Tuesday, September 12, 2006

And Then...

Last Tuesday, at the Back to School breakfast over at the Parish Hall, I had one of those things happen to me. And while it is ok now, could it be a problem later?

I was talking to one of the new mothers at the school. She (is Korean and you will see why I mention this in a moment) and her husband just moved here from San Francisco and we were having the nice but dull sort of chat that you have at these things when we were joined by another woman. Now, this person who joined us is someone I know is a casual way. We say hello and how are you and I know she thought my not letting Jake and Jack join the Boys Scouts because of their (Scouts) anti-Gay position was "a bit much", but she is an OK, if narrow person.

Well, she starts to chat us up when she turns to the new mom and says, "I think I have see you around before because your little girl looks so familiar." The little girl she is referring to is Eva.

Cue chirping crickets.

Now, I could have made an issue out of this (and if you read the Yahoo APC Group, you also know people would have)... but I didn't. I simply said, "Oh my goodness, I know EvaJun has grown a ton this summer. She really has changed!"

She was mortified. And started to fumble and say things like, "My girls don't look like me either..."

I changed the subject and just went on like it was no big deal.

Which it wasn't. I know she didn't mean any harm and the other woman quite frankly didn't seem to really catch on...

Here is the thing: is this going to be a problem as Eva gets older? It makes sense that, if I am speaking with an Asian family, people are going to think Eva is theirs... I don't really care, but I am trying to perfect responses now which: A) don't make Eva feel badly that she doesn't physically resemble me and B) are graceful and put people at ease... I am not into some politically correct agenda of, "don't assume the Chinese child belongs with the Chinese family you person of white privilege ". There is also the small fact that if I make a magilla out of something then she may internalize my reaction to mean that her being adopted is, in fact, an "issue".

However, despite my only seeing my child when I look at her, I have to accept that others will see a Chinese child first and that one adjective will always add an extra layer to our encounters with people. Strangers will know, within moments of meeting us, that she is adopted. Without opening her mouth some of her life is revealed. Abandoned. Adopted.

At this stage in the game I am open about our story. Don't engage me at Target because I will talk your ear off extolling the virtues of adoption. I know that as Eva gets older this will stop. No child wants to be spoken about in the 3rd person and no tween wants their life story spilled to strangers at the market (let me just mention that I don't ever mention the details of Eva's finding... that is her story) and I will respect what boundaries she gives me.

This is a rambling post and it just barely grazes the surface of the issues, both small and large I think we are going to confront. Life rolls along and there are always going to be little comments, or misunderstandings or questions and we, as a family, have to be ready to respond.

What about a tee shirt? She is OUR child! Do you think that would be too much?

I am going to share with you my husband's favorite response of mine for all time:

Q: Oh, your daughter is so cute. Is her father Chinese?

A. Probably.

I swear to you Hugh still cracks up over that one... if you were to ask him why he married me, he would give the above as an example. The irony of course is when he is out with Eva and someone inquires it goes like this:

Q. Oh, your daughter is so cute. Is her mother Chinese?

A. Yes. We became a family in December of 2004. We were in China for 17 days following a 6 month wait for our referral and roughly 6 months worth of paperwork. My wife really drove this train, but I couldn't imagine life without my daughter.... and on, and on, and on, until the curious are forced to fake their own deaths in order to escape.

He loves her that much. He is so proud of her and her journey to our family and he cannot contain himself.

And ultimately that is what I want Eva to understand.


Dont' forget to stop by Mamarazzi today... it's a rather sad post, but, despite being a bunch of snarky bitches, we are, as Susie reminded me, Mamas first.


Tuesday Girl said...

My Aunt adopted two children both from different countries. She gets the "oh, your husband must be...(dark, spanish, black) a lot but she interupts and says "what? gorgeous? yes he is"
That usually shuts them up.

Oh, The Joys said...

I think you've hit on the most important thing - that Eva feels claimed, that she feels you see her as your daughter. It seems that even something simple or humorous where you claim her will ensure she grows up knowing that no matter where she came from, you are her mother. I like the 'no big deal' approach you have with folks who make mistakes and the way you make sure -even gently - that people KNOW she is yours.

