Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Big Adoption Series - Chapter 19

One of the things that rubs me most wrong is when people make comments such as, "Is he your adopted son?" or, "We have our own kids, but we also want to adopt".

I'm not saying I necessarily judge those sorts of comments, because I know they are often said from a very different perspective than the one in which I live. I know it is possible that I have said similar things, in the past.

Still, imagine a life where you repeatedly overhear people refer to you as anything other than the child of your parents. Imagine how years of being told that you were not really "theirs" might scratch away at your already shaky sense of security and belonging.

My children were adopted, but I would hope that this singular fact will not define them forever. There is a difference between "She was adopted" and "She is adopted". All children come into a family on the wings of a miracle, and in our case, the miracle was wrapped up a little differently, but it was no less miraculous. They are ours, wholly and completely, with no disclaimers or caveats.

Slightly confusing the entire bag of goods is the fact that we want them to be proud of their heritage, proud even that they came to us through the sparkly gift of adoption. The question is, how does a parent instill pride in and acceptance of the journey while still honoring the inherent loss pulsing at the core of it all?

I don't pretend to have all of the answers here. What I can do is tell you how we handle it.

We talk about it, all the time.

We don't sit down for family meetings and say, "Calvin, how are you feeling about your personal history today?" (Although now that I think about it, he would probably love that.) What we do do is celebrate their heritage. We talk about our Asian boys and our Brown-skinned girl. We point out our differences as well as our similarities. We notice these things that define them. We are not color blind. I think it would be a huge bummer if everyone was color blind. How sad to miss out on the contrasts, the blends.

Our two oldest kids understand that they look different than we do, but they do not yet understand that they are somewhat singular, at least in this community. They haven't put it all together that they are the only one in the class with almond eyes, or the only one with crazy/beautiful hair.

Recently, Calvin returned from school and pulled the corners of his eyes back, saying, "I'm Chinese!" In a flash, I wanted to seek out "that kid", whoever he was and lay into him. I wanted to smack him, is what I wanted to do. Calvin thought the whole thing was silly and fun. He didn't understand that the kid was talking about him. Or maybe he didn't understand that in saying that, the kid was singling him out, possibly even picking on him. The truth is, I remember pulling my eyes back, trillions of years ago. I didn't mean any harm. I just happened to notice a difference and, lucky for me, I had the benefit of naivete behind me.

So, I decided to extend a little grace to the nameless kid. I talked to Calvin and Ruby again about how God makes each of us to be exactly the way that we should be and it's ok to notice, but it's never ok to laugh about it or physically point. (I'll never forget a couple of years ago when Calvin first started adding some of this up. Public places were treacherous for a while as he would gleefully point right at a Hispanic person and yell, "Look! He's Asian!" or, "Mommy, that lady is from Africa!")

Remind me again why someone decided in the first place that these are things that shouldn't be pointed out? When did our differences divide us in these ways? When did we grow so fearful of unintentionally offending that we just closed our mouths entirely?

For now, under my own roof, while I am still able, I will talk about different colors of skin, different shaped eyes. We will marvel together over the fact that resemblance alone does not a family make.

As my children get older/smarter/more self-aware, I want them to already have a bank of answers in their hearts, available for withdrawals. I don't want any of it to come as a shock to them. I most definitely do not want to be faced with an adolescent girl who only recently understood that she was born from another tummy.

is the time to talk.

I stress out a little if I think too hard about the conversations and the hurt-feelings that lie in wait for us. I'm well aware... But until then, my kids will know that it is always ok to ask. They will believe that all of their feelings are honored, even when my five-year old tells me through tears that he wishes he lived in Korea.

In honoring their history, I am validating who they are now and who they will become. It would be impossible to untangle the strands. Impossible and pointless.

It was decided from the beginning of time that our children would be ours and we would be theirs. I take comfort in this and I hope they learn to do the same.


(To catch up on Chapters 1-18, click here and start from the bottom.)


  1. "Are those children yours or are they adopted?" Rubs me the wrong way every time....and our children even look like us! It's hard. My standard alek or, they are mine, are your children yours?

    Give me a soap box, please.

  2. While we haven't adopted yet, we are in the process. And for the first time in my life, these things are presented to me in a whole new way. And they annoy me as well. Don't you want your OWN kids first? Separating the adopted child from a birth child as if they aren't the same. I loved this post and I'm going to print it and show my husband. And perhaps re-blog. The whole world needs to know that they ARE our children!!

  3. as always your words are so wise. love this post. xoxo

  4. a bank of answers in their heart... love this.

  5. A beautiful post. My eight year old is quite taken with asian eyes and often pulls her eyelids up to show me. Her good friend is Chinese Canadian. I have never felt it was done in any way other than curiousity and wonder that we are in fact different. I hope this was the case for Calvin.

