by guest blogger Menomama3
Imagine you’ve just finished swimming laps and you’re in the shower sudsing off the chlorine. You’ve left your spectacles in the locker with your towel. You’re butt naked. You’re also pathetically myopic and directionally challenged without your glasses. Turning towards the opening that you think leads to the change room, you find yourself standing on the public deck of the pool instead. Totally naked. Words to describe how you feel: Exposed, embarrassed, ashamed, surprised, stunned, and vulnerable. Absolutely everything is on display. The worst of it is, when you turn to scuttle to safety, you expose yourself even further. Your hands rapidly move from one body part to another trying to cover something, anything, as you retreat.
If you’re white, pretend your mom and dad are black. Yes, you’re adopted, and when you’re in public with your family EVERYONE knows. It’s not about shame, it’s about privacy. Right away there’s a loss of privacy about your origins. And for whatever reason, interracial families draw a lot of attention when they’re out and about. Random strangers will approach and after the graceless question, “Is she yours?” ask the most shockingly rude and personal questions like, “Do you know who her real parents are?” or “How much did you pay for him?” or “Weren’t you able to have one of your own?”
We were in a bookstore. One child was still in a stroller, the other just 4 years old. I had bent down to adjust something for the baby and as I stood, the four-year old and I bashed heads by accident. I bit my tongue hard. With tears in my eyes, hanging on to the stroller, I hauled myself up and there he was, the determined stranger, striding confidently towards me with the LOOK. Through countless similar experiences, I had come to recognize the LOOK in the boldly curious. First comes the alternating eye shift from adult to child, and then back to adult again, followed by a resolute question mark posture and finally light of dawning on the face. Please, I thought, please, just go away. But I mistook this gent. After the inevitable question – Are they yours? – he politely inquired, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” (Internal voice – YES I MIND!)
Maybe it was because I had just chewed and chomped on my tongue and the blood crashing through my veins made me feel like I was going to explode, or perhaps it was light-headedness from standing up so quickly after the collision, or because my quickly swelling tongue made speech difficult that I turned to my daughter and said “Do you want to answer the question?” She looked down at her feet and shook her head. I pulled her close and looked at the quizzical man and gave him my best Gallic shrug. In that instant I handed my daughter control over her story. We walked away.
Have you ever met someone who tells you their life story in the first 30 minutes of meeting them, sparing no gritty details? I have two responses when this happens. Fascination and awe at their openness and then withdrawal as I hope to god they don’t want me to reciprocate.
Families love to tell stories about the day their child was born. Adoptive families like to tell the story of the day they met their child and the intense joy, happiness, (and in my case a touch of fear) that arrived wrapped up with the bundle. Yet out of the blue we don’t ask the mom sitting next to us on the bus to tell us about giving birth to her son.
For lots of reasons, adoptees have complicated responses to the telling of their story, especially as they get older. Regardless of how well the child “fits” in the family, in every adoption there is still a loss and it’s hard to articulate that with casual acquaintances. How do you explain sadness at losing a birth family, a culture, an aborted embryonic identity? Our society has lingering xenophobic beliefs and tells families like ours “Your child is so lucky to have you for a family.” (As an aside, contrast this with repeated encounters in China, when I took one of my children back for a trip, as strangers in markets would tell me how lucky I was to have her.) What child feels lucky all the time?
For nine years I was a volunteer member of a group who assembled a quarterly newsletter for a Canadian adoption agency, The Children’s Bridge. When we started this endeavour we had very young kids. We willingly shared our experiences with the adoption community. As our children grew up we started to think twice about what we were telling, recognizing that maybe we were crossing a line that our kids might not like. It seems ironic to be so concerned with over-sharing in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere. But everyone has a right to privacy and everyone has the right to tell their story when, if, and how they want to tell it.
Adoptive mom to three teenage girls born in China, Menomama3 was employed for 8 years at The Children’s Bridge, an international adoption agency, working with families to facilitate adoptions from China, South Korea and Thailand. She now works for a large medical, non-profit agency and enjoys telling tales about being a middle-aged, hot-flashing mom to hormone addled teenagers.