Today, at my dental check-up I was surprised that my hygienist had changed. My name was called by a young Asian woman with highlights like mine.
As we walked back, we made casual exchanges, and I asked her where she had her hair colored. (Since moving to Wisconsin, I have yet to find a stylist to color my hair as I like it.) She obliged with a name. She noticed and asked about my accent. I commented that hers wasn’t the typical Wisconsin accent.
She also continued to tell me a bit more about herself … her background living in Massachusetts and Long Island, then moving to Wisconsin as a sophomore in high school. After a very pleasant visit, I got up to leave.
As I put on my coat, she suddenly mentioned that she was Korean and adopted! I let her know that I, too, was adopted and Korean. This prompted her to reveal even more.
She was adopted in the 1980s at one-and-a-half years of age with her biological sister, who was three at the time. Their birth mother had died of cancer, and her father could not care for them. They were moved several times to different homes, her aunt’s, a parish, and finally the orphanage. Adopted by a family that had two natural sons but wanted two daughters, she spoke of her childhood in a Caucasian community.
Recently, a letter had arrived for her and her sister. It stated that there had been a “development” in her and her sister’s adoption case. While she said she was curious and ambivalent, she said she was allowing her sister to take the lead on it. She revealed her sister’s sense of abandonment growing up and her struggles with their adoption and heritage.
I explained how her differences with her sister mirrored mine with my adoptee friend. I mentioned that I consider myself American first, while my contemporary adoptee friend, Miya, sees herself as Korean. This young woman said she felt the only thing she kept of her ethnicity was her love for kimchee, a pickled Korean cabbage. “I eat it every day!!” she said.
Like this young woman, I don’t feel those feelings of abandonment. That will need to be the subject of another post. After the visit, I went to my car and called Miya. In the past, I would have called my husband, but she does feel like family now.
“I’ve spent my entire life explaining who I am,” I said to Miya. “Now, I don’t have to explain. She just recognized me as adopted!”
Miya replied, “You’re still in your adoptive infancy, and I can’t wait to see you grow.”
A part of me is waking. It says, “I’m Asian. I’m Puerto Rican. … Wait! Who am I?”
“I am!” she said, “You must be Rosita!”
Then, jokingly, I explained, “I meant to tell you I was Korean. I’m adopted, thus the name and face.”
“Funny, I’m Korean and adopted as well!” she said. I had finally found a person who had lived a similar life to my own. She had grown up in an isolated community in northern Wisconsin. We chatted more about our families and our kids’ schools. In the end, I learned that she had adopted her two boys from Korea and also was the president of the local organization, Families Through Korean Adoption, Madison (http://www.ftkamadison.org). She also invited me and my family to their next ChuSeok celebration.
I had no idea what ChuSeok meant, but Amy’s sincere invitation sparked a wanting in me. This weekend, I will experience my first ChuSeok at 44. I’m excited and apprehensive all at once.
My second waking began today when my friend, Jen, sent me a personal message over Facebook about this film:
I have watched the trailer, as well as read a few reviews. Again, a part of me wants desperately to see it, but another part of me is fearful. It may bring up questions from my formative years. Am I ready to face old fears? Can I relive the awkwardness and confusion of my teen years?
My friend, Jen, has her own set of questions as she begins her journey. She adopted her daughter from China a few years back. Her daughter experiences the wonderful things I did as a child who was well-loved. She will also have so much more support than I did in the 70s and 80s. Today, there are blogs, Facebook groups and local groups supporting and educating families of adoptees.
Even more intriguing, a movie gives us a spectacular look into the lives of adopted teens, something I longed for in the 80s, as I flipped through the pages of my Holt International magazines. I remember looking at all the adoptees and thinking, “I wish I could meet them and share my hopes and my fears so I won’t feel so alone.”
This week, I have so many wonderful reminders that I am not alone. I can share and experience with others who have benefited, and yet been confused about a background that separated us from our race.
I’ve finally grown up.
This week on Modern Family, the Dunphy-Prichett-Tucker households, contemplated surrogacy. They cooked up an idea to have the egg from the sister combined with the gay partner of her brother to produce a genetic mix of both families for the gay couple. Claire Dunphy said, “If there is one thing I have learned today, it is the pleasure of looking at your children and seeing both, BOTH, of you in there. … And something else guys, I make really good babies. I have like magic eggs or something.”
I was a bit conflicted by this plot line. As you know, I am very happy with my adoptive family. But with children of my own, I have questions about my biological background.
We switched health providers, and this week, I was asked again about my family history. As I have countless times before, I said, “None. I’m adopted.”
But I see reflections of myself in my children, just like Claire Dunphy observed this week in her children. It’s both beautiful and thought provoking.
