My best friend's daughter, Jocie, is a college student. One of the new girls in her sorority told her new "sisters" that she was adopted. Weeks later, another girl in the sorority confided to Jocie that whenever she sees that girl she always thinks "There's Paige the adopted girl". This stunned Jocie and me too when she told me. I couldn't help but wonder if people saw me as "Alison the adopted girl".
At first I didn't think so. But, as I looked back I realized that the fact of my adoption actually was never too far from my friend's minds. My older brother was often in trouble both at school and home. It was a source of worry, and often, embarrassment for me. Friends would try to comfort me with the reminder that he wasn't my "real brother". It is no comfort to be reminded that we are not connected by biology. Who cares? He is my brother, he can worry me and embarrass me!
I can recall times being furious at my parents and venting to my friends (just like they did about their parents). Usually the response was normal, "Yeah they ARE ridiculous!" Other times I might hear "I'd be mad too, especially since they aren't even your real parents!". This immediately put me on the defensive, "No they are the same way with Candace (our parents biological child)." Suddenly, I would feel like I have no right to vent. I suppose the plus side of that kind of comment is that it made me extra protective of my family.
At sleep overs, when talk turned intimate in the wee hours, I was often peppered with questions about my "real parents". What did I know? Nothing. How old were they? Young, I think. How did it feel to be unwanted? Huh? I'm sure I was wanted. (I am thankful to my parents for my excellent self esteem.)
I suppose I was (and am) 'Alison the adopted girl'. And as much as I don't want it to be, my boys, to some people, are 'Mikias and Jemberu the adopted boys'. I have overheard kids point out one or both of the boys and say "That's Mikias (or Jemberu), he is adopted from Ethiopia." or some variation of that. When I am at school, the boys' classmates ask me lots of questions, "Are Mikias and Jemberu real brothers?" Yep, adoption makes us a real family. "Are they really from Africa?" They sure are. One first grade classmate of Jem's said, "So, you are white and he is black and you are his mother? What's up with that?" It is at the front of some kid's minds, especially when they see us together.
The lesson I am learning, and that I hope the boys are learning too, is that we can't control what people think. We can't make people not be interested in the things about us that are different (and yes, interesting). We can't force others to understand that adoption is not second best and that our family is as real as anyone's.
The boys and I are adopted people. It does not define us but it is part of what makes us...us. We can only control how we define ourselves in the world, mother, son, wife, brother, sister, friend, baseball fan, football player, video game expert, dog lover and yes, people who came to their families through adoption.