Friday, August 6, 2010

Our Lives in Public


* this entire post is to make me feel better - read - this entire post is boring and not funny. Muh bad.*

Before Zeni came home I knew that being a multiracial family would make us a family that was more noticed and more scrutinized in public. People notice what is out of the ordinary and families of different colors are. It is not a good thing or a bad thing, and I don't think less of people who notice us - I would notice us too were I not me and were I able to write less confusing sentences.

When Zeni was a baby people were always coming up to us to talk about her. Sometimes it was welcome and sometimes not, but I finally feel like I have a grip on how to deal with it. I have my few lines: "thank you, both my children are beautiful", "she is pretty, and smart too!" and so on. Sometimes I still feel sick to my stomach when I have to tell someone to back off, sometimes I have an interaction that I replay in my mind afterwards wishing I had said more or hadn't said as much, but for the most part I feel capable and competent and like I am showing my children how to talk to people in a polite way and still maintain their boundaries.

So of course just when I get that under my belt things change and I am faced with a new twist on being in public with my family; whereas before it was strangers approaching us, now it is Zeni approaching and engaging with strangers everywhere - and it is driving me nuts.

Examples:
1. We are at the park eating goldfish. Another mom opens up a pack of (the exact same) goldfish for her little ones. Zeni stands quietly next to the mom until mom looks to Z and then Z puts on her sweetest face and says "Can I have one?"
2. Z notices a parent who is actually playing with their children, while her own mother sits and chats with friends. Z inserts herself into that family's play, getting pushed on the swings, helped across the monkey bars, etc. as if she herself was (a) unable to play on her own and (b) is a neglected child with no family. She will do this for hours. The less annoyed the other parent is with her behavior, the more annoyed I am with them and her.
3. Any unattended stroller, weather it contains a baby or not, is in Z's mind fair game for her to rummage through, push around, and otherwise overtake.
4. Things that Z knows are off limits (and honestly we don't have that many things that are off limits - entering the chicken coop is one, putting dirty things in our mouths is another, as is asking strangers for food) she will wait until we have people over or are in a public place and then do each of them, repeatedly, until after 1 warning she is given a time out during which she screams as if she was just flogged. It is the kind of screaming where she can't breath and has snot running everywhere, and stops only when she catches a strangers eye and then looks at them, pleading with her eyes for them to rescue her from her bitch of a mother.

Does this not sound like a big deal? Maybe these sound like normal 2 year old things to be doing but there is an edge to them that is manipulative and obstinate. There is. I feel it every time she does it. It has gotten to the point where every time we are out I know I will have to remove her from a situation and I am tense the whole time waiting for it.

I think I have figured out that at least part of the reason this behavior sends me around the bend is because she is using what she has learned from other people - that she is adorable, unusual, cute, sweet, etc. - she is using her looks to get what she wants, and that is *not* an ok lesson for my daughter to take with her as she grows up. That's not the whole reason, and I can't quite put my finger on the rest of it. I'm sure it's tied up with adoption and mothering a girl and a control freak parenting a stubborn smarty pants.

Things have gotten better in the past week after I had a little sit down with myself to set some limits in my mind. I had been making decisions on the spot about what was and was not ok and that was leading to my acting out of anger instead of consistent and thought out boundaries. So now I know - asking other people for food - not ok (and for now neither is accepting food from anyone except our closest friends. Getting an unsolicited push on the swings or help down the slide is ok but getting help after sitting at the top of the slide for minutes (that feel to me like hours!) waiting for someone to come help her is not. Staring people down until they look at her and start to coo over how cute she is - not ok.

And so continue the adventures of parenting...

8 comments:

Single PAP said...

wow, she is such a cutie, though. sorry. i totally understand, though. my daughter is adorable too and gets what she wants from others because of it. she will also do the exact things i have told her not to do (play with electrical wires, put things in her mouth, etc.) and knowingly do them---ie. wait for me to have eye contact with her before reaching out her hand. i go back and forth on the age thing, too, as she's also 2.

good luck! (to both of us!)

anymommy said...

