The Joy of Pretty Things

In 2008, we decided to adopt.  At first, like many couples who hear of the dreaded “one child” policy, I wanted to adopt from China.  However, when we contacted our agency, the wait for a Chinese baby was four years.  Instead we decided to go the quickest and most affordable route.

And so, several months – and a lot of paperwork – later, we got our referral photo from Ethiopia.  She was a fourteen pound two year old, with a large head and twiggy arms.  She was wearing camouflage and it was noted on her file that she had experienced “extreme starvation.”

In retrospect, she wasn’t that cute, but we were blinded by love and adoration.  My son, who was eight at the time, printed off her photo and took it proudly to school.

“Is that a girl?” a classmate asked.  “Are you sure?”

On the way home from school, my son was devastated.  “Why does she wear boys’ clothes if she’s really a girl?” he asked, his pride pricked by his friends’ doubt.  “Are we sure?”

We weren’t.  As with everything adoption-related, it’s hard to know much with certainty.  Information is hard to come by.  Language barriers and other factors make it hard to really figure out the truth.  It’s an exercise in trusting God’s sovereignty.

A year and a half ago, my family traveled to Africa and met two year old Konjit, an apt name which means “beautiful.” My blonde headed kids were amazed at her rich, brown skin and her dark brown fuzz on the top of her head.  The orphanage had shaved her hair off almost completely.  It was probably a good thing – so much was changing in our family. I cannot imagine actually getting a new kid and learning how to feed, bathe, and take care of her exotic hair without sharing the same language.

I’ve always been the type of mother who resists pink for girls.  When my first baby was born, I dressed her in greens and purples.  I didn’t love the smocking and the frilly diaper covers.  I didn’t tape bows to her bald head.

But when I first saw Konjit, she was wearing a Batman tee shirt that had come from America’s refuse pile.  Though the orphanage was well-run and clean, my time in Africa sobered me.  I’d never seen “absolute poverty,” and couldn’t imagine that my daughter had almost starved to death.  I’ve said that thing before (“I’m starving!”) when my meal was delayed by a few minutes.  But I’d never really thought about the hyperbole that so easily came from my mouth.  And I’d never seen the inside of an orphanage.  I’d never seen people who literally didn’t even own the ugly clothing on their backs.

Suddenly, I wanted her to have something pink.  Something clean.  Something expensive.  Something stunning.

I went out to the various stores that the city had to offer.  I couldn’t find anything that would really work.  The only shoes I could find – to replace the generic “Crocs” all of the orphans wore – were these gorgeous floral Swiss clogs.  They were so beautiful – yellow flowers with greenery around them.  They were also tall and dangerous for a little one to walk in.  Not having another option, I bought them and presented them to her at our next meeting.

“Ah!”

That’s the sound she made when she saw them.  She didn’t know English, but that one gasp spoke volumes.  The bright colors, the shape, the sheer beauty of the shoes thrilled her.

That’s when Konjit discovered the joy of pretty things.

Since then, she’s doubled her weight, grown 5 inches in a year, and learned English.  But the one thing that has never changed is her absolute love of clothing.  Every day when she comes home from school, she asked, “Can I go change clothes?”

It’s not uncommon to see her in four or five different outfits a day.  She loves her skirts depending on how they twirl.  She zips her sweaters only to a certain point, to reveal just a smidge of the shirt underneath.  She has a favorite pair of boots that clip/clop on our new hardwood floors with every step – something that recently almost drove me to insanity.

“Naomi,” I said sternly.  This is the new first name we chose to go with her African name.  It means “pleasant.”

“You’ve either got to stand still or take off those boots.”

She stood still, right in that spot for a very long time, motionless.

As I looked at that little brown girl trying to hard to maintain the style and beauty of those little brown boots, I smiled.  And I finally said, “okay, go ahead and run around.”

My reluctant permission was like a gunshot at a race.  She smiled and ran around the house with even more joy.    And with every clomp, she drove poverty and death a little further back into her past.

About Nancy French

Nancy French is a three time New York Times Best Selling Author.

  • Chris

    Oh, she is precious and so blessed to have you as a mom Nancy.

