Category Archives: adoptee

How We Must Love As Parents (part 1)

“To have a child is to embrace a future you can’t control.” — Journalist and Father Tom French

This quote, from a Radio Lab segment, stuck. It is stuck in my head with the memory of an old friend. His memory is constant. I have no photographs of him so I must keep him in my memory. I lost contact with him in late 1990.

His story was always meant to be here, but it is long and painful. If you are considering adoption, please read the entire story.

In early 1990, I met a man while training at Red Lobster in Clarksville, Tennessee, the town where I finished my undergraduate degree. His name was Patrick. He was a handsome blonde with sculpted features, and I was instantly attracted to him. Our first days were the things of awkward teens.

One night, I admitted my fear of relationships. Patrick patiently listened to the story of my first love, a soldier at Fort Campbell. While dating me for a year, the GI from Wisconsin revealed that he was engaged to a woman in his hometown of Appleton, and that he planned to marry her.

Hearing this, Patrick revealed that he, too, was from Wisconsin and had recently finished his service in the military. He said he had been married and was now divorced. His candor and honesty dispelled my fears, and he won my trust.

With mutual trust, Patrick explained that he was gay and that he had been married to a lesbian during his time in the military to mask his true self. His fear was a deep-seated one. He wasn’t always able to be himself.

One evening, as I lamented my inevitable move to graduate school and my fear of being alone in Knoxville, Tennessee, Patrick suggested, “I could move with you. It doesn’t matter where I live, and we both could work at the Lob!” We felt our fears of being alone dispel.

We made plans, and I wrote the following letter to my mother.

Up next, the trip home …

The Spectrum of Somewhere Between

Looking for an adoption film? Look no further.

While some may read my blog and believe that I am lost, or found, or searching, I direct them to an adoptee in this film, Jenna Cook. She says it so eloquently:

“All of us, this whole adoption community, we have this commonality about us, this unity. But at the same time, we each are at our own place, in our own journey. It’s a journey of our past, and we each have our own road and our own paths set out for us.”

This film, by far, is the one adoptive parents, children and families should see. The director, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, has found four teens that have four different stories. Each is happy in her adoptive family, and each searches for identity. Knowlton, an adoptive parent, has brought this film to fruition for her young daughter, Ruby.

Someday, when her daughter becomes that insecure teen, she will take comfort in the testaments of these four young women, Fang Jenni Lee, Jenna Cook, Ann Boccuti and Haley Butler. I longed for this sense of belonging as I write here.

In the last six months, I have awakened. My adoption sensitivities are keener. I am thankful and rejoice in being a part of this large community of adoptees.

Knowlton continues to post videos that reinforce the feelings I have had for many years, yet suppressed in my loneliness. I see hope in the future for other young adoptees, and Lili Johnson, one of the first Chinese adoptees, gives me hope when she says,

“As an adoptee, I have no ambition to seek resolution. I am not looking to make sense of myself. I’m not looking to have a right answer or a wrong answer. … I’m not looking for like diagrams or any like pictures of what being adopted is, what it means, what people should do, what’s the right way, what’s the wrong way because there isn’t one.”

Hear the call that asks you to think of adoptees with varying degrees of feelings and experiences. Think of us as your neighbors, your friends, your classmates, or simply the person you pass on the street. Just like you, we have our families, our stories, our varied backgrounds. Rather than separate us as different or odd, celebrate us as interesting.

Johnson also says it so very well:

“I get confused thinking about, you know, is being different good? Should we emphasize difference? … Or should we say ‘You’re American just like everyone else.’”

You can see Lili’s full interview here:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/35427472″>Lili at NYU</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/somewherebetween”>Linda Knowlton</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

On the sunny side of life?

What a week it has been! I began my week helping at an adoption conference, WISE Up.

I met some incredible young adoptees … all third graders. The conference allows the kids to talk about their adoptions and feelings in a safe place. It also gives kids the tools to respond to outsiders’ questions. They can walk away, say, “It’s private,” share something about their adoption story, or educate others about adoption and adoptees.

As you can guess, I personally advocate the last two. I understand the need to walk away if a question is offensive, and many of the younger kids just need reassurance that they have the power to control the situation. Unfortunately, when acting out some of these scenarios, more often than not, the children chose walking away. Some scenarios just involved something as simple as someone asking if they were adopted.

That had me thinking … is adoption a negative thing? Why do young children feel negatively about their adoptions? One girl mentioned that she felt jealous of those who asked her why she was adopted. She wanted what she perceived as the normalcy of a birth family. Looking back, I had some of the same feelings. They were often rooted in experiences in public or at school. In the comfort of my home, I would feel reassured that my home was indeed the place for me.

Perhaps what needs to happen is a better atmosphere in which kids can feel proud of their adoptions. As children, we look for a clan. As I have written, there are many of us.

In this conference, I introduced the kids to Kid President. His effervescence, his optimism, his generosity … they speak to us. We watched his pep talk, and then I explained to them that not only was he in third grade, but he was also an adoptee. One little boy excitedly said, “We just watched an adoptee on an invention of an adoptee!” (Of course, I had told them about Steve Jobs too.)

In my childhood, I wasn’t aware of other adoptees. It took close to 40 years for me to understand that my experience was not unique. Adoption seems better supported than it was in the 1960s and 70s. 

But as Kid President says, “We can do gooder!”

