Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Close Encounters of the Intrusive Kind

We've all experienced it -- intrusive, uncomfortable questions or behavior directed toward our transracially adopted children.  Here are three posts discussing that phenomenon from two adoptive parents and one adoptee:

When They Don't Get It, from Our Little Tongginator:
The other day someone walked up to me at a public event, gestured to the Tongginator, and asked, "where did you get her?" Okay, so maybe I'm overly sensitive about this, but... GET her? As if I ran down to Target and purchased some toilet paper, a bag of chips, baby wipes and, oh, a CHILD. Thankfully the Tongginator did not hear the woman's comment and I replied, "we adopted our daughter from China."

That's when she pointed across the room to her daughter and said, "I just thought we might have that in common."

The encounter made me stop. It made me think. I don't exactly know how to navigate situations such as these, when someone walks up to me - out of the blue - to discuss adoption topics. Usually the Tongginator also hears the comment, so I draw my daughter into the conversation, asking if she'd like to discuss the topic and, when she says no (and she ALWAYS says no), I share that my daughter doesn't usually wish to discuss such personal matters with people we do not know.

But how to navigate when the questioner is a fellow adoptive parent who either used an unfortunate turn of phrase that just so happens to be a hot button for me?
Please Don't Pet My Daughter, from On African Tyme:
This morning Rodas and I were picking out some peaches at the grocery store when a woman walks up to Rodas--without even glancing my way or saying anything--and starts combing her hands through Rodas' hair. She then grabs Rodas' chin and tries to get her to look at her. She's not really aggressive, but she's very direct and her manner was as though she was looking for something on Rodas (lice? Trying to see if Mom was taking care of her hair? I don't know...). I was very taken aback. Rodas was as well, as she immediately stiffened up and withdrew (as if to say, go ahead and touch me but I'm taking my soul out of it). She's done this before and I know she likes to be the one to initiate physical touch (as it should be) ESPECIALLY from strangers. I know I wouldn't enjoy some complete stranger walking up to me and running their hands through my hair and looking me over like a doll they might buy.

I firmly tried to give the woman the hint to remove her hands from my daughter by saying "Excuse me, my daughter's not used to complete strangers coming up and petting her." I said it with a smile to lighten it, but obviously it was too light because the woman tried to get Rodas to look at her once again then she just smiled at us and walked off!
It's a Small World, But Not THAT Small, from adult adoptee Paula at Heart, Mind & Seoul:

Setting: Family chain restaurant, c. 1990, predominantly white suburb in the Midwest

Characters: Myself (19 years old) and well meaning white couple, approximately 50 years old


"Hello, my name is Paula and I'll be your server today. May I bring you anything to drink right away?"

"Hi there." Stares curiously at me. Tell me, dear, by any chance are you a Korean?"

"Yes I am."

"Are you adopted?"

"Yes, ma'am." (Oh help me, where is this going?)

"By any chance do you know Steve?"


"Yes, Steve. I believe he's a Korean and adopted as well. Our friends got him a while ago."

"No, I'm sorry I don't."

"Are you sure? Because he's a Korean. And adopted. Like you."
Go read all three posts in their entirety, Then come back and talk!

So, adoptive parents, what has been your worst encounter with a stranger?  How did you approach it?  Has your approach changed over time, as your child gets older? Adoptees, what encounters do your remember from childhood?  How did your parents approach it?  How did you wish your parents had handled it?  As adults, how do you handle intrusive incidents?


alainaw30 said...

Before I post my worst, let me confess that I have been the parent who has approached another international adoptive family. (Particularly when we were waiting, and I was desperate to make a connection with someone who might understand.) The comments I make are usually along the line of "you have a beautiful family." I would hope that I have not overstepped my bounds, but I do feel that there is somewhat of a camaraderie with other families who can relate. For that reason, I try to weigh every nosy comment with whether or not this is an opportune time to educate, or is the person just plain clueless and nothing I say will matter. You never know if the person asking might be another prospective adoptive parent who just doesn't know how to reach out.

