Last week, I was walking Tully down Wuyuan Road, as I often do. She was in her stroller pointing out dogs; I was sipping on a coffee from Costa Coffee. Suddenly an older Chinese man pulled up alongside us on his bike.
"Hello," he said, in nearly perfect English.
"Hello," I replied and smiled. I like when Chinese folks corral me for a bit of English language practice; it makes me feel better about how much I butcher their language when I'm on the other side of the experience.
The man and I exchanged hellos, how are yous, etc. I found out he learned to speak English from watching CNN and BBC. We chatted as we walked, and although the man asked me about a lot of things (including American English vs. British English, American football, and New York City), I knew from the way he was eyeing Tully that his real questions--the yet unspoken ones--were about her.
After a block or so, he said, "Is this your daughter?"
"Yes," I said.
"Very beautiful," he said.
"Thank you," I said.
"Is your husband Chinese?" he asked.
"No," I said. Like a lot of people who ask me these questions in public here in China, he wanted me to volunteer information about why I was Caucasian and Tulliver was Asian. But I wasn't in the mood. I was jet-lagged, sleep-deprived, and just happy to be walking on a relatively quiet street in Shanghai with Tully.
"How is she your daughter?" the man asked.
"Excuse me?" I said, feeling the heat rising in me. All protective mama instincts come out strong when this line of questioning begins.
"She is from Asia," he said. "You are not. How is she your daughter?"
Clearly he wasn't going to let up.
"My husband and I adopted our daughter."
I thought for sure this would end the conversation, but after a few back-and-forths about this fact, the man said, "Do you have any children of your own?"
Ugh. Seriously? I try really hard not to get pissed or upset by questions like this, but I also know that very soon, Tully is going to understand everything that is being said. I don't want her (or me and her dad) to be subjected to daily/weekly public questioning about our different races, how we came to be a family, or if Andrew and I have "children of our own." She is our own.
So that's what I said to this man on his bike: "She is my own child." And I looked him deeply in the eye; this guy was no dummy...he knew I was saying a lot more than those five words.
After a few minutes of rolling this around in his head, he said, "Ah, I see, she is your child."
A few minutes later the man turned left down Wukang Road, and I turned right. This particular session was over, but I know there are still hundreds/thousands like it coming up. So I'm working on developing answers that will protect Tully. Honestly, I don't mind respectful conversations about adoption, and I'm proud that Tully's from Vietnam. But many people aren't respectful and I have to figure out how to deal with them.Technorati Tags: adoption, motherhood, Kristin Bair O'Keeffe,