Dear Random Shopper in the Check-out Line

September 25, 2012 adoption realities, Nancy, protecting their story, questions from strangers 5 Comments

I see you.

And my children see you watching them.

And even though you have a smile on your face, you are still drawing attention to us.

I totally get it. You see, I used to be just like you! I’d see a family that looked a bit… hmmmmm… what’s the right way to put this… mixed. Not all the colors match up. The body shapes, skin tones, and/or hair and eye colors didn’t all go together, and it was obvious that there was more than one baby mama going on. And like you, I wanted to know more about adoption! I wanted to know the story, the how comes and the whys, the little and big details because I was considering taking this big leap of faith called adoption. I was thinking I wanted to adopt a child, and add a child to our family in this unconventional way. I wanted to get more information and a first-hand account of what it’s like! And like you, I may have not known a good way to approach a total stranger in the check out line of Target. So I often just stared, and smiled, and thought about the right way to say something. Sound familiar?

So before I tell you the way I’d like to be approached, here are some tidbits of information to please consider before you say anything.

This may not be a good time for me to talk. We are in Target after all. I just wrangled 3 young kiddos through shopping, each of whom did their best to persuade me that they must have Every. Single. Thing. that we passed. I am now simultaneously juggling my car keys, my debit card, several bags, my purse, a sippy cup, a baggie of goldfish crumbs, and a two-year-old who wants no part of sitting down in the cart. I’m also trying hard to distract a 5 year old from having a temper tantrum over gum that I will not buy, and redirect another child who is trying to engage a total stranger to push her “Fire Dog button.” I can’t seem to remember the code for my new debit card. And I might be 30 minutes late to my next appointment that I haven’t remembered I even have yet.

So now might not be a good time for me to talk.

And that’s ok.

If it is a good time for me to talk, and even if I really want to share adoption information with you, my children may not want me to talk to you, especially if they are old enough to understand what we are talking about. I’m sure you’ll understand that what is best for my children trumps absolutely every single good thing that we could talk about or any information that you may take away from our conversation. Anything I’d like to say or anything that you’d like to know pales in comparison to what is best for my child! You see, my kiddos, especially as they’ve gotten older, don’t want to stick out in a crowd. They want to blend in. And as you’ve already noticed, they don’t come by that “blending in” thing easily. As they get older, they probably don’t want to be talked about especially in reference to how they are different. They already look different from their parents and community, and often all they want to do is to look the same when they obviously can’t. They don’t want to be anyone’s child that was adopted or a topic of conversation. They just want to be plain ol’ children in the checkout line of Target. So I may not talk to you because my child is in earshot and/or has no desire to be the poster child for any cause. Albeit a truly wonderful cause.

I am not a saint. I have not “saved” anyone. I am not in the saving business as that is only for God. I simply wanted a child to call my own and to be his mama. I am not a better woman than any other mother that wanted a child. I have awful moments. I yell. I lose my patience. I do things I regret. I don’t actually know what I’m doing most of the time and have become a master at “winging it.” I’m just doing the best I can.

My children are not lucky for being adopted, so please don’t say they are. They are not lucky to have been adopted, to be adopted by us and in our family, or to be United State’s citizens. Children from adoption have already endured heart-breaking loss, including the loss of their first families, and often the additional loss of the their language, culture, and their heritage. And they have often lost the ability to blend in with their family when they are in at the the checkout line of Target. These are facts that make them far from lucky.

If you want information on the specifics of how to adopt a child, I am not a good source of information. The process of adoption continually changes, as do different types of adoption, and the specific processes from various countries. If you want hard facts, you would do much better to do research online and call an adoption agency (or two or three or more of them) and get information from them.

If however you are looking for a first-hand account of what it’s like from a mother’s perspective to adopt a child, (or a child with a special need, or a child of a different race) then I would be able to tell you about this. But you may be surprised at the answer . . . because it’s really short.

It’s not really any different that than being a mama to any child.

Do not ask for the details of my child’s past. Do not educate us on the horrific effects of China’s one-child policy. . . even if you whisper. Do not ask how much our child costs. Do not ask about his orphanage or his first mom. Do not ask about her “real” family, if we know them, and why they did not “keep” her. Do not ask if she knew her mom or how she came to be adopted. These details, if known, are precious to my child and are her information to keep a secret especially from strangers if she desires. Also know that this information is incredibly sensitive to her. Just as you don’t want to share the intimate details of your life or marriage or the most difficult gut-wrenching times in your past with strangers, my child does not want you to ask him questions about it or want me discuss it with you either, especially in the checkout line of Target.

Now random stranger, just a little reminder. . . if you would like information regarding our adoption simply because you’re wondering about my children and why we chose to enlarge our family in this unconventional way, and want to know 411 to satisfy your own curiosity, I suggest you find another source of entertainment like reality television. Or juggling.

Please understand if I correct some of the terms and/or phrases you use. I am not trying to hurt your feelings, and I really do know that your questions are well meaning. But even so, words can be offensive and hurtful, and this is a wonderful opportunity to help us all use better terms and phrases that help children grow in a healthier and more considerate community.