 

 

 

 

The Beautiful Sea of Adoptees

After 44 years of puzzled looks and numerous questions about my family medical history, I have found my gang.

My gang is a group of people who are diverse. They are varied. Some are angry. Some are witty. Some are awesome … like this young man.

Some have revolutionized the lives of many like this man.

Some entertain us each week.

Some are less in the spotlight but even more inspirational. They have adopted their own children. They continue to care for other adoptees by leading groups of adoptive families. They travel and speak to adoptive families.

They foster a love of the arts in school children. They are the birth children of adoptees who have committed their lives to supporting future adoptees.

All have entered my life in the last two years. I am grateful for this enriching wave of people … this sea of adoptees.

The faces we are born to wear …

As I have been reading research on transracial adoptees, I am realizing that while we have similar stories to share, we also have widely varying views on adoptions. Logically, we are different people and no two of us are alike.

The interesting thing for me, is that my feelings about race align more with my first generation Asian friends (as introduced here) than with Asian adoptees.

My first generation Asian friends, Adrienne and Katherine, were Asian minorities in their childhood communities, much like me. Adrienne blogs about her small town experience:

“The moment I first appeared on the playground of my new elementary school, the noisy chatter and laughter of children at play abruptly ceased, as if someone had pushed a magic mute button. Feverish whispering closely followed the eerie hush that had suddenly descended upon the playground. Little blond heads leaned in close together as the children conferred with each other in obvious bewilderment and consternation at the appearance of this alien in their midst. Innocently, they tried to work out how my face got so very flat, whether my eyes hurt all the time, or whether one would eventually get used to the pain of having eyes like mine … ” (Read the full post here.)

Katherine recalls her childhood in this way:

“When I was growing up my grandmother used to say to me, “You may feel like you are just like them, but no matter how you feel, you will never look like them.”

I was born in the U.S., the daughter of two Asian immigrants who came here in the 1960s for graduate school. My parents disagreed on the extent of our assimilation into American culture: my father spoke to me only in English while my mother spoke to me primarily in her native tongue. My father was more adventurous in terms of eating non-Asian foods; my mother was less so. For me, there was no question—I felt 100% American and wanted to be just like the other kids, and anything that set me apart from them was a source of burning embarrassment. I begged my mother to cook American dinners like macaroni and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs, buy me the same kinds of clothes and shoes that the other kids wore, and fiercely resisted her attempts to teach me any other language that was not English. Every day at school, and while playing in the neighborhood, I saw only white children—and after a while I assumed I was one of them.

But I wasn’t. Some kids would make faces at me, pulling at their eyes until they were all squinty, pretend to speak Chinese, and laugh. Some would tease me and ask me to “say something Chinese” as if I was some kind of circus freak show. And of course there was the “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees…” taunt that was said in a sing song-y voice. It seemed like every time I started to forget that I was different, I was reminded that indeed I was. Only when I went to college in New York City and saw first hand the incredible amount of diversity did I realize what I was:  a banana. Yellow on the outside, white on the inside.

I’ve lost track of the number of times an Asian person has approached me and started speaking to me in Chinese, assuming that I’m fluent in Chinese because of how I look.  On fewer occasions, I’ve had Caucasian people compliment me on how well I speak English, assuming that English was not my native language because of how I look. Time and time again I’m reminded of the potential disconnect between how I perceive myself and how others may perceive me. All people face this problem to some extent, but for first-generation children of immigrants who are caught between two cultures and who grew up without the benefit of racial diversity—the problem becomes especially complicated.”

Adrienne, Katherine and I are very proud Asian women. I stress the word, “women” because as I have written about in the post The Ideal Beauty, I believe some of our past insecurities stemmed from the portrayal of girls and women in the media. When young girls are exposed to blond bombshells (think Cinderella, Barbie and the girls of Teen and Seventeen magazine), we and our non-Asian peers believe that is what we should be. Asians are virtually absent from our American media culture.

My mother was fully aware of the one-sided representations. She made sure I had Asian dolls, including dolls from Japan, Korea, Vietnam and of course the Asian baby doll.

Notice, however, that my little sister clutches a blond doll. While my sister is half Caucasian, she is also half Puerto Rican. In the 1970s, there weren’t many brunette dolls, let alone Hispanic ones. My sister clutched her blond dolls until the introduction of the Darcy dolls, sporting not only a blond, but a brunette and a red-head.

While we all had our struggles with our identities, I believe that every person, adopted or not, struggles with his or her appearance intensely through adolescence and continually throughout life. Each person also resolves personal struggles in his or her unique way.
I enjoy the fact that I can text Adrienne and Katherine my photos of Asian market wares, only to find that we are having parallel experiences. (See Adrienne’s funny photographic tale here.) Their mothers are teaching them, and in turn, they teach me.

Adrienne’s parents inspire her and me. Her recent post summed up her feelings:

“At times I’ve felt like this was more their country than my own, even though I was born and raised here. Thanks to my patriotic parents, I’ve attended schools and have hung out with people who have tended to regard patriotism with suspicion – as something corny and anachronistic. I think it was only when I began to travel abroad that I realized how very much I do appreciate this country and how much there is to love about it.

‘THAT’S America,’ where nothing is impossible and where there are people hard at work making sure wrongs are eventually righted, and where there is a process to ensure that they are. That’s my parents’ America, and I’m glad to be living in it too.”

Yes, and in this country, we can freely be who we want to be … say things as we choose … even experience other cultures. That’s our America!

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.

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.