Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, January 27, 2012

Unspoken Assumptions

While I admire people who adopt tremendously, Nancy French's Corner post on her adopted daughter strikes me as more than a little off.

The Joy of Pretty Things

By Nancy French

In 2008, we decided to adopt. At first, like many couples who hear of the dreaded “one child” policy, I wanted to adopt from China. However, when we contacted our agency, the wait for a Chinese baby was four years. Instead we decided to go the quickest and most affordable route.

And so, several months — and a lot of paperwork — later, we got our referral photo from Ethiopia. She was a 14-pound two-year-old with a large head and twiggy arms. She was wearing camouflage, and it was noted on her file that she had experienced “extreme starvation.”

In retrospect, she wasn’t that cute, but we were blinded by love and adoration. My son, who was eight at the time, printed off her photo and took it proudly to school.
She "wasn't that cute"? What a thing to say in print.

“Is that a girl?” a classmate asked. “Are you sure?”

On the way home from school, my son was devastated. “Why does she wear boys’ clothes if she’s really a girl?” he asked, his pride pricked by his friends’ doubt. “Are we sure?”

We weren’t. As with everything adoption-related, it’s hard to know much with certainty. Information is hard to come by. Language barriers and other factors make it hard to really figure out the truth. It’s an exercise in trusting God’s sovereignty.

I sure hope that little girl doesn't want to be an engineer. The family might think she's really a guy. Or a lesbian.

A year and a half ago, my family traveled to Africa and met two-year-old Konjit, an apt name which means “beautiful.” My blonde-headed kids were amazed at her rich, brown skin and her dark-brown fuzz on the top of her head. The orphanage had shaved her hair off almost completely. It was probably a good thing — so much was changing in our family. I cannot imagine actually getting a new kid and learning how to feed, bathe, and take care of her exotic hair without sharing the same language.
"Exotic"? " "Fuzz"? "A good thing"? And a woman with children needs to learn how to feed and bathe them? I am relieved that French let the girl's hair grow at all. And have her children never seen an African-American before? Either French is an idiot or her Baron Munchausen tendencies are acting up again.

French goes on to tell us how her daughter grew to love pretty clothers, even running around on their new wood floors in her favorite boots.

“Naomi,” I said sternly. This is the new first name we chose to go with her African name. It means “pleasant.”
She refused to call her child by her real name? Why? She's a person, not a puppy you got from the pound. Our names are part of our identities.
“You’ve either got to stand still or take off those boots.”

She stood still, right in that spot for a very long time, motionless.

As I looked at that little brown girl trying too hard to maintain the style and beauty of those little brown boots, I smiled. And I finally said, “Okay, go ahead and run around.”

My reluctant permission was like a gunshot at a race. She smiled and ran around the house with even more joy. And with every clomp, she drove poverty and death a little further back into her past.
No child should be that obedient; it's a sign of deep insecurity. And why was French just watching her "for a very long time"? French might want to rethink this whole Conservative Mommy gig. She comes off as a little loopy and it cuts into her time servicing Mitt and Ann Romney.


atat said...

"In retrospect, she wasn’t that cute..."

I clicked through. There are "before and after" pictures, and the girl is beautiful in both. The whole point of the article seems to be about "beautiful" and "expensive" clothing transforming Konjit the ragamuffin into Naomi the obedient fashionista.

Ben Wolf said...

As I looked at that little brown girl . . .

It's like she doesn't even have a name. In a decade will her mother still see her throught the context of how different she is? What a way to grow up.

Susan of Texas said...

She must have thought paring up "little brown girl" with "little brown boots" was a swell literary technique. Or maybe she is just in the habit of referring to the child as "the brown one."

Kathy said...

There are plenty of American kids of all races waiting and hoping to be adopted.

Lurking Canadian said...

Someday, that child will grow up, google her mother and find this article (the original, I mean). I hope the poor kid's psyche survives the experience.

atat said...

That will be among the least of the offenses suffered by this kid along the way. I'm sure that there's already a very long list of psyche-damaging comments made by mom on the topic of hair alone.

The upside is that the more this clueless white lady tries to turn Konjit/Naomi into her little brown Barbie doll, the more likely it is that she will suffer the consequences of an adolescent/teenage rebellion that she won't be equipped to handle, since it will be rooted in racial/cultural identity issues of which she has zero comprehension.

jp said...

Yes, you've all aptly noted the horror that is the "little brown girl-little brown boots" sentence. But for me, this is the truly WTF? part: "trying too hard to maintain the style and beauty" [of the boots].

Of all the bizarre ways to interpret Konjit/Naomi's actions. I'm not even sure what it means, since "maintain" is such a bizarre verb choice, but I am damn sure it is an inaccurate reading of why that child didn't want to take off her boots.

Kids do have favorite things they do not want to take off (or let go of, or sleep without), and very often they are shoes or boots. Boots are especially fun for children, and K/N was having fun in hers, running around the house in them--joyously, after all, since French tells us that K/J resumes doing so "with even more joy" after being put on pause. And who knows, maybe there's rejoicing in the security and plenty that a sturdy pair of boots might represent to a child who has known such want. But surely it's about being an energetic child with favorite boots, and liking the slap-slap sound of them on the floor, and the fun of running around in them, and not "style" and "beauty."

Two things, by the why, with which that poor girl's new mother is unhealthily obsessed.

Anonymous said...

"In retrospect, she wasn’t that cute, but we were blinded by love and adoration. My son, who was eight at the time, printed off her photo and took it proudly to school."

The writer's grandmother supervised The Joe McCarthy's Seven Tricks to Self-Confidence classes for those who survived Auschwitz.