This week, after everyone was tucked in bed, I heard sobbing coming from my daughter’s room. I climbed the stairs (Yes, her crying was that loud.), and found my girl crying uncontrollably. Before asking, I imagined the worst. A lie, some trouble at school, friendship troubles …
Through gasps and sobs, she spilled forth in anger, “I’ll never win a Caldecott! The book I’m writing is too girly-girl!”
After waiting for her to calm down, I explained that Caldecott winners were grown-ups who have spent years writing, and that the Caldecott award is a pinnacle of one’s career. I told her that no eight-year-old has ever won a Caldecott.
But it brought back memories of 1984. I had read S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders more than four times, and I owned two copies (one in pristine condition, one for the numerous readings). I also carried a notebook around as I wrote my first and only book, “We, Four.” I had high hopes that it would speak to other teens like myself and be made into a movie.
That girl isn’t far from the budding eight-year-old author I have in my household. I like to think that somewhere another Korean man or woman is flicking through the pages of a childhood novel and remembering the aspirations of youth.
Tomorrow is my birthday … or rather the day that the Korean government gave me as a birthday. On my first birthday, one of the most important of a young Korean baby’s life, I spent it with my foster parents. They were college professors, according to my mother. The man took my photograph to commemorate the day.
According to my Korean friend, the baby is presented with four things: a pencil, a string, chopsticks and money. Which item the child chooses determines her future. A pencil indicates a scholar, the string indicates a long life, the chopsticks insure that the child never will go hungry, and the money indicates a child who will prosper. I have no idea what I chose that day, but I’m still waiting to find out!
Many birthdays followed. Here you see my first birthday celebrated with my parents in Puerto Rico; I was two.
My next birthday, my third, was spent with my mother’s family in Tennessee. My father was stationed in Vietnam. I recall sending him a taping where I just said, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” My grandmother and my mother made it the most special of days despite my father’s absence.
Each year, my mother worked very hard to make November 15th the most memorable of all. She succeeded. This was one where she made my wishes come true with a cake she fashioned with dancing ballerinas around it.
As I turned six, my mother had been hospitalized for some time. She was carrying my little sister, a pregnancy that the doctors had told her might not make it to term. My father made the best of it and bought me a cake. He also fashioned a sign on posterboard for me. I remember visiting my mother in the hospital, she quickly gave me a wrapped present in the cafeteria. As I left, I remember looking longingly up at her hospital room window from the pavement below. She would tell me later that she cried that evening as she watched my little purple coat wave and walk away.
The next year was a big one. We had just moved to Lawton, Oklahoma. I had made a few friends, but it really was a party for our family. My mother spent late nights cutting the letters for the signage out of pieces of construction paper.
I became older, and birthdays passed. There was my 8th pictured here.
And then … I hit nine. We had once again moved. This time we moved to Tennessee, my mother’s birthplace.
This was a monumental birthday for me, because I started wondering more about myself and my background. Having been a military brat until this point, I had been surrounded by diversity. In Tennessee, it was difficult being a lone Asian in a small, rural Appalachian town. I looked more and more at the paperwork my parents had received, and I realized that I was different in another way. The day I had always celebrated as my birthday, may not have been my birthday after all.
When I had been turned into the police station, I had no papers with me. I was taken to a doctor, where my approximate age was determined. Then, the government gave me a birth date, the middle of November, as an estimated birthday.
So, every year, I wonder if November 15th is in fact my birthday, or if I could have been born on the same day as my sister, the 20th, or on the 11th, or the 17th or so on.
I know nothing about the circumstances of my birth. This never entered my mind until I had given birth to my children. Now, I do wonder at times if my birth was easy for my birth mother, if I was born early in the morning after a long night of labor, or born late in the day after many hours of daylight labor. Was I her first child? Or was I a subsequent one whose labor lasted only a short time?
While I am content with my life now, I still have unanswered questions. But I know that the answers make little difference in the person I am today.
The rich birthday celebrations that I have had were celebrations of not only my birth, but celebrations of my place in a loving family.
The news of Steve Jobs’ death made me feel that it was just the extra punch in the stomach of a very bad day. But then, I watched his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech.
I discovered so many wonderful things about the man I had admired since my graduate days in 1990 and my first introduction to all things Mac. I already knew he was a man who loved typography and design just as I did. But what I didn’t know was that he was adopted. He was loved just like I had been by two wonderful people who set aside the biology and went with their hearts.
In his speech, it was as though he were speaking directly to me and my day. Some of the words he told me, “Trust in the future … Follow your heart even when it leads you off the beaten path … Start over with the lightness of being a beginner again … Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered in my life … Death is a destination we all share. Death is the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent.”
My mother’s death changed my life, and now, his has also changed my life. Tomorrow will be a new day of discovery, invention and change.
