I never knew what it meant: “conspicuous family.” But since the adoption of my daughter nearly eight years ago, I’ve come to understand it well. A conspicuous family is one like mine who, without any effort on our parts, draws the attention of strangers the way porch lights draw moths at night.
People can’t seem to help themselves. When they see a family with a child who is a different race than other members of the family, who uses a wheelchair or who has a “special need” such as Down syndrome, they stare. (Even those who were told, from an early age, that “staring isn’t polite.”)
Only rarely does someone say something that upsets me. Questions about whether I know her “real mother” still snag my heart sometimes and I feel a flash of hurt, but it’s fleeting. My daughter and I both know who her real mother is. I once received an unpleasant comment from a stranger who said, on regarding my four kids in line at the post office, that “one of them doesn’t match,” but the town where we live is, happily, one in which many families have grown by adoption.
Beyond comments made when they were too young to understand them, my children (three by birth and one by adoption) haven’t been adversely affected by being “conspicuous.” If anything, they have received extra smiles from strangers, smiles they must attribute to their natural charm and beauty! Maybe, beyond giving my kids the occasional shot of self-esteem, there are more benefits to being a “conspicuous” family. Perhaps families like ours are like that porch light, lighting up and even maybe changing the world.
I recently read an article about Craig Juntunen, an adoptive father and the founder of Both Ends Burning, an organization that works “to create a new system of international adoption so that the world’s orphaned and abandoned children can benefit from the support of a permanent family.” Juntunen’s passion is meeting “a child’s most basic human right,” a family.
“In many countries, international adoption programs are shutting down, condemning generations of children to wrongful detainment in desperate orphanages, dangerous tent cities, unhealthful refugee camps, or homelessness,” says Juntunen on Both Ends Burning’s site.
In the Washington Times piece in which I was introduced to Junteson and Both Ends Burning, his fresh perspective regarding race and international adoption grabbed me.
“I believe that international adoption will lead to the evolution of a global society, where the cross-pollination of races and cultures will shrink the planet. Families created through international adoption are ambassadors, because their children become part of the communities they live in and everyone gains from that experience,” he said.
Ambassadors. Yes, yes, I’ve felt that many times.
My friend Helen Lee’s new book The Missional Mom addresses this idea as well. Helen is Asian-American, I’m Caucasian. We’ve talked about race a number of times over the last few years and a story I shared with her is one she records in The Missional Mom.
She writes, “Jennifer Grant is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and the mother of four children. Her youngest, Mia, is adopted. Mia was born in Guatemala and is of Mayan descent, and having Mia as a part of Jennifer’s family has helped everyone become more aware of issues of race. … Not only has having Mia as a part of her family increased her cultural sensitivity, but it has also raised the awareness of Mia’s siblings. Jennifer says of her daughter Isabel that she is…immediately drawn to people of color. At school, she has a mixed group of friends.”
She’s an ambassador, as are all of my kids.
If the mission of international adoption advocates such as Juntunen is realized, more children will grow up in the loving homes – rather than institutions or on the streets – a right when they deserve.
And, families like mine (and yours) won’t seem so conspicuous anymore.