I was busy in the kitchen and only somewhat paying attention. I turned around to see her examining her hands. I turned back around to continue fixing lunch and she again said she didn’t know what was wrong with her skin. This time, I took a few steps towards her and looked closely at her hands and didn’t see anything wrong. I asked her what she was talking about.
She continued to turn her hands to the front and the back and said ‘Look, Mom the same thing is happening to my feet.” As she lifted up her foot all I could see were feet that probably needed a little bit of a scrubbing. It’s finally barefoot season which also means lots of dirty little feet.
I told her that nothing was wrong with her skin, but she just insisted something was happening that wasn’t ‘normal’. She said that her skin was ‘losing its color’.
I laughed, now knowing what she meant. I found it interesting that this is the first summer that she was paying closer attention to her body and its changes. She is of that age I suppose.
Riah was adopted from Ukraine 4 ½ years ago, then 5 years old. When we first received a referral photo of her, a faded slightly dingy photograph, she didn’t appear to be Ukrainian. Maybe of gypsy decent because she was darker complexion than the other child referral photos we had been given previously. Once we were in country the facilitating team told us that it was highly likely that Riah was Azerbaijan.
(In short there are 45,000 Azerbaijanis in Ukraine and most have settled in her birth region).
As she continued to show me her hands and feet, I stopped what I was doing and went over to touch her hands. I explained to her that everyone is born with different skin pigments (she was confused. I just kept it brief and said “basically it’s the ‘stuff’ that makes your skin the color that it is. And when you spend time in the sun, the sun changes your skin pigment. Your skin is already dark so the sun will make it even darker.’
We talked about her skin and how beautiful it is. I told her how envious I was about her complexion and that I wished my skin was the exact same color (because I honestly do). After taking an Ancestry test, it explained why I’ve been a pale girl all my life and why I can’t tan to save my life.
We’ve had similar moments of skin complexion and feature comparison after adopting Riah. I had a vision of a dark-haired little girl playing under the willow tree in our yard. After the loss of our first referral, when we saw Riah’s photo, I knew she was destined to be our daughter.
Often, she would cuddle up next to her Forever Daddy and rub her hand over his freckle covered arm, asking why her arms didn’t look like his. Gingers are often blessed with freckles and this must not have been something she was used to seeing.
The first thing she could really relate to with appearances was that she and I had dark hair. I even dyed my hair nearly black after bringing her home just so she felt a connection of belonging with her Forever Mama. Riah would pull strands of my hair and pull it close to her own and say “me-you match” in sketchy broken English.
Our bio daughter is also very fair with ginger hair. One of the sweetest moments I remember during our transition home with Riah was when two newly created sisters just a year apart in age, sat face to face on the sofa, legs intertwined; both tracing their facial features with their tiny fingers and giggling at the vast differences. Sweet and innocent and yet fully in awe of their uniqueness.
Mixed culture adoption is a beautiful thing. It creates a humble diversity of acceptance on both sides.
We can say we don’t pay attention to skin color, but we do. We see white, black, tan, olive and everything in between. We notice someone’s appearance. It’s natural observance when we meet someone. But it shouldn’t be something that we linger on. It just shouldn’t matter.
I want to teach my children to base their observation and any assumptions they may have about the human race as a whole, by that individual person’s acts of kindness, politeness, generosity, humbleness, and the way that person chooses to live out their life on a daily basis (be it positive or negative). Not ever (ever) by the color of their skin.
As a mom, I want my children to see that everyone is uniquely created. I do not want to teach my children ‘not to see’ the color of someone’s skin. One because it’s impossible not to observe. I want them to see the color of someone’s skin and accept that person equally; knowing that person is equally as valuable and has just as much purpose as they do.
We have had to have discussions on racism within our own family unit through our adoption. There was brief time that the Eastern European cultural of social-linked judgement was passed onto Riah based on her skin color. It was cultural, we knew that so we couldn’t blame them. However, we explained that we were a family now and that treating someone less-than because of their skin color was not kind.
Thankfully, we have grown (a lot) since that moment and thankfully it wasn’t an issue for much longer after that.
Riah is our daughter, a sister and a friend; loved and accepted and beautifully wrapped in dark skin.