Multi-racial/ethnic families turn heads. That’s for sure. I think looking – heck, staring – is mostly an involuntary thing for people – sort of like seeing a double amputee or a person with a million tattoos. You don’t want to look. You don’t intend to look. But you look. So as not to stare, you look once, look away, then sneak another peak. Because it’s interesting? Fascinating? A lot of adoptive parents think the looks translate right into an invasion of privacy. It’s zero to deeply offended real fast for those folks.
I used to be one of those prickly types, ready to get all huffy if someone looked at our family a little too hard or too long. There is a certain aggravation that comes from being constantly reminded that you’re a patched together bunch. I saw a PBS special once about the life of an interracial couple that included the wife saying that they felt like an ordinary family until they walked out the door, that it was right when they hit the street that they remembered. Oh, yeah, we’re different! The adoption world has a term for this: conspicuous family. I LOVE THIS!
This article has a good discussion about conspicuous families and includes some pointers for observers of same.
Some people think it’s ok to ask a conspicuous (adoptive) family a lot of questions – questions like “Where is she from?” “How did you get him?” “Do they know their real parents?” And my all time favorite, especially when asked while all my kids were standing next to me “Are they really related?” It took me a long time to figure out that it wasn’t the questions that bothered me, it was a vibe – a kind of curious, high wavelength, weird vibe that I felt as diminishment. But honestly, I don’t think people were sending that vibe – I think I was pulling it out of the air.
Now looking back, I recognize that strange vibe as feeling self-conscious – that same unpleasant, please don’t notice me, let me melt into the crowd feeling I had when I wore the homecoming dress my mom had made out of a lovely but totally unfashionable green brocade. When you have a multi-racial/ethnic/adoptive family, you are wearing green brocade. You are, indeed, conspicuous. Your story is right out there for people to poke and prod. It’s uncomfortable to be different – to be interesting. But eventually, if you relax a little, you learn to appreciate the green brocade.
It took me years to trade my self-consciousness for pride. But I finally did.