Just today, my girls and I were eating lunch when an older lady sitting nearby asked, "What part of Asia are they from?" and then asked if she could give each of my girls a dollar bill. We kindly accepted the monetary gift even though it felt a bit odd. My daughters were delighted to get a treat but I was left wondering what motivated her actions. Would she have still done this if my children were white or if I were Asian? There was another young mom and her toddler that did not receive any attention from our fellow diner.
Living in a very homogeneous part of the country, we are used to standing out. Most of the attention we draw is from prospective adoptive families or fellow adoptive families. Then there are the well wishers that want to say something to affirm our decision to adopt internationally. Even if their wording may not be well crafted, I try to be polite and thankful in my responses. I'd rather affirm them for their ability to recognize adoption, which I hope is the first step to understanding the blessing of adoption. Our family can show the world that adoption is what we wanted... not what we ended up with as some still believe.
I didn't always like being in the spotlight but now, like it or not, I am an ambassador for the adoption community. While most of the attention and comments are kindhearted, there have been some that were motivated out of banal curiosity or worse racial prejudice. Thankfully these incidents are few and far between, but now that my oldest is 5-years old, she remembers them with great clarity...more importantly she remembers how I handle myself in these situations.
While playing at our neighborhood park last year, a young boy called my daughter a racial slur directed toward Chinese which I won't repeat. He also insisted she must be a laundry maid because her hair is black. Since he was maybe 5-years old, I'm guessing his poor opinion of Asians and Hispanics was taught to him by his parents. And because he was at the park with his less than observant nanny, I couldn't even speak to a parent to address his terrible behavior (which wasn't limited to his mouth). So I did the next best thing and spoke with the boy directly and told him that this is a place to have fun, not be mean, and that his comments were hurtful and cruel. I thought about leaving at that moment, but decided to put my daughter on the swings where she would be "safe" but still enjoy her special trip to the park.
I never had to deal with these issues when I was a child. I spent 30 years of my life blending in. With the exception of living in Japan, I have always been able to disappear into a crowd of Caucasians. Nothing about my hair color or height is remarkable, but when I became a mom of an extremely outgoing Chinese baby, I discovered I would never be in the shadows again. And frankly, I'm okay with that, because if one member of my family is going to stand out, I want to make sure she isn't standing out there alone.
There are things that make each of our families unique. Some differences are visible, such as transracial adoption or a special need, but most are less visible, such as our values and our beliefs. Our family and our children will always be noticed in some way. When we do stand out, I want to stand for something good. I don't want others to just see charity for an orphan (which may have prompted the $1 gifts). I want them to see the joy of adoption, the genuine love of a mother for her children and the blessing of those children. It is a message all parents can portray, but as we stand out in adoption we have more opportunities to say it.