This is going to be one of "those" posts, where I try to address a general adoption-related issue instead of my usual kvelling over my niece. My decision was triggered by this post on one of the adoption blogs I follow ("Linguine or Lo Mein"). My reaction was triggered in part by the fact that the little girl in question is from the same province as the Pipsqueak and in part by some recent experiences in, of all places, a car dealership.
To make a long story short, my old Mountaineer (which I alternately referred to as "The Beast" or "The Turd" depending on my mood and/or the latest invoice for repairs) reached the point where replacing it outright had become necessary. Despite many plans to do things differently, I ended up (with folks in tow) at a local dealership on the Labor Day holiday, so we had plenty of time to get to know the sales rep working with me really well. As conversation turned from purely business to personal life, we learned that she was from China, and she positively lit up over photos of the Pipsqueak. Then, when my paperwork finally got to the top of the stack several hours later, the young Asian accountant told me he had very recently returned from his own trip to visit his folks back in China, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy the photos of Miri that her proud Grandma quickly pulled out to show him. He actually stopped working on the paperwork for a minute, almost visibly stepping out of his corporate persona to wax eloquent on how lucky Miri was to have been adopted by such a loving family, how she was so very lucky to have been brought to the U.S., and how she had essentially hit the jackpot in terms of how much better her life was going to be compared to how it would likely have been back in China.
I sort of filed his comments away for later review, turning them over in my mind repeatedly over the past couple of nights. I've read a lot of posts in a lot of blogs about people having similar conversations with strangers in which commentary often moves to (or, sadly, sometimes begins in) odd, or negative, or even accusatory territory. I've come to realize that we, as a family, have so far been amazingly lucky; the vast majority of the adoption-related comments & behaviors we've experienced have been positive. None of the waitresses at our favorite Chinese restaurants have made any odd comments about my sister building her family through more direct biological means (although there is one who always insists on trying to speak to the Pipsqueak in Mandarin); none of the strangers who have tentatively asked if Miri's adopted have (as far as I know) been angered by my sister's choice to adopt or to seek a child outside the country; and it seems to be impossible for us to avoid ethnically-mixed families no matter where we look. (The friendly care saleslady's son is still single, but one daughter is married to "a nice Jewish man with curly hair" and the other is married to "a nice Pakistani man with curly hair.")
And yet, despite the lack of negative experiences, I can relate to the odd experience of little E and her folks. I have read and heard enough stories to always be nervous whenever someone approaches the family with the classic, "excuse me, but.." or when I see someone trying to not get caught looking at my sister and her daughter. I've lost count of how many times I've caught myself holding my breath under those circumstances, wondering if this is the time someone is going to verbally attack the people who are most dear to me.
No, I have not come to spend every waking moment on the lookout for nasty or dumb comments about adoption -- but I do have a much greater awareness of the comments and the thoughts & beliefs that give rise to them. Part of what helps mitigate the (otherwise potentially maddening) negativity is the knowledge that there are also a lot of positive reactions and statements. I still remember one of our first meals out after returning from China, when our young waitress quietly asked if Miri was adopted and then launching into an excited soliloquy about her own adoption from Sri Lanka; the happy excitement of many friends who, when first told AJ was planning to adopt a Chinese baby, began telling stories of the many other families they knew who had done the same; and the way uncountable numbers of strangers have sought to interact with the Pipsqueak while exclaiming how cuuuute she is with nary a mention of adoption-related issues.
And, when things seem to be actively approaching the crazy or the seriously negative, I remember one very specific comment made by a former co-worker. (A comment I will gladly bring to the attention of anyone with adopted relatives who may be growing tired of odd, negative, or just plain misguided comments from strangers.) Back home from China only 2 or 3 weeks, I was waxing eloquent about my new niece with one of the residents at work while this particular nurse was getting her ready for the night. Somewhere along the line, this particular nurse decided she had heard the word "adopted" one time too many.
She stopped what she was doing, interrupted me with a loud, "Excuse me!" and then, facing me directly with hands on hips, told me exactly How It Is: "It doesn't matter if she's adopted or not. She's your niece, and she's loved, and that's all that matters."
That was the last time I specifically referred to Miri as "my niece adopted from China" instead of just as "my niece" -- because, as far as I'm concerned, that one comment is the only one that really gets it right. I know there are plenty of folks for whom "adopted" is a pejorative term, adoption is unnatural, and families of mixed ethnicity are considered a violation of the natural order of things. There are even more folks whose only image of adoption is that of the unwanted child, a cuckoo's egg in the nest, or even the fairy tale's ubiquitous evil stepmother. All these people will invariably pop up, drop a mind-numbingly nasty or stupid or uninformed comment on an adoptive family's heads, and then (hopefully) disappear back into the passing crowd.
But I keep that nurse's comment in mind because it is the one comment, out of the thousands my family has already heard since that special day in July, 2010, that most accurately describes how this family works. It is the only one that leaves out political, religious, or national issues; the only one that is truly colorblind; the only one that ignores biology. This particular comment is the one that has separated the all-important kernel of wheat from all the chaff:
The Pipsqueak is my niece. She is a member of my family, she is loved, and that is all that matters.
And on that note, I'll say amen.
My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅-- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!