More of the Things They Will Say To Your Face

Nancy French pointed me to this great video that illustrates the sort of comments you get from people when you are out and about as a multiracial family (often, but not always, an adoptive one). Been there, heard that.

Regular readers may recall that last year I collected comments from adoptive parents on an adoptive forum and posted them to demonstrate some of what humanity has to offer.

Like I said before, the point of this is not to throw a pity party for adoptive parents. Any discussion of transracial adoption shouldn't be all about the adoptive parents' feelings. Rather, calling this sort of thing out is about (1) preparing parents to deal with such situations in a way that's constructive for their kids, (2) whistling past the graveyard — a sharing of the experience, and (3) laughing about the brokenness and general asshatitude of humanity.

Open Your Mouth and Remove All Doubt

Ingmar Bergman's thoroughly enjoyable 1975 movie version of Mozart's The Magic Flute is in Swedish and necessary takes liberties with the German libretto. Further liberties are taken with the English subtitles. In the first act, when the Three Ladies cut Papageno some slack and unlock his lying mouth, the subtitles have them singing this:

The strong are different than the weak, in that they think before they speak.

Quite true. Look, everyone has Microsoft moments when their brain experiences the blue screen/red ring of death and shuts down. The difference between people who avoid (on the petty scale) embarrassing themselves or (on the large scale) getting themselves into bad trouble is that sensible people shut up until their brain reboots. This is part of the sensibility informing my favorite advice to clients, which is: when in doubt or confusion or stress or trouble, shut up.

Amusing case in point: yesterday Katrina was at a book fair with the kids. A mother meets her, and asks which kids are hers. Katrina points out Abby, who is obviously Asian. Other Mother looks perplexed; you can see the Microsoft Blue Screen of Death reflected in her eyes. Is she Korean, she asks? Yes, says Katrina. Is your husband Asian, she inquires? No, says Katrina, thus ignoring my standing offer (diamond tennis bracelet if she answers that question "I don't know, it was dark"). Further confusion on expression of Other Mother, who then ignores my advice and keeps talking through the brain freeze — looking at my very white, very Northern-European-origin wife, she asks "are YOU Korean?"

Katrina was very polite to her and explained at this point that Abby was adopted. The brain rebooted. Katrina scrupulously avoided eye-rolling or laughter, displaying merely one of the traits that makes her a better person than I.

So: shutting up, it's not just for clients any more.

[Note that I am fully aware I routinely fail to follow my own advice.]

Brace Yourself For The Typical Flood of Racist Douchebaggery

So Katherine Heigl — whose own sister was adopted from Korea — is adopting a baby girl from Korea. Best wishes to her and her husband and their daughter.

This will be an opportunity for some people to inquire whether celebs adopting get special treatment or exemptions from the rules. That is a legitimate inquiry. It may also be an occasion to explore problems with, and concerns about, international adoption; that is also a completely legitimate subject, even if it is not comfortable for everyone.

However, most of the coverage will not be serious. The loudest voices will be racist assholes like the Pittsurgh Tribune's Mike Seate, who will ask variations on "why are they adopting those ching-chong kids rather than REAL 'MURKIN KIDS." The loudest voices will tell rice and sumo and math jokes. The loudest voices, operating on the principle that "things I notice, or the media covers, represent a statistically significant trend," will push the "OMG Asian babies are celebrity fashion statements!!!!" notion. The loudest voices will be sure to use language distinguishing Heigl's baby so that nobody confuses it with a "real" daughter.

In short, the loudest voices on the topic will be douchebags.

Oh, by the way, some people will also complain that Heigl is not fit because she's to be a working mother — working on a movie soon, to be specific. I don't see a problem with that. She can pretty much let the kid graze at the craft services table. They've always got good stuff. (Unless it's an indie movie, then it's all vegan shit, like organic localvore rutabagas that have been grown in fertilizer made from the nightsoil of teaching assistants from the local community college's Comp. Lit. department.) Just make sure to put the baby on the craft services table before the teamsters get there, because they always take the donuts.

