Fall in the South

Oranges, yellows, reds,
Speckled on the mountains.
God’s shaker overseasons.
He tempers it with the cool mist.
His painting is complete.

Apple trees heavy with fruit
Cling to the mountain.
They beckon the tourists.
Warm apple cider donuts.
Hot drinks.
Chilled noses,
Red and running.

Mothers carry tissues
Minding the youngins.
Over yonder
I see the lazy mother.
Draped in her peppered blanket,
She is ready for the sweet hibernation.

A Tale of Two Families

Our circle trip began late this July. We were on a mission, two families in ten days … my family in Tennessee, and my husband’s in Canada.

The trip began gleefully with a music mix from my friend, Amy. The first day of driving was shortened by a stay at an Indiana horse ranch. After a couple of nights and a trail ride, we were back on the road to Tennessee.

At first, I had extreme hesitation. While I love my family, I do not love the closed minds and prejudices in Tennessee. We began with the stark contrast of Adult World and the huge cross along the interstate.

 (If you cannot view this, please see it here: http://mothermade.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-tale-of-two-families.html)

The anxiety began to creep in and cover me just as the kudzu drapes and kills the trees in Tennessee. Racist memories from my childhood flooded my mind. I took deep breaths so as not to alarm my kids. Since having children, I worry about their well being, and more specifically, their racial identities.

The conversation in the car began.

“Who are we seeing in Tennessee? Are we going to Papito’s house (my father)?” the kids asked.

“We are not going to Papito’s house. We’ll be staying in Knoxville, where your dad and I met. And you will be meeting your Puerto Rican cousins today,” I answered.

“When are we going to Canada? How long do we have to stay in Tennessee?” the kids continued.

“We will be in Tennessee for a few days, and then we will meet up with your cousins in Canada,” my husband answered.

The conversation then moved on to my husband’s family. Canada is home to his aunt. She and her husband own a lake cottage where we had planned to meet my in-laws for their 50th wedding celebration; however, due to my father-in-law’s recent health decline, my husband’s sister and her family would be the only Brits coming to the party. The kids asked about their relatives across the pond. They all talked happily about similarities. My husband spoke of how our daughter reminded him of his sister at her age. Other biological family traits were bestowed on the kids, and they beamed.

I felt myself receding. My kids weren’t interested in seeing my Puerto Rican family as much as they wanted to see my husband’s. Granted, we haven’t seen my Puerto Rican family in more than five years. Plus, there is the language barrier. But I must admit, I felt slighted. My son does not identify with his Puerto Rican family, but my daughter does. I want desperately for my children to feel the love that I have felt from my family.

The Puerto Ricans, also known as the “Gonzos,” are my family. When someone asks me where I would like to live, I say Puerto Rico. With this side of my family, I feel sudden comfort and security. The Gonzos talk about my son’s resemblance to our great-grandfather. The Gonzos kiss and hug and dance. Boy, do they dance.

We met my father and my cousins, Missiel and Kike, in Tennessee and went to Dollywood. Missiel and I reminisced about their childhood visits to Tennessee and teased Kike. I learned my Spanish pronunciation from my cousins in our backyard. My children stood on the periphery. Missiel and Kike have two children each. Kike’s daughter followed my daughter and wanted to bond with her.

The boys played a little at first.

And my father encouraged more play together as they all sifted for treasure.

While things were going well, most times, my kids still clung to one another.

Then, we found the perfect ride to unite all children … against the grown-ups.

 (If you cannot view this, please see it here: http://mothermade.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-tale-of-two-families.html)

As the boys played and joked, Missiel leaned over to me and said, “Noah is a Gonzo! He and Andreas have the same motions!” All the tension and anxiety within me suddenly slid off, and I felt just as I always have when I am with my family … loved.

Geez! You must be “adopted” …

This blog post has been housed in my head since I heard This American Life’s Episode 498 a few weeks ago.

You can listen here.