" 'Naomi,' I said sternly. This is the new first name we chose to go with her African name. It means 'pleasant.' "

Names really don't mean much. Aside from self-identification. Hell, National Review ripped all signs of Buckley, William F.'s name out of the building not more than five minutes after the coroner's final decision.


" 'You’ve either got to stand still or take off those boots.'

"She stood still, right in that spot for a very long time, motionless."

Of course the kid stood still for a very long time, you colossal dipshit. She was terrified you'd stuff her in a box with some lettuce, newspaper, and bottled water, and send her back to the orphanage, postage due. The kid will do anything you demand to prevent a return trip to the orphanage. And you know it.

atat said...

"It means 'pleasant.'"

This is a pretty obvious tell. It's a wish, more than anything else. French imagines a pleasant little brown dress mannequin that will obey all the "sit still"s and "stay quiet"s and "be polite"s that will be whispered in her tiny ear while she is being put on show for friends and acquaintances.

And you just know that the orphanage snapshot is going to be pulled out frequently to show everyone how French performed the miraculous transformation through the power of her taste in fashion.

Susan of Texas said...

Naomi was the mother in law of Ruth, who left her own home to follow Naomi back to the latter's home. It also means sweet---Naomi changed her name to Mara, which means bitter, after her husband and sons died. So you have someone who traveled from one homeland to another, and whose life was sweet and then bitter, kind of the reverse of Naomi French. Not that I think French had that in mind, necessarily, but's it's interesting to speculate.

I just read up a little on French and found this about French's time writing Bristol Palin's book:

'French initially thought the Palins would be a bit apprehensive if they knew she had kids for fear that she wouldn’t be able to do the job, which required living in Alaska and Arizona for a while. When asked, French acknowledged that she and David have three children, the youngest of whom was just adopted from Africa and didn’t speak a word of English.

To French’s surprise, she was chosen to co-write the book and in no time found herself in Alaska.

For the writing opportunity, French left the children in the care of her husband, including their newly adopted child, “who was terrified of men at the time,” she noted. “It was a great time because David could take off work and it was a great opportunity for him to bond with our new child.”

She planned to stay for eight days, but ended up staying for a month. “I even parked in short-term parking,” she said. “That decision cost me over $500.”'

Poor kid.

Anonymous said...

I have many relatives and friends who have adopted infants, and absolutely none of them of the failed to provide their own name to their new child. It's not weird at all, and you're being exceptionally caddy.

Dr.KennethNoisewater said...

Caddy? Maybe all the people you know are horrible.

Susan of Texas said...

I think it depends on the age of the child. At 1 and 1/2' the child will recognize her name and I think it's better to keep it, lest the child think that there is something wrong with her or her situation. I could be wrong.

Of course I am catty.

Susan of Texas said...


Dr.KennethNoisewater said...

Please don't stop being caddy, Susan.

aimai said...

Little brown girl...uh...

I agree with you Susan, its just kind of slightly "off." Its not that its wrong to acknowledge her skin color--the beauty of her skin and her hair are a feature of her because she is loved. But there's a self conscious ironic pose to the first comment "in retrospect she wasn't that cute" as though the author is more afraid of being censored for romanticism than she is honest about her feelings. But I don't think she is really confessing to being blinded by love and god's spirit, I think she is confessing, in a backhanded way, to doubting the wisdom of adopting this "not cute kid" in "camoflage" its just she shoves her doubts off on others (the kids at school, her son).

Also, I don't like the objectification of her children's "blonde hair" and her new daughter's "fuzz." Really, its not that big fucking deal to learn hair care for a girl, no matter what her race. I know tons of gay men who have managed it just fine.


aimai said...

I have two adopted nieces from China and they, too, were given new names. Their original chinese names meant good things but were a) not given by their unknown parents and b) sound odd and one syllable odd at that to western ears.

I don't fault her for that but I think choosing Naomi is weird, given its well known biblical history and also "pleasant" is a very weak adjective. Plus, Konjit is simply quite an easy name to say correctly and to spell.

And, yes, I totally don't forgive her for abandoning a new daughter within a month of adopting her. I think that's disgusting.


Susan of Texas said...

Not being named by the parents is important; the reason I think the girl's name should have been kept is because it would show that the new parents don't want to ignore or disrespect the importance of a birth parent to an adopted child. But as I said I could be wrong.

aimai said...

Its customary, even where you do give your child a "new" name--which can symbolize a rebirth--to keep the "old" name as a middle name. People have been adopting for a really long time and name changing is a part of that. Its only creepy because the whole essay is creepy. Because it expresses such revulsion for the child-in-the-picture and the world from which she has been plucked.

But I have to disagree with KWillow. There are not lots and lots of adoptable children in this country. Most kids in the foster system are not free for adoption--their parents haven't necessarily relinquished control over them (nor should they). There are relatively few infants who are adoptable and people for obvious reasons like infants.

I've known lots of people who've tried to adopt in country and from DHSS. It can be a long and heartbreaking journey, including losing the child back into the system or to a parent who changes his or her mind some time after the adoption, as far as you are concerned, is over.

I have mixed feelings about international adoption. My family have benefitted from it and we love my nieces. But there's no denying that in the best of all possible worlds their mother would not have had to abandon them at birth in the street and the country could have afforded to keep them in an orphanage or find a family in country.


pseudonymous in nc said...

"Look at our brown baby: she matches her boots -- and the kitchen cabinets!"

nate said...

I wouldn't say keeping kids in an orphanage is preferable to being adopted into a loving family, regardless of the nationality of said family.

Downpuppy said...

Oh, gawd, now she's out to grind government workers into the dust.

Susan of Texas said...

Oye, that was weak!