I believe it was The Man (Mr. O'Donohue) who points out that belonging can be broken down into be longing ...
Distance awakens longing; closeness is belonging. Yet they are always in dynamic interflow with each other. When we fix or locate them definitively, we injure our growth. (Eternal Echoes:Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong)
This past weekend, Cowgirl and I were at Chinese Heritage camp. It is specifically for children adopted from China (there are other camps for different heritages such as Korean or Latin American) and their families to come together to celebrate and share what it means to be a family blending two cultures, two racial identities. Camp is a place where we discuss how we navigate the turbulent waters of belonging that our children face and which our families strive to fashion and understand. The children learn about their Chinese heritage and they have sessions where they share and examine their experiences and feelings about being adopted and their Chinese American identity.
A place where I belong ... Family was the slogan on this year's camp t-shirts. This was our fourth year attending camp; we have attended with friends we have known since China and our adoption trip. This year we were joined by two other families from our adoption travel group and whom we haven't seen in seven years, since that initial trip.
I have always thought of Cowgirl as fairly outgoing, friendly, and talkative. I watched her this year fall into her daisy group with ease. Of course, the routine was familiar to her and she was with her good friend (we make a point of our two families visiting at least once a year beside meeting up at camp) and the group of four girls banded together in after camp play at the motel swimming pool. I forwarded pictures onto the Husband who is away for the month for a work project. I got to spend time with the mommies and catch up on our girls' experiences, stories and growth, sharing insights and latching on to tools and tips for parenting the strange creature that is a pre-preteen.
Upon our return, I am aware of how deeply I miss and long for the environment of camp. I miss my mommy posse and the conversations where I don't have to explain the deeper layer of anxieties, the questions and concerns that we all struggle to integrate into our parenting toolbox. At camp, I am free of the assumptions and misperceptions faced in my everyday world. No, I am not her Grandmother. No, we chose adoption and it was our first choice, not a second option. No, we are the lucky ones. How much did your biological child cost you?
But that all pales in comparison to the well-meaning but intrusive questions and comments my girl receives on a regular basis. Aware of my deep longing for the community of adoptive families experienced at camp, I realized the obvious joy and ease Cowgirl expressed throughout the weekend was in no small part due to her being in an environment where the other campers and counselors look like her and where all the families resemble her family.
The Husband commented "In every photo, her smile steals the show." Her smile. I look at the pictures and I recognize a buoyancy and brightness in her smile, in her movement and being, that goes beyond her normal outgoing nature. What I see is a girl completely at ease in herself and at ease in her world. I doubt she is even aware of it, but I can see how she is able to let down her guard and just be in a way that she does not enjoy in the predominantly white community where we live. While we try to bridge the gap, there will always be a gap.
Mind the gap - that is what the recorded announcements say in the London subway stations. The danger being one of getting a foot caught in the gap, tripping or falling. I'm not sure how we will mind the gap. Perhaps the bridge over that gap is the family - and the tribe - we find and create for ourselves and our child through communities. Camp, martial arts, other families and groups where we feel seen and loved and safe enough to be our unique selves. There is also the invaluable gift of role models - the generous, loving, attentive counselors - who provide my child clear image of who she can become. One child at camp told her mother "I can tell there are people here who really care about me." It is in that care that we take shelter and then grow.
The arduous task of being human is to balance longing and belonging so that they work with and against each other to ensure that all the potential gifts that sleep in the clay of the heart may be awakened and realized in this one life. (Eternal Echoes)
Family and friends who see us for who we are and love the crazy, fragile, magnificent and wild beings that we embody ...
Such a gift I never want to take for granted. I am grateful ... and yet I hunger for more ...