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Get Rid of "Gotcha"

by Karen Moline



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I could hear the whine coming closer and closer, until I could stand it no longer.
"Gotcha!" I said in triumph. Another mosquito swatted to oblivion.
"Gotcha" is my typical response when I've squashed a bug, caught a ball just before it would have rolled under the sofa, or managed to reach a roll of toilet paper on the top shelf at the store. It's a silly, slangy word.
As such, it's the last word I'd think to use if someone asked me to describe my feelings on the day, in a tiny orphanage off a dirt road outside of Da Nang, when I saw my child for the first time.
I find the use of "gotcha" to describe the act of adoption both astonishing and offensive. Aside from being parent-centered ("C'mere, little orphan, I gotcha now!") it smacks of acquiring a possession, not welcoming a new person into your life.
Yet many adoptive parents have elevated this casual word into shorthand for "The Day I Got You." This past year, one parent went further:

The word smacks of acquiring a possession, not welcoming a new person into your life.
Margaret Schwartz declared September 15, 2005, the first International Gotcha Day, a day to celebrate adoption.
This was bound to happen, as "gotcha" has become thoroughly entrenched in adoption-speak: There are "Journey to Gotcha" blogs, and "Happy Gotcha Day" cards, banners, keychains—even crowns—available for sale on the Internet. At last Google, there were 2,480,004 hits for "Gotcha Day." Curious, I clicked on "Noah's Gotcha Day."
Noah is a cat.
It didn't surprise me to find that adoptees have a slightly different feeling about all these gushing gotchas. Eight-year-old Becca Lampman, who was adopted from China, said, "It sounds weird to say that—call it ‘Adoption Day' instead." Her 17-year-old sister, Elena, adopted from Romania, agreed: "I wouldn't like hearing ‘Gotcha Day' used in my family. To me, it sounds like someone snatched you away from your birth family, or almost like you are a prize that was won...it has a gloating, ha-ha tone to it."
"We celebrate my Adoption Day, and I like that," she added. "Being adopted is worth celebrating, and ‘Adoption Day' is respectful sounding."
Adult adoptee Hanna Sofia Jung Johansson pointedly asked, "What is being celebrated [on Gotcha Day]? Parenthood and the new family, I guess. But do adoptive parents acknowledge their child's losses at the same time? ‘Gotcha' for parents means ‘lost-ya' for children who have been separated from familiar faces, smells, and surroundings."
Another adult adoptee, Eun Mi Young, is equally blunt. "While endearing to adoptive parents, ‘Gotcha' is downright disrespectful to adoptees," she says. "What does this term imply? We use it when we grab someone who is running from us, or when we save someone from something, or when we're playing a game. We shouldn't use it for an event that recalls the loss of culture, country, and birthparents."
I ran this concept past Margaret Schwartz, founder of International Gotcha Day, and she conceded that perhaps "Gotcha" wasn't the best word. "I wanted to raise awareness with the general public about the joys of adoption," she told me, "and I'm open to changing the name of the event."
Why not simply call it "Adoption Day" or "Family Day," or, if there are already kids at home, "Siblings Day"? Why commodify and demean adoptees—and ourselves—by using a silly, slangy term to describe the day we became complete families?
Save "gotcha" for mosquitoes.
KAREN MOLINE is a novelist, journalist, and ghostwriter. She lives in New York City with her son, Emmanuel Thanh Sang, adopted from Da Nang, Viet Nam, in August 2001.
©2012 Adoptive Families. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited.

