Here is a chapter from my new book: The Perks of Being an Adoptee
You can read the whole book at this link for free until March 15th 2017!
“Say Cheese,” I would hear my adoptive mother yell at us from a few feet away.
All of us really.
But mostly, she would yell at the adopted kids. How dare we frown when a family picture was to be taken. How dare we show how we really felt.
How dare we pretend.
We are good at pretending. And I say it is a perk because it is kinda like we can keep our real thoughts to ourselves. We get to hide behind our real selves.
I think pretending is like lying really, except, you are not really hurting anyone in the process-except for you.
When I was little, I used to play make believe. For the longest time I had a dolly and I would bathe it and care for it. I pretended I was my real mother and the dolly was me. So I took extra care of it, careful not to drop it, and I was very careful how I held it.
I didn’t want to hurt it.
At night I dreamed that my mother was looking for me and I was hiding from her.
Like a simple game of hide-and-seek.
I would pretend to hide under the covers and a few minutes later “boo” I would yell, waking up the rest of the kids in our circular room.
The “boo” would always startle me awake; just to find myself in the room with the rest of the siblings and no mom looking for me.
It’s the masks that all adoptees have.
Even the ones with the best relationships with their adoptive parents will have masks of some sort. We have to pretend that we love where we are, and what we have been offered.
And if we do, we have to pretend we don’t want to go back.
With this perk comes the absence of feeling sad about our existence and the many questions we have about how we came to exist in the first place. We are aware that we came from our mother’s womb but for some reason, we are in the arms of another.
I’m good at pretending that I like someone, want to be around someone, or even love someone. I learned through my amazing adoption experience that pretending was a way to survive until you become old enough to not have to pretend anymore.
This usually meant “leaving” age.
“When I grow up, I want to no longer pretend,” I remember saying in my head when I was around 8 years old. I wanted a voice, I wanted my voice. I no longer wanted to use their voice because I knew my voice was good enough.
Pretending is a perk because we can coast through life. We don’t really live, but instead, we exist. We exist in a world where society tells us that if we are not happy, and smiling and joyful, we are acting un-thankful or ungrateful.
If we are not constantly giving praise to this giant monster we call adoption, we are the “ungrateful” adoptee who could have died.
Because that is always the alternative-the rhetoric we learn from very young.
Of course we could have died. All of us could have died. I could have died in Haiti, I could have died in the USA, I could have died elsewhere. I could have really died anywhere.
But I didn’t.
Will we ever really know what could have been or what should have been?
The beauty of pretending is that we can close our eyes and imagine our lives with and also without. We can close our eyes and see our family, and close out our adoptive family. We can close our eyes and be silent for seconds, minutes, hours, or days at a time. We can pretend that we are not here.
We can pretend that we are fully here.
We can pretend that the person raising us wants the best for us.
We can pretend that the person raising us wants the worst for us and that they adopted us so that they could look good.
We can put on the mask of thankfulness.
We can take off the mask of gratefulness.
We can pretend to exist in a world that wants us, or that needs us.
Pretending is like being in a movie or in a Broadway play.
When I was 17, I got to pretend I was Dion in Hair, the 70s musical. For the first time in my entire life, I got to take on the role of a black beautiful woman. I got to pretend to “speak black” and be black.
I loved it!
And after I was done pretending, what was left?
After I took off the mask, what was left?
My face was never without a mask because once one mask went off, another comfortably was reapplied in order to get through this life that tells me my mother is white, my father is white, my siblings are white but me…. I’m black!
So maybe I will pretend I am white!
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I believe that every one of us has a mask that we wear now and again for bravery and I can imagine a scared adoptee having to wear one not just as a form of pretense that they are happy but also as some sort of armour to protect themselves from feeling hurt.