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 dear 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 trying to level my playing field, but I’m just not ready to give up all my me’s.
Like romantic wifey me. Back-seat driver me. Daughter me. Sober me. Wise me (it could happen). All-business me: REALTOR® me. Waitress me. Receptionist me.
Then there are the combinations: sometimes two me’s combined, acting in tandem. And sometimes – and these are the ones I hate – one showing outside while one is reacting inside. The inside/outside ones are confusing and unpleasant, two-faced and disruptive. I’d like to merge these into the real me of my choosing, put them to rest.
One of the inside/outside me’s took over my body recently during a dinner party when I was asked one of the questions I am all too often asked.
We are adoptive parents. We adopted bi-racial children. I guess since these are obvious facts, everyone – perfect strangers, close friends, acquaintances – assume they have the right to ask any and all questions that come to mind before considering how NOYB a question like this might be. Like I had the nerve to adopt children of color, I should expect personal questions. 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?"
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. Why are they the color 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.
When I am asked nationality, I have a good answer, spoken in good ol’ boy: "They’re ‘meruhcan." That IS their nationality… the answer leaves the questioner baffled and embarrassed. Because 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 a clue and what I’d LIKE to answer: "You FUCKING DON’T have the right to ask. It’s none of your business. Just your idle flippin’ curiosity so you can put my kid in a box with a label. Make him palatable to you. What difference does it make to you? And WHY DO YOU ASK????"
Tragically, I’ve been brought up to be polite. At times like the above, Polite Me appears on the outside. So while the maniac inside is screaming, "You fucking don’t," Polite Me is smiling and answering your questions quickly and briefly. My insides do one thing, my outsides another. I HATE THAT AS MUCH AS I HATE THE QUESTIONS. My answering the questions when I think it is wrong to ask is not fair to my kids and not fair to our family.
Here’s the thing: I know people are curious. I’ve asked inappropriate questions without thinking them through myself. I know those questions are not meant to be malicious or harmful. Often, they actually come from love and wanting to know us, admiring adoption. But those questions are harmful, particularly in a group (oh yes) and sometimes in front of the kids (although less and less). We are not objects in a box to be poked. Not a science or sociology project. These boys are my babies. Huge, hungry, sarcastic babies (wonder where they get that?) But as much my babies as if I gave 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.
So that’s my story. Being offended by the questions, yet not wanting to embarrass the asker when the question is innocently asked. But I’m dumping this particular two-faced persona. From now on, be afraid. I’m going to answer like I want.
Of course, if you are interested in adopting, bi-whatever or not, I will chat on the topic all day. All the gain, none of the pain. Many unbelievable blessings and surprises, like parenting the world over.
If you are just idly curious, MYOFB. More to the point, queries the Militant me, why do you ask?
NOTE: My friends are probably asking themselves, "Did I ask?" Don’t worry. Thanks to the Menopausal me, I don’t remember either.
Very well said, as usual. 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 wierd. 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.
Great post, Sally.
I knew you would identify. Labels just remind us of our differences… the gift that keeps on giving. As I wrote that post, I just kept remembering times I have been guilty of the same insensitivity. I vow to be more sensitive in the future.
Can’t wait to see you all this weekend. AND THAT SUITCASE OF GOODIES YOU ARE BRINGING. Yayayayayhoo!
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 curiousity 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!
As always, you hit the nail on the head!
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….
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.
cindy, half adopted
Thanks for writing, Cindy. I think there is a difference between curiosity borne of a natural interest and attractiveness to people, and just flat out wanting to know someone else’s business to know if that person is better or worse than me, to quell someone’s fears of The Different.
And specifically with children of color, we are an item of curiosity. People need to know how I got them… did I have sex with a black man? I’m not alone in this paranoia… other mixed families experience the same thing.
I’m like you – always very interested in people. I like knowing who’s who, what makes people tick, where they came from and how they got where they are. I never thought about crossing the line into invading someone’s privacy, putting them on the spot, until it started happening to me. I always figured people would tell me if I crossed the line… but it’s hard to say the words.
That’s the real trouble: we are brought up to be so polite, we don’t feel we have the right to say “that’s really none of your business.” I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes who is interested in what’s going on in their world. God knows I want to know it all!
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 ica 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 Esterillos 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 Jeanna, 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.