“That’s just who I am”: sophomore Grace Thompson shares her rarefied story of growing up

From left to right, the Thompson family is Mary, sophomore Grace Thomson, East graduate Kyle, and Craig. Photo courtesy of Grace Thompson.
by Emma Peake, STAFF WRITER
12 December 2018

As we walk down the halls trying to find a quiet place to sit amidst the after-school chaos, sophomore Grace Thompson is met by many passing friends who say hello. She smiles at them and has quick conversations as we keep walking, her friendly personality evident. We’re walking through the hallways of Oswego East that we both know so well, but we are about to take a walk down Memory Lane that I at least know not at all. When we finally find a quiet spot, we sit cross-legged on the floor and Grace begins to tell her story.

Grace has grown up in the cornfields of Oswego with her older brother Kyle, her two dogs, and her mom and dad. Now in her second year of high school Grace enjoys playing on the tennis and soccer teams here at school, and she hopes to play for all four years. She keeps busy with her studies and is a part of Science Olympiad and math honor society Mu Alpha Theta. With her brother Kyle away at his first year of college, Grace has the house to herself, but she does admit to missing him.

Like all stories, there was a beginning to Grace’s story and it is her beginning that brought her to where she is today. Grace was born in a province of eastern China called Anhui. When she was a baby she was found on a doorstep and was taken to an orphanage. During the time when Grace was born many babies, especially baby girls, were found at orphanage gates and police stations, as their parents could not take care of them. When Grace was one year old, she was adopted by the Thompsons, who brought her back to Illinois as a new part of their family.

“With Chinese adoptions, your paperwork gets submitted to China and then you wait for a match. When we received the news that we had a match I was so excited. [When] we got the information about Grace and her photo it was love at first sight,” Grace’s mom Mary said.

In the summer after her fifth grade year, Grace was able to go back to China and visit her “finding spot” through the adoption agency. Grace is still in touch and friends with two families who adopted a child at the same time as Grace was adopted, but since Grace was so young when she was adopted she does not feel very much connection to Chinese culture.

“When we were little we’d all get together during the Chinese New Year and do fun stuff, but nowadays we just go to a museum or something. I understand [Chinese culture], but I’m not exactly connected to it,” Grace said, “Since I was so little I grew up only learning the American culture, but I think it was important that my family introduced me [to Chinese culture] at a young age so I wasn’t totally Americanized.”    

Even though Grace has never known a family or parents other than her own, she does sometimes think about digging deeper, wondering about her biological family members. However, she does not feel ready to open something that was closed a long time ago. She feels she was adopted for a reason, and since she is happy and in a loving family she doesn’t want to look for information that could possibly hurt her.

“When I feel like I’m mentally ready to go back and try to find them, I might go back, but for now I feel like it’s better to leave it because nothing bad has happened to me, so I don’t want to go back and find out something that I don’t want to,” Grace said.

Being adopted is not something that Grace broadcasts to the world, but it is certainly not something she is ashamed of either. When walking around with her family she started to notice people looking at her and then looking at the rest of her family, as though putting the pieces together. This has never bothered Grace though, as she is confident and proud of the family she is in, and she doesn’t see being adopted as a negative thing at all.

As she simply put it, “It doesn’t really bother me, I mean it shouldn’t be looked down upon. I have a family, they have a family.”

We all have a family, small or big, loud or quiet, biological or not. No two families are alike and no two families look the same, and that is something that Grace feels more of America needs to realize. She says that while America is portrayed as a united country we will never be truly united until we can accept others and we can all respect each other’s morals and values. If adopted families get any backlash from others Grace says they should keep on living their life, because they knew that adoption was the right thing for their family.

“If there are people who can’t accept that a family can’t be all one color then that’s probably more their problem than that family’s problem because that family is just trying to live their life,” Grace said.

For Grace’s parents and thousands of other families, adoption was the right thing for them, and they were able to give a child a loving family and a new home.

“We had a lot of love to give and really wanted another child so we started looking into adoption options,” Mary said. “The hard part [about the adoption] was that you had to wait about 2 more months to go to China and get your baby. Feb. 17, 2004 was the day that Grace joined our family.”

According to Adoption Network about 135,000 children are adopted by families in the United States each year, and each of these children has to face the fact that the family they are in now is not the family they were born into. Grace hopes to see more people fostering and adopting older children and kids with special needs, as she explains many families want to adopt a baby, but a small minority want to take in teens and children with disabilities.

Speaking to these children and adopted kids everywhere Grace confidently said, “I would tell them to focus on the family they have now because that family really wanted you, you weren’t a default or another option, they wanted you, and if they didn’t want you another family would have wanted you. So you can’t really like blame yourself for being given up because you don’t know what happened and more people around you want you as their child and as their sibling.”

Adoption is how Grace’s story got started, but it is only one piece of her life and what makes her who she is. Grace doesn’t want to be seen as different or less than, and her story and life goes far beyond being adopted. Grace still has two more years of high school and she looks forward to graduation as she tries to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life, a daunting task that we all face.

Just like any other teenager Grace is focused on getting through school and enjoys hanging out with her friends and spending time with her family. Grace has a close relationship with her brother Kyle, and she misses him while he is at college, also missing the extra help with doing chores. At Christmas time Grace and her family drive to Rock Island where they meet Grace’s older half siblings Casey and Megan and their kids, along with the rest of Grace’s family. They enjoy a meal as a family and spend the night playing bingo and enjoying time with each other.

Grace’s story shows that family is family, and it is as simple as that. Being adopted is a part of who she is, but it doesn’t define her, doesn’t upset her, doesn’t stop her from doing anything.

As we wrapped up our interview, Grace’s brother was home and outside school waiting to pick her up, Grace ended with a final statement, “I don’t want to be looked at by my peers as different because of the family that I’m in. You can’t really control where you were born into, so I think that they shouldn’t look at that as a downside. That’s just who I am.”

It felt important, I think, that Grace had to make that fact known, to let me know one last bit about where she had come from.

And that it had nothing to do with where she was going.

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