Dear DMV, Stop Treating Adopted Kids Differently (UPDATED)

Aug 12 2013

I have a kid who just passed her driver’s permit test! WOOHOO!

So, before I get grumbly, I just want to say,

AbbyPermitCONGRATULATIONS, ABBY!
You did GREAT.
You studied hard.
You were motivated.
You were determined.
You were brave.
You breathed in and you breathed out.
Whether you’d passed or failed, I am, as always, proud to be your mama.
But I’m sure excited that you passed!
And I cannot wait to go driving with you. <— True story.

And now, I’m going to get grumbly, friends. For real. I just want to say, before I start, that this is a tone I rarely take here or anywhere. Except late at night when I’m both caffeine- and sleep-deprived and the mountain of laundry is insurmountable and I just laid my hand in a fresh blob of toothpaste on my bathroom counter which was left there as a gift by the Toothpaste Fairy who’s a thousand times more reliable than the Tooth Fairy and the dog starts barking at the air right after the last kid falls asleep because LOOK! AIR! LOOK! AIR! AIR! AIR! AIR! AIR! … then I lose my poo.

This is a Lose My Poo post, is what I’m saying. Now you’re warned.

Abby and I went to the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) today, armed with coffee, paperwork, excitement and nerves — oh, the nerves! — for her driver’s permit test. We did all the things you usually do at the DMV. Tried to walk quietly on the laminate tile floor. Smiled sympathetically at the mama with the young kids who were doing their best but failing miserably at sitting still. Watched as numbers were called and people shuffled from Window 10 to Window 7 and finally to the Holy Grail of Windows — Window 1 — the final stop where pictures are taken and licenses are handed out and teenagers beam.

Our wait was short. The employees were efficient and friendly. The people-watching was middling; nothing great like the time I got to see a brawl.

And we filled out the driver’s permit application, which required me to tick a box stating whether I am Abby’s biological or adoptive parent.

photo (73)-001

Truthfully, as soon as I saw it, the box bothered me, mostly because I’m not sure why the DMV needs this information. The doctor’s office, yes; they need to know that my family medical history isn’t relevant when it comes to treating Abby. But the Department of Motor Vehicles? I’ve thought and thought, and I just can’t figure out any reason to differentiate biological and adoptive parents in this scenario. We’re all required to provide the same things, after all: proof of legal presence in the country, state residency, age, full name, address, parent or legal guardian’s signature, application, fee. Frankly, it’s archaic and insensitive to have a biological box and an adoptive box, but this is a government form and these things are slow to change so I sat in my seat and checked the box and moved on. Both Abby and I are strong enough to take the emotional hiccup silly boxes can bring, and, while I don’t support the small ways adoptees and dozens of other groups are separated every day, I also can’t fight every battle. This seemed like a small one.

Until.

Sigh.

Until.

Until we turned our form in and paid our fee and Abby passed the test and I cheered and cheered (but quietly because mom!) and we went to the window to pay the next fee and the form was stamped and we turned to move on to Window 1 and were stopped.

“Wait,” said the woman at Window 7, studying the form in greater detail. “Are you her biological mother?”

My stomach flipped upside down. I gave Abby my WTF face, and Abby shrugged, like, don’t ask me.

“No. I’m her adoptive mother,” I said. “Of course, I prefer to just say ‘mother.'”

And the woman stared at the form for a while.

“OK,” she said slowly. “We may need additional documentation that proves you’re her adoptive parent.”

“I’m sorry; what?” I asked, confused.

“We may need some more paperwork that shows you’re her adoptive parent,” she said.

“Why?”

“We just may need to do that.”

I took a deep breath and tried to be kind. She was obviously trying to do her job and do it well, and, let’s be honest, it can’t be easy to work at the DMV.

“I brought everything required on the list,” I said. “Her United States passport, proof of school enrollment, my driver’s license, the completed form and the fee. She passed all of the tests. She’s a resident of Oregon along with the rest of our family. There was no mention anywhere that I have to provide adoption documentation.”

“Well, I’m just not sure,” she said. “You may need to provide that. I should probably ask someone. Legal guardians have to provide proof.”

I took a deep breath.

“Yes,” I replied. “I think you should ask someone. In fact, I think you should go get a supervisor right now. To be clear, adoption means that I am her mother. Not that I am her legal guardian. I am her legal parent. This affords my daughter all of the same legal rights as if she was my biological daughter and me all of the same legal rights as if I was her biological mother. Please do ask a supervisor because I don’t think any adoptive family should have to have this conversation.”

She thought a while longer. “Alright,” she said eventually. “You can go to Window 1. Have a good day.”

And I said, “Thank you” because I was still trying to be kind.

As we walked away, though, Abby said, “You seem angry.”

I was angry. I am angry.

And I spent a little while feeling stupid for feeling angry about a tiny box and the can of worms it opened, but screw that.

Here’s the thing: On a day we should be only celebrating a right of passage, high-fiving and waving that permit in the air, whooping and hollering for her success, I had to defend my right to act as my daughter’s mother. And Abby had to watch. And while Abby doesn’t feel fragile about adoption, many kids at the formative age of 15 do. Subjecting them and their parents to suggestions that they must prove they’re a family? That’s harmful. It just is. And it’s not OK.

The form at the DMV has to change. It’s a tiny thing, that little box I tried to overlook, but it has to change because it’s a breeding ground for confusion and for hurt.

I guess it’s my battle, after all.

Saddling up,
Beth

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P.S.  I’m at the beginning of navigating what to do about this situation, so I’m all ears if you have suggestions for next steps.

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UPDATE 1

I contacted the Oregon DMV administrator’s office this morning. He was out of the office, so I spoke with his assistant who was warm, friendly, and helpful. She is forwarding my 2 questions (1. How can we change this form? 2. If we can’t, WHY is this a necessary differentiation?) to their policy analysts and form writers, and promised a call back. Here’s hoping for some information and CHANGE.

UPDATE 2

And the DMV responded! Here’s the post about it.

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