other point in my life.

It is hard to just be still. It is a skill I have yet to master and one that right now I desperately need. I am so profoundly grateful for a couple of people in my life who listen to me spew, who are my sounding boards, who don't look at me like I am nuts when a conversation goes off in half a dozen different directions in 10 minutes, as they understand that my life right now is about more than just multi-tasking, it is about somehow trying to figure it all out myself, about who I am, what my role really is in the various places I am involved. Not to be overly melodramatic or anything, but at moments right now my life feels as if I am swirling around in a hurricane and have not yet landed or been implanted in the side of a barn!

Maybe when I do eventually land, it will be very obvious why the hurricane picked me up and carried me the direction it did in the first place!


Anonymous said...

How is your relationship with the teacher? You might want to let the teacher know and explain why you did nothing. Tell him that you don't want a big deal made out of it for Kenny's sake but ask that he just keep an eye out and/or don't pair the two boys together. You might even whisper something about it to Matthew and encourage him to pair up with this boy. I am willing to be Matthew will be able to handle the situation and gently teach the other boy a lesson as well.

Good luck with the album and a good rule of thumb might be if it makes you want to twitch...do more :) LOL

Kim in Seoul (no longer homeless~ I move into my new place in less than 2 weeks)

Kelly Kucharek said...


I love your blog. I love the insight sensitivity you bring into raising adopted children.

All three of my children are actively involved in taekwondo. My two older boys are black belts and my daughter is a green belt. It has been a wonderful activity for my children.

What I really wanted to comment on: Since the "asian eye" face did not bother Kenny or any of your other boys - I think you did exactly the right thing. The child was looking to get attention from his bad behavior - by making him stop or making a deal out of it you would have given him exactly what he wanted. I think if you would have went out there and put a stop to it he would have continued it in the future even more - after all - the behavior would have given him exactly what he wanted. Now that he knows it doesn't upset or even phase Kenny he will most likely not repeat making "asian eyes". (He will move on to some other obnoxious behavior) It's very hard because we want to protect them from all of the bullies of the world. It sounds like Kenny handled it perfectly. Obviously that Child's parent isn't sitting at taekwondo and watching their child. You are absolutely NOT a failure!

Kath said...

Long time lurker, first time commenter, and I found your blog from The Crab Chronicles.

Firstly, I want to compliment you on how wonderful your children sound :D

Secondly, I think you did the right thing about the little boy. If he does it again, I would definitely complain to the teacher then, but I think you handled it really well. Kenny didn't realise the boy was making fun of him, and so he wasn't upset by it, so handling it low-key was definitely the best response! You absolutely didn't fail, you controlled the obvious anger you must have felt at the boy, and made sure you did what was right for your son. And that, I admire, because I'm not sure if I would have the same self-restraint.

Best wishes, I hope you get to bring your daughters home soon!

Lindsay said...

I think you did the right thing in avoiding drawing Kenny's attention to this as you do not want him to feel victimised or ashamed/embarassed by his Asian features. Since, as you mention, Kenny doesn't have awareness to link this kind of behaviour to his race, there is little to gain by enlightening him to that aspect of what happened.

I do think though that you should talk to the teacher about it, and not wait to see if it happens again. There is every chance it could happen when you are not there to see it or it becomes a nasty verbal comment rather that what happened this time. You mentioned the fact that this child lacks discipline, is known to be a pain behaviour wise and was doing other things to try to upset/annoy Kenny too. My experience as a teacher tells me that he does not sound the kind of child who is going to stop because he didn't get his 'message' across or manage to prompt the reaction he wanted. I would bet that he will just keep going, and do something else: and keep on going until he does manage to provoke the reaction he is looking for.

Also as a teacher, I would want to know that something like this was happening in my class so that I could take steps to prevent it. Whilst I would hesitate to label the actions of the other child racist (children generally choose the most obvious difference in another to mock; whether that is skin colour, eye shape or body shape) it is clear that he was trying to be provoking and bullying. Kenny has every right to enjoy his sports without encountering this type of abuse. It sounds as if he handled it very maturely by ignoring the other child but he shouldn't have to put up with that type of thing on a regular basis. (Did Kenny mention if similar things had happened before?)

