Sunday, September 13, 2009

Follow up

What Jud wrote about in the last post is exactly what the two of us have been discussing lately. There is still so much to be said, and questions I have for you fellow bloggers about how to handle certain situations, so while it's out there I felt like we should delve into it a little deeper.

Like I said, these are things that Jud and I have been going over and over. The same thoughts that have been going through my head repeatedly for the past four years.

So, grab a beverage and get cozy, this may take awhile.

First of all, I know our family stands out. Often times I feel like we draw attention every where we go. Restaurants, grocery stores, even the playground, people notice us. I get that. We're different. And we have four of the most gorgeous kids on the planet, so I forgive people for staring. But it's when the innocent looks turn into stares and the comments start flowing that we are put on guard and usually left feeling uneasy.

Oy the comments!

Sometimes they're totally innocent, just curious. Sometimes maybe inquisitive because they themselves are considering adoption. Other times they're just down right nosey and inappropriate.

Many have a tendency to ruffle both of our we're trying to figure out why, and just what to do about it.

First, before I go any further I just want to say that I think, no, I feel that adoption is an amazing and profound experience. It has changed my life forever. Not only because it has brought this beautiful light into my life, but because it has opened my eyes to the fact that the world is more than just me, my family, my community, my country. There is so much more. And because of adoption, I feel like I am a part of that something more.

Looking back to when we started the process to adopt the first time, I can see that I myself was quite naive to how the whole scenario of inter-racial, international adoption, would play out. I simply thought that, we wanted more children. There were children who needed families. We would embrace a child into our family as if they were our own.

Too simple.

I know that now.

There is so much more to it than that.

Because of this, because of my feeling for adoption, because of all that I've learned along the way, I would be more than happy to talk any one's ear off about adoption, about the process, heck I'll even talk about the cost if they want, but and it's a big but, not in front of my kids!

That has to be one of my biggest hot buttons.

So, getting back to the comments. What's appropriate, what's not, and just what do we do about it?

Here is a sampler of the comments and how I typically respond. Please share how you would respond or any thoughts in the comments. Really. I'm curious how other families handle these things. I know we are not alone in this!

Just a few of the things that Emma has heard strangers say. Many times.

"they're all yours?" (while staring, sometimes even pointing at Emma)

-Yes, Emma is well aware of the fact that she did not grow in my tummy, that is a fact that we could not nor ever would want to try to hide. But to have it constantly thrown in her face, usually with a judgmental tone, at 4 years old is just not right. I simply say "yes." and try to corral the kids into moving in the opposite direction of the commenter...doesn't often work, there are usually follow up questions. All I really want to say is "please just stop." But I don't. I stand there getting ticked at myself for getting cornered. Again.

"That's your daughter? Where did she come from?"

-I'm always surprised by this one, pretty ballsy don't you think? But even though I think it's rather rude, and intrusive, I still always answer, "Yes. Ethiopia."

"but they (looking at the other 3) are all yours?" (implying I gave birth to them I guess) I've actually been so fed up with this one, that I do very firmly say, "they're all mine." When they start to say, "no, I mean.." I quickly say, "I know. They're all mine." I usually feel like a total bitch afterwards. But this one gets me.

Then there are the quite intrusive ones.

"Were you not able to have kids of your own?"

-Which I have to say, if I wasn't, is that something that I would want to discuss with a stranger? But I don't say that.

"Did you think of adopting here, there are so many kids here?"

-This one really annoys me too. What I always want to say is, yes, have you? But again, of course I don't. The fact is, there is nothing simple about adoption. We think, we agonize at every turn about every decision. Those who go into the adoption ring don't do so blindly. There are reasons. We have reasons. We choose the path.

Then there are those well meaning, but just don't sit right ones...I usually try not to respond to these ones simply because I haven't figured out how to yet.

"She's so lucky"

-I know what they mean, because of the life that we are able to give her, but really, what's lucky about being taken from your country, your heritage, from your birth family not because you weren't loved or that you weren't wanted but because they couldn't feed you? In all reality we are the lucky ones. To have been born where we were, to not ever have to worry about feeding our children, to be able to watch all of our children grow and thrive. Yes, we are the lucky ones.

"Oh what a wonderful thing you're doing"

-This one always strikes a chord, and I'm not totally sure why. It is a wonderful thing, and I'm proud of us. I'm proud of our family. But we didn't set out to save a child. That's not what it's about.

I struggle with how to respond to many of these comments because I can see that the person making them just doesn't get it. They don't get the big picture. I find myself wanting to reply to many comments with some snide remark, and I don't because really, I can picture my mom in the grocery store asking some other woman with her children the same sorts of questions. Not trying to be rude or intrusive, just curious. I realize that unless people see and feel the effects of poverty and famine around the world, it's just not something they think about. They don't have a reason to.