Plus, there are lots of people on-set who can supervise a baby. I mean, most of these jobs are made up anyway. "Gaffer"? "Key grip"? "Best boy?" Please. Like any of those can prove that their job description doesn't include "clean up after projectile vomiting." If they've worked on a movie with Gary Busey, they probably expect it.

Plus, I have to say that having a kid will take the pressure off of Heigl for relentlessly badmouthing her directors and writers. She bad-mouthed the Grey's Anatomy writers until [WARNING: READERS WHO ARE MY WIFE AND WAITING FOR THE SEASON FIVE DVD, READ NO FURTHER] they gave her character a brain tumor. That's why you don't annoy people who write; I'm just saying. Also, she whined about how demeaning some of the material in Judd Aptow movies were. Dude, it's a Judd Aptow movie. You were expecting it to be Chekov? Anyway, my point is that her kid can take the pressure off by her by taking over some of the bad-mouthing. She could focus on just the directors and the kid could, like, have a diaper malfunction all over the executive producer, or shriek at the writers when they try to steal food to take home to their families.

I may have wandered from the point here.

Some Promising New Adoption Blogs

Long-time readers know that I write a fair amount about adoption, and particularly about issues like how the media talks about adoption and the tension between some adoption boosters (the happy-happy-joy-joy wing who resist discussing anything negative about international adoption) and those of us who think that it's complicated.

So I'm always happy to learn about new adoption blogs. Thanks to an email from Martha Nichols, a writer and teacher of writing, I found two more to follow: Martha's own new blog (in which I strongly identified with her experience of trying to get a seven-year-old to appreciate Star Trek), and a new blog called Adopt-a-Tude, with a promising and thoughtful first post about how the media treats international adoption. Check them out.

Apparently My Adopted Kids Are Going To Kill You. Sorry!

In the various blogs and forums where adoptive families congregate, there's been an uproar about the upcoming Warner Brothers movie Orphan. You may have seen the trailer if you've been to the movies in the last few weeks; if not, you can see a revised version (more on that later) through the link above. Orphan appears to be a run-of-the-mill psychological horror movie built around the classic changeling/bad seed myth kernel, in this case featuring a nice quiet family adopting a cute little girl who turns out to be an evil psychopath with some sort of mysterious and no doubt horrifying past.

This is nothing new. The Omen series plays on the same mythic structure. The evil adopted child/stepchild/foundling is a concept as old as the evil stepmother and just as common in folklore.

So why the uproar? Well, a few reasons. First, in fairness to Warner Brothers, the adoption community is somewhat sensitive (some would say oversensitive) to slights to begin with. Why? Well, it's because some of you are such relentlessly insensitive and ignorant assholes who don't think before flapping your big fat mouths in front of our kids. No offense.

But second, in fairness to the adoptive parents, Orphan has been marketed in a way to play up the adopting-a-kid-is-a-scary-risk angle. The trailer dwells on the spooky orphanage and scenes within it, and emphasizes that the adopted child is alien and out of place in her new family. Of course, adoptive parents get that a lot. "Aren't you afraid you'll get a child with . . . problems? "Isn't there a risk of emotional issues?" "Aren't you worried about getting a drug-addicted baby?" Etc. Etc. Etc. (As if pushing a kid out of your vagina was insurance that the kid would grow up to be a well-adjusted brain surgeon. Ask Lionel Dahmer about that one, kids.)
The original trailer also featured a line from the titular character: "It must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own." There's a line that sets our teeth on edge, and that we also hear all too often. The inclusion of that line made it seem as if Warner's marketers were trying to demonize adoptive kids.

The adoptive community reacted in bad ways and good ways. I'm sorry to say there were calls to censor the movie — to prevent it, somehow, from being released. The fact that there was no chance of that happening does not diminish the fact that such calls for censorship are un-American and regrettable. There were also calls to exercise return speech in the marketplace of ideas — to tell Warner that they were being assholes and offending a small but extremely noisy segment of their ticket-buying audience. That approach was effectiveWarner acknowledged that its marketing of the movie was sort of douchey (my words, not theirs), removed the "it must be hard to love an adoptive child" line from the trailer, and apologized. They also commented that in a world in which they get death threats for moving the date of the next Harry Potter movie, the adoption community was unusually polite in their feedback. That's nice to know.

