The Checkout Line Makes People Ask Dumb Adoption Questions

Remember when your teacher told you, “The only dumb question is one you don’t ask.” That is not always true. This is a true story about dumb questions.

The checkout line is part of everyday life for most of us. I guess there are some snooty-falooty people out there that have “staff” to run their errands. For the rest of us peasants, standing in line at the store is a reality.

Aside from the “un-fun” factor of waiting in line when you have better things to do, the checkout line is a weird no-man’s-land of a place where you’re sandwiched between people you don’t know at close range. Make eye contact or no? Meaningless, awkward small talk? All part of the experience.

Lately, I’ve become pretty slick at avoiding that eye contact. I am a fairly social creature, but often that initial eye contact results in small talk that results in The Questions. The Questions run the gamut between truly offensive and “I’m just tired of answering that.”

Most people easily figure out that my adorable Chinese boys did not come out of my… you know. People are quick like that. I have red hair and blue eyes and I’ve never been mistaken for anything other than a white girl.

Some people seem to need to take the extra step and ask if my husband is Asian, just to make sure. I have so far been pretty good-natured about this, but I can’t imagine questioning a stranger about their spouse’s ethnicity or even assuming there was a spouse in the first place.

I accept that people are curious about my family and that curiosity comes in varying degrees. I can almost hear the wheels turning in those checkout line people’s heads. If I make that eye contact or smile (hey, I’m a friendly person), then I’m potentially opening the door to conversation and The Questions.

On some level, I don’t mind The Questions. If I can clear up a misconception about adoption, I’m usually happy to do that. If I can give someone interested in adoption info to get them started, even better. But sometimes, I just want to be a shopper. Just a mom. Just an “average Jill” pushing a shopping cart.

I didn’t sign up to be the poster girl for international adoption. Why am I expected to stop what I’m doing and answer questions about my life? Because some strange person who happens to be in the same store as me is “just curious”?

There is a window between eye contact and The Questions. I can almost smell it. I wish I could give a knowing nod to those checkout line people before “say, can I ask you a question” tumbles out of their mouths. I wish I could say “I gotcha covered” and whisk a “FAQ” document out of my bag. In my daydreams I sweetly tell these people “it’s all in there.” Then I zone out, play Angry Birds on my phone, or try to stop my kids from ripping open boxes of Kraft mac & cheese with their teeth.

If I had such a “FAQ” document in my mommy bag, it would go something like this.

Answers to Dumb Adoption FAQs by Jill:

My boys are adopted from China.

Yes, they know. (We’ve actually had people ask if we plan to tell them they’re adopted. Here’s your sign, honey. They don’t understand everything but they know they were born in China and that their dad and I rode a big airplane to China to bring them home. They know their Chinese names. We’ll say more as they get older but I think that covers things for now).

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Yes, I am sure they are Chinese. (I have been told they look Korean, Japanese, and Mexican).

My husband is a white guy from Michigan, but the mailman might be Asian. We didn’t exchange a lot of information. It’s hard for me to talk about. (Makes you wonder, huh?)

Yes, they are brothers. Real brothers. I know what you meant. They are REAL BROTHERS.

Do I have any real kids or normal kids? All of my kids are real. If you pinch them, they will make a noise. (Don’t actually touch my kids, ok?) Normal is up for discussion. You should meet the rest of my family first.

No, I can’t have “my own” children. If you want to ask me more, let’s take this little chat beyond the checkout, k? And, if you expect me to talk to you about my ovaries and stuff, you’re going to have to buy me a drink. I think that’s fair.

Sadly, I do not know Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Jillian Michaels or the “Little Couple.” Yes, I know these people adopted from “foreign countries” too. But I still don’t know them. Really.

My children are American citizens. Yes, real American citizens. Yes, regular American citizens. (I am slightly worried there is some kind of citizenship category I don’t know about).

