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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dear random shopper in the Target check-out line*** that is staring at me and my children and is just dying to engage us in a conversation about adoption,

I see you.
And my children see you watching them.

I totally get it. You see, I used to be just like you! I'd see a family that looked a bit... hmmmmm... what's the right way to put this... mixed.  Not all the colors match up. The body shapes, skin tones, and/or hair and eye colors didn't all go together, and it was obvious that there was more than one baby mama going on.  And like you, I wanted to know more about adoption! I wanted to know the story, the how comes and the whys, the little and big details because I was considering taking this big leap of faith called adoption. I was thinking I wanted to adopt a child, and add a child to our family in this unconventional way. I wanted to get more information and a first-hand account of what it's like! And like you, I may have not known a good way to approach a total stranger in the check out line of Target. So I often just stared, and smiled, and thought about the right way to say something.  Sound familiar?

So before I tell you the way I'd like to be approached, here are some tidbits of information to please consider before you say anything.

This may not be a good time for me to talk. We are in Target after all. I just wrangled 3 young kiddos through shopping, each of whom did their best to persuade me that they must have Every. Single. Thing. that we passed. I am now simultaneously juggling my car keys, my debit card, several bags, my purse, a sippy cup, a baggie of goldfish crumbs, and a two-year-old who wants no part of sitting down in the cart. I'm also trying hard to distract a 5 year old from having a temper tantrum over gum that I will not buy, and redirect another child who is trying to engage a total stranger to push her "Fire Dog button." I can't seem to remember the code for my new debit card.  And I might be 30 minutes late to my next appointment that I haven't remembered I even have yet.  
So now might not be a good time for me to talk.  
And that's ok.  

If it is a good time for me to talk, and even if I really want to share adoption information with you, my children may not want me to talk to you, especially if they are old enough to understand what we are talking about. I'm sure you'll understand that what is best for my children trumps absolutely every single good thing that we could talk about or any information that you may take away from our conversation. Anything I'd like to say or anything that you'd like to know pales in comparison to what is best for my child! You see, my kiddos, especially as they've gotten older, don't want to stick out in a crowd. They want to blend in. And as you've already noticed, they don't come by that "blending in" thing easily. As they get older, they probably don't want to be talked about especially in reference to how they are different. They already look different from their parents and community, and often all they want to do is to look the same when they obviously can't. They don't want to be anyone's child that was adopted or a topic of conversation. They just want to be plain ol' children in the checkout line of Target. So I may not talk to you because my child is in earshot and/or has no desire to be the poster child for any cause. Albeit a truly wonderful cause.  

I am not a saint. I have not "saved" anyone. I am not in the saving business as that is only for God. I simply wanted a child to call my own and to be his mama. I am not a better woman than any other mother that wanted a child. I have awful moments. I yell. I lose my patience. I do things I regret. I don't actually know what I'm doing most of the time and have become a master at "winging it."  I'm just doing the best I can.  

My children are not lucky for being adopted, so please don't say they are.  They are not lucky to have been adopted, to be adopted by us and in our family, or to be United State's citizens.  Children from adoption have already endured heart-breaking loss, including the loss of their first families, and often the additional loss of the their language, culture, and their heritage. And they have often lost the ability to blend in with their family when they are in at the the checkout line of Target. These are facts that make them far from lucky.

If you want information on the specifics of how to adopt a child, I am not a good source of information. The process of adoption continually changes, as do different types of adoption, and the specific processes from various countries. If you want hard facts, you would do much better to do research online and call an adoption agency (or two or three or more of them) and get information from them.  
If however you are looking for a first-hand account of what it's like from a mother's perspective to adopt a child, (or a child with a special need, or a child of a different race) then I would be able to tell you about this.  But you may be surprised at the answer . . .  because it's really short.  
It's not really any different that than being a mama to any child.  

Do not ask for the details of my child's past. Do not educate us on the horrific effects of China's one-child policy. . .  even if you whisper. Do not ask how much our child costs. Do not ask about his orphanage or his first mom. Do not ask about her "real" family, if we know them, and why they did not "keep" her. Do not ask if she knew her mom or how she came to be adopted. These details, if known, are precious to my child and are her information to keep a secret especially from strangers if she desires. Also know that this information is incredibly sensitive to her. Just as you don't want to share the intimate details of your life or marriage or the most difficult gut-wrenching times in your past with strangers, my child does not want you to ask him questions about it or want me discuss it with you either, especially in the checkout line of Target.

