Zoe’s siblings…..thicker than blood
By Cheryl Paley
hose of us parenting on the road less traveled are invariably led to face challenges parents on a more traditional path may never consider. For Zoe and I that "road" meant leaving a serious relationship to become a mother on my own and finding my daughter through international adoption in Guatemala. For yours, it could be surrogacy, adoption, an egg donor, sperm donor, or other options. But whatever your unique path to your family, as part of a new family model, we all struggle at times to fill the void of blood relation or cultural orientation.
Zoe and I have had to fill both. She is not biologically related to me and her birth culture and mine are not the same. We have forged an “us” through necessity, habit, love, and of course the negotiation of cohabitation. This notion of having to invent ways to bridge the gaps between myself, my daughter, and an American culture with a set standard for “what a family should look like” utterly overwhelmed me at first. I was offended by the stares of onlookers and the invariable “is she yours?” that seemed to pop up in the most unlikely of places. I also never seemed to lack for the well-intentioned input of those most clueless about the life I was endeavoring to create. I wanted to wear a T-shirt that’s front said, “Yes, she’s mine,” and on the back, “No advice necessary.”
I remember one such interchange vividly, and these days I can only smile and shake my head at the power I assigned to it. It was at a Halloween gathering at my brother’s house shortly after I brought my daughter home from Guatemala. A particularly interested total stranger in a “Horton Hears a Hoo" hat bombarded me with a laundry list of things she felt that I, as an adoptive mother to a child from another culture, must do in order to truly honor my daughter, things she seemed to feel I needed assistance envisioning. “You are going to teach her Spanish, right…” “Well, of course I…” I stuttered but she was on a roll - “and you should take her there every couple of years to see her country of course… “ “Well sure that sounds…” “...and then there’s the issue of incorporating her Guatemalan heritage into her everyday life and I was wondering if you have a game plan???” I hadn’t had more than an hour and a half of solid sleep for over 3 weeks at that point and really wanted to stick my caramel apple in her mouth, but honestly, I was way too tired.
I think most adoptive parents go through something like this and then one day, your child truly begins to really feel like your child and the resentment begins to lift. In general people just try to be supportive, and this woman’s vigorous investment in my intentions only supports that. And, in all fairness, the questions she posed need to be addressed. But I have found my most productive answers to these questions in the simplest of ways: through friendships with others in the same Guatemalan adoptive boat. It’s our own little cruise ship of play dates and gatherings with other brown children of white and black parents, gay parents, one parent, two parents, red parents, blue parents… sorry, couldn’t shake the “Horton Hears a Hoo" thing for a minute. But you get the picture. It’s a community of those who share a very deep and intimate bond – the bond of the non-traditional, traditional family. This is where, in a fashion I never could have planned, I believe my daughter has found “siblings.”
Early on I was connected, through my adoption agency, with 4 other single, adoptive moms and we began getting the kids together regularly when they were about 2. I call them the “Guatemommas” and the play dates are as much for us as for our children, as we commiserate and help each other over the hurdles of sole support single parenthood, and the covert and sometimes even overt racism we have all encountered “out there.” And as I watch our children interact I become more and more fascinated by dynamics in the interchanges I witness between my daughter and her fellow Guatemalan playmates. There is something they share that is so deeply engrained that it has created an alternative but nonetheless powerful form of family bonding.
For my daughter the continuity of these friendships has become a kind of glue. All of these kids are being raised by people who don’t look like them but in this context we all look the same, and as the “what makes a family” rules are being reconfigured both my daughter and I feel like we belong. More powerful than that though, is a quality shared by these children, a feeling that cannot be adequately described in words. My best shot would be to describe it as a “sameness” they experience that is way beyond their verbal capacity. There is a shorthand, an energy flow that is in sync, even when they are fighting over a toy or who said what or tattled on whom.
Sameness – it creates community, neighborhood identity, and other not always so optimal circumstances, but regardless of the form it takes, the power of that experience is tangible. We who are “not the same” find “sameness” with each other. And we all become whole.
Dr. Suess's Horton the Elephant, that very same “Horton” who “Hears a Hoo” understood this. In "Horton Hatches the Egg" a mother bird flies off, leaving her egg behind and, in caring for the egg, Horton finds something in himself:
" And he sat all that day
And he kept the egg warm...
And he sat all that night
Through the terrible storm...
So Horton kept sitting there, day after day
And soon it was Autumn. The leaves blew away.
But Horton kept sitting, and said with a sneeze,
‘I'll stay on this egg and I won't let it freeze’”
And so, through storms and taunting and even being sold to the circus, Horton sat and cared for the egg and in the spring something miraculous happened when it finally hatched:
“…and out of the pieces of red and white shell
From the egg that he'd sat on so long and so well,
Horton the Elephant saw something whizz!
IT HAD EARS... AND A TAIL... AND A TRUNK JUST LIKE HIS!
And the people came shouting, What's all this about...?"
They looked! And they stared with their eyes popping out!
Then they cheered and they cheered and they CHEERED more and more.
They'd never seen anything like it before!
"My goodness! My gracious! they shouted, "MY WORD!
It's something brand new, IT'S AN ELEPHANT-BIRD!
And it should be, it should be, it SHOULD be like that
Because Horton was faithful! He sat and he sat!
He meant what he said
And he said what he meant
And they sent him home happy
One Hundred Percent!
Amen to that. Amen.