Cage Match: Purim vs. Halloween

A couple of the comments on that last post reminded me of something I read, gosh, it must be about three years ago: almost all adoptions are transcultural adoptions. Cricket’s certainly falls into that category; he went from an Irish/British/German-American home of practicing Catholics to a (currently) single-parent home of a practicing Jewish mother. Cricket is being raised vegetarian, and while I am vegetarian myself, the Mister and the boys are not. (Okay, Kit is at the moment, being as he’s only drinking breastmilk [and the breastmilk of a vegetarian, no less], but I’m sure that a year from now he won’t be any longer.) Cricket is growing up in the north, and Joey and Kit are growing up (at least for the next few years) in Southern California. But there are also less clearly defined cultural differences—I’d describe our house as more kid friendly, although of course that’s just my point of view. But we have a much higher tolerance for noise and chaos, and a greater appreciation of silliness. Ruth has a more organized life for Cricket, with more travel and a very carefully planned diet.

Ruth (disclaimer: as far as I understand from our past conversations and the decisions she makes) sees herself as needing to protect her culture. She doesn’t want Cricket to think that Christmas is awesome because they are Jewish, and she understands Jewish holidays as being less exciting for children than Christian or secular ones. She doesn’t want her child pressured into conforming to cultural gender norms, and licensed characters goob her out. And fair enough, sez I, to all of these things. I have some of the same concerns, although I choose to handle them differently. The problem for me is that Ruth doesn’t see our (Book) culture as having any value for Cricket—and if it holds any interest for him, that’s a bad thing, as it may serve to draw him away from her culture. This isn’t something that we talked about before the adoption, because the idea of a transcultural adoption (or, frankly, the idea that I had or was anything that might matter to Cricket) wasn’t something I was aware of. I did ask specifically about sending Christmas gifts, and got permission spelled out in our agreement. But the only other time that the cultural difference came up is when Ruth told me (eight months pregnant) that I would probably have to talk to Cricket at some point about being a Jew with Nazi ancestors (mine).

The whole mess is slightly more complicated now, because Cricket is interested in his brothers and the things that they like—what their lives are like. Last Christmas, in addition to a gift, I sent a pound of dates because Joey was completely nuts about them, and I thought it unlikely that they’d be able to get good dates where they are. I included a note explaining that these are dates, and Joey loves them, and I thought you’d like to try them, Cricket. I never heard whether he had one or not, or liked one, or anything like that. We don’t hear back about things that we send. And that was more discouraging for me than was probably reasonable. Too, these boys will be doing and liking more and more things that Cricket is supposed to stay away from: Joey is crazy about Blue’s Clues; we’re going to Disneyland again this fall, and I expect Joey to lose his mind with joy; some of their favorite foods are sure to be meat-related. I feel as though I should be allowed to say these things, but I’m not sure that I am. And the ways that I reach out keep getting worn down; I certainly won’t send anything like the dates again, and Skype hasn’t happened in . . . shoot, I’m not sure. We Skyped in March, maybe? Or maybe the last one was February. I sent a sweater that I knitted, but if I don’t see any sign that he has worn it this fall or winter, I won’t send another in future. And when Joey and Kit are old enough to reach out themselves, while I certainly won’t refuse to help them, I don’t look forward to trying to get across how unlikely they are to hear back.

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16 thoughts on “Cage Match: Purim vs. Halloween

  1. One thing I think about a lot is that any child in our home is going to need to know how to code-switch, and I don’t think that kind of mindset is as common in monorcial adoptions even if they are obviously transcultural. Mara is not being raised in the same cultural context as her siblings (and the siblings who live literally right across the street from the youngest aren’t being raised quite the same way he is, though the differences are less pronounced than with Mara’s upbringing with us) and yet I don’t want her to assume that our way is “better” or that her aunt’s way is “more authentic” or whatever. I want her to grow up recognizing that different contexts have different rules and she’ll have to adapt accordingly. We have a head start in that kids of color pick up on this more quickly than more isolated white kids do, but it’s still something I think about explicitly and try to gently demonstrate.

    But sometimes it’s hard to know where the line is. As far as we can tell, rhe timing and location weren’t right for any of my ancestors to have been slaveowners, but like most black Americans, some of Lee’s ancestors were and were probably rapists too. That’s something Mara’s going to eventually learn as part of learning about the history of race in the US, but it doesn’t have a lot of direct bearing on what it says about our families. (Both Lee and I do have close relatives who were involved in Civil Rights actions, and I do expect her to feel some connection to that history, which is temporally much closer and also more concrete.) I’m really hoping that Ruth is talking about actual historical Nazis in your family and not just generalizing about your heritage and religion or even conscripts in the German army, because teaching kids about history that isn’t history is such a mess.

