Thursday, May 17, 2012

Staring Back

I posted a comment on Facebook last night about something that happened, and it generated a lot of conversation.  I thought I'd continue the conversation here where it can be more than a mere paragraph at a time.  For those who aren't my FB friends, let me explain.

Yesterday evening, the kids had their TaeKwonDo tests, they ran quite late, and so we went to the nearby McDonald's for a quick dinner.  Matthew had a meeting he had to attend for Civil Air Patrol there for planning with a few of the young men, so we thought it would kill two birds with one stone.  We get out of the car and start walking toward the restaurant, and before we even enter both Angela and I see this gaggle of high school aged girls with their father staring and pointing at us.  Hmm....OK, so there are 5 kids in TKD uniforms, maybe that looked kind of funny, I get that.

It didn't end there.  As we walk in and stand in line, the staring continues with more pointing and whispering behind hands, accompanied by giggles.  Mind you, these were not young girls, these were older high school aged kids.  I elect to ignore them, but Angela us growing more and more disturbed. Olesya and Kenny notice but are in conversation and don't realize how ongoing it is.

We get back to the table and Angela says to me "Mom, that was way overboard...did you see how they were making fun of us and wouldn't stop staring?  I am used to people staring at us, but that was too much."  Thankfully, she is my girl filled with confidence and instead of making her shy and totally uncomfortable, it actually angered her.  She then said "What is so wrong with us?  We're just a family, it's like people sometimes never have seen adopted families before and that's just silly.  Adopted families are all over the place so it isn't new or anything."

We had a long talk about appropriate behavior in public, about staring at anyone who is different for some reason and how it makes them feel.  We also talked about how lacking in diversity our area of the country is, and that the girls "pass" as bio kids but the boys don't.  Angela said "Yea Mom, but it's not like we live in Kazakhstan or something, where they don't want Kazakhs and Russians together.  Here in America it is just stupid for people to stare at us, we're just a family."

I had just told Dominick a couple weeks ago that I have noticed that the attention we receive has totally ramped up and I am completely stumped as to why.  It isn't a good thing, not at all, for it is often to the point of rudeness we experienced last night.  Now, I know those of you in urban areas are likely not to believe this, and are thinking I am exaggerating, but believe me I am not.  I have spent the past 11 years being stared at more often than not when I am out with my children, but when they were young it was sort of cute curiosity.  People would ask questions, and while sometimes I would get a little tired of feeling on display, it was all fairly benign.

I can not understand what has changed as the kids have gotten older.  I have not said anything to Matthew, but I have discovered the past several months that when I am out alone with him these days I am getting almost nasty looks.  Considering I have been subjected to this for years, I am not sensitive to it, it is that it is newly changed.  He has yet to notice it, but soon enough he will Josh and Kenny.

I joke about being mistaken for being a foreign exchange school group, but in all seriousness it has happened no less than 5 times....and that's when we are not out on a homeschool field trip wearing our shirts and when people even hear the kids call me "mom".  It's like they somehow can't quite imagine a family looking like us, and frankly, as bad as it has been getting the past couple of months I am running out of compassion and patience. As I said in my short FB post, we are NOT a traveling freak show and I don't like being treated like it everywhere we go.

Some of my FB friends suggested that maybe it was people interested in adoption, or that they are fascinated by us.  That might be true part of the time, but not always.  It's almost as if I don't have the right to put my arm around the shoulder of my Asian son in public.  It's almost as if we don't have the right to exist as a family.  I am not the horribly over-sensitive type of female, believe me, but this is really starting to get downright offensive sometimes.  I am not talking about the honest mistakes, where store clerks handing out samples innocently assume we are not together, or where restaurant hosts want to divide us and place us in two separate areas of the restaurant (happens OFTEN) until we explain we are altogether.  I can totally understand why that happens and that doesn't bother me.  But this is different.

When you live in a county with 41,000 people (our city is much smaller, around 17,000 I think) and .6% is Asian, I guess it is to be expected.  Yea, you read that right .6% not 6%.  But you'd think that simple exposure to media today would make us less of a sideshow.   Haha!  I just realized, that as compared to the Occupy movement we are even lower....we aren't the 1%, we are the Less Than One Percent!

