No, She Doesn't Have Red Eyes

January 12, 2010 albinism, Shirlee, Skin Conditions 6 Comments

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.

6 responses to “No, She Doesn't Have Red Eyes”

  1. Kristi says:

    Oh. my. We've had our share of comments concerning our third adoption, but at least ours have been annoying yet harmless. Things like, "Did you think this through?," "Did it occur to you that you'll have three getting their license within a year?" and of course my favorite from my "loaded" father-in-law. "How are you going to pay for their college?" (He asks every. time. we talk to him. EVERY TIME). But thankfully our family seems to be more accepting than yours.
    I'm sure your strength and wisdom will provide Cheeky the safe haven she needs to develop self confidence. And for what it's worth, I think she is absolutely beautiful!

  2. Beckett Gray says:

    Just found your blog. :o)

    I totally get this can relate.

    My non-profit recently published a new book on Chinese adoptive parenting that has some similar stories. “The Dragon Sisterhood: A Guide to Chinese Adoptive Parenting”.

    It can be found on our blog:

    I thought you might be interested.

  3. kyungmee says:

    thank you so much for this story! It is very touching and I believe many people can relate and understand what you must be feeling as well as the other parties including your adopted child. Funny, for me, my parents were the ones who were unwilling to get to know our differences and to this day really do not care to know or hear of my past and of my relations to my home country, korea. They rather live with stereo types..for example calling me oriental for many years and still does;)It is something I have learned to live with over the years and is difficult at times. I know my mother loves me but is also influenced by "the times" ..she is now in her '70s and perhaps other things have influenced how she understands and views "differences" and views on adoption. Obviously different from mine:) And we too, had many discussions over adoption and our relationships over the years and it is something we do not see eyes to eye on and maybe perhaps due to pride..she tells me she would not change a thing from my upbringing nor cares to learn more of a culture that I embrace today. So, while I celebrate with my husband and children of all my heritage (adopted & of motherland) we continue our life with my mother and my relatives without and I too stop and keep my silence at times.

  4. Donna says:

    She sure does have BEAUTIFUL eyes though!

    We get lots of comments about our daughter's cleft palate: "I can't even see her harelip", etc. Argh… it makes me cringe just typing it.

    Our Blog: Double Happiness!

  5. The Wanderers' Daughter says:

    Unbelievable. Some people refuse to "see", either with their hearts or with their eyes. Your Cheeky is clearly stunning. Just simply drop-dead beautiful. And, judging by the photos, she seems to have a joy and confidence in her bearing. I think she'll be just fine in spite of the deliberate ignorance of some people in this world.

  6. Courtney says:

    Your daughter is beautiful, regardless of what others say. She has a joy that is just radiating out from her, and her physical appearance couldn't be more stunning!

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