"What's wrong with him?"

August 18, 2010 Kristi 0 Comments

I have three delightful children.

When I have them all in tow, we get a lot of politely curious question in public.


We hear, “Are they all siblings? Are the girls twins?  Are they all triplets? and Are they all yours?” (especially when my blond haired, blue eyed husband is with me) almost every time we are out of the house.  I have three really close in age Asian children.  I’m not Asian.  We attract attention.  I get that.  And most of those questions don’t bother me or them.

But then there’s the line of questioning centered on the fact that one of my three is a boy.  From China.  And people are educated to the one child policy ~ to a point.  So I’ve also heard, “He’s from China?  How did you get him?” more times than I care to count.  Because I’ve learned that series of questions is frequently followed with, “I didn’t think they let their boys out.” 


Mercifully it usually stops there.  But sometimes it doesn’t.

I’ve become wiser since then, but I’ll never forget the first intrusive questioning along “the boy line.”

I was standing outside the preschool where I had just paid the registration fee (one month’s tuition ~ per child) and first month’s tuition (per child) to secure my older two a spot for this past school year.  The director told me that I could take my kids out, show them the playground, and meet the two year old teachers as my son would be in one of the two year old classes.

As I stood there watching them interact with the children nearby, one of the teachers came over and commented on how adorable my kids were.  Usually that type of comment would bring a smile.  But that time it was in “that tone” of voice.  The tone that let me know ahead of time to brace myself…

(In retrospect I now know I should have scooped my kids and made a strategic exit).

I smiled and mumbled thanks, hoping that my lack of eye contact would make it clear I was not in a chatty mood.  But she would not be deterred.

“Are they both adopted?”  and when I affirmed her question, she quickly followed with, “From China?”

Right at that moment my 2 1/2 year old son was running and tripped.  As I bent down to help him up, I heard, “What’s wrong with him?”

In my typical, trusting that people are kind, sort of way, I began to answer that he was fine, just a tiny hint of a skinned knee.

It was as I stood back up and saw her face that I realized she wasn’t talking about his fall.  Rather she was prying, in a very rude manner, into my son’s personal business.  It was one of those rare moments that I could find no words.  By the time I had completely righted myself, she repeated herself, “What’s wrong with him?”

Luckily he had already headed off to join a kid at the sandbox, but my oldest, the one that doesn’t let a word of conversation slip by, had joined my side.  She had heard the woman’s question and was looking up at me, mouth hanging wide open, waiting for my reply.

So I gave the most eloquent response I could muster as my three year old watched (and listened with rapt attention).  I simply said, “We are blessed beyond belief to have him in our family.”

In my mind that was a “conversation ending” response.  One that signaled that I really didn’t think it was appropriate for her, a complete stranger, to be asking me such an intrusive question, especially in front of one of my young, impressionable children. 

But it wasn’t.  Instead she came again with, “But China doesn’t give their boys away, so what is wrong with him?”

In that moment the sun was shining, but I was certain the birds stopped chirping as it occurred to me ~ maybe for the first time ~ that some people really were going to ask that type of question about my children.  I became somewhat jaded toward all future folks who gave our family a second glance. 

In my total unpreparedness for such a line of questioning, I glanced down at my watch, got out a cheerful, “Come on kiddos, we’re going to be late for our play date,” (which was true, we were headed to meet friends at the pool), and got the heck out of dodge as quickly as possible. 

When I found out the next week that “question lady” was going to be his teacher, I promptly withdrew my kids from the school.  And lost the before-mentioned deposit.  That may have been an overreaction.  It may not.  What I knew was that she asked an insensitive question, in a blunt, callous way in front of me.  (And that she asked it in such a negative tone, in front of my kids?  We won’t even go there).  I couldn’t risk my son’s first school experience to possibly be marred with a teacher that brought about self doubt.

In the months that followed, I prepared myself to answer that question with more confidence.  To simply smile and say that there’s nothing wrong with him.  In that tone of voice that commands that the conversation is over ~ at least in front of my children.  Or even more proactive, I’ve learned tactics to head the “what’s wrong” question off before it comes.  To respond to, “He’s from China?  I didn’t think you could adopt boys from China?” with a quick, “Actually, many people don’t know that there are boys waiting for families in China.  If you’re interested in finding out how to add a Chinese son to your family I’d be happy to share some of our experiences.”

Because it’s a fine line between me sighing and taking a deep breath when someone is uneducated about boys being adopted from China (hey, I didn’t know when I started this road myself) and being…well, whatever it is that I felt when the first person asked me, “What’s wrong with him?”

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