Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Not My Family

We watched Sesame Street this morning, all three of us on the couch (I love vacation!). During Elmo's World, a little girl and her mother visited the museum to see dinosaur bones. Zoe said about the girl, "She looks Chinese!" She did -- and her mother was Caucasian. Maya said, "They made their family like ours." I agreed that that was likely, and Zoe said, "You're not my family. I'm just visiting!"

She was speaking jokingly, so I did, too, doing my "you can't get rid of us that easily -- we're a family forever" thing. "No," she replied, "I'm just visiting forever, Mrs. Seymore. I'll come over every day." Come over from where, I ask, half expecting her to say "China." Nope -- "From Zachary's house!" [Zachary is a school friend who lives on our block.]

Then a clear subject change, as Zoe started silly rhymes along with Abby Cadaby. . . .


From adult adoptee Issycat at Adopt This!: "Everyone claims they want to hear what adoptees really think until they say something they don’t like. What’s up with that?"

Ouch! Though she is talking mostly about other adoptees who disagree with her frankly-expressed ambivalence about reunion with her birth mother, she could just have easily been talking about adoptive parents.

I'd think that even the most open-minded and well-intentioned adoptive parents can have an "ouch" moment in hearing what adult adoptees have to say -- I admit to more than a few ouches in reading Tai Dong Huai's description of the OCD meeting! I can just see Zoe writing something devastatingly similar in 10 years' time. I think the mistake adoptive parents make is in trying to avoid the pain by dismissing what adult adoptees have to say that doesn't follow the happy-happy-joy-joy adoption script. Just call them "angry adoptees" and you don't have to deal with what they say.

So I keep reading, keep listening. I DO want to hear what adoptees really think. Even when it hurts. Because my pain pales in comparison with what my daughters feel. And until my kids are old enough to explain, this is how I can know.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Chinese Adoptee Blogger

Mei-Ling has discovered a new voice blogging -- Tai Dong Huai, a Chinese adoptee. Her blog, Great Wall of Chinet (gotta like that title!), is rudimentary, but she lists some of her writings at other websites. Here's a taste:

On the last Thursday of every month, at exactly 7:00 P.M., my adoptive mom would get me ready for our OCD meeting. She'd dress me in a red, too-tight, traditional cheongsam, braid my hair into a single, thick braid, and hand me a pair of Chinese slippers.

"You look terrif," she'd say.

"You forgot to bind my feet," I'd tell her with a straight face.

OCD—"Our Chinese Daughters"—was started by one of the area's adoptive mothers in order that we, Asian teenagers with dreams of waking up blond and round-eyed, would instead embrace our own culture. There were six mother–daughter pairs, and we rotated houses. The event was described—someone actually had stationery made up -- as an evening of "lively discourse, lukewarm coffee, and lots 'o' hugs." The hosting couple was expected to do a few things: provide some sort of Far Eastern cuisine, come up with a discussion topic, and run the rest of the family out of the house.

At thirteen, I would have rather stayed home and drank bleach.

Click here to read more. Definitely check her out!

Monday, December 29, 2008


How completely distressing it is to read about these prospective adoptive parents:

The Swedish Society for International Child Welfare says that many Swedes are hoping that an economic crisis in China will make it easier to adopt Chinese babies.

Last year 800 children from outside the Nordic region were adopted into Sweden - but this is the lowest figure in 38 years and the figure for 2008 is expected to be even lower.

Part of the reason is that adoptions from China, which have dominated the statistics in the last ten years, have decreased due to economic growth in China and the rest of Asia.

Now Swedish couples and singles eager to adopt are calling the Swedish Society for International Child Welfare, also known as
Adoptioncentrum and asking whether bad times will mean more available babies.

How can you HOPE for more babies to be abandoned? For more families to be torn apart? The effect of the global economic crisis on families and babies in China, in possibly reversing the trend of fewer babies being abandoned, has been one of my biggest WORRIES, and there are PAPs HOPING that "bad times will mean more available babies?!" Arghhhh!

I know that PAPs can be single-minded in their desire for a child, and I understand where that longing comes from. And I know that it's hard to focus on the best interest of a child who is completely abstract to you. But THIS goes WAAAY over the line into complete insensitivity, into perceived entitlement to scoop up the babies of poor families. ARGHHHH!!!

Favorite Christmas/Hanukah Gifts?

So what presents did your kids especially like this holiday season? Anything China or adoption related? I've already posted about how much my girls like their China Workbooks.

And we had a Holly, Dolly Christmas! Maya got an American Girl Doll -- Just Like You variety, with black hair, and dark eyes. I'd been boycotting American Girl since they didn't have an Asian-American story doll, but they came through with one last year -- Ivy -- and Zoe got her for Christmas last year. (Guess the historical period -- if you know anything about American Girl dolls, you know they come from historical periods, like Addy the freed slave, the 1860s; Kit, girl of the Great Depression, etc. Well, Ivy and her friend Julie come from the distant past -- 1974! Yes, my teenage years are now an HISTORICAL PERIOD!!!!!).
Santa brought Ivy tons of clothes, including a First Communion dress and veil and a Brownie uniform! Zoe was thrilled that Santa also brought Ivy a pair of wire-rimmed glasses like hers. I found several sites for inexpensive clothes for 18-inch dolls by simply googling "18 inch doll clothes cheap."

China Sprout (a GREAT help to Santa!) came through with qi paos for each girl’s doll, and Chinese character earrings for Zoe, who is thrilled that she can start wearing dangling earrings in January, since it will be six months since she got her ears pierced. Zoe had asked for a Chinese lantern, and I wondered what Santa would come up with, and this was it, with a dragon and everything.
Santa also obliged with some cool China books and adoption books as Zoe requested -- The Mulberry Bird, Forever Fingerprints (thanks to those who suggested these two!), Todd Parr's We Belong Together (we love his books, which celebrate difference so joyfully), Shanghai Secret (a KaritoKids book (I love the idea behind the Karito Kids, which allow each child to designate part of the purchase price to a charity of their choice. I went with Ivy instead last year just because it is easier to find clothes for 18-inch dolls than the 21-inch Karito Kids dolls -- conspicuous consumption wins out over charity, sigh.). And maybe the Kung Fu Panda DVD counts in our China haul?!

It was not all China or adoption – Zoe loves her new roller blades and her favorite gift is probably the $2 dry-erase board (perfect for playing school)! Maya got her requested Hot Wheels tennis shoes (yes, those are “boy shoes” with a Hot Wheels logo) and huge Care Bear. Add in the gazillion Groovy Girls, Barbie accoutrements, dinosaurs, Littlest Pet Shop stuff, and we had a merrily-commercial Christmas. And Maya has happily inherited Zoe's old scooter and bike now that Zoe has alternate wheels.

So share your kids’ favorites – and give us a hint where to find anything China or adoption related.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Almond Eyes

A couple of days ago we were reading a story that had the phrase "almond eyes." Maya asked tons of questions about her eyes and Zoe's eyes and my eyes, and required illustration of "almond eyes." We didn't have any almonds, but we did have CHOCOLATE-covered almonds! So we're all sucking the chocolate off the almonds and holding them up to our eyes -- I can only imagine what an observer would have thought!

Maya first decided none of us had almond eyes, and then she decided ALL of us had almond eyes. Finally, she concluded that SHE had almond eyes, but Zoe and I did not. So much for "almond eyes" as a substitute for Asian eyes!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Our First Noelle

This Christmas Eve brings memories