Setup: I’m on the elliptical machine with the Black-Eyed Peas blasting in my ears when this 10ish-year-old kid named Frederick (name changed) whom I’ve known for over three years hops onto the elliptical next to me. Most of the time, I like Frederick. He’s smart, boisterous, friendly, and funny. But he’s also got a bit of a dark side, and when his folks aren’t looking, he often taunts younger kids, gets physical (swings bookbags at unsuspecting heads, etc.), and looks for ways to irritate adults.
Here's how it went:
Frederick: "So...did you adopt Tully?" (This was his opening line.)
Me: (pauses music) "I couldn't hear you, Frederick. What did you say?" (even though I'd heard him perfectly)
Frederick: "Did you adopt Tully?"
Me: (takes off headphones) "Yes, we did. Tully's dad and I adopted her from Vietnam."
Frederick: "Oooohhhhhh, THAT'S why she doesn't look like you."
Me: "That's why she doesn't look like me." (Hoping to leave it at that, I turn to look for Frederick's mom who often follows him into the gym at this time of day for Frederick's 30-minute workout, but alas, she's nowhere to be seen.)
Frederick: (obviously not planning to leave it at that) "Because if Tully were your REAL daughter, she would look like you."
Me: (I take a very deep breath so I don't tell this 10ish-year-old kid to *#@&% off as I consider how Tully would feel if she were standing within earshot and heard this kid say that she's not my REAL daughter. I think about the many ways she does look like me and her dad--gestures, facial expressions, voice inflections--the many beautiful ways she probably looks very much like her birth parents, and the miraculous ways she looks like her own gorgeous self. I also think about the word "real" and its implications.) "Frederick, what I think you mean is that if I'd given birth to Tully, she would look more like me physically. But birth or not, Tully is my real daughter."
Frederick: (churns away on his elliptical) "But if you didn't give birth to her, she's not your REAL daughter. You know what I mean?"
Me: (I attempt to minimize the steam puffing out of my ears and remember that this is a 10ish-year-old kid and that this is an opportunity to educate him about adoption, but OMG, it's so hard. This half-Indian, half-Chinese very privileged kid lives in China, attends an international school, and has savvy, world-smart parents who've lived all over the world; two of this kid's close friends are Chinese sisters who were adopted by an American couple...does he talk to them like this?) "I know exactly what you mean, Frederick, but you are wrong. Tully is my daughter. No, I did not give birth to her, but she is my real daughter."
Denouement: With that, I turn up my music. Frederick's mouth keeps moving but the Black-Eyed Peas drown out his words. I'm not in the mood to explain or defend my family. After a few minutes, his mom comes in, tells him to stop bothering me with his chatter, and puts him on the exercise bike in front of "Xi Yang Yang," a wildly popular Chinese cartoon show about a happy sheep.
_____Photo Credit: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net