Thursday, August 31, 2006
Project Me Bag
My Ellie is . . .. and I've started with the superlative adjectives and back-spaced so many times I've worn out this screen which tells me that I do not have sufficient vocabulary to adequately describe this amazing little human. She does not judge, she embodies the word "inclusive," she is calm and centered, silly and gullible, not too adventurous or observant, but always willing to help without a word of complaint. She is short in stature among her peers by a long way; her tall friend Laurel had to lift her up to write her name on the white board in her new classroom on the first day of fourth grade last week. But where some children would be mortified, Ellie just giggled hysterically. Ellie is the shortest student in fourth grade but she just shrugs and says, "Someone has to be the shortest." Sanguine is the word that always comes to mind to describe this treasure I was entrusted to raise. My first goal in parenting Ellie is to just not ruin her with my own special brand of nuttiness. All I need to do for Ellie is provide praise, love and safety and make room for her own natural instincts, her predisposition to be kind, fair and accepting, to flourish and grow.
I adopted Ellie in 1998 when she was 14 months old and she is now 9.5 years old. The moment she was placed in my arms is seared into my memory: I was never so happy or grateful just to be me. She traveled to China with me in 2001 and 2004 on our trips to adopt Mimi and YuYu. She was not troubled on either trip with regard to feelings of yearning or loss as described by parents of other adopted children who take them back to their home countries. For right now, she does not question how she came to be a Chinese-American girl raised by a single mother in the heart of the Wasatch. She knows that she has birth parents and that she will never know the who or the how or the why of her beginning in life. She seems to be satisfied with the answer that there is no answer and she may never know anymore about her start in China than she does right now.
As an adoptive parent, I try, try so hard to be sensitive to the knowledge of everything my children have lost, both emotionally and culturally. That even though they are ethnically Chinese, they will never be more than tourists in their birth country. That alone is a huge loss, never mind the issues of abandonment and separation they will need to deal with as they grow to adulthood. I'm also aware that Ellie, even though she is almost ten, does not yet have the emotional language to talk about those feelings and has not processed any of the contradictions in her life. She made me a mom, and my great happiness is the result of another mother's great pain. All she knows is that she is loved, here and now, and she returns the feelings with equal intensity.
So, her first homework assignment in fourth grade is to decorate a brown paper bag, a Me Bag, with illustrations about her interests and to fill the bag with 5-7 items, including a few pictures that represent the important things in her life. She will share the Me Bag with her classmates as they get to know each other this week. She filled the bag with a sodoku puzzle book, a tiny stuffed dog, a soccer participation medal, hamma bead doodads, a sketch book and a photo of her grandmother and her sisters. I am standing there watching her load the bag and ask, I think helpfully, "don't you want to add something from China?" Ellie's response "no." The "no" wasn't presented with either positive or negative inflection, just "no." So there you have it. My totally assimilated little American girl. Despite my efforts to incorporate Chinese culture in our home, she has not escaped the collective. She has become one with the Disney Channel Stars, Saturday mornings on the soccer field, dvd watching in the mini-van and microwave popcorn. What can you do?