    But I write all this after shaking my head while putting away Nia’s clothes last night. They’re all from her previous foster family and a lot of them have imagery I wouldn’t have chosen and are 80% polyester when she’s going to be playing in the sun and I realized I need to let go and get over myself because it really doesn’t matter. And I need to talk to Lee, who’s been really pushing Nia on learning to conjugate “to be” but then when I met Nia’s grandma, she immediately said “Where is you going?” just like Nia would, and so we need to present a united front on how standard formal English is just standard, not better. This stuff is hard and more emotional than people maybe expect, things like what to call genitalia and I never expected to have a kneejerk rection to “rag” over “washcloth” but I hate it and I need to check myself about that.

    And then there’s the whole part about Cricket and not knowing what gets through to him and what he gets back. I’ve been thinking about that since Mara’s Grandma Joyce died, that I don’t quite feel guilty about throwing away the expired chips with ants in them that she gave Mara, but I’m so grateful we kept the broken piggy bank and a few other things that we could have justified tossing because now at least Mara has them and she will never have a chance to get anything else from Grandma Joyce. I know I’m just talking about our family, but I’d hate to see Joey and Kit deciding they’d had enough and couldn’t keep throwing pennies into the abyss if Cricket never is allowed to respond. How hearbreaking for all of them.

    • Both this post and this reply have got me seriously thinking about things I’ve been thinking about for the last two weeks. J has a trans-racial adoption, which I think his fathers recognize but it’s his trans-cultural adoption that I feel is more glossed over and I worry about that.

      I think instead of posting a comment rivaling Thorn’s in length I instead will transform it into my own blog post – would you mind if I link back here as my inspiration?

      • Feel free, if I’m not too late! I know you have a better relationship with your son’s adoptive parents than I do with my son’s, but do you too find this extremely tricky to bring up?

  2. Hey, I’m a (converted) Jew with Nazi ancestors! I turned out okay, I promise. If you ever want to hear about how my parents handled it when I was little and how I dealt with the variety of cultural layers that make up my background, feel free to send me an email.

  3. I also have a hard time with the not hearing back after gifts or emails are sent. It leaves me with a feeling that we have little or no value to them because they don’t even see need to respond, which I consider a common social courtesy.

    I too wonder how the future will play out when all of the children are old enough to express their desire to know more about one another.

    I hope the children can navigate these relationships where the adults seemed to have failed.

    Where oh where was the crystal ball we needed when we were making our adoption decisions?

  4. I hope that Ruth gets her head in the right place regarding you, Mr Book, Joey, and now Kit and how you are all so closely intertwined with her family despite the different cultures. Kids, however, tend to accept the reality of who they are much more easily than even their parents might push across. I’m not saying that Ruth is telling Joey that his birth family are all horrid people (because you’re not) – I’m just saying that though Ruth struggles with her cultural identity and might push that across to Joey, Joey will find his own way. Kids are strong (and so is biology!). As I do with LisaAnne (above comment), I will also send up prayers and thoughts that Ruth will acknowledge the gifts you send.

  5. Pingback: Cultural Divergence « Adoption in the City

  6. I’m wondering if you see this as significantly different from the sort of multicultural differences many families who are not affected by adoption, are dealing with. Among our siblings and in-laws we have a wide variety of traditions and beliefs that are new to our family and that includes many of the same ones you mentioned like religious and dietary differences as well as differences in ethnicity and country of origin. And, we’ve got everything from people who send written thank you notes right away to people who never acknowledge gifts.

    I guess I’m thinking that is probably a pretty common mix in our multicultural society and lots of our families are like that. I’m wondering if the difference here is that you feel more invested as a parent that you somehow should get to make these decisions. I don’t really are if my niece doesn’t celebrate Christmas, doesn’t eat bacon, plays only with Disney toys and has yet to ever acknowledge gifts. That’s not really my job as an aunt to be in charge of those things and I recognize her parents will make sure she’s got a good life. So, I guess my well intentioned suggestion is to focus less on differences and more on your reactions to them so see if you can become more aware of your thought processes and find a way to get more at peace with your role.

    • While I think I understand the point you are trying to make here, I do see this as a bit different than just being an aunt to Cricket.

      In all of Susie’s posts, including this one, she is always very respectful of Ruth (and Nora’s) role as Cricket’s parents. Never have I gotten the impression that she would even suggest different parenting techniques. Even when she disagrees with their parenting style.

      However, Cricket does not exclusively stake claim to one family (Ruth & Nora). Because of the circumstances of his birth and adoption, he has claim to two families. One of origin and one of daily life.

