There is a question I have been dreading ever since we decided to adopt again. When I found out that baby S might be ours and really started to think about what it meant to adopt kiddos who share a first mother I started to think about the question again. And we had S for what seemed like five minutes before someone, I think it was the woman at the front desk of the Residence Inn we were staying at, asked it.
"So they're sisters?" She asked. "Real sisters?"
"Yes." I replied with a tired smile and kept moving toward the continental breakfast.
It happened again on the flight home. We had landed and were packing up the kids, me fumbling to get the Moby wrap back on and the baby in it and Andrew trying to hold S while blocking J's exit. The flight attendant from our section stopped on her way toward the front. "They've been so good," she said. "So I have to ask - are they sisters?"
"Yes" I said, looking in some confusion at Andrew who was doing his not-looking at the stranger talking to me thing.
"That is so sweet," she replied and turned to go. But then she stopped a couple of rows up and shouted back with her southern drawl "I mean REAL sisters, honey?! Are they sisters for reals?!"
I get it. And I think that even if my daughters didn't share a genetic connection to each other as long as they were both brown skinned we'd be getting this question. But I don't like it. I like it the least of any question that comes our way and in the past two years I've been asked plenty of rude questions by well-meaning and curious strangers. It comes with the territory and that's what it is.
The answer is many times over yes. Of course they are. They are real sisters because Z is their first mom. They are real sisters because Andrew and I are their parents. Either of these would make their connection "real." That's not why I hate the question. I hate it because there is a presumption underneath it that this stranger has the right to know something personal about me and my children. And that "real" is the same as "biological" which is narrow to say the least. And I hate it because if I give out this information there is almost always a even more intrusive follow-up question or comment that is disrespectful to my children's first mother. I hate it because even now there are little ears and eyes watching me answer, learning from my responses, and pretty soon they will be wondering why people ask their mommy this question but no one ever asks their Auntie M the same question about their cousins Sweetie and Cub.
Mostly I hate it because while I know what the answer is, I don't have a response to the question that I am happy with yet. I want them to be proud of all the ways that they are sisters. But I don't think it is okay, and I don't want my girls to think it is okay, for any stranger who looks at us to ask for personal information about how we and they came to be together.
This is one of the tensions of the kind of family that we are. And I thought I was pretty good at dealing with it, that I had my responses ready and my feelings about the occasional insensitive comment in hand. But this really bothers me. Why, you ask? Maybe that is the real question.