It was hot, and I was carrying a sweaty two year old in a sling. We were wandering around a Buddhist temple in Hanoi, Vietnam as we passed our days waiting for important things such as immigration visas. As we were standing and looking at something, an older Vietnamese woman approaches us, grinning broadly. She says something to me in Vietnamese and laughs. As the words she spoke were not the four words I knew, I was baffled. She says it again, laughs, and looks at me expectantly. I smile and try to do the shrug saying, “I have no idea what you are saying to me.”
Finally, she grabs my arm and my son’s arm. She points to my arm, then points to my sons… and laughs again. Clearly, I am the funniest looking thing she has seen in a very long time. After a few more times, and a few more gestures, I finally comprehend that she is showing me we don’t match. My skin is pale, pale like a big glass of milk. My son is not pale. His skin is much closer to a cup of coffee with a splash of milk. I smile and nod, agreeing that we didn’t match. Evidently, this was all she wanted; to make sure I knew that my son and I didn’t match. Having performed this service, she said something to her friends who were with her, they all laughed and went on their way. I kept smiling as they left, and wondered what was actually going on. I will never know.
This brief story sums up my life as an adoptive parent. Often, there is something funny going on. Often, it involves me in some way. And just as often, I’m never quite sure what is my role in the hilarity. It’s good to have thick skin… or at least a good sense of humor and to be able to laugh at oneself. It makes life more manageable and it certainly makes it more fun. Essentially, my life could often qualify as a farce. It’s best just to go with it.
It all starts with traveling to another country, especially if that country has a vastly different culture. There is no end to the hilarity that can happen, even if you are trying very hard to fit in and not cause a ruckus. For instance, there was the time we were wandering through a park in Zhengzhou, China, and came across some carnival-type rides, including bumper cars.
Well, what do Americans do in bumper cars? They bump, of course. And if you have taken two of your older children along with you, the potential for bumping increases exponentially. I was the designated camera operator; they bumped and I took pictures, I slowly realized something. None of the other car drivers were bumping. Instead, they were driving sedately around in circles, purposefully avoiding contact with other cars. And then I realized we had drawn an audience. An audience clearly amused by the odd Americans bumping each other at every chance. There was laughing and pointing, and I’m sure the fact we had two Asian children as part of our party just added to the show. I let my family exit the bumper cars and walk away before pointing out the show they provided.
And then there are the travel adventures which are not amusing at all in the moment, but become hilarious anecdotes after the fact. (Though if I am truly honest, there is always the writer taking notes in the back of my head and telling me, ‘This is going to make a great story,’ even as I am in the middle of the not-quite-so-fun adventure.) For instance, there was the moment at the airport when we realized we had accidentally brought the expired passports. Or the moment at the bank when, for all the world, it looked as though our guide was exchanging our money with a scam artist. Or the long series of bathroom related stories. Bathroom humor never really grows old, right?
Asian airports are big. Very, very big. I’m convinced some of them are actually miles long. This comes from having run through an airport carrying the nearly nine-year-old with mobility issues and a bladder the size of a pea. Having learned the hard way and being notified a bathroom was needed, we had exactly two to three minutes to do so, I threw the baggage at the rest of my family, scooped her up and ran. Ran for what felt like miles until we came to a bathroom, where I slammed inside and into the only handicapped stall without ever checking if someone was already in there. Thankfully, it was empty. I was aware, however, of leaving a series of people behind who were very interested in why the crazy white woman was running at full speed with a Chinese child through the airport.
The fun doesn’t stop once you’re home, though. Shortly after we brought home our first adopted son, my family was heavily involved in putting on a production of the musical Oliver! Since I was the choral director, the cast would meet once a week at my house for music rehearsals. This explains why my little three-year-old boy’s first real English words involved being able to sing the entire score from the musical. This is terribly cute and sweet until you are in the grocery store with this same three-year-old. The three-year-old who is happily riding in the cart surrounded by shelves of food, and singing at the top of his lungs, “There’s not a crust, not a crumb we can find, can we beg, can we borrow, or cadge…” Even though very few people could understand his cute little three-year-old Vietnamese accented English, I still felt as though I should explain to each person we came to that I really, really did feed the child.
One of my daughters happened to catch the last bit of the conversation and mutters under her breath after the door shut, “Hope she doesn’t come back as a rock.”
And then there are the encounters where you just have to decide to laugh, because it makes for a calmer and happier life. For instance, I was giving away some things and a woman, whom I hadn’t really met before, but who was in our homeschooling group, came to collect some items we were discarding. We chat for a moment, during which one of my adopted sons comes through. She then turns to me and asks, “What is your husband?”
“Um… what?” I ask. My mind racing as I considered what she could possibly mean.
“Where’s he from?” she clarifies. At least she thought she clarified; it seemed like such an odd and random question to me.
“The US,” I reply.
“No, where’s he really from? Your son is so beautiful.” She continues. The light slowly dawns. She hadn’t seen any of my other children. In her mind, my husband must be Asian. I briefly consider just leaving it at that, because it seemed like a simpler conversation and I was really wanting to be done with this interaction. Taking a deep breath, I reply, “My son was adopted.”
“Oh,” she says, now understanding the situation. “That’s so wonderful. I’m going to adopt in my next life.” With that statement hanging in the air, she picks up her items and leaves. One of my daughters happened to catch the last bit of the conversation and mutters under her breath after the door shut, “Hope she doesn’t come back as a rock.”
One of the keys to adoptive parenting, to any parenting for that matter, is to keep your sense of humor. It can help you not take yourself or the situation too seriously. It can make life happier. It can foster stronger relationships. Yes, even in the midst of the hard. So, I will continue to out-crazy my crazies with impromptu interpretive dance recitals entitled, “Nothing good ever happens to me,” doing monologues with references to Monty Python sketches, loudly singing renditions of songs by Flanders and Swann, and continue to try to develop a quick ability to laugh at myself. Such as when I spoke sternly to a child about waving her arms too close to my wine glass and nearly knocking it over, only to knock it over myself as I was delivering that particular lecture. How can you not keep a sense of humor, when you, yourself, are your best source material?