If I had a dollar for every time someone looked at my internationally adopted son and said that to me, I would be living large. I’d own a fancy horse and a yacht and some serious acreage, all owned by my corporation, MyLuckyKid, LLC. Sadly, I don’t get a dollar, and that is really unfortunate, because my Chinese kid and I hear how lucky he is all the time and just about everywhere we go.
It makes me uncomfortable. Even though it is always coupled with the best of intentions, big smiles and friendly arm squeezes, “he’s so lucky” makes me uncomfortable and awkward and fidgety. It leaves me at a loss for the right words, and I end up bumbling together a response that would make you question whether English was my first language.
It took me a while to figure out why “he’s so lucky” is so unsettling for me.
It certainly isn’t because it’s not true. My son was in a foreign orphanage. He was abandoned, malnourished and terrified. It’s hard even for me to reconcile the toddler I brought home with the tornado child I now have who dances around in his boxers to The Rolling Stones. While lucky doesn’t quite do justice to the change in his circumstance, I definitely understand and appreciate what the kind folks mean when they call him lucky.
Is the weirdness because I feel that I’m the lucky one? Is that the cause of the discomfort? The unwritten rules of adoptive parenting instruct you to say, “He is so lucky!” But more than once, probably 100 times, I have said, “Oh my gosh no, I’m the lucky one!” and I want you to know that I believe it to the core of my being. But while I feel absurdly lucky and grateful and indebted to whatever cosmic force it was that brought my son to me, my own sense of gratitude isn’t why I feel unsettled about my son being pronounced lucky.
© Rebecca Masterson
“He’s so lucky” is jarring because adoption, while crucially important to my son’s history and background, is not relevant at all to our daily lives. At the grocery store, at the school play, in the produce aisle, he is not my adopted son. He is simply, and without adjective, my son.
Picture me at the grocery store, for example, trying to fill up a static-filled plastic bag with some bulk oatmeal while keeping on an eye on my son who, five bins over, just asked a male shopper if he was pregnant. I’m searching for my ringing cell phone in my purse with one hand and the oatmeal bag is not cooperating, when a voice from my left says, “Aw! He’s so lucky!” Huh? Who is lucky, the pregnant male shopper? My kid? Why, did he get a free sample? Oh, that’s right, he’s adopted.
“He’s so lucky” forces adoption into my current, seven years after it began, motherhood. It takes me by surprise because on a day-to-day basis, I don’t see China, I don’t see an orphanage, I don’t see adoption. Just like when I see parents with their presumably biological children at the playground or in line at Starbucks, I don’t see family planning, childbirth or a maternity ward. I don’t look at my son playing air guitar or sneaking soda into the shopping cart and see adoption.
I don’t want my son to feel lucky. I don’t want him to feel saved or rescued or burdened by some notion that he owes me a thing. He doesn’t. I want him to know that he is loved, that our family is as real as any other family, and that he has so, so much more to offer the world than just luck. I want him to know that the most beautiful part of adoption is that I, his mother, see adoption every single day and don’t notice it at all.