As he said, “Love what you do. Keep looking. Don’t settle.”
It was a rough day in the world of motherhood.
My husband was yet again out of town and had been for a while. The girl woke with an earache. The boy was dealing with a middle school transition. The house decided that it needed more repairs and updates. I felt over extended.
As with many families in this country, we are far away from any support system. I rely on a few friends, but I could really use family. At the end my of frustrations, I decided to veg out, watch a little TV. “Ah,” I thought, “Glee.” This clip is from a recent episode where Rachel sees her birth mother again. The birth mother is trying to make things right for Rachel and for her newly adopted child. Let’s just say, it was not what I was expecting.
More and more media are incorporating the adoptive mother and father. The recent Kung Fu Panda movie also highlighted adoption with the main character not knowing his roots. His crane father shows emotions my mother had.
I remember an instance that I wish I could take back. I was a preteen and angry. I wrote my mother a letter that said, “I wish you had never adopted me.” The hurt she felt cannot be erased. That was surely a rough day in motherhood, one I cannot fully understand.
Today, I was wishing for my mother, not the one who gave birth to me, but my real one.
The following video was sent to me by a friend almost a month ago. My life lately has been a whirlwind. So, I kept it tucked in my unread mail. Tonight, as I kept feeling badly for myself, I was humbled by this.
Nineteen years ago, when this young man was sold to the orphanage, I was only two years older than he is now. I was self-absorbed. Hanging out in clubs, finishing up a master’s half-heartedly and working in a job that paid my rent, I thought I had it rough. This young man, his life and his determination remind me to be thankful.
Sung-Bong, you deserved so much more. When you were running away from the orphanage, I had met the man of my dreams. We would talk late at night about adopting a young Korean to pass on the fortune I had had. I’m so sorry our paths never crossed, and my intentions were never fulfilled.
If I could adopt you now, I would.
We were hit … hard. Snow drifts and crazy temps. In Wisconsin, that rarely constitutes a snow day. But today was our day.
I personally was very thankful for the extra time spent with my kids today. We were able to start the day with the four of us in our queen bed together. We all gazed at the white wonder outside. Once the moment was over, it was time for friends. Phone calls and arrangements. All in our house to keep the activity around.
Today was not only groundhog’s day or a snow day, it was the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. The snow reminded me of the story of the little match girl. As a young girl my mother played this tragic figure in a play. She told me she was cast because of her red curls.
The Little Match Girl is one of my daughter’s favorite story books. It was also owned by my mother. In it, a young girl must sell her matches on the street as a snow storm brews. She lights one, then another to keep warm. Eventually, she freezes to death but is taken up to be with her deceased and beloved grandmother.
My girl has never known her grandmother, and I think she feels a connection through this book. She feels the tragedy of never having known her grandmother, but also wishes for that opportunity to see her in another lifetime.
The snow did not bring death today like it does in the story. Instead, it brought back lovely memories of snow days in Tennessee. My mother baking. Her inventive sleds of black trash bags and cardboard boxes. The photos she took of my sister and I dressed in multiple layers and sporting red cheeks and smiles.
For the last month, I had dreaded today. And yet, today was a day of happiness, filled with the joy of being a mother, my mother.
Sweaty palms, butterflies. It’s 1984. I am waiting for Mr. Anders, our biology teacher, to call out the first name. He always returned tests in the order of best grade to worst. I want so badly to be the first name. He says that the highest grade was a ninety-nine and a half. And then he says it … my name!
Elation is quickly replaced by personal disappointment at the small mistake I made that took that half point away. I’d studied. I took mental pictures of all the diagrams and my notes, but I missed that minute nuance.
Today, I read an article about Chinese mothers. Amy Chua has written a book about the parenting contrast between Eastern parents and Western parents. I find it all quite intriguing and am thankful for my Western upbringing.
But the most troubling part for me was identifying with the children and knowing the need to excel no matter what. The need to have that perfect 100. I had that need, and it was not prompted by my Western parents. They were always full of praise.
Is the drive innate? My parents did not push me. But I pushed myself and see elements of it in my parenting of my children. Am I the Asian mother described by Chua?
I have wanted my children to take piano, but mainly because I was never afforded the opportunity. I allowed my son to quit at 7. My daughter now struggles, but I am holding steadfast in having her continue. I have watched silently as my son chose the violin for his strings class (then silently felt a victory).
Additionally, I have overreacted at lesser grades and bought workbooks for my children or designed homework when they didn’t have any. I want them to want what I so badly wanted at their age.
Now, I’m struggling. Is what I want bad for my children? Am I becoming the Asian mother? Is there a balance that meshes the best of both?
Can I get a 100 in parenting?