Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Pleasure of Cross-cultural Adoption

We are a multicultural, multiracial adoptive family, which has proven an interesting adventure over the years. The community in which we now live (population about 50,000) has plenty of diversity, but in our early years of adoption we lived in communities population 500 and 4,500, where there was less diversity. In fact, in both communities we were probably the most diverse families living there. Early on when my wife would be single-handedly treating our children to a McDonald's meal, she would get some strange looks (as in, "I wonder how many men of how many races you have slept with over the years"). We learned to accept the stares, occasional glares and even-less infrequent questions regarding our family life with some grace and humor.

Now that we live where we do, it is easy to forget that our family -- other than being a large one -- is very unusual, but there are moments when I am reminded of it. Like tonight. Here's how the conversation transpired in our home:

Mom: Ricardo, do you have soccer practice tonight?
Ric: I don't know. The coach is not there, mom.
Mom: Well, it says in my e-mail that there's practice tonight, so you're going to practice.
Ric: I don't think we have practice, mom. I don't want to go.
Mom: Too bad. Get your stuff. You're going to practice.
Ric: [Muttering under his breath, slamming his bedroom door].

I interrupt the dialogue at this juncture to point out that Ricardo, the most recent (three years) addition to our family, is the strongest introvert in our family. There are only a couple of us who so qualify on that account, and Ricardo is classically quiet, reserved and stoic. Because of his Guatemalan origins, I have a better appreciation for what is often the stereotypical understanding of the Mayan culture -- gentle, expressing little emotion and more adept at body language communication than verbal altercations. It is a pleasure to recognize the ways ethnic heritage emerge in one's personality, and I especially enjoy Ricardo's ways. The remainder of the conversation (with me on the way to soccer practice -- which, by the way, was not practice after all) follows:

Dad: You look mad.
Ric: [Silence]. What if there's no soccer practice. Do I have to walk home?
Dad: Have you ever had to walk home?
Ric: No. But I've always had practice before.
Dad: I'll pick you up. I always do. We take care of the kids in our family.
Ric: You do. Not mom.
Dad: Oh, are you mad at mom about making you go to practice?
Ric: She is fat.
Dad: I'm fat. Are you mad at me, too?
Ric: No.

And that was the end of the conversation. Averting eye contact, his brows furrowed with irritation and his lips locked in silent defiance, the remainder of our drive to soccer practice was punctuated only by my occasional humming or whistling. Arriving at the field a few minutes later there was no one in sight. It was a quiet night at the soccer field, but we were early, so we waited until 6:30, the appointed start-time.

Dad: Well, Ric, it looks like there is no soccer practice tonight.
Ric: [Silent stare, with eyes communicating something akin to, "Yeah, just like I said to start with."]
Dad: I guess we'll just go home now, huh?
Ric: Yep.

End of second stage of the conversation. Arriving home a few minutes later:

Bart: Whew ... we've got one angry little Mayan walking through the door.
Claudia: Why?
Bart: Because there was no practice after all, just like he said.
Claudia: Well my e-mail said there was practice.
Bart: I hope you will apologize to him.
Claudia: There's no way I'm going to apologize for making him do what he's supposed to do [as she is looking at the email in question once again]. Oh. Whoops. I guess I was wrong. The email did say that there was no email tonight. Guess I will apologize to him.

I can't imagine how boring our lives would be with two average-looking compliant kids who might look and act like Claudia and me. Instead we are able to enjoy the diversity of our children's ethnic and social backgrounds, especially when they know their own schedules better than we think they do.

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