We aren't a stay-home-much kind of family. The kids and I go somewhere most every day. And since we are out and about in the community a lot, there are lots of opportunities for people to see that one of my children doesn't look like me. Most of the time, folks don't say anything at all, or say something nice like, "he is so cute!" Occasionally, they say something not-so-nice, although those times are not all that frequent.
And I've decided that I need some ready-made answers for some of the questions/comments that I'm getting. I've been stumbling with responses, not really wanting to get into big-time discussions with random strangers, but leaving feeling as if I've missed the opportunity to educate someone about adoption.
Because most of the conversations go something like this:
Random Stranger: Oh he's so cute.
Me: Thank you. We sure think so.
Random Stranger: Is he yours?
Me: Yes. He's mine (with a smile).
Random Stranger: Where did you get him?
Me: He's from Ethiopia.
At this point I get one of two questions:
1. How long did it take to get him?
2. Do you know anything about his mother or his family?
I know that these folks are genuinely kind and sincerely interested. They think they are making light conversation with an adoptive mama of a cute little boy. What they don't realize is that they have just asked me to discuss in public, in front of my children, the tragedy of my youngest child's life story. And they've just said within earshot of however-many of my children are with me, that I am not his mother; that we are not his family.
We decided long ago that we are not sharing the details of why Amani was adopted with anyone. Not even our closest family. The only people who know right now are me, my husband, our agency caseworker, and our attachment therapist. Well, and my friend Kim who was with me in Ethiopia because we were fighting together to bring both our boys home. That's it. Not because there is anything shameful about why he needed to be adopted, but because it is AMANI's story. Not mine. It is not mine to share. We will share it with him as he grows up and we will be there to help him decide who he wants to share that information with. And I certainly don't think random strangers are entitled to that information under the guise of "small talk."
But I don't always feel like going into all that with the random stranger who is talking to me from across the room at Kids Alley at the Science Center, along with anyone else in the room who might be listening.
So I've been mumbling something along the lines of "we don't know..." in an apologetic tone, as if I need to be sorry that I can't satisfy her curiosity with more details. And that's not even entirely true. There are things we know and things we don't know. And even that is more information that I really wanted to share with the nice random stranger.
So I'm trying to come up with a very nice way of saying, "you know, adoption almost always comes out of a difficult situation involving grief, loss, and trauma. I am not going to discuss the greatest tragedy in my child's life with a random stranger in front of my children." And I want to say it in a way that the other person has learned NOT to ask those questions of adoptive families in front of their kids but doesn't feel like I've just chastised them.
That's a tall order.
I'm still working on it. Because I'm not at all happy with how I'm responding right now. And I think I am given precious opportunities to educate folks about adoption (particularly interracial adoption) when they make comments like that. And I don't want to miss those opportunities.
So.... let me hear from you adoptive families out there! What do you say? How do you handle it? Even if you do share your child's story (lots of wonderful adoptive families handle their children's backstories in different ways), how do you handle the completely random stranger wanting to know it?
Or maybe you are a regular non-adoptive-family person. What would work? How would you like to be told that you've just unknowingly said something potentially harmful or hurtful?
If I get lots of good responses, I'll do another post and share them!