Conspicuous family. I have heard those words more times than I can count over the course of our journey to adopt our son, Jack, from China. Only three months home and already I’m used to the double takes and secret smiles that greet me and my family at the grocery store, when we’re out to dinner or at story hour at our local library. People notice that “one of these things is not like the other." It’s part of being a transracial, transcultural family. We are conspicuous. And I remember the precise moment it began.
We arrive at Dulles International Airport. Two backpacks and three large suitcases in tow (which I thought was pretty modest packing all things considered). We make our way up to the ticket counter. “Checking in for Beijing,” I say brightly. The representative tags our luggage, no problem. Somehow we have managed to be underweight – nothing short of a miracle – but then she sees the stroller. “You can only check a stroller if you have a child.” The rep eyes us suspiciously, “Where is your child, ma’am?” Um… In China?
I launch into a whole explanation, showing our paperwork, the one picture I have of our son, anything to convince this woman that I should be able to put a stroller on her airplane. Finally she relents. She allows me to check our stroller, “Just this once.” I’m not even sure what that means. “Just this once.” Maybe she wants to ensure I don’t make a habit of flying around the world with empty strollers. I start to say something but my husband nods a silent “thank you” and steers me away from the counter.
It takes us awhile to get to the gate. We arrive to find our fellow passengers swarming the four available entrance lines to board the plane. “Jones Party. Is the Jones Party here?” I assume because we have been bumped up to Business Class (a blessing given the 14 hour flight) they are looking for us to board immediately.
We make our way through the throngs and approach the gate. “We’re looking for your third passenger,” a stewardess tells me. I look confused. “The baby,” says the stewardess, “Your ticket says you have a baby.” Again I launch into a whole explanation, showing our paperwork. The stewardess stops me short. She clicks on her PA system. “It’s just the two of them,” she practically screams, “They’re picking up the baby in China. They will be three on the way back home.”
Our fellow passengers look us up and down. Suddenly we are fascinating. On the outside we looked like any other young couple on their way to Beijing but now, now... Some applaud. Some shake their heads. Some give us a “thumbs up” sign. I shuffle down the bridge and find my seat assignment, eager to settle back into oblivion.
Of course our row is right by the entrance to the plane. Every few passengers we hear “Good luck.” “How exciting.” “My nephew’s adopted.” The stewardesses are interested. Our seatmates are interested. How long has the process taken? Why China? How much did it cost? Do you speak Mandarin? Are you getting a girl? Oh it’s a boy? Is there something wrong with him?
I take a deep breath and in that moment I know life will never be the same. I whisper “we are officially conspicuous!” My husband laughs. I half expect him to say “what did you expect?” but instead he shakes his head and says “It’s a good thing you’re a storyteller.”
And in that next moment I know that life will never be the same because from this moment forward we are a conspicuous family and we do have a story to share.