My son Thys (the Asian one) got nominated for a special camp this summer. We got a flyer in his take-home folder that told us this news.
"Why did you get nominated, Thys?" I asked at dinner.
End of conversation.
School secretary? Clueless. Teacher? MIA.
Resource Teacher? "Yes, hmmmm, we nominate kids who can't afford summer camp."
One minute later, WTF?
And the next minute, Shit! All those days I let my children dress to their own whims and this is the consequence? The disheveled hair, the ghetto lunch boxes, and the handmedown backpacks, hell, the handmedown everything, has led them to believe that Thys is impoverished. Holy shit.
I will not reprint the email/inquiry letter that I sent to the Principal.
I will, however, reveal to you my greatest fear--the underlying visceral reaction that I have to such situations.
It all goes back to the comment I have heard since we learned of Thys. It goes something like this:
"You are a saint for adopting him," or "What a great thing you've done," or "He is so lucky."
As if he is a Yahoo headline, and we should have a plaque in our entryway that reads: "People who have adopted and therefore admitted into their lineage a human who was not produced by their own body fluids... live here." Who would volunteer to draw the logo for that copy?
As if we should be commended or applauded any more than anyone else who has chosen to parent.
Because if you choose to believe that logic, and take it to its conclusion, then Thys is a sympathy case.
And if you believe that he is a sympathy case, then you believe that he is in need of sympathy. And if you believe that a young human is in need of sympathy, then you begin to treat him or her differently than you treat everyone else. Everyone else whom you perceive as "normal" and not worthy of your sympathy.
He does not, in fact, need to be treated differently than anyone else. He is smart enough (and has been for quite some time) to know that when you treat him differently, you perceive some kind of inadequacy in him, some hole that others don't have, a deficiency (and even if he were not smart enough to decode this, it would still be unfair. Think of other special needs kids in your life.)
Have you ever had someone else feel sorry for you? Perhaps because you lost a running race? An eating contest? A job you were in the running for? Yes, the sympathy from your friends may be nice... for about five minutes. But as soon as that minute six comes along you want everyone to stop reminding you that you lost. You want everyone to shut up about it. How would you feel if two years later someone came up to you with that hangdog look on their face and told you that they always think of you as "that person who lost the job." Tell me you wouldn't want to smack them.
Nobody likes sympathy for long. Humans need attention for other things.
So please, don't feel sorry for my son. Don't treat him differently than you would if he were born to me. Don't tell him he's "cute" because he's Asian and you haven't seen any Asians under the age of 20 except on TV. Don't tell me that you can't even see the scar from his repaired cleft lip when he's in earshot.
If you do, I may have to... write you a letter too.
My husband and I are neither holy nor saintly nor deserving of any praise--or any sympathy--for adopting Thys. We chose him for the same reason so many others choose to get pregnant (or choose not to abort). We chose to have a child in our lives... to hug, to discipline, to teach how to swim and how to cook, to feed, to have a reason to say: "table for four," to buckle into a car seat, to watch from the sidelines, to hear laughter from, to build lego towers with, to watch kick a ball, to listen to banging piano keys, to capture the pain of tears and relish in the thrill of joys. It is a path we chose consciously.
He is our son. We chose him as much as we chose to conceive our other son. No more, no less. No first, no second choice.
Telling someone they've done a great thing by adopting is like telling them that they've done a great thing by not getting an abortion, or congratulating someone for not cheating on their taxes...it reduces the humanity of the child and minimizes the real issue: He is a child. We are his parents. Please leave it at that.
Please, no sympathy here. We don't need your camps.
And. We are not in poverty, despite the evidence.