Jenn said...

I agree, kinda, that you shouldn't blame people maybe for making the mistake.....but my question is....why ask? What business is it of theirs whether your husband is chineese or Korean or if she's adopted, or whatever it is.

Connie said...

I want to model your approach when the time comes. Gentility with a point. I have never been one to 'get' the 'waiting to attack' response so many adoptive parents have about questions. Granted, it depends what and how things are asked. Overall, though, it should not be the parent to turn the child's adoption into an 'issue' at every turn.

Pendullum said...

My daughter has a few friends who were adopted from China. They are all 8 years of age.
The parents of all these kids have adopted again.
So all the girls have four year old sisters as well.

My daughter has never mentioned that the kids do not look like their parents...
She was confused about her friend that had two dads and no mother... Or her other friend that had two mothers and no dad...It has never stopped her friendships. It only brings conversation into what makes a family.
We are in a big city and knows that there are so many types families.
I am saddened that people can be so narrow in their perspective.

Andrea said...

I love the part about your husband and the person having to fake their death to get away!

Too funny!

Lena said...

What a raw post - love it.

Since we're looking into adopting from Ethiopia, I often consider the fact that my child's story will seem obviously apparent to people purely based on her looks. I'm still muddling through how I will handle that. And stories like yours are empowering.

Thank you Kristin.

sweatpantsmom said...

I'm still cracking up over your 'Probably' response.

My two mixed-race daughters look much more Asian than caucasian. When my husband takes them out alone, he's had several people ask him if they were adopted. He's thought of having a t-shirt made that said "Yes, I'm Their Father."

Gracencameronsmomy said...

I just had this happen to me at my new job!! I am teaching in a co-op and one of the moms came up to tell me that Gracie (whom she referred to as "that little girl) took a book away from my child. I went in and solved the problem and later the mom came up and said "I am so sorry, I had NO IDEA that was YOUR daughter". I just blew it off and smiled and said "No problem, it is my job to deal with that, even if it is my daughter!" But it does make me realize how different we look. I have used the "probably" response, too!

Mrs. Chicky said...

I loved your response to that question. Probably! Ha! At least you have a sense of humor about it. It seems like you'll have this issue pop up more than a few times, so if you didn't have a sense of humor you'd end up making someone cry. I wish I had some good advice for you but I don't. As a hazel-eyed mother of a daughter with blue eyes I'm often asked if her father has blue eyes. I'd love to say "Well, since we don't know who the father is that certainly narrows down the field of possibilities." and see the looks on their faces. I think my husband, her father, would certainly get a laugh.

Dustin said...

i'm almost scared to post on here cuz i'm not "mommy" status

what to do, what to do.

InterstellarLass said...

You crack me up. Probably. I don't understand why people are so curious about other people's business. It's sad to watch them trip on themselves after they've put their foot in their mouth.

sunshine scribe said...

My son is biracial (his dad is Philippino) and I often get the same questsions because he doesn't look like me. I know my story and situation is totally different but I do share and understand the frustration. People make me crazy. I have been asked if I am his nanny. I have been asked if I know my son looks asian. I have been asked "what is he?".

It sounds like Eva is lucky to have a pair of exceptional parents and I am sure you will navigate people like those you've already encountered with huomour and grace and continue to make her feel loved.

Anonymous said...

There is truly no problem but rather oppotunities to learn from.

All that matters for any child is that they are loved and made to feel secure by their parents and/ or caretakers. I look nothing at like my biological siblings. So what. I always thought I stood out because I was full of personality.

I've always been taught, "what other people think of me is none of my business."

Your daughter, like so many daughters adopted from China is Chinese and looks Chinese. They look different from the rest of a caucasion family. So what?

What an amazing influence a parent can be as their childrens voice when they are young. It's likely nobody intends to be mean with questions or making a natural mistake of guessing an Asian woman is an Asian child's mother.

You are doing the right thing, continue to be patient and polite in responding to questions and particularlly prideful about the Chinese aspect. Empower your daughter with your responses Also, what a gift to other biological siblings to learn from.