On our way up to the Korean culture camp on July 4th, I took the opportunity (long car journey) to catch up on my listening. My husband and I were seated in the front seat, listening.

Act Two, The Gun Thing You’re Not Supposed to Do, began playing. A woman from Texas told the story of how her family prided themselves on their responsibility in teaching gun safety to the children. However, this woman, after the Newtown shootings, revealed to her family that she had, as a teen, secretly used the handgun hidden in her parents’ dresser, and narrowly missed shooting herself.

The father and mother were devastated but changed their behavior by locking up their guns. Her brother, Matt, (at minute 45:59) says, “I kept callin’ her how stupid she was! That she must have been adopted!!”

At these words, I sucked in my breath. My husband looked, wide-eyed, at me. We both glanced to the backseat, but both kids were busy and distracted.

The brother continued to talk about how his sister asked him if it changed the way he would handle gun education with his children.  At this point, the host, Ira Glass responded, “So your plan is when you have kids, they’re not going to be idiots like your sister.”

The brother answered definitively, “Right.”

Ira Glass then said, “You know I’m making a joke here, right?”

That joke and the comments were not funny to me. I wanted desperately to stop the car and write it all down. Luckily, I was not able to do so because my post would have shown my initial anger.

I like to think that I am not an angry person, but the misuse of the word “adopted” upset me. It hurt. Being adopted does not make you immediately “stupid” or an “idiot,” but hearing those words in the same conversation, in jest or not, does not help. I have the utmost respect for Ira Glass and listen to him every week, but his attempt at irony was lost on the brother, on me and who knows what countless others.

This misuse of the word, “adopted” happens everyday. The Twitter page, @AdoptionHonesty, is documenting all uses of the word “adoption” and its derivatives.

In the last post, I spoke about my calculated and careful writing when I write about race. But in actuality, I am mindful when I write every post.

My goal in writing this blog began in 2007 as a way to record my feelings on my adoption, my race and my life for my children and their children. It would be my way of creating a family history that wasn’t oral, but concrete.

As I transitioned from a private life blog to a more public presence, parents and grandparents began contacting me and writing me. They wanted to hear my stories.

Since meeting other transracial adoptees and learning more online, I have heard many angry stories. I fear that anger only shuts down a conversation.

To keep the conversation going, I can merely give my personal story and impressions. Hopefully, these stories will become threads in the fabric of families and the quilt of adoption.

Our Independence

While most Americans were celebrating our country’s independence on July 4th, my family woke in the wee hours of the morning to make a pilgrimage.

My children were reluctant and kept asking why we needed to get up at 5 a.m. and drive four and a half hours to Minnesota. What could possibly be SO important?!?

Camp Chosŏn

Upon our arrival, we were immediately enveloped into a touring group. Many adoptive parents huddled around the tour guide as she walked parents and preschoolers around the Girl Scout Camp Lakamaga. In the shade of a large tree, my friend, Dan, worked with small elementary children on their Taekwondo skills. My teenage son began to fume, most likely wondering why we brought him to a tiny kids culture camp.

We walked into a dance studio and were met with swirls of color and graceful toes sliding across the floor.

The dance instructor, Brooke, walked over to chat with everyone and introduced herself to my children. Then, she smiled, looked at me and said, “You must be the adoptee.” My son continued to fume.

Next we ventured to the market, where Korean items could be found and bought. The kids tried frozen confections. I was drawn to a Korean pendant.

Our tour ended in the dining hall. Round tables were filled with smiling, laughing faces. All but a few were distinctly Korean. My son picked at his Korean food. My daughter gleefully ate her meal and said, “I love Asian food!” My husband went up for seconds of kimchi.

Two of my friends, Cam and Matt, counselors at Camp Chosŏn came to chat with my family. They talked to my son and expressed their excitement at possibly seeing him next year at camp. Again, my son fumed, but this time a bit more politely. 

