We adopted our oldest daughter, Elise, from Vietnam in 2008 when she was 6 months old. As a family, we are always talking about adoption. Elise asks a lot of deep questions and has since she was very young.
Last year in kindergarten, we encountered inquisitive stares, or a couple girls asking if I was Elise’s mom. Now, she is in first grade, and she is starting to encounter other peoples’ thoughts on adoption while still working out her own story.
Recently Elise told us that a fellow classmate said, “I know a lot about adoption and your parents didn’t want you.” I know that it broke my heart to hear Elise repeat those words. I asked her, “Do you know that you can tell someone that’s not true. That’s not my story. That a child who has not been adopted does not know a lot about adoption.” She didn’t know.
It took about a week of us daily rehearsing Elise’s story. Scott would get asked about it every morning on the way to school, and I would get asked when I got home from work. She repeatedly asked things that we had already answered and we kept answering them. We wanted her to feel empowered to tell her story and to correct peoples’ misconceptions.
Another week past, before I overheard Elise say, “I wish ‘Pebble Go’ knew why these kids got adopted. One thing I know is that my [birth] parents loved me ….” I love that she was able to voice that. She still has questions. She still wonders. But she also knows. (Pebble Go is a research website Elise uses at school.)
You don’t know someone else’s story. They know it. They are living it. How tragic is it that we think we know someone better than they know themselves? How arrogant?
And if you start to think you have someone figured out, consider Elise and all the work we had to do (and will continue to do) to help her undo those careless words spoken to her. We, including me, need to talk less and listen more.