Adoption Language and a Thousand Apologies

September 15, 2006

Adoption language and a thousand apologies

First, I need to apologize if I offended anyone from Kentucky.  I’m not sorry I wrote it, just sorry if it offended you.  The names I used for my husband’s character — Cletus and Wilbur — one is my father’s name and one is my best friend’s father’s name.  So, you see, I am an equal opportunity meanie, and my own Appalachian roots run deep.  They run out of West Virginia though; and don’t even pretend you have never, in your life, made a redneck crack about West Virginia.

My great-grandmother (yes, grandMOTHER) was a rum runner during prohibition.  She was apparently quiet upset when I was born and my parents didn’t name me after her: Valina.  No, no, pronounce it with the long i sound.  Talk about dodging a bullet.  No matter what else my parents may do wrong in their lives, I will always respect them for that grand showing of common sense.

Which brings me to something that has been on my mind a lot since we began the adoption journey the first time, almost two years ago:  common sense.

The world of adoption has its own language, and once prospective adoptive parents learn this language, many of them seem to feel it is their sworn duty to be offended every time a non-adoptive parent, or anyone else for that matter, uses “inappropriate adoption language.”  I don’t understand.

First let me address the adoption language itself.  Some of it makes sense to me, but some of it just doesn’t.  For example, I finally started a scrapbook for my Korean-born son.  Only it’s not a scrapbook, it’s a life book.  “What is a life book?” you ask.  Well, it is a scrapbook.  Except it’s for an adopted child.  Can anyone explain this to me?  Are we worried that calling it a scrap book will somehow imply that an adopted child’s life is not particularly valuable, but, rather, just scrap?  If that is the case, would not the same implication apply to biological children?  Nobody calls their bound photos and mementos a life book.

The other term that has had me baffled lately is “transparency.”  The adoption industry (and believe me, it is an industry), especially the international adoption industry, seems to be constantly battling against the unscrupulous and dishonest who just want to take advantage of someone’s unfortunate situation and make a buck.  Well, I’m glad so many agencies and families are fighting the good fight; but must we refer to honesty in the adoption process as transparency?  Why can’t we just call it by the good old-fashioned, common sense term “honesty.”  Transparency is something on which I used to print notes and illustrations and put on an overhead projector for my high school students to see and, on a good day, copy.

The next time you go shopping with a friend and she comes out of the dressing room asking, “What do you think of these jeans?”  I dare you to say, “Well, transparently, they don’t do much for your butt.”  She will look at you like you should have laid off the margaritas before you went out.  Then it will suddenly occur to her that, just maybe, see-through jeans are the new fad and she has inadvertently tried on a pair.  Either way she probably won’t shop with you again, because she has common sense.

Not all adoption language perplexes me, however.  For instance, asking someone, “Is he your real child?” just isn’t wise.  Now when the child is a baby it may not be as terrible because he or she probably doesn’t understand; but imagine being four or eight or eleven years old and hearing people ask if you’re real.  Common sense, folks.  So children who actually come from their mothers’ wombs are biological children, and adopted children are adopted children.  But don’t expect us to introduce our children thus: “This is my biological son Jack and my biological daughter Mary and my adopted son Ricky.”  And if you know we have an adopted child but you’re not sure which one it is, don’t ask, because it really doesn’t matter, and your question will only make the adopted child/ren feel different and make you look a little silly.  In the case of my family, really, don’t ask, because my husband and I will then tease you mercilessly for being stupid.

What baffles me the most, however, is how so many adoptive parents handle the questions:  “Is adoption expensive?”  “Why did you adopt?” “What do you know about his real parents?” (remember, they are the biological parents), etc.  So many seem to get so darned offended, and I don’t understand why.  People may ask questions that unintentionally come out in an insensitive manner, but generally they are just curious and showing an interest in every parent’s favorite topic:  his or her child. 

The way I see it, if we react to every adoption related question with anger and offense, then we are showing our adopted children that adoption is something about which to be angry and offended.  Just common sense.

And George, if you’re out there, Tewt the Newt says hello.

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