Personal questions

I was picking up a former college roommate from Midway Airport a couple of days ago, and because of the sudden thunderstorm, Monkey Man, Gorilla Girl and I had to wait longer than expected for her arrival.  While we waited, Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl played an elaborate game of make-believe that involved the luggage carousels and Dora walkie talkies that had yet to be powered with batteries.  They were screaming into the walkie talkies as they played so that everyone in a 25 foot radius heard the game.  It was quite a circus.

During this event, a middle-aged man walked over to me and asked where   Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl had been adopted. When strangers invade my privacy (and GG and MM’s privacy as well), I often wonder how I should respond. A few possible responses ran briefly through my mind before I answered: “When and where was your child conceived?”  “What is your child’s ethnic background?”

I rejected those options (in part because this man was alone and he looked harmless enough), and answered simply,”They are from Vietnam.”

He responded enthusiastically with his own story of his son adopted from Vietnam and his daughter from China.  He explained to me that he lives in Kalamazoo, runs a landscaping business, and is much more in favor of adoption than IVF (upon which apparently some of his friends have spent tens of thousands of dollars). It was a brief moment of mutual recognition and connection, as we talked of our kids’ personalities, schools, and our desire to re-visit Vietnam when the children are older.

I am glad that most of the time, I respond to questions about MM and GG with basic educational information, but every once in a while, I wonder why it is that conspicuous families are subjected to the whimsy (or ignorance) of strangers and why I should have to answer, for example, questions about how much the adoption cost. I don’t mind discussing many issues of adoption, and in fact, I want the discussion to flourish, but it should be on the terms decided by the families who live in adoption, not by strangers who are just curious.

However, had I not responded positively to this man, we would not have made this brief, yet important connection, in the impersonal atmosphere of the airport.

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9 Responses to Personal questions

  1. Deb Hanrahan says:

    Knowing you for so long, I can say that you are an introvert and a private person. I have several introverts in my life, so I think I understand where you are coming from. Since I am an extovert, I usually have the urge to discuss what introverts would consider private matters with complete strangers. My husband of 20 yrs. (an introvert) thinks this is strange and often thinks I am rude but is also amazed that I can talk to a perfect stranger (of course it has to be another extrovert) and learn so much in a short time. When I meet a fellow extrovert, it is usually a positive experience. Over the years, I have learned to read introverts better and try not to invade their space, but I’m sure I still sometimes offend.

    When you write about your encounters with extroverts, I often feel bad for both parties. I know what an intrusion it is for you to discuss certain things. However, I also understand that the other person doesn’t mean any harm. That person is trying to make a connection with you for whatever reason. You view their curiosity as rude while they probably think that they are being friendly.

    I think it is a situation where no one is right or wrong, just different. But I think it is on us extroverts to pay attention to body language and social cues. Just because we want to engage in a conversation doesn’t mean that we should.

  2. Deb, This is a great observation and food for thought for me. I guess I always just assumed it was because our family is so obviously different that folks ask questions, but this makes me think that people are trying, as you say, to make a connection. Clearly, in this case, I am glad that I answered in a friendly way and that the conversation was a brief moment of connection.

  3. Deb Hanrahan says:

    Phew… I was worried about my comment. I was hoping that you wouldn’t think I was judging. I recently read a post (I’ll try to find it) about introverts vs. extoverts on freshly pressed. It was written by and introvert. It helped pull together some observations I had made about the introverts that I new. There seems to be a lot of miscommunication between the two types of people.

  4. Kade says:

    I think that it’s more complicated than the introvert/extrovert component, though that certainly is part of it. The privacy of the child/children and sensitivity to where they are in understanding adoption and how they feel about being a conspicous family are also factors. Some people are trying to make a connection and some people are just rude/insensitive. Even if I make a connection with someone, it may not be appropriate for me to have an in-depth conversation about adoption in front of my child.

    My response to the “is your kid adopted, is that your kid, where is your kid from” question is to say “Why do you ask?” It gives the other person the opportunity to let me know that they are interested in adoption, their kid is adopted, their son is about to adopt etc. This might lead to a more in depth conversation or not. It also helps to weed out people who are just nosey. It is a fine line. I want my child to know that we are proud that we created our family through adoption and, at the same time, want to protect my child’s and our family’s privacy, and also to be sensitive to where we are in terms of our ongoing discussion about adoption. By responding with a question, I am letting my child know that I am establishing a boundary and that it is right to do so. As he gets older, he can let me know how much, if any anything, he would like to share with others. I’ve also been asked by complete strangers and some acquaintances what we consider to be incredibly personal questions (beyond the $$ question) regarding contact with birth families etc. These people, I shut down immediately by letting them know that this is personal information or not responding at all. For acquaintances and even some friends, I add that that we will not share this information outside our family until our child is old enough to decide for himself what he wants to share Again, I think that it is important for my child to hear me draw the line with people who ask these questions.

    Another technique, if one posessess the wit to pull it off, is go humorous route.

  5. Kade,
    Thanks for this insightful comment. I, too, am concerned about how to draw boundaries, and your simple question in response to the “where are they from?” one is great, and one I will use. In our immediate family, we also have decided not to share certain information until our children know that information and can decide themselves what to do with the knowledge they possess. There is also this great resource for families created by adoption called: W.I.S.E. UP
    that helps sort out with practical suggestions for kids, how to answer the tough questions posed by strangers, friends, acquaintances, or family.

  6. Deb Hanrahan says:

    I like the fact that you answer and inappropriate question with a question. That is a good idea.

  7. Deb Hanrahan says:

    I’m notoriosly bad at setting boundries. I’ll have to try that.

  8. Mairead says:

    Don’t forget–you have adorable kids. I’m not saying you’re wrong to feel how you feel, because no one is. But I’m just saying this, because I think it’s an important perspective to remember. You have adorable kids; people are going to want to talk to you about them. Said people might just be awkward about it sometimes, you know? But it all comes back to the fact that you have adorable kids.

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