Saturday, 19 December 2009

Being "Famous"

Funny thing about being white parents with a black stand out. The current term for our kind of family is "conspicuous," which is adoption lingo for multi-racial and therefore easily recognizable.

Our social worker required us to do hours of training on coping with being a conspicuous family. Most of it focused on how to deal with the inevtiable (sometimes rude) adoption comments and questions, and how to respect your child's diginity and privacy. The training was good, and I am just waiting for someone to make a rude comment to me so I can use one of my pre-rehearsed snappy comebacks (we get lots of questions, but so far they have all been polite and cautiously worded, thus no snappy comeback required).

But all the training in the world can't prepare you for, as Jeff puts it, "being famous." That is, everywhere we go people remember us, even if we have only been there once before. Before we left for Uganda we went to our bank to stock up on 100s, and all the tellers were helping us and knew we were leaving the country to adopt. The first week we were back we ran into one of those tellers in a completely different location- at a restaurant- and because she saw us with Tommy she remembered our story six weeks later. That was weird. It is especially odd moving to a new city, and having cashiers, librarians, etc remember you on your second visit, or having people who have heard of you being able to identify you without introduction. After living very nondescript lives for the last 29 years, it is quite a change.

It is a burden, at times, knowing that what you say or do will stick with you because no one is likely to forget who you are. It feels like we have to be on our best behavior at all times. As Christians we certainly strive to be polite and kind in every situation, but now it feels like we have less room to mess up. When I feel rushed, stressed, overwhelmed, or exhausted, I know I can't get upset at people helping me who may be doing their job poorly, unless I want them to remember the next time. No more flying under the radar on bad days.

Of course, there is a blessing as well. Standing out gives us a chance to share our adoption story. Seeing adoption in action normalizes it and makes it seem less scary. That is good. We often find ourselves in conversation with people who talk about considering adoption and the things that have held them, or people they know, back. We love talking about Tommy, our journey to get him, our time in Uganda, and adoption in general, and having a family that was obviously formed by adoption works to start those conversations.

However, I think the thing that throws me off the most about being conspicuous is that in my head my family doesn't look strange or different, but to other people it does.

After a while you start to forget that your skin tones don't exactly match. In fact, it occasionally shocks me when I look at Tommy's hand in mine, and it dawns on me how pale I am (thanks, midwestern winters). It isn't that I forget that Tommy was adopted, it's that I feel he is so completely mine that I fail to realize that other people don't have my perspective. So when a little girl in the park asks, "so, are you um....watching him? Or something?" It throws me off.

But don't worry, I answered politely. After all, she's likely going to remember the next time we run into her.


Jim and April said...

good post! Thanks for writing about this as we will go through the same thing I am sure!

jena said...

KaiaRose had surgery and we were in the hospital room after when a nurses aid walked in and said,

"Where is her mom?"

KaiaRose was half awake, laying on me, lifted her head up and said,

"She died. This my new one."

And laid her head back down and drifted back to sleep.

It caught me off guard to have her speak for herself. I am use to answering the questions and comments. I try to answer directly without being rude... but sometimes I do get snarky!