“That’s Meg’s daughter, she was adopted!” exclaimed a mother I hardly knew, speaking loudly. The scene took place over the summer at a pool, as I was being introduced by the mother to her two friends.
Savanna, our five-year-old blond (in a family of brunettes) daughter, was running around out of earshot. “What?” I remarked, a bit taken aback. Reacting to my reaction, the mother exclaimed loudly, “Oh, I am sorry Meg. Isn’t Savanna adopted? Was that a secret? Or, is it that Savanna does not know she was adopted?” Differences appear in many shapes and sizes. One of Savanna’s differences is that she was indeed adopted at birth. However, I never could have predicted that the difference that would draw real attention would be her light blond hair.
Savanna’s adoption is not a secret, by any stretch. Before John and I adopted her in Southern California, we made a conscious decision to ensure that her adoption story from inception would be completely transparent to her; the adoption would be simply part of her greater life story. Having heard horror stories in my time, I was adamant that there would be no surprise waiting for her whenever she reached the “right age” to hear that news. To do so would be the equivalent of hiding Ethan and Charlie’s hands post birth with mittens until they were at the perfect age to handle hearing about their digits.
As I reflect further, the mother’s remark struck me mostly because it reminded me how very uncomfortable so many people can behave when exposed to any type of overt difference. This is nothing new. My own mother-in-law, who shares my dark hair color, tells me that when John was a baby she was approached constantly with the question, “Where did he get that red hair?” For her, John was her biological son so she could just offer a joke about the red-haired mailman visiting a lot back then.
At the pool, the mother was probably trying to explain to her friends how Savanna could possibly be my daughter since Savanna is so blond. To me, even with the best of intentions, the remark was made so that Savanna’s difference could be explained to help the others figure out the visual inconsistency. But what a shame it would be if everyone always felt the need to explain away differences because they made others uncomfortable. Can you imagine? What if we lived in a world where a woman introduces her friend Jack (a small man with a limp) to another friend. “This is my old friend Jack,” and then suddenly volunteers, “He was conceived in a petri dish and arrived prematurely.”
When Savanna was a baby, I struggled with how best to respond to continuous questions about her fair hair. Most importantly, I did not want my response to seem as I was trying to hide an important part of who she was from others. However, as Savanna has begun to grow into an extremely precocious kid, one day recently it struck me. My response should be no different than when someone asks me, “Why are your boys born like that?”
I can simply respond, “It’s in the genes!”