The question crops up at the most unexpected and inopportune times. We might be at my middle child's basketball game. We might be in an airport bathroom, standing in line to purchase items at Target, or playing at the park. We can be in our hometown or at our vacation destination one-thousand miles away from home.
"Are they real siblings?"
My children, ages 2, 4 and 6, were adopted at birth. Each child has a different shade of skin, different body types and different physical features. They are a perfect blend of nature (from their birth parents) and nurture (what they've learned from us, their parents).
We've been asked many questions since choosing to adopt and becoming a transracial family. Were their birth parents young? How much does adoption cost? Did you get to name the kids? I thought all adopted kids had problems? Aren't you afraid the birth parents will try to take the kids back? Were your kids born addicted to drugs? Could you not have your own children? Do you do their hair?
Such questions are predictable, and we answer with grace and education, but never with personal family details. Our children's stories are their stories, not ours, to tell. We don't feel obligated or inclined to share the details of how our children came to be ours, information about their biological families or the legalities or costs of adoption with every Tom, Dick and Harry (or Theresa, Diane and Harriet).
The "real" siblings question is the one that is particularly intrusive, more than any of the other questions we are asked. The other questions are based on adoption and race stereotypes; we have developed a thick skin when it comes to such questions. But to be asked about our family's authenticity, that cuts deep. I get that curious strangers intend for their use of the word "real" to indicate biology. They are asking if the kids are biological siblings.
We get that we look very interesting. Two white parents, three black children. There must be some sort of Hallmark or Lifetime movie storyline, right?
Our story isn't all that interesting, to be honest. My husband and I wanted to be parents. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, so we decided that adoption was the best option. We adopted three children, and all our adoptions are domestic, transracial and open. That's it, folks. That's all you need to know.
But strangers won't settle for the basics. So they venture into interrogation land. They get a particular look in their eyes, and I know the question is coming.
It's always asked with my children by my side. They are listening and learning. They are people. People with feelings and thoughts and a right to privacy. They are people who don't understand why adults insist on confronting our family and bringing up the world "real" ...again.
My three children are in the same family. They engage in ways that only siblings do: torturing one another one minute and playing cooperatively the next. They help each other up when they fall, and then the next minute, they are pushing one another down. They have a balance that is only found when the three of them are together. Without one, they are less mighty, less in-sync, less happy. My children need one another like they need air.
I think of our most treasured moments as a family, such as the moment we met our second child, and before I could get my arms around the newborn, my oldest daughter, only 2 at the time, crawled up on the couch, arms in position to welcome her baby sister. I think about my middle daughter cradling her baby brother, feeding him a bottle and laughing when he burped. I think about the times when they hold hands and play made-up games together, lost in a secret sibling world of joy and possibility. I think of how my three children look nothing alike, and in no way does that limit their ability to love one another, play together and form a tight-knit bond.
It's so real. Beautifully, eternally real.
Are my kids real siblings?
Yes. Without a doubt. Yes.