  6. I do think that some people mean it "that" way, and certainly some do not. As an already large family (five biological children) that wishes to adopt, we hear a lot of "But why would you ADOPT when you have your OWN children?" Say what?! It's annoying and I can only hope that we shut them up before we bring a new family member home. Or mama bear is going to attack and it probably will not be pretty...
    Your children are so blessed to have such a grounded mommy!

  7. wow. beautiful and precious wisdom. love it.

  8. Love this adoption series. People are clueless and ignorant. Several times we have been asked "Do all your children belong to both of you?"

  9. You are one wise and forward thinking Chicky Babe. Any child who comes into a family through adoption is blessed. Truly, truly blessed. And yours are a whole lota blessed!
    With you and Cory leading them through life, your kids will be just fine and very balanced. Praise God for His wisdom!

  10. Yet again, another beautiful post. I sincerely appreciate you tackling this topic--it is one that I fear in my heart as we travel the road to adoption. Thank you.

  11. "...while still honoring the inherent loss pulsing at the core of it all..." Well said. I think so many people ignore that loss/pain, not knowing how to address it, trying to cover it up. Bravo for you---once again hitting the nail on the head.

  12. you know you speak my heart...and so beautifully too!

    xo, Jenny

  13. Your words are so beautiful. I love the statemenet: We will marvel together over the fact that resemblance alone does not a family make! I love seeing God working through your spirit, your words, and the love that you have for your BEAUTIFUL children. Again I say, your children are so blessed to have you as their parents! Thank you for sharing you heart!

  14. I hope this isn't taken the wrong way, but I smiled to myself while reading this because while I obviously know your story, I have never thought in all your blogs or pictures or facebook updates "adopted children", I always think "what a good mom. she loves them so much. they are going to have a great mom/child relationship". I love that. and I love your story. courtney

  15. I was adopted and have an adopted brother and also four siblings who were bios (so boring).

    I have two kids of my own (by birth)...and my sister has two of her own (by adoption)...and that happens to be the way we refer to both batches of kids - our own. When we adopt our next kid we will then have a third of our own and be outnumbered *scary*.

    The kicker is that my sister never gets asked if her two are adopted but I get asked about my mixed race kids all the time...hilarious. At least I think so and so do her two boys (8& 9)

    The boys especially love it when I respond to the busybodies, "No they weren't but I was." Haha!

    I will add that it is very rude for people to ask parentage questions of strangers or even acquaintances...for the simple reason one doesn't know the individual situation and it could be hurtful for the child.

  16. You are doing an awesome job Shannon. I imagine you will come across all sorts of comments and offensive statements said out of ignorance and misunderstanding. It can't be an easy thing to deal with. Obviously your children are thriving and well adjusted. You should be so proud!

  17. Love will conquer all. You are their mommy and they are blessed!

  18. What a lot to precess each and every day! You are great parents, and you are giving your children the best of all possible worlds for them to find themselves. Keep listening to your heart!

  19. I am sister to a couple that hope to adopt. I have a niece, a nephew and cousins that are adopted. My cousin once corrected me when I stated that he was his parents child. I was surprised and his mother was hurt.

    People shouldn't ask the question around the children. They act as if they can't hear.

    I like jamie's response, 'are your children yours?'

  20. This is my favorite of all your posts I've read.. and I've read a lot. :) I love it.

  21. You say it all so well...I never even thought about the tense that is put with "adopted" is a was, because right now your children are your children, forever and ever, amen.

    I think you are an amazing parent, my love. How wonderful God chose you for these beauties.

  22. You are so thought provoking! Thanks for putting it all out on the plate.
    When I was young I read "The Clan of the Cave Bear" series. I know what does that have to do with anything? The main character is a beautiful blond white girl, and to the clan she is ugly because she's different. I think it's Gods plan that one day we'll all look alike (by mixing), and when that happens maybe everyone will finally "get it?" At least we can hope :)

  23. I am so pleased to have found your blog. You say the things that so many of us who have made the adoption journey think.We adopted our 1st child in 2009 and since then we get asked all the time if we plan to have "children of our own". My response is always, "I already have one child of my own and we plan to have many more in whatever way God chooses to bless us with them." I know the questions aren't (usually) meant as anything more than expressions of curiousity, but to my already over protective mommy heart, they tend to be little dagger pokes.

    Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful family's story with us.

  24. I love to hear your perspective because it always makes me think. I'm not sure that someone who hasn't gone the path you have would have considered it. I know it's different but I feel the same way when someone refers to Maddie as Jim's step daughter or refers to Maddie and Emma as half sisters. We honestly don't think in those terms.

