“No, we are NOT getting Skittles, Max!” I said.
“But, Mom! I wanna taste the rainbow. Pleeeeeeeese!”
The woman in front of us with the “Jesus Saves” tote bag looked at him, then at me, then back at him with a grin. “He’s precious.”
I rolled my eyes. “Thanks.”
“Put the candy back, Max. Right now,” I said, with as much patience as I could muster at the end of a long grocery trip.
There were three other people ahead of us in line, in an otherwise empty grocery store. It was only noon on a Tuesday.
She looked confused. “Is he yours?” Her tote bag was weighed down with several cartons of cigarettes—Marlboro Lights.
“Yes, he’s all mine.”
“I’m adopted!” Max squealed and went running off toward the baking aisle.
I’ve had some variation of this conversation with people since he was born. I get it. People are curious, because he’s black and I’m white. With celebrities adopting children left and right, it seems like a topic that is open for discussion. Usually, I just roll with it, because I know my little one is looking to me and my attitude toward our story to form his own opinion.
“Max! Get back here!” I couldn’t chase him without leaving my cart full of stuff.
“Adopted… Isn’t that something?” she said.
Oh God, why is this line moving so slowly?
“Mommy! Look, pudding! PUDDING!” He was screaming from several aisles away.
“It took my husband and I seven years to have a child, but we just kept on trying,” she said.
The weary-eyed check out lady clicked on the light above the register and mumbled, “Price check on three. Price check on three.”
“Max?” I said, searching in the direction he ran.
“Well, I’m sure you will have your own child someday,” she said.
I wonder if anyone would care if I crack this ice cream open right now?
How many children do you have?” I said, trying to change the subject.
“Four. They are all grown with children of their own now, honey,” she answered.
“–I mean, I think adoption is great and all,” she interrupted. “My preacher adopted three of ‘em. My cousin-by-marriage adopted a child from Nicaragua, or was it Senegal. I don’t know… one of those countries down there.”
Oh God, why didn’t I choose the self-checkout?
“Does he know he’s adopted? I mean, because you’re white and he’s black. He’s gonna figure it out sooner or lat—”
“Mommy! Yes to pudding, right?” Max was skipping back in our direction, with a box in each hand.
“No, NO pudding. Go put it back.”
“Put. it. back.”
The price check light was still on, to no avail. I pulled out my phone and started to scroll. Max was attempting to climb under the cart where you keep the larger items.
She watched him for a few seconds, then said in a whisper that everyone could hear. “Does he know who his real mother is?”
“Mommy!” squealed Max. “Look, Pokémon cards!”
“No, Max. No Pokémon candy. And, get out from under there right now.”
There was no escaping at this point. Two more people had joined the line behind us with carts full of food and there was a guy in front of “Jesus Saves.”
“How could she just give him up like that?” she continued. “Teenagers are so irresponsible nowadays and planned parenthood is killing babies left and right.”
“Pokémon cards, not candy, Mommy. Come on! Please?”
“He is definitely going to want to know who his real Mom is someday. I mean, I would.”
“Please, Mommy. I’ll be good, I promise.” He started to pull on my pant leg.
“Did you see on TV where this child’s real Mother gave away her little boy and the courts made the adoption people give him back after all those years?”
“Mommy! Come on! It’s just one pack!”
“I mean, wouldn’t you just lose your mind if his real Mom took him back?”
“Mommy. Pleeeeeee—!” whined Max.
“STOP IT!” I yelled with volume I was taught never to use in public.
Everyone — even my seven year old — got very still. I could feel dozens of eyes trying not to stare at me. I slowly turned to the people behind me and said, “I’m sorry, we need to go.”
Like some sort of weary, middle-aged ballet, people and carts spread out slowly in different directions allowing us to exit the line. As we stood in the self-checkout, I was certain Max was going to have a lot of questions about the things she said. I was certain that I’d have to spend a lot of time reassuring him that his birth mom wouldn’t and couldn’t take him back. And, I was certain I’d have to explain (once again) that I was and would always be his “real” Mommy.
The only question he ever asked about the whole thing came later that night, as he was brushing his teeth, “Geegu daves wha?”
“What Max? Take the toothbrush out of your mouth.”
He swallowed and said, “Jesus saves what?”