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Adoption Blog: Man Up!

Adoption Conversation Recipe: One Part Understanding, Two Parts Love

Manu at the kitchen table

Cooking is one of our favorite activities at my house; my wife, Leslie, and I have a passion for food and creativity that I hope we can instill in our son, Manu, as he grows. I’ve always enjoyed the imaginative aspect of transforming raw ingredients into a refined finished product. Since the time he was taking his first steps, Manu, who we adopted from India, has shown great interest in whatever is happening up on our kitchen countertops, and he has spent a lot of time on his tiptoes trying to catch a glimpse of the action. Now that he is a little older, he will push a chair from the kitchen table over to our island, climb up, and watch all of the activity. He asks a lot of questions and often plays the role of sous-chef as he assists with pouring, mixing, and offering suggestions as to how we could incorporate candy into whatever we happen to be making at the time. He really enjoys helping with rolling out dough, scrambling eggs, and measuring out ingredients. With a little assistance from his parents, he makes a mean sweet-potato gnocchi!

One day we had a little accident with some flour—a few cups worth spilled onto the kitchen floor. After our initial “uh-oh,” Manu and I began working at cross-purposes. I was intent on cleaning up the mess, while he was more interested in making footprints in the flour and leaving tracks all around the kitchen. But after a few minutes and a lot of sweeping, most of the mess was cleaned up—except for Manu. I looked at him, smiled, and said cheekily, “Look at your feet; your toes are all white!” To which he replied candidly, “No, Daddy, your toes are white. My toes are brown.”

And there it came, seemingly out of nowhere: Manu’s first expression of any understanding of the differences between himself, Mommy, and Daddy. It was funny, and we laughed for a good bit. Although he showed no interest in beginning the inevitable series of conversations we will have with him about his adoption—he simply went about his business, unaware of the eight-ton Indian elephant that had just been let loose in our kitchen—for the rest of the night, it was all I could think about. I thought to myself, I’m not sure I’m ready to start having these discussions!

In some ways, I had thought that adopting a child of a different race would make discussions about his adoption easier. I figured our racial differences would be obvious to everyone and there would be less pressure when having “the talk.” Since our first day home with Manu, Leslie and I have been open with him, in an age-appropriate manner, regarding his heritage and his adoption. When talking with him about where he is from, the three of us will raise our hands in the air and shout excitedly, “India!” He can even trace the route between Lexington and Bangalore on a map! So why was I taken aback when he so innocently stated a difference that we have been celebrating all along?

I think I realized suddenly that even though our idiosyncrasies may be obvious to me, Leslie, and to everyone else around us, they aren’t yet obvious to him. “Normal” for Manu, at this point in his life, is as a brown-skinned little boy with white-skinned parents, a yellow dog, a gray cat, and a black and red betta fish he named Atú. His world is a colorful and happy jigsaw puzzle, and his piece fits seamlessly alongside the rest. He doesn’t know that he is different—he probably assumes all families are just like his—and it breaks my heart knowing what’s likely in store for him as he becomes aware of his situation. For the world, I wouldn't wish him to be burdened with the emotional baggage that adoption often regrettably imposes upon the innocent.

What I wouldn’t give to stay forever in this moment in time in which he's completely surrounded by our unconditional, colorblind love and he's living in a world that acknowledges and celebrates our family's differences, knowing they serve only to bring us closer together. Our love won't change and neither will our feelings about our differences, but I cannot be certain how external factors might change things as Manu, and his world around him, grows. I hope that when the time is right, I can find the words to help him work though the many questions he will surely have, especially those that may prove to be unanswerable. I hope that through it all we help him to develop a healthy self-image and an understanding that, of everything that has happened to him throughout his young life, in one way or another, has happened out of love.

Love is the secret ingredient that binds our family recipe together. With proper care and attention, and in just the right proportions, the elements have combined to form something really creative and special. And sometimes, a little spice can make all of the difference.

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Jeff, I read this and think: what a gift Manu has given you! He brought up the subject of race and difference in a very natural and matter-of-fact way that you can build on. I hope you’ll encourage that openness. I’m not sure where you live, but getting to know more multiracial families, both adoptive and not, will definitely help Manu feel more at ease. We’re lucky here in the Bay area; although we stand out an adoptive family in many settings, we know many, many multiracial families, including parents and children related by blood who look almost nothing alike. For example, we’ve met several kids in the community who have one Ethiopian parent and one white parent, and the kids don’t “look Ethiopian” as mine do, but it helps all these kids to know other children like them who don’t “match” their parents.

By Sharon Van Epps on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 12:17 am.

Thanks Sharon. I continue to be amazed at how easy-going this kid is! We definitely encourage him to celebrate his differences, and teach him that a family isn’t necessarily just something you’re born into, but also a place where love and respect can build equally strong bonds.

We’re lucky that we live in an area with a relatively large Indian population, and we’re already looking into opportunities to get him involved.

By Jeff on Saturday, March 05, 2011 at 4:27 pm.

Jeff— As always, your thoughts stimulate mine.  While we anticipated being a “visible” adoptive family - surprisingly, our son “looks” like us. 

Our next child may not “look” like us.  Its wonderful to read of families that already have dealt with this aspect of adoption, especially interracial families.

By junofoxtrot on Monday, March 07, 2011 at 8:54 pm.

Wow this is beautifully written! I love the “recipe” analogy running through it. But I especially like that you share with us the struggles you have in anticipating what the future holds for Manu in this world of ours.  My husband and I adopted domestically, and even though we talk openly about her pre and post birth story, I’m waiting for our daughter to exhibit her “first expression of any understanding” that she really didn’t grow in my tummy.  And I hope I do a good job…..

By graced on Friday, March 11, 2011 at 5:32 am.

I love this post!!!. Thanks so much for writing it. It is beautifully written and brings up such an important issue.  In my experience the conversations about adoption wax and wane as my children have grown.

When my kids were young, we spoke about adoption all the time.  Probably as much to make my husband and me comfortable with it as them.  Everything was an adoption issue and we tried to educate the world about adoption. By the time they made it to elementary school we were all comfortable talking about adoption and race. This period was very important for us.  It helped us understand how adoption fits into the definition of our family. 

Now, my oldest child is 12 and AA, our focus has shifted to racism and staying safe. We still talk about his birth parents etc. but it has become just one piece of how we define ourselves…no longer the whole pie. 

As parenting is in general, adoption speak is a continuing evolving process (and as soon as you catch up to Manu, he will once again be ahead of you).

I hope this makes sense.


By kthlava on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 2:06 pm.

As adoptive parents we are excited about creating commonality with our children. It is equally important to celebrate the diffferences. These are what make our children unique. By honoring the differences we place value on them. The message we share is one of inclusion; it is okay for them to be different and be part of our families. There’s space for everyone’s uniqueness!

By Gayle.Swift on Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm.

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