Recently someone said to me, “You’re such a good person.” This was in reference to learning that I had adopted my son Chris. As if the simple act of adopting a child had cosmically voided the long list of awful things I’d done in my life. You’re such a good person. Baloney. On a good day I fall somewhere between mean and horrible. I’m self-righteous, vain, and I routinely mock other people for sport. You’re such a good person…because you adopted. Would that it were that simple.
But still people say it. It’s a sentiment on par with, “He looks just like you.” It’s a lie people feel compelled to tell. He looks just like you. Yes, my five-foot-tall skinny long-limbed eight-year-old with high cheekbones and Native American ancestry looks just like my short-waisted stout full-faced pasty white Irish ass. At least when they say it to Todd I think, “Well, they do both wear glasses.”
I know people are just being nice, just reading from the script, but still, it does make me wonder what people would say if we adopted a black kid. “He looks just like you. But darker.”
It’s an antiquated notion hearkening back to the not-so glory days of adoption. Black babies with black families. Italian babies with Italian families. Gay babies with gay families. (I’m kidding about that last example. Everyone knows you aren’t born gay.) The point is just two generations ago every attempt was made to hide the adoption, to keep the secret. Children grew up being lied to; their origin a shame so awful its revelation could destroy the whole family.
But today we celebrate adoption. Families of all shapes and sizes and colors openly parade around looking like some 1980’s Benetton ad. We make TV movies about adoption. It even has the Brangelina High Holy seal of approval. Yet for all our progress we still have mountains to climb.
Imagine if instead of walking around once a year sporting a self-congratulatory sticker that said I voted we wore a sticker that said I’m adopted. Imagine if a half a million kids were no longer in foster care because they had all been adopted. Imagine if people no longer felt the need to say, “He looks just like you.”