Category Archives: adoption

The Power of Language

Adopted just three days apart, my friend Miya and I decided to read each other’s adoption letters. Strikingly, the language and tone of the letters were on opposite sides of an emotional spectrum.

Miya’s read, “As this child was an abandoned child, her background information about her birth, parents and family are unknown. She was named and her birthdate was estimated by the Seoul City Babies Home.” 

The word, “abandoned” has stayed with Miya her entire life. She struggles with this word. That word cuts me when I hear it. My other adopted friend, Amy M., pointed out the two uses of this word in the film Somewhere Between, and it angered her. One was spoken by an audience member at a panel discussion, and the other was said by the adoptive mother to her daughter’s birth mother. 

My adoption introduction letter is written in this way:

“We are pleased to tell you that we have selected a child for you who we think will fit nicely into your family. She is from the Chong Yang Ri police station on 24 May 1968 and admitted to us and placed at our Korean Foster Home on that day.

Naturally, you are anxious to meet Kim, Sook Hyun. We have found that it is more helpful to the adoptive couples if they think of this first meeting as a time to get acquainted, and not as a time to decide whether or not this is the right child for you. It is a strain on both adoptive parents and child when their first meeting is interwoven with this question of acceptance or rejection, but this strain is removed if the parents have already made up their minds to accept the child, based on the picture and the information we provide and relying on Holt’s experienced professional judgment.

May we therefore suggest that you too think of your coming trip to Korea in this light. In the meantime, we should appreciate your writing us about your acceptance of this child we have chosen.” 

“Chosen” is a word my mother used often. She never used the word “abandoned.” She said, “You were dropped off at the police station, and we were fortunate to be chosen as your parents.”

Here is the first picture of me that was attached to the letter; it is dated June 7, 1968. I look a bit frightened.

 

Later, pictures show me happier, and all the pictures of me with my family show me at my happiest (until the teen angst set in).

Words can hurt or nurture. In the recent WISE Up Conference that I described in an earlier blog post, I noticed that some of the younger children chose the “Walk Away” or “It’s private,” option quite often, even when the question was simply, “Hey, are you adopted?” That sent signals to me that they felt that it was something they should be ashamed of, or something others would interpret as negative. One youngster even said that she was jealous of the other kids who lived with their birth parents and who never had to answer ridiculous questions.

Linda Goldstein Knowlton, the filmmaker of Somewhere Between, says she hopes it will spark a conservation that will begin “normalizing our language about adoption. Adoption is changing the face of the country, creating these complicated family trees — we need a way to address that.”

In the following clip by Knowlton, Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, explains the adoption language barrier in this way:  

“We don’t have words for this [adoption]. When we don’t have words for something, it makes it more difficult. It creates the aura of something ‘otherly,’ and maybe something negative, something lesser. And none of that is true. We need the language to catch up to the reality.”

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/61559200″>Beyond Somewhere Between-The Language of Adoption</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/somewherebetween”>Linda Knowlton</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Associate Professor of Child Development at Tufts University, Ellen Pinderhughes in this segment describes our families beautifully.

 “Until we as a society can value that there are all these different ways to become parents, to become a family, that they’re all positive, they’re all important, we may continue to contend with some of this issue with the  language of adoption not getting into the mainstream.”

So, let’s not only continue this conversation, but please post your ideas in altering the language of adoption. There are children all over the world being discovered everyday. Let’s make them feel like the treasures they are!

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!”

 

 

 

 

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.

Who are you?

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.”

Growing beyond 44.

A part of me is waking. It says, “I’m Asian. I’m Puerto Rican. … Wait!  Who am I?”

One wake-up call happened in a local coffee shop. I had arranged to meet a woman named Amy.  We shared a passion for our district’s schools.  As I arrived, I noticed an Asian woman rush by me and into the cafe. A part of me said, “You forgot to tell Amy that you’re Asian, and not a Latina.” As I entered the shop, the Asian woman looked pointedly at me.  I said cautiously, “Are you Amy?”

“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.

Biological influences?

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.