Category Archives: mother

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!

Our Last Valentine’s Day

In 1993, my mother and I shared Valentine’s Day. Each of us would have been alone that Valentine’s Day, had we not had each other.

For me, that day was V-Day or VD. I celebrated it as a day to enjoy my independence from the vagaries of love [LUUUUUhV].

My mother saw it as a day to celebrate her role as a mother. Our 1993 Valentine’s Day was the last one we had before I found another love. She would always remember this day in the years to follow.

In those following Valentine’s Day phone calls she would say, “Remember our last Valentine’s Day alone?  We had drinks at Red Lobster and then moved on to the Spaghetti Warehouse. Remember?”

My response would be, “Yes, Mom.  I remember. You loved downtown Knoxville. It reminded you of your days as a single woman, right?”

“I loved that we were spending THAT night together,” she would reply with a little sadness in her voice.

In March of 1993, I found the man who insisted that he not complete me, but complement me. It was a whirlwind.

We dated and moved in together that following September, against my mother’s wishes. That Valentine’s Day in 1994 she would be despondent.

For my mother, I think she felt her love had been replaced. On outward appearances, yes. Deep inside though, I still loved my mother as strongly as I had that prior Valentine’s Day.

She would feel much better about this “replacement” when the man who had “taken” me “away from her” proposed in September of 1994. This became the point of healing.

She had a wedding to plan, but it was still extremely painful for her to let go of her first child. My mother was not shy about expressing her feelings … to me and my future husband.

I still see the mixture of pain and pride in her face in this photograph taken at our wedding (Image by Rob Heller).

Someday, I will feel this pain in the same way. But for now, I enjoy the valentines my children give me and remember that evening so long ago at the Spaghetti Warehouse in Knoxville’s Old City.

Love is enough.

The subtitle for Barb Lee’s Adopted film is “When love is not enough …”.  What kind of love is she talking about here?

I argue that love is enough.

The love I know came in the form of handmade, Korean clothes for me and my entire brownie troop. That love also displayed all my Asian dolls on shelves in my room.

That love stood between me and the bullies who hurled their personal insults and attacks at her.

That love forgot that I couldn’t bear her red-headed grandchildren.

That love wore small, silver Korean shoes (Hwahye) on her charm bracelet.

That love cried as hard as I did on the day I moved to Rwanda, shortly after my wedding.

That love wrote letters almost daily and sent them across the ocean to a post box in Kigali.

That love’s eyes twinkled the first day they set their sights on her first grandson … this, despite the fact that her lips were silenced by a stroke.

That love worked tirelessly to be able to have this moment with her first grandchild.

She left us twelve years ago on this day. But her love is here and growing in me, my sister and our children. Her love will forever be with us, and that is enough.

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.

The Holidays

Today, as I pulled into the post office and mailed my father and his wife’s package, I had a sinking feeling.  I wanted to be mailing a package to my mother.

As those who have read my blog before know, she passed away just after the holidays in 2001.

During my errands, my car brought me to an Arby’s.  I hadn’t eaten there in years.

My fondest memory of Arby’s was a winter’s day in the mid-1980s.  As the South does when snow is predicted, my county high school canceled classes for the day. My younger sister, a city schooler, had class.  So, it was a Mama and me day!

She drove us to downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. We walked around her old haunts.  She told me stories of her best friend, Service Merchandise and the days courting my father. She took me to Arby’s where we ate French Dips and curly fries, then washed them down with Dr. Pepper, her favorite soft drink.

So today, I did the same.  I ordered my French Dip, curly fries and Dr. Pepper. I sat in a corner, quietly cried and wrote this:

Dear Mom.  Today, my car took me to Arby’s as I remembered one of the most precious days I had with you. High school was out because of the threat of snow, but Angela had school.  We drove to downtown Knoxville where you showed me your old haunts. We had French Dips and curly fries. The holidays are hard when my thoughts rest on your memory. I love and miss you, Mama.

This day …

Today, at my daughter’s parent-teacher conference, I signed a required form and finished by dating it 11-15-67. My husband said, “Well, you just told everyone your age!”

I’m 45 today, or at least, I’ve been conditioned to believe my birthday is today. It’s been quite a history for the fifteenth of November.

Many of my sweetest memories on this date include my mother. She always made my day. (See this entry.) Today, when the phone rang, I wished her voice would be on the other end. Instead, I heard a voice on the other end say, “If you are a senior citizen … ”

This week, my father also called to leave sweet serenades on the answering machine and my mobile voicemail. I loved my father’s heavily accented “Happy Birthday” as his wife played on the piano.

In November 2000, I sat with my sweet boy. I immediately knew the wonder of parenthood. We were preparing to surprise my mother for Thanksgiving. This was the last birthday with my mother. While she was recovering from a stroke, her pride in the newest addition to her family was unmistakable.

In 2002, on this date, I went for my 12-week prenatal appointment. My husband and my son had just given me a platinum band to celebrate our growing family. It had taken my husband several moonlighting overnight shifts in the animal ER to pay for it. I was on a high that Friday.

My OB said, “Let’s check on the baby with a birthday ultrasound!” My day was getting even better! There was excitement, then silence, then another OB, then blood tests. The news wasn’t good. I lost that baby on the Sunday, and a stone fell out of my new ring.

Within the year, we were blessed with our very sweet girl.

Forty-five years of many things … happiness, sadness and immeasurable love. What a path I was given! I’ll keep November 15 and all its memories.