She seemed nice enough. While we were waiting in line at a hardware store, the woman behind us smiled kindly at my daughter, who was seated in the cart. My three boys, all blonde, stood dutifully with their little hands on our basket. They looked at the woman and grinned.
She leaned in to speak. “How much did she cost?” she asked.
Mortified that this stranger would ask this question in front of my children, I held back my anger and replied, “She was adopted in China, not purchased.”
I smiled tersely and turned away, but she persisted. “But how much was she?”
I nodded to my oldest child, who understood to pull the cart forward, away from the woman. I stepped between her and my family and smiled again.
“She was not purchased,” I said. “And she is my daughter. The money we spent on the adoption, which is what I assume you are trying to ask, went toward completing the process. And it is private. But we are thankful for the whole of it because it brought our little girl home.”
I have never been so glad to exit a store in all my life. Stunned that anyone would ask such a poorly phrased question, I got into our van to head home. Glancing in the rear view mirror, I could see my four babies sitting together and I knew there was nothing I could do to protect them from people who speak too quickly.
I wish I could say that this has happened only once while we are out and about. But that would be untrue. I have had people comment on my daughter’s beauty, reach out and touch her freely, ask us where she is from, and request details on her background. And while I understand the curiosity, I am left wishing that there were guidelines to follow so that the hearts of my children could be protected from those who are too swift to ask.
So I have a favor to ask. If you see our family in the store, or any family who has a story that is different from yours, please keep the following in mind:
So when you stare at them, please know you are not the only one. Consider what it would be like if, every where you went, people stopped and stared at you. In our case, my daughter is Chinese. She has dark hair and eyes, and skin that looks tanned year-round. But when she is taught that she stands out because of how she looks, she may forget that she is smart and athletic and strong. She may believe that the thing that matters most is her face, her features, her ethnicity. These things are important, but so are all the other gifts with which God has blessed her. Please do not stare. Even with a smile. Trust me--you are not the only one to stare today.
My boys are polite, compassionate, helpful and kind. But because their sister looks different than they do, they often go unnoticed. Please, if you find yourself in friendly conversation with us and you feel the need to comment at all, speak to them as a group. This is, after all, what they are. Siblings. Not adoptive siblings. Not half siblings. Siblings.
Whether a child is adopted or has special needs, do not inquire into the private matters of a family. If you see us in a restaurant and feel curious, remember that every question does not need an answer, and know that your words have weight to us. Asking private details about how our adoption came to be or how much it costs can feel offensive to us. If you are in the process of adopting and intrigued, it is certainly possible to pull my husband or me aside, but be aware of the little ears around, and mention that that you are in process, in case we might be of help.
Not every family looks alike. Not all children “match.” It is helpful to tell your children that God uses many methods to build a family. Then expect your children to be gentle and compassionate with others. A few years back, two little boys on a neighborhood playground not only told my son that he could not be related to my daughter, they told my daughter that I could not possibly be her mom. Please help your children to understand that it is more important to get to know a child than to know how the family was built.
I understand that my family looks different. I understand that people want to know more about adoption. And truly, I want to be open to sharing our story when the time is right. God moved mountains to complete our family, and it is an amazing tale to tell.
But I also want my children to know we are family, and that this matters more than the method God chose to bring my daughter home. I want them to know that we are gloriously special and obviously ordinary. And I want to protect their hearts. I do not want my daughter to see herself as a purchase. And I don’t want her to be reminded on every outing that she is different from us.
And really, is it all so foreign? My husband and I felt called to adopt from China. We jumped through the necessary hoops and brought home a child who was meant to be ours from the very beginning of time. She was never going to grow up in her province. She was always going to be the little dark-haired sister of three blonde boys. We have enfolded her into our home and our lives, and all of it reminds me of the very thing that has happened to me and to you. So loved were we, so deeply wanted, that the God of all found a way, even when it was hard, to enfold you and me into His family. Romans 8:15 says, "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" He made us His own. Adopted and sealed in the family of God.
Kind of makes all of us the same.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra