Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On Comments, Questions, and Responses

This subject has surfaced once again-most times I can see it coming.  I usually have an idea of what kind of comment it will be, based on previous experience.  Are they yours?  Are they adopted?  Are they brothers?  Are they biological?  These are by far the most common questions I get.  Is it appropriate?  Or maybe I should be more to the point: Is it essential or even relevant information for a complete stranger to know the answer?  At times I feel as if I am in the minority when I say absolutely not.

Let me be clear, I understand the curiosity and am more than willing to talk about our adoption experience.  When were completing our dossier and waiting for a referral, I loved to browse adoption blogs for more information, or just simply to see what life was like after all the hoopla was over.  Was it possible for us to lead a normal life again?  Were families happy or unhappy?  I found myself looking at other multi-racial families and wondering what their story was.  I get it.

What I don't get is a person's lack of sensitivity around my children and the setting in which they choose to approach me us. 

Are they yours? (Usually a grocery store comment)

I am most likely too wrapped up in trying to keep Boy O from man-handling the hot wheels at the check out line and Baby O from grabbing anything (and I mean anything) in his grasp and promptly throwing it on the ground.  Any parent can attest to how hard this is given how narrow the space is.  And yes, of course they are mine.  I don't think I would 'borrow' someone else's children just for the experience.

So, uh, is he, like, adopted? (Usually a question in where both Daddy O and are both present.  Interestingly-they do not approach Daddy O, but me-that's a whole other interesting social issue in itself)

I don't want to have this conversation at my son's soccer game when I am trying to cheer him on and/or  trying my best to mollify a baby who doesn't feel like being stationary.  Again, I don't understand what a person gains from knowing this, it would seem to me that this might be somewhat obvious.  It just isn't the time or place.

Are they brothers?  Are they biological?  (This is the most common question we get-it used to happen more often when I responded to the previous question with a simple yes)

I like Daddy O's response, but was never able to master the blank look of disbelief when he replied with Well, of course-their names are Boy O_____ and Baby O______!  And then seemlessly without a further glance or thought, would keep on walking.
This question perplexes me, because most people see nothing wrong with it, but how comfortable would they feel if someone asked them the same question about their children that were in the grocery cart?  I have a feeling it might not go over so well.

How much do you charge? (Okay, I just got this one last week at the library and had to share it-but wow-did it catch me off guard)

No, I am not a nanny, I am in fact their mother and my services would probably be too expensive anyway.  This one seemed to come out of nowhere and took my breath away-I actually had to think about what she might be referring to.  I recovered pretty quickly, but I think my initial response was a sputtered HUH? I will say for her part that she was properly horrified in realizing her error and at least I can rest easy in the fact that if I need a job, child care services might be a lucrative option.  Wink.

In conversations with many adoptive parents, I have found that each person usually has a unique way of responding to questions and comments they feel comfortable with and I think I have found mine.  I always, whether the person is well-meaning or not, reply by saying, This is my son or These are my son's.  Sometimes this is not adequate for the inquisitor, who will then follow up with another comment (as if I didn't understand the first question) and I simply repeat it over and over until the questions stop.  So far I have not had to repeat it more than three times.  Eventually, even though they may not understand they have crossed a boundary with me or it is just not the right time or place, they understand that they aren't going to get another answer.  It works for me.

Any stories you would be willing to share? What works for you?


  1. I have been soooooo tempted to answer questions like those with "What difference does it make?" or "Why is it relevant to you?" I find my best retort, though, is a simple "All mine." And to keep on walking. I have had some brutal encounters. Last week, in our kiddie music class, the woman next to me confided that she was an expert on adoption because she'd been counseling her friends, who were dealing with infertility, to adopt. But, she was reluctant to recommend that they consider Africa because of "AIDS." What did I think!??!?!?!?! THIS WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE F@#$@#$@! CLASS! Also, this summer, when we were in Michigan, a woman in the grocery store almost plowed me down in her eagerness to share that she also does foster care. Stunned, I responded that I was lucky enough to be all of their mother! BTW, requested two of your sidebar books.... thanks for the suggestions!!

  2. Wow. That encounter in kiddie music class might prompt me to get physical. Especially if there was tambourine nearby. Maybe it would knock some sense into her.

  3. Ian and I were actually reading an article side by side last night about this very issue and he looked up at me and said, "we don't seemed to get asked this." WHAT???? I am confronted by awkward moment many times a week.

    Right now, I feel like I'm in educational mode, where I find it interesting to talk about some of the topics that they might not have thought about or had access to before not being immersed in the world of adoption themselves.

