That’s what I said to my mother-in-law last week.
Six months since Cheeky joined our family, and this stereotype of pasty-white, red-eyed people with albinism is just coming out and just being addressed.
I’ve been thinking about that all weekend.
My mother-in-law lives on the other side of the country. She’s never met Cheeky face to face, but I’ve emailed photos and invited her to read my blog. It isn’t like I haven’t tried to include her in Cheeky’s life. It isn’t as if I haven’t tried to help her feel like Cheeky’s grandmother.
But from the beginning of this journey we have danced a strange tango, the two of us. She wasn’t happy about the adoption, less happy to hear we’d be adopting from China. When I announced that we were entering the special needs program, her silence spoke volumes. My parents were silent, too. So was my younger sister, the one I have always felt closest to. Special needs and we already had four kids? Four healthy kids.
No one wanted to say it, but I knew what they were thinking – You don’t know what you’re getting into. What if things go wrong? What if you bring home a child who is just too much to handle?
My husband and I moved forward anyway. My parents began to talk, my sister began to talk. They asked questions, they said wonderful things and stupid things and things that I will never forget because of the sheer beauty of them, and we have all moved forward to Cheeky together.
But my mother-in-law has been left behind.
She sent money for Christmas, and I brought the kids out to let them spend it. When we returned home, I phoned my mother-in-law and let the kids thank her and tell her what they’d bought. I hovered a few feet away as my eldest son handed Cheeky the phone.
“Hi, Grandma!” she said in her cheerful, chirping voice. And then she proceeded to tell my mother-in-law about the strawberry shortcake doll and the dress she’d picked out. She ended with, “Thank you very much. I love all my stuff. I love you.”
Even the hardest heart would surely melt at the sound of my daughter’s sweet I love you. And, despite her seeming unwillingness to be part of this journey, my mother-in-law has never had a hard heart.
Cheeky handed me the phone, and my mother-in-law said, “So, how do you say her name? I keep forgetting”
And we began to talk about Cheeky’s Chinese name and why we chose to keep it, about her foster family, about the surgery that Cheeky had in September, about Cheeky’s eyes and how they would never be perfect but how that doesn’t stop Cheeky from achieving great things.
And that’s when my mother-in-law mentioned that people with albinism have red eyes.
“No,” I said. “They don’t.”
“But I’ve seen one. He was really white and he had red eyes.”
“People with albinism have green eyes and blue eyes and even brown eyes. Sometimes their eyes are violet. Cheeky’s eyes are pure blue. In some lights they are violet. They are never red.”
“So, her eyes are blue?”
“Yes. And she’s no fairer than son #3.”
“But most people with albinism have red eyes. I’ve seen it.”
And it was my turn to be silent.
This is where the author in me would like to write a happy ending.
But I cannot.
In a perfect world everyone would understand the worth and value of each human life, but our world is not perfect, and people in our lives may be blind to the beauty of our SN kids. We can choose to harbor resentment and anger over that, or we can choose to accept their weaknesses and move on.
After thinking about this for several days, I have come to the conclusion that how I treat those who refuse to accept Cheeky’s differences will impact her life more than their words or opinions ever will. It is, after all, my arms, my eyes, my words through which Cheeky will learn strength and determination and confidence. It is through my actions that she will learn grace and mercy. It is through having a forever home that she will learn the true meaning of love.
I am her mother, her example, her safe place to come home to.
And, so, I let go and I move on.