"Now those boots are for more heavy-duty hiking," the REI salesman said, "and backpacking, especially if you are carrying 30 pounds or more. They weigh a lot for use in lighter hiking." He grinned at me. "I don't want you to buy the wrong ones and come back here mad at me!"
"Okay -" I made a show of reading his name tag, "Lorenzo. I am going to hold you personally accountable!" We both laughed.
It was December 24th and I had to admit I was impressed by the casual and relaxed attitude of the staff at the suburban REI store my dad had taken me to. Andrew and I were out doing our traditional shopping-with-Dad-for-our-own-presents, which is one of my favorite days of Christmas. All of the PNW had been hit by a snowstorm, a major event for a region where the temperature rarely drops below 40, and my father arrived just in time from California in his four wheel drive to save the day. He had been ferrying my brother and I to work, taking my pregnant sister-in-law to doctor appointments, and outfitting all of his kids with proper snow gear. REI was pretty much our last stop, and the place had obviously been ransacked. We weren't the only people who suddenly thought it might be a good idea to have a backup pair of waterproof boots.
"What do you think, Dad?" I asked. "I don't know that I'm going to be backpacking anytime soon."
"I don't know," step-mom Nancy replied for him. "You're going to be carrying a baby around sometime soon, and they get pretty big eventually." She was a fan of the heavy boots.
This is an interesting part of being an expectant mother who isn't pregnant. While I'm hardly a delicate flower, I'd like to think I don't appear with child. But we talk about expecting a baby often, and publicly. At Nancy's comment Lorenzo the salesperson tactfully avoided glancing at my tummy, and kept a smile fixed on his face. "We're adopting a baby sometime in the next year," I explained. I knew I wasn't obliged to explain something that personal to this stranger, but I like being open about it.
"Oh, congratulations!" Lorenzo's face lit up. "That's so wonderful, really great." He seemed quite enthusiastic, and immediately engaged me in a discussion over which boots would be best for walking around with a kid. We ended up deciding to try the lighter ones, and he fetched them from the back room.
"Where, do you mind if I ask, where is your baby coming from?" He came back as I was lacing up the boots, despite having several other customers he could have been waiting on. Huh, I thought, nice of him to take an interest I guess.
"We're adopting domestically," I said.
"I came from Mississippi." He said shyly. "My parents got me when I was three days old, and my sister - not my biological sister, but you know, adopted - when she was just one day old." I was momentarily speechless, and felt a bit shy myself. I immediately wondered what he was thinking of us, and of all the questions I wanted to ask him. Did he regret it? Did he love his adopted parents? Did he know his bio parents? He seemed to be a well adjusted young person, but was he?
"That's great," I stammered. " I mean, is it...do you...um. Are you glad?" Argh! I was not very smooth.
"Oh yeah!" He replied quickly, smiling. "I love my parents! It's not really all that different, I was talking about it the other day with some of my friends who are adopted, too. It's about who raises you, you know?" I nodded energetically. He continued, "Anyways, I think it's really great when people adopt. It's really great that you're adopting, congrats again."
I thanked him, and we made our way to the long check-out line with my fancy new waterproof hiking boots.
I think one of the greatest fears I have going forward is that somehow adoption will screw our kid up. Which is a normal fear, I think, for any parent to have. Most parents worry about doing something that permanently scars their children, or prevents them from having a healthy and productive adult life. In all my reading about the process adopted kids go through there is a lot of focus on their grief, their challenges, their loss. Meeting Lorenzo, despite knowing nothing at all about him aside from the fact that he works at REI and smiles with his eyes, was a little reminder to me that for the most part it's not really all that different. The differences are important, and need to be respected. But 90+ percent of our experience as parents, and our child's experience as our son or daughter will be a lot like what most of humanity who isn't adopted goes through on the paths of life. And it's entirely possible to raise an adopted child who thinks it's great to be adopted, who thinks that "it's really great when people adopt."