My name is Rachel, and I'm white. Polish-Irish white. I have peachy skin, hazel eyes and hair that tints red no matter how many boxes of ash brown hair color I use. My husband is white as well, born into a German family. He has brown hair and brown eyes, with shoulders that speckle with freckles in the summer.
Our three children are black, ranging in shade from almond to deep, velvet brown. The girls wear their hair in beaded cornrows, and our son's hair is cut in a high-top fade. My children were each adopted at birth.
We are conspicuous. And almost every question we encounter from strangers stems from our racial differences:
Are they all yours?
Are you babysitting?
What country are they from?
Are the kids real siblings?
Why didn't you adopt a white baby?
Do the kids have the same parents?
The interrogations are never-ending. We can be at an airport, dining at a restaurant, sitting in a waiting room, standing in line for a stall in the restroom, checking out books at the library or leaving basketball practice. With six years of transracial, adoptive parenting under our belts, the questions are predictable, but no less intrusive and insensitive to the innocent children standing alongside us.
There have been times when the very, very last thing I want to do is educate someone on adoption and race. One such time was when we were signing in my oldest daughter for her tonsillectomy. The registration attendant, after taking my driver's license and insurance card, frowned at me and then said, "Where is your paperwork?"
"What paperwork?" I asked, confused by her request. "We pre-registered last week, and I provided all the information necessary for the surgery."
"Your adoption paperwork. Your child is adopted, right?" she nodded toward my brown-skinned daughter, who was sitting on my husband's lap in a nearby waiting area.
"Yes, she was adopted. But we do not carry around adoption paperwork. Her doctor is aware that she is our child," I replied, gazing at all the nearby registering families who were not asked for any "paperwork" demanding their authenticity as a real family.
"Well," she frowned, "the nurses and doctor might just need to see some paperwork."
Sadly, situations where my family is questioned aren't unusual. After church on Sunday, we were standing in line at the grocery store when the woman in front of us turned, looked at our daughters and then said to me, "Are your children real siblings?"
Certainly not astounded, but no less offended at the stranger's audacity, I said calmly, "Yes."
She paused, no doubt noticing the physical differences between my daughters. Her eyes widened, she leaned in a bit closer and asked, "But are they really real sisters?"
I took my girls by the hand and walked out of the store, refusing to further engage with someone so ignorant and intrusive.
Our family conjures mystery, interest and sometimes suspicion: like the cross between a Hallmark and Lifetime movie. We expected this when we started our adoption journey, deciding early on that we had the education, empathy and community to parent a child of any race.
Much like many mothers of multiple children, sometimes my only relief comes from an expensive caffeinated concoction. Once a week, I put on my best yoga pants and head to my local Starbucks to order my tall, iced, sugar-free vanilla soy latte. And just when I think my order is complete, my children beg for vanilla bean scones and chocolate milk.
As I attempt to stop my toddler from grabbing the CDs and gift cards positioned neatly in front of the cash register and I tell my middle daughter not to touch the display of ceramic mugs and tumblers while I soothe my oldest daughter, reminding her that all the scones are the same size and the one she is getting isn't any smaller than the other two, the last thing I need or desire is for the barista to look at us and strike up a conversation about race.
Starbucks is my escape. It is my way of getting a drink made just for me, to my specifications. It's a delightful way to be served after I've spent yet another entire day serving my children, catering to their every need.
I just want the cup placed in my hand, the beautiful beige liquid almost touching the lid, begging for me to relish in its sweet relief.
To the Starbucks barista: if the question isn't "venti or grande?", if the comment isn't "have a great day!" or if the opinion isn't a suggestion about trying almond next time instead of vanilla because the flavor is more delicious, then please give us a smile instead of a conversation prompt.