These are opportunities to learn from. And in the end, isn't that best for all parties?

that girl said...

I'm trying to prepare for the inevitability that this will happen to me and the mall punk one day too. I'm pretty sure that I - like you - won't be overly offended, but I really hope I can come up with a great response. Thanks for sharing your experience.

kim said...

I wrote a long post on this earlier and blogger ate it ...

I was adopted as a baby ... biologically speaking Im Hawaiian and my adopted parents were a couple of white folks ;) My mom is a tiny 5ft tall 90lb woman who couldnt have children of her own, I was 6ft tall at 16 and I imagine 1 of my legs weights 95 lbs lol ....I was told I was adopted when I was so young I cant remember the conversation ..I always just knew that I was. It wasnt a problem for me because my parents didnt make it one. My mother used to say she might not have given birth to me but I was the baby she chose above all others. I always felt wanted and special and loved.
I remember some of the stupid questions people asked like .... "are you sure shes yours?" and the dumb comments "maybe the babies were switched at birth" but my mom always laughed them off, and in turn

Eva will grow up knowing how loved and special she is to you both ...
give her the confidence she will need to answer idiots with a smile on her face :)

Gracencameronsmomy said...

I have more to say! I am adoptedand my Mother was older when she adopted us.When we would go out with her,people would always call her my Grandma. They would also say how much we looked alike. I was always very proud to be adopted, I thought it was special and my response was "she is my mom, and we're adopted!". Just thought I'd share.
PS Now I know why I love you-not allowing your kids to join the boy scouts because of their anti gay views. Good for you!

Kristi said...

You're a funny family...I suggest you keep things light. Eva's going to get used to the questions and awkwardness, especially if you have honest conversations with her after the exchanges. But if you overdramatize things or sidestep the obvious she might get even more self conscious (does that make sense?)

So picture 10 year old Eva hanging on you and finishing the clever responses rather than silently walking away in anticipation of "Here's the heartwarming story of how we got our Chinese daughter."

Maybe I'm trivializing something that shouldn't be made light of. But think of how confident and self assured she's going to be after standing tall through the million and one awkward introductions she's going to endure the rest of her life.

Am I right? Or am I crazy?

mrsmogul said...

That's funnY, the responses I mean. My kid is ours (from my twat) but my husband always jokingly tells people, "he's for sale."

you gotta have humor. And Eva will too.

carrie said...

I am echoing the others who mention that these are "learning experiences" for people not fluent in proper adoption etiquette. The only trick is, like you said, how to do this in the least damaging way for Eva. I know that you will find a way.

In the meantime, I am sorry people can be so ignorant. Even if they aren't meaning to offend, they need to think before they speak.


Los said...

My wife's sister and brother are adopted (sure, they are caucasian, but still). My wife gets very upset when people say they could never adopt, because the child would never really be their child. Sure, you may not be the birthing mother, but you ARE the mom.

Kim M. said...

Love this post. Thanks for putting this out there. I often think of this stuff. I don't worry so much and I don't try and think of clever comebacks I guess I'll know what to say when it happens.

By the way your husband is awesome.

Jodi said...

Loved this post. It's good for you to raise awareness about adoption. I would NEVER ask somebody where they "got" their child, but I know I always wonder when I look at them. Which is rather silly when I actually think of it. What difference does it make? They are a family...who cares how they got that way. What if a Mother had been raped and decided to keep the child? How awful would someone feel if that picked and prodded on that subject and got a truthful response?? Boy. I think we all should just smile and say truthfully, "you have a beautiful family" and not care who's who and who's who's biological parents, ya know?

As for Eva, I think, although I have no experience in THIS area, that the most important thing you can do for her is make her feel loved and accepted, which you obviously do. She will figure out how she feels about the rest for yourself and like you said, will figure out how she wants to tell her own story when the time comes. The fact that your family handles the sitution with love and humor can only help her, I am quite sure of that.

