4 Year Old Observations

Olivia shared some thoughts at breakfast that made me internally go, “Huh.” And then I sat there a bit dumbfounded for a while. I want to share them, and I want to preface them with the fact that we were having zero conversation related to anything she said. In fact it was very quiet. I was chewing toast, Chris was chewing eggs. These are just the things that came into her head and out of her mouth.

O: “Americans just look at us all the time. It makes me frustrated.”

C: “It makes me frustrated too.”

O: “Yeah. And they don’t like it when white people like us have black kids.”

L: I didn’t say anything, just kind of looked at her. Thought, I did think it was interesting that she included herself in the “white people like us” category. 

C: “Who doesn’t like it?”

O: “Black people don’t like it when white people have black kids.”

Wow. Let’s chew on that for a bit, shall we?

Now, before you start telling me that we plant this stuff in her, we don’t. It was kind of shocking to hear it come out of her little mouth, but very telling. As a family we talk very openly about adoption and everything connected with it, at a level that is appropriate for her. However, we live in a culture that is not our home culture, and with that come certain challenges.

For a long time Olivia was either too small, or didn’t understand enough Creole to know what was really going on around her or what was being said about our family when we were out in public. A lot of adoptive families have shared, either in person or through their writing online, their experiences with raising a mixed race family in North America. It’s challenging, to say the least, and people don’t often self edit before they open their mouths, even if they are well intended. Chris and I have had several conversations about what things would be like when she could finally understand some of the things we hear and see here in Haiti. Apparently she is incredibly observant.

I won’t lie, our experiences here in Haiti as an adoptive family have had their moments. There are some people who are incredibly sweet and tell Chris and I that they are so thankful we decided to adopt one of Haiti’s children. There are a lot of people who are genuinely interested in our family and want to know about both kids and are very kind. Then, there are people who make zero effort to hide their opinions and feelings about foreigners adopting Haitian kids. In my experiences and observations it is generally people with more education that express their gratitude and kindness, and people with less education tend to be more critical and less okay with it. And, that makes sense, because both of those groups have entirely different experiences and understandings of adoption as a whole in Haiti. Those things are deep and layered and would take a long time to get into and I don’t want to go there today.

Something that really struck me about Olivia’s observations was what she said about Americans. We like Americans. We have American family. Chris is part American, and in a couple of months Alex will also have his citizenship, so we’re pro-American in this family. Olivia’s observations stem from seeing foreigners in Haiti. And, she’s kind of in a unique position because she is Haitian as well as Canadian (and maybe one day American too if we can muster up the energy to go the Immigration route with her). There are times when we are out with visitors and Haitians assume she is just a Haitian tag along with the foreigners. And, there are times we meet foreigners and they start saying “bonju” to her and using whatever Creole they might have. Usually Olivia just kind of stares at them, sometimes with a bit of a head cock, wondering what on earth they’re doing. As her mom I know what’s running through her head and I will admit I sometimes let them embarrass themselves a bit before I politely say, “She speaks English”. It’s funny what assumptions we make, isn’t it? What’s more interesting is that Olivia sees all of this and without really realizing it on our parts, she’s formulating thoughts and feelings about it.

What I love about the age that Olivia is, is that she hasn’t developed all those filters that we have as adults. She doesn’t know what is the right or wrong thing to say. She just says what she thinks. This morning I couldn’t help but think of what most foreigners would think if they’d heard her say what she did. Kids can be good mirrors. It makes me think about how Haitians perceive me when I’m out. Am I speaking and acting with respect, or am I looking at people in a way that would even be rude in my own country? (And I’m Canadian, so there are a lot of things that are rude!) How do we interact with the poverty and way of life? Are we acting like tourists? Do we really have the right to stand, stare, and snap pictures?

Lots to think about.

~Leslie

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About Leslie

I'm Leslie. Wife. Mother. Missionary. In the day to day my husband and I are responsible for running Clean Water for Haiti, a humanitarian mission that builds and distributes water filters to Haitian families. Living in Haiti full time provides lots of stories, and as I tell my husband, our grandkids probably won't believe most of them. Maybe writing them down will give me some credibility.

6 thoughts on “4 Year Old Observations

  1. Interesting and thought-provoking post, Leslie. Being able to stand back and evaluate how others see you indicates a level of empathy that an awful lot of people simply can’t muster (think Mitt Romney, perhaps?). On an unrelated subject, are you familiar with the Haitianangels Yahoo! Group? Includes a 1000+ folks with an interest in Haitian adoptions, and occasionally one finds an interesting observation there.

  2. It’s amazing how little minds work and how observant children are when adults think that they are not listening or would not understand. At four, she has picked up on social behaviour that even some adults never do. She’s a very intelligent girl from what I’ve heard from her adoring grandparents and aunties on the Rolling side. You guys are very lucky! You have front row seats to see how this little mind continues to contemplate and develop!

  3. Funny story about expectations and race: When I was living in Paris years ago, I always had to resist the urge to strike up a conversation with the many African immigrants on the metro going about their normal life commuting back and forth to work, etc. Because even though I *knew* that it was 99% likelihood that the person was francophone, what my mind kept saying was black person + business suit = American. Since most of my life, that’s been true. But in Paris, no.

    • That is funny! I have the same problem when we fly back into Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Every time I go to speak to a black airport employee I want to speak Creole, and then I have to stop myself. The funny part is that a very high percentage of them are Haitian, and when the airport is quiet, like the middle of the night, they all revert back into “Haiti” mode, speak Creole with each other and act like the Haitians here. As soon as the airport starts getting busy they go into America mode and it’s hard to tell they’re Haitian. It’s really fun, especially when they realize we understand them :)

      • That is hilarious. And what a relief to know I’m not alone. :).

        (My other weird one: I keep thinking all African priests here in the US must be from Cameroun. Since that’s what the accent sounds like to my unsophisticated ear. But they’re mostly from Nigeria. So, uh, breaking into French is a not very helpful impulse.)

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