Monday, October 26, 2009

What do "fiery Spanish tempers" have to do with adoption?

Meltingpot readers, I am hoping you can help.

The other day my five-year old son threw a major temper tantrum in the middle of his brother's guitar lesson. Basically his DVD wasn't playing what he wanted it to. Trauma that only a tired kindergartner can relate to, but I digress.

Without much fanfare I dragged him out of the classroom into the hallway where he could finish his growling and wailing in peace and his brother could finish his lesson. These things happen. So after the lesson his teacher came out and assured me that she wasn't bothered and in fact, she understood the five-year old's display of emotion only too well.

"I understand perfectly. He can't help it. It's in his blood," she said. "My mother is from the south of Spain too and she was the same way. Very emotional."

Okay, since his teacher is Puerto Rican and she had told us that her mother was from Sevilla I did not take offense at this comment but I did think it was a sweeping generalization and that more than his Southern Spanish blood it was his tired five-year-old body that was making my son act a fool. But she kept insisting that my son was simply a product of his genes and his emotions were wont to get the best of him.

"My mother was always yelling and screaming," she said with a nostalgic smile on her face.

So I wasn't really bothered by her comment, and in fact I kind of chuckled as I recounted the story to my husband. We both got a laugh out of it since in our Kinky Gazpacho household I am the emotional one and if our boys are high strung and emotional we figure they get that from me.

So what do fiery Spanish tempers have to do with adoption? Well, as we contemplate adding a wee little girl to this house, I wonder what happens when people make those kind of comments about your adopted child, not knowing that they are adopted? Do you correct them and say, well it's impossible that her temper comes from her Spanish blood because she's adopted? Of course in a situation like that, you could probably smile and move on but what happens when the comments are coming from the family members themselves?

What I mean is, it is so common for family members, myself included, to look at our children and try to figure out where they got certain behaviors from. My older son's shyness we peg that to el esposo. The younger one's penchant for drama? That's all me. I know this could evolve into a nature vs nurture discussion, but I'm just wondering what do you do for the adopted child so that they feel part of the discussion? Naturally and not forced. Do you consciously avoid such discussions in front of your children? Do you warn other family members to do the same? Curious if anyone has an opinion? In the meantime, I'll go check if anything has been written on the subject in Adoptive Families magazine.



Anonymous said...

oh boy, I could write a book about this topic. To Colombians, my daughter "es desordenada" because she is costeƱa. To some of my family members she is a pistol because "her people have more fire". I have also been told she likes mexican food because its in her blood. I am still trying to figure that one out.

When you adopt, you become quite sensitive to many aspects that people tend to for granted. For example, I wonder how my daughter feels when people talk about the physical traits and the way in which certain family members favor...all of us being whiter than white out and her very brown.

I have had people come up to her and feel her hair and say "wow, its soft, its not at all kinky, brittle,___(fill in the blank). My daughter´s features all very much a mix of native Colombian people and African.
I strive to make her understand that beautiful comes in all different shades...

My daughter is a spitfire. She is what is called "a spirited child" by some. I take this has her uniquness.

In truth, we share no blood, no genes, no DNA. But whatever cosmic force that pulled us together brought me a little girl that is a lot like me. She marches to her own beat, is sensitive, lost in her own world, fast thinker yet slow learner. I´m a fiery scotch irsh. But really, aren´t we all fiery when someone can´t easily control us. Aren´t we all stubborn when someone can´t get our way with us.

Wow, I´ve ranted. I´m not even sure if I answered the question or not!!!

Natasha said...

We have 2 bio, 2 adopted, so far. 1 bio and 1 adopted share that 'spirited' temperament, and 1 bio and 1 adopted share the more mellow blend. I've always wondered what happens in families where the 'bios' share a mellower temperament (for example) and the adopteds share a more challenging personality. Lucky for us that it's obviously not genes :)

I've recently set my blog to private, because we are in the process of adopting a sibling group out of out-of-state foster care. It's more complicated than it seemed at the beginning--but totally worth it. We are adding another son and another daughter to our family--our current 4 kids literally stood up and cheered when they heard the judge signed a paper that makes their brother and sister that much closer to coming home.

There are always the dopes out there. I had a non-parent adult ask me this weekend (in front of my almost-8-year-old) how old our kids were when we 'got' them. I played dumb, and said, "Excuse me?" She repeated, and then I waved around one of those white lies that could be totally true or not, depending on the perspective. "They were both BORN to us," I replied. And that they were. She did a double take, but I didn't hear another word about it.

Keep on the path--there are 130,000 kids in the U.S. waiting for families.

xo, Tasha

Anonymous said...

I saw you on Tyra today concerning the "good hair" topic. You were excellent. You articulated the "black hair" experience very well. I was very pleased that you went to "root" of the phrase 'good hair. History is so often ignored out of fear of finding the truth or our pure laziness on many of our parts.

I must get your book concerning Black hair. When you made the statement about Black people not being De-programmed after the slavery experience caused me to think about Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary's book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. She explains how black people have never received therapy or a deprogramming after enduring the trauma of slavery and then, 100 more years of lynching and JIM Crow.

Thanks so much for your words.

Rico Rivers
Dallas, TX

LT said...

Maybe you didn't "answer the question," but thanks for the food for thought. It's always good to hear other people grappling with the same issues.

