An Open Letter To Supergirl Stars Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh, From An Adoptive Mom

Dear Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh,

You met thousands of people last weekend. I want to tell you about your impact on three of them. Three little girls, specifically, who were all wearing Superman pajamas and were camped out at the front of the autograph lines on Saturday morning. (I would love to get them Supergirl pajamas, but we couldn’t find any. DC should really get on that).

Supergirl is the first show that our entire family watches together.  After dinner on Monday nights, the younger two girls always race upstairs to put on pajamas and brush teeth, so as not to be late for the opening credits.

But it’s our oldest daughter that has gained the most from Supergirl. She identifies strongly with Kara Danvers.  Like Kara, our girl has long blonde hair; she wears glasses; she was adopted. And just as Kara does, our girl misses her first family, and she struggles with feeling alien at times.

Over the past year, our oldest girl has grown more independent. She is in middle school now and prefers to hang out in her room with the door shut, listening to music, watching YouTube videos and reading YA books.  Her dad and I and her two younger sisters feel wistful for the days when she plopped herself front and center into every family interaction.

But her intense (and developmentally normal) desire to separate from the family melts away for an hour on Monday nights, when she curls up beside us on the couch as we all snuggle together to watch Supergirl. During commercials, she loves to run across the room, pulling off her glasses and shouting, “I Am Supergirl!” while her younger sisters sit giggling in delight. She is proud to be adopted, just like Kara Danvers.

Her relationship with her younger sisters is complicated. They are our biological daughters, and this creates deep and unavoidable conflict for her. No matter how much we reassure her that we love her the same as the younger girls, she tests us.

During the scenes in Supergirl where Alex and Kara explore the painful aspects of their relationship as sisters through adoption, our whole family absorbs every word, every expression, because seeing this dynamic on mainstream television makes our family feel less alone.  The fact that both Alex and Kara are kickass, strong, smart, flawed, beautiful women who work hard, cry, laugh, yell, fight, and make mistakes has been an incredible model for all of our girls.

When your family is built through adoption, you rarely see nuanced portrayals of adoptive families in the media.  It’s all about extremes. Fairy tales and fantasy shows usually resort to the trope of the evil step-parents or the abusive adoptive parents, with the adoptees depicted as mistreated victims.  On the other end, modern stories often present the adoptive parents as saviors who rescued abandoned orphans and gave them the perfect life. In reality, neither of these fits our adoptive family. Watching Supergirl has normalized our experience, where some parts of adoption are amazing and other parts are really difficult, but what never changes is that we are family, and we love each other.  Thank you for that.

On Saturday morning, our middle daughter was having a rough time as we were trying to leave the house to come see you. Often, in these situations, our oldest daughter can act as an agitator, which escalates the problems. I pulled my oldest aside and said, “We are going to meet Supergirl. How do you think she would respond to her sister?” Instead of falling into the typical sibling patterns, she swooped over to her younger sister and comforted her. The effect of her behavior was instant and soothing. She was her best self when she was trying to be the Supergirl within.

Since I was working at a booth at C2E2, I was able to get the girls in early, and we made a beeline for the autograph area. Our plan was to get into Melissa’s line first and then head to Chyler’s.  The girls grew impatient after an hour, but we plied them with hot pretzels and books to read.

When you both arrived, all three of my daughters leaped up from the floor with shining eyes. Our five-year-old is so small that my husband carried her in his arms so she see could over the autograph table. Melissa, you were the first one we met.

“Hi, guys!” you said with a big smile, taking in the three girls dressed alike. When we explained to you that our oldest likes to pretend she is you, because she is adopted and wears glasses and has long blonde hair, you went with it without missing a beat, addressing her as Supergirl.

Our oldest told you how excited she is for the upcoming episode with The Flash, and your face lit up as you expressed how you, too, couldn’t wait. Our younger girls wanted to talk about how you went bad in the previous episode after being exposed to Red Kryptonite. You looked at them and saw the concern in their faces and said with empathy, “Wasn’t that awful?” Your warmth immediately reassured them that you are the kind-hearted Supergirl that they adore.

After you signed an autograph for my daughters, I asked you to sign a piece of paper for our bullying prevention nonprofit, the Pop Culture Hero Coalition, and you did. I couldn’t wait to show my colleagues. Meeting you and Chyler was the highlight of my own personal C2E2 experience, I will admit!

After you gave everyone high fives and smiles, we said goodbye and headed to meet Chyler.

Chyler, you were amazing, so approachable, so kind. You asked each girl her name and age; you told me that you are also a mom of three kids. “We would have a lot to talk about,” you said to me, making me feel as if you could be a friend and not just a television star. My middle daughter explained that whereas our oldest is Supergirl, she likes to think of herself as Alex.  You nodded and agreed that she is Alex.

When I asked you to sign a paper for the Pop Culture Hero Coalition, you enthused about how important bullying prevention is.  The girls chatted with you about how awesome Alex is, and you could not have been easier to talk to. After high fives all around and autographs, we left.

Melissa and Chyler, your reflected glow surrounded all five of us for the rest of the day. Merging fantasy with reality is always fraught with expectations, but you both were the heroines our girls have grown to love.

Last night, when we all settled in to watch the latest episode of Supergirl, there was a different feel. “Hi, Kara!” the girls shouted at the screen. “Hi, Alex!” they yelled. “We know you!!!!” We plan to frame your autographs and hang them right over the television, a forever reminder of the day we met the Danvers sisters, an adoptive family that strikes a responsive chord with ours.

melissa benoist chyler leigh

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