Every November, which is National Adoption Month, I think, OH, YEAH, now’s the time for me to write something profound about adoption! And then it’s December and I think, OH, WELL. Failed again. But this year, the Tyrant and I experienced an actual incident for me to recount. So here is your not-so-annual National Adoption Month story, a mere four days late.
Really, there were two incidents. The first involved a little boy on the bus asking her if she’s American, and the Tyrant subsequently asking me to confirm whether she’s American. But that wasn’t a huge deal, because the little boy is just a little boy, an adorable one, in fact, and it was a teachable moment. Families look different, people with different color skin can be American, international adoption, blah, blah, blah.
Two weeks later, the Tyrant and I went grocery shopping. We love our grocery store, which is good since I spend a lot of time there. The employees mostly know me, and the Tyrant has the freedom to roam. She visits the bakery for her free cookie, finds her usual bag of Doritos, and visits the live lobsters at the seafood counter. She helps me quite a bit, too, by badgering me into purchasing an extra $25 in gross semi-edible product. If you ever want to torture me, lock me in a room with only Gatorade, Lucky Charms, and continuous replays of any Nicki Minaj song. Seriously, I’ll dissolve.
Anyway, the Tyrant is like me in that we both often resemble the winners of a weeklong forest survival challenge. She’s sort of feral. We finished shopping and proceeded through the checkout lane, where I unloaded groceries onto the conveyor belt, and the girly stood with wild hair and crumbs on her shirt, licking cheesy orange Dorito dust off her fingers. I like that look in a child, so I leaned over and kissed her head.
“Aw!” said the checkout woman. “Your grandchild?”
STRIKE ONE, YOKEL, because D’OH! Don’t say stupid stuff. She’s nine, I’m 51, and women get pregnant at age 42 all the time, although THANK YOU, APHRODITE, not me. But I’m reasonable, and as mistakes go, it wasn’t egregious enough to inspire mad rage. I have wrinkles, after all, though due to a genetic anomaly, I only have a few gray hairs. So I just smiled and said, “Nope, my daughter! She’s all mine!” and I kissed her again.
Then this happened. The woman looked directly at me, ignoring the fact that the Tyrant was right in front of me and shows no signs of deafness or inability to comprehend English, and asked, “Is she Indian?”
“No,” I said, kind of unfriendly-like. “She’s American.”
But the yokel wanted me to understand she meant no harm; it was just imperative I satisfy her insatiable curiosity regarding my daughter’s DNA. Maybe I had misunderstood her question? “I mean, what’s her nationality? I don’t mean is she Indian, but, you know, like American Indian?”
Let’s press pause for a moment to identify the many wrongs here. First, if the only decent contribution I make to society is helping a good number of people understand the correct definition of nationality, I will consider myself a success.
1. the status of belonging to a particular nation.
THUS. Since I am American, which apparently is obvious to some people because my skin is beige and not brown, my daughter – by law and simply as a practical matter – is American as well. What this woman wanted to know was my daughter’s ethnicity.
Secondly – is it somewhat less insulting to be called American Indian rather than Indian? Doubleyou Tee Eff? I don’t consider either presumption disparaging. The unacceptable part is being asked such personal questions at all.
Okay, unpause. After she asked a second time, I pulled my girl in front of me, wrapped my arms around her protectively, and said, quite firmly, “She’s American,” with, you know, emphasis. The yokel opened her mouth to speak again, so I shoved an overripe avocado in her mouth. No, no, I didn’t. But I paralyzed her brain with my telepathic left hook, and she didn’t say anything else until she handed me my receipt and told me to have a good day.
With the Tyrant riding on the end of the cart, I pushed it outside, then turned around and walked back in, then pushed it outside, and walked back in again, and told the girly to sit on a bench. I tracked down the manager, and told him what had happened. “I know it might not seem like a big deal -” I said, and he interrupted me. “I think it sounds like a very big deal,” he said.
“Oh! Well, thank you. I think so, too. I don’t want (the yokel) to get in trouble, but I want her to know that she shouldn’t question whether my daughter is American based on the color of her skin.” I felt very articulate.
“This will absolutely be addressed,” said the manager, “and it will not happen again. I’m very, very, sorry.” All this modern sensitivity training is really paying off, I thought.
Yes, it is a very big deal. Here live my three children, born abroad, given up by their birth mothers, and brought here by Hot Firefighter Husband and me not as guests but to be our children. I will always be your mother, I tell my kids every day. We will always be a family. Look, you love pancakes just like Daddy! Oh, haha, you’re a morning person, just like Mama! We have never given them even a moment to doubt our status as a family. But you, yokel, and you, nosy insular ethnocentric pale-skinned compatriot, you give them pause with your incessant questions born of nothing more than your failure to see this country as the melting pot that makes it great. Damn you.
It’s hard, particularly as the nation turns its accusatory eye toward Muslims and refugees and illegal immigrants, to realize how often my children will face such questions over the course of their lives. What’s equally heartbreaking is our family’s unflagging support for the millions of brown-skinned people who seek refuge here. For even as we repeatedly remind strangers and acquaintances alike that our children are American, they are American, of course they are American, we are painfully aware that not being American isn’t a crime. I wish we’d stop treating it like one.