dropping the ball

The scene: Mama Jamz and Rainbow are in a downtown shop. A casual friend, with whom we are on very good, warm terms, is talking to MJ. Let’s listen in, shall we…?

Friend: (goo-gooing and generally admiring Rainbow) You know, I’m going to have to take back what I was saying just earlier today. I had said that this child would never look like a Jamz*, but right now I see that he does look kind of like he belongs in your family.

Mama Jamz: (totally taken aback ~ say wuuuuuut…? ~ but feeling compelled to be nice and non-confrontational) Um, well, all of our boys look very different, so he blends right in.

So, okay. This is just like the scenarios they prepare you for in adoption education classes and literature and such, but I was completely taken off guard. I mean, I never thought that someone we liked and felt like we were generally on the same page (or at least in the same chapter) as would A. be thinking along those lines and B. share those thoughts with anyone else and then C. decide that it was a good idea to chattily, casually share these thoughts with ME.

Which is kind of neither here nor there in the big scheme of things, except that it makes me afraid that, as Rainbow grows up, people like this will think they should D. tell him how interesting it is to them that he does/does not physically resemble other members of his family as much as they expected him to, and that he therefore does/does not seem like he belongs in our family.

What’s funny is that Daddy J and I were open to just about any race and race combination. Rainbow did, in fact, end up looking quite a bit like us. And that is really special and great. And it’s also really special and great when people adopt children of different races/ethnicities who look very little like them. Daddy J and I had talked at length how it would be really cool to learn Spanish as a family with our new child if it turned out he or she was of Hispanic heritage, or get involved with community events that celebrated his or her racial heritage, no matter what that ended up being. And that it could be a mind- and heart-opening thing for our family and circle of friends to have a child of a different race. I think it’s great to adopt a child who is not a physical “match” with his or her parents.

(Rainbow will probably be spared summing-up glances from strangers who look upon our family – O look, that child is adopted, therefore XYZ must be true about him and ABC must be true about his family – which is an additional hurdle that some adoptees have to jump. Most likely, people will not know he is adopted unless he tells them. Which, again, is neither better nor worse than other situations; it’s just his situation.)

Anyway. Mostly I’m annoyed at myself, for being blindsided and missing a great opportunity to describe our feelings about Rainbow’s adoption. I missed a chance to advocate for him and for other adoptive families.

I should have said:

Well, of course he looks like a Jamz. He is a Jamz.

Or, to buy time while my blindsided wheels turned:

I’m not really sure what you mean by that.

Well. Live and learn. NEXT TIME I’ll be ready.

* Of course, she used our real last name when she talked to us. I don’t think she reads this blog, so the whole “Jamz” thing would be foreign to her, but I hope someday she stumbles across this entry and we can have a virtual re-do of the conversation.

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Meghan Cobble
    Sep 21, 2009 @ 18:49:12

    Go gettum, Jamz.

    .mac 🙂

  2. Megan DuBois
    Sep 22, 2009 @ 00:03:46

    I’ve been guilty of the, ” wow, he/she looks so much like you,” comment so I appreciate the wake up. The opposite seems worse but I suppose its all bad and insensitive. On a happier not, he is the most scrumptious boy and I’m so glad he found you.

  3. Megan DuBois
    Sep 22, 2009 @ 00:04:21

    meant happier *note* oops

  4. thisbumpyjourney
    Sep 22, 2009 @ 00:51:32

    Megan – I think it’s totally okay for a friend to say, Wow, this baby looks so much like your family! That’s completely fine. And, pretty much anyone other than a friend wouldn’t know he was adopted, so I feel like that sentiment is just fine with me.

    It was the whole – I know this baby is adopted, AND he just is NOT going to look like he belongs in this family – sentiment that was awful. Because he *does* belong in this family, regardless of what he looks like.

    Actually, I would be prone to say to any adopted child, Wow, you have a big smile and a great laugh, just like your dad! Or, My goodness, you have a terrific sense of style, just like your mom – I see where you got that from! Or, Man! You’re really good with motors and engines, you are so much like your dad, you know that? because I think those sentiments are nice, and I think kids like to feel like they have important attributes in common with their parents.

  5. thisbumpyjourney
    Sep 22, 2009 @ 13:37:00

    And, actually, I’d modify that, Megan – I think it’s safe to just tell any baby or little kid that they resemble their parents physically, regardless of how they came to be in the family.

    (There’s a point where that becomes *not* okay, though – a couple of weeks ago someone told me I looked JUST like my mother. Like, as I was walking up to them, they thought I WAS my mother, because we looked EXACTLY alike. Which is great and all – my mom is an attractive person – but she’s also twenty-five years older than me, you know?)

  6. Megan DuBois
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 11:40:59

    ouch. Yes, that last example is definitely not ok. I can remember walking around the lake in Wisconsin with my neighbor(who was only ONE year younger than I) when we ran into one of her friends who asked if I was her mother…. horrifying. Really, I’m not over it yet.

  7. Auntie Sue
    Sep 24, 2009 @ 14:46:02

    I think looking like your mother is a HUGE compliment. The woman is remarkable! Rainbow’s legs look just like mine!

  8. elizabeth
    Sep 24, 2009 @ 16:34:25

    My family gets comments like this so often… and no matter how much I prepare they always catch me off guard and I never know what to say. I worry, as our little one gets older, how will he interpret my silence? Or my stumbling-all-over-my-words? Will he think I’m ashamed of our family? How long before he becomes aware of our other-ness?

    It’s such a challenge to balance the well-intentions of others with my own feelings of defensiveness with my true hope to educate them that families come in all shapes and forms and sizes and colors.

    ::::sigh::::

    I guess I just wanted to say, I understand.

  9. thisbumpyjourney
    Sep 24, 2009 @ 19:47:53

    That’s pretty funny (though not exactly ha-ha) Megan. I would be totally horrified, too. I’m sure the person was just beyond clueless; maybe in some way you resembled her mother, like hair length/style or something, and she ran with it?

    Ha, Sue. That would be pretty impressive if your legs looked like Rainbow’s. I think the diameter is equal to the length of his thighs.

    Elizabeth – yes, it’s hard to imagine NOT being taken off guard by this kind of stuff. I think we’ll get better with practice, though, and we can always talk about it after it happens with our kids when they are older. That will be valuable, too: “I got so mad when that person said XYZ because I felt like they meant blah-blah-blah. I’m sorry I couldn’t think of the something to say that would help them understand our family better; I was just so surprised and upset when it happened.” I think those kinds of conversations will be really helpful for me, but I do still want to learn to be more calmly assertive when stuff like this happens. You describe the balancing act very well. I think having the “true hope to educate them that families come in all shapes and forms and sizes and colors” will shine through to your child.

  10. Suzanne
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 17:09:49

    My friend, who has an adopted Chinese child, says that she has completely forgotten that her daughter looks ethnically different. When someone makes a comment and she’s reminded of it, she’s just, like, what? Oh, yeah, she’s Chinese, whatever. It is such a nonissue that she just rolls her eyes and goes on.

  11. thisbumpyjourney
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 23:44:34

    Suzanne – that’s cool. I like your friend’s attitude. I think the potential for a whole family’s eye-opening (or closing??) is huge with international adoption, and I especially love to read about the birth country visits that adoptive parents make with their children.

    When this kind of thing happens again, I’m going to try to remind myself of how clueless I have been so frequently in the past and TRY to not get so annoyed with people. Because it’s really just ignorance and not meanness or evil that leads to these dumb comments, right? I still say really dumb stuff and realize later how awful it was; I need to focus on nicely correcting badly formed statements around Rainbow.

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