I had to decide in an instant what to do about an exchange I witnessed on a lunch break at school.
A parent at my school was performing volunteer duties. I watched as her son, one of my high school students, passed by her near the main office.
“You’re adopted,” he said to her affectionately.
“No, YOU’re adopted.” she volleyed back. Obviously this was not the first time they have said these connection-building words to each other.
It felt the opposite of connection-building to me.
Do Nothing or Say Something (What??)
The student went on his way and I was left in the vicinity of the mom while I got my lunch together. I had to think fast before the moment passed.
What should I do?
Staying silent was the safest route. After all, these aren’t random people in line at Target. These are people with whom I’ll have an ongoing relationship.
No confrontation means no chance of hard feelings with the mom, with the student, maybe even with the principal, if things went badly. In the blink of an eye my mind churned out a half-dozen scenarios that all went badly.
Saying something was risky. What would I say? How could I not give a pass and also not cause the mom to become defensive?
I pretended someone was asking my advice how to handle this. I’d tell them, Reflect back to the person what they’ve said without judgment. Let them see for themselves. Share your own experience without judgment.
Adoption as a Joke
I reminded myself that I really like this student, and his mom seems like a nice person. Neither, I told myself, would deliberately say something hurtful. It’s just that they’ve never thought of the implications of treating adoption as a joke.
So without further analysis and without having a fully formed plan, I opened a conversation, not knowing exactly where I would take it, where she would take it. I took a deep breath and dove in.
“Did I hear you and your son talking about adoption?” I put my lunch in the microwave.
“Yeah, it’s jut a little thing we do to bug each other.” She smiled broadly. She adores her son and she loves that he gave her attention in front of his peers.
“Oh, yeah, I understand. We take teen affection where we can get it, right?”
I continued: “It caught my ear because my family is an adoptive family. If my kids heard something like that, they might take it as meaning they are less than.”
I let my words sink in. She was quiet a moment.
“Oh, I never thought of that.” She closed the supply cabinet, I gathered my lunch, we offered each other closing pleasantries and went our separate ways.
Now She Knows
I have no idea if the conversation made an impact on her. But I’m proud that I didn’t let the issue slide and I’m pleased that the conversation it didn’t get out of control.
So maybe I can put this little exchange in the win column.
Have you ever heard adoption used as a punchline? Please share your conversations, real or imagined.
Postscript: One reader alerted me to this scene from Marvel’s The Avengers. What a hysterical punchline.
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.