As I write this, my three-and-a-half year old son Elias is sitting next to me watching Sesame Street. A family from Ethiopia just came on the screen to talk about how her family celebrates Passover. I immediately jumped up and hit the “record” button on the DVR. “Eli!” I said. “Those children are from Ethiopia, just like you!”
“Yup!” He said proudly. “Just like me!” And he gave me the thumbs up sign.
Recently, I’ve been beefing up my adoption conversations with Eli. We’ve been looking through his baby book and talking about Ethiopia, the (age-appropriate) factors that went into his adoption, and how we became a family. Right now he seems SO proud to be from Ethiopia (and the only one in our family from Ethiopia to boot — it seems to make him feel all the more special).
But I worry constantly about this changing — especially in the face of the comments we sometimes get when we go out. Now, I’m not angry or complaining — I knew well before we became a transracial family that we would get the occasional questions, comments and stares — but it is difficult when well-meaning people make comments in front of Eli. Especially because he’s at a very sensitive age where he understands a lot … but also not a lot.
For example, the other day, Eli, Ryan (my 14-month-old daughter who came to us through domestic adoption), and I were having lunch at Wendy’s. We were having a great time noshing and talking about our day when older lady came up to our table and said, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I couldn’t help noticing your family. I have to ask — did you ADOPT these children?”
Trying to come up with an appropriate answer for everyone involved — an answer that doesn’t embarrass the lady, but also doesn’t confuse or upset my son — in an instant, with my mouth full of chili, is no easy feat. I think I said something to the effect of, “Oh, this is my son, Eli, and my daughter, Ryan. Yes, my children came to me through adoption.”
“Well, bless your heart. What a truly wonderful thing you’ve done for these children,” she pronounced. I cringed. Before I could respond, she shook her finger at Eli. “Your mommy has done a wonderful thing for you,” she said to him. “You are a very, very lucky little boy to have this lady as your mommy.”
Eli looked at me as if to say, “What the heck is this crazy lady talking about?” I jumped in immediately, but casually, and said to Eli, “Hmm, I think she has it backwards. I know I’m the luckiest mommy in the world to have you and Ryan. Right, Eli?” And I turned to the lady graciously and said, “All I know is that I’m the lucky one to have my kids. They’re the best things to ever happen to me. Thank you though, and I hope you have a wonderful afternoon.”
Maybe you would’ve responded the same way I did … or maybe you wouldn’t have. Every commenter, every comment, and every instance are different, so I never really have a “catch-all” response to just recite. But I really try not to embarrass the commenter, no matter how much they’ve just embarrassed me. Instead, I usually try to create teaching moments if the situation lends itself to that. And, above all, I always try to advocate for my kids. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to find responses on a moment’s notice.
One thing I really want people to know — more than anything else — is adoption is not a charity thing. It’s a family thing. My husband and I adopted Eli and Ryan to change our family — not the world. Not that I don’t want to do “truly wonderful things” for people – just like the lady at Wendy’s said. Of course I do. But there are other ways to do it.
Like by going to Ethiopia to help build shelters and school facilities for orphaned and vulnerable children. Or, if you’re like me and you WISH you could do that but CAN’T realistically right now, then by SUPPORTING THOSE WHO ARE THERE – groups like Children’s Heaven and Friends of Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (FOVC).
Children’s Heaven runs a much-needed center for girls who have been orphaned or are at risk of being orphaned due to AIDS, and FOVC is working hard to build a new shelter and school for more than 150 children who need a roof over their heads. These are the people who are in Ethiopia right now – getting their hands dirty, dedicating their lives to helping those who are in the most dire need. But they can’t do it alone.
Even though we can’t be there with them physically, we can help just as well by supporting them.
YOU can do “truly wonderful things” for people. No matter where you are, or what you’re doing with your life, YOU CAN HELP CHILDREN IN NEED – by clicking here.