My kids will be bombarded with cultural messages marking them as other, different, even inferior because they are adopted. Orphan adds but one small voice to that din. I'd like them to take two messages away from this affair. The first is that they are in control of their own destinies and, by taking initiative and telling people like Warner that they are being assholes, can educate and change minds. The second is that while their feelings are valid and their own, they ought not interpret every use of an anti-adoption trope as a personal assault, any more than a stepmother should get upset at every Cinderella sequel. Sometimes a mythic-theme-driven horror movie is just a horror movie.

Working Parents Are Bad Parents, Apparently

I'm lucky. As a lawyer, sucking marrow from the bones of the fallen and feeding like a lamprey off the lifeblood of the economy, I have the financial wherewithal to allow my spouse to "stay home" with the kids rather than work. (I say "stay home" because her schedule with the kids drives her more miles per day than mine does.) I'm also fortunate to be married to someone with a temperament that allows her to "stay home" with the kids without bleeding out the ears or drowning them in a lake and fabricating a story involving a dark-skinned carjacker.

Many families are not so lucky. 51% of families with kids had two working parents in 1998. Some of those families, like mine, were built by adoption rather than by birth. Some were built by both.

Probate Judge Frank Willis of Van Buren County, Michigan thinks that's just not right. Even though the law doesn't support him, he's out to stop it.

See, Judge Frank Willis has authority to approve — or not — adoptions in his county. And he won't approve them unless the prospective parents sign a "moral commitment" pledging that one parent will stay home with a baby for a year, and that one parent will not work full-time during the kid's preschool years.

Willis requires parents who adopt infants in his county to agree that one of them will be home with the baby during the first year and won't work full time during the baby's preschool years. Willis is perhaps the only justice in Michigan to require such a pledge, which he acknowledges is not legally binding and may be offensive and outdated to some.

Oh, ya think?

Judge Willis' requirement is not based on any federal or Michigan or local law. He's made it up out of whole cloth, based on his personal views on parenting. So far he's gotten away with it. The commitment he requires, if honored, would render adoption impossible for some families. Not everyone can afford to have one parent take a year off work, or work only part-time for a few more years:

For the Shockleys, cutting in half their combined $70,000 income wasn't an option.
"It wouldn't have been possible to pay our mortgage and bills with one income," Allison Shockley said.

Allison works as a financial analyst at Welch Foods Inc. in Lawton, and her husband is a technology specialist at the Kalamazoo Educational Regional Service Agency. They both worked during the infancy of their older son, Jordan, 4, who was adopted as an infant in Kalamazoo County.

Without the Shockleys' signatures on the moral-commitment pledge, though, Willis would not put his signature on their petition to adopt.

And without the signature of the judge in the county where they live, the Shockleys' interstate adoption through a local agency was stalled.

But, Judge Willis says, this is a matter of principle, not of finances.

Or wait. Maybe not.

Willis said he does not require the pledge from adoptive parents of foster children, children with special needs or children from other countries. He restricts the requirement to parents adopting babies born in this country because "this is a babies' market; that's where the waiting list is."

Oh. So it's market-driven. Willis wants adoption of the sought-after babies to be limited to families with sufficient resources to have one parent stay home with them.

Look, there are perfectly colorable arguments that children are better off with one parent at home with them. There's a perfectly colorable argument that people work longer and harder because they want to buy things that aren't necessary. But, to be blunt, that's none of Judge Willis' damn business. There's no law in Michigan restricting adoption to one-working-parent families. It's questionable whether anyone would support such a law, and not entirely clear that it would pass constitutional muster. Willis is an oathbreaker. He took an oath to uphold the laws and constitution of his state, and he's pissing on that oath by using the power of his office to enforce his personal extra-legal social and moral views. That's highlighted by his calling this a "moral commitment" and pointing out that it is not enforceable. That's no damn excuse. He has no business enforcing moral rules from the bench whether or not the parents can break their word without consequence. His job is to enforce and apply legal rules. Willis' behavior is the essence of tyranny and the antithesis of the rule of law. The Court of Appeals and the state Commission on Judicial Performance need to slap him down.

