I don’t know about you, but I happen to be a huge Olympic gymnastics fan. I couldn’t wait to sit down with my iced tea and cozy PJ’s Sunday night to enjoy some impressive vaulting and uneven bar routines, and take my best guesses at the deductions a wobbly dismount from the balance beam would get.
As I tuned into NBC to get ready to watch, my tiny, beautiful, infant daughter slept peacefully upstairs. She joined our family just last month through adoption, a connection that probably serves as why I was a little more excited than usual to cheer on Simone Biles — the Team USA gymnast who spent time in foster care before being adopted.
The moving story of Simone’s difficult early childhood — of being born to parents who struggled with addiction and placed in foster care — has been making headlines for weeks now. But so has the story of her rise from it all — how she and her sister were adopted by her birth grandfather and his wife, Ron and Nellie Biles, in 2001, and removed from their chaotic upbringing in order to have a better life. As she told Texas Monthly just last month, these are the people she calls Mom and Dad.
Which is why I thought it was odd, as I watched Sunday evening, that one broadcaster in particular — NBC’s Al Trautwig — kept referring to Simone’s parents as her grandparents.
Sure, plenty of grandparents raise their grandchildren. But in this situation, Simone has made it perfectly clear to the world that these are her parents. They were the ones who raised her; and if you ask me, they did some pretty impressive parenting to have gotten their daughter all the way to the Olympics.
I wasn’t the only one taken aback by Trautwig’s remarks, though — Twitter was quick to step in and correct him, which then prompted the NBC announcer to fire off a response. But with that one quick tweet, Trautwig managed to insult and offend adoptive families everywhere.
“They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents,” Trautwig wrote, in the since-deleted tweet.
When I read it myself, I was shocked and offended. And I wasn’t alone.
By Monday, the backlash to Trautwig’s ignorant tweet had spread, and the announcer soon issued an official apology, saying in a statement:
“I regret that I wasn’t more clear in my wording on the air. I compounded the error on Twitter, which I quickly corrected. To set the record straight, Ron and Nellie are Simone’s parents.”
But even so, his tweet on Sunday stuck with me, for so many reasons.
The very spirit of the Olympics is about embracing diversity. The different countries, cultures, and stories of the athletes are paramount to the magic that keeps viewers and competitors coming back for more. Pure determination and grit help the athletes reach their dreams.
And maybe that’s not so unlike adoptive parents, who sometimes spend months, if not years, trying to make their dreams of building a family become a reality.
If there’s one thing that the world should know about those of us who’ve built our family through adoption, it’s this: We never give up. We are the most determined and persistent bunch of people you will ever find, and we’ve been through it all to hold our babies and see them through their paths in life.
But I guess I’m not that worried about Al Trautwig in the grand scheme of things — even though he owes the world a significantly bigger apology than he issued. I’m not even that worried about my own feelings, or my husband’s, in all of this; although we were pretty disheartened. As parents through adoption, we’ve sadly heard this all before. We’ve patiently responded; we’ve held back tears.
Here’s who I am worried about, though: the rest of the world. The other people who heard his comments or read his tweet — be it our friends, neighbors, or our daughter’s future kindergarten classmates. I worry about what kind of terrible example comments like these set for them.
I worry about my sweet daughter in her crib. I worry about her sister, our older daughter.
People have already commented that my daughters “look like real sisters” — a ridiculous and hurtful comment that stings every time. I can only hope that my 3-year-old is able to avoid hearing it, as she knows that they absolutely are sisters, both of them being “real.” It would break her little heart to think that anyone could possibly not realize that they were sisters.
I also worry about my daughter’s preschool friends. Just this week at the park, as I gently rocked and fed my infant daughter, another mom asked me, “So, do you know what her parents look like?” My friend’s daughter looked at me with a confused face, saying, “Oh, you aren’t really her mommy?”
In the spirit of education and forgiveness, I have been gently correcting people for a while now. But something about Trautwig’s lack of understanding and insistence on getting it wrong made me feel a lot less tolerant this week than I have been in the past.
There are some who may say it was all just a misunderstanding — a poorly thought-out tweet fired off without thinking; a matter of semantics; a misuse of words. But words matter. And using correct and respectful words when talking about families matters. We must remember that tiny humans are listening, and they are learning from us.
In all of this, I keep being reminded of a quote from Harry Potter — when Professor Dumbledore so wisely says: “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”
While I’m not exactly convinced that Al Trautwig will fully see the negative impact of his comments this week, I do know one thing: Adoptive families around the world will push forward, keep on reinforcing the importance of language, protecting their families from bullies, and holding their little ones tighter each day. Because yes, it matters.More On