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!