((Note added Oct 2015: It’s been three years since I wrote this post. I’ve learned a lot since then. But since wordpress keeps suggesting people read this one I’m going to add a link to a newer post that adds a broader view of my take on these things:https://wondermentetc.com/2014/01/22/the-story-that-didnt-start-with-me-birth-adoption-and-honoring-their-story/))
For some reason being a different color than my kid makes people think they can ask me any number of personal questions about him and his history. I’m not sure why that is. It’s like the force field of awesomeness that is us when we’re together renders other people’s politeness protocol inoperable. Or something like that.
Thankfully we live in an area that’s pretty hands-off and live-and-let-live so we haven’t encountered any open hostility towards our families makeup. I’m grateful for that and I love where we live. And beyond that the overwhelming number of interactions we have with people are positive. I’ve been told I have a beautiful family many times and every time it makes my heart go all mushy.
But I’ve still had multiple people ask at grocery stores, etc things like “what happened to his family?” or “why is he an orphan?”
And I don’t think people mean to be insensitive, they just forget that they aren’t asking about the first ten minutes of a movie they walked in late on, they’re talking about a real child’s story. A story that has lots of feelings and pain and lots of things that shouldn’t happen that did. I mean most people wouldn’t appreciate being accosted while picking out a jar of tomato sauce and asked about the most painful page in their personal history but for some reason because it’s a child they think it’s okay to ask me in front of him.
For the record, I don’t think it is. Just because my child needed a second family doesn’t mean the whole world gets a free pass to know the story leading up to that.
I have a bunch of go-to responses for questions I don’t want to answer. The first is a simple “Excuse me?” By asking them to repeat what they said I buy myself a little time to think through what I want to say. I also like “Why do you ask?” for the same reasons.
Another easy way I’ve found to handle it is to answer the question I want to answer and not the question I was asked. So in the case of someone asking what happened to his family I might say “You know there are children without families and families without children. And sometimes we find each other. My husband and I just feel so lucky that he’s in our life. He’s an amazing human being and such a fun age too. Do you have any kids/grandkids? Oh how nice…” If I talk fast and long enough people forget they asked me I think. If pressed I will say “We’re keeping his story private, it’s his story and I think he has the right to have it just be his until and if he decides to share it.”
One day I’m going to get up the guts to respond by giving them a great big hug and asking when I can come over for dinner. You know, because obviously they consider us Best Friends Forever and all.
It’s a hard balance to strike I think. I don’t want him to grow up thinking that his adoption or where he was born is this big bad secret. So, if asked nicely, I will happily tell people where he was born. I will also add in where I was born and then probably ask where they were born. Just to make things even. But if they ask me where he’s “from” I just give the name of our town and say we all live there together. And when people ask me if he’s adopted I will smile and say “I’m his adoptive mother, yes”.” Or “He joined our family through adoption, yes.”
I wish though that more people realized that they aren’t the first or second or third person to ask that, they’re one of the endless chorus of people asking us to define our relationship. And that can get weary I think. Not so much on me, but on my child. He shouldn’t have to constantly hear questioned his position in our family.
Here’s what I wish I could say to the world: if you’re out and about and you run into a family that looks like mine it would be amazing if you would just treat us like everybody else, and if that means you smile or ignore us I’m good with either. And if I catch you staring just a little too long at us don’t look away and pretend you weren’t. Just smile and tell me what a great son I have (or how very well his vocal cords work as the case may be *ahem*.) And if you aren’t sure how a group goes together maybe just assume they’re a family. If they end up being the babysitter or a nanny oh well. And, if all else fails, call me my child’s “Person”. That works too.