Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Road Taken

The film, Adopted, was loaned to me to start me on a journey …

The problem is, I don’t want the angry journey portrayed in this movie through the adult adoptee, Jennifer. I am not her, nor do I feel as she does. I have never felt abandoned.

I identify more with her adoptive mother who says, “I think I probably remember a lot more details about picking Jenny up from the airport than I do about giving birth to Eric.”

Yet in search of her “core validation,” this young woman continues to lash out at her parents through snide comments and hurtful rejection. She forces a journey on her parents that they have made and are ending. Both her mother and father are dying of cancer.

I understand her recollections of racism outside of the home; I lived through those same racial jokes (see examples in this post). Unlike her, I experienced these moments with my family. When children chanted racial insults, my mother rushed up and confronted them. She faced their hurtful words as they shouted, “Come get us you big, fat hippopotamus!”

From day one, we all were a part of the journey. My mother was my best friend. I shared all the hurt with her. We talked through it. The adoptee, Jennifer, did not share, and now all the pent-up 9-year-old anger has surfaced in a thirty-something young woman.

She talks of “being authentic and real,” but I pose that your reality is what you make of it. I pose that individuals are different. While every adoption story does not end like Jennifer’s or mine, there are varying degrees of acceptance, abandonment and unconditional love.

The adoption story isn’t just about the well-being of the adoptee, as Jennifer would like us to believe. If it is, in fact, as Jennifer wishes, a journey they all take together, there should be some sensitivity for the adoptive parent.

Recently I have spoken of starting an adoptee’s journey, but more precisely, it is just a new chapter in my life … one of sharing parallel experiences, laughing at similarities (like all the vacuuming and couponing), and learning new stories.

I appreciate the different stories, but my life is full of wonderful things.

My daughter recently summed it up, saying, “If you weren’t adopted, I wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be with Daddy.”

I am content with the road I have taken.

I’ll take the American age.

This evening, we dined on bibimbap and other kimchi-laced foods. My daughter’s school friend and her mother invited us to be their guests at New Seoul, a Korean restaurant in Madison. The owners, close friends of the family, offered us many things to try.

The conversation was light and cheerful with both English and Korean being spoken. The school friend was a gracious nine-year-old translator for my husband and me. Their family originates from Cheongju-si in South Korea.

The friend’s mother asked if I wanted to return to Korea to find my mother. I told her that there would be no way of doing so, but she insisted that I might be able to have DNA testing to find her.

Then, she told us that in Korea, on the day you are born, you are immediately one-year-old! You add a year with each new year. She told of a friend who had her baby on December 31, and on January 1, the baby was considered a two-year-old. In this roulette of birth dates, you really want to be born in the first part of the calendar year.

So, it appears that in Korea, I am 47. While in the United States, I am 45.

The two smiling third graders decided they wanted their Korean age of 11.

Me? I’ll take the American age, thank you.

The Ideal Beauty

Catching up on my podcasts, I heard the most disturbing introduction on This American Life. (This post will address the first 8 minutes of the podcast.)

Teaching at a Korean high school for girls, a young American woman expressed her shock at the vagaries of the Korean teenage girl. While teens everywhere are preoccupied with their appearances, these teens were preoccupied with the ideal beauty they saw in the Western woman.

As I have mentioned here, I, too, wanted the large Western eyes.  So much so, I would paint liquid eye-liner on my lids to create a crease … a crease that these young Koreans want so badly that they undergo plastic surgery. My obsession with my eyes was rooted in my desire to blend into my Western society. Or so I thought.

For these girls, they are surrounded by other Koreans, and yet, they believe the thin, pale waif of a girl in all the Western ads is the epitomé of beauty. They believe it, just as their school master does. He believes these girls should stay thin and places scales on every floor of the building. The girls ceremoniously check their weight throughout the day. If they keep their collective weight down, they will earn a cafe!

The more I listened to the Korean girls, the more I wanted to shake them and say, “Cut it out!  You are beautiful!” But the same can be said of our Western teenage girls. Ads they see are the same that the Koreans view.

I see our worlds are not so different after all. I see that I was trying to attain what every other young Tennesseean girl wanted … to look like the models that graced the pages of Teen and Seventeen magazine. There were few Asians in those pages from the early 80s … trust me, I searched. Today, there are more ethnic models, but even they are extremely thin with more Western features.

This recent movie, Miss Representation will give you a brief sense of where women and girls stand today. (I suggest you screen this trailer before showing it to your children.)

The media have portrayed women and girls in a way that is virtually impossible in nature. I have vowed to teach my daughter that her beauty comes from within. Superficial beauty does not make one a better friend or partner.

However, in Korea, your superficial beauty may be the difference between getting into college or not. While in the end, the girls brought the young American teacher to understand their desires, I am still shocked and unconvinced.

Undercover Adoptee

Yesterday morning at breakfast, I heard this Story Corps taping (before you continue, you might want to listen). 
This dialogue between a mother and daughter will surprise you when you reach the end. In less than three minutes we discover the mother was adopted but did not discover this until adulthood.
This 2012 was a year of discovery in my adoption story, but mine focused on the discovery of other adoptees. 
Up until this year, I wandered around believing that I was quite alone and undercover. Every now and then, my secret identity would need verification through statements like, “I have no medical family history because I’m adopted.” and “Well, that isn’t really my birthday, it was given to me by the Korean government.”  
As I have mentioned, my life has been recently touched by three Korean adoptees. In a couple of instances, the adoptee knew immediately upon meeting me face to face that I must be adopted … few Koreans have a full Puerto Rican name.
Over the holidays, I had a cookie exchange. While introducing people, a new friend, Amy. (not to be confused with Amy in this post), asked how Miya and I knew one another. We mentioned that our adoption histories were similar.  At this, Amy said with a smile, “I’m adopted too!”
Amy is a caucasian woman with blonde hair. Her identity as an adoptee is not written on her face, nor does her name give any indication that she is adopted. Amy, Miya and I started sharing our common frustrations with routine questions like “Do you have any diseases in your family history?”
Like me, Amy lost her adoptive mother too soon. Like me, Amy has a younger sibling who is not only six years younger than her, but the sibling is also the biological child of her adoptive parents. 
Unlike me, Amy lost her father to cancer and had a middle brother who was also adopted. She had a sibling with whom she could confide as well as share her adoption questions as they became older. 
Amy is an art teacher. It is our love of art education that brought us together. When she began teaching, she spoke with her adopted brother about her fear that any of the children she was teaching could, in fact, be biologically related to her. Being so close to her birthplace and much like the adoption story in Story Corps, there was the possibility that those whose social circles intersected hers could be biologically related to her. Her brother assured her that she would be a fabulous teacher regardless of the background of her students.
Amy shares the deep love of her adoptive family that I do, but now I see another side of adoption. Those adoptions that are not international pose completely different questions and challenges. When you aren’t racially different from your family, you are undercover. My race has helped me find others like me, albeit some 40 years into my life, but for Amy and the woman in the Story Corps article, no one assumes that they are adopted.
This year has brought me rich relationships with people who share my adoption experience. I am truly grateful for these friendships. While we are all adopted, each of our stories varies and flows in differing ways, but we all can relate to one another in a way that others cannot. With one another, we are no longer undercover.