I knew the question would come at some point and was kind of surprised we hadn’t had it yet. Last Friday Clint was picking up Caedmon and Edric from gymnastics and one of the little boys in their class looked at both of them and said “Are you really brothers?”. To which they just looked at him and said “yeah”, and then put their shoes on. The little boy continued to just stare at the two of them and look back and forth totally confused.
Yes our family doesn’t all look related. And I figured that eventually the questions from others would come. They did for me growing up, with the three of us being adopted and my brother only being 13 days older than me and my younger brother being from South Korea we confused all the kids at school. And kids do what kids do and ask questions. I learned early on just to answer things and leave it there.
I also remember my dad telling people that his youngest son looked just like him, and when he showed people a family photo they looked totally confused. My dad would then say “see, he’s got black hair and so do I.” I think that was huge, in reality my brother and dad looked nothing alike, but if Josh ever overheard that he knew that he belonged and had someone to look like. And for kids that belonging is really important.
I remember being in 7th grade and we were told to decorate our desks in the countries/ethnics of our heritage. Being adopted at birth I had no idea what mine was, and I told my teacher that. She told me “just use your parents.” I love my parents, but that is also not my heritage/ethnic background. And so I decided that I would chose Antarctica as my country where I was from. I think my teacher was a little frustrated at me and told me that I couldn’t say that I was from Antarctica to which I told her that she couldn’t prove that I was of German or Swedish or Scottish descent any more than proving that I wasn’t from Antarctica (minus the little fact that people don’t live there). She didn’t really have a reply and I went on to decorate my desk with ice bergs and penguins and even made up my own flag.
I see a number of families in post-adoption discussion groups discuss and express their frustration with family tree and family heritage activities or projects. Do I think teachers should be a little more understanding of non traditional families and maybe not send home papers that say “who did you look like as a baby” because that doesn’t work for everyone? Totall, but at the same time are teachers way overworked and underpaid and if they catered to everyone’s special circumstances they would never be able to do a project in their classes and they have WAY too many things on their plates to have to cater to our every uncomfortable need. Yes those of us adopted and the little ones that we have that are adopted have missing pieces and don’t know and likely may never know the details of their backgrounds. But I think we need to do a better job of installing in our kids answers and the confidence to know how to respond to those situations and questions because they are going to be the ones getting them and facing them.
I sat down with the kids at dinner the other night and we had a really good talk about how kids (and sometimes adults) are not always going to believe that they are brothers and sister because they all look differently. And then kind of taking a clue from how my dad use to answer people I gave them the suggestion that when someone asks “hey are you really brothers?” They could answer “Yeah, our elbows are the same.” Which they thought was hilarious. It quickly turned into “Yeah we both have stinky feet.” which just made them giggle more. But it’s true, family is more than skin deep (or more then having stinky feet) and while many may not understand, the more that we can empower our kids to give confident answers (I mean pretty much an elbow looks like an elbow…so it’s hard to dispute (just like me being from Antarctica) and I’m not even going to go into the stinky feet) that show that both sides that they belong to each other and shows everyone else that they belong together as well.