Friday, March 9, 2007

Double Trouble

In one respect at least, Austria has a close relationship with Ethiopia. It may have started when the actor Karlheinz Bohm, best known by Americans as the cinephilic serial killer in Peeping Tom, began doing NGO work with Ethiopian children in 1981. The upshot of this is that there are two agencies in the country who are licensed to facilitate adoptions from Ethiopia, and the upshot of that is that we know several other adopted Ethiopian kids in Vienna. Lately, Adinah has grown closer to Teresa, who's one of our favorite people.

Teresa goes to the same Kindergarten, and that's great. Mostly. I sometimes suspect that Adinah and Teresa get shunted together there, even if they'd rather play with some of their other friends, because they're both little brown girls. Occasionally, some of the other parents have mistaken them for sisters, not because they look alike, but because...they're both little brown girls.

I know that's some racism right there, but I'm also learning--very slowly--that you have to pick your battles. I think we're so lucky that Adinah has a friend like Teresa in school. She tells me they draw pictures together.

Our kids are old enough to notice skin color, but they're still too young to understand subtler distinctions. In fact, most of the other kids in the Kindergarten are not from Vienna, or even from Austria. They're Serbian, or Croatian, or Turkish. Ibrahim is Egyptian, I think. But Adinah and Teresa look different. And within the Kindergarten, that's important.

Outside school, when they're with us, Adinah and Teresa are great friends. But competitive as hell. They spend a lot of time fighting about who gets the last raisin or the first gummi bear.

We went to the zoo last Sunday with Teresa, her parents and their second adopted Ethiopian daughter, Emily. It was pretty excellent. Adinah and Teresa fought over whose turn it was to ride the scooter, but they mostly had a good time. It was almost impossible to get them out of the bird house once they discovered the flamingos, whom Deanie calls "loud mingos." (Because they scream so.) Myself, I liked the orangutan who looked like Ozzie Osbourne.

Yesterday, they went to their third kids yoga class together, and afterwards, they fought like the dickens. Anette sat down next to them and said, 'Why are you guys fighting? You're best friends!' Suddenly the war was over, and they spent the rest of the afternoon giggling.


Anonymous said...

I don't have any substantive comment here, Pat--I just wanted to reiterate how much I'm enjoying this blog, and that I hope you stick with it.


pat said...

Thanks, Gavin. Readers would be well advised to check out this comment author's site, at

It does not feature his piece about his high school reunion, one of the best magazine pieces I ever read, but it's nonetheless pretty great.

more cowbell said...

Oh, just wait 'til middle school! That's when it really gets fun. My kids were raised mostly in Europe (Germany/Hungary for 12 yrs), and when we came back to the States 3 years ago, suddenly their difference switched from foreigner to not-white. Suddenly the "What are you" question didn't mean "What country are you from" anymore.
Your story reminded me of when my daughter was in 2nd grade at a new school. The teacher knew she spoke another language, and was coming from out of the country. She looked at her, and with a huge smile, took my daughter by the hand, and said, "You can sit with Maria! She just came from Mexico too, so that will help!" When the teacher found out that we had come from Germany, not Mexico, and that my daughter was Black, not Mexican, she stumbled all over herself. >sigh<
My eldest is in her first year of college -- full scholarship to Howard U., doing great, active anti-racist, enjoying life.
Your daughter -- having parents who are aware and willing to advocate -- she'll make it.

pat said...

Welcome, Cowbell. Don't know you, but I suspect you rock. A daughter on scholarship to Howard. That's so cool. Congratulations! And thanks for reading!