February 12, 2008 by multiracialsky
Over the weekend we spent time with a group of families/couples. There was a meeting followed by a meal, although (and I didn’t know this going in) for the duration of the meeting the children and I were sequestered in a finished basement, which was not really set up for little kids. For two long hours, I was down there with all four of my kids along with three other kids and their moms.
Our basement group included a mother and her only child. The mother spoke only Spanish to her child, and her child only spoke Spanish back to her. We speak a little Spanish, and have several friends with Spanish/English bilingual children (in our friends’ families, one parent’s first language is Spanish). I talked to this mom a bit, introduced myself and my kids after we arrived. She volunteered (in English) that Spanish is not her first language, or her bio child’s. That’s pretty much all she ever said to me.
Because this mother and her child would only speak Spanish, they couldn’t/didn’t talk to anyone else (adult or child) who was sharing this very small space. My Spanish is rusty, but I could understand everything this mother and child were saying–but my kids couldn’t. And the other mother and children present didn’t seem to know any Spanish. It was like being back in high school when two of my best friends learned/invented a secret language they called ‘Gibberish’ (think of complicated pig-latin).
Our friends who are raising their kids bilingually speak Spanish and English to their kids, and they translate for my kids after they say something to their kids in Spanish. (And they are happy to converse in English with my kids and with me.) The exclusionary style of parenting, choosing to converse with your child in a language nobody understands when you both also speak a language everybody else present both speaks and understands, was so unbelievably rude. It came off as the we-are-so-important-we-don’t-have-to-consider-anyone-else philosophy of living.
I often struggle to connect with parents who purposefully have just one child. In my experience, these parents are more likely (than the parents of 2+ kids) to act as though the sun rises and sets over their perfect child. I have struggled through parents-of-onlies who allow their child to cheat at games, cut in line, and snub other kids, and other parents who perpetually treat their single growing child as though they are a baby (picture a parent feeding every bite of a meal to an able-bodied grade-schooler).
The step beyond the only-childers (these people are rarely part of our circle–wonder why?) are the childless-by-choice. I’m talking about adults who purposely choose not to have any children in their life (not biologically, not adopted, not step, not foster, not guardianship, not living with their sister and her two kids–none). There were some of these people at this meeting too. Liberal, over-educated bobos who somehow think it is reasonable for little children to be neither seen nor heard. People who pretend children under the age of ten are not actually there. People who don’t acknowledge kids, who don’t even look at them, smile at them, speak to them, help them, move out of their way. People who glare at the parent (me!) when a child brushes against their leg trying to squeeze by.
What’s beyond childless-by-choice? The people with no children and no pets (yes, there were some of these people present as well). It’s not that I think everyone should have children (or dogs)–not in the least. What makes me skittish is that in my experience people who have chosen not to have children (or children and pets) view their life–and by extension the world–as an eminently controllable thing. The neat, organized life of Choice A leading directly to Point A, with no annoying detours in between.
My life with four young children and one large dog is messy, chaotic, loud, dirty, constant, and (mostly) fun. Many of the moms I know with 3+ kids, especially if the kids are closely spaced, understand the parenting part of our life. But if my friends with 1 or 2 kids struggle to understand how (and why) we do things the way we do, we must apear completely crazy (and hey–they treat us that way) to the no-pets/no-children/1-perfect-child sets. I realize children inevitably create a bit of chaos, I want to say, but you’re scorning the future leaders of the world.
As one of our children’s (young, active, single) uncles said, “Children are so exhausting and irrational!” Uh . . . yep. We were all children once, as exhausting and irrational as the best of them. The adults who cannot find it in their tidy hearts to–at the least–acknowledge the existence of these little people in their presence, I just don’t understand them (and honestly, I don’t like them much either).
At the meeting there was a family with an internationally transracially adopted toddler. The toddler was the only child close to Teri’s age. Teri and the toddler eyed each other, as only tiny children can. I tried to make small-talk with this mother. She turned her back to me. I tried again later–twice–and she literally turned away. I watched her talk to other people, even discuss her child, and couldn’t figure out what was going on.
I mentioned this snub to my partner as we drove home. He immediately said, “It’s probably because you have bio kids.” (Picture me smacking my forehead–Duh!) Like most adoptive parents, this couple is likely infertile. I forget that fertility/infertility is often still an issue for parents who have already adopted. (I’m more mindful of infertility issues with pre-adoptive/waiting couples.) It used to be that I really didn’t get the fertility-bias thing. Since I have always planned to adopt, I didn’t think it would have been a big deal to me if I hadn’t been able to have bio kids. And then a strange thing happened.
At a certain point in our family-building we were planning to adopt, and then it seemed as though we weren’t going to be able to. My partner floated the idea of having another biological child instead–and I was so opposed to getting pregnant again at that point in time. I realized that I didn’t just want a child, I wanted a child through adoption. And suddenly I understood a piece of infertility that had alluded me for years–beyond the grief of not being able to pass on your genes, to see yourself in your child’s face and temperament (not always a good thing, I tell you), there is the additional piece of infertility that frustratingly denies you the ability to do something very basic that you always thought–assumed, even–you would be able to do.
For us, becoming both adoptive and bio parents was relatively simple. In our adoptions, we had one quick match, one ‘instant’ baby, and no failed placements. With our pregnancies, we had two ‘instant’ conceptions and no miscarriages. In the building of our family, our biggest hardships (if you could even call them that) were financial (adoption) and my health (serious problems during and after Rico’s birth from undiagnosed eclampsia).
We interviewed pediatricians while waiting for Jaja to be born. While talking to one doctor (who we eventually chose) we mentioned that we hoped to have a biological child about 18 months younger than Jaja. “You should know,” the doctor said, “after trying to conceive for six months, only 50% of couples are pregnant. Only 80% of couples are pregnant after trying for one year.” She issued these numbers as a warning to us. We talked about these ‘statistics’ on the way home: we didn’t want our kids to be years apart. Somehow we didn’t factor in that we were both in our mid-20s, completely healthy, taking no prescription medications, hadn’t been using any medical birth-control for several years, and nobody in any part of our families has ever had any fertility problems (including mothers giving birth at 37 and 40 years old).
Jaja and Rico were born 9 months (plus a few days) apart. That was a busy year. And that was (and is) complicated in all different ways, some ways in which we (as parents) have absolutely no control.
I embrace that intricate and intimate complexity. To me, those are the most rewarding parts of life.