Where have you been? So good to "hear" your voice in cyberworld and so excited for the new additions to your fam. As always you are an inspiration. Tell me how I can read your blog.

Thanks for the props. I think that is the gazillionth time they've aired that Tyra episode and you know, I still haven't seen it myself. And actually Joy Leary's book was useful in our research for Hair Story. I am a big fan of hers.

G said...

Hi Lori,

Our pre-k teacher once told me that my daughter had a fiery Latin temper, and she's been called a Mexican Spitfire more than once. I find it curious that there is a need to place temperament, to assign it a source, instead of looking at it for what it is, the strong feelings of a small person.

I imagine that the adoption issue opens parents and children up for more questions, sort of in the way being pregnant seems to invite all sorts of inquiries.

My impulse is to respond by going back to the idea that what traits the child has are very much their own -- that way, you might have the added bonus of the child feeling validated and heard that their temper tantrum is really about being tired and not because of a hot-headed abuelita somewhere...

Heather said...

This post hits home on so many levels! Starting when our boys were really young (like, 12 months) people would *regularly* say stuff to us about how much they "looked like us." This totally was a shocker for me as an adoptive mom. I had been preparing myself for how to deal with all that genetic-lineage-'apple-doesn't-fall-far-from-the-tree'-stuff... so it came as a surprise to me when the exact opposite started happening. People (everyone from total strangers to close friends and family) would tell us (pretty often!) that Kyle looked just like me and Owen looked just like Braydon. Seriously. It was/is totally fascinating. It still happens today, but a lot LESS (noticeably less) since our bio daughter came into the picture. Now people regularly comment about her looking just like me ("a spitting image of her mother!" "a little clone!" "just a little version of her mommy!", etc.). I will admit that I do sort of cringe every time that this happens in front of K & O. I swear, I can kind of see their eyes sink when they hear it. We've work hard to acknowledge --and find joy in-- the fact that we, as family members, look so strikingly different. But I know that it is very common for adopted kids to wish they looked more like their parents. So I can imagine that it might be like rubbing salt into a wound when my boys have to listen to people "ooooh and aaaaah" over how much the 'cute little baby looks just like her mama.' My approach has basically been to try to blow it off as much as possible and draw as little attention to it as possible. Just nod and move on and hope it ends quickly. It almost always does. We have had to ask some family members to be more sensitive about it when in the presence of K & O, and they have (mostly) respected our requests. That's all about how they LOOK. How they all ACT is another story. My boys are *MY BOYS* and are so much *me* it is crazy. They are spirited to the Nth degree, full of energy 24x7, and curious about EVERYTHING. It leads to lots and lots of questions and conversations with people in our life-- mostly focused on the ancient 'nature vs. nurture' debate. "How is it possible that they are sooooooooo you but not biologically related to you?!" "Are you SURE you didn't give birth to them?!" "This just goes to show that is is ALL nurture and NO nature!" ETC ETC ETC. (This too makes me uncomfortable... it is like saying that none of these noteworthy things about them could have possibly come from their birthparents/culture-of-origin; as if their 'roots' have nothing to do with who they are today). Funny thing is that our bio daughter is the polar opposite of me in demeanor: totally mellow, even-keeled, and ridiculously laid back. So the joke is always, "Where on earth did she come from???!!!!" These things are all crazy-making to get our heads around. I've gone on long enough, so I'll end it there. But suffice it to say, your post was very thought provoking! :)
P.S. I've been reading your blog for a long time and have recommended your book, Hair Story, to many of my students over the past few years. I think we live relatively close to each other. Maybe we really should try to make your idea a reality (your idea, from post above, of getting a bunch of us together).

LT said...

You're right people seem to have a need to place behavior on some perceived cultural or genetic history. But the question is do we seek those answers as well?

Thank you so much for the thoughtful post. I really did want to hear from adoptive parents in how you deal with it. I gather there is no easy answer, but it is interesting to hear the different responses you've gotten. I have two boys I gave birth to and neither one of them looks anything like me, so much so in fact somebody actually suggested to me that I take my one son in for DNA testing as it is not uncommon for hospitals to make mistakes!!!!

And I feel if we're outing ourselves, I've been a big fan of your Family of Five blog for a long time.

JBH said...

Well...I'M behind in reading your posts!

You know most of my story already, as an adult adoptee. But how could I resist such a juicy (and close to my heart) topic such as this?

You've addressed one of my BIG life questions: What is it about humans and society that we feel the need to find similarities amongst ourselves?

I'm finding out a lot of these answers as I move forward on life's journey. One explanation that resonates with me is that humans are a "tribal" people: we feel a need to bond with others and build relationships and community.

Another side to this issue: in forming communities, we tend to seek out people like us. See where I'm going with this? We look for others who look/think like us.

As I was growing up, I used to constantly think about the "nature vs. nurture" question as strangers would tell me "You look just like your mother." No, I don't: I have dark, almost black, straight hair and she has Norwegian light hair and blue eyes! But perhaps, it was because I picked up her smile mannerisms. Or perhaps the stranger was just trying to pay us a compliment.

My answer to your question: don't avoid the discussion of similar features. Just make sure you draw other similarities ("You like singing, just like Mommy" or something like that) and help the preteen/adolescent make connections to their heritage when they're ready.