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Adoption Blog: My Paperwork Pregnancies

Unexpected Adoption Insight From a Stranger

The other day I was at the park with my 6-year-old daughter, Irena, when a simple 15-minute chat between two moms gave me the wonderful opportunity to be reassured about some of the tough choices I've had to make as an adoptive parent for my transracial family.

Within minutes of arriving at the park, animal-loving Irena was drawn to a woman sitting near us on a bench with her Chihuahua puppy. Soon, Irena began chatting to the woman about her dog and probably about everything else on her mind (Irena likes to talk). I let them talk alone for a few minutes and then headed over to make sure that Irena wasn't annoying the woman.

I admit I was a tad hesitant to approach this woman, as she—all dolled up with a spray-on tan and wearing a leopard-print miniskirt, a very low-cut top, and stiletto heels—looked different from most of the women I encounter in my neighborhood. Wearing exercise shorts, a tank top covered in kid stains, and rubber Crocs, I couldn't imagine we'd have anything in common.

When I crossed the playground to the bench, I noticed that this woman definitely did not look like most of the people around my neighborhood. What I had thought was a fake tan was her natural skin tone. She was Hispanic—just like my children. I said hello and asked if it was all right that Irena was playing with her puppy. She replied that it was fine and added, “I asked your daughter what her nationality was, but she just stared at me. I don't think she understood.” I told her that she was an American-born Hispanic with Mexican roots.

The woman's face lit up as she shared that she was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and that Irena looked like some members of her family. Because Irena has fair skin, dark hair, and dark eyes, people are never sure of her ethnicity. Many assume we adopted her from Russia. No one has ever said “Hispanic” on their first guess.

I launched into my familiar spiel of how I was an adoptive mother and my children were born in Texas but all are full Hispanic. I continued to say that I try to teach them about their ethnicity but it's challenging in our city, as there is such a small Hispanic community. She completely agreed with me. She grew up in a small rural town outside of our city, and as the only non-Caucasian in grade school, she was teased and felt like she always stood out. In high school being Hispanic made her “popular with the boys,” she said, because she was the “ethnic” one, but she still felt singled out for being different.

I mentioned how we had sought out a more diverse school for my children. While the school still has a small Hispanic population, most of those children are Indian-American, Asian-American, and African-American. When I asked her if she thought that would be beneficial, she said she applauded this decision. Having this woman's seal of approval on this topic made my heart swell.

Suddenly I heard, “Mom! Where's my water bottle?” and saw a light-skinned, blond, blue-eyed boy run up to the woman I had been speaking to. After she tended to him, she saw my confused face. She explained that he was her stepson and that she also has a teenager, her biological son, who is Hispanic. She pulled out her phone to share a picture of a very handsome 14-year-old. He truly looked like an older version of my 9-year-old son. We oohed and aahed over how our boys are heartbreakers. She said her son has Aztec ancestors, which made me wonder about my own son's history.

I asked her, based on my daughter's and younger son's appearances, where she thought their birth families could be from in Mexico. She said that my daughter reminded her of herself as a young girl. "My skin is normally as light as Irena's," she said. "I just tanned more than I usually do this summer." Upon hearing this, I began imagining how different Irena could look years down the road.

Soon, she had an appointment to get to, but she thanked me for taking time to talk to her. I think she greatly enjoyed discussing her Hispanic roots, bragging about her handsome son, and answering my questions. And I thoroughly loved our discussion as well. I was able to openly ask questions about race and ethnicity with someone who was being honest with her experience in our city. I could have easily picked her brain for hours had she let me. I know Irena certainly could have kept playing with that tiny puppy for hours!

Prior to meeting her, I thought that only someone in the adoption community could have given me so many answers and advice about the specific needs relating to my transracial family. Never had I imagined that a stranger to whom my daughter was drawn (OK, it was actually her dog) would make me feel so secure with some of my parenting decisions. I was so wrong to think, based on what each of us was wearing, that we'd have nothing in common. It was wonderful that within just a 15-minute chat, this stranger gave me more insight into my children's family roots and culture than I ever could have asked for.

Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle


Our African-born foster teens will comment to us about families in the community that are ‘mixed’ - normally because the parents are of different ethnicities, and their modern “his, hers, and ours” blend of children spans the color continuum.  It’s obvious that living in a community where it’s common to see unmatched and multi-lingual families out and about helps our kiddos relax about the fact that we have a pretty unusual situation.

By KellyN on Monday, August 08, 2011 at 8:37 pm.

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Danielle Pennel

Danielle Pennel


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