I never knew what it meant: â€śconspicuous family.â€ť But since the adoption of my daughter nearly eight years ago, Iâ€™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 canâ€™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 â€śspecial needâ€ť such as Down syndrome, they stare.Â (Even those who were told, from an early age, that “staring isnâ€™t polite.”)
Only rarely does someone say something that upsets me.Â Questions about whether I know her â€śreal motherâ€ť still snag my heart sometimes and I feel a flash of hurt, but itâ€™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 â€śone of them doesnâ€™t match,â€ť 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) havenâ€™t been adversely affected by being â€śconspicuous.â€ť 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 â€śconspicuousâ€ť 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 â€śto create a new system of international adoption so that the worldâ€™s orphaned and abandoned children can benefit from the support of a permanent family.â€ť Juntunenâ€™s passion is meeting â€śa childâ€™s most basic human right,â€ť a family.
â€śIn 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,â€ť says Juntunen on Both Ends Burningâ€™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.
â€śI 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.Â Families created through international adoption are ambassadors, because their children become part of the communities they live in and everyone gains from that experience,â€ť he said.
Ambassadors.Â Yes, yes, Iâ€™ve felt that many times.
My friend Helen Leeâ€™s new book The Missional Mom addresses this idea as well.Â Helen is Asian-American, Iâ€™m Caucasian.Â Weâ€™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, â€śJennifer 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 Jenniferâ€™s family has helped everyone become more aware of issues of race. â€¦ Not only has having Mia as a part of her family increased her cultural sensitivity, but it has also raised the awareness of Miaâ€™s siblings. Jennifer says of her daughter Isabel that she isâ€¦immediately drawn to people of color. At school, she has a mixed group of friends.â€ť
Sheâ€™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 â€“ rather than institutions or on the streets â€“ a right when they deserve.
And, families like mine (and yours) wonâ€™t seem so conspicuous anymore.