Finally if no-one challenges this young man on his unpleasant behaviour then he will not change his ways. Children often seek attention in a negative way without having any idea how upsetting their actions may be for others. Or he may of course simply be a bully who is deliberately trying to upset another child. Either way his actions need challenged by the teacher.

I would definitley speak up.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if jumping up and making a big deal would have been the best thing for two reasons: like the other poster said, it would give that little boy just what he wanted, and secondly, with Kenny seemingly unaware, it might have embarassed or confused him. I am half asian my self and look "not caucasian" and had to deal with being picked on during my school years. It's heartbreaking to make a cyncial statement such as "some kids are just going to be mean", but it's an unfortunate truth. One day Kenny (or probably anyone who "looks" different, not just asian-looking kids or redheads, or whatever) will understand he's being a target but he has a good firm family foundation and he will be sticking up for himself in no time. As a Mom, I know you feel so protective of your children, and I am sure they know that which is what will make them even more secure as they grow and deal with insensitive kids like the one in his class. I think you did the right thing. And from what I have read, I believe your kids will be the ones defending some other kid who is being teased. You are rightfully proud of your amazing little guys. God Bless!

Anonymous said...

Dear Cindy,
I, too, think you handled it just right, given Kenny's lack of response. As for the child, discipline may not be the issue; sounds like an ADHD possibility to me. Pushing past others' boundaries is a huge indicator, as is not obeying the rules of the world. So, give the boys' parents a break until you know their attitude toward his misbehavior...although, if they were not there that is not a good sign (did I mention ADD/ADHD are often genetic?). Anyway, I would probably mention the issues to the teacher in a kind way, suggesting that she might want to keep a close eye on this student and help guide him away from negative behaviors. She has an obligation to stop bullying, and we have had to bolster many soccer coaches to stop bullying on teams. It is a part of all group interactions, it seems, but a strong leader can reduce its impact. I am sure she would be horrified by what he did, so my guess is she will watch the child. Just don't be too disdainful of his parenting; orphanages are said to breed ADHD behaviors, trumping the genetic aspect with environmental factors that lead to similar results, so you might have your own little heathen in a few months! They are very difficult to manage, and the damage they do others is not outdone by the destruction they can heap on their own lives.
One son inherited it from my ex, and although he is now faithful and a spectacular young man, he carries the burdens of this disorder into his adulthood in other ways, like constant tardiness and disorganization. Without great parenting, though, he would have been, well, my ex, and not a nice person. Even good parents can fail if they don't know how to deal, and along the way the ADHD children of spectacular parents are going to be difficult to be around for peers. On the other hand, the lessons we learned will pay off now that we are going to adopt a likely FAS child from an orphanage. And, frustration with the relationship with our son, whom he adopted, ended up leading my DH to the Lord, when nothing else seemed to work!
As for the rest, exploding into a million directions and tackling new challenges are part of an engaged and engaging mind, and are why you are so fascinating to us in blog land and to your in-person friends. Didn't somebody say the un-contemplated life is not worth living? I wholeheartedly agree.
Sherry in Ohio

Mala said...

I think you did the right thing since it didn'e escalate. However, perhaps you should have a chat with the teacher regarding the little trouble-maker. Where's Mom and Dad? The teacher has a job to do and can't do it if he can't turn his back for a moment on Junior, therefore Mom or Dad really should be present to watch their child and haul his hindend out when he decides to be disruptive to the class. I'm sure their off somewhere enjoying their Junior-free time but it's at the expense of you, your boys, the other students and the teacher.

Anonymous said...

I would have become that mean "mommy bear" and said something to the monster....I mean child. However, my husband would definitely disagree with me, and would have let it go if it didnt bother him or let our son handle it if it did bother him.

Alethea said...

As long as Kenny is oblivious, why call his attention to it? I'd agree with the rest--mention it to the teacher. I know I appreciate having parents come to me if my students aren't behaving as they should be.

On the subject of adjusting to girls...Have you ever thought that you may get hold of a couple of tomboys who don't like frilly stuff much better than you or I do? Ha--now you'll really be in a dither, right?

Not often I reply to your blog...

Monica said...

Just wanted to say thx for the great job you're doing as Mod for the yahoo group!