Two adoption truths:
1) Our entertainment culture is full of adoption references and adoption mythology.
2) Adoptees/Adoption advocates have different (and often conflicting) feelings about each one of them.
When I first became a parent through adoption I was slightly obsessed with finding the “right” books and the ”right” movies for my child. I wanted to create an adoption-friendly environment that would help him have a positive view of his adoption, his family, and himself. So I read lists of recommended adoption books and reviews of books we were told to avoid. The adoption community can be pretty brutal about what it considers unacceptable. Just a generation ago the book “The Chosen Baby” was read as a way to explain the adoption process. Now that book is considered by some to be offensive for the way it seems to imply a child could be unchosen or that you were picked based on how good and cute you were. We are a much more adoption-savy culture than we were, but we also tend to leave little room for choices or individual preference.
Those of us who are sensitive to adoption themes will find them everywhere. And I’m not just talking about “Annie”. I remember sitting in the theatre watching “Superman Returns” during our long wait to bring our first baby home. There’s a touching scene where Superman’s mom is coming to visit him in the hospital and I remember just openly sobbing. I kept thinking, “She knows nothing about his medical history” and feeling that vulnerability with her. You can find adoption themes in everything from “The Chronicles of Narnia” (children have to leave biological family to live with strangers for their safety) to “The Avengers” (Thor and Loki are related through adoption). I found a description of Star Wars that described it as a “Trilogy of films about two adoptees searching for their birthfather.” Who knew? In our culture you sure get plenty of chances to interact with the idea of adoption. Each person’s adoption experience is going to contribute to how they respond to the ways these adoption themes are presented.
I have a friend who is adopted and also has adopted kids. She has a crazy high tolerance for things I find offensive. We had a difference of opinion over one of these internet pictures going around- a black and white picture of two baby boys where one is laughing and one is crying. The caption says, “DUDE, I’m JOKING you are NOT adopted!!!” The implication is that being adopted is something somebody ought to cry about and the only comfort would be to tell them you were just joking. Ugh. But my friend thought it was funny. You know what? I can’t argue with her. She is adopted. She has adopted kids. It doesn’t bother her. I’m definitely not going to be passing that picture around, but I can’t dictate that every person with an adoption experience is going to have the same reaction I did.
I used to worry about accidentally owning something my kids would find offensive one day. I feel like I’m moving past that obsession. Even reading the Amazon reviews of “The Chosen Baby” you’ll find a mix of people offended, but many more parents and grandparents talking about how their moms read it to them when they were young and it created a beautiful warm feeling for them about their adoptions. I’m now realizing it’s probably unavoidable that the very things I struggle to do “right” today will be interpreted as “wrong” by a future generation. It’s much more important I give my kids love and stability and opportunities for them to decide for themselves what feels like an appropriate expression of how they feel about adoption.
Which brings me to “Meet the Robinsons”. If you look on the right side of the blog you’ll see my book and movie recommendations about adoption. I realized I was taking a risk by saying these are books and movies I give my blessing, especially since they are not universally agreed upon by the adoption community. I could agonize about the reasons a movie like “Meet the Robinsons” is not considered PC, but instead I just remember my gut reaction the first time I watched it.
It was while we were houseparenting and one of our boys brought it home from a break. I’d heard mixed reviews, but went ahead and watched it with our seven boys surrounding me. I kept getting more and more nervous as the little boy main character expressed his desire to fix his life by going back in time to undo the circumstances that left him waiting for a permanent family. I hated his rejection by family after family. BUT it was all so redeemed for me by the film’s very obvious message: Keep Moving Forward. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it left me very moved. Just recently I found the director’s commentary on our dvd copy and in it Stephen J. Anderson talks about how he resonated with the script as an adoptee himself. While some parts of the adoption community were rejecting this movie for how it portrayed the orphanage experience, here was an actual adoptee behind the camera expressing his real-life feelings about adoption.
I had stayed away from “Despicable Me” because I had heard it had a negative portrayal of adoption. An evil man adopts some girls to do his bidding. This involves lying to an orphanage worker and at one point the girls have to return to the orphanage. Those aren’t great things, but the picture of a relationship that is built in the most unlikely of circumstances and creates a family out of some unrelated individuals is beautiful. You know who made me watch that movie? An adult adoptee friend who said it resonated with her. Good enough for me.
But there are also movies I stay away from. I didn’t love “Tangled”. Although it is clearly not an adoption storyline, if you asked a child to explain what happens in the movie I don’t know that it wouldn’t sound like adoption to you. A woman takes a baby away from the real biological family and raises the baby as her own. She doesn’t want the child to have any fun and shelters her away from the world. The child always knows she’s meant to be with her real family and her family never stops searching for her. Can you see why this would make me a little uncomfortable? It may be that my kids love it and never associate that kind of experience with adoption, but I’m not quite ready to delve into that yet.
I’m learning I need to let my kids express their own feelings about adoption. They may connect very deeply with characters in books or movies or they may be offended or made anxious by those characters. I don’t know what their response will be, but I want to allow them to have their own feelings and not feel pressured by what an anonymous group of adoption advocates has to say about it. We should be able to like something that resonates with us without having to google to find out if it’s acceptable. We have to find what works for our family- that affirm our love and commitment to each other. If I’m so programed to only want to see one view of adoption, I may find it harder to identify with those who have experienced something completely different. I need to watch and read even the things I may find uncomfortable to help me have an understanding of what life may feel like for my kids. And I need to give them opportunities to express how that feels for themselves. Maybe they’ll write their own books or make their own movies to express their experiences. If they do, I know I’ll be cheering them on.