Monday, July 30, 2012

Am I Wrong to Not Want to Look Young?

There were many concerns we had adopting a teenage girl, most of which any adult could guess with a little bit of common sense. There were also many adoption issues that came up in our conversations: Will Haben ever truly see us as parents? Will she ever want to call us mom and dad? Will she want to be here at all? And of course there were concerns about the outward appearance of our family. (Just in case you forgot: we're white and she's black). What I failed to take into consideration was my age, and apparently the age I appear to be.

Maybe it's because I began teaching full-time at age 22 and my students have always been teenagers. Maybe it's because I primarily interact with 17 and 18 year olds the majority of my days. Whatever the reason, I don't think of myself as being close at all to the age of a teenager.

Realistically, to be mistaken as Haben's biological mother, I would have given birth at the age of 14 (plausible). I also would have conceived her with a man of a different race (also plausible). But this is not the issue we run into in public. We don't meet people who wonder whether or not I had Haben at a young age or if her father is dark-skinned. Instead, we get treated as "friends." And somehow, I never saw this coming!!!

When we first began the process of adopting Haben I was told by the agency that we were younger than the normal applicant and less experienced, which could hinder the adoption process. This made sense to me, but luckily the social worker in charge of Haben's case was open-minded and didn't see age as a barrier. Because of this I failed to see how this could affect our daily lives.

The first time I noticed this was while we were still in Haben's previous state at an ice cream shop. While a woman was trying to squeeze past us she said, "Excuse me girls." It just didn't seem like something that would be said to a mother and daughter, but I still didn't think too much of it. Since then, the obvious assumption that we are two girlfriends hanging out has become increasingly clear and there have been many instances... though one stands out among the rest:

I saw an advertisement on television for a dress shop about 40 minutes away that was going out of business. I thought we could check it out and if they had any great deals we could buy a homecoming dress in case she decides to go (which she's already decided will happen, by the way). I did this for two reasons: 1) This mom is cheap and 2) This mom thought it would be fun to let Haben try on fancy dresses! When we got there we immediately saw absolutely gorgeous gowns all for about $50. The deals were fantastic. Of course Haben was super excited and started grabbing every beautiful dress she saw, draping them over her arm to try on.

Soon after, the shop owner came over and started scolding Haben for the way she was carrying the dresses. In a very harsh tone she said, "You can't carry my dresses like that! You're not the only customer I have and you're going to rip and snag the dresses for the next girl!" Haben laughed it off (too excited to care) and said, "I'm sorry. I'm a wreck, I know!" But the lady wouldn't stop. She continued to nastily scold Haben on our way to the dressing room. She LITERALLY talked non-stop, repeating herself over and over "This is my shop! And I care about my products. I have other customers, you know? You're not the only one in here!" (Ironically she failed to see the "other customers" that heard this and left within seconds of entering the store).

Now at this point I was getting irritated. I know your store is going out of business lady, and it's probably upsetting, but my kid is 15 and excited. Give it a rest. So, I calmly (but firmly) said, "Okay, we get it, we're sorry. We heard you... the 1st, 2nd and 3rd time you said it." Well, this made her stop in her tracks, point her finger in my face and yell, "I said it one time!" It seem futile to point out this was an outright lie, so instead I said "Okay, we're sorry," while she continued to repeat herself until we got to the dressing room.

She then hung the dresses and began lecturing us on how to try them on. She zipped open a dress, caught the tag and said "I'd like to murder the person who attached this tag!" This made Haben laugh, which then made the woman grab the dresses and say, "I think you two need to leave!" I saw the panic on Haben's face and felt terrible. I wasn't leaving the store without her getting to try on dresses, even if it meant supporting this woman and her establishment. So I said "No, we're fine. We're sorry" (again). And then the woman asked "Are you two even serious about buying a dress?" This seemed like an odd question to me, and before I could answer, Haben said "Yes! My mom and I drove 40 minutes to be here!"

... and this is when it all changed. The woman gave me an odd look, smiled, patted Haben on the back and said, "You're just giggly aren't you?"

Uh, what just happened? And then it hit me... until Haben referred to me as "mom," the shop owner thought we were two teens coming in to try on a bunch of dresses for fun, leave them all in the dressing room and walk away without giving her a single cent. I later brought this up to the woman, and she admitted this to be the truth. Although it didn't completely excuse her behavior, it at least made sense.

And what stinks is there is not a darn thing I could do about it. Since that day many others have assumed we are two teenage friends. Even at the dentist today, it was clear the woman bringing us back to the room thought I was a good friend there for support.

All the fears we had weren't needed at all. Haben DOES think of us as parents and she DOES call us mom and dad. What we didn't anticipate was how hard it would be to explain to OTHER people that we are her parents. Not only do they get confused when she calls me mom, they then argue with me that it can't be true, which just highlights our unorthodox family and make us feel like we have to prove we ARE a family.

I guess I should be happy I look younger, and often Haben is happier she looks older and more mature. But at then end of the day, I just want to look like the family we are because like it or not, I am not her buddy; I am her mother and she is my daughter, and those titles mean more to the two of us than I can ever explain in line at the ice cream shop or in the middle of a dress store.

Now tell me this photo doesn't have mother and daughter written all over it!


  1. That picture is classic! We are interested in an older child adoption as well, and this has been one of my concerns! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi Mandy,

    I have an adoption fundraising idea I would like to share with you. Could you please email me at


    Matthew Lee