So, on to my nightmare story:
Early on the morning of my daughter's second cleft surgery, I woke up with strep. I went to the ER at 2:30 to get some antibiotics, so I could be home (in a surgical mask) and back at the hospital by 6am. The doctors questions went from bad to worse, and since I was on a mission (get meds and get out), I was stupid enough to answer them. Question 1: Why did you go to China? Weren't there any American babies you could buy? Question 2: How much did she cost? Question 3: (not really a question) I guess I really don't need to ask if you're on birth control (as though everyone who adopts has fertility issues.) Question 4: Did they ever tell you what was wrong with you (as if assumption from Q3 was correct, so a fertility issue must have been on my end.) Needless to say, I filed a complaint against that doctor the following week. Especially since none of those questions had anything to do with strep.

Really, my big pet peeve has nothing to do with adoption or my child's ethnicity...I'm so sick of complete strangers telling me "she's so cute!" Let me tell you, she is cute, and she knows it, and at the age of five, she's starting to use it to her advantage. I'd much rather she be reinforced for having good manners or being polite...something she can control.

Victoria said...

I have to say, I have learned to try and judge intent before I fly off the handle at an intrusive (stupid) comment. Especially when my daughter is in earshot. If we react in anger or defensiveness, what are our children, who are so attuned to everything we do, going to learn from that encounter? I always find it appropriate - and telling - to return a question like that with another question. Q: "Why didn't you adopt a child from the U.S.?" A: "Oh, you adopted from the U.S.? How wonderful." (9 times out of 10, they did not adopt from the U.S. 9 times out of 10, in my experience, that shuts them up.)

I had an experience back when I was a waiting parent that really got to me. I had a series of visits with my doctor, to prepare for the adoption (shots, etc.). After the first visit, when I told her I was adopting, I saw that she had written in big red letters on my file "Infertile." When in fact, I had no such knowledge of infertility and chose to adopt because I wanted to build a family that way. It turned out, the Dr. was an adoptive parent herself but had had a very negative experience (I found out much later). Every time I had to visit her, she would start chiming in with the reasons why I shouldn't adopt (nothing to do with some of the very valid reasons discussed here and in other forums). Needless to say, I found a new Dr.

cw said...

we have been fairly lucky so far-the worst was the woman who told me it was good that my child wasn't dark like those people over there
( http://pullthisblogover.blogspot.com/2010/01/hit-and-run-racism.html )

My bigger problem is the whole "what a wonderful thing, you are so amazing, you've saved them" line of comments -UGH those are the ones that I have the most trouble with

Tonya said...

Our two children were adopted domestically and share our race -- so it's not immediately obvious that they're adopted.

But when people have learned that they're adopted we've had questions/comments about "real parents," intrusive questions about fertility, questions about the cost, etc.

Like CW, I think the comments that drive me the most mad are those about how lucky our kids are or what a great/noble/unselfish thing we did.

I'm always a little taken back, so I don't think I ever respond really well in the moment. I do try to do damage control with my children and I try to indicate to the person making the comments that they're remarks are not welcome. -- Sometimes that's effective, most often not really.

Anonymous said...

I was stressed enough about a particular intrusive encounter that I blogged about it here:

A couple of months later, I ran into the same woman again and we had the EXACT same conversation about adoption as we'd had before, which told me she wasn't all there; I'd clearly put a lot more energy into thinking about the encounter than she had. This experience has helped me to ward off/and or shrug off more encounters vs. trying to be polite. Sometimes people are just approaching us out of their own boredom. Let them find their entertainment elsewhere.

Diane said...

When I was fresh home from China with my youngest daughter (my first child) I had an encounter at the grocery store. An elderly woman bent over my child's head while saying to her-

Dear...did Santa bring you home to your mommy?

That was a strong introduction into what to expect! I knew that my daughter didn't understand her and didn't know yet who Santa was so I just let it go.

