Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What are Your Rules?

Last weekend my family attended a birthday party. It was all the usual fun…kids competing to see how many pieces of pizza they could ingest, begging for cake, playing with toys from goody bags until one of the adult guests I had been chit-chatting with asked me if my family was comfortable talking about adoption. Immediately, three pairs of Chinese eyes swiveled to me and “the rules” went into effect.

Rule 1: Be pleasant. “Yes, we are comfortable talking about adoption—why wouldn’t we be?”

Rule 2: Answer to my children’s ears. “No they are not all from the same place, but yes they are all from China, no they are not biologically related but became siblings the day they took our last name for their own.”

Rule 3: When questions become too intrusive, change the venue. “Gosh, it’s getting late. We’ve got to be going. Let’s chat again sometime, it was great meeting you.”

In the course of our nine years as an adoptive family these rules for public conversation have developed. Thankfully, friends in our adoption community have given us strength, grace and humor to handle these situations with very few bumps. We’ve learned that “outsiders” are usually curious in the good ways and only occasionally strange or rude in ways that we chalk up to them not having learned their manners!

This incident reminds me of a wonderful Children’s book (for children ten years and older) titled: Rules (2006, Scholastic Press). The main character in the story, twelve year old Katherine, longs for a friend close enough to send Morse code messages to at night….but her quest for a friend is shaped by her relationship with younger brother, David, who has autism. Katherine lives with public situations and questions that have forged her need to keep a sense of order for herself and brother. Some of her rules are just funny: “pantless brothers are not my problem!” Some rules are heartbreaking: “Sometimes people joke with you to be fun….sometimes they joke with you to be cruel.” In the unfolding of Rules, Katherine does make friends…unexpected friends that force her to evaluate being rigid or flexible when deriving rules. By the end of the story, readers are happily cheering for Katherine’s growth as a sister, friend and young adult. Rules, while not directly about being and adopted child from China, addresses how young people grow into a comfortable acceptance of self and others.

Rules is a 2007 Newberry Honor book and winner of many other literary awards. Lots has been written about this heartwarming story and it’s a staple in most libraries. Cynthia Lord’s website has wonderful discussion questions and activities related to Rules, new books and the writing life.

How about you? What rules has your family developed in your history together?

Linda Mitchell

Associate Education Director


  1. Our rule is that answering in public is up to our kids. If a person asks a question about their adoption, we always turn first to our children and say "do you want to answer?" and if they say no, then we just say "she isn't wanting to discuss this right now." We always want our kids to know that their feelings and thoughts on their identity and adoption come before any stranger's feelings in a grocery line.

  2. One of my favorite books Linda!


  3. One of my favoirte books Linda!