(Via Alicia, a member of our adoption forum.)

Miss Manners Revisits Rude Adoption Questions

Previously I praised Miss Manners for endorsing the use of the cut direct with jackasses who ask rude questions about adoptive families. Such rude questions are a well-established pet peeve of mine. So via TJIC (who has a rather different take on it than I do), I was pleased to see her make another attempt to reassure adoptive parents that they need not be doormats, and perhaps even educate a few socially stunted twits.

The letter writer identifies the problem with coy or ambiguous responses designed to deflect the questions:

I've tried asking with the slightest of remonstrance "Excuse me?" but, of course, that just led them to believe that I couldn't hear what was being asked, and the question was repeated even more loudly.

Miss Manners offers admirable advice, which amounts (in pleasant Miss Manners speak) to responding to rude questions with "Why, it's because fuck off!"

Nosy people have already proven themselves to be rude, so you should hardly expect them to make tactful remarks. The important thing is to cut them off at the first question. The only explanation necessary is, "That's personal."

Miss Manners also aptly reminds us that assuming a general approach of civility and decency does not mean we must license all of the crapweasels of the world to walk all over us:

But you must also teach your daughters not to fall for two common arguments: that curiosity is natural and that people who don't disclose personal information must be ashamed of it. Dignified people value their privacy, and being curious is no excuse for demanding that it be satisfied. Under such pressure, they should merely smile and repeat "That's personal" as often as necessary.


For One Thing, I Might Sit On Them

The wife and I have agreed to go on the Jenny Craig diet, because we are extremely susceptible to advertisements featuring the former cast of Cheers. If Woody Harrelson told me to buy a new Hummer I'd be smashing up Priuses in the parking lot and enraging people with hemp shoes with it by the end of the week. I'm extremely dubious that Katrina requires this diet; if she does, she needs it several orders of magnitude less than I do. I've sailed past late Elvis and late Marlon Brando and am fast approaching Dom Deluise/Oprah/Hutt.

Anyway, she's already had her first appointment and picked up her week's supply of ludicrously expensive, sodium-and-preservative rich food-analogue-products. (As near as I can tell, Jenny is flirting with the hypothesis that cell death from sodium poisoning will cause weight loss. You could set some of this stuff out for deer to lick.) She showed me one of the dishes the other night. "It's nice they give you an amuse bouche to start with" I say. No, that was the entire dinner. Since I'm in a different weight class, the one good J.C. classifies as "planetoid," I'll get to eat more every day. But unless I get to line up nine or ten of those entrees like tequila shots on a bar, I'm going to be gnawing the pillows by the weekend.

This is a roundabout way of mentioning that I'm fat. I'm a fat adoptive parent. In some places, as recent news shows, this is an anaomly, as adoption agencies and authorities have health restrictions for adoptive parents that include weight restrictions. Yet somehow our busy friend Matt Drudge saw fit to announce breathlessly on his front page that a family had been excluded from adoption because the husband was too fat.

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Media Remains Vigilant In Defense of Integrity of Biological Families

Journalists, remember: if you report about somebody's kid, and fail to point out prominently that this kid was adopted — even if it's 35 years later — you run the terrible risk that someone will conclude an a kid who was adopted into a family is just as much a family member as a kid who was born into a family.

And we can't have that.


Rest in peace, Lark Previn — I'm sure you will be mourned by your parents just as profoundly as any biological child would have been.

Brothers Indeed

I've written before, time and again, about dealing with the obnoxious questions routinely directed to adoptive parents of transracial families, and shared my fantasized responses.

For a change of pace, Russel D. Moore takes the same stimulus — obnoxious questions about whether his kids are really brothers — and turns it into a moving and inspiring meditation on brotherhood and of Biblical analogies to adoption. I don't agree with all of it — including his passing swipe at infertility treatments — but it is well worth reading.

Edit: As Katrina points out, I also disagree with his decision not to teach kids about birth culture.