No Matter What Our Differences

Whilst browsing the book aisle at Meijer during the busy Christmas season, I came across this book I Love You All the Same. I was happily surprised to find it was a children’s book about a trans-racial family. And probably the most adorably illustrated book, I’ve ever seen!

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What I love most is that this book celebrates the differences each cub has – both the obvious physical differences and the differences in their gifts and interests.

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In our society, we seem to be afraid to say that anything about someone is not “normal.” And I get that. As a Mama Bear, don’t you dare treat my cub like there is something wrong with them.

But the reality is that even if we don’t want to admit it, our society does view certain things as “normal” and treats people differently because of their differences. In part, it’s because we are taught from a young age to classify and make assumptions. It helps us understand our world better. Even someone who is blind learns to recognize patterns and to react and respond according to the information their senses are telling them. So we are drawn to people who are like us, because there is less risk, less guessing about whether they will be accepting of us or not.

Though limited in my experience as any kind of minority, as a teenager I felt very “different.” I moved across the country right before 6th grade. I was home-schooled. And I seemed to always be the tallest girl wherever I went. When you are a teen, these differences feel like a big bio-hazard sticker adhered to your forehead. It wasn’t even that most people were mean exactly. They just didn’t try to get to know me.

What helped was finding people who were like me. And as I got older and more comfortable in my skin, I realized that my differences were nothing to be ashamed about, but they also weren’t anything that made me superior. They just were. They were a part of me, and they had shaped me. But my self-worth was not contingent on any qualities of “normalcy” or “uniqueness”, even if others treated me as if it should be.

This all became an exercise in “practicing what you preach” when I realized just how deeply I cared for this amazing guy who happened to be 3 inches shorter than me. He loved me and didn’t care a lick about how “freakishly” tall I was. Now, 6 years into our marriage, I am so thankful my insecurities did not dictate my choice of whom to love.

We watched a movie on youtube last week called “Adopted.” It’s a documentary about a woman in her thirties who was adopted from Korea and desperately wants her parents to understand the trauma she felt from them always treating her as “white” and never acknowledging the fact that she was different – that she was born to another woman and was of a different ethnicity than most of her community. It was really heartbreaking and scary, to be honest. We are very open to adopting a child of a different race, and this movie showed us that ignoring differences can sometimes do as much damage as making them obvious.

It’s hard to know the right move to make. “Do I act the same towards everyone? Do I not?”

I think it comes down to this: We have to branch out and talk to someone who isn’t like us; not assume their difference equals their identity; look for common ground before stereotyping. Movies, family, food, the Lions losing – there’s a good chance we all have a common experience or interest in one of these areas.

Then show a polite interest in the differences as they naturally emerge. Try to ask questions without making assumptions. Acknowledge that we feel ignorant and want to know more about what it’s like to be home-schooled or adopted  or biracial or an immigrant or have a physical disability. Step into their world for a minute. Experience what it’s like for them to be the “normal” one. We would be amazed at the different people with whom we can connect.

But don’t make their differences the only topic either. True, their differences have shaped them, but their whole identity is much more than that.

And forgoodnesssake, pleeeease teach your children to do the same. This is the perfect time to expose them to differences and show them to appreciate people who aren’t necessarily just like they are. They are learning social cues from you! Your words as much as your actions.

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100_7490For Tyler and I, our children will without-a-doubt be “different.” Tall, adopted, maybe trans-racial, and who-knows-what-else. And we know they are bound to face teasing and insecurity and maybe even racism. But we won’t ask them to ignore it. We will comfort them and teach them to celebrate their differences and the differences of others as well. We will seek opportunities to help them explore who they are.

And I think it goes without saying, but no matter what their differences, we’ll love them all the same.

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