A child’s firsts are dear to a parent’s heart. Whether it’s that first taste of baby cereal, an unsure, wobbly first step or the fleeting sound of the first mama or dada, such moments are treasured.
Of course, firsts continue beyond babyhood. There’s the first pedaling of a tricycle or the morning they finally wrangle their shirt over their head unassisted. As parents, we catch our breath at the hint of such a moment, and watch, recording it all to memory.
My household is now firmly planted in The Threes and unlike Maeve’s baby months, the firsts are less predictable. She recently came home from preschool with more than an art project. There were worksheets. Her father and I stared in disbelief. Somehow we’re parents to a child not only old enough to draw a line from a number six to a set of six apples, but a teacher comments on it!
Wasn’t it just yesterday we met the seven-pound her in the hospital nursery?
We’re now making a picture dictionary. We look through magazines and cut pictures beginning with the letter of the week, and she pastes them onto the appropriate page of her notebook. While searching for C items, we stopped at a boy with curly hair. She pointed, “Curly like me!”
Curly, indeed. The soft corkscrew ringlets that adorn her head bounce and shine, much like the girl herself. For someone like me with straight hair, caring for the curls of my bi-racial daughter certainly has been an education.
Lately when our morning de-tangling ritual had become a bigger struggle than usual I knew it was time for a haircut, something I’d put off in an effort to grow those sweet curls.
The task reminded me of pre-adoption classes at our local Adoptions From The Heart office. We had discussed inevitable situations like another parent at the park asking if my husband is black, or Maeve’s friends asking why her mom doesn’t share her cocoa skin.
Sure, bringing a child for a haircut might seem relatively mundane, but the fact I’m an adoptive mother changed how I approached the process. I knew bringing Maeve to my salon wouldn’t do her justice so I chose a local shop that caters to her ethnicity.
With a camera in one hand and Maeve’s little paw in the other, I battled the butterflies in my belly as we entered the salon, jingle bells clanging against the door. I tried to ignore the curious glances of folks trying to make sense of the situation.
Maeve took the hairdresser’s hand and walked to the wash sink. She dutifully followed every direction and a few booster-cushions later, Maeve was perched at the hairdresser’s station, donning a dog-and-cat cape, and watching herself – and others mid-beautification – in the mirror’s reflection. By then I was too busy snapping photographs for posterity to pay any sort of mind to pesky belly butterflies.
When she was done with the trim, Maeve walked me to the back of the salon where the older girls sat under bubble dryers. She chose a vacant chair and scrambled up, settling in underneath the giant plastic lid. Just another one of the girls.
Just as we prepared to leave, snips of curls clutched in my hand as a memento, I was thinking how smoothly everything had gone when Maeve’s hairdresser asked, in a not-so-quiet voice, “So, where is she from?”
As the butterflies summoned to attention, I was reminded that it’s just this sort of everyday experience those agency classes had prepared us for. I looked down at my daughter, who didn’t seem to notice the question, and readied my answer.
I’m certainly not shy about discussing adoption – both my husband and daughter were adopted, we actively work to have Maeve’s birth family in our lives, I write about adoption and help facilitate a support group for the triad. It’s just that as Maeve gets older, adoption becomes more her story to tell (or not) than ours.
Since these childhood firsts belong more to her rather than us as her parents, our focus has begun to shift from simply enjoying the pleasure of each milestone to protecting Maeve’s privacy, wary of questions that she can hear yet that were asked as if she couldn’t. My answers matter more than ever before.
Maeve’s first haircut presented a first for me as an adoptive parent – venturing into an unknown, following through publicly on the commitment we made to raise our daughter in a way that embraces her culture and background.
As a parent in general, I’ll continue to hone my reaction to all the firsts yet to come – adoption-related or not: going out alone with friends, turning the key in an ignition, primping for a date, writing a paper, coming home with a broken heart, completing a college application.
But first things first: Next week my little Maeve boards a bus with her preschool classmates to visit a pumpkin farm!
Spiked cider, anyone?
As published this month in AFTH’s Fall 2008 newsletter, which can be accessed through the Musings of an Adoptive Mama logo on the right.