Even as a child, it seemed perfectly normal that I was adopted. It didn’t bother me that I didn’t share my mom’s height or my dad’s strong nose. I was jealous but not confused that my pale skin would burn like crazy while my brother’s Southeast Asian genetics permitted him to forgo the SPF. To me, we were the prototypical American family.
Not so to my childhood friends. When they learned about my adoption, they would inevitably inquire, “Do you know who your real parents are?”
The first time I got the question, I was confused. How could anyone think that my parents were not my real parents? What did they mean by real? It broke my 10-year-old heart that my friends thought my mom, whom I loved so much, was, what? Fake?
For adopted children, these questions continue into adulthood. On Sunday, NBC gymnastics announcer Al Trautwig declared on Twitter that the people Simone Biles calls Mom and Dad “are NOT her parents.”
When Biles’s mother lost parental rights during a struggle with drugs and alcohol, she and her sister were adopted by their maternal grandfather and his wife in 2000. Biles calls these people “Mom and Dad” because that’s what they are, and two days after Trautwig’s tweet, she perfectly encapsulated the truth of her reality in eight simple words.
“My parents are my parents and that’s it,” Biles told Us Weekly.
She and I share this reality. My mother couldn’t have children, so they put their names on a very long list of hopeful future parents and they waited. Two years later, I arrived. After another two years of waiting, my brother completed our family.
My dad taught me how to throw a softball and imparted a fervor for college football. He picked us up from day care in the evenings and rode his bike with us around the neighborhood. He pushed me to do my best at everything, and he taught me to be smart with my money.
My mom watched as I did my homework every night. She gave me her strong work ethic and the powerful notion that I could be anything I desired. When I fell out of the neighbor’s tree and broke both of my arms, she fed me and bathed me until I could use my own hands again. My mom taught me compassion and love.
“Do you know who your real parents are?” they would ask.
I quickly learned to give this answer: “Another woman may have given birth to me, but these are my real parents.”
Perhaps the confusion continues because the stigma of adoption hasn’t fully disappeared. Through much of the 20th century, adoption was taboo. Giving up your child to strangers was considered selfish, even sinful. Many adoptions stemmed from childbirth out of wedlock. Birth mothers suffered in silence and children lived in ignorance while the shameful truth always lurked, poised to upend their otherwise peaceful existence.
We have certainly grown since then. The definition of what a “nuclear family” is has expanded rapidly, to encompass gay couples, unmarried men and women and even single parents. Soon after Trautwig’s gaffe, NBC ordered him to delete the tweet, and he apologized.
But in the following days, it carried me back to a time when I, too, was forced to defend the realness of my family. I wonder how the moment affected other adoptees. How did those children feel?
I am sorry Biles continues to be confronted by naive notions of family and parenthood — and on a very public stage, no less. She does it with grace, and Trautwig’s remarks were probably less of a controversy for her than the media has portrayed.
That doesn’t make it okay, though.