I am their real mom.

They really are brother and sister.

All my children, regardless of how they came to our family, are our own.

Please refer to them simply as children, not adopted children or children that have been adopted.

My children are from Scottsdale, Arizona. Yes, I know that’s not what you meant, but that is where they are from.

Now, like I said before, I used to be you, and I too really wanted a first-hand account of what it’s like to adopt and raise a child that didn’t grow within my womb. But I was often at a loss for the best words on how to start the conversation and certainly didn’t want to say the wrong thing or at the wrong time. I totally understand your thirst for information. I think most (but certainly not all, and that’s ok too) parents who have adopted, given the right setting, are willing to share their first-hand experiences if you have good intentions.

So in hind sight, I recommend saying something like this.

1–State your intent. “I’m in the process of adopting a child…” or “I’ve always wanted to adopt.”

2–Then follow it up in the same breath by opening the door of conversation a tiny bit with something like, “I’ve always wanted to know more about the process. Could you tell me where I could get more information?” or “Is your daughter Chinese?” or “You have a beautiful family!”

Then see what type of response you get back. Like I said, I saw you looking at us, and I already know what you’re digging for even before you said anything. So after you state your intent and open the door a bit, you’ll get the idea pretty quickly if now is a good time or not for me to engage in adoption conversation.

And if it’s not a good time, perhaps I avoid eye contact, or my answer is short or curt, please don’t be offended. It just may not be the right time and/or place for such a discussion.

Please understand that first and foremost I always have the very best the interest of my children at heart.

So thank you, random shopper in the Target check-out line*** that is staring at me and my children and is just dying to engage us in a conversation about adoption. Thank you for listening.

I knew you’d understand.



***please feel free to insert any of the following
– random stranger at Walmart
– random stranger at the produce section of the grocery store
– random stranger as we order our sandwiches at Subway
– random stranger in the pew behind us at church
– random stranger sitting next to me in the waiting room of the pediatrician’s office
– the mom of the my son’s new friend at preschool
– our neighbor that we only see at Halloween and when she’s walking her dog
– the teller that I see every single time I go to the bank who has friend from high school who just adopted a little girl from China too
– the entire extended family that was leaving The Olive Garden as we were being seated
– the receptionist at the orthodontist that thinks she knows our family so well, but really do you?
– my sister-in-law’s colleague that is currently having infertility issues that I just met at a baby shower
– Uncle Weldon’s new “lady friend” that I was recently introduced to who did a mission trip to the Philippians in the 1980’s and is joining us for Thanksgiving dinner

5 responses to “Dear Random Shopper in the Check-out Line”

  1. NANCY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No doubt this post was inspired by the Lord. It’s like you have penned my heart! Incredible post..incredible. Having been blessed with many miracle babes that look nothing like us, we encounter your ‘Target’ scenario EVERY time we walk out the door…from the mailman to the gas station attendant…to the passerby’s to the Costco presentation lady on the microphone….I know we will forever live a life of education but some day’s I just want to be a family that blends in…a family that doesn’t cause people to stop and stare and point and to ask questions…some day’s I’m okay with that. I am extremely proud of how the Lord has weaved our family together & I often want to scream from the mountain tops “JUST LOOK AT ALL THE LORD HAS DONE” but every once in a blue moon…I just want to fly under the radar 🙂 Hugs and thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Linda Benoit says:

    I am the Grandmother of 5 children that my son and his amazing wife have adopted. I am the grandmother of 2 other children that are biological in that same family. Can I say that I 100% love them all the same. You see, if you have the heart of the Lord, there is no difference between these precious souls.
    I trust that as people chose to “check out” the mixed family with the mom in Target or anywhere for that matter that they are only looking at how precious those children are. How blessed those little ones are to be loved and cared for and esp., how Godly and amazing the parents are of them.
    In Jesus Name may more of us be in Target with blended families.

  3. Valerie says:

    YES!!!!!! This is the type of thing I wish I could hand out to people as a flier in the store as soon as I see them coming. I actually did write-up something similar and kept it in my wallet for a while. Most of these people are well meaning but when your child hears the question a hundred times (from total strangers who don’t care about the depth of this issue, only their momentary curiosity) if they are “really brothers and sister” or if we know their real parents, a young mind starts to question the “realness” of their family. It may not be conscious but it undermines the security we try to instill in our children, who have already lost the security of their birth family. The feelings of these stranger are important to me. But my children’s well-being is infinitely more important! Thank you for your own heart-felt public on-line version of the talk I’ve had with so many people only in my imagination.

  4. Kelly says:

    I have had this conversation in my head so many times.

  5. Misha J. says:

    A thousand thanks and a big, huge smile for this post. I am that stranger at Target, and now I get it. I’ve never asked the question, though it’s been tempting; we’ve been considering international adoption for several years. Now that I know how my want-to-ask questions would sound to you and your kids, I’ll save them for the families who come, prepared to answer them, to adoption information meetings. Again, my thanks for helping me understand. Someday, hopefully, I’ll be as gracious on the “other side” of the checkout lane at Target as you were in this post.

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