Earlier this week, my children and I were waiting for our lunchmeat to be sliced at the deli counter, passing time looking at the different shapes of the fancy cheeses. A woman next to us smiles kindly at the kids, then looks at me. “Are they all yours?” she said. I took a deep breath and replied to her, “they’re all mine!” – hoping it will end here. No such luck. “Foster or adopted? And those two are your own?” Again, I say a little more firmly: “they are all mine.”
“Oh,” she said, seeming a bit taken aback by my non-answer. “Well, what lucky little boys.”
Our meat was sliced and we were on our way – but there are a few things I would have liked to share with her and the many others who have questions or comments like these … the things I always “would like to say,” but find they just aren’t appropriate in that setting. So, for this woman and all of the others who have asked questions along the way:
I’d like to tell you that all four of them are ‘my own.’
I want you to know that I know you mean well – that you are just curious. I know that you know the word ‘biological’ but just couldn’t think of it. I’d like to tell you that when I come back with a remark that might sound kind of rude or condescending, I’m not intending to hurt your feelings. I’m simply trying to speak the truth in front of my children – that they are all my own – no one more my own than another. I want you to know that I understand curiosity; I also want you to know that my children have ears and brilliant little minds. I’d like to tell you that they hear what you say, and with each time a well-meaning bystander comments on our transracial family, they hear their mama yet again have to ‘explain’ them and us as a family. Those little ears and little minds think about these questions for hours – days.
I’d like to tell you that sometimes at bedtime, it will come up again.
“Mama, why that lady ask if I ‘dopted? She knew I grew in H’s tummy? Why she ask about us, mama?” I’d like to tell you that this is hard. Adoption is no secret in our family – quite the opposite. The boys know as much about their first mamas as I know, and hopefully they will have relationships with them as they grow. We have open adoptions, and I am so very thankful for that. Even with that truth, each time it seems as though we are ‘called out’ and asked to explain ourselves, it is personal and feels intrusive. I’d like to tell you that I don’t like thinking about my sweet children worrying about their place in our family because it is so often brought up by those around us.
I’d like to tell you that when you comment that our boys are so lucky to have us, or that we are such good people for adopting, it is hurtful and it is wrong.
We are the lucky ones, to have these sweet boys and their first families in our lives. I’d like to tell you that adoption comes from loss, and that is something they will have to process over the course of their lives; that not looking like your family is going to be hard in a lot of ways for my sweet sons and I truly hate that for them – not considering it lucky in the least. I’d like to tell you that even though you are trying to be supportive, and I am so very appreciative – I have to correct you. I would like to tell you that I cannot – will not – have my sons feel like they are a charity to me in any way. I’d like to tell you that adopting them was our choice, our joy – we sought them out and we are the lucky ones. Every day.
I’d like to tell you that I am really happy to talk to you about adoption, at the right time and place.
I love adoption – all of it; the beautiful and redemptive, the ugly and the heartbreaking. I would enjoy discussing the process, letting you know what I know … at the right time and place. One thing I won’t tell you, stranger? The personal details of my boys’ stories. Again – curiosity is real. Adoption is still exotic and interesting to so many. But, their stories are their stories. We don’t share with close friends and we definitely won’t share with strangers. I’d like to tell you that if you ask me a question that I’d rather not answer and I, in turn, ask you “why do you ask?” – that it is a safe way for me to save my kiddos yet another go ‘round.
So, next time you see a family who looks a little different than what you are used to – remembering that families come together in many different ways – think about what you’re going to say (if you need to say anything at all!) and how it will sound to the little ones who are always, always, listening. Their mama (or daddy, or guardian) will surely appreciate it.