Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Skin, Your Skin

I've been thinking about how to write about something that happened a week or so ago when I was bathing Eli.  Well, and thinking about whether I should write about it at all. 

I've been hesitant because I'm not totally sure I understood what happened; I don't feel great about my inadequate repsonse if it did, in fact, happen; and if it did happen, I don't want to attribute more significance to it than I should.  I can be a bit of an overreacter.

So I'm just going to tell you what happened and see what you think.  Ok?

Brad and I have each settled in to our typical "duties," I guess you'd call them, taking care of Eli.  Brad cooks dinner most nights (ok, every night--that's the same as before Eli came home); I bathe him, read to him, and get him to bed most nights; and Brad wakes him up most mornings.  We didn't sit down and divvy up the tasks, we've just naturally settled into this routine because it works.

I like bathing Eli.  It gives us a chance to be with each other a bit more intimately than he normally allows.  We play music, and he usually dances his way into the tub.  With our dry climate here in Colorado, lotion after bathtime is a must and Eli happily allows me to help apply it.  It's soothing for both of us and, according to Dr. Purvis, facilitates bonding and attachment.

Bath time is a very happy time.

One night when Eli was in his bath, he kept scrubbing his forearm with a washcloth.  At first I didn't think anything of it, just thought he was being silly.  Eli is a super silly bather.

But then he pointed to my forearm, pointed to his forearm, and scrubbed some more.  And looked at me with a sort of sad confusion.  The message seemed to be that he was trying to wash his skin to look like mine.

When that realization hit, it stunned me.  I honestly hadn't yet thought through a conversation with him about race and skin color, and never thought the opportunity would present itself before he and I shared a common language.  Such a complex topic to discuss with a child who may or may not understand what you say.  (In our adoptive parent training we talked quite a bit about how to handle racism from others, which thankfully has not been an issue for us.  At all.  Everywhere we go, people love Eli.)

I don't remember specifically what I said.  I think it was something saccharine along the lines of we may look different on the outside but it's what's inside that matters.  That his skin is gorgeous and he is a beautiful boy, both because of how handsome he is but also because he is kind and thoughtful to others.  All true, but my delivery was pure blithering.  I'm lucky his English is still developing because maybe I'll get a complete do-over.

I know I didn't do a very good job, and I hope that when the topic surfaces again I'm better prepared.  Our son is gorgeous, inside and out, and I want him to know it.  To feel it.  To believe it.  But I also don't want to make him feel as though his different race and darker skin sets him apart from me and Brad.  I don't want to ignore our differences, but I want to focus on our sameness.

So how do I best do that?

Adoptiove parents, how have you done that?


  1. That's a hard one, regadless. My husband is Italian-American and I am a person of color (Belize & Panama). Our daughter, forgive the expression, is lilly white, and often refers to people with darker skin, as the "brown" woman or "brown man", and I do what I did with my oldest, which is to teach her to use other attributes to describe people like, "the man with the red hat", or "the lady with the blue dress". That's just my way of teaching her that we are all different in skin color, but that shouldn't be what defines us. In Eli's case, and I'm no expert, just trying to help, maybe a visit to the bookstore. There are so many books out there for building self-esteem in children of color. The actor, Taye Diggs, just wrote a book called "Chocolate Me", and there are so many similar books out there. I know he's still building his English language skills, but the pictures may be helpful. I don't know if you live in a racially diverse area, but the more he's exposed to people like himself, the more he'll learn to love and appreciate his own skin. Sounds like he just wants to be like Mom & Dad, so I think you're right - even though you can't deny what's different, just try to keep the focus on what's similar and what makes you a family. Sorry for the rambling. :)

    1. Amarie, that book looks great! And they have it at our local library, can't wait to check it out. Thanks!!

  2. I think your reaction was perfect. I know the conversation is going to happen over and over, until he understands that you chose him for the wonderful, beautiful person he is,and that his skin color is part of him, therefore, part of what makes him beautiful. Is he going to school yet? Is he around a diverse group of people? It might help him to see that people come in all shapes and colors. Kind of cute: Travis and I adopted our grandson. We got him on May 21, 2011, and it took nine months, a lot of heart-ache and court dates before we got the final stamp of aproval from the Judge on March 13, 2012. We have fallen into the exact same roles as you and Brad have.


    1. Kathleen (and Brad.) What a heartwarming story! I have been meaning to reach out to you, and your blog post prompted me to. First off, congratulations! I've been following your story and the arrival with Eli and I'm very happy for you guys. I have good friends who adopted a girl from China. (Ironically, Tim's a 20 x Boston Marathon runner, but that's another story.) She (Brenda) started a support group online called "Journey to Me." They are fundamentally a support group for people that have adopted and trying to deal with situations like the one you described above. It sounds like she's gone back to work and others are getting involved with the organization, but I've been to events and have heard how they've helped others. email me and I can connect you with Brenda if you'd like. In the meantime, your response sounded perfect. Her site is below or email me at;

      Hope you're doing well...we haven't run together is busy.


    2. Anjie, how old is your grandson?

      Ty, thanks for the link!

  3. You will get plenty of chances to talk about this, so don't worry if what you said was just right or not. I'm sure you did great!

    In our house books have definitely helped facilitate positive feelings and conversations. Our favorites are Shades of People and Shades of Black. We also have a Jacob Lawrence art board book that has a catchy rhyme, and Zinashi loves that one as well.

  4. You're right-- you'll get lots of do-overs as he grows! We have people of every color in our family. I will sometimes remark on it, compare it to the varying colors of flowers in our garden, and say that God must really love variety, because he created so many different types of people, flowers, trees, etc....

    All the best,
    Mary, momma to many, including 2 boys from Korea and 4 girls from Ethiopia