    First and foremost the rights of the adopted child to not have their info shared like a good story (at best) and gossip at worst. Most people kinda take a step back interested in what for many of them is a new thought....

    What is remarkable and downright crazymaking is how many of them come back with the same questions framed in different language. Like they can't believe I won't just confide in them... them being the woman working the checkout or at the table next to me in the restaurant. Or they stare at me with a blank face like I've just surprised them by speaking Mandarin.

    I really enjoy talking about adoption in many contexts that are conducive to real discussion and critical thought. And I think we all can agree that that moment is not when you are managing a squirmy hungry baby in music class or when you are leading your school age kid and baby down the aisle at the market. Oh me, oh my.

    When I am able to have real conversation about this and the subject turns to my child's personal story, I do default to the experts: older adoptees. I say that adult adoptees have created a whole rights movement around the rights of people that have been adopted. Among these is the recognition that the stories of adopted children belong to them to do with as they wish. But if they wanna hear about story on my road to my child than boy, do I have a story to tell.

    Having a child the age of Boy O makes these moments even more loaded. Hang in there, Mama. It seems like you are doing a great job thinking on your feet and repeating the words that your boys need to hear, "These are my sons." beeeeaaaachhhhhh

  4. I think next time I will add the beeeaaaachhhhh! part! It has a nice ring to it. And I might take to carrying a tambourine in my purse too...

  5. Awhhh Susan, sorry it keeps continuing. I would love to go to the grocery store with you just to watch your 2 boys being busy. They sound like so much fun in the store. I too have read many adoption blogs about this very issue but personally I can't take it anymore. I am sick and tired of being careful what I say. The last time when I went to Fred Meyer I had all 4 with me and obviously just like you I am white as can be. So this lady says "are they yours"? I just said "of course, can't you see the resemblence in each one of them"? And I walked off.

    Although the other day at work I was just about in tears. I offered my co-worker the book by Mary Beth Chapman "Chosing to See". Its about her daughter who died at the tender age of 5. My co-worker said "that's okay my sister wouldn't like this book because her daughter is her bio daughter and Mary Beth's is adopted..There is no comparison. So this was really painful. Would I not have to work with that woman every day I would have punched her in the nose, lol. Keep bringing up your frustrations because we understand you.

  6. Thanks for the support-it is hard, because I know that I am not always as sensitive as I should be and comments have come out of my mouth without thinking in different situations. But this happens on such a regular basis, that I sometimes wonder about people.

  7. Hi

    As a African American woman married to a Irish American man I can tell you that these comments are versions of some that my husband and I have experienced from the time that we began seriously dating. "Oh that's your husband?" "The two of you are together (no each of us decided to hold hands with a complete stranger!)?" As for the nanny comment, that's the only comment I have ever received when with the children of my friends. Growing up as a minority has prepared me for some of these comments in a way that my husband has had to learn on the fly. Some people are bigots and don't care what you think. Some are just plain ignorant and don't realize how offense they sound. And believe it or not some people jsut want to show that they aren't racists. But the world is a better place but each of you is color blind and will raise your children to be color blind too. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart! Judy G.

  8. Thanks for the comment Judy. Interesting-different perspective, same situations and lack of sensitivity from others. Even after the last six months, I am STILL honestly shocked that people would make those comments to you and your husband. I'll have to tell you some of the other comments and questions from this community that have been just outright offensive-they are not common and I have chosen not to repeat them in my blog-but wow!

  9. In the 8 months I've been home with my daughter, I've been astounded by the LACK of comments or questions, inappropriate or otherwise. Maybe it's a university town thing, or a southern u-town thing, but adults here just assume she's mine. I've had a check-out clerk ask me if she's been mine since she was born, someone else ask if she was born in Mississippi or elsewhere, that's about it. KIDS ask questions all the time, but they should -- they're trying to figure out something new.

    So far, my biggest challenge has been responding to all the "she's so pretty" comments, because she so needs to know that there's more to her than how she looks!

  10. Thanks for the comment Melissa-I will say that we do get alot of wonderful comments concerning how incredibly beautiful both boys are. At times they are overshadowed by the negative/interesting ones and I need to focus less on those.

    You may have a point about geography and university town. Our community is less than 1 percent African American and we have a wonderful community college close by, but it certainly does not bring the diversity that a State University would bring. We knew this before adoption and thought long and hard about the impact on our children. Even though we had thought about it, it has much more of an impact now. I find myself much more sensitive to comments now.

    I will say though-knowing plenty of people who have had many, many years of higher education, I am still absolutely shocked at very personal questions asked about their past history and their response when we say-"why would you even ask that?". Sadly, I see the same type of comments from educated and ignorant alike.