My little girl is 4, with all that implies. She has a fondness for rules. She’s outgoing and will introduce herself unless I ask her to, and then she turns shy. She questions everything, and I do mean everything, numerous times. She is, after a dozen infertile years, the biggest joy in my life.
This year will be the third year I take her to High Holiday services. And this year she will be aware of how much she doesn’t look like the other kids. She’s Asian, you see, born in China and adopted by us 13 months later. Over the years, we’ve gotten a few of these questions, and I thought I would answer them now.
1. Oh she’s beautiful! What is she?
I have to admit when I first got this one, I blinked for about two minutes because I just didn’t get it. Our daughter had short hair and was wearing a Yellow Submarine shirt and denim shorts, so I thought maybe they were asking about her gender. Except the woman used gender specific pronouns, so I didn’t realize what was being asked. So when I responded “She’s a girl,” I got the patronizing look. “I mean where is she from?” I responded, “Woodbridge, New Jersey. It’s a bit of a way to come for synagogue, but I haven’t found one I liked better.”
The woman rolled her eyes and left without another word. I then realized what was being asked. Was she Chinese, Korean, etc. I’m glad for my ignorance because I think I would have responded similarly, but far less politely.
2. Is she really Jewish?
I assume those who are asking this are asking if she’s been formally converted. However I find this very intrusive. She is there, with her mom, to welcome the New Year. She’s Jewish.
3. Is her mother Jewish?
This could kind of be an addendum to question number two, but I should put it here on its own. You see, I know, when this is being asked, that they are asking about her biological mother, who we call China Mommy. However I’m Mommy, and I’m Jewish, so the answer is yes.
4. How much did she cost?
Honest here, I’ve never gotten this question, but I know too many people who have been asked this question in front of their child. Like the child was a commodity to be bought or sold. Worse, this question makes her a commodity to be returned if she doesn’t please. If you wonder about the price of adoption, ask how much agencies charge. If you say, I’m interested in adoption, beware—I might not shut up. To answer the question, to me, she’s priceless.
5. Why didn’t her real mother want her?
I was asked this with my daughter sitting right there. She stiffened. I curled my body around her and then spoke to the questioner as I would have if my child had asked it. “We don’t know why China Mommy left her to be found, but we do know that it was a difficult decision. My daughter has two real mothers who both love her.” I was so furious—so incredibly furious—at the sheer lack of tact that I spent a long time that Rosh Hashanah praying for calm. I also prayed for forgiveness due to my desire to resort to violence.
So what should you say? Well, if you tell me my child is beautiful—I will never argue that. Sing with her—one of her favorite songs is Shalom Alechem. If you wish her a L’Shana Tova Tikatevu—like you would anyone else, that would be great too, as we will wish you a new year full of wonder, happiness, and understanding.