Please understand if I correct some of the terms and/or phrases you use. I am not trying to hurt your feelings, and I really do know that your questions are well meaning.  But even so, words can be offensive and hurtful, and this is a wonderful opportunity to help us all use better terms and phrases that help children grow in a healthier and more considerate community.
I am their real mom.
They really are brother and sister. 
All my children, regardless of how they came to our family, are our own. 
Please refer to them simply as children, not adopted children or children that have been adopted.    
My children are from Scottsdale, Arizona.  Yes, I know that's not what you meant, but that is where they are from.

Now, like I said before, I used to be you, and I too really wanted a first-hand account of what it's like to adopt and raise a child that didn't grow within my womb. But I was often at a loss for the best words on how to start the conversation and certainly didn't want to say the wrong thing or at the wrong time. I totally understand your thirst for information. I think most (but certainly not all, and that's ok too) parents who have adopted, given the right setting, are willing to share their first-hand experiences if you have good intentions.

So in hind sight, I recommend saying something like this.  
1--State your intent.  "I'm in the process of adopting a child..." or "I've always wanted to adopt."
2--Then follow it up in the same breath by opening the door of conversation a tiny bit with something like, "I've always wanted to know more about the process.  Could you tell me where I could get more information?" or "Is your daughter Chinese?" or "You have a beautiful family!"

Then see what type of response you get back. Like I said, I saw you looking at us, and I already know what you're digging for even before you said anything. So after you state your intent and open the door a bit, you'll get the idea pretty quickly if now is a good time or not for me to engage in adoption conversation.  
And if it's not a good time, perhaps I avoid eye contact, or my answer is short or curt, please don't be offended. It just may not be the right time and/or place for such a discussion.
Please understand that first and foremost I always have the very best the interest of my children at heart.  

So thank you, random shopper in the Target check-out line*** that is staring at me and my children and is just dying to engage us in a conversation about adoption.  Thank you for listening.  
I knew you'd understand.


***please feel free to insert any of the following
random stranger at Walmart
random stranger at the produce section of the grocery store
random stranger as we order our sandwiches at Subway
random stranger in the pew behind us at church
random stranger sitting next to me in the waiting room of the pediatrician's office
the mom of the my son's new friend at preschool
our neighbor that we only see at Halloween and when she's walking her dog
the teller that I see every single time I go to the bank who has friend from high school who just adopted a little girl from China too
the entire extended family that was leaving The Olive Garden as we were being seated
the receptionist at the orthodontist that thinks she knows our family so well, but really do you?
my sister-in-law's colleague that is currently having infertility issues that I just met at a baby shower
Uncle Weldon's new "lady friend" that I was recently introduced to who did a mission trip to the Philippians in the 1980's and is joining us for Thanksgiving dinner 


  1. If I met you I'd probably be the one staring. Thanks for the insight. You do have a beautiful family and God truly has blessed you. Though I don't have a desire to adopt I have several friends who have and you are right, they are just members of the family.

    1. Thank you, Karen. I don't mind the looks, although as he/she gets older one of my children is starting to. I really just wanted to put a suggestion out there if someone really doesn't know the right way to start the conversation... like I have done many times!

  2. Or...

    maybe she was smiling because you have beautiful children? I often smile at little kids no matter their color, issue, or whatever.

    Don't take things so personally.

    1. Hi anonymous! Yes, that happens too! I know I am biased, but my kiddos are gorgeous and garner a fair share of looks just from that. But I will say, as other families of from adoption have too, that we can usually tell the difference when someone is smiling at us just cause and when someone wants to engage us in conversation and just can't figure out how to start. It's an easy read after so much practice and it happens often.
      Re your "Don't take things so personally." comment... hmmmmmmmmmm anonymous.

  3. Everyone needs a little grace......your children, you, and even the person in the check out line at target. Saying the wrong thing to someone will happen to all of us our entire lives. I think it is important to give people the benefit of the doubt. I'm sure your children will grow up to be strong, confident individuals because of what life brings them. I know I have.