Solidarity. That's all I have for you. That and that you put your finger on it, this is very, very clearly expressed.

MommyNamedApril said...

sounds like you're doing a fantastic job. mothering is tough. really really tough. (really).

Brenda said...

Your daughter is acting that way because you're allowing her to do so.At 2, she's a small person; one who can easily be picked up and taken some place else.One who understands, or should, the words no and stop.
I find White guilt in parents of non-white children to be a luxury none in the family can afford. Stop treating that child as if she is the most fragile, precious thing on the planet, and treat her like the learning being she is.
Please don't think I don't know of what I speak; my husband is white, I'm black. Both of our children are adopted black/white bi-racial people.So I know about the stares,about people feeling as if they have to make a special effort to comment when we acknowledge the stares.As if they have the RIGHT to point out our "different-ness".
Please STOP answering"...and smart too" when they coo about her looks.When my kids were little, I did the same thing, and they both later told me that made them feel somehow ugly, I stopped.Again,at this age, she's learning what is acceptable, and your reaction reinforces the more negative action. She really is guileless at this time, but will learn cunning,manipulative actions by your reactions.
Parenting is a difficult gig, good luck to you all.

marie said...

Playground rules:

1. Pied piper parents who climb on the jungle gym, play elaborate games of hide and seek and contort their bodies to fit through and under playground equipment are not appreciated and should learn to sit down and drink their coffee.
2. Any open bag of goldfish is community property.

Don't over think the cute comments and the fact that your daughter seems to enjoy them. SHe is only two. Kids who are told they are smart too often can also turn out to be obnoxious. Two year olds are cute. My daughter is from China and has always got a lot of those comments, especially when we are visiting areas that are predominantly white but let it go. She is now 6 and still cute but the comments die down as kids progress out of toddlerhood. There is nothing wrong with her feeling good about the way she looks, she most likely will question how she feels about her appearance at some point in her life so let her eat it up now.
My second son was the child I butted heads with when he was little--strong willed, attracted to doing exactly what we told him was off limits etc... He is 12 (and a great kid) now and when family members make jokes about what a hard time he gave us when he was little he is a bit sensitive and recently, after one such comment, he said to me "Mom, I was just trying to figure things out. I was only 2."
Remember her age, don't assign adult attributes to her actions (I know it is difficult when buttons are pushed). It sounds like you were "cursed" with an easy first child (me too). Reality is most two year olds don't like to play with themselves in a park.

roadtoethiopia said...

My son is four and I'm still struggling with some of those issues. Boundaries? What boundaries? And OMG if I hear one more WHY mom? Why? Couple books you might want to check out if you haven't: Parenting the Strong-willed Child and Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child. May the force be with you:)

Wild Rose said...

Z is a beautiful girl and your whole family is beautiful and a blessing, never let anyone tell you any different. Am proud to have passed by and read you :)x

Anonymous said...

I totally get that an intuition for that "edge" you talked about is probably a true intuition and maybe related to the things you analyzed the heck out of.
But.
Pay attention to it, make a note of it, don't go nuts. All the behaviors you listed are completely normal for any two year old, and they all have them to some degree. Depending on their personalities *and how sensitive we are to looking out for red flags* (always more so with kids who are adopted, traumatized, have special needs, etc), they might be more or less forceful about expressing them.
A 2 year old is supposed to test. Everything. Especially how mom reacts to behaviors under different circumstances. She's a little scientist, figuring out the laws of her universe.
My daughter is also 2, not adopted, an "easy" child and a breeze to parent. But she has repeated everything on your list plenty. I was a nanny among other child-care related things for years and years, and never though a thing of any of those behaviors except "good for her! She's developmentally on target! She's learning! She's testing! She is SO going to find a boundary she can't pass, but good for her for trying". You can't beat me. I'm the mom. But I hope she tries to test her limits and learn how far she can go in life in general. She may win or lose, live and learn, but at least she's not cowering in a corner. You probably have a well-adjusted child. Just a spunky one. Good for you!
Wow that was long. Sorry.