When attending social events with strangers or casual acquaintances, Laurie and I are often asked for intimate details about our children’s adoption stories. We’re reluctant to share such details, not because we’re private people (readers of our blogs, testify!) but because we view these details as the children’s stories. In other words, since it’s not our story to tell, we don’t tell it.
Through experience, Laurie and I’ve found a comfortable middle ground where we share our journey through fostering and adopting, thus limiting as much background of their birth families as possible. Nevertheless, what little we share includes some unpleasant facts, as a certain amount of grief, loss, and trauma accompanies every foster or adoption story. These unpleasant facts inevitably inspire the listeners to respond, “Those children are so lucky to have you.”
While I’m fine with saying “Thank you” and hoping to move on to a new topic as soon as possible, Laurie takes every opportunity to educate people. “We feel we’re lucky to have them,” she says. Then our audience nods their head, as if we gave them the response they expected. It feels to me like the entire conversation was part of a prearranged script, with Laurie and I reading the roles of “Saint” and our audience reading the role of “Inspired Listener.”
It’s an awkward statement – one that would seem ridiculous if the roles were reversed. Were a biological parent to be going on about their child’s grades or soccer team, it would never occur to us to say, “Your kids are lucky to have been born to you.” Furthermore, calling our kids lucky might seem more genuine to me if it came from an informed and credible source. At a recent parent/teacher conference, Isaac’s kindergarten teacher told Laurie, “Isaac really lucky to have you guys for parents. I can tell you guys are really involved with him.” Since she’s intimately acquainted with Isaac on a daily basis, her compliment was sincere.
But strangers have no idea if the kids are lucky to have us for parents or if we’re lucky to have them for children. It might not feel so forced from strangers if I agreed that the children were lucky to have us. The last time we acted out the screenplay was at a dinner party a few weeks ago. We were late getting out of the house, and in the car on the way to the babysitter’s house the kids were especially rowdy. The catalyst involved a toy laptop designed for children younger than our oldest, older than the youngest, and for boys the same as age as our daughter. Long story short, each of them was claiming the toy.
After what seemed like an eternity of arguing, crying, and bad attitudes, and several warnings and threats from their mother and me, I commandeered the toy and announced, “That’s it! If I hear anyone else say another word, or if anyone even looks at their brother or sister, they’re gonna be sorry.” There was a sad silence that lasted almost two minutes before one of them started fussing about something else. To avoid another outburst, I kept my mouth shut.
Later at the party, we met an older couple and started talking about the kids. Laurie whipped out the little photo album she keeps in her purse and gave the couple a short history of the last few years. Each time she turned a page, the wife touched her cheek and said, “Oh they’re precious!” Then she put her hand on Laurie’s knee and said, “They’re so lucky to have you guys as parents.” Laurie had been going on and on about the kids for at least ten minutes, so anyone listening could tell how proud we were of our kids. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about the incident back in the van.
Announcing that the children were forbidden from speaking to each other was the kind of statement an evil supervillain announces right before he casts the hero into a pool of angry sharks, but not something a grateful father says to the children he loves. After the party, we picked up the kids and on the way home, Isaac said, “Dad, you can let Vivi or J play with the laptop.” He handed Vivi the toy and she responded, “Thank you, Isaac. Look, Dad, I play so nice.” Then J said, “Fifi (Vivi), I play next my turn, please?”
Were I a suspicious father, I would have wondered if the kids had planned this conversation with the sole intention of making me feel like a heel. It just seemed too much – the kindness, the politeness. Where was this coming from? I gave Laurie a “What the?” look, and she smiled and hugged my arm. “They’re good kids,” she said. And I had no choice but to admit that I’m lucky to have such good kids.
This story is also posted at www.wearegoodkin.com.