I have watched very little of the Olympics but I did flip the channel the other day and watch some of the women's gymnastics competition. I was blown away by the incredible athleticism and artistry of tiny [4'9] Simone Biles. She is amazing!
"Not only is she the first female gymnast since 1974 to win four consecutive all-around titles at the U.S. national championships, but she’s also the first woman ever to be the all-around world champion three years in a row. Not to mention that she's won fourteen total world championships medals—the most ever won by an American woman." [NBC]
Simone had a rough start in life, however. "Simone Biles was born on March 14th, 1997 in Columbus, Ohio. By the time she was three, it was clear that her biological mother, who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, was unable to take care of Biles and her younger sister Adria. Her maternal grandfather, Ron, and his second wife, Nellie, stepped in and brought the pair to Spring, Texas, a suburb of Houston—and sixteen years later, they’re simply “mom and dad” to their adopted daughters." [NBC]
So I was startled and upset when I saw blogger Carrie Goldman's post yesterday, NBC Olympic Commentator Tweets That Parents of Simone Biles Are NOT Her Parents Because She's Adopted. Trautwig said "They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents."
What an incredibly insensitive jerk. Trautwig needs to be slapped. Carrie said "Despite Simone's very clear decision to call Ron and Nellie her parents -- because they ARE, because that is what adoption means -- sports commentator Al Trautwig repeatedly has referred on air to Ron and Nellie as "Simone's grandparents."
Another blogger, Leah Campbell over at Mom.me, went so far as to say Trautwig should be fired. I agree with her. Even though NBC made Trautwig apologize, it sounded insincere and forced to those of us who were deeply offended by his comment. Leah: "Let there be no doubt Trautwig’s apology came about because his higher ups forced it upon him—not because he actually thinks he said anything wrong."
Trautwig re-defines jerk. Leah: "Why this man thinks it’s his place to define anyone else’s parental relationship is beyond me. My guess is that his ego got in the way here, and when he got called out on his misuse of words, rather than back up and apologize for something that probably easily could have been swept under the rug and forgotten—he doubled down. Because apparently, this is not a man who likes to be told he’s wrong. Just ask the Twitter user who called Trautwig out on a misspelled tweet in 2013—Trautwig actually tracked the guy down and called his parents in the middle of the night, then engaged in a bizarre Twitter war of Trump-esque proportions."
One thing Carrie and Leah didn't quite address in their well-written blogs was what it truly feels like, as an adoptive parent, when someone says something about our children's "real" parents. My daughter was only home a short time when an elderly relative of mine said to me, right in front of her "Where is her real Mom?!" Now, this relative was suffering from dementia and meant nothing insulting by her remark. Nonetheless, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I literally couldn't speak. My mother stepped in and said "Alesia's birthmom is in Russia. She is an alcoholic and couldn't parent her."
A few years later I took cupcakes to my son's school in honor of his Gotcha Day in April. His birthday is in July so he never got to have cupcakes at school like the other kids whose birthdays were during the school year. So we made a bunch of cupcakes and I took them in for Gotcha Day. One little boy said "It's not Michael's birthday?" I said "No, this is a celebration of the day I adopted him." The child then said "Where's his real mom?" I took a big breath and said "I AM HIS REAL MOM. The woman who gave birth to him is back in Kazakhstan." I didn't yell, but I was probably louder than I should have been. The boy looked startled and confused. I just quickly finished handing out the cupcakes and walked away to compose myself for a few minutes. I wanted to cry, scream, and throw things but I didn't.
To Al Trautwig and NBC officials and any others who think adoptive parents are being overly sensitive about this: you cannot imagine how painful it feels to be told you are not your child's REAL mom or dad. It HURTS. The pain is gut-wrenching. Everything implied by the word "real" makes me feel something like this - Because I am not real, I am second-best and my family is fake because we are not connected by blood. We don't count, adoptive parents. We're invalid.
If you are NOT an adoptive parent, try to imagine for a moment what it would feel like to be told your child is not yours. Try to imagine that pain.