As the dining hall emptied, Dan came to sit with us to eat. He talked candidly with my son. He explained that many of the very young campers were Hapa (mixed raced Asian). “They are the second generation adoptees,” said Dan, “We could use you (my son) to come and join the camp. When they grow up to be teens, they will need someone like you to talk to. I’m not sure I can talk to them like you can. You are Hapa, I’m not.”

The shroud of doubt began to slip away. My son began to see his place. 

Our day ended watching the young teens play and talk along the lakeside. Cam invited my son to come back and join the group next summer. I watched as the teens gathered for photographs. 

I quietly sighed, longing for that chance to connect with kids like myself at that age. Perhaps, Camp Chosŏn will introduce me to more adult adoptees so that I can share and reflect with them. From the number of small Hapa children, I suspect I will not feel alone.

Cam and Dan have such an understanding of themselves and their transracial adoptions that I have yet to fully grasp. Comfort lies in knowing I have them to help me and my children along the way to our independence.

 Camp Chosŏn, we shall see you next summer!

 

The joy of Daddy never leaves you.

This video came up on my feed.

 
 
As I watched, I remembered the pain of missing my father. He was in Vietnam at the time of my third birthday.
 

 
My mother would send audio tapes to him of me saying “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” So hearing these children say “Daddy” made me sob uncontrollably.
 
My dad has such a love for this country. He served 20 years and became a Master Sergeant in the Army. His tracks alone covered Korea, Alaska, Vietnam and Germany. My mother, sister and I moved to Georgia, Kansas and Oklahoma with him where we would wait for him to return to us.
 
Those days are gone, but the pain of his absence still resides in me. While there are no videos of our reunions, I remember the joy of seeing my Daddy.
 

 

The Sisterhood

Summer brings sunshine, happiness (from the sunshine) and movies! This summer in the spirit of my daughter (aka #feminist9YO), I have vowed to see movies with female protagonists, or as she calls them, “movies with strong female characters.”

This week, it was The Heat.

*spoiler alert*

In it, Sandra Bullock’s FBI character reveals that she was a foster child and a young girl who had few friends. When this played on screen, I cringed. “Great, another Hollywood slap in the face for child welfare,” I thought. I had reported on the abuse adoption received in The Avengers here, and I braced myself.

However, this movie plays out quite differently. At the end of the movie, Melissa McCarthy’s character signs Bullock’s character’s old high school annual. When the audience was able to read it, her words took my breath away. In that moment, when McCarthy’s character refers to Bullock’s as her “sister,” I felt the acceptance that the character felt. My vitamin D-deprived psyche shed some negativity.

In the adoption/foster care world, we talk so much these days about loss … the loss of families, the loss of self, the loss of racial identity. I have cycled through this loss and am still circling back as my children cycle.

But this reminded me of the things that make me truly happy … relationships, and more specifically, my female relationships. The women in my life who have helped me through the loss, the hurt and the anger. My mother taught me the importance of friendships. Hers is the strongest I have ever known, and I model my friendships after hers.

My sister, while younger than me, has also enriched my life. I often find myself looking to her for guidance. She is my sounding board.

So many wonderful women have held me up and given me strength. I consider my “little sisters”: Jenny (my Frances Ha, another excellent movie), LaDawn, Nicole and Jessica. I cherish my relationship with Marlene, who I called my “other mother,” as she nurtured me when I began my life as an adult in the workforce.

There are my other sisters, Kathy and Kayla, and my twin sisters, Katherine and Adrienne, who have tutored me in all things Asian and helped me form my Feeling racial identity. They reassured me that my common childhood anxieties were theirs too.

All these women have cycled through my life, and while they are a big part of my life still, they live so very far from me. Our lives are so busy and finding the time to talk is a challenge. The Wisconsin winters and my move here lead me down a few dark paths, but now, another sister has entered.

This sister has a positive outlook. This sister has an appreciation of my feelings on adoption. This sister is also adopted. There is much to be learned from this next chapter of sisterhood. We all need a “sister.”