Recently I saw a humorous video on facebook highlighting ridiculous comments made to adoptive families. It made me laugh, but I didn’t add it to my page. (though if you’re interested, you can check it out here) I was afraid it might give the impression that people have to be careful with what they say around me regarding adoption. But let’s face it, we all say stupid things sometimes. Sometimes when we want to show interest or find common ground with others, we don’t know what comments to make. Sometimes we want to understand something, but we just don’t know what questions to ask.
Since our family is living and working in a culture that is not our own, the questions and comments we receive seem to multiply. That makes sense, and I can accept it. People are so kind to us, and because I know the intentions are good, I usually don’t mind the comments we receive on the street. Almost each and every time I go out of the house with the girls, we have an exchange with someone regarding their adoption.
“She looks like a Chinese girl”
“Are those girls yours?”
“But they have black hair.”
“They don’t look like you.”
Or to the girls,
“Why are you speaking English?”
“Is that your mom?”
Once when Rose was riding her bike ahead of me, a passer-by called out:
“Ni you waiguo de mama ma?” (You have a foreign mom?)
“Shi de!” (Yep!) Rose called out happily, while racing by.
That girl doesn’t miss a beat!
It’s these questions that are the most common. We hear them enough that the girls can pretty much navigate these conversations on their own.
We also get questions on language acquisition:
“What do you use to teach them English? Can they speak Chinese, too?”
And on multiple occasions I’ve been asked whether I plan to tell the girls one day that they are adopted.
“Don’t tell them” I have been advised. Oh my.
When I’m out with the girls, seldom do I get a comment or question I haven’t heard before. But I know that when Josiah arrives, this will be different. I’ve imagined what some of the new comments and questions might be, and have begun to formulate responses in my mind, both in English and in Chinese. Words are powerful, and I think it’s important to get it right . . . not only for the one who posed the question, but for my daughters, and for Josiah, listening in.
But such things are hard to predict. And even in these months as we wait for him to join our family, some comments and questions have been different from what I imagined.
“Do you think he’ll be able to get a job when he grows up?” asks a very sweet and concerned Chinese friend. She was so relieved when I said ‘yes’ and was so thankful when I explained that he would be covered on our insurance. This question reminded me that some of the people posing the questions live in a very different social, cultural, and economic reality.
I also never could have predicted this strangely thoughtless comment from my own culture:
“He’ll need a prosthesis when he’s older, or else he’ll just be walking around without a hand.” says the receptionist at a well-respected medical center in the US. (In all fairness, I imagine she might have hung up from that phone call thinking, “What on earth did I just say?”)
Then today, at the local orphanage, I received two more comments I wasn’t prepared for:
“Ta shi zhengchang de ma?”
“Is he normal?” she wants to know.
Since my thoughts and emotions on that question go beyond the scope of this post, let’s just move on.
After sharing more about the girls and explaining that Josiah will be joining our family soon, I also mentioned that he is missing his left hand.
“Ah . . . zhe yang de hai zi congming”
“That kind of kid is smart.” she says.
Let me just say that this is NOT one of the comments I had imagined, so I hadn’t given any thought to the comment at all, much less how to “get it right” in my response.
So I just laughed.
“Really?” I said, while laughing, with what I’m sure was a questioning, raised-eyebrow kind of face.
“Yes, really.” she says.
So as soon as I got home, I shot Mark an email to let him know. I couldn’t help but laugh even more when it occurred to me that Mark and Josiah will have this in common. You see, here is another conversation we have now and then:
“You look Chinese” someone will say to Mark.
“My mom is Japanese, so I’m half Asian. I’m bi-racial”
“Bi-racial people are smart.”
Ha! And so, father and son will have this in common – this quirky and randomly ascribed inherent intelligence.
Like I said, “Just when you think you’ve heard it all . . .”