Comments

As usual, people read way too much into a silly/fun word. My daughter, adopted at 14, refers to her special day as "gotcha day" because it is the day SHE GOT US! We never used the term, she did. She will walk up to me at random times (not just "gotcha day") throw her arms around me and say "gotcha....and I am never going to let go." Who am I to tell her that her feelings of happiness and belonging are politically incorrect? Not every adoption is the same. Not every adoptee was an infant. Not every birth parent lovely relinquished their child in nobility. Not every family is overly sensitive to terminology. Maybe it is about time other people stopped telling me how to refer to a HAPPY FUN FILLED EXCITING day for my child. I didn't snatch her away from her birth parents. They literally threw her away and I was there to catch her. This author mistakenly assumes that "gotcha" means a slap to a mosquito, yet the word, as many in the english language, means so much more. It is the intonation, not the word that matters. If my daughter wants to call it "gotcha day" because it makes her happy that she "got us" as her family, then I will smile and be proud that I was lucky enough to be "gotten."
Posted by: Tania at 7:46am Jun 4
I wish people would be less judgemental. We celebrate 'Gotcha Day' proudly every year. I have 2 biological children and 1 Russian adopted daughter. It is not the day that we became a family (we already were a family without her). It is the day we all got each other, for better or worse. My daughter is proud of her heritage and adoption and her new family. She asks me to go to her school and talk about her story with her in front of her class. I have done so every year at her request. Then we have a Russian dinner all together and we give her something to celebrate her Russian heritage. We aren't harming anyone by celebrating the story of our family. Why must so many of you be so judgemental. We should each be grateful to have such a wonderful day to celebrate any way that works for each of our families.
Posted by: Angela at 9:54am Jun 4
I totally agree that Gotcha is not the best choice of names for the day on which one celebrates a child's becoming a member of a family. Our oldest child, adopted from China, very natually named the celebration day herself. We call it Happy Adoption Day. As my children enter their teens I'm anticipating the possibility that they may take issue with the word "happy", since the fact that their birth parents could not raise them is not a 'happy' thing. However, should they raise this as an issue, I will suggest that while their birth parents relinquishing their parenting of them is a sad thing, becoming a member of a loving family, either via birth or adoption, is indeed a happy thing. As such, I hope they will continue to feel comfortable with the 'happy' part of the name and celebrate us being a family with joy as I always will.
Posted by: Deborah Novotny at 8:48am Jun 5
We do not celebrate Gotcha Day. We finalized our adoption on Thaksgiving Day - the day we were in court it was Thanksgiving Thursday in Russia and the next day, when we picked up our daughters, it was Thanksgiving Thursday in the United States. So we are simply thankful at Thanksgiving that our daughters became ours on that day. I do not think it is something that you need to continue to commerate, if you are open and honest about the fact that your child WAS adopted (note - not IS). Just as our bio children WERE born. And all our NOW are our children - however they joined our family. We simply don't differentiate. Why continue to point out something that makes them different, even if you are trying to show them that they are special to you? Instead, do that every day of their lives. We celebrate their birthdays and that is their special day - also not one they have to share (since we adopted two at one time). One day that is all their own.
Posted by: Kathy at 5:06pm Jun 6
I use "gotcha" and "family" both but that day is totally different that the day my daughter was adopted. That happened the next day. I celebrate every step of it with her. There may come a time when she will realize the loss and pain of all the days, referral anniversary, gotcha/family day, adoption day, coming home day but now I put as much fun into all of them that I can so she will have happy memories of it all. She can change whatever she wants to call it when she is old enough and I will follow her footsteps. There are some adoptees like the commenter's 14 year old who understands it in a totally different light. Could be the age the child was adopted makes the difference and the loss put into more perspective. I mean living in an orphanage without a permanent family for 14 years to get a family probably outweighs the part of loss experienced. I am not discounting adult adoptees by any means but I do think that for the most part adoptive parents have gained awareness enough and if the family/child wishes to keep the gotcha let them live in peace. Lets rename animal adoption instead!!
Posted by: Beverly at 1:49pm Jun 19
I use "gotcha" and "family" both but that day is totally different that the day my daughter was adopted. That happened the next day. I celebrate every step of it with her. There may come a time when she will realize the loss and pain of all the days, referral anniversary, gotcha/family day, adoption day, coming home day but now I put as much fun into all of them that I can so she will have happy memories of it all. She can change whatever she wants to call it when she is old enough and I will follow her footsteps. There are some adoptees like the commenter's 14 year old who understands it in a totally different light. Could be the age the child was adopted makes the difference and the loss put into more perspective. I mean living in an orphanage without a permanent family for 14 years to get a family probably outweighs the part of loss experienced. I am not discounting adult adoptees by any means but I do think that for the most part adoptive parents have gained awareness enough and if the family/child wishes to keep the gotcha let them live in peace. Let's rename animal adoption instead!!
Posted by: Beverly at 1:50pm Jun 19

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