There’s a reason why mothers are sometimes called “mama bears” when they protect and defend their children: ferociously they prevent harm and hurt from reaching their babies, no matter how old the babies grow to be.
Consequently, one Virginia woman did just that, over and over again, in the face of rude comments people made to her and her daughters, who were adopted from China. No, they didn’t look like their mom but, yes, they were a family — and she was going to make a big statement to teach the world a lesson.
Kim Kelley-Wagner had spent her whole life wanting to be a mother. However, it wasn’t until she flipped open an issue of Time magazine and read a story about orphans half a world away that she knew her babies would come from China.
She recalled to Yahoo Shine, “It was an image of six babies sitting in a circle on the floor, and one had the most serious facial expression. That image stayed with me.” With her intentions clear, Kelley-Wagner started her journey toward adoption.
Remarkably, as a woman delving into parenthood on her own, Kelley-Wagner lucked out. At the time she decided to become a mother, China was one of the very few countries that permitted single people to adopt. And in 2001 her journey would come to a successful end.
That year, she brought home 10-month-old Liliana. Seven years later, she completed her family with two-year-old Meika. Her youngest daughter came to her with special needs, including a cleft lip and palate with which she was born.
In spite of her personal joy and triumph, though Kelley-Wagner told Yahoo Shine that the world around her was less than celebratory of her family. Instead, they would make jokes and ask rude questions about her daughters, who did not appear to be hers by birth.
“The comments began from the start,” Kelley-Wagner recalled. “We would be shopping, and cashiers or store clerks would say things like, ‘How much did she cost?’ or ‘You could have bought a car for what it probably cost to adopt her.’”
However, Kelley-Wagner had responses at the ready in these types of situations. “I would answer, ‘Are you interested in adoption?’” she said. “If they said no, I’d say, ‘Why are you asking?’ My response made them consider the impact of their words and sometimes they apologized.”
It wasn’t until 2013 that she decided to teach that lesson on a grander scale. After years and years of fielding comments aimed at her daughters’ race and appearances, Kelley-Wagner took to her Facebook page to make a statement.
But it wouldn’t be an ordinary, text-based status update airing her grievances with the world. Along with the words explaining her frustration, she included images. The pictures showed her young daughters holding placards, each with comments made to them in the past.
In one image, her eldest daughter Liliana held up a sign that read, “They hate girls in the country you come from, you know that, right?” The teen wore a stern expression, portraying her apparent disdain for such a statement.
Kelley-Wagner’s younger daughter, Meika, held up her own sign with a question that might have been even more hurtful. “Why didn’t you get one that was ‘perfect?’” the placard read. Certainly, it was a powerful image considering the child was born with a cleft lip and palate.
“Aren’t you afraid they will hate you later for taking they away from their own country?” read another, while a separate sign exclaimed, “I could never take on someone else’s problem like that!” In total, the gallery contained more than 35 images of Kelley-Wagner’s daughters and these types of shocking statements and questions.
Kelley-Wagner accompanied her pictures with an explanation as to why she shared them. “I have tried to explain to my daughters that people do not say these things to be mean, they say them out of ignorance, which is why I am sharing some of them,” she wrote.
In response, many of Kelley-Wagner’s Facebook followers reacted positively to her post and the sentiment she wanted to convey. However, even with her written explanation, Kelley-Wagner received some backlash for posting the photos online, with one commenter even deeming them “cruel.”
So Kelley-Wagner followed up her initial post with updates on her family, as well as further explanation for her actions. “After a couple of years of comments, it is clear that some still do not ‘get it,’” she said, adding, “Although, in our everyday lives, things have improved drastically and for that I am grateful. [I] would like to think it is at least in part because of our activism.”
“Bottom line is this: everyone’s story is their own,” Kelley-Wagner went on. “Would you appreciate strangers ask you prying, intrusive questions? How our family is formed is nobody’s business. Simply because someone is different from yourself, it does not give you the right to […] make yourself comfortable to ask whatever you please about them, most especially children.”
Nevertheless, in a separate post, she ensured followers that negativity barely affected her children, who were confident in their own skin. She wrote, “Not once have my daughters been brought low because of any comment made by a stranger. They realize that the things said are ignorant and treat them as such.”
Kelley-Wagner, whose eldest daughter is now 17 and whose youngest began middle school in 2017, added one final, thought-provoking statement, “Our intention in doing this project was to enlighten and educate; to hopefully remind us that words can build up, or tear down; that they are powerful and that we have a responsibility to use them wisely.”