  4. I would smile and talk if I saw your cute crew in Target:) But I do know what you mean. I really do not mind answering a sincere question, I always figure I can at least give people my email address (the one I use for my blog) in case they really desire input.

  5. Sadly I think much of society just doesn't understand how to express curiosity appropriately. Sometimes, people are genuinely interested, but do not wish to offend,so they don't say anything, but their stares, or their avoidance can hurt. Sometimes people simply don't think about how inappropriate their questions are.

    On being told "you are a saint", I am SO with you!!! When people learn I am a preschool special education teacher they often tell me I am a saint. This really irks me. I know people are trying to express that they admire what I am doing, but I am not a saint just because I work with those with special needs. I know it's not a job for everyone, but frankly ALL jobs are that way!! I could never be a computer programmer, or a doctor.. those jobs are really not for me!!! I feel we each have our own calling, our own jobs.

    For many years I worked with a woman who had cerebral palsy, she and I loved to attend events in the community together, but we found that everywhere we went, people would either stare at her, or they would come up and ask me questions about her, as if she had no ability to understand or answer the questions herself. We also noticed that every single time we went out, someone would inevitably stop us and tell me that I was a saint for working with her, and even taking her out in public... this spiel would inevitably end with the words "God Bless You". While we are both Christian, the woman and I both found this very offensive, we recognized they were trying to express something positive, but at the same time, I was not out saving her, or trying to rack up "blessing points". To help ourselves laugh about it, we decided to call it "The Outing Blessing" and wenwould place bets with each other on how many Outing Blessings we would get, and how long it would be before we got one on a trip.

    As a teacher of children with special needs, I try to help others to understand appropriate ways to interact with individuals. How and when to ask questions, how and when to offer assistance, etc..... One of my biggest pet peeves in when a child notices a difference,and asks their parent a question about it, but instead of helping the child with an appropriate answer, their adult/parent shushes them, or makes a big fuss about not asking about things, as if being different is shameful or wrong.

    My students participate in mainstreaming activities. The other children are naturally curious about things like the walker one student uses, or the wheel chair, or a prominent birth mark on one student's face. Simple direct honest answers are all they want. When asked about my student's walker we simply tell the child "oh, that's "Johnny's" walker, his legs don't work the same way yours do, so he uses a walker to help him walk and run." Or the birthmark "Oh, that is "Johnny's" birthmark, it was there when he was born, it's not an owie, it's just his special mark". By helping them with a basic direct answer, and then moving on to what is important (playing together!!) they learn that it's ok to be different and that those little differences are far outweighed by the similarities. They learn to play with all children!!! (and now I am singing the song "you have to be carefully taught" from South Pacific)..

    EEEK.. I have gone off on a tangent!!!

    In any case, I think your children are beautiful!!! And your family is just as it should be, simply your family!!!

  6. I love this post!! right on! I especially can't stand the " what do you know about her real mom" type questions. What? I usually say- quite a bit- you are looking right at her! And as bad is when it is obvious one f my crew is adopted ( china) they then ask " well, are these other kids yours?" ugh!! I hate having my kids even hear that! I usually reply, YES, ALL of these kids are mine.

  7. I love this post!! right on! I especially can't stand the " what do you know about her real mom" type questions. What? I usually say- quite a bit- you are looking right at her! And as bad is when it is obvious one f my crew is adopted ( china) they then ask " well, are these other kids yours?" ugh!! I hate having my kids even hear that! I usually reply, YES, ALL of these kids are mine.

  8. wow, you speak my heart. This is so good. Amen! My skin crawls every time someone tells me how lucky Tahlia is....
    Then, I remember that its just ignorance, and I try and give them grace in my heart. Because, the Lord is the one who, in His grace, opened my eyes to these truths. Thank you for this post, I believe and hope the Lord will use it to help open others' eyes to these realities...

  9. Thanks for writing this. Oh, how I hate the Target stares. Sometimes I just want to scream, YES SHE'S CHINESE! And SHE'S ALL MINE! But I just smile. I get asked if my three have the same father. HA! No, they don't actually. But they do have the same Daddy.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and following me. I am your newest follower.

