Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Telling Stories

There is fiction in the space between
The lines on your page of memories
Write it down but it doesn't mean
You're not just telling stories

There is no fiction when Meazi tells her story. We are struggling a bit with something. When you are a 'potential adoptive parent' you learn how to protect your child's story. You deflect. You say things like,

"That is their story to tell, if and when they are ready."

What then do you do when your four-year old starts talking? Meazi told her story in Pre-K. Meazi also told her story to a woman she had know for three weeks. This woman was the nanny of a fellow student at summer school.

Meazi asked to bring a picture from Ethiopia for Show & Tell today. The picture speaks volumes. Steven thought we should just tell her she couldn't bring it. I spoke to her teacher. I let Meazi bring it today. It is difficult to know what is the best thing to do. We want to protect her, and we want her to feel proud of where she came from.

Steven thinks she is too young to realize what she is doing by showing such a revealing picture. My thought is that it helps her to express that she is a child with two countries. I think she wanted to bring it because another child in her class brought a picture of his uncle in Ethiopia picking up the child's two nephews. This 'share' was something that Meazi could obviously relate to. I asked her teacher to guide the questioning, making sure that Meazi wasn't getting flustered, and that children weren't asking questions that Meazi wasn't comfortable answering.

I hope that I made the right decision. Knowing Meazi, and how amazingly astute she is, it seemed like I had to follow her lead.


  1. This is really interesting and something I haven't seen anyone post about before. Kids Meazi's age TALK a lot right? So how do you help them talk about the right things in the right places at the appropriate times? We are worried about this (for different reasons) when Ariam gets old enough to talk. Would love it if you would keep blogging about this topic with some specifics about how you talk to Meazi about when/where/how to share personal information...

  2. Elfe brought a picture of me and my mother (who went to Ethiopia with me) with her birthfamily to school for the "family board" a few months ago. I asked her several times if she was sure and she insisted - I think it was pretty straightforward for her, the board has pictures of everyone's family and that's her family. She also wanted to tell everyone at her birthday party this summer that her birthmother died from malaria - I told her she didn't have to, but again she insisted - and again I think it was straightforward for her, that we should talk about the woman who gave birth to her on the day we were celebrating her birth.

    Lately I've been re-thinking the whole privacy thing when it comes to adoption stories...I don't want Elfe to grow up thinking there's something embarrassing about her life in Ethiopia, and I worry that by telling people we aren't going to talk about it, they are going to assume there are salacious details that I don't want to share - why else would I not talk about it, right?

    I'm also planning a blog post about this, when I can get around to it...thanks for reminding me!

  3. Such a hard decision! My little one is 3 and already his little mind is wondering- just hoping and praying that the decisions on how to "deal" with the questions will be the right ones! Hopefully, if the choices are out of "love" they will be ok :-)

  4. This is the CORE of my critical/critique of the "it's her story to tell" commentary that goes around the PAP and AP world. Because, I've imagined this a kazillion times - and I've always understood how what gets told at 2,3,4, 16, and 22 ...and on and on will shift and change and morph. I am one of those parents who tells more rather than less...(we have so little to tell, but what we have, we do speak about with thoughtful dialogue). I don't flinch at sharing that we have special people in Blue's life, but no parent(s). I don't flinch at talking and modeling that now so that he can find ways to share who he is along the way...because he is going to tell. I can see us where you are at 4 - with a kid who wants to speak it. And the 'it' we are talking about is tough - but it's his. And ours. I dunno - I look forward to hearing what other folks say. I just find this whole "it's her story to tell" so unsophisticated sometimes - how does it address/help you guide Maezi through telling 'her story.'

    MM (sorry - it wouldn't let me post any other way today - school computers...)

  5. oh, I think about this ALL the time. It's such a tough one. I really don't want the babies telling stuff before they are old enough to understand the implications, and then regretting it later. I'm hyper-aware of this because i did it myself, as a kid, with stuff that I later wished I had kept private.

    But what can you do? It's very very tough.

  6. It is such a hard thing. Mihiret has also chosen to share her story at times when we sort of thought she should not. She has also been very vocal about when she does not feel like sharing and about what in particular she does not want to share. It becomes more difficult when stepping outside the family and into the adoption community where everyone believes their way is the only way. Support falters and judgment reigns which adds to the overall confusion for AP's and our children. Sigh. I am no help in the end....we have all the same questions you do.I have appreciated all the responses. Great Post Julie.

  7. Oh Julie...I have no thoughtful words to say on this, so I am going to throw out something from one of my great heroes oral historian and writer, Studs Terkel...

