I am reeling; still so shocked at this woman’s words.
I woke up this morning with clear symptoms of a quickly-worsening UTI. I had to see someone fast on this packed day, so I just ran up to the Urgent Care a couple of minutes from my house (turned out to be a very positive experience), where the doc there did confirm that I have a pretty severe infection. By the time I finally left there and got to Kroger to have my prescription filled, I was in a lot of pain. My meds weren’t ready, so I decided to pick up a few things I knew we needed.
About that time, I remembered that next week is Valentine’s Day. We have always left one of those small heart-shaped boxes of chocolate by each child’s breakfast plate on Valentine’s Day morning, so I quickly grabbed nineteen of these little boxes and stacked them in my cart. I dashed to the check-out and tossed everything on the conveyor. I was hurting so much by this time that I was beginning to see those faint, flashing little star-thingies you see when you’re about to faint. I tried to stay focused as I got my credit card out.
Then I noticed that there was a wealthy-looking woman standing beside the check-out lady, talking her ears off about whatever was in her Kay Jeweler’s bag. The person ringing up my groceries actually seemed kind of embarrassed and like she was trying to tune this woman out as she did her job, but I noticed with some amusement that the “rich lady” didn’t seem to be catching any of her hints. She was about my age and wrapped snuggly in a fur coat. She prattled on and on about whatever she had in her bag, and insisted on pulling it out to show this lady ringing up my groceries. I never saw it because I was trying to do Lamaze breathing to control my pain and desperately trying to remember my PIN so I could pay for my groceries and get my medicine and get home to my comfy jammies.
Suddenly, she noticed the long line of heart-shaped boxes waiting to be bagged and exclaimed, “How many children are you buying candy for anyway!?”
If I hadn’t been hurting so much, I would’ve laughed out loud. (There were nineteen of these boxes — not 300, for crying out loud.) As it was, I mischievously decided to really shock her fur coat off her by telling her that the kids were all mine! I could tell she was the kind of person who would react in an entertaining way. So, I calmly said, “Well, my husband and I are parents to twenty-two children, and nineteen still live at home. Those nineteen boxes of candy are for them.”
I was proud to see that I had accurately predicted her reaction as her eyes flew wide, and she said, “They are all YOURS?!”
“Yes, they are all ours. Eighteen of them are adopted, and they are all ours.”
“Well, do you have a picture!?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do.” We are always proud to show off our brood, even to people who are only asking out of morbid curiosity. Who knows when a heart might be softened; eyes opened; minds stretched a bit? We’ve seen it happen. So I pulled up a fairly current family picture and handed her my phone while I pulled my credit card out of the chip reader. Her next words kind of took my breath away.
“You adopted black ones?!?” This was said with something in her voice that I couldn’t identify. It wasn’t exactly disgust, but something kind of close to it. Definitely complete surprise.
I wanted so much to look her in the eye and say, “You do realize that you just said that out loud, right?” But I didn’t. I just mentally (and possibly unfairly) dumped her in the category of “Too Ignorant to Ever Have Her Eyes Opened,” and tried to finish my transaction so I could get my medicine. But she just couldn’t stop. Her next words really did leave me so flabbergasted that I couldn’t find anything at all to say. I stood there wondering if I had imagined it in the midst of my pain.
She said, “The [so-and-so’s] in our church adopted some black ones. Her mother hated it. I love it. I even take them shopping!” She was clearly expecting some kind of high praise for this; exclamations about what an amazing person she is.
I have some vague memory of feeling dizzy, and of words my children don’t even know I have in my vocabulary swirling through my head (I’ll just write that off to the pain), and I remember staring at her. Was my mouth hanging open? Scott tells me that my facial expressions in situations like this are embarrassingly transparent, so I would assume yes. But she never even noticed. She was off again, going on and on about her jewelry purchase.
As I headed over to the pharmacy to finally get my prescriptions, I noticed that there were stinging tears in my eyes. I couldn’t figure out exactly what I was feeling beyond the shock that there are actually still people out there who are this ignorant. I recognized feelings of anger over her racial attitude, but also a desire to laugh out loud at her absurdity and foolishness. I also felt sad and like I had let my kids down by remaining silent. Why hadn’t I spoken up in defense of my babies? Why couldn’t I have thought of something wise and poignant to help her see how precious my kids are and how self-focused and close-minded she is? It didn’t have to be mean, just to the point and full of truth (not for the first time, I found myself wishing I had a script writer by my side at all times).
This is the world my children will grow up in. I know that there will be times when they will face people like this who would have no qualms about saying these kinds of ignorant and ridiculous things even to their faces. I need to prepare them. But what I really want is to just keep them safe in this happy little bubble where they live right now, surrounded by people who know them as the vibrant, funny, beautiful, accomplished people they are, and not the “black ones,” or the “Hispanic ones.”
But that won’t do. I’m learning this more and more with each passing year. Somehow, it’s our job to teach them how to respond to (or sometimes just laugh off) these kinds of comments and how to never let anyone cause them to get confused about who they are.
They are loved and cherished and each one unique, and I look forward to watching them all make their mark in this world. In spite of people like this woman.