So as we move into this new phase as a family, I have some thinking to do about how to handle this, because it is obvious it isn't going to change and might only get worse.  On FB it was suggested that I walk up to people and initiate a conversation and offer an explanation to satisfy curiosity.  That might work, I suppose, but then I would be doing it almost every single time we are out together as a family, no kidding, and I guess I don't want to place myself in the role of "Official Ambassador for International or Transracial Adoption" just because I am going to City Market and want to get a gallon of milk.  I just want to be what I am, Mom.  I want our kids to be just kids, not "those adopted kids", but I have a feeling that as this increases, that is just not going to happen.

Many of you may wonder why we try to get out of our area as often as we do, why Team LaJoy always seems to be going someplace or headed out on the road on another adventure.  There are a lot of reasons that have nothing at all to do with being on display all the time, but in part it is because we need our kids to see the larger world where there is diversity.  We absolutely have to go someplace where we can walk down the street and be relatively anonymous with no one giving us a second glance, because that sure doesn't happen often at home.  We need to be someplace where no one questions our validity as a family, where I am not asked if I am babysitting my own children, where sometimes it is actually even assumed we ARE a family.  We need them to see people of all colors (our county's African American population is even smaller at .4%) and to view them as beautiful and lovely, just like our family is.  Angela and I still laugh over her declaring in her very limited English while we were in the Frankfurt Airport bringing theme home "Mama...Look...BLACK!" as she pointed and loudly talked about a person of obvious African descent...because she had never seen one before.

I guess I just don't want my own children being like those we encountered last night, whose lives have been so limited by their environment that they find a need to point, stare, and giggle at that which is different.

For now, I guess we just ignore it, educate when the opportunity arises, and try hard not to get angry at having our family sometimes not even seen as a family.  If someone thinks it is weird for a middle aged white woman to be out with a teenaged Asian boy, then that is their problem, not mine.  Where it becomes a problem is when our kids are affected by it, and then we will need to address this differently.  Last night was perhaps the beginning in a series of long conversations about race in our family.  Sad, that in 2012 there is even a need for that at all.


Anonymous said...

Something is very wrong if the father is sitting with the kids and does not putting a stop to it.

We get stared at because my kids are sp nds. A lot of times I will be able to stop or lessen it by stopping and catching the eyes of one of the people (& look them down). Even kids about 8 will stop if I can catch their glance and give them the look.

Of course you could do what we did with the kids when we were in R. and took them out. People would point and stare - one walking into the wall while he was staring at our kids. We got very sick of it. So we had the kids stop, start, point and laugh. It stopped people very quickly! It gave the kids a little power also. It was pretty funny.

My M. did the same thing as Angela but she yelled it really loud!

As far as you being with Matthew, just figure they are idiots and ignore it. It happen to my dad and I more then once. One time my dad and I were walking with my mom and grandmother behind us. After my dad and I passed this lady, she started saying how terrible it was for my dad to be with such a young girl (I was about 22 or so). Apparently she never considered that we were father and daughter. I did want to find her and tell her what an idiot she was with a filthy mind. Apparently some people can't pull their minds out of the gutter long enough to consider something else or mind their own business.

It is not your responsibility to be always teaching other about your family nor do you have to take it. Sometime a well timed "is there a problem", "we are not part of the entertainment", or "I know my son is gorgeous (or my daughter is beautiful) but do you mind!" is educating also. It sort of shocks the offender. Those that did not realize will say they are sorry, the rest will just stand there.

When it come to my kids - I am only so nice for so long! If someone doesn't like it - TOO bad but my kid's feeling come before my need to be nice or politically correct!!

Anonymous said...

We live in a rural community, where you can nearly coung on one hand how many non-Caucasian
kids there are...and four of those fingers would be my kids! But in the case of small towns of only 800 to 3,000 (we live between two communities), most know our family and our kids and accept them well. When our older (bio/adopted Caucasian) kids were still at home with us, and we were out and about in larger places, I think people more easily recognized our hispanic kids as adopted. (We fooled them, 'cuz one Caucasian was adopted, too!) I do notice/feel a little difference now, as the white mom of hispanic teens...and without our older kids to make it more obvious we're a family. Just wondering if "small, young kids" speak more of adoption...and older kids make the relationships a little less clear? Just my own theory, as I've felt a change, also. It makes a little less "sense" to people to think of older kids as adopted family members.

I wonder also, if there might not be something to the fact that your kids/family all enjoy each other so much and have an easy and affectionate manner with each other. As sad as that is, many people have not been familiar with seeing or experiencing that for themselves. Other teens might think it's "weird" to see your kids having such a good time together and not acting like the "typical teen"...trying to be cool and "with it". If that makes sense?

