There is no hiding that my son is not biologically mine. I am a blue-eyed blonde in Phoenix, Arizona, and my son is a seven-year-old Chinese maniac. Wherever we go, his adoption runs front and center. This is not a bad thing. We get a lot of the “head-tilt and smile” move. I like that. I smile back. I feel like these people are saying “nicely done, you two.” For a few years, we even got an “Adoption Pass” – a term I coined at Trader Joe’s after my kid threw a Luna bar at a woman’s head. No matter how badly my child behaved, anger and annoyance quickly turned to “awww it’s ok” as soon as people saw this little boy. It was weird. I took full advantage of it, but it was still weird.
When I am out and about with my son, we are a poster for international adoption, and I get a lot of questions. There are blogs and blogs and blogs on what NOT to say to an adoptive parent, and I have to say, none of these ring true to me. I have never been asked a question about adoption that I found offensive. Odd questions? Yes. (“Do you think he sees as well as we do?” – How do I test this for you?) Puzzling questions? Yes. (“Do you eat a lot rice now?” -Yes, it’s in the manual for raising Chinese children. (I’m being sarcastic, but really, it is.)) And some funny questions. (“Is his dad Chinese?” -Uhhhhh, I am going to have to say probably?) But questions intended to be rude? Not a one. (SEE? Good stories do come out of Arizona, contrary to the national news.)
Lots of good and reasonable questions, too. Why did we decide to adopt, how long did it take, how much did it cost, were we able to choose our son, why did we choose our son, how long were we in China, does our son speak Chinese, is it unusual to adopt a boy from China, etc. My responses are rote to me now, pared down from five years of practice, and akin to Jeopardy answers. “Why, I’ll take Not Unusual if the Little Boy has Special Needs, Alex.”
There is one non-question that I get, usually after one of the aforementioned questions. A succinct and unequivocal statement that I hear, at least, once a month. “I have always wanted to adopt.” No pending question, no easy out, just a loaded statement that hangs in the air waiting for me catch it and decide whether to play.
In my experience, there are two types of people who say this. First, there is the person who thinks that adoption is noble and good. And they are truly noble and good so they “have always wanted to adopt.” There are I-don’t-know-how-many-kids-who-need-homes in the world, but it’s an absurd amount, and they feel like they should consider adoption. And when I say I am not judging these people, I mean it. They mean well, and I love that adoption crosses anyone’s mind. But these women (and they are always women) think about adopting like I think about dying my hair red. It’s fun to think about, and sometimes I get really motivated when I peruse pictures, but I am never, ever going to be a red head. With these people, I catch their statement, and with a “well, it’s very rewarding,” I smile and end the game.
But then there are the people who say, “I have always wanted to adopt,” and they look me in the eyes with the sincerity of a monk, they look at my son like he is a golden child, and I know that they are looking for my answer to be some sort of beacon to begin their journey. These people want confirmation of what they have already been called to do.
This blog series is for those people. When we started the adoption process, I read articles, books, joined chat boards, mingled in Chinese adoption groups, and we attended our agency’s mandatory Adoption Training. We seriously thought we were the best parents ever. We were like the boy scouts of international adoption running around collecting merit badges. I mean, we sent a photo album to our son’s orphanage before we traveled so he would know us. So we were totally solid. #sarcasm
What we did not get before we left was what we could have used the most — the truth. Adopting a child who has lived in an institution for any length of time is not for the weary and not for the weak. And I see no contradiction in telling anyone considering international adoption that I love my son with the fierceness of a street fighter…but that we were not expecting, nor were we remotely prepared for, the broken child we met in China. Our merit badges mocked us in those completely useless Mandarin phrases we had learned.
I am not an expert on any child but my own. I just have our story – what I have seen, what I now know, and a boatload of resources. I am not seeking to discourage people from adoption. Good God, no. I will advocate for adoption every chance I get. But I truly believe that the more someone knows about the choppy water into which they are about to jump, the more likely they are to make it across. At least they’ll know to pack a life jacket.