A Letter To Al Trautwig From A Mom By Adoption

by Rachel Garlinghouse
simone biles parents
Rachel Garlinghouse

What’s up, Al?

I know. You’re having a bad week.

The other night, I’m sitting on my sofa with my 7-year-old daughter curled up beside me. We’re sipping warm tea and watching some history-making, stunning Olympians do their thang — among them, Simone Biles.

We were purposefully watching this event. Simone is an adoptee, like my daughter. And Simone is a strong black girl, like my daughter. Watching Simone own the gymnastics floor and then seeing my little girl’s eyes light up like it was Christmas morning, well, that was everything.

And then you opened your big mouth. As the camera panned to Simone’s family, you decided to remark that the people she calls mom and dad are her grandparents.

You know why she calls them mom and dad? Because they are her mom and dad.

This wasn’t enough for you. When adoption community members, like me, called you out on Twitter (we call that a clapback), you just kept going — and going — until finally your employer told you to rein it in, delete the tweet, and apologize.

I have a feeling you did what you had to do to save your own ass, but you probably aren’t exactly getting why those of us in the adoption community are pretty pissed off right now.

Let me school you.

I’m a mom by adoption, but I’m not an adoptive mom. I don’t live in a constant state of “adoptive parenting.” Adoption was a one-time legal action that declared me my children’s mother.

I’m a mom by adoption, but I’m not a fake mom. Nothing I do is fake. I don’t clean up fake puke. I don’t fake bathe or fake feed my children. I don’t fake wash toddler-sized clothes or fake cuddle my daughters. I don’t fake read them bedtime stories, fake wipe bottoms, or fake shuttle them to school and gymnastics class.

I’m a mom by adoption, but I’m not a pretend mom. I don’t pretend to research vaccines, BPA plastics, and unhealthy food ingredients. I don’t pretend to get up in the middle of the night to comfort the child who had a bad dream. I don’t pretend to praise my daughter for sharing with her sister. I don’t pretend to tell my kids to remember to say “please and thank you” and “excuse me.”

I’m a mom by adoption, but I’m not my kids’ only mom. I don’t think for a second that I’m my kids’ one and only. I don’t live in a self-protecting bubble where my children can’t share their real feelings and preferential language surrounding their adoptions. I don’t make my kids choose between the parents who conceived and gave birth to them and us, the ones who adopted them.

I’m a mom by adoption, but I’m not an irrelevant mom. I don’t believe that the moment-to-moment interactions I have with my children, where I lead them and encourage them, are in vain. I don’t fully grasp, not yet, the significance of every time I show up for my kids, cheering for them and praising their efforts and accomplishments, but I know my kids need to hear someone special chant their name. I don’t get it right every time, but what I do is try, just like all parents.

I am a mom by adoption, proudly, to three beautiful, smart, funny, talented, and joy-filled children. And whatever ways they choose to refer to me and the parents who created them, I will accept, embrace, and enjoy. I’m privileged and honored to be my children’s parents, and I have taught my children that people like you, people who insist that they simply cannot accept that adoption makes an authentic family, are quite limited in their ability to live life well.

Your parameters aren’t going to define us.

The little girl sitting beside me on the couch? She’s my real kid. She’s not my adopted kid. She’s not my sort-of kid. She’s not my maybe kid. She’s my kid.

I’m her mom — no qualifiers, no explanations.

So the next time, if there is a next time, you have a captive audience of millions as you narrate one of the most important events of the year, I want you to have some respect for the talented and hardworking young people representing the country and their parents — their real parents — sitting in the audience cheering them on.

As a mom, I’m going to give you some free advice: Stay in your lane. Don’t pick on Simone Biles and her family. And above all, if you don’t have anything nice to say, keep your mouth shut and your cynicism off Twitter.

You’re welcome.