This week I played the role of "doe caught in headlights" and my daughter played the roll of "china doll". We did not get to visit any cool theater or stage for this little show, it all happened in the parking lot of the local library. She doesn't even like dolls for heavens sake.
We were minding our own business schleping the handful of dvds that Ava borrowed on this week's trek to the library back to the car. I hear some lady's shrill voice say "Hey, you got a China Doll too." Oh God, I knew where this was going. This lady is apparently the grandmother of a child adopted from China. She must think it is cute to call her grand-baby China Doll and so therefore refer to my empowered smart dynamo the same way. Wrong.
Let me pause by saying that as an adoptive parent of a Chinese born daughter this is not the first out of bounds comment I have had the pleasure of fielding. I have about 3 years of experience under my belt. You'd think I'd be pretty saavy to the goofs out there in the world who think that because I do not look like my child they have every right to say inappropriate and offensive things. You'd think I'd have a repetoire of snappy or educational responses to these unwelcome chance meetings in public places.
Damn it if I did not freeze up horrified this time. I stuttered something utterly stupid like, "Oh uuh yes." I was practically running away from this lady hoping my daughter did not hear her reference to China Doll. But I know better, she's almost 4. She's so quick and never misses a verbal exchange beat. Her father and I can't even fight in front of her anymore, not even "nice fight".
I slunked back into the car. Hating myself at that minute. You are supposed to be her champion, her mentor, her role model for all things virtuous and right. For God's sake, I've attended Jane Brown seminars, I belong to racism list serves, I've read Yell-Oh Girls where was I? Why the hell did I run? Why did I not just say what I know is our truth? She is a girl, not a China Doll. China Doll objectifies this wonderful child. This stupid old lady did not really mean harm, but gees I could have chosen to kindly educate right?
We pulled out of the parking lot and I felt crummy. Super "I've let my girl and myself down" crummy. So, I drove for a few more minutes and then pulled the car over. I turned around and said "Ava, when that woman called you a China Doll how did that make you feel?" She was slow to answer, "Ok, I guess." I told her that was fine but if there is ever a time when someone uses cute made-up phrases to compare her smart self with and it makes her feel sort of bad inside it is just fine it speak up and tell them it is not ok to use those words." Ava responded, "But I do like my Disney princess dolls, Mommy." (Oh, crap when did this get so hard?) I responded, "Yes, I know sweetie but dolls are just toys they are not human like you. Sometimes people make judgements (does any three year old know that word?) about other people just because of the way they look, not by getting to know what is on the inside of that person. I want you to expect people to get to know YOU before making a judgment and comparing you to something like a doll." She responded, "Ok Mommy, I will." Oh gees, racism and ignorance sucks!
I learned a lesson. Maybe Ava and her sister won't want me to stop and "educate" the world on my soap box in every parking lot. But I'm not running away next time. I'm not taking away my girls' power in the interest of not making waves when the next ding dong approaches us unsolicited. What will I do? I'm not sure yet...each instance is different and responses should be dealt with accordingly. I just know we're handling it differently next time.
Good thing kids don't kick you in the butt every time your parenting skills show how they are "in the making".