Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Are they orphans?"

This evening at the hotel pool, Zoe and Maya were playing with a new friend, a little girl named Savannah, age 7. I was coordinating the jumping-into-the-pool game, and at one time had six kids cannon-balling into the pool at the same time!

Eventually Savannah asked, "Are you their mother," asking about Zoe and Maya -- maybe she thought I was the activity director! I said yes, and prepared myself for the usual question, and it came: "Why is their skin brown and yours isn't?" I answered, "We don't look alike because I adopted them. Zoe and Maya are originally from China." Short and sweet.

"Ohhh," says Savannah, "are they orphans?" I replied, "No, an orphan is someone who doesn't have a parent. I'm their mom, so they're not orphans." I thought myself pretty clever, focusing on the usage of present tense to squirm out of that one. But Savannah was too clever to be fooled by that one!

"But they WERE orphans, right?"

This is actually kind of tricky. They certainly were orphans as defined by the U.S. Government for purposes of visa issuance as adoptees; they were orphans based on the "disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by" parents. That bears no relation, though, to common usage or dictionary definitions of "orphan," someone whose parents are dead. My kids' birth parents may be dead, we have no way of knowing, but it really isn't likely that they are. And "orphan" has so much baggage (Orphan Annie, anyone? or how about that awful Orphan movie in theaters now?) that I didn't want to answer yes. So how to answer?

I decided to deflect and educate. I said, "It sounds like you know what adoption is," continuing in that confiding tone that suggests we both know! "It's when first parents can't take care of their child the way parents want to, so they make a plan for other parents to be found to adopt the child, and then the adoptive parents and the child are a family forever." Savannah nodded . . . and went off to jump in the pool again!

I don't know if I did any good, but I really wanted to remove the word "orphan" from her vocabulary. Maya and Zoe weren't very close when we were discussing it, but I wasn't sure how much they could hear. Still, I fell back on my usual tactic -- answering the way I'd want my kids to hear it. I just told Savannah the same thing I tell Zoe and Maya, or at least the short and sweet version!

How would you have handled it? Comments, please!


Anonymous said...

Wow... that was great! I don't know that I would have handled it that well! I probably would have just said, "Mind your own business kid!" (then checked to see that no one was looking shoved the little pest into the pool...) ;)

Donna said...

Brilliant! You handled that with such tack and diplomacy. Really, just perfectly. I hope I can think so quickly on my feet when I get those questions.

I love your blog and will be back to read more. Sigh.... just as soon as I find some spare minutes in my day!


M3 said...

Dang, you handled that well! I need to remember that "deflect and educate" tact. I usually just get all flustered and screw things up.

Wendy said...

I think you handled it well too. You don't want to promote and stereotype and most likely a falsehood, but you don't want to feed into it either.
A little bit goes a long way sometimes.

Chris said...

I really liked the way you spoke with that little girl. I mean, she is only seven and was just trying to sort things out with words that she has probably heard other adults use. You were very kind and compassionate to her while at the same time respecting, honoring, and upholding your own children's lives.

I agree with Wendy, 'a little bit goes a long way'! I certainly hope I can be as eloquent as you when I am confronted with questions like that!

Bravo to you!!!!

BTW, I just love your blog!!! You have the most amazing posts. The things you share with us have helped me better parent my little one.