  • http://www.7900miles.blogspot.com Julie

    Love this Nancy! Your family is so very blessed. And I will never ever forget helping find those gorgeous “Hanna Andersson-ish” clogs in the Addis childrens’ boutique. Love sharing those memories together. And her hair is gorgeous :-) Love you!

    • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

      Julie, you remember those shoes!? You are too kind. Not sure if that’s when we got caught out in the rain or not. But remember how tall and dangerous and silly they were? I remember putting them on her and she immediately fell.

      :)

  • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

    OK, Nancy. That’s it. I already know what column I’ll be featuring next week in my regular Friday shout-out to another Patheos blogger.

    This is really something. It is stunning, and so is she. Good for her for understanding that she is a beautiful child who should revel in beautiful things.

    • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

      Ellen,

      THANKS! You are too kind. I started out writing about how I was struggling to get her hair right… But this is what came out. I love that girl!

  • http://olderthanjesus.blogspot.com Alison Hodgson

    I don’t think you were blinded by love. She is adorable in both pictures, even if she looked like a boy in the first. The second picture is wonderful: the buttoned sweater, the flower in her hair and the sparkle in her eyes. Beautiful, happy girl.

    Your son’s “Are we sure?” sort of broke my heart, so honest and sweet.

    Thanks for telling the story.

    • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

      Thanks, Alison! Writing this has helped me have some perspective on how far she’s come. I had parent teacher conferences yesterday, and I needed a little reminder that she’s come a long way, baby!

      • http://olderthanjesus.blogspot.com Alison Hodgson

        That’s great, Nancy. It’s helpful to look back when assessing our kids with unique challenges. It’s so easy to compare them to other children or to national standards and then worry.

        I love the surprises that come in writing.

        Her hair looks beautiful and I love the effort you’re making. It’s important.

  • Nina Cotton

    Oh, Nancy Jayne, you made me cry. She is a sweetie and so are you.

  • Kathy Tuan-Maclean

    I agree–she’s beautiful in both pictures! Thanks for sharing Nancy.

  • Tara Edelschick

    I love the impulse to buy her something beautiful and pink and frilly. Our love impulses often show us that what we thought we were like – person who doesn’t buy pink – is not our core self at all.

    • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

      No kidding! I’m wearing a crown as I type.

  • http://prayingforpink.blogspot.com Kendra M

    Nancy, I really enjoyed reading about Naomi. Her love for clothes sounds just like our Charlotte. She adores every dress and once she gets a new one on she goes looking for Baba (Daddy) so he can clap and tell her she looks pretty. :) Then she goes to each of our boys…

    • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

      Yes, Kendra — these sweet girls. What will we do with them!

  • Lynda Whitaker

    Thanks for sharing your touching story and your beautiful daughter. Blessings.

    • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

      Thanks, Lynda! I started out writing about her hair, but I caught up in the boots!

  • Penny Justice

    Wow Ms Nancy!! What a beautiful and inspiring story. We were just talking about how Noah has no idea of the life he might be living in if it weren’t for the love and dedication of Eddy and Beth to travel around the world, spend 3 weeks in a third world country and spend thousands. Noah is a beautiful, smart,albeit a tad manipulative, star in our lives, as I know Naomi is on yours. I truly love reading your works!! Have a blessed day

  • Connie McCamey

    She must be related to my 7 year old daughter!!!! My daughter was adopted when she was 14 months old (from foster care) and had to wear her brothers clothes the first few days because that was all she had! But you should see her now! She is the queen of style! Your blog touched my heart! Thanks

  • Deborah Arca

    Nancy, You are such a lovely writer! Thanks for sharing such a moving reflection on the power of beauty … and love.

  • http://www.breakpoint.org Gina

    I love it!! What a sweet story and a sweet girl.

  • Cathy

    Nancy,
    I had to force myself not to cry in reading this…..thank you for the sweet reminder.

  • http://www.sweetpapertreats.com Brenda Weaver

    oh my goodness, she’s beautiful!! I’m so happy you were able to give her a new life and pretty things to enjoy!

  • Pingback: Patheos Peeps: Nancy French on a New Daughter’s Love of Beautiful Things | EthioSun

  • Arsenal soccer shirt

    Short but sweet, thanks once again.

  • Pingback: Race, Politics, and Adoption — Following Up | Olonggaek.com


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