I find that as my children get older these encounters grow less and less. Every once in awhile there will be the odd statement that it is hard to know how to respond to. I ran into a man that I have known as an acquaintance for several years. He told me that he loved to watch our family from afar because we looked like such a gelled family and just seem so comfortable with who we are. (?) I didn't really know what to make of that whole watching us from afar and comfortable with who we are stuff...but, I think he meant well?

There was the person, a person waiting to adopt from China (NSN), who would start crying when she saw me with my kids. That was...um...different.

And then there was another elderly woman who came up to me after a dance recital and asked if my oldest daughter was indeed my daughter. I said - yes indeed, she is my daughter. Then she said-

You are a very lucky woman and mother.


I haven't had TM's experience face to face but I have had it via facebook. Holy outrage.

Truly- what my biggest struggle is currently- is what is said to my children when I am not present to deflect or process with them. Hands down- what is said to them by their peers is what can cut the most.

Anonymous said...

In Walmart, someone asked me which aisle I got my child on. That's the worst I can remember. Similar thing happened at Cici's pizza. Maybe best to stay away from such places! I don't remember my reply, but there have been times when I just told calmly told the person that their remark was inappropriate. Fortunately, it seems that as the childen age (now 7 and 12) the comments have become fairly rare.
Sue (aka anonymous)

Anonymous said...

I was reading through old posts on the single-adopt-china yahoo group today, the introductory posts. I was really struck by all the posts where people were saying "I've requested as young as possible". Although this used to seem normal to me, reading it now made me feel like back in those days (circa 2000), adoptive parents were placing their orders for their children, with the specs of the model they wanted. I guess we're still doing it, but now we are checking off the boxes on what special needs we think we can handle.

Claudia said...

from a DOCTOR, we got:

"did you have to go abroad to adopt because you were too old to adopt here?"

At the time - I was THIRTY. Not sure whether I was more upset about the adoption insensitivity or the slur about my age!

Terri said...

Thanks for posting about this topic, Malinda. I struggle with these issues, too. The two most challenging situations for me are...

(1) The person who's talking to me and starts saying racist things that are not directly about my child (as though my child is one of the "exceptions"). A neighbor whom I didn't know well said (in front of my daughter), "I'm not prejudiced, but you know there's a difference between being black and being the n-word."

(2) People who start talking about how scared I should be because T's first parents might "come back to take her away." These are almost always people who know nothing about adoption, but sometimes we get that from parents who are planning to or who have recently adopted internationally. These comments really bug me because the speaker is really implying that T's Mommy A and Daddy M are, at best, some kind of obstacle we've all overcome or, at worst, dangerous people who should be kept away from T. I've totally given up on educating people on how adoption really works; instead, we just talk about how GREAT it is to have Mommy A and Daddy M in our lives.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to confirm Diane's impression that these encounters seem to become less frequent as time goes on. I didn't get too many, though I was taken for the nanny once. In the past 5 years or so, I don't recall one. But then, there's only DD and myself. Some people don't even know (or recognize) that we are a family.

a Tonggu Momma said...

"Hands down- what is said to them by their peers is what can cut the most."

Diane, this is what scares me the most. I worry so much, and want to prepare her as best I can. I'm relieved to hear that the comments come fewer and father between (that's definitely been my experience, but it's still happening at her age). But I am scared of the peer comments. So very scared.

patti said...

