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Adoption Blog: Familia Means Family
Explaining Adoption Where There’s No Culture of Adoption
Every two years my husband Matt, our two children, Isabel and Noah, and I take a trip back to my homeland, Ecuador, to visit my family. We have a great time, the kids play with their cousins, perfect their Spanish, and are reminded that they are part of a large, international family that loves them. My family watches my kids grow up through Facebook pictures and Skype calls, but they treasure these visits.
And yet coming home can be bittersweet. In my country, formal adoption is not the norm and transracial adoption is even rarer. Because our children were transracially adopted, we have to deal with being a conspicuous family in a culture where it's common to ask questions that would be considered the epitome of rudeness in the U.S. This can make for some painful and uncomfortable moments.
One weekend during this summer's trip we found ourselves surrounded by children during a puppet presentation in a park in Quito, my city of birth. As Isabel and Noah stood in line with the other children to receive candy and gifts, a woman approached them to ask their name. As I do any time I see a stranger approach my children, I quickly moved closer to show that we're together. The woman looked at me and said:
"Yes!" I replied, forcing a smile, yet knowing what would come next.
"No, they are not!" she insisted, as I figured she would.
We went back and forth a few times before she realized that the tall, white man next to me was my husband. This caused her even more confusion, because I continued to insist the kids were ours without further explanation. I never rush to explain that Isabel and Noah were adopted. I simply say that, yes, they are mine, because they are and I feel I owe no explanations to strangers. Adoption does not define my children. It is part of what makes them who they are, but they are so much more than "adopted children." They are first and foremost our son and daughter. I kept my smile and my cool until she said:
"You are a liar!"
By that point Isabel and Noah had received their candy, and I was finished with this conversation, so I grabbed my children's hands and began to walk away. She called after me:
"The color does not match!"
Because Isabel is now six years old and Noah is five, I knew they could understand the conversation. I felt the need to reply rather than ignore, so I said:
"One's sons and daughters are not just biological, ma'am."
At this point the woman's face lit up in a huge smile of understanding and she replied:
"Well, that is true!"
During our two weeks in Ecuador, I found myself repeating this last statement about the nature of family many times over. I had at least three or four similar conversations and I always ended them with that phrase: a family doesn't have to be made biologically. Invariably there was a smile of comprehension in the face of my questioner as if, all of a sudden, a light came on. Loving a child not born to you seems to be a concept that can be universally understood; many people who have never experienced adoption nevertheless feel a deep love for a godchild, a close friend's child, a niece or a nephew.
As painfully frustrating as these conversations were, I gained a deeper understanding of how to discuss adoption with people who have never experienced it, and whose main concern is that they feel they could not love a child not born to them. After all, don't we love our spouses, our in-laws, our stepparents, and other family and non-family members who are not biologically related to us? Humans have a great capacity to love, and being reminded of this capacity brings those we meet one step closer to understanding adoption.
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