Expectations Mean Explanations: A Post About Adoptees, Costco, and Awkward Questions

happy adoption day

“So it’s here’s to you, three cheers to you,

Let’s shout it out hip hip hooray!

For out of a world so tattered and torn,

You came to our house on that wonderful morn,

And all of a sudden this family was born,

Oh Happy Adoption Day!”

Happy Adoption Day, John McCutcheon

These words, tattooed on my brain from years of repetition, come from a book by John McCutcheon, called “Happy Adoption Day”. The story details a sort of whimsical celebration of how a generic adoptive family came to be and was one of about a dozen or so books celebrating adoption that filled my bookshelf growing up. I share this because any time I try to explain that my family would not and could not exist without adoption, my first inclination is to describe us as being “born of adoption”. I can’t help but think back to McCutcheon’s words proclaiming “all of a sudden this family was born” and think to myself that his prose somehow influenced the way I think about the beginning moments of my own family.

I am adopted, my brother is adopted, and my sister is adopted. Therefore, my family was born of adoption. I happen to look like my parents (yes, the ones who adopted me). I am caucasian with brown hair and brown eyes – all basic physical traits that both my parents share with me even though we are not biologically related. My youngest sister is also caucasian, but she has lighter hair and blue eyes – still plausible that she might be biologically related to my parents, but a bit more of a stretch. My younger brother is of Hispanic descent with black hair and dark brown eyes – nobody has ever mistaken him as my parent’s biological offspring. In fact, these basic physical traits have done the opposite; almost any time I tell people that I am his sister, they laugh with disbelief.

I remember many Costco trips while growing up where I would approach a sample stand with my mom and my brother and I would be handed the mini quiche, the sample of cheese, or whatever they were doling out that day, but my brother would not. Instead he would face questions about where his parents were at which point my mom would assert herself and explain that she was his mother to the questioning looks of many-a-sample personnel. These types of interactions have been a constant in all of our lives since the moment my family was born. More often than not, I have to explain the existence of my family because we do not all look alike, which is not an experience most people understand.

When I sit back to think about it, I have never met a person – adopted or otherwise – who believes that looking alike is what makes a family a family. Over the years I have heard that many things can make a family; shared experiences, connections, certain values, love… but never once have I heard that looking alike is a cornerstone of family.

While explaining my family can be exhausting at times, it also creates so many opportunities for open dialogue about adoption, race, family and other concepts that we hear about on a macro level, but do not always talk about on a more personal level in today’s world. I personally, have never been angry about having to explain how we all fit together – instead I have found that openness begets understanding.

While being asked about my family’s story isn’t always my first choice of conversation in a new setting, it does have this silver lining. At the end of the day, if I need to continue to share that my family was born of adoption in order to shed a positive light on adoption that is just what I’ll do.


About the Author

O is an adoptee and Boston transplant, originally hailing from the Golden State. She has two siblings who were also adopted from different biological families, three step-siblings, and a handful of biological half-siblings. When she visits her family back in California, she loves big family dinners and spending time with her wonder-dog, Lucy.

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