  10. Upon first arriving home with our 4 yo daughter 9 months ago, I was of the mindset that I wouldn't be bothered if someone was to ask about adoption and our family thinking that most people mean well, but that quickly changed when questions such as "what is she" and "do you get a discount for adopting the older ones?" were asked right in front of her. Thankfully most of the questions have been few and far between, I am pretty good at looking unapproachable if need be! When we began our adoption journey we educated ourselves through our agency and online communities and that is now what I suggest when I can tell that the questions are not coming from the path of forming a family but from simply being curious...except for that "what is she" comment, that one was answered with "she's my beautiful daughter" which left them bewildered but quiet.

    1. "what is she?" Ouch!
      And I think that they probably meant something entirely different. Like "Was she born in China?" but didn't quite articulate it correctly. I think that's what I mean about correcting words and phrases. I really think it's ok to do it, and our kiddos will be the better for it. After all, I've put my foot in my mouth plenty of times and am appreciative when I learn a better way to say something.

  11. Love love love this!! This reminds me of a post I did a little while back:

    People say the darndest things! Thanks for stopping by my blog! Look forward to checking your's out too!

  12. I love this post! We are in the process of adopting our daughter from China right now and I must admit when I see Asian children with their families my heart overflows with joy. I get teary eyed thinking, "Wow someday Meiya will be here with us and I can not wait." Usually if I am caught by a parent seeing me all weepy eyed looking at their families I will show them a picture of Meiya. And tell them we are in the process. I try to keep it short and sweet. I never ask questions. My thinking is I really want to connect with local families who have adopted from China or any other Asian countries. I will try to be more careful now not to stare. Blog posts like this are very helpful to me for our future endeavors we may face with the general public. Thank you for this! God bless!

    1. I think if I could re-post this, I'd be sure to include that I think the questions, if well meaning and the timing is right, are OK by me! the questions aren't bad. after all, we don't want our children to think adoption is bad or to be hidden or something not to be talked about. (I'm not talked about the obviously mean spirited and/or rude stuff here.) I just wanted to give folks a way to approach the question, which is something I fumbled with for a long time.
      I used to share our pic with anyone that would hold still long enough to see it! Oh I remember the days!

  13. I think you should consider printing this out and keeping a copy in your purse so you can hand it to the next person who asks questions poorly or inappropriately in front of your kids.

    I had a lovely interaction at the grocery store about a month ago. A woman came up to me when I had stepped back from the cart to get something off a shelf and she whispered tentatively "is your daughter from China?" I said yes and she got a huge smile on her face and said her daughter was from China as well and was just a little younger than mine when she brought her home. She said my daughter reminded her of hers at that age and how quickly it all goes by-- saying hers is now in her late teens. She said we had so many great times ahead of us...

    It was very sweet and very respectful. She said nothing within ear shot of my kids until she had established that I was open to conversation and then everything she did say was positive and focused on being a family. She only mentioned adoption in relation to her own child. Of course, she's lived it which gave her a big leg up in knowing how to do it right.

  14. Morning Nancy - love this!!

    One thing they should mention in "adoptive parent training" - at least they did in ours - is the fact that once you make a cross culture adoption you are never "invisible" again.

    Like you - I think most folks are "well meaning" - but kind of clueless. I don't know that they mean to be insensitive - but still end up being that way.

    I do carry business cards, and if someone does strike up a sincere conversation (now that one of ours is 10 and really DOES want to be invisible) will give them a card and if they are interested will follow up via e-mail or whatever. It lets us speak "away" from the kids and if the stranger is really interested in adoption we can share...but if their goal is really voyeurism - well - we don't have to play!

    Great stuff - and really well said!

    hugs - aus and co.

    1. Aus-I've heard of people giving out business cards! And I think it's a good idea, especially as the kiddos get older. Hmmmmmm... gonna have to look into that! Thx for the idea!

  15. Thanks Nancy! I just L-O-V-E following your blog in every aspect! This was our first adoption and I have been quite shocked by some of the questions and things I have received along the way (such as her-"didn't you want a white baby"....and me-gasp, what???). I try to keep it light and educate those asking inappropriate questions or brush them off by focusing attention on my adorable son! But I get the "lucky" comment A LOT on both sides, how "lucky" our son is to have us and how "lucky" we were to "get a boy"(I try to use those instances to educate about how many little boys are waiting). Finally, after hearing a relative continue to say "lucky" I had to tell her that my son wasn't "lucky" to have been abandoned and lose his first family and I wasn't "lucky" to have endured years of infertility BUT that we are both BLESSED because God works all things for good and He saw us where we were and brought us together knowing we would be perfect together. She hasn't made the "lucky" statement since! :)

    Thank you for always sharing your family here, those of us who don't say much here but follow along intently often feel much relief knowing we are not alone in this crazy world!! I always glean great insight from your experience and just love your photography. Oh and BTW your family is beautiful!!!

