Where’s the Cheat Code That Unlocks Adoption?

One writer strives to understand how she came to be


My adolescence was sponsored by The Sims, a life simulation game wherein success was measured by one’s ability to avoid drowning in a pool without ladders. Free time was dedicated to manifesting characters from the stranger crevices of my imagination into virtual Vitruvian men and women, except with pixelated genitalia. I would adjust their eyebrows and style their wardrobes to reflect the personality traits that came resultant of their astrological sign. Then the family unit was built, with this term encompassing individuals, couples, couples with children, platonic roommates and ~roommates~ (an alien and a burglar). Once perfected, I would drop them into an unfamiliar world with whispered hopes that they would prosper.

My obsession with this game filled the void of a prepubescent social status, but it has since returned to mind as I seek to process my existence as an adopted child.

I think of myself as a Sim. I was created as “Paola” and then was placed into Neighborhood 1 where my game began. But someone, somewhere, had second thoughts, pressed pause and decided to go back to the drawing board. They hit “delete” on my given name, changed it to “Mia” and reimagined my parents as characters who would raise me as their own despite the difference in our skin colors in a faraway Neighborhood 2. I look at this green diamond overhead indicative of my existence with gratitude, yet the dissonance between my assumed character and the one that remains unplayed is a frustrating distraction.

First, ethnic ambiguity in the age of Rachel Dolezal riddles the question of, “Well, what are you?” “I’m an honorary Italian-American Colombian,” I reply, in full anticipation of a moving violation from the PC Police. My race became an exoskeleton for the culture that has become me, though I feel unqualified to claim either as my own. Hyphens help to straddle the selves, but they are certainly not a permanent bridge.

Then there’s guilt that comes with privileges like a college education that would have been but a dream in the beta version of my life. What’s more is the guarantee of family, a home, clothes, a computer for frivolous gaming and unconditional love. Why were these luxuries bestowed upon me, even in an afterthought? What gives for the extraneous cheat code?

This is where life diverges from the computer screen and reality crystalizes, all saturated with responsibility to prove that I am worthy of the walls that were built around me. I still race in fear of the click that might demolish them once again, scraping to find my sole purpose beyond that of a character created to entertain a brace-faced omnipresence. Yet I wonder if the search is futile. For I am not a Sim, and there isn’t a manual to clarify the reason for my place among these particular pixels. There never was one in The Sims. The fun in the game was watching what became of the bodies in the square footage that they were given.

Follow author Mia Lardiere on Twitter @TheOliveEye. Photograph by Tim Walker for British Vogue, April 2011; collage by Krista Anna Lewis.


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  • This was really beautiful, and sad. While I didn’t experience the feelings that come with being adopted, I can certainly relate to feeling as though you were dropped in another “neighborhood”, and spending most of your life proving you belong in it. There’s an identity crisis that comes with being foreign – even if the most foreign thing about you is considered your skin color.

    On a lighter note, I would also like to know the cheat code that makes money miraculously appear in your bank account.

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    • Thank you so much, Denisse! I think that we can all level on the experience of feeling misplaced at one point or another, adopted or not, and that these feelings of introspection can either foster great gratitude or long-awaited change to find a community that better suits you. I think we can exist in both spaces- after all, growth is a collection of the pieces that don’t fully come together until the end.

      Me too. I’ve tried shouting ‘KACHING’ to the skies and nothing happens except bird poop.

      • No problem! Your writing was awesome! And I completely agree. We all at some point feel a bit displaced. But you know, I’m glad you were given the opportunities you were given. It means that we are able to enjoy your writing.

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  • Bárbara Crespo
  • Allie Fasanella

    DAMN MIA. damn. your writing genuinely slays me bun.

    you are not a sim! although that game can be addictive (just like you!).

  • Aw 🙁 I’ve always thought adopted children are lucky though .. their parents wanted them so much that they had to go through a whole process just to get them. Which is a lot more than other parents can say, because let’s face it, there are a lot of surprise children out there that might not necessarily have been raised in a healthy home.

    • I do feel incredibly lucky. My adoptive parents went through years of infertility before they were able to ‘have’ me. This is why they renamed me ‘Mia’, because it means ‘mine’ in Spanish. Unfortunately, I can’t speak on behalf of all adopted children, since I have connected with others who have not had as positive as an experience—not to say that their “life version one” would have been preferable to where they were ultimately raised. Each story is very different, but hashtag blessed sums up my feelings on the matter.

      • Cesia

        Aw man, I’m gonna cry both happy and sad tears now…thanks for sharing with us.

      • True. Every family is different and unique. I haven’t met a lot of adopted people but the ones I have are closer to their families than I am, and I wasn’t adopted.

  • DarthVadersCats

    This is lovely and i want to hug you <3 I think I know what you mean about race and feeling unqualified to claim one, I grew up a descendant of colonists in a country that holds on tight to 'mother tongues' and pure blood and culture that I never feel a part of. Most importantly this has just got me thinking! (Also I might pop off to play the sims now, I was creating a legacy and on the 8th generation aiiii)

    • That’s so interesting. Isn’t it interesting how we just kind of adapt into the environment that we’re given? I never thought about it much because Italian culture is just what I knew. It’s what surrounded me.

      Also, you should definitely go play. Like right now.

  • ariana

    So beautiful! I am the big adoptive sister of an almost 8 year-old Black boy (yes, I am 20 years older than him!) and I try everyday to be an ally in his development and I hope one day, if he needs it, he will open up to me as you did with this lovely article xx

    • That’s so sweet, Ariana! A support system is completely invaluable. Just being there for whatever questions he has will help him to grow confidently in his own skin 🙂

  • Szia Ujj

    Mia, I was created with donated sperm. Although a different much more clinical process I feel as though we share common intrigues about ethinicity and our rights to claim them. Additionally my mother’s parents placed her in an orphanage. Loosing out on both sides does make me sad. However, I think we’ve been given much more than what we have lost. Thank you for this piece. The last line is a gem. ‘The fun in the game was watching what became of the bodies within the square footage that they were given.’

    • Wow, thank YOU for sharing this perspective and the story about your mother. I happen to agree that we are very fortunate! After reading this piece to my parents last night, it was interesting to hear that that they too wonder why they were chosen as my parents as opposed to any other child in the orphanage. My mom told me, “In my experience, it usually turns out that the babies fit perfectly into the families that were matched with them.” Fate is a silly, wild and beautiful thing!

      • Szia Ujj

        It sounds as though fate has handed you some lovely people to guide you through life. Thank you again.