While adopting, we knew that in becoming a transracial family we were choosing a life for our family that looks quite different than most others. We suspected that by adopting a child who looked different from us that there would be an imbalance in the acceptance of and attention paid to our adopted child. She would have a different skin color, so would people ignore her? Would people mistreat her? Would people overlook her as less than special? They're terrible, horrible, no good, very bad questions to consider, but it is something we (living in the Deep South) carefully and thoroughly discussed before committing to an African nation.
Then we came home, and thus began the clash between anticipation and reality.
There was indeed an imbalance of attention paid to our daughters. One daughter constantly received excited greetings, loud compliments, and was told how beautiful and special she was. The other daughter was overlooked, dismissed, and literally pushed to the side. At first we thought it was a fluke, but then it continued over countless months. Time and again well-intentioned strangers, friends, and family would gush over one daughter while completely ignoring the other.
Only we were wrong about which child.
Once we figured out what was happening, we quickly adjusted each new encounter to purposefully include her. Sometimes we would physically draw her in with a hug or kiss, ask her a question, or sometimes just a direct comment about how we had TWO beautiful and precious and special girls, for whom God has really big plans.
People mostly just didn't notice, or they were so hyped up about grabbing at the extraordinary black-haired girl that the ordinary little blonde-haired girl faded to invisible.
Some of our dearest and closest friends did notice. They decided to make a point to speak to "the other daughter" first, always, before addressing the newest one. This may not seem significant, but certainly meant the world to the one who was wondering why other people clearly didn't think she was a big deal. Or a deal at all.
Honest to goodness, it really wasn't a jealousy issue. It was just a confusion issue. She didn't want people to stop lavishing attention on her sister (who she loved so deeply, right from the very start), she just preferred being inside the circle instead of shoved to the back of it.
I wondered if this would happen again when the four of us became the five of us...if now, suddenly, the biggest girls would become "the other daughters." Maybe it is a thing that happens every time a new family member is added.
It wasn't the same.
Sure, well-intentioned strangers, friends, and family members would gush over the babe, but always they would defer to the baby's relationship to her sisters and include them in their compliments of her.
The comparison of those two phases has truly been intriguing.
I simply chalk it up to one of those surprises in adoption for which no class or seminar or book can prepare you. Well, that, and a lesson in both looking at life from a kid's eye view and choosing to judge people based on their intentions rather than their actions.
And there's totally more to that than you think.