You know what’s uncomfortable for me?
That pause between when someone you just met says, “Okay, I know I’m being nosy but…” and when they put the question out there.
In those few seconds of silence (when one would hope that person is having some kind of internal debate about whether they should really be asking the question, but you know they’re not) I’m left trying to steel myself for whichever direction this is headed. This lead-in is always related to the kids — usually the person has just met us or seen pictures of T-man and Bear — but it can still go in several different directions. And most of those topics are ones I’d consider pretty personal. Definitely not cocktail party conversation starters, if you know what I mean.
(I’ve received several suggestions for super witty comebacks, some of which I really love but know I’ll never use. I’m not sure if this is because deep down I don’t believe these people are asking out of sheer nosiness, I’d like to think I can educate them about something new, or I simply don’t have the guts to blurt out a comment so razor sharp. But at least I can think about those snarky replies and laugh to myself in the midst of the craziness.)
The number one ending for “Okay, I know I’m being nosy but” has to be “did you try to have your own kids?” For real, I got this one recently from a woman I’d known FOR ALL OF 30 MINUTES. And I’m using “known” in the loosest sense of the word.
Ummm…okay, then. Did you just ask me about my sex life over the salad course? Or were you wondering if adoption was our fallback because I didn’t get the kids I really wanted?
Seriously, I got the BEST SUGGESTION EVER for a response to this one. “I haven’t told him they’re not his. I just said we had Cherokee blood in the family.” I swear, I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants.
This woman would have gotten a different answer had she asked this question with my kids around (which, please Jesus, I’d like to think she’d never do), but since it was “just us girls” I answered her honestly and ended up having a discussion about our adoption story.
This was how I found out she’d been wanting to foster but worried that she wouldn’t have the time to dedicate to the child’s needs — and it’s outcomes like these that keep me coming back to answering the question. Because she wasn’t just being nosy (though I will argue it’s a pretty personal question); she wanted to start the conversation and apparently couldn’t think of another way to do that. Communication Skills? C-. Good Intentions? A+.
The second most popular ending to that question? “Are they brother and sister?”
I have so many conflicting feelings about this one. I get it. I didn’t birth these kids. But being adopted doesn’t mean they’re not brother and sister…it just means they’re not brother and sister from the same womb. Can you tell me how this question is anything but nosy? Because the fact is that they’re brother and sister now so let’s just move it along.
And while I hesitate to play the race card, I’ve never heard someone ask the adoptive parents of white children (with the exception of international adoptees) if their kids are siblings. So I’m really torn on this. Do people assume T-man and Bear are blood siblings because they’re biracial/African-American and therefore more likely to adopt out together? Is it because they’re so close in age? A lot of people comment on how much they look alike; I didn’t see it before, but now (after freaking them out by staring intently at their faces) I guess I kind of see it in the eyes…
It’s a small thing, I know, but I get an icky feeling with this question. Like we’re talking salt and pepper shakers. “Are they a match set? Or did you pick them up individually at yard sales?” These are my people; you simply cannot talk about them as if they’re collectibles.
We’ve had a decade now to practice handling these questions so it’s nothing new. But that moment between the lead-in and the question itself? Still excruciating.