Monday, November 17, 2008

She's soooo beautiful!

She is.

Zeni is a beautiful baby. She is teeny and has this creamy brown skin, huge eyes and a mess (my fault) of curly black hair. So yeah, she's cute. But she's not that cute.

Everywhere we go people stop me to take a closer look. They ohh and ahh, they call their friends over to take a look, the bolder ones touch her hair while the meeker ones just make goo goo eyes. Yesterday in the grocery store a woman literally put her hands on my hips and turned me around so that she could have a better look at Zeni, who was in the sling. Seriously lady?

I know that people love babies. I can also admit (sorry, H) that Hayden was not the cutest baby in the world:
So maybe this is just what it's like to have a really cute baby? People make a big deal and touch them and stare and stare and touch again?

I don't think so. I think Zeni is black, and at least in Spokane most white people don't know a lot of black people. They don't spend a lot of time looking at black people let along examining their skin, feeling their hair, etc. I have a black baby. She is cute yes, but she is also different, other, "oriental", "exotic".

But not only is Zeni black, she is black with a white mother. I am their (the other white people's) access - their friendly gatekeeper. I am white, my fellow grocery goers are (sadly almost entirely) white. Therefore I am not threatening to them, and they feel more comfortable coming up to me, saying hello and scrutinizing Zeni then they would were there a black mother pushing the grocery cart. The color of my skin somehow gives the permission (access?) to inquire, feel, observe, comment, up close with a real live black person.

No, I don't mean all white people. Yes, everyone enjoys a cute baby. But really, this is different. For now it's sometimes annoying, sometimes entertaining, and makes me wish I could go back and re-write my senior sociology thesis. Bu next year, when Zeni understands that she garners attention everywhere she goes, and in subsequent years when she starts to wonder why she is the focus of so much interest and why her appearance is commented on so often, it will cease being an interesting observation and will become an issue that Jeremy and I will have to address. She will look to us to model responses. To try and explain why this is. To tell her all the amazing things that don't have to do with how she looks. To teach her to protect her privacy, to tell her story when and where she wants, to be proud of her appearance while not valuing it over her other attributes. Up to now my biggest parenting challenge related to societal expectation has been to keep my son away from camouflage clothing - I'd say we've upped the stakes, eh?


Paula said...

Yes, she is "that cute". :)

(Sincerely, from one of those crazy baby loving people.)

anymommy said...

You know my take, I won't rant. She's damn cute, but that's not the whole story.

Interesting, here on the island, where people's colors are endlessly varied, Ess is barely glanced at. Occasionally her hair draws a little passing interest, but little Cue, the only blue eyed, white boy around? They loves him to pieces.

heytheredearheart said...

I agree, you do have a lot of challenges ahead to both protect and educate your sweet little thing (and the ignorant world around her). One thing for certain, however, is that you are well equipped for the job! Also loved learning that you were a sociology major (me too!)

LoveNotes4CocoPrincess said...

Better get her ready to answer this stupid question, "What are you" as they touch her face, hair or arms. For a minute of my life, I actually hated looking the way I did because my "exotic features" set me apart like a freak (in California, can you believe it).

She will do fine Harvard---your voice will become the springboard of her voice.

coffeemom said...

She IS that cute, but then again, not. I get it. I have had the same thing w/ my kids too. I removed my girls from a mother's day out program for this very reason, it was just eventually uncomfortable not the message I wanted sent. They were not "dolls' to coo over, they were my girls. Period. w/ all that babyness implies. So, good to have radar up, it's a complicated, cool, wonderful, but complex thing - transracial parenting. Much more so than some realize.

Anonymous said...

I must also say that she is "that cute"

Rachael said...

