Say This, Not That

A few weeks ago Wyatt and I were headed to the splash pad. A little girl came running up to us and said, “Is he yours?” I replied with a big smile and a, “Yep!” She seemed confused but satisfied enough with my answer. She shrugged, said okay and kept on running. I moved on hoping that was the only question I’d have to field during our splash pad time. Such a funny thought, Courtney. A few minutes later, that same girl came up to me and said, “Are you sure he’s yours? I mean how did that even happen? You’re white and he’s black? How does a white lady have a black baby!?!?” I had just been called out for not wanting to share my child’s story with all of the people and for not wanting to spend all of the moments of my days educating small humans (and adult humans) on adoption, so I thought I’d just try a different approach and answered with, “Well, we adopted him.” And then I held my breathe and crossed my fingers she would run along and stop.asking.me.questions. But she didn’t. She just stared at me and said, “What’s that mean???” (DANG IT.) I gave a really crappy answer about how he was born in Uganda and we adopted him and became his parents and how we may look different than each other but he’s my son and I’m his mom. (OMG I’M JUST TRYING TO PLAY AT THE FREAKING SPLASH PAD. WHATEVER LITTLE GIRL.) She looked eternally confused and then said this, “Hmmm. Well my momma is black and she had all black babies” as she ran off. That sentence made me laugh for days.

I feel like just about everywhere we go our family is on display. We are constantly questioned and prodded and asked to explain ourselves. We are constantly asked to explain our family and our son. And not all of the questioning is bad. I do believe that a large majority of people who ask us questions are just genuinely curious. I also believe that just because you are curious about something does not mean that you should always ask a question about it. You can be curious and intrigued by our family for days, but that doesn’t mean that all of your questions are appropriate to ask. It’s hard because I want Wyatt to be so proud of where he was born and I want him to love the fact that he is Ugandan, but I also want him to know that he belongs and he is ours and his story is not up for grabs for anyone and everyone who asks about it. I want to protect him and I want him to feel proud… That’s such a fine line, you know?

I’m not a huge fan of just giving people a list of sentences they shouldn’t say to a certain group of people. I think that makes us all scared to say anything at all, which isn’t the point. So I thought I’d just share some things I wish people would stop saying to us, and some things I wish people would say to us instead. And don’t hear me say that I think this applies to everyone you’ve ever known who has adopted or is adopted, but I have read enough articles written by adoptive parents to think that this is a somewhat decent place to start. [You can read some of my other favorites on this topic here, here, here, and here.]

Is he yours?

I wish you’d just say, “He is so precious!” or “What a handsome guy you’ve got there.” I wish you’d just ask me old he is. I wish you’d just say, “You’re family is so beautiful.” I wish you’d say something like that instead.

Where did you get him from?

Where is he from?

Is he from here?

Is he adopted?

I wish you wouldn’t say “get.” It makes it sound like we bought him from Target or the grocery stores. Kids on aisle 7! You don’t “get” kids, they are people not products. I wish you’d say, “Where was he born?” I wish you’d preface any of these with, “Could I ask you a personal question?”

How long has he been home?

I wish you’d ask, “How long has he been in Nashville?” I wish I could explain to you how gut wrenching it was to take him from Uganda. I wish I could help you understand how we very much feel like we went and took him from his home and brought him to ours. I wish you could have heard the cries and seen the grief with your own two ears and eyes. I wish I could tell you that we’re going to let him choose, choose where he thinks his home is. So I wish you’d say something like that instead.

What do you know about his birth parents?

Where are his real parents?

How did he get to the orphanage?

Why was he adopted?

Does he have siblings?

I wish you’d just not ask these questions at all. I wish you’d ask something like, “Are you sharing any parts of his story?” I wish you’d just leave it at that when I say, no.

Is that his real birthday?

Did they make that up?

Do they know that for sure?

I wish you’d say, “Oh! A summer baby! How fun!” I wish you’d say something like that.

He’s so lucky.

You guys are so awesome for what you did.

Thank you for what you did.

I wish these sentences were never said really. I wish you’d just say, “You guys are so lucky to have him” or “What a blessing.”  I wish you’d say something like that instead. I wish you could get that adoption is soaking wet with trauma and loss and grief, and that does not make a kid lucky (even if you mean that he’s lucky to have us as parents… it still isn’t lucky to not be with your first parents. It just isn’t). I wish I could help you understand that we didn’t save him from anything, that we most certainly didn’t rescue him, that we didn’t do anything awesome. I wish you could just see us as doing something normal, just as two parents loving their kid. I wish you’d just say, “You guys are great parents” or “You’re doing a great job.” I wish you’d say something like that.

A few weeks ago Wyatt and I were out eating lunch with my mom. A table next to us stared at us and whispered the entire lunch. I felt entirely annoyed, because we have a history of being stared at and whispered at and it’s all just sometimes too much for me. We finished our lunch and Wyatt and I made a quick exit. The ladies stopped my mom and talked to her for a few minutes. When she came outside I asked rudely, “So what did they want to know about Wyatt?” She laughed and said that they just wanted to know where I went to high school, that they thought I looked familiar. Whoops.

And so next time I really just wish you’d see us as a family. Because that’s all we are.

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