>Yesterday Zoey and I tried out a new mom and baby class at the gym. It was part music class and part dance/movement class. The instructor–let’s call her Barbie–was a tall, tan, hot, fake-blond who was rocking some tight yoga pants and a teeny fit t-shirt. And she was wearing a baseball cap that had rhinestones and glitter on it. Being one who believes that a person’s head wear and level of spray-tan tells a lot about them, I assumed we were in trouble. Then she spoke to us.
“So, obviously you adopted?” she chirped. I wasn’t a big fan of the use of the word ‘obviously’ but I smiled and nodded anyway. “So she’s from Africa, right?” My smile got tighter and thinner.
“Actually no, she was born in Connecticut.”
Barbie was unfazed and there wasn’t even a flicker of ‘Oh-crap,-I may-have-just-said-the-wrong-thing’ across her face. I began to suspect botox as there wasn’t that much facial movement at all. Barbie continued, “Oh. Well I have these friends who have 4 of their own kids and then they decided to get another one and they picked a little black baby too, even though they already had some of their own!”
Now at this point, the first thing I should have said was, “I believe the term you’re looking for is ‘biological child’ because Zoey is my own child.” Note: this wasn’t the first thing I wanted to say. But it was the first thing I could say in front of my child that didn’t have 4 letter words other than ‘term’ and ‘Zoey’. But instead of swearing or saying something useful I said, “Well . . . that’s great.” Yeah, some advocate/social worker/mom I am.
Barbie was still unfazed and didn’t seem to notice the look of shock on my face. She went on happily, “Yeah, and then, my other friends adopted from Russia! They went over there to pick out the baby and there was only this one little black baby in the orphanage, because they don’t like black babies there, and they picked the little black baby!!!! It’s great because little black babies have trouble finding homes you know. But those friends still want a baby of their own.”
I wildly scanned the room and looked towards the door hopefully. Was anyone else hearing this? The room was empty and Zoey was busy eating the buckles on the stroller. I tried sending her a telepathic message to do a really stinky poop. But no luck. I was alone with Barbie. I yet again cursed my anal retentive quality that perceives anything other than arriving 15 minutes early as being late.
This might have been as good a time as any to jump in and say that Zoey isn’t only African-American, she is also Latino. I don’t want half of her racial/ethnic identity to be ignored because it’s less visual, and I also don’t want to sound like I have a problem with her blackness. That’s a fine line to walk. And I don’t know how to do it yet. So instead I said, “Adoption is a great thing.” I could have at least faked a sudden headache and gotten out of there. But no. I had to stick around for the next train wreck…
“Yeah, and my neighbors? They’re black. And they have little black babies too!!” Barbie seemed very pleased about this. She even flipped her blond hair back in excitement.
I had to ask, “Oh… They adopted?”
Now, before you read on, prepare yourself for her response… Are you sitting? Okay…
I literally had no response to this. None. Except to think, Damn Niki for being out of town and missing this.
Barbie’s parting comment was, “Well, I have to go get ready to start class. But don’t worry, maybe one day you can still have a baby of your own!” And she pirouetted off across the room. After I retrieved my jaw off the floor I wanted to yell after her to come back, that I wasn’t done with her yet. I wanted to tell her that she needs to rethink her assumption that every person who’s adopted a child still wants to have ‘one of their own.’ Adoption isn’t settling. We are proud of our adoption story and we are proud of our daughter. I don’t lay awake at night feeling a gaping whole in my life because I have not been pregnant or given birth. At night I lie in bed picking cheerios out of my hair, exhausted, just like all the other mothers.
But Barbie was on the other side of the room stretching and welcoming other moms and kids. We weren’t going to come to any kind of understanding today. If only I could see into her fake-blond head, past the tan, past the rhinestone hat, and past the twangy southern accent that makes everything (even the most insightful of statements, which this wasn’t) sound, well, dumb. If only.
I guess we all have stereotypes to overcome.