  25. It's not very often that someone asked me if my sons are adopted - it's too obvious - but it is something that we talk about often in our family. We're in a church community that has been very open and gracious and we've never wondered if they're accepted. One of my church friends asked me one of my favorite questions this past summer. Several of us were visiting and when the discussion turned to birthing, one of the ladies looked at me and said, "Did you have an epidural when you had your boys?" I smile every time I remember her question.

  26. shout it from the rooftops baby!
    please tell me you have been in contact with a publisher. this needs to be sitting on the top 20 favorites at b&n. right now.
    you have a gift
    you have an awesome heart
    i love it
    i love your story & how you tell it.
    you rock

  27. I love, love, love the thoughtfulness behind this post, and in turn, the insight into how you guys approach the gift of diversity within your family and the world at large.

    Thank you for the perspective.

  28. Thank you for writing this series. Reading about your story has opened my heart to the possibility that maybe I, too, could take this journey someday. Love reading about your precious little ones.

  29. I would like to suggest you prepare for the time when your children are older and exposed to more discrimination in the world. I suggest you read two books by Jane Jeong Trenka.

    I suggest you read some of the many blogs by adult Korean adoptees and that you
    try to see these documentaries:

  30. Adopted people ARE adopted, present tense, as long as they are denied the same rights and equality as their non-adopted peers! The laws keep them DIFFERENT. If adoptive parents want to erase the difference, lets repeal the practice of falsifying their birth certificates and legalize lies and secrets.

    And, yes, your children want to know about more than their "heritage" or culture - they want actual facts about their families and why they wer enot able to remain with them.

  31. Thank you, Shannan, for NOT being color blind! And thank you for talking with your children the differences. You are a blessing.

  32. Wow, how blessed those kids are to call you mama. Thank you for sharing. Even for those of us who are not adopted or have adopted children, it is touching and meaningful to read your words.

  33. Thank you.
    Thank you.
    Thank you.
    Thank you.
    Love you.

    El :-)

  34. yes and yes. and also, i cannot tell you how much i envy rubes her crazy/beautiful hair.

  35. As you know I have a sister and a brother with a different last name than my own growing up, but I have never referred to them as anything other than my brother and sister. I give all the credit to your Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma always said,"they are not mine anyway, they are God's and He has allowed them to live under my roof for awhile, and to love them forever". We are a very blessed family with all different shades of skin and eyes. After all that is what the family of God is!!

  36. I know how you feel - Ollie isn't here yet and I have heard so many things innocently said to me about "DS babies" what they are and aren't as a group and it's incredibly frustrating. Everyone is an individual and should be appreciated in that manner, sadly I realize I used to be in that group who said those innocently "nice" things that were really hurtful. It's frustrating, but talking to your kids like you do is a great thing and shaping them into amazing individuals. They have great parents :)

  37. Love love. Your honesty about this whole process is to be applauded. As a former adoption worker, one of the things we always looked for was a family that could maintain a child's ethnic/cultural heritage. In a recent conversation with one of my coworkers starting IVF, she told me (knowing how much I'd like to adopt) that she could never do it because she wanted to have her own kids.....I bit my tongue for once but that ALWAYS rubs me raw. A child is a child--no matter how they come into the family.

  38. Goodness. Here I go on your adoption journey and I'm hooked, as I knew I would be. What lovely, smart words. My cousin is adopted from Russia and her parents decided NOT to tell her that her about her gypsy heritage. They thought it would bring negative assumptions if she told others. The result? She is 14 and her aunt accidentally slipped 'gypsy' into a sentence, the whole family wigged and now my cousin is obsessed with understanding gypsy while my aunt and uncle and obsessed with demanding she not talk about it. Disaster. Your approach is kind and honest, respectful and thoughtful. They'll grow up owning their past and their future, because their mama is exceptional and gave them every opportunity in the world to grow without being limited by color or difference. Celebrate indeed!

    ps diff but same: a reader told me the other day that she tells her four year-old that the chicken they eat is fake chicken. She asked me to write about when it is ok to tell your kids about meat. Um, NOW, I thought. Why lie? It is so much easier to tell the truth.

  39. I so get that...they are yours - I tell my daughter simply this. I CHOSE YOU.
    She loves that...and now at 25 she still knows she is as important as any of the other kids - and secretly, i think she thinks even more so...because We picked her out...
    as she likes to say...
    Jesus is faithful.

  40. I love your blog. I recently discovered and I find it to beautiful and you to be gentle and full of grace. Ever since I was a little girl i have hoped God would add to my family through adoption. My youngest sister is a gorgeous chocolate child in a vanilla family. She will be 9 in May, which is a miracle as she was not supposed to live passed 1. Our parents are in their 50's and us older 3 in our 20's. My little sister was chosen and wanted. My children love her more then anyone else in the family. Ephesians 1:5 speaks about us being adopted into God's family as sons through Christ, so beautiful. He laid out the example. God knows my heart and I'm hoping adoption is in His plan for us. Thank you for your honesty.