So I could get up on my soap box and tell them about all that I've learned about Ethiopia, the people, the culture, the drought, the hunger, the lack of clean water, the disease, about how they could help... but is that right? Really, I'm asking. Should I feel an obligation to be an advocate? Be the voice for those whose voices are not being heard? Can I go on ignoring comments because I just don't want to deal with it? Is it my responsibility to educate people about what is happening around the world? The information is out there isn't it? For whatever reason people choose to turn the other way. Could I get them to get it even if I tried? Would it make any difference?

The thing is, I want to do all these things. I want to be an advocate. I want to be that voice. But in a way that is not making an example of my family. Does that make sense? I don't want to be nice and put on a smile every time I get a rude comment about my front of my children. I don't like feeling like my family is a teaching case.

Adoption did change my life. If Emma weren't in our lives, I wouldn't feel the connection that I do to Ethiopia. I wouldn't think about wanting to make a difference because I feel I owe it to her birth family. Without adoption my eyes would not have been opened. As much as I want to encourage other people to think about the world outside their community, I think I need to find a way to do it while preserving my family's story and keeping certain things private.

Is that possible?

Is there a way to turn the focus of the questions and comments? Or do I have to learn to stear clear of all old ladies in the grocery store?


Shannon- said...

Excruciating. And I think your responses are incrediably polite- considering the ignorant promptings. At this point (my son isn't home yet)- so I have the liberty of looking at them deadpan. Perhaps a strange look on my face. Let them continue putting their foot in their mouth as they back pedal or continue talking... eventually they hear them selves sounding like morons and typically stop- (hopefully realizing the err of their ways). But... that won't last for long. When my son it here- this post will help me get it straight in my own head. Thank you!

hotflawedmama said...

ugh. Great posts (from both of you). Those always seem like the million dollar questions to me.

Honestly, typically I just shop without making eye contact with anyone. The second I make eye contact, they seem to pounce and ask any or all of the above questions. I, like most APs, don't mind if they approach me to the side and ask some of these questions but it's so hard when the kids are involved.

So basically I take the "hide and see" approach. It works most of the time! :) No answers, just sympathy for you.

Don't put "the advocate" on your shoulders all the time but certainly I feel like we have that obligation part of the time too. When I'm with my kids, I feel like my only obligation is to them and that's just mommy!

Look forward to reading more comments. But yours to all of them were great!

bridget said...

these are all the questions that i also have---about what kind of one liners i can have stored up to whip out in these cases. so if you come up with great answers, i will be following along closely. i totally see my mom doing the same as yours, jess--not meaning to be disrespectful, but curious. but i was fuming at the gym one day when these 2 older people were discussing how "those people" (at first referring to black people, and then hispanic) were doing whatever and obviously generalizing a group or even one person's actions to a whole group of individuals. they were not even talking to me, but i was right next to was at that moment that my instinct was to humiliate them into realizing their converstaion was out of ignorance, but that usually sends a bit of a negative tone to things--and they already have enough in their lives, appaparantly. plus, at that point i would have started crying because i was that emotional about thinking about lumping my son or daughter being shoved into that same generalizing mentality. so i would love some great one liners...because i know more are coming as soon as we have our kid(s) home with us from Ehtiopia. or is this something that you cannot prepare for? but until i learn all of these things (like sharing your child's birth family's story, talking in front of your children)--it does not neccessarily register to "sensor" myself until i know these things. so i think, for now, i am advocating awareness for people...if you have money, give it away to people that need it, if you have talents for speaking, share the knowledge of what you know...everybody has gifts, use them so you live with little "i should have" moments as possible.

Kristin said...

Hey - Really touching blogs by both of you... And, you don't have to display this comment, but just wanted to reply with what came to my mind while reading it and because you sort of asked for feedback in your blog...

Just curious, when you see a young child in a wheelchair, do any questions or thoughts of concern or sympathy run through your head? Do you wonder what's wrong? What happened? Was she born that way? Wonder how much extra these parents have to do to get through a typical day with their child? If you see a child with a slightly deformed face, or maybe missing fingers, or an arm, or anything else, do any questions or thoughts run through your mind? Maybe they don't. Maybe you truly have a very unique vision of humanity and you don't even notice when something doesn't fit the "norm". Or, maybe you just have enough tact or believe that respect in this case means that you are okay with not really knowing the situation.

But, what if you did ask? And what if the mom explained that her daughter caught some rare infection she caught at school that it is just in the beginning stages of research for a cure. And then, she goes on to explain a little more about it? Knowing you, you'd probably Google it when you got home? And, just because of a somewhat nosey experience, you'd find yourself educated about something that could affect your children or your grandchildren someday.

