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Jennifer M. Koontz is a mother and an educator who has taught students of all ages, from preschool through college.
by Jennifer M. Koontz
I am feeling pity for someone today, and I’m glad to report that it isn’t me. But that doesn’t make me feel better, for some reason. The day started out well, with a trip to the shoe store and lunch with my family. Then we headed to Target, which is one of my favorite stores and a place where we always seem to discover things that we need but didn’t know it.
Today, as we shopped, I saw a lady pushing a cart with a young boy in it. He was about the age of my daughter, and looked very much like my daughter. My daughter has gorgeous dark hair, brown eyes, and skin such a beautiful color of brown that most of us try all sorts of tanning products to achieve such beauty. I did not give birth to my daughter, but she lives in my heart and is the best and most important gift that I will ever receive in my life.
As I pushed my cart around Target, I kept passing this lady with her son and I smiled at him each time, because he was as handsome as my daughter is beautiful. Then, in the frozen foods section, when I went by the mother, I said to her, “I have a daughter who was born in South America. Was your son born in South America?” I didn’t say, “Is your son adopted?” I didn’t say, “I notice that your son doesn’t look like you.” I didn’t say any of the things that people usually find offensive – and I know what those things are.
No, I made it clear that my daughter and her son shared something in common. I thought I was being friendly, being open, being welcoming. For that reason, I was appalled when she didn’t even look at me and pushed her cart as quickly as possible to the end of the aisle, around the corner, and she kept going. She never said a word in response.
I wonder how many times she has had to run away from people who make comments to her about her son. There are plenty of people who make comments to adoptive parents; some nice, some not. But this lady had a much bigger problem, and for that reason, I feel sorry for her. She was trying to hide something that is impossible to hide. She didn’t look like her son, and no matter how many times she ignores people who notice it, that isn’t going to change. I wanted to talk to her and tell her that she should be proud that she is an adoptive parent and that by running, she is only teaching her son to be ashamed of his identity and the culture from which he came.
It bothers me when people ask me if my daughter is of another nationality, because the truth is that she is an American. She is our adopted daughter, and she is a United States citizen. I tell them where she was born, which is a fact. For all of us, the place of our birth is a fact. If it happens to be another country, then we should embrace it.
I never want my daughter to run away from who she is; I want her to feel proud of her background, her appearance, her personality, and I want her to give thanks for the person she was made to be. It troubles me that the lady I encountered today in Target is raising a child. She is clearly not OK with people being different. If her son is about 6 or 7 years old, he knows he looks different from other people. If she is going to run away from anyone who notices that, then what is she teaching him?
Normally I don’t write things that have much potential for offending people, at least I don’t think that I do. But this encounter today bothered me significantly, and when I am discouraged by someone’s behavior, I write. I’m fairly sure that the lady I saw today in Target will never see this article, but maybe others will, others who have been running from reality.
As an adoptive mom, I implore you to please be honest and upfront with your child, yourself, and anyone who wants to learn from you. Most people really just want to learn more about adoption, and those who are critical are only that way because they don’t understand. If we push our cart away and hide from those people, how will they learn to open their minds? We adoptive parents are ambassadors in a sense. Not only can we teach others about adoption, but we are teaching our children at the same time. There is no room for shame when it comes to identity.
If you feel shame for something you have done in the past, that’s one thing. But to feel shame for who you are, or for who your children are … that doesn’t bode well for your future or for theirs. Not only did that lady in the store today miss out on the chance to finish her food shopping, since she was busy hiding from me, she also missed out on making a new friend. That’s why I pity her. We parents can use all the friends and all the support we can get. I hope that maybe one day she will find the courage to stay and talk. Her child will respect her for it. And so will I.
Jennifer M. Koontz is a mother and an educator who has taught students of all ages, from preschool through college. She is the author of When Your Centerpiece is Made of Play-Doh and the Dog Has Eaten Your Crayons: A Mother’s Perspective on Parenting. For more information, please visit, www.facebook.com/jmkoontzforparents
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