Yesterday I read a post by my buddy Jaye at Jaye’s Brain that made a connection between adoption and bullying.
In a book review of an anthology by adoptees, Perpetual Child, that I’ve been reading, she wrote:
An essay by Matthew Salesses stood out for me not only by what it said regarding adoption but what it said about bullying/adoption. I started out blogging, unintentionally, by writing about the bullies on the bus. Again, I thought it was my over-sensitivity and my desire to prevent anyone from having negative feelings (or perhaps, any feelings at all) that made me a (bullied) target.
Salesses, in his essay, wrote about being bullied because he was a transracial adoptee. Jaye was adopted, and she writes about the power of the essays and other pieces in Perpetual Child. She shares her very first blog post–which, guess what, just happens to be about being bullied. Go read it (link is in her quote above)!!! And the topic is bus bullying, a subject that I wrote about here.
In 2012, I started my first blog, Don’t We Look Alike?, writing it with my daughter. The subject of DWLA is adoption, and over the past almost two years, I’ve learned a lot about the subject–and revised some of my viewpoints. I want to share with you the first post I wrote. I’m not sure that today I could write my story with the same tone I do here, but this is how the experience seemed to me for most of my life.
The post didn’t have too many readers, but a couple of the “likes” were by bloggers who I still read and who occasionally read this blog.
It’s interesting to me how different my response was to this bullying than to the subsequent bullying I myself was subjected to at my new school in 3rd grade. At the time of the following story, I was in 2nd grade, and at my familiar “old” school.
Here’s my story:
I’m the mother of two young adults, both adopted from Korea when they were babies. But my relationship with adoption began much earlier. I’m the sister of an adoptee, too. Back in the early sixties, it was still a new idea that adoption wasn’t a secret to be kept and that an adopted child could grow up knowing he was adopted and still feel loved and accepted by others. My parents embraced this idea. When they started the adoption process for a boy, they explained all this to me and I thought I understood. Yet it wasn’t quite that simple.
It was a March day, when my parents and I drove downtown to pick up my brother Teddy from Catholic Family Services. We weren’t Catholic, but Mom explained that their agency was the one with the babies and we were in need of a baby. We pulled up in front of an old house on South Street and went in. Teddy lay in a white bassinette in a small room. My parents and I encircled him, looking down at our new baby. Our case worker said, “He’s just six weeks old. Isn’t he a darling?”
Though shocked to see his face covered with a red rash, I quickly decided not to be picky since I had been waiting all seven years of my life for a brother.
A few months before, when the case worker was going to visit us for the first time, Mom and Dad had warned me that she would ask questions, and I sensed that our family getting the stamp of approval rested on me and my answers.
I kept things businesslike, asking for a brother since our family needed a boy more than another girl. Since it was 1963 and I’d never met anyone who was adopted, I assumed that kids, adopted or not, would automatically look like their parents. I had my mother’s brown hair and blue eyes, so I put in an order for brown eyes to match Dad’s.
Now I peered closer at the baby with his frill of reddish-brown hair. “He’s got blue eyes like mine!” I’m sure I sounded accusatory. The case worker explained they were fresh out of baby boys with brown eyes, so they had chosen Teddy because he looked like Mom and me. I considered the logic and figured he would do.
When we got him home, all the relatives started coming over to meet him. For two weeks, we had somebody at our house almost every day. They liked to have me sit on the couch and hold Teddy while they took our picture. Teddy felt like one of my dolls, but warm and heavier, and yet I was conscious of how fragile he was and how careful I had to be with him. Every day I rushed home from school so I could see him. Day by day, I learned to be more comfortable with him, and how to hold the Playtex bottle with its plastic bag insert so he could get formula without swallowing too much air. I learned how to burp him, patting his back which seemed barely bigger than my hand. He relaxed and smiled at me when I picked him up, and he wrinkled his forehead when I lay him back in the crib.
I’d been in the choir at the Methodist church all school year. A group of us would walk from school to the church [once a week]. We were six kids, all ages, from an afternoon kindergartener to a tall fifth grader, a girl I’ll call Jane. Her size and confident demeanor gave her a lot of authority.
That day we decided to cut through the backfields to the church, although we usually just marched down the side of Gull Road. Jane said it would save us a lot of time to cut through, and nobody wanted to argue with her, although the snow was melting in the field, leaving ruts filled with mud.
Since having a baby brother was a new phenomenon in my life, I liked to bring up the subject–a lot. After having been an only child, I loved the sound of the words my brother. As we walked, I chimed in with something about my brother Teddy.
Suddenly Jane, who was leading, turned around and said, “He’s not your REAL brother. Don’t lie about it.”
My skin seemed to peel back from my limbs, and my stomach got a sick flipfloppy feeling. “What do you mean he’s not my real brother?”
“He’s ADOPTED. That’s not REAL.” A sea of bloody red anger splashed across my eyes. Jane had no siblings and, since she was eleven, probably thought she’d never get any. But I wasn’t thinking from her perspective. To me, her words were an act of violence against Teddy.
That’s the first memory I have of being angry. I lowered my head, aiming straight for her stomach. Eventually Jane and I got back on friendly terms, but I never forgot that some people don’t really understand what adoption means for those of us whose lives are changed by it. My parents’ philosophy had become my philosophy, but I now knew it wasn’t shared by everyone.
When I was in 7th grade, a very large girl sat on me and started to beat me up, but I was rescued by my friend’s father who jumped out of his car when he saw what was happening. Other than those scary few moments, the only time I was ever in a physical fight was when I head-butted Jane. In case you’re wondering, not much happened after that point because Jane apparently was shocked somebody stood up to her and not inclined to fight.