Way back (it feels like forever ago!) right after T was born people would peek into his car seat or the snuggly wrap and comment on his cuteness. We replied "yep, we adopted him x days ago." I think this was a way for us to wrap our brains around the fact that he was indeed ours and that this whole adoption thing had really happened. And because his skin color did not "match" ours it seemed sort of obvious to us that we had adopted him so why not say it.
It didn't take long and I realized that responding this way impeded me from really feeling like his mom. Every time I immediately disclosed the fact that he was adopted I also negated my role as his parent as well as the fact that he is a permanent part of our family. So I stopped doing it.
I have two recent examples of when I did disclose his adoption and afterward wondered if I had needed to name it.
At Gymboree (with baby T):
I'm looking at the sale rack which has some killer deals on pants for a two year old. I wonder if I should get them because who knows what size and shape T will be in two years. But I have a really hard time passing on a super deal. After all he will need pants when he's two. So I start chatting with the sales clerk...
Me: Are the height and weight measurements on the pants usually pretty accurate in general?So. Should I have disclosed his adoption? Or was it okay for her to think he was my biological child? Should I have answered her question with D's height? But isn't that misleading? Since I will continue to shop in this store does that justify my mentioning his adoption? What if we were in a different store where I knew I would never be back?
Me: I'm wondering about the length. He's pretty long right now.
Salesclerk: But you're not that tall...how tall is his dad?
Me: Oh, he's adopted and I have limited information about his first parents.
At a continuing education event on infant nutrition (without baby T):
I'm sitting beside a colleague and my family doctor (it was so weird to see her out of context and then have her sit right beside me!). Breastfeeding is the topic of discussion. My doctor knows of my original intentions to induce lactation and the measures I took last year. My colleague overhears an insider comment to my doctor and asks me if I tried the protocol. Since I have no issues with discussing this and especially because we work in child and maternal health (which is very pro breastfeeding) I chatted with her about my experience. Then the woman who organized the education event took a chair at our table and joined our discussion. She only hears that we are talking about breastfeeding and doesn't know the context. I say something, which I can't remember now, and she asks...
Woman: Did you try breastfeeding?Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. Why is that the first thing that pops out of my mouth? I could have easily and with complete honestly told her that I had tried but it didn't work out. That is the truth. She didn't need to know that T was adopted. Right? Or would my doctor and colleague have thought that I was misleading?
Me: My son is adopted.
In the second example T wasn't with me so there was no way of her even thinking adoption. But most of the time he is with me. And because I think it's pretty obvious that T is not my biological child I assume that others think the same thing. This assumption usually causes my disclosure. When someone asks me an odd question I'm thinking..."um, have you looked at him and do you see his mocha brown skin??"
But I do believe that I need to rethink my assumptions.
This week I went to my salon for highlights. The stylist was an apprentice (it was cheaper) so not my usual person. I needed to bring T with me and then D was going to meet me at the salon, take T, and switch vehicles. The stylist took me to the back to get started. T crawled around the front foyer area and the receptionist and other stylists looked after him (they always do this, I love this place!). When D arrived he picked up T and came to find me and let me know where the car was parked. After he left the stylist said...
Stylist: So, this is a personal question, but is he adopted?I guess this can and does happen. Maybe I shouldn't be quite so surprised when someone assumes that he is my bio child.
Me (thinking): um hello?
Stylist: Oh, I thought your husband was black.
Me: His skin color is really quite dark for him to be biracial.
Stylist: No. I have a friend whose father is Jamaican and mother is white and her brother is very dark whereas she is much lighter.
I'm just confused about when it's okay to disclose his adoption and when it's okay to let people think what they think. I know the answer to this will come with experience and depend on the situation but in the meantime I'm not sure what to do. It is usually after the fact that I think about a better response, not in the moment -- really dislike that about myself.
I'm sure that thinking about this right now will help with future situations. And I'm quite sure that I'll make mistakes about what to say when. I'm glad I have a bit of time before T will be able to understand these conversations. The pressure will be on when there are little ears listening.