I have worked very hard for years to establish myself as a loving parent - very different from my kids' early experiences.
When I got to bring Michael to my hotel room to hang out with me one day in Kazakhstan we spent some time in the hotel's gym, where he got to play badminton. We also played with a beach ball in the room. [It was cold and snowy outside.]
He cut his finger. I had some Neosporin and bandaids in my suitcase and I carefully washed and bandaged his hand. He looked at me with surprise at first, then he sat there and smiled. I did something his birthmom had likely never done. I was concerned about his booboo and I fixed it. I told him I cared about him. It may sound simplistic but when I finished bandaging him and looked into his beautiful eyes, I knew he was thinking This lady loves me and has concern for me. That was a new experience for him, from a mama-type person. (I know the caretakers at the orphanage were fond of him - they were instrumental in him getting adopted. They weren't mama, however. They got paid to look after him.)
With a child is adopted as a baby or toddler, the adoptive parent is all they remember. They have no reference for a biological parent. My kids remember their biological moms, however. Alesia was put in the orphanage at age 6, and Michael at age 8. My challenge early on was to establish that I was different, that I would care for them.
Biological parents typically just get pregnant and have the child and proceed accordingly. Sometimes they struggle with infertility, but most people just decide to have a child and have one, or more.
In contrast, most adoptive parents I know go through sheer hell trying to get their kids, whether it's a foreign or domestic adoption. I had to scramble to find the money to adopt, buy a house, deal with naysayers both times - it was a long hard road, both times. I have a friend who did a private domestic infant adoption some years ago and had 3 birthmoms change their mind - she was heartbroken 3 times before finally adopting her baby boy. I have a friend who spent more than 5 years, thousands of dollars, and went through 3 different agencies trying to adopt two little girls from Russia. She finally got her girls home and is an excellent mom, but it was a really rough journey. We all were determined to be mothers, and willing to do whatever it took.
Why is it that ignorant jerks think only biology makes a parent "real"?
We adoptive parents are the ones who get up in the night with our kids, take them to piano lessons and sports practices, bandage booboos, help with homework, take them to the doctor, take them on vacation, buy birthday presents, try to get them to eat right, etc. Sound familiar? It's called parenting.
When I had both kids at home, I never got up in the morning thinking "I'm going to tend to my ADOPTIVE kids today." I never thought about my kids as different unless some ignorant person pointed it out in a painfully insulting way. My kids are MY KIDS. Period.
My kids grew up with a mama and a granny. No dad, but a loving uncle. They were told they were loved every single day. That's far more than they would've gotten had they stayed in the orphanage.
If you are not an adoptive parent, please don't EVER EVER EVER say to someone "Where's his/her REAL mom/dad?" Even if it's a blonde blue-eyed adult with an African American child. There's no need to be rude. Get used to the idea there are going to be kids who are a different race from their parents. One of my neighbors who is white has an Asian adopted daughter. My next door neighbor is white, and he looks nothing like his biological daughters who have an African American mom. My friend Paul, who is black, is a terrific father to his two stepdaughters who are white. There are going to be kids like mine who have a different accent from their mama. There are going to be kids with much older parents, or two mommies or two daddies and THAT'S OKAY.
Families are defined in all kinds of ways, and there is NOTHING wrong with that.
In my opinion the only fair way to define a parent has nothing to do with genetics, but it has everything to do with love and caring. The national news last night - I watched NBC and ABC - was all over the fact that some of the Olympic athletes are using a technique called "cupping" to improve their performance. They totally ignored the Trautwig story, which is far more important, IMHO. Let's shine a light on jerks like Trautwig, call them out, show the world what prejudice looks like.
Simone Biles is a beautiful, shining example of the achievements possible for our kids who are raised in non-traditional families. She was raised with love and has a wonderful relationship with the folks she calls Mom and Dad. Let's concentrate on the miracles that LOVE can accomplish, and quit trying to define "real."