Penguin&PantherSometimes I’m really weary of explaining. To grannies in the supermarket. To teenage girls at the playground. To fellow mums at school.

My daughter is clearly adopted, yes. She’s from Ethiopia, yes. She’s had a rough start, yes. She’s lost part of her eyesight, yes. And she’s got some countless more issues, yes.

But she’s still a four year old. And I’m her mother. I’m raising her my way. Just like I’m raising her big brother, who is blond and looks a bit too much like me.

The big difference between raising my daughter and raising my son, is that people seem to feel a kind of responsibility towards my girl. It feels like adopted children are in a way public.

I do understand how we stand out, in our not so worldly little town. We are getting used to the extra attention she brings with her, although I admit I have been thinking to teach her to growl when a stranger touches her hair and skin unasked.

We were prepared for all this. We knew we were going to feel like we have arrows flashing around our heads when taking her out. Now that she’s been with us for two years, we’ve all grown a thick skin, filled with humor. We have a series of catchy replies to go with all the ridiculous questions. The next one who dares to ask me what we feed her, will be answered ‘grass’, without even a blink.

But I still can’t really cope with all the unwanted ‘advice’ we get about raising her. When my son was little, I never ever had some stranger giving him candy or cookies. I never had to explain myself in the supermarket when I refused to let him take everything he wished for. And I certainly didn’t have to listen to people telling me how neglectful I was for letting him cry out a tantrum.

With my daughter, I do have those encounters. This one time in the supermarket, I was truly abashed. I had just taken away some nasty sugar bombs from my daughter’s hands and put them back, much against the little miss’s wishes. An elderly lady came over, took the candy and handed them over to my girl again. I was confused, believing she misunderstood. So I explained I didn’t want to buy that rubbish for her. At that moment she cursed me for being so horrible towards that poor little black girl that has been hungry all her life. She put the candy in my cart, ordered me to buy it, and took off while nodding her head.

At such encounters – yes, plural – I have the urge to scream.

For one thing. She’s NOT a poor little girl. She’s in most ways an ordinary four year old preschooler. She can throw the worst tantrums I ever witnessed, just because I can’t peel an apple while driving my car or because I can’t make the Easter bunny magically appear in August. The last one was about having only six colors of nail polish to choose from. Poor girl indeed.

But most importantly, I’M THE ONE raising that ‘poor little girl’. Of course we are aware of her issues, mostly the ones regarding attachment and anxieties. We try to give her everything she needs, truck loads of patience and care which unfortunately aren’t always replenished in time. But she doesn’t need everything she wants. Just like any other child doesn’t. Unless you plan to end up with a spoiled brat that demands a yellow sports car at age eighteen.

Spoiling her will not make right all the things she missed out in the first two years of her life. Maybe that sounds harsh and loveless, but I can assure you it isn’t meant that way. I cry with her when she mourns her lost heritage, when she is homesick. I’ve swallowed away rivers of tears all those times I had to explain her history to medical doctors and hospital professors.

But I can’t raise my daughter based on pity alone.

This is a first-time, guest contribution to World Moms Blog from our friend and mother of The Penguin and the Panther in Belgium, Katinka. Her Flemish blog is in transition over to an English-only blog. Stay posted to World Moms Blog for more from Katinka.

The photograph of the author’s daughter used in this post is credited to the author.

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