Category Archives: biological child

What about the child?

Radio Lab this week covered this story on adoption.

I encourage you to listen to the end. There are hard stories from our past, and frightening ideas that ask children to “melt into the wider culture.” What is culture? A source here points out that the viability of a culture lies in its children, but what if all the children were no longer immersed in their cultures?

What has struck me are the comments on the website that say that this little girl was better off with her adoptive parents. Perhaps, but now she has lived equal time with her biological father.

Adoption is complicated for all parties involved. Adoption is about love, but more importantly, adoption is about the well-being of the child. At this point, she seems happy with her birth father.

Perhaps he was naive and young at first, but he loves her. Just because he cannot offer what the adoptive couple can, does not make him a bad parent as some commenters allude.

This is a complicated story. This month, our Supreme Court will make a decision that could affect the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act. Stay tuned.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Tomorrow marks the day …

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.

A snowy reunion

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.

Eerie echos

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?

Back to normal

Welcome 2011! Although, I must admit that 2011 still feels like 1977. A few days before school let out, my daughter came home saying that she wished she could have “wide eyes.”

My heart contracted in anxious pain, and my mind went reeling back to 1977. Kids surrounded me as I tried to leave my new school in rural East Tennessee. Taller kids, big mocking faces and chants of “Me Chinese. Me play joke …”

Before we had children, my husband and I discussed my hometown and my childhood experiences. We decided that once we had children, we would only live in places that were ethnically diverse. Madison is just that. So, I found it quite shocking that we would be dealing with this issue here.

As I’ve posted before, my daughter is struggling with her own ethnic identity. Of our two children, she is the one who looks less Asian. When we asked her why she wanted “wider eyes,” her response was “Because then, I would be normal like my friends.”

“Normal” is a word that creeps into my blog often (Mistaken Identity). To hear my daughter say it, not only showed her painful need for acceptance, but also brought back my old, childhood insecurities.

As a parent, I want to protect her. But life is filled with the need to be accepted and the need to conform. So now, I must pull out my best mommy advice from my mother’s guide to life.

“Your uniqueness sets you apart. Rejoice in that.”