Thursday, August 24, 2006

What Is She? The Question Ought To Be: Who The Hell Are You to Ask?

Yes, folks, it's time for my quarterly Adoptive Mama rant. Fasten your seat belts.

First, let's just get it out of the way: I think the story of The Two Mias (the twin girls who were adopted separately from China and whose parents realized on a listserve that their girls were identical twins and both named Mia, and whose story has electrified the general public) is lovely. Really. Twins ought to know each other. But here's the thing: the story has become a way for random people to be rude to me and my daughter. They always say, "Did you see that story about the two Mias? Isn't that wonderful??!!!!!" And then they ask if I'm on some kind of similar "searching for biological siblings" web site because "wouldn't it be great if she had a sister out there?"

Helloooo? First of all, Do I know you? Secondly, why would that be your business? Thirdly, No. The reason The Two Mias is newsworthy is because it's notably rare. But let's be honest, it's because it feeds the feeling (even among some adoptive parents) that biological is better. If we truly mean it when we say that there is NO difference in how we love our kids and how they love us between adoption and childbirth, then why are we so desperate to give them a biological connection? There is no question that having a murky biological family tree will be something Bambina will have to work through as she gets older, but to somehow say that I should be searching for some phantom biological connection for her when the realistic truth for most of the thousands of kids adopted anywhere is that there is none to be found is just feeding the "long lost sister" soap opera storyline that people who don't understand adoption love to think about. And if I'm telling her that she's normal and awesome and fantastically loved regardless of how we became a family, then why would I create dissonance by putting such a focus on finding her a biological connection?

Okay, next topic. FYI: It's RUDE to ask a total stranger "where's she from" while pointing at her child. It's rude to ask anyone that question, however intriguingly multi-racial they may look to you and how desperate you are to have your curiosity satisfied. I'm so f'ing sick of the question because it inevitably leads to random conversations with strangers that go like this:

"Where's she from? Vietnam? China?
Me: "China."
"My sister's friend adopted from China. Those kids are great; better than the Indian ones she adopted later."
Me: Silence.
"So was it a long and hard process to get her? How much did that cost?...." ad infinitum.

What's my point? That Bambina is a kid, not an object of public curiosity. She's now a toddler and she understands and repeats everything people say. I don't want every g**damn trip to the grocery store to be an Adoption Story Field Trip. Yeah, she WAS adopted, but do we have to talk about it all the time? It's a non-issue for us. She's just our kid. End of story. So shut up about it already. We don't care to hear about the latest adoption story in the news, we don't care to know your opinion on adoption, we don't care whether you think it's "wonderful" that we adopted. We don't know you. We're just carrying out a transaction at the store. So why are you having a personal conversation with strangers? What I'm trying to say is that yes, she was adopted (again: not IS adopted, since it's not some chronic condition like "she IS HIV-positive" or some statement like, 'And this is Shelley, she's a breech birth, and this is Conor, he's our 9-hour labor from hell kid"), but it's not something we think about on a daily basis. It's a fact, and one that will have implications for Bambina when she's older; but those will be her personal issues and her personal stories to share when SHE wants to tell them. It's the line between saying that adoption is normal and no big deal (for those of us who've done it and aren't infected with the Primacy of the Personal Sperm and Egg worldview) and not something we're embarrassed about or ashamed of, but at the same time refusing to allow it to be THE topic of conversation every single time we leave the house. (OR if you have that kind of family, at Thanksgiving dinner tables). She was adopted. Get over it. Let's talk about something else.

All of the foregoing should be emphasized in light of the fact that Bambina deserves to go out in public and not be a topic of conversation for her ethnicity or her method of becoming our child. She hears you and she understands you and I swear to god I'm going to get militant if the rudeness doesn't stop. You wouldn't say, "So--how'd he end up in the wheelchair?" or "Was her conception amazing or just so-so sex? Did you give birth vaginally? Did you get an episiotomy or did you just rip?" You would tell me that these questions are A) rude B) intrusive and C) irrelevant to your love for and life with your lovely 2 year old child. That's all I'm saying to you too.

So now my answers will be as follows:
"Where is she from?"
Me: DC
"No, where is she from?"
Me: Do we know each other? (followed by) "Why do you ask?"

There seems to be no other way to make the person just have to say: "No, we don't know each other; I'm just intrusive with strangers. And I ask simply because I'm curious and rude."


S said...

We have talked about adopting and your writing really helps me get a better understanding of what it "means" I wish everyone understood that your kids are just your kids no matter how they got here.

misterfed said...

I find it terribly tempting to give such answers as well. But I try not to in front of the kids because I don't want them to think there is something wrong with them, and I'm terribly afraid that giving a snarky answer to a question about them will convey that their status is somehow shameful. But YMMV.

It irritates me to no end, though, that I must give rude people more politesse than they deserve for fear of confusing the kids.

And even the well-meaning ones can rub me the wrong way. Everyone feels compelled to tell me that their second counsin's boyfriend's mother adopted a child from some other country. To me the underlying message is "don't worry, dear, I've heard of this, so you are almost normal!" Also, in what other circumstance do you do this? If you meet a new acquaintance married to an African-American person, do you say, "Oh, I know a black person! He worked for my father."

E said...

Exactly, Misterfed. It's ridiculous. Thanks for reminding me to point out that I ask the questions in a very non-snarky way, ie, "Why do you ask?" with a smile. It disarms the person and the question reminds them that they are actually asking a bit of a personal question. I got the "Do we know each other?" from a Miss Manners column, wherein she advised a multi-ethnic-looking woman who was tired of being asked "what are you?" to simply smile and say, "I'm sorry, do we know each other?" in the most pleasant way, so as to make it clear that you'd expect such a question from someone in your own close circle but not from strangers. It forces the person doing the asking to have to say, "well, no, um..." For me, the key is to put the pressure to be polite back on the other person rather than on me, because that's what's been bugging me. I'm talking about personal things about my kid with strangers so as not to think myself rude to strangers. Yesterday at the grocery store just finished me off; I just knew I couldn't do it anymore. Bambina is owed the respect of me not blindly answering questions about her just because I feel awkward. But you're right: the key is to keep it polite and light in tone, but to make it uncomfortable for the other person in content.

ps--what's YMMV? :)

misterfed said...

Your Mileage May Vary.

Some questions are so offense or stupid that it is extraordinarily difficult to be polite in response. "How much does it cost?" "Are they REALLY brother and sister?" (Asked in front of the kids). "So you couldn't have kids of your own, huh?" "What race is he?" And so on.

Evan Kessler said...

You know Angelina Jolie adopted from Thailand and Africa or something, I hear those kids are super great, just really special. Also, I mean, if she's got a sister, what's the harm in inviting said sister over for some after-school snacks? They don't have to be sugary snacks, they can be healthy snacks like fruits or vegetables.