She definitely is soooooo beautiful- I just showed Adam her picture and we can't get over how much she's changed in the two months since we met you guys! But as a fellow mom to a gorgeous Ethiopian gal, I know exactly how you feel. I know that a lot of times it is just about her being pretty and wearing cute outfits, but her adorable white brother merits nary a comment. We had a really awkward elevator ride at the doctor's office one time, with our fellow passengers each chiming in to let me know how beautiful Rediet is and how they looooved her hair- with Avery standing right there hearing the whole thing. Seemed like the longest thirty seconds of my life as I lamely said something along the lines of "oh I'm so lucky all my kids are beautiful blah blah blah..."

We get a different version of this with Masho and sports. He's definitely not the best player on his team by far, but he's already been scouted by several other coaches. I suspect he's catching their attention for something other than his skills...

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm new to your blog, but I have to say that yes, she IS that cute.

I brought my daughter home about 20 months ago and we went through this same thing. What's the deal, I thought, surely ALL parents go through this with their kids. Nope, I soon found out that even when out with friends with pretty cute kids, people swarm us like we're freaking celebrities and ooh and aah over my girl (while saying nothing to the other kids/parents). Uncomfortable and sure makes people not really want to hang out with you too much.

Now my daughter is 2 1/2 and we still get it a lot, at least two or three times an outing. Seriously, it's sometimes like being out with Britney Spears or something. Now, though, when someone remarks on her beauty, I always reply with "thanks, she's very smart and sweet too, and a really good girl" just so she hears praise other than that of her looks. It already makes her embarrassed - when we're approached she will bury her head in my chest or legs and try to hide. We've actually had people, on more than a few occasions, ask to take her photo! Crazy.

And we live in the SF Bay Area, where we see multi-ethnic families all the time.

Like you, it annoys me a lot and I worry for her. Sometimes I just want to blend in and be nondescript, but those days are long gone.

Anonymous said...

I am also parenting an exceptionally gorgeous Ethiopian child. She's 5 now and I've been her mom for 2.5 years. Her 8 year old bio sister gets her normally fair share of comments about her pretty eyes or her muscular, althetic body, but my little one....

Oh, it *is* a problem.

And we live in an exceedingly diverse community where we attend an Ethiopia Orthodox church each weekend, still you'd think she wouldn't hit the radars. She does!!

EVERYONE comments... not so much from overly comfortable white people as you described, but people of all colors....Ethiopians... African-Americans... teenager girls....teenage boys.

I'm not exaggerating when I say she's heard them say 100 x, "Oh, you're going to be in so much trouble with THAT one!"

I cringe. I don't want to take her sunshine away, but it's just way too much. She once said to me, "If people want to be my friend, they tell me how beautiful I am."

She's right!

As a girl who grew up knowing she was one of the ugly ones (with a younger sister who was pretty), I have a hard time knowing what to do.

I feel kind of bad for her. Her big sister is well rounded, althetic, confident, funny, beautiful in her own right and in possession of a beautiful spirit. Her little sister's beauty stops people from noticing or commenting on my else about her.

Oh, and the darn hair comments.... her hair is fine like a peach-skinned person and lightly curly. If it's not her face they discuss, it's her tiny body or her easy, beautiful hair.

It's a problem.

Vive...rie...ama said...

I got your blog from blog-hopping around because we are researching ET adoption. So I have no business commenting! BUT, I think you're right about one thing (that people are using you to get close to something unfamiliar) and wrong about one thing (she is one of those really, really cute babies!!!!). Cute fam!

Anonymous said...

Great post. I've experienced the same thing with my daughter and have asked myself the same questions. Glad to have found your blog! Happy Holidays!


Mrs. U said...

Hi there!!
I have somehow found your blog and REALLY love this post!! Our daughter was born in China in 2006 and my husband and I are currently looking into a domestic African American program and Ethiopia for our next adoption (still haven't decided which one yet- I say BOTH!!!). I have heard/read so much about other caucasions touching the hair of adopted black children but didn't "get" it until I read this!!! So, I guess I'll save this in my mind under "things to expect when we finally have our next child", huh? :)

Thank you for sharing this!

Mrs. U