Every Friday night, Mr. Applesauce and I have a pajama party. We play video games and watch movies until it’s time to go to sleep. For him, it’s the better bedtime. For me, it’s an hour and a half of drifting in and out of sleep while he tries to convince me to let him watch “just one more episode.” It’s a tradition to which we both look forward all week long. Last Friday, we brushed our teeth, put on our pajamas and crawled into bed where I took just a moment to check my email before turning on my son’s favorite game. That was a mistake; I spent the rest of my waking moments wishing I could un-see what I had just read and knowing that I couldn’t really do anything about it without interrupting my son’s play time. The email that would haunt me for the rest of the night informed me that someone had left the following comment on my blog entry announcing the Davis County Adoption Carnival:
It is extremely sad to see a post like this. The word adoption and circus should never be in the same sentence. Have you thought about how this message affects adoptees? It is disrespectful. I am pro-adoption and I am an adoptee. I am not in favor of fundraising for adoptions, especially those internationally. I understand your needs and your desires, however, I have never been so appalled by an adoption fundraiser until I came across this post on Facebook, and read the comments of many hurt adoptees. Adoptees are often treated as circus freaks growing up because they look different than their adoptive families. They are pointed at and laughed at. This is something we have to deal everyday of our lives, not you, the adoptive parents. My deepest prayer is that you understand that I come to you in no disrespect, but that you acknowledge the pain and emotions of adoptees on this matter. I also pray that you discontinue this fundraiser. I can only imagine what your adopted child/ren will think of themselves when they find out that their parents started a circus to raise money to adopt them.
I will be praying for your heart to not continue this mockery of adoptees.
Two years of fundraising has an alienating effect on a lot of people, but I had never really offended someone until that day, not to the point where they would attack my actions on the internet. The author of the comment, Jessenia Arias, is a professional adoptee advocate. I do not know her personally, but her online persona is riveting. She has a compelling perspective on the process of adoption and the experiences of adopted children. This perspective has been framed by her harsh life experience and by her interactions with adoptive families, foster children, and adoptees throughout the country. Hers is not a story to be envied, but her experience and candor make her a respected voice on all things adoption. I didn’t know any of this when I first read her comment. All I knew is that someone had found me and had accused me of putting on an “adoption circus” to raise money to pay for Lil’ Miss Texas’s adoption.
I was troubled by her entreaty, first and foremost, because I agreed to participate in the carnival without any inkling that I was doing anything offensive, only to find that people (or at least one person with a fairly high profile) took great offense to it. I have a deeply ingrained need to be the good guy in the majority of my interactions with other people. In my youth, that led me to some rather awkward positions with girls who thought we were going steady when, in fact, I was just waiting for them to realize naturally that it wouldn’t work out because letting them down gently still meant letting someone down. Mostly, however, it works out. When I’m nice to people, they tend to forgive my shortcomings and see me as a trusted ally, even in the face of direct disagreement. So, to be accused of blatantly disrespecting both of my children (and the entire world of adopted children) was something that cut me deeply.
Secondly, I felt a bit stupid. How could I, am man trained in multiculturalism and well-studied in the issues facing adopted children, have missed such a an obvious allusion between a marginalized subgroup of society and the devastating spectacles of circus sideshows from the 1800’s? It was not obvious to me that my children would be seen as part of the spectacle of the whole circus, that they would have to grow up under the dark specter of that literal circus that helped make their life a figurative circus.
She had impeached both my thoughtfulness and my intelligence, but thing that really drove me to respond was this: she was wrong. She was right about some important things (my inability to speak from the position of an adopted child and the difficulty of growing up as a marginalized member of society) but wrong where it counted most. First of all, I was not hosting an “adoption circus.” In fact, when she told me, “The word adoption and circus should never be in the same sentence,” that was the first time either of us had used those words together. In the case of this event, the term carnival refers to the type of games played at festival midways in much the same fashion as an elementary school Halloween carnival.
Not only that, but she was wrong about my kids. I know that my kids do not share my biology and that, psychologically and emotionally, they will share some things with the general adoptee populace that they do not share with me. Still, they are my kids, and that means something. One thing it means is that it will take a lot more than word association games to rattle them. Being offended because we are taught we should be offended just isn’t our style. In fact, I’m pretty sure that, if I actual did pull together an actual circus to fund my little kids’ adoptions, they would think it was awesome.