I've gotten a lot more attention in the last five years than in the preceding, let's just say, 40-odd years. No, I didn't change my hair color or have plastic surgery. But I did become a mom to a beautiful (yes, I'm partial) daughter who was born in China.
I get more attention now because we as a family get noticed in a way that families who share the same skin color do not. We're a transracial family. It's just about impossible to go out with my daughter and not have someone make some comment at a restaurant or a store about how lucky we are (which we are), how cute my daughter is (which she is), and ask where was she born.
Most of these comments are well-intentioned and often are from people who are contemplating adoption for their family. But my daughter, who is seven, is now at the age when these comments and questions make her uncomfortable. It singles her out in a way other kids are not and she knows it. But the questions that are even more difficult are the ones that are truly rude, like "How much did she cost?" and to me, "Are you the babysitter?'" (Yes, I actually have been asked that question, as has a friend of mine whose family is transracial, but her children are biological).
Such questions, which may seem harmless to those asking them, perpetuate stereotypes about families who don't fit the "traditional" family mold. Plus, they are intrusive, especially to a first-grader who wants nothing more than to be like everyone else and not be singled out for much of anything. I'm happy to answer people's well-meaning questions, especially if I sense that they are truly seeking information about adoption or if they have a connection to adoption.
The problem for my daughter is that she is now at an age where she wants some privacy about her life and her story, as she struggles to make sense of the fact that she has birth parents and "forever" parents. Recently, a salesperson at our local mall asked me, as my daughter was standing right next to me, "Is she your real daughter?" I simply answered, "Yes." Then, being insecure in my response and sensing her shock, I said, "She is my real daughter by adoption." The sales clerk said, "No, I meant is she your real, real daughter (translation, is she your biological daughter) ... where is she from?" What took this person aback was my daughter's comment, which was, "Mommy, that's private and I don't want to talk about it."
While we are proud and happy about the way our family was formed, there's a line people often cross when asking such personal questions and we are trying to give our daughter the tools to help deal with comments and questions that are particularly intrusive. She knows that talking about how our family was formed and the details about her life story are personal, and it's her decision how and with whom to share that information. And for a small child, that can be truly empowering.
So while I can't stop people from asking rude and insensitive questions about the fact that our family is different from many others, I am coming to learn that I can arm my child, even though she is young, with the tools that will hopefully help her deal with insensitivity in all forms as she grows up.
Follow Joanne Bamberger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JLCBamberger