They will be able to vote when they’re 18 unless the laws change. And yes, I know that as naturalized citizens (real ones, btw) they won’t be allowed to run for president. (These are not things I spend time thinking about. Am I missing something?)

They speak English. We don’t speak Chinese.

They eat macaroni and cheese and most other “kid food.” I’m very lucky that they are not picky. I am not sure if they “used to eat cats and dogs.” Wow. Thanks for asking that. Something to ponder for sure.

We have no plans to enroll them in gymnastics, violin, or competitive ping pong. We’re not sure if they are going to be “really good at math.” Right now, we are working on how to share the toys and chew with our mouth closed. Maybe my expectations are too low, but that’s where we’re at.

I am their “real mother.” The subject of our sons’ birth mothers is not something we talk about outside our family. And that is a rude thing to ask, especially when my kids can hear you. How do you think questions like that make them feel?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on “how horrible the Chinese are for abandoning their kids” and for letting us you know “you could never do that.” My kids are too young to grasp what this really means for them. One day they will and the subject will be introduced by me, not some clueless stranger in line at Target.

How did we “get boys”? Well, we did not “get” them. They are not trendy trinkets. China adoptions have changed a lot in recent years. Lots of boys are available for adoption.

How much did they cost? Hmmm…hey, how ’bout this: Is that your real hair color because your eyebrows are this really dark shade that doesn’t match your hair… and what is that thing on your chin? Is it a birthmark or just a zit? I’m just curious.

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We adopted from China’s “Waiting Child” Program, which takes 12-18 months on average. “Waiting Child” program is the official name for what some refer to as the “China special needs” program.

If you have just asked me “so, what’s wrong with them/him” and I have smacked you, don’t expect an apology. (I am always tempted to say, “What’s wrong with him? He doesn’t like dumbasses,” but so far, I haven’t said this. And to be fair, most people are slightly more delicate when asking this question. Slightly.)

If you are interested in specific info about adoption, including cost, we worked with Wasatch Adoptions out of Ogden, Utah. I’d be happy to give their details. They have a great website and if you have questions beyond that, call them. They are really wonderful about answering questions. Much more wonderfuller than me.

We chose to adopt from China because it was the best adoption choice for our family. If you asked me why I didn’t adopt from “my own” country because there are “so many American kids” I could have adopted, then I suggest you get smart about the foster care system in the United States. You are clearly unfamiliar with it. I adopted from my own planet, so there.

If you told me my kids are “so lucky,” thank you. I know you meant well and I tried to accept that compliment gracefully. However, I want you to think about what your words will mean to my kids when they are old enough to understand them (right now they are four-years-old). While I am a really cool mom and they are totally lucky, those kinds of comments might make them feel like charity projects versus just my kids. It might not, but something to chew on. Just so you know, I feel I’m the lucky one. When I am not stepping on itty bitty cars and when the boys aren’t hitting each other, that is.

These kids needed a family. I had room in mine. They are wanted and loved.

Parting shots: All of these questions are things I’ve been asked by strangers or people I don’t know well. These are some intensely personal questions, people. If you are doing the asking, keep in mind that curiosity doesn’t give you the right to info. If you are a parent who is in the process of an international adoption, well, I’ve just given you a peek at what you’re in for when you stop by your local Wal-Mart for a half gallon of milk and some doggie treats.

Be uber (uber, uber, uber, uber) cautious of asking an adoptive mom any variation of “can’t you have your own.” Those kids you’re staring at are her own. Besides, a family who has made the choice to adopt after struggling with infertility, miscarriages, or even the death of a child has suffered a loss (yeah, like that isn’t obvious).

We all deal with grief in different ways. The checkout line (or playground, water cooler, or church coffee) might not be the best place to ask a stranger (or even someone you know) questions about their ability to make babies.

You just might get more than you bargained for. I would love to see the look on someone’s face if I suddenly launched in to a discussion about the nitty gritty details of my lady bits. Just once.

This post was originally featured on BlogHer. Photo via



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