    “It was the daily experience of others, their private hurts, real and fancied, that I was probing. In lancing an especially obstinate boil, it is not the doctor who experiences the pain. I was no more than a wayfaring stranger, taking much and giving little. True, there were dinners, lunches, drinks, some breakfast, in posh as well as short order places. There were earnest considerations, varying with what I felt was my companion’s economic conditions. But they were at best token payments. I was the beneficiary of others’ generosity. My tape recorder, as ubiquitous as the carpenter’s tool chest or the doctor’s black satchel, carried away valuables beyond price… The privacy of strangers is indeed trespassed upon. Yet my experiences tell me that people with buried grievances and dreams unexpressed do want to let go. Let things out. lance the boil, they say; there is too much pus. The hurts, though private, are, I trust, felt by others too.”

  8. There are layers upon layers here - so hard to know what to do. I appreciated reading the comments as soon enough, A and K will be telling their stories, too (which we say are theirs to tell, right?). I'll have to check back here for further wisdom from your readers.

    For whatever it's worth, in my gut, I think you did the right thing. The effect of telling her, "no, you can't share that" seems to take away the fact that it is HER story. That seems to have deeper implications than to just let her share.

    Maybe it will make her feel more whole while with her friends at school. I remember no one really understanding anything about my being from Brazil and I always felt a split in my soul. Of course, with adoption, it is more complex...

    You do the best with the information you have, Julie, and I think you did that. I feel vicariously proud of little Meazi for taking her story and sharing it! "This is who I am world!" May she always be loved for it.

  9. I think we will continue to learn and stretch every thought we ever had- parenting our very special kids.

  10. hear hear folks - and i love Studs Terkel :) .... special children, indeed. Love this.

  11. You know, on the other hand, who among us has not shared something we then regretted sharing? Isn't that part of the human experience? Isn't that part of growing up? Granted, our kids have pretty heavy stuff in their backgrounds and they are still really young but still and all, all of us have at some point over shared, for sure.

    Ask any teacher--they've heard four year olds tell them stuff about their parents that would make you blush to your roots. I think it's the nature of children to want to share. And at what better age to share their story than this one? Their peers hardly understand what they are talking about, so they get to practice talking about it, they get to talk about their story and see how it feels to share....I think it's a good idea. They can gauge other people's reactions before it really counts.

    As scary as it seems, I think it's very courageous of your children to want to share and very, very smart of you to let them do it.

  12. Wow. So much wow.

    My daughter sometimes asks me to tell her friends that her Mama Meselesh died. So I do. Of course, they are 3 and 4 year olds so they just say, "Okay!" and move on. It's hard. But I think you were right to let her do it.

    It's complicated no matter how you slice it.

    You are a great mom.

  13. Oh gosh, Leigh makes SUCH a good point about it actually being a great age to share, because the other kids are hardly aware of what's going on. Much to keep thinking about!

  14. When we took our 'transracial adopting seminar' there was a woman who was adopting from Ethiopia who happened to be adopted herself. When this subject came up she was eloquent in her reasoning on why she was not going to hide, or cover up, or keep private the basics of her child's story. Her parents had always been very open with her and all of the friends and even strangers about her adoption. They would explain why the birthmother had come to place her with them and how special she was and how difficult it is to adopt but they would have done it over and over because they loved her so much.

    She was very clear in explaining that what that meant to her was that there was nothing shameful in her story. She felt loved and special even though others had sometimes tried to make it seem like maybe she shouldn't share that info.

    It was wonderful to hear her story. She felt calm and at peace with everything that had happened.

    I will never forget her. For us we've decided that the basic information will be shared somewhat freely. When asked we won't skirt around the issue or say things like 'that's her story to tell.' Actually, it's our family story. Our Ethiopian and American families have come together because of great hardship and sorrow it's true but we have come together in the end for the happiness of our children so that they might reach their highest potential.

  15. I carried around so much junk early on in our adoption under the guise of 'this is her story to tell'. Always worried I told someone too much, always worried this will come back in some haunting way, etc. I tried to keep her storytelling short.

    In all honestly, it felt counterintuitive. When I let it go and let her go with her story, it felt better. She felt better. And in the end, who on this tiny planet does NOT have a story to tell. And in some ways, so many of them are the same in the world of Ethiopian adoption.

    I believe your decision was a strong one and a correct one. Well done.

  16. A friend of mine is an adult adoptee who was adopted internationally. She's really, really proud of her story and gets visibly excited even now when she tells it. She said everyone in her town knew her story growing up and that it made her feel special and supported and loved.

    I think it all depends on the kid, and even though they are very small, we should try to find ways to respect them and their decisions. I hope my kids feel proud of their story, even though as an adult I find it painful. I hope to be able to put aside my own feelings in order to support them if they are able to find happiness and a feeling of uniqueness in their story.