Friday, June 7, 2013

Sticks & Stones

My Note: I wrote this in 2009 to process through the first time The Oldest was teased because of the way she looks. This was before I became aware of what blogging is and as a result I posted it on Facebook. I've recently been reminded of some of the notes that I've written - many of them focused on my girls - and I'll likely start transferring them over here to keep them more permanently but to also make sure that whenever I decide to pull the entries and compile them, they're where I can find them.


I'm writing this more for my benefit - as a way of remembering the conversation, but also to help me process through the conversation I had with Rebecca when we were on our way home from the gym this evening.

A few months into my pregnancy my mom asked me what it felt like for me to know that I'd finally have a biological connection, but more importantly - a little person that would look something like me. Despite my always saying, "I hope she has my eyes," for the longest time I thought it was strange my mom would bring up that kind of question and even more strange that she continued to ask it as Rebecca's due date drew closer. And then she was born and when I was finally able to hold her for the first time, I understood exactly why I kept praying that Rebecca would inherit the shape of my eyes. But in that moment when I was overwhelmed with happiness that she had small, almond shaped eyes and a non-existent bridge to her nose -- I also began hoping she'd never know what it felt like to question what she looked like.

My eyes are the one physical feature that I have that growing up in a "white" suburban area outside of Massachusetts or later in more rural New Hampshire (even in Indiana when I first moved here -- though that is changing rapidly) set me apart from everyone else. While I've come to love the shape of my eyes and the dark brown, almost black color they hold - there were a number of years when to me they were more of a liability than an asset. The times when kids would pull their eyes taut and then run away from me on the playground or call me "chin eyes" were hurtful beyond belief. Sticks and stones may break our bones and despite what anyone might try and tell me to the contrary - words and actions sure as hell do hurt. They hurt when you're older and able to reason that someone should have known better not to call you a "gook" - and they really hurt when you're little and have no idea why someone tells you you're "different" or "strange" or a "freak".

When I glanced in the rear-view mirror this evening I was not prepared to see Rebecca, fingers by her eyes, pulling them to the side and closed. She said, "Mommy, I'm making a funny face. Sierra says I have a funny face like this." I took a deep breath and tried to catch just one of the thoughts that began to flood my head.

My first approach didn't work. Rebecca clammed up in a nano-second and wouldn't say another word. I silently got angry with myself first, calmed down second and then regrouped. I managed to convince her she wasn't in trouble nor was she going to get in trouble - which was most important because it allowed me to try again.

I asked Rebecca how it feels when Sierra makes faces at her - to which Rebecca responded quietly she didn't know. It was when I told Rebecca that kids used to make fun of my eyes that she finally opened up -- and began to cry. THAT was something that you could have told me was going to happen - could have provided me with the date and the time and the place that it was going to happen and no amount of preparation would have ever made me ready for.

You want to know how a 3, almost 4 year old breaks your heart? By saying that someone making faces at her makes her sad and hurts her feelings. By asking why someone would think she looks funny or why someone would call her "diamond eyes" or laugh and point and tell her her eyes are too small. Or by telling you that someone ran away from her because they were told that she's different.

As with most things in her 3 year old world - she experiences it, sometimes she retains it, she asks questions, she gets answers or - if needed - asks more questions to get more answers, she might cry or laugh and then she moves on. So I move on as well. Our car ride was short, but it was long enough for us to "talk", for her to be certain with the knowledge that I love her and at least for the next 12 hours that she's not funny or strange or different. She's just Rebecca. I know this is just the first of I'm sure many conversations - not only about her eyes, but about being a child of mixed race (I have to laugh when people ask me "What is she?" -- I want to answer, "She's really just a mutt. We think one half Golden Retriever, part Basset Hound and maybe a little Chocolate Lab") and hopefully someday about my ethnic heritage. And I know I can't protect her from all the sticks and stones and words -- all I can do is provide her with love and hopefully nurture her into being a strong, self-confident young woman.

Oh, and Rebecca's eyes... They've got the beautiful almond shape - but the coloring? A grayish color around the outside that blends in with a medium brown with flecks of gold and green. They're stunning... but I'm not biased either. ;)

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