To be honest, the people that just give looks and stares or you hear them make remarks are useless to our society. But, it's the ones that ask that should be given a little credit. I realize that you don't want your family to be the poster family for adoption, but what your family represents, is amazing. I think you should feel honored to share your story and in the process, make a difference in someone's life. And in the 10 people they share the story with, and the 10 people they share the story with, and the 10 people they share the story with, and on and on. This is how the little things, make a big difference!!

I wish you patience and understanding in dealing with the ignorance and misunderstanding in the world.

Anonymous said...

I have 9 kids, aged 1 to 11.I get lots of "are they all yours?" to which I always answer, with a big smile on my face, "They sure are! Don't you think they are cute?" And of course, no one will ever disagree with me on that point, so the discussion always ends positively.
If someone says, "you must have your hands full!" I say, "Oh I do, but it's lots of fun."
Just recently someone said, "You've been very busy" I said, "I've been very blessed."
If someone says, "They (or she/he, meaning the adopted child) is so lucky," you could just say, "No, I'm the lucky one. They are unlucky enough to have to put up with me!"
If they ask, "Were you not able to have kids of your own?" just tell them, with a smile on your face, "I do have kids of my own"
I have also been asked, "Are you going to have any more?" to which I answer "I sure hope so"
I think a positive attitude really makes a big difference. My kids have heard lots of questions, but if they see that I am no embarrased to have so many kids, that I am thankful for each one of them, and don't mind bragging about them to the entire world, then the questions don't bother them at all.

rebekah said...

So I've been thinking on and off all day about my experiences with this and I have to say, there haven't been that many. And then I realized it's most likely because if any stranger shows even the slightest interest in us (or not at all) Quinn and now Matthew, too, will talk their ears off.

Matthew is following in Quinn's footsteps, shouting hi at anyone he sees. So, of course, many people notice us, many more than if we had kids who could keep their mouths shut for even half a second.

And then they can't get a word in edgewise to ask those questions they are no doubt thinking.

But the other day, at Starbucks, our Starbucks, a lady was staring at us, and I turned and caught her eyes and she turned away quickly. Now that bothers me. I can handle the stares that come with warm smiles when caught, but this lady, I don't know, I felt pissed off. So I moved in closer to Matthew to give him some sweet talk to make darn sure she knew I was his mom.

I can tell that soon, the boys might start to get frustrated with the 'is that your brother' questions. Now, they respond by kissing and hugging each other, which in fact gloriously drives the point home.

You know I have a gazillion more thoughts about this... but boy have I used my comment space!

Calmil2 said...

Hey Jess-Just wanted to say "Thank You" for posting this. I have thought a lot about it and worried a lot about how I will handle looks and comments. I am most worried about the negative comments and dirty looks as I have heard that they do exist. My husband and I practiced our answers and we both had very different answers. I tend to take the humor approach in most situations, but will be so annoyed if someone asks an inappropriate question in front of my child. My husband on the other hand says he would be happy to talk about adoption when it is asked at an appropriate time (like not when your children are standing right there) and if it is an inappropriate time he will have no problem telling someone that he thinks they are being rude. I guess I realized that everyone will respond differently and it will depend on the situation and the mood. I think my first response will be, "why do you ask?" because if they too are considering adoption then I would continue with a different tone and if they are just being nosy then it will probably end the conversation right there.

I do like some of these responses that I have heard...
"Our whole family is lucky"..."We are an adoptive family"..."EXCUSE ME???" :) Thanks for bringing this up!!

Anonymous said...

I am an adoptive Mom of a biracial daughter, adopted in the US,and a Korean son. We are also in the process of bringing home 2 children from Ethiopia. I've been thinking a lot about what you're saying. I guess I welcome honest, up-front, curious questions about adoption, as long as they're presented in the right way. I have been asked questions that just make me want to say, "huh? Are you serious?" For instance, are your children "really" brother and sister? I always answer YES and then they say, "no, I mean really?" Now keep in mind, my daughter is biracial and my son is Korean - they look nothing alike. I know what they're getting at, but I'm just not willing to go there. I always answer YES again and walk away. That's just not an honest curiousity about adoption. That's digging for dirt. Here is another perfectly awful example. When we were finalizing our son's adoption, his lawyer (our son's representative in the hearing)asked us (in front of both of our children) why we didn't adopt from the foster care system. In fact, when we tried to redirect him by saying that our son was in Korea and that's why we chose to adopt from that country, he said it again. Just kept harping on it. So, I finally asked him how many children he had adopted from the foster care system (in as polite a tone as I could muster at that point). Shockingly, his answer was zero. He had two biological children and they didn't feel led to adopt. UGH!!! I could've punched him in the face! However, despite the several disturbing questions/comments and stares that we often get, most people are extraordinarily supportive and do "get it" and see the beauty of adoption. They love our children for who they are and just let us be a "regular" family, not a poster family for adoption.