by Marinka on July 18, 2008

My daughter tells her brother that he is adopted, just to fuck with him. Of course, he’s at the age when the possibility that anyone but we (preferably Pokemon) are his biological parents is more thrilling than alarming, so her strategy backfires. But when he asks me if it’s true, I say “no” a little too sharply and he asks me what is wrong with being adopted. I start the tap dance of “there is nothing wrong with being adopted, but it’s not polite to ask other people if they are adopted,” which, of course, makes no sense, since he is not asking other people. He is asking me about himself.

And as I talk, I can see how the prospect of not sharing DNA with me could suddenly become a source of comfort. I grew up in an environment where adoption was not openly discussed and I am uncertain if other children and parents would welcome inquiries.

But I am constantly worried that my children will ask something inappropriate of someone who will not be forgiving of their curiosity and as result, I am worried that I am stifling that curiosity. It’s certainly a relief that I am not running out of things to worry about.

When she was six, my daughter asked a man panhandling on our street corner if he was homeless. I told her that it was a personal question. But is it? Or am I teaching my children the unspoken lesson of living in New York, or perhaps in the modern world–do not engage. I want my children to be safe–physically and emotionally and I am afraid that in so doing, I am teaching them not to acknowledge difference. I read in this month’s O Magazine an advice column where a woman met someone at a party and said “I’m sorry” when the woman she met told her that her child had autism. The mother said that there was nothing to be sorry about and the woman felt chided. What should she have said? I fully admit to my being distracted by some shiny object at this point, so I’m not sure what the bottom line of this advice column was, but I do remember retaining that making an understanding face and nodding sagely was appropriate. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I swear, it’s advice like this that will make me barricade myself at home and not have any human contact, for fear of making a faux pas.

Are faux pas that bad? I guess it depends on your personality, should you be so lucky as to have one. Me? I still remember first day of swim team in Leningrad, when I was 8 and the coach said to get get changed and meet him at the pool and I appeared in record time, ready to swim and he looked at me and said, “You need to put on a bathing suit.” Yeah, that nightmare that people talk about having–showing up naked in class or at work? Mine was a dream come true, if you will. Thirty years later, I am still cringing. And wearing a bathing suit under my clothes, at all times.

Having children is like a constant faux pas. Will they offend? I spent an entire afternoon once hovering over my son at a water park because one of the mothers there was a dwarf. (Ok, someone told me that the acceptable term is ‘vertically challenged’, does anyone know if that is true or if people are just torturing me at this point?) I was petrified that he would make some comment to her, an innocent child-like comment, but still. I kept making eye contact with her, and smiling maniacally, to “soften” whatever awkwardness he would spew. I think she finally left to avoid me.

I certainly don’t know what the answers are. I tried to teach my children that it is not polite to stare, to ask personal questions of people that they don’t know well and to be polite. By the way, what is that whore Britney up to these days, anyone know?

One year ago ...

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Feener July 18, 2008 at 6:34 pm

excellent post.


wfbdoglover July 18, 2008 at 8:25 pm

My mom is adopted, so we have spoken of it from the beginning. We hadn’t spoken about it for awhile, so my son was surprised as the first time I told him.

As far as the homeless person, I would have loved to have known if the person was homeless or not – because there are many people that do make a ton of money pretending to be homeless.

As far as the vertically challenged person, I would have addressed that directly with my son as soon as I saw the person – but if a kid has an innocent question on their mind – I’m sure they will ask either way. I’m also sure that the person would love to ask a perfectly honest question. My sister has a cerebal palsy and I know she loves to be treated as normal. That’s the best gift you can give a disabled person.

I don’t think anyone knows the answers, but you are on the right start by teaching them the values you are. 🙂


anymommy July 18, 2008 at 8:32 pm

I second feener. Really thought provoking. That story about forgetting your bathing suit – I laughed and cried for you. Priceless. Not at the time, I’m sure.

Becoming a transracial family that stands out in a crowd has caused me to think a lot about these issues. I’ve been shocked by some of the questions strangers will ask me about our daughter and the conception or lack thereof of our other children.

I think most questions and reactions are well meant, but I’ve struggled not to take offense many times (or shoot back a cruel quip). The thing I treasure about it is that I have become more careful about my assumptions and questions with strangers. But, I have no doubt that I commit major faux paus all the time. Foot in mouth disease.


Alice July 19, 2008 at 12:03 am

I couldn’t speak for folks with children with other issues, but most of the parents with adopted children seem to speak pretty freely about it with their kids and with me. Maybe the times, they are a changing.

And BoyChild would be thrilled if his parents were really Pokemon too.

Funny story – we have friends in the process of getting a special needs boy from China named June-Jee (not how you spell it, but it sounds this way). Anyhow, my husband came home and asked how the adoption was going with baby Chimchar. I’m going to think of that boy as Chimchar for the rest of my life now.


Insta-mom July 19, 2008 at 8:51 am

I third feener.

In my experience (and with two precocious boys, I have experience), it’s not so much what the kids ask that’s offensive–they are just kids–it’s how you as the parent respond.


cerealdieter July 19, 2008 at 3:58 pm

I 4th Feener and also 2nd inst-mom… Grown-ups should realize that kids are just that, kids… they are going to say things that adults consider inappropriate because they are learning how to be sociable and interact with others. They are just curious. It’s not like they are trying to be hurtful and mean (well, most aren’t).


Marinka July 19, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Thank you, everyone. I agree–kids are kids–they are curious and not always tactful. I’m learning!


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