About all of those questions...
I can't begin to tell you how in love with this picture I am! It was taken just last Sunday at our church's cookout. We see that little smirk on her face quite a lot these days. And she is becoming more confident, funny, and just plain spunky every single day. Truly, this is my daughter. Those who know me know that I'm not overly 'girly,' (though I like pink) and I would rather be comfortable than stylish. I wanted you to see this photo as I address a very serious matter in this blog post. This is how Amber Joy looks on most days. A cute little shirt, shorts, tennis shoes, hearing aids, and that dream face. We live in a medium-sized town in middle Tennessee and since I'm blessed to be able to stay at home, we do anything but. We are on the go a lot! Our town has a cool hands-on kids museum, some fabulous playground/parks, greenways for walking, two nice community centers with indoor and outdoor pools, and libraries with great kids sections. I personally do not like just sitting at home, especially when the weather is nice and when there's so much to explore around here. I'm just like a lot of other stay-at-home moms that I'm privileged to know. But there is a difference. My daughter doesn't look like me. She's small for her age...I mean really small. And she wears hearing aids. Most of the time, quite frankly, I forget all those things I just mentioned. For me, Amber Joy is my daughter. Period. End of sentence. I know she doesn't look like me. I know she's little. And I even know that she wears aids to help her hear better. So please understand that I do not always need perfect strangers to remind me of those things.
We were at the Discovery Center recently (the hands-on children's museum) and a woman I did not know turned to me while Amber Joy was playing nearby and said, "is that your daughter?" I said "yes." She said, "are those hearing aids?" I just said, "yes" again. But she didn't stop. "Where is she from? Is she adopted?" Me: "Yes. Taiwan." Woman: "Oh! I know some people who adopted from China and she was little too, but not that little!" Me: (in my head) "Please don't tell me your story. I just want to play with my daughter."
Now I know what you must be thinking. 'She was just curious and was trying to be nice.' Yes, I get that. But lately, most every time we are out in public, someone wants to strike up a conversation about Amber Joy's hearing aids, how small she is, and/or the fact that she's adopted from Taiwan. And mainly, it's adults. I'm much more forgiving of a child who doesn't have the filters to know what is appropriate to ask and what isn't. Although we've been fortunate not to have had any horribly inappropriate comments or questions yet, I am a member of a Facebook group of adoptive parents and some of the stories they tell would blow your mind. Some of their children have obvious physical special needs and since they look different from their parents, it is mind-boggling what they have to face in terms of questions, stares, and comments from inconsiderate individuals who don't stop to think before they speak. I want to share one of those stories here (names have been changed):
"Today I popped into our county planning commissioners office to add electric to our current building permit (For the barn we're building). They secretary looked right at Amy and asked me if she was born in China. Before I could even answer her, she continued exclaiming that she couldn't believe how expensive Chinese children were! I glanced down at Amy to see what kind of effect this statement had on her and she was glaring at me. I piped up right away that our daughter was actually from Taiwan and that the adoption process can be costly anywhere that you choose to adopt from and that honestly, I would rather not have this kind of discussion in front of my children but perhaps I could answer her questions another time. She shot back that a family member had adopted from China and she couldn't believe that the conditions were so horrible and that these babies were just left on the streets and were in filthy orphanages 3-4 to a crib. Before I could get a word in edgewise she kept on and injected that this relative of hers had to submit pictures so that the Chinese government could match their babies with parents that had similar facial features! I busted out laughing with my hands in the air and told her that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard, but that she needed to stop because I didn't want the conversation to go any further. Mind you, she still had to make the adjustment to my permit and held it in her hand... I asked her for the permit and smiled and she finally handed it over, but not before asking Amy if she liked living here in America! I slammed the permit down on the counter and told her that she needed to get me the supervisor right this minute. She looked like a deer in headlights. I squatted down and explained to Amy and Chad (my son) that this woman was asking too many personal questions and that I would like for them to sit outside the office door on the other side of the window and continue to wait for me. Chad took her hand and sat with her while I took a deep breath and prepared for battle. The supervisor came back and handed me my updated building permit and let me explain my issue, but I could tell that he was clueless to the situation. As I walked out I watched them roll their eyes and chuckle a little bit. I'm sure they thought that I was over reacting and didn't understand why. The first question out of Amy's mouth was "why do Chinese babies costs so much money and do they cost more money than she did?" Nothing like sitting down on the floor in the hallway of an office building holding your daughter and explaining that people don't buy people, but that it does cost money to process the paperwork to make the adoption legal. I could tell that Amy was just kind of glossing over what I was explaining and I could tell that what she overheard the lady say made a much bigger impact than what I was saying."
It's one thing when a child is a baby or toddler and doesn't yet understand what the questions and comments mean, but at some point, Amber Joy will. I just hope that I can follow this mom's advice on how to handle those situations:
"We let (our daughter) pick what she wants to tell. If someone asks how old she is, I redirect to her and ask her to say how old she is. If someone wants to know about where she was adopted from, I direct them to her to answer the question (as long as it is not obnoxious). If she answers, great. If she doesn't, I just shrug and say, "some days we are shy!" And we move on without answering. That way, folks know I am not in charge of answering for her. You'd be amazed at how folks stop asking stupid questions when they realize that you are going to leave it up to your child to answer the questions about themselves."
This is truly hard for me! I love my daughter, and I love that she's adopted. I'm so proud that she is from Taiwan and some days, all I want to do is tell everyone I meet how wonderful adoption is and go into all the details about Amber Joy's miraculous story. God has done great and mighty things in and through this child and in our family! But we didn't adopt her for the purpose of educating others about adoption, although the opportunity arises often. We adopted her because we had a desire to be parents; to love a child. We have been given that chance and, like most parents, we want to make the right choices for her and do what is best for her.
Silently, I pray each day for the composure and peace to know what to say and when/how to say it as more and more, people are interested in Amber Joy and her story. I must emphasize that it is HER story, not mine. There are things that we will explain to her as she grows up about where she's from, how she came to be a part of our family, why she needs hearing aids, and the reasons why she is so small, but for now, we want to give her a safe and secure childhood. She is special. Not because of what she looks like or the fact that she wears hearing aids or that she's adopted. No. She's special because of her zest for life and the gifts that only she can bring to this world. She's special because she is loved by her family and her friends, but most importantly, her God. My deepest desire is that she find her identity in Jesus Christ, not in any of her outward characteristics.