OH, and one more thing if I may. My niece K is mixed, she is white and black. When she was little Chad and I would be out with her, 2 of the whitest people you can imagine with a very beautiful, very black baby. About 100 times an outing someone would say, "what a beautiful baby". My response, 100 million times was, "thank you she's my niece" and you could tell people were still wondering where 2 white people "got" such a beautiful black baby. It was hilarious. It cracks me up now just to think about it.

Becky said...

i hate that anyone would think abandoned. adopted. because she is SO loved now. and much happier than she ever could have been w/o you.

Lisa Goldstein/Kelly Kelly said...

I looooooove the way you handled that.


The Histrionics of a Fat Housewife said...

Ya know, I always assume that the children with the mother are her own no matter their race or appearance. Especially here in Korea.

You'd be surprised how many stupid looks, comments and outright laughter I have gotten when I was wrong. "Yeah. She looks so much like me, huh?" "No, no. I'm babysitting... obviously."

Sometimes you can't win for trying.

I think though my response to the father question would be different than yours. I think I would say, "Oh, no. He's white." Then smile and walk away, not offering anything more. Watch their heads cock to the side like lost puppies.

Tori said...

She will feel this. How could she not? I have a feeling that she's a kid who can handle a few nosey parkers in the store. Once she gets older she will have the words to answer these people and it won't be your job anymore. Funny.... but I get the feeling 'F' and 'Off' may be amongst the words she chooses....

In the meantime, you just keep on doing what you're doing. It'll always be a weirdy issue and there will be squirmy moments.... but just remember, most people are coming from a really non-confrontational, ignorant, nosey place when they ask inappropriate questions and they just get all fumbled up....
You have the info and they are just people who ask too many questions. If you feel like replying do so - a la Hugh. If not.... use your finest answer....
And that will be them stumped for the day!

Anonymous said...

As an AA been in similar situations, the Korean mom probably did realize but like me, we just pretend it didn't happen, because otherwise you spend your life in that AARGH, what should I say, is there going to be an argument and so on, and so on.
Eva will hopefully discover the way she wants to deal with racial situations. Its hard and you constantly have to rethink and readjust (as I get older I let more of it be ignored, otherwise you spend your life arguing with moronic racists about what constitues racism).
Take care, Lin

Kel said...

we live in an area with many biracial families - it is hopeful to see that the next generation does not assume that a child will look like a parent - and seeing through your child's eyes keeps your eyes wide open at all times -

Anonymous said...

Well I think when someone asks if her dad is Chines, you should look at them thoroughly confused and say, "No, why do you ask?"

My daughter's don't look like me, and my oldest used to use this to her advantage. Once she when she was 2, she threw this first rate tantrum in the mall-- and demanding to see her real mother and calling me Bonnie. Security came over. It was a real treat.

Bonnie B said...

Well think that when someone asks you if her dad is Chinese, you should look at them like you don't quite understand them and say, "No, why do you ask?"

But you saying is of course the best-- very funny:)

Mommy off the Record said...

I don't get why people ask these questions. Are they just nosy? I like your "probably" answer. Nice, but with a hint of "screw you" in there for good measure.

Angry Dad said...

I can relate to this at the moment as my sister has just adopted a vietnamese baby, and is already experiencing similar problems. I'll have to pass on this post to her.

Christina_the_wench said...

Ok, does it really matter what nationality she is or came from? She has two loving parents who want what's best for her. Screw society. Raise her to be independent, confident and loving. Don't worry about the rest.


Kristen said...

I love BOTH responses. But I have to say I love the "Is her father Chinese?- Probably." that is priceless. It'll shut em up pretty quick and get 'em wondering lol.

rubyiscoming said...

Great, great post. You and Hugh gots it goin' on, sister.

mothergoosemouse said...

I think this business of asking inappropriate questions and making faulty assumptions is one of the most annoying aspects of raising children.

Why oh WHY couldn't that woman have just apologized for her assumption and said that she didn't realize Eva was yours?

I can't say for sure, but her statement and her reaction certainly make me think that she's still of the mindset that like belongs with like, and that she doesn't know what to do when life doesn't match up that way.

Princess in Galoshes said...

I just found your blog, but I think you and your husband have handled the situation very gracefully, so far.