  41. Oh yes, I could totally relate to this post! The stares and comments we get are very interesting. I'm still amazed at what some of my best friends will say.
    You have a beautiful family. Thank you for putting into words what I often cannot.

  42. oh shannon. so eloquently put. i love your amazing heart and brilliant words. and your children are beautiful. and i was reminded of when my then 4 year old son told me about our neighbor's "beautiful skin - it's brown". xo

  43. ps: i'm reading feverishly through karen walrond's photo book that i bought and she signed at blissdom {i kind-of stalk her}: the beauty of different. in it, a women is quoted as saying, " i'm different b/c the fact that i was adopted has always made me feel that i was chosen. for this reason, i also feel i've been chosen to make a difference." love.

  44. Yes, I totally agree w/ Patty. Thanks for linking up to Soph's 4th birthday {adoption linky party}. We also talk about adoption with Soph like an open book so she won't ever be surprised, I want it to just be all she knows. I also like that you said you don't want it to define that child. Eeek, I hope I'm not putting that on her. Hard rope to walk I guess. Love your post, perfectlys said.

  45. I just discovered your blog, and I am so excited to read your Big Adoption series. My husband and I have just started the adoption process. So much to learn! Thank you for sharing your heart and your experience!

  46. i really need to begin at the beginning of this series. for whatever reason though, i am skipping around like i'm at kindergarten recess.

    this post is so beautiful! i agree with you 200% about not being color blind. noticing and celebrating differences is a holy thing.
    our little guy happens to "look like us". and people still manage to say some crazy things. it'll just get more interesting as elijah gets older, i think.
    someone recently told us, "oh! elijah really looks like his daddy!" and we were smiling, about to say "thanks, we think he's a cutie!" when another person blurted out "oh he can't really, he is adopted, didnt you know?" pfft. i was a bit hot.
    elijah is adopted. he is our son. our. son. i don't get why him being adopted needs to be peppered into every conversation. i mean, people don't say, "oh this is my daughter. i was in labor for 16 hours with her" every time they introduce their kid. or do they?

    anyway, people are weird. lord, help us.
    so thankful for your heart being shared here-off to read more and more. in random order.

    love you!

  47. SUCH a good point! The children you're raising are yours. And yet, you have an obligation to remind them of HOW God brought them to you--the story that's a necessary part of their lives, and yours too.

  48. i am a little late to the party, but i just found you and your blog - and LOVE it. i am so excited when i turn my phone on in the morning and have a new post from you. thank you for your words, and the example by which you live. this series helped explain so many things, and i am grateful for your willingness to share your store from beginning to ... well, now (not end). we are considering adoption as a way to expand our family and have so many unanswered questions....can you help? here is just one...i see here what i should not say, but how do you want others to ask about your children? i have been in circumstances where i think a child may be adopted and because of our situation of considering adoption i want to ask about their situation in order to build my own little community. is it too nosy? should i just myob? how would i want someone to politely ask about my child? i don't know. thank you again...keep on keepin' on. even years later you are still helping others navigate their way.

    1. Hey, Yo! Thanks for stopping by. You know, I have chilled out about this over the years. At least a little. I'm learning to offer more grace, because it's obvious when someone means well and just might not know the "right" thing to say. There's a different in than and just being nosy for the sake of nosiness. It bugs me when people refer to "their own" kids, because, hello, our kids happen to be ours. Our own. And it kinda still bugs me when people ask (in front of our kids)"Are they brothers?" But I'm learning that people who don't know just don't know.

      I'm digressing... :)

      I totally understand how you're feeling! Before we adopted I saw a dad in Lowes with what were clearly 2 adopted daughters. I stalked them so bad and wanted to talk and ask a million Qs, but I didn't know how and I chickened out. I think most adoptive parents would respond well to, "Do you mind asking if your daughters were adopted? We're in the process of adopting." :) (Then smile.) Usually adoptive parents will think it's awesome and will be happy to talk. And if not, you weren't rude and did nothing wrong. Hope that helps. Best of luck to you!

  49. I love your blog, I LOVE IT. I am the mother of 3 kids who were adopted from Korea and are now adults and one kid who was adopted from Vietnam and is now 15. I wish you lived near me because I want to take you out for lunch a hundred times to talk about a hundred things!!

    I remember the anger that bubbled up when people followed me around the grocery store and begged to know if my children were really brother and sister; when people asked how much I paid for them; when people told me how lucky they were. I mellowed a bit and learned to be more gracious but I think the anger had its place, too. I fought for those kids and they needed me to be 1000% tiger mama in defending our family. They needed to know they belonged to me!!