Yesterday, as I was writing this post in my head, I was thinking there were only two me's. The cute, off-beat, wacky, funny, cheerful me that you all see. And the fly-off-the-handle screaming lunatic mommy me I share only with my dearest friends and family. My friend Quint nailed it. He said to me once (and only once), "The flip side of this funny, energetic, perky person is a sight to behold, I’m sure." Oh so true. I’m working to level my playing field, but I’m not ready to give up all my me’s.
Like romantic wifey me. Back-seat driver me. Daughter me. Wise me (it could happen). All-business real estate me. Ron Paul revolutionary me. Waitress me. Health nut me.
Then there are the combinations: sometimes two me’s combined, acting in tandem. And sometimes – and these are the ones I hate – duplicitous me: one showing outside, one reacting inside. The inside/outside ones are confusing and unpleasant and disruptive. I’d like to merge these into the real me of my choosing, put those others to rest.
One of the inside/outside me’s took over my body during a dinner party recently when I was asked one of the questions I am all too often asked.
Because we adopted bi-racial kids and since it’s obvious (either that or I've been sleeping with tall swarthy guys and my short pale husband doesn’t mind), everyone —perfect strangers, close friends, acquaintances—assumes they have the right to ask any and all questions that come to mind. It’s as though adopting children who look obviously different from us renders our personal lives open for public scrutiny. I've gotten questions like (and this list is far from exhaustive):
"How much did they cost?" "What are they?" "Are they brothers?" "Where did they come from?" “Are you their real parents?”
And let’s not forget the ever-popular politically correct: "What nationality are they?" Classier than "What are they?" but along the same lines. What the questioner really wants to know, of course, is what RACE they are. But asking about a person’s color is not politically correct. If you ask about a person’s color, that implies color is important to you and that you are a you-know-what.
When I am asked about their nationality, I explain in my good ol’ boy accent: "They’re ‘meruhcan." That IS their nationality. They were born right here in the USA. That answer leaves the questioner baffled and embarrassed. Because now they know I know what they really wanted to know and they are left with accepting my answer or saying the R word.
For all the questions, here’s what I’d LIKE to answer: "You don't have the right to ask. It’s none of your business. You just want to scratch your idle flippin’ curiosity itch so you can put my kid in a box with a label. And why is that important to you?"
Tragically, I’ve been brought up to be polite. So polite me appears on the outside, smiling and answering questions quickly and briefly, while maniac me is inside screaming all of the above in my head. My outsides do one thing, my insides another. I hate that as much as I hate the questions. Answering questions that shouldn’t be asked benefits no one.
Here’s the thing: I know people are curious. I’ve certainly asked questions without thinking them through. And I understand that people do not mean to be malicious or rude. Sometimes they are genuinely caring and just curious about us and adoption. But those questions are thoughtless and hurtful, particularly in a group and often in front of the kids (oh yes). We are not objects in a box to be poked. Not a science or sociology project. These boys are my babies. Albeit, now huge, hungry, sarcastic babies (wonder where they get that?), and no less my sons because I didn’t give birth to them. Remember that next time you want to ask a parent something about their slightly different kid. I mean, nobody asks me what my nationality is.
From now on, be afraid. I'm over being offended by the questions while not wanting to embarrass the asker. As of today, I’m dumping this two-faced persona. Militant me will answer honestly: “What a rude question.” With any luck, rational me will be in charge and you'll get a simple, "Why do you ask?" You definitely won't get the answer you are looking for.
Of course, if you are interested in adopting, I will chat on the topic all day. All the gain, none of the pain. I highly recommend it. We have been overwhelmed with unbelievable, irreplaceable, completely unexpected blessings and surprises, just like parenting the world over. The funny thing is, we are not different at all.
NOTE: My friends might be asking themselves, "Did I ask?" Don’t worry. Thanks to menopausal me, I don’t remember either.
P.S. This post is updated from an earlier post. Comments from readers then were so good, I've included them here.