    (specialkmomtobe on RQ)

  16. Nancy,
    I have been following your blog since January or so... All I can say is thank you so much for so many insightful posts... And love LOVE the photog tutorial! This post hit home today!!! TWICE once in kohls and once in target I am asked if my son 6, and daughter 2 are siblings, and both women, both 60 s or so, ask if they are biological.... My husband is Chinese so my bio son is a handsome mix, and my beautiful daughter is home 4 months from china. To one women I answered no, and explained a bit... Then felt very uneasy, almost guilty, that I shared that my dtr was adopted from china with astranger...So by the second target, I answered yes they are biological.....which shut her up, but then led to my son asking ' what is biological mom'???? I am used to people asking about my son when my husband is not around...but I don't think I have ever felt such a need to be protective for him as I do my daughter... I often just avoid eye contact but now I need to think about this and practice some comebacks for these situations... Thanks so much for the post!!!!!!
    Chris Louie

    1. I think folks who are not involved in IA really understand how often it happens. But good for you for listening to your gut!

  17. Dear Nancy, this was really good. ;) I used to talk/think like that too, hehe, but now I know better. If I saw a family like yours somewhere I wouldn't bring up anything, ANYTHING. And I certainly wouldn't stare. Some people! Come on, you can find EVERYTHING on the internet these days, you don't have to bother people and be nosy. :P

  18. When my oldest two got to the age where they were bothered by questions I sat them down and ask then to tell me what they want me to say. I was amazed at how much information they ARE comfortable sharing...and anything that goes beyond that I simply state "my children are not comfortable with me sharing such personal details" which tends to cause the over-inquisitive questioner to clamp their mouth shut and take a step back while saying, "oh, of course.". If we don't model how to gracefully and lovingly answer the questions our kids will never learn how to handle them when we are not around. And when they see us joyfully celebrating their stories, with their permission of course, it makes them feel special and unique in a good and uplifting way.

    1. I think that is one of the best responses ever. To let them decide! I OFTEN get the "are they twins" question. and have recently started to prep them answer it if they want. Empowerment is a powerful tool!
      Thank you for the suggestion! It is a wonderful one!

  19. Hi thank you for posting something like this! I am adopted (Korean), my parents adopted 3 out of their 4 kids and I am biologically related to my little brother. People always tell me I look like my sister who I'm not biologically related to and also always stared at us and one time a long distance family member told my dad its as nice of him to bring his foreign exchange students to an event. Needless to say, I hate it when people still ask me where I'm from--I tell them Minnesota in my Minnesota accent! :)

    1. Dear Anonymous--I'm not sure you will ever see this... but your reply means the world to me. Thank you. I wish Scottsdale had an accent.

  20. Thank you so much for your post! I have shared it on facebook, hopefully the people who know me will read it and maybe finally get it into their heads that our kids really want to be only ordinary kids, and not constantly talked about everywhere they go. Now that my kids are old enough to understand what people are talking about I am really focused on responding in a way that is good for them and not for some total stranger in the store who just has to have their curiosity sated. I sometimes come off as a bit unfriendly judging by peoples responses, but I simply cannot answer the way I know they want me to answer, and give them all information about adoption that they want - yes, all my children are siblings, yes I am their real mother. I try to come at terms that I just have to live with disappointing perfect strangers - the important thing is that my kids feel that their mother is on their side, and that their story is their property, not the property of everyone in the community. But it's not that easy all the time, especially at parties when I feel the pressure to keep all conversation nice and cheerful, and people tend to react when you correct them (because they don't mean any harm).

    1. You know I've just re-read this now months in hind sight. I think it's so rough. I didn't mean it that way. It sounds like you already commiserate, but it's just so hard sometime with my kiddos that just want to be kiddos.
      Just making it up as I go along,


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