Have you ever read Mimi Smartypants? www.smartypants.diaryland.com
She often talks about these issues, as well. And I must say, I really love reading about her relationship with her daughter. It's wonderful.

emma said...

The narrow minded woman sounds a bit stupid. I mean just because a black family is standing beside a black child, I don't necessarily assume it is their child unless they tell me so.

I guess some people are too clueless and jump to conclusions and these are the people Eva will have to deal with all her life. No, I don't think t-shirts with "She is OUR child" is going too far!!

Occidental Girl said...

The responses you wrote here are great! This is so hard to deal with. It's your child, and you want to protect them from all asinine comments that might hint at their worth or degrade their history. It must be so hard.

My dad and brother were adopted, but to families of the same race so that question was not immediate to people who looked from the outside. I don't know how you handle it.

I guess what I'm saying is, I am useless to you. :)

I have a very good friend, who happens to be Asian, and we joke about what we look like when we're out with my blonde daughter for lunch or coffee. What do people think? "Look! It's the multinational lesbian couple!" or "Look! The white woman and her kid and the au pair are out for a treat, how nice!"

Whatever. People are going to think what they're going to think, there's no stopping it. Having a sense of humor is a great way to diffuse the hurt, I think. Which I don't mean to imply that you don't have a sense of humor, by the way.

So useless! :D

Jill said...

Where to even begin? As the white parent of black kids, I can totally relate.

So many things I could say, but instead I'll just say that you are right that your daughter's feelings about being adopted may be different when she is a teen. One of our boys is totally cool with being part of a transracial adoption and the other one feels uncomfortable. He hates it that when people see us all together they automatically know he is adopted. Teenagers want nothing more than to be "normal" and his situation makes him feel "not normal." I hope that one day he realizes what an interesting life story he has.

There is, however, one person who doesn't notice that the older boys are adopted. Their 4 -year old brother Joe (who is biological). Joe has never once asked why his brothers have a different color skin than he does. He has no idea that they got into our family in a different way than he did. Of course we'll explain it to him some day (soon), but I've kinda been waiting for him to ask about it first. So far he hasn't. I think that's kind of cool.

Sorry for the long comment. Your post struck a cord.

Kevin Charnas said...

I think that you handled it brilliantly. And...I think I just fell for you a little more after the "probably" response. Actually, I'm certain that I just fell for you a little more.

I don't REALLY mean what I'm going to say, I mean it metaphorically - but sometimes, I wish we were all blind, then we'd really see what matters.

slackermommy said...

People never cease to amaze me with their ignorant stupidity. My babysitter was adopted from Korea and her mother has endured many insensitive comments. The worst was when a grandmother witnessed my babysitter having a typical teenage tantrum for her mother. She approached her mother and told her "You can expect to be treated that way because she's not your REAL daughter."
The mom was stunned and just responded with "She is my real daughter."

I like the "no big deal approach" because if you don't make a big deal of then neither will your daughter.

lildb said...

I really appreciate this post, and your attitude about the politically correct aspect of rearing your child, to whom you may not have given birth, but who is still, in the end, *your child*.

because raising a kid isn't about politics.

denise said...

"is her father chinese?"
my mother had a great one for this, ask a dumb question, get a dumb answer. I think thats the most fabulous answer to that question. it cracked me up too.

Patricia said...

As an adoptee I have always disliked the idea that with a transracial adoption you automatically give up personal information whether you like it or not. When I was young, even though I didn't look an itty bit like my mother, people still assumed that I belonged to her because we were both white. Then, it was my secret to reveal, which frankly, I liked to do for effect. "Well, I'm adopted." "you are not!" "Am too." And so on.

And now, as I consider adoption, I am surprised at myself for thinking about, and even preferring transracial adoption. I suppose it boils down to the fact that these children are going to be adopted transracially anyway, so why not me? Yes, it is one more thing for a child to deal with, but I would hope that I could have enough empathy and open communication that it might be easier with me than some other people. By not adopting a transracial child, I would not save it from being in a transracial family.

Sorry, I digress. I think you handled the situation beautifully.