Also, I don't know how many of your kids still have accents, but sometimes that draws attention, though why it should or what's so different about that in this diverse world, I have no idea.

These are just my thoughts and may have little to do with what's going on. I just know I'm starting to feel some of what you described, now that my kids are teens. Why does this hispanic kid, with NO accent, have a white mom??? Or why is she with four hispanic teens? Is this a work crew? In our area, I joke that people might think that, because nearby towns do have a large contingency of hispanic laborers in packing plants.

I got pulled over one night for running a stop sign in a larger town (very stupid place for a stop sign, if you ask me...and I think I did stop, sort of...but I digress). The kids told me later, that while one officer was dealing with me at my window, another officer in the squad car got out and walked around the back of our van, shining his flashlight in at them. I didn't see it happen. But I did wonder if he was checking to see why I had four hispanics in my van. That's not meant to be racial or funny...but I do consider those things and want my kids to be aware of what some people might be thinking at times. In our area, I guess I can't blame him, but I didn't really appreciate it when the kids told me about it.

Just keep reminding your kids what a blessing it is to be a LaJoy! Not that they don't already know that!

Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

Had one more thought. You've said that you are not a "quiet" family. I wonder if your kids' confident/easy going manner was a shock and a bit of an "affront" to those teens. Your kids aren't your "typical" teens, worrying about acting cool, concerned if they're wearing the latest fashion, this case, their uniforms. I can almost think those teens felt threatened that your kids seemed confident in who they are...that your kids didn't feel uncomfortable for not matching up to what those kids thought was "cool". And those teens themselves might have truly been very unsure of themselves and whether they were being accepted by their peers.

The "herd" mentality is so ridiculous, but so real to the vast majority of kids at that age.

Make sense? Just another thought. Your kids need to just keep on being themselves, and show the world there are so many other ways of acting, dressing, communicating with others.

Sorry I have so much to say, but you make me think, Cindy.

Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

Wondering if you can have small cards printed with a 1-sentence note about your family, or maybe an inspirational quote about how diverse families make it a wonderful world ... or something. You absolutely do NOT owe anyone an explanation about your beautiful family, but I'm sure it does get tiring (and offensive) to be stared at, and we do (still, usually) want to educate. Who knows, maybe one of those rude kids will someday grow up and be open to adopting or encouraging those who do?

Anonymous said...

My husband's brother (Scotch/Irish descent, very fair skinned) married a beautiful lady from the Philliapines with fairly dark skin. Their daughter looks more like her dad, and people often assumed her mother was the "nanny." So even with birth families, this can happen.

Peggy in Virginia

Laura said...

As the previous posters commented, I think it was all the other teen's insecurity, and the fact that your kids were happy being with their mom in TaeKwonDo unis! That is not typical for a teen! Your kids will come on better in the long run!
We are lucky that we live in a small city that has become more diverse....many of my Kazakh kids' friends are Latino. It was when we went to Jr. High and High School that we had to straighten a few people's attitudes and explain right from wrong! Now my daughter does it on her own.

Ali said...

I have been teaching middle school for just over 10 years now, and I have noticed a change in how students interact. More and more kids express prejudices and stereotypes, and simply don't see what they are doing is wrong. I don't understand where this change is coming from, as these kids have been taught since a young age to respect others. Furthermore, the anti-bullying movement that is taking place in the media doesn't seem to actually be trickling down to the kids that need to hear the message. I have noticed a huge increase in anti-semetic comments at my fairly large school (I am the only Jewish staff member, and there are two students)...and it is coming from a place of complete ignorance even though the students are taught about world religions and the holocaust. I wish I had advice, but I don't get it either.
At the same time, I have caught myself staring at asian families/families with asian children. I'm sure the families think I'm being rude. In reality, I can't stop thinking about my failed attempts to adopt from Kazakhstan and China. I still feel such a strong pull to adopt, and realize that it will probably never happen.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps your very sensitivity and awareness to what is going on around you and how people react is what is missing in others who stare and comment. Perhaps they lack perception about others and compassion and empathy. They may be driven purely by rudeness, lack of manners, and unbridled, entitled curiousity.

Love you all,

Anonymous said...

You need to move to near us, where diversity reigns supreme! My son, whenever confronted with bigotry or race-based bias now simply asks, "What are we, going back to Civil War times, people?" And, his community backs him up on that...come visit at least..where you guys can have dinner with families that look just like yours!