The average 5 year old has the attention span of about 5-8 minutes. A 7 year old, a little longer. Go past that timeframe, you have lost them and start sounding like that voice from the Peanuts cartoon – wa wa wa… The average adult attention span? About 15-20 minutes. I will have 10 minutes.
I have the chance to be heard by the “important” people who influence the policies in international adoption and shape the way the industry is conducted, monitored and ultimately held accountable. I don’t think these meetings are unprecedented, but from my vantage point, it will be quite a visual. A room full of adopted people who have spent the better part of their adult life talking about, researching, criticising, working in and for the field of adoption or child welfare. My first thought is rather crude – will we all look alike to them? Not in the racist way, but in the way that one looks out in a crowd and sees en masse not being able to distinguish individual faces. Will we all sound the same? There is a certain pitch people get when they are anxious, passionate and enthused. Is it important that we be united or diverse in our alotted 10 minutes? I am inclined to believe it is our diversity that is our strength.
What is the message? What will they walk away thinking, feeling? They, the ones who influence the change-makers and choose how information will be delivered to them. Will we be categorized as angry, crazy, too idealistic, too pessimistic, clueless, too entitled?
One of the most common questions I get from others who are adopted is, am I crazy? I know I have felt that way often. When all around you is one way and you think another, it is crazy making. Some adoptees even call themselves aliens in a foreign land. Well, at the end of this week, the “aliens” will be landing in Washington, DC. For two days, we will have a chance to be seen and heard. For two meetings, we are the majority in the room and already knowing some bits of each person, crazy doesn’t come to mind. But passion does. I am thrilled.
I have come to play and not resist. I have pulled up my big girl pants and rolled up my sleeves to be in action and collaborate! I am nervous. It is situations like this that I am accutely aware of what I don’t know and hope to hell I speak well on the stuff I do know. Conference after conference, I have complained vigorously, obnoxiously, that we are not represented with any amount of respect or worth. I have grown so weary of the placating comments, being treated as a child, I have avoided gatherings of any kind with “adoption industry people.” No more conferences save for a couple that are coordinated by adoptees. These meetings will bring me back to my agency days and my Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute days when I was certain I was changing people’s perspectives on what a non-crazy good adoptee was supposed to look like. What comforts me is that I am not alone. I will be among the many and armed with a dozen years worth of stories A dozen years of listening to adoptees share with me their feelings, their hopes and their challenges. I feel more empowered by them than all the work I have actually done.
I feel like there is a lot riding on these gatherings. I hope I get to walk out feeling like we had an adult conversation with true mutual understanding. I hope we will be viewed as experts not just a great story or interesting face with an even more interesting name. I hope the gossip will be allayed and we all go back to our corners of the States with a sense that we are A community. I hope this is only the beginning of many more gatherings of this kind. And I really really hope my wishlist item gets put into action!