      In no way do I feel Susie implied that he should not be immersed in the culture and lifestyle that Ruth has chosen for him. Instead, I see this post as pointing out that she acknowledges the cultural experiences that Cricket currently enjoys, but he also has a family of origin, where he has two brothers with whom he will likely have a relationship. Because of that, there could be a case made that Cricket would benefit from exposure to this cultural difference. I see this post as pointing out that there could be some value given to the Book family’s culture as it relates to Cricket and subsequent relationships that he will have with his family of origin.

      No one is asking Ruth to convert to Catholicism. Nor was it implied that Cricket not be raised as a Jewish child. Instead, my take away from this post is that adopted children are different. Even if we want to pretend it is not so. They fully belong to two different families. Sometimes the family of origin is not even known, but the child still has stake to that family of origin.

      And in this very specific case, where Cricket has two brothers who will grow up raised very differently than Cricket, if he was exposed to those differences from a young age, I would hope that he would appreciate the differences for what they are.

      One final thought about the parenting issue. I have heard adoptees say that they did not feel like they fit in their adoptive families. And to be fair, I have heard children born to and raised in the same family also say the same. But at least for the biological child, they still see some similarities about themselves in the people who they are around each day. I don’t think is is any question that there is nature involved in how people think and act. I do wonder if Cricket was raised in a more laid back family, if his moments of spunk would be more celebrated rather than seen as a character flaw. I am not judging Ruth’s parenting ability, but she is hard wired how she is hard wired. And Cricket is hard wired how he was hard wired too. And since they do not share any biological connection, I do wonder if there might be some disconnect there. Only speculation, as I have no idea.

      Families are strange combinations of people. And marriages bring diversity that many families never expected. But generally those are choices that adults make. With adoption, the child has no say where he/she lands.

      And from what I can tell from comments from adoptees, when their families of origin were honored, the effects of adoption were lessened because they felt more accepted for who they are and where they came from.

      Just my thoughts.

      • “They fully belong to two different families.”

        Fundamentally though by making the decision to place him for adoption this ceased to be true. Ruth is legally responsible for him and makes the decisions about his life – both things big and small and that will not change. It does not sound like Susie expects that to change nor does she believe that should change at this point in Cricket’s life. The reality is that if you place your child for adoption you don’t get to choose their outfits, their toys, or the religion they are raised with.

        My suggestion is given this reality which is not going to change – is there a way that Susie can come to terms with it and not feel in turmoil over little every birthday present or holiday? Expending that kind of emotional energy is a really hard way to live and I don’t think it makes a person a better parent or a happier person. Since the reality that Cricket is being raised in a different household exists, how would it be possible to develop habits of thinking about it more positively?

        “And in this very specific case, where Cricket has two brothers who will grow up raised very differently than Cricket, if he was exposed to those differences from a young age, I would hope that he would appreciate the differences for what they are.”

        Could you give an example? It seems like the sorts of differences that are being mentioned are things like Disney or having Christmas trees. As I mentioned before many of us have multicultural families where cousins who are being raised with totally different traditions find themselves very easily able to develop close relationships. Grandparents seem to have more trouble feeling sad over the lack of a Christmas tree or a pot roast, but kids readily accept the idea that people who live differently can still be close loving relatives. What sorts of problems are you thinking Cricket is going to have getting along with his brothers?

    • No, I don’t have any issue with Cricket being Jewish, not celebrating Christmas, and so forth. (I want to say “of course,” because of course I don’t have any problem with that. I don’t think my culture is superior to his or Ruth’s.) What I have an issue with is the feeling that I can’t talk about my culture to him, or show him/share with him things that are important in my family. But it would be mildly horrifying if I were able to supplant the culture that he’s living; I am not parenting him, and it would be inappropriate for me to make major parenting decisions in his life. But in this, I feel less able to talk about and share my culture than I would with a nephew or cousin or child of a friend.

  7. Has Nora completely left the building? Is she in Cricket’s life at all anymore? And if she isn’t, is that Ruth’s doing?

    • Lisaanne:

      I beg to differ- a child of adoption does have two families BUT only one is raising them. When you (general) place your child for adoption you are no longer your child’s only family. Therefore, the aparents (who have taken on the responsibility of raising the child) should not be obligated to “celebrate” the bfamily’s traditions or culture. Yes it is nice, but if acknowledging the child’s bfamily is so important to them ( bfamily), then they should have raised them.

      My point is- adoption is adoption-not an alternative form of childcare or nanny services. And to believe that it is, is not respecting the child and their new family’s traditions

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