Robert 13 July 2007
Very well said. Especially the part about putting in a box. People are lazy and would rather put you in a cubby hole with all others like you, so they don’t have to deal with you as you are.
Talking about adopted kids (especially transracial) makes them feel odd, or weird. I’ve had folks ask the same kind of questions right in front of our adopted daughter. Even questions about her biological mother, Chinese one child policy, and abandonment. Those issues are not to be discussed in such an off-hand manner, like you would discuss the weather. Our daughter’s history in China is her history, not to be discussed unless she wants to.
I used to ask, “where are you from?” to anyone who looked to be born outside U.S., but I stopped after reading “Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White” by Frank H. Wu. The book opened my eyes to the fact that the question makes people “perpetual foreigners” and is insensitive and hurtful.
=== Teri 14 July 2007
THANK YOU Sally! Very well put. I am adopted and I have answered many NOYFB questions. Not so much since I’ve been grown but growing up, there was always curiosity WHY I didn’t look like my family, WHERE was my “real” mom, WHY did she give me up…. THAT sort of tacky stuff. People DON’T realize, it’s just not something up for discussion (usually).
My pet peeve now in Costa Rica is people asking “what do you do?”. I wonder, “what do you care what I do?”. Why do people think when meeting someone new that it is appropriate to ask such questions? I usually answer, “I do pura vida” and laugh it off. Is it just my southern manners or is it really RUDE to ask personal questions of someone you don’t know? I was taught to listen, not ask and if someone wants you to know something, they will tell you!
=== Jen 14 July 2007
I am forever amazed at how much alike we are! Are you gemini? I think that may have something to do with my multi-faceted (read Jekyll and Hyde) personality!
Ok. I’ll admit I am an ignorant “Murican”. No Habla Espanole. That is one reason I live in Dominica and not Costa Rica. Too many brain cells lost to learn Spanish at my advanced age. So, please tell me the real meaning of “pura vida”. My translator tells me pure life, but I suspect there is more….
=== Cindy 1 August 2007
Oh my. Well thanks for the edification, the primer on sensitivity. I am a Curious George. I ask a lot of questions. On the flip side of that is the often uninvited phenomenon that, unprompted, people frequently tell me A Lot of Private Things.
I love people. I hate them too. But I usually love them more. So, what I’ve come to label, (yup, irony totally intended) a gift — my natural interest in and attractiveness to people — has sometimes translated as carte blanche to ‘ask away!’.
I’m glad there are people like me in the world, really, as I think so many people are desperate to be acknowledged and validated. I’m also glad there are people in the world to remind me there’s a time and place … and it’s not always now and here.
Warmly, Cindy, half adopted
=== Judy 29 September 2010
Hello, I am so happy to have stumbled upon your blog as a fellow female expatriate living in Costa Rica, we have a bit in common. My husband and I moved here in 2004 and have been trying to get residency and adopt children here since day one. Our residency finally came through a few months ago and now we are ready to apply for adoption. I was ready to lose all hope in ever having children because I read and hear so much information that either isn’t current or just not true.
I was wondering if you could help point me in the right direction? I’ve heard that Costa Rica no longer allows adoption through attorneys and it is required to go through PANI. Also that they will not allow you to adopt children under 4? Would you mind terribly if I email you privately to share some information? I just don’t know where to turn for some facts.
We live in a beach town full time and plan to raise our children here if we are ever gifted them and I am very interested in homeschooling. Our family and community knows about our intentions to adopt and while they support the idea it is soooo hard to hear their questions about the child we should choose, such as what age they should be “an infant is always better.” (even after I told them we were considering adopting an 8 year old boy that we already met.) Or that we should adopt only one child, not a sibling group because “two would be more work” (as if we hadn’t considered that) I have been introduced to someone by someone else as ” This is Judy, she wants to adopt here.”(!?!) While that might seem nice, it made me feel like crap. I feel exactly the same way as you do - it made me cry a little to read it - about questions being rude, yet you react politely. I don’t wanna be polite anymore either.
Thanks for sharing your experiences here.