My worst experiences have been with other Asian people. I had assumed (and don't anymore) that at least other Asians would be sensitive to calling out my children on "otherness."
#1 in a nice Chinese restaurant, my daughters were about 6 and 4 and the female, Chinese owner of the restaurant said, "Did you get them from China." "Yes." "Well, at least they are pretty. A lot of them who come in here got something wrong with them. All ugly. But you got pretty ones." I said thank you, because I'm sure she intended it as a complement, but in my head I was screaming, "Oh my god, shut up, shut up, shut up." In the car, I asked the girls if they heard what she said and what they thought. My little one with a smile, said, "She called us pretty." My older daughter didn't really notice her.
#2 Japanese restaurant. Our teenaged Asian waitress asked if they were Chinese, I said yes. Then she pulled her eyes up and said, "My mom is Chinese" pulled her eyes down and said "My dad is Japanese" then pulled one each way and said, "and I'm both" I was so shocked, I had no words. I think I just kind of stared at her and went "huh." In the car I told my daughters that pulling on eyes was considered an insult to Asians and they were not to do it. My older daughter asked why the waitress did it then. I said I wasn't sure, but maybe her mom never taught her that it wasn't polite.
The one that taught me the biggest lesson was the lady who approached us at a mall, full of adoption questions, really irritating my daughter (who had just told me at age 5, if someone asked about her, to just say "BLEH" to them and walk away.) So I gave the woman my phone number to call me later to get the number of my agency. When she did call me later, it was to sell me Amway products. Talk about negative reinforcement!
Happily, I have gotten better at not making eye contact with strangers who hop around my peripheral vision looking for an opening to talk about my daughters and it really doesn't happen as much now that they are older.

Stacey said...

From an elderly gentleman in a grocery line: "I see you have a surplus Chinese baby. I hear they just give away all the girls in China."

From a DOCTOR (a vascular anomalies specialist no less) looking at my daughter's picture before I adopted her: "Why are you adopting an ugly child with a big birthmark? Don't they have children without birthmarks? Does it cost more for a pretty child?"

don gordon bell said...

I just have to laugh, or I would get angry/upset/P.0. because even as a First Generation Korean War orphan, of mixed-blood my Adoptive Mother had many of the same things happen. I was literally on the first plane of Holt Adoption Program, in May of 1956, adoptee #A-20, accompanied by Dr. Bob Pierce of World Vision. Celebrity couple Roy Rogers/Dale Evans-Rogers adopted one of the girls in my group.
Media had played up the "save a Korean orphan" angle but my parents, A-Father is a 2st Gen. Scot born in the USA, were both Christians. Mom was one of the first to call Bertha Holt and inquire after hearing of their adoption in '55 of 8 KADs.

My Caucasian A-mother had no internet or other Adoptive parents to fall back on or get feedback, like nowadays. I was five years old and would not let go of her in public (thinking I don't wanna lose this one perhaps).

My Mom, would tell people, "why yes, Donald is from Korea...Well, we don't know for sure what happened but I AM his Mother now. No, he is not just lucky, WE are blessed to be his parents now." I can still recall her telling folks something to that affect over and over. Politely telling them, and then I was soon "telling folks My Story" and thought little of it.

I just dealt with it, good naturely, but when some kid at school called me racist things I did have a tendency to fight back. I have regained some memories recently of my time in Seoul, being attacked by other "Pure blood" Korean kids. I learned to fight back and later learned many martial arts. I now live in Korea, teaching English to my Birth Mother's people.

My blog, korean war baby, looks into the complexity of This Thing of Ours-Adoption. I am in the middle on the pro/con of TRA.

Conditions in the "sending" country of Korea are still difficult, lack of support for Unwed Mothers even NOW, one in three women keep their babies but the other TWO give them up for adoption. Of these others 3 to 1 are InCountry but SECRET and the Overseas adoptions last year in 2009 were 1,250.

I know that Korea still considers adoption to be UnConfucius meaning shameful that a natural child could not be. Thus the secrecy. Disabled children(Special Needs), only 3% are 'kept' by Koreans,the rest are the majority of ICA.

I support ICA to continue because this country still has children who are rejected and unwanted. No, adoption is not perfect but even 'natural families' are subject to death, divorce, abuse, many of life's issues.

One must go back to the motivations of Adopting Parents, things can be done better, but This Thing of Ours-Adoption includes more than the Adoption Triangle, social workers, adoption professionals, extended families, etc.

A Multi-tiered approach should continue, for the plethora or Spectrum of stories is across the board. From Wonderful to average to horror stories, it reflects life. We should/must listen to all members to learn and help each other. Extreme viewpoints exist but do not help the Adoption Discourse. There is no black or white but shades of gray.

I thank all of you for sharing your views/experiences and look forward to reading more on this blog.

The Korean War Baby