I am, by nature, an introvert. That is not to say that I am not warm or friendly or interested in you because I am, am, am. It is simply to say that I get my energy from within. I am the person who comes home from a party drained, not the person who leaves a party and has energy to spare because it enfused her with so much get up and go. I know this about myself, I build in lots of quiet time, I say no to things other people think would be just fabulous to do. It’s been a fairly perfect strategy. And then we adopted.
I knew that we would be a fairly conspicuous family– the red head, the black haired girl, and our African boy- when we adopted a baby from Ethiopia, and I embraced the idea of always sending a very clear message about family, about people, about not steretyping, about community with my family. It is how I went through life. It’s how I live verbally and nonverbally. But because I embrace a fair amount of quiet time, because I work from home, because I am no longer visually interesting- read different- in this new millennium as I was in my childhood and early adulthood, I sort of forgot that people wouldn’t just be looking at us.
We are blessed with a baby boy who is compelling, who people gravitate towards because of his joy, and because he, figuratively, reaches out to them with his smile, with his joyful chattering, with his funny mannerisms. Our uncle relayed that our cousin, who has not yet met baby because he lives on the West Coast, recently asked if baby knew when he was the center of attention. My answer, “More importantly to baby, he knows when he’s not the center of attention.” Because he’ll lure you back in. That’s how our baby boy rolls.
Initially, the attention we received as a family threw me off guard. I knew we would get looks. I didn’t anticipate how often people would march right up to us and start inquiring about our son, our lives, how we all came to be a family unit. For the introvert who just wants to play with her son on the beach, having 17 new conversations every hour as people stopped to talk to us on their beach walk was initially exhausting. But the part of me that looks for meaning, that looks for good, that looks for a way to affirm life– which I hope is bigger and more magnanimous than my introvert- has been touched by what all these interactions mean in the moment and what it can mean later.
People stop because they are curious, because they want to learn, they want to understand, and they aren’t scared. That is significant. If our engaging with them, if our willingness to honestly and heartfully tell them our story if they ask, if their witnessing of our sheer love for one another does nothing else, it does, at least, give them a sense of what a tricultural, bi-racial family is like. And it creates a comfort about it within them. The truth is that in some ways our family might look different from their family, but, in most ways, it does not. We are not frightening. We are not different. We are not threatening. We’re just three people that fate brought together and that love holds together. We are just three people who are family because we cannot bear not to be. At our core, regardless of our race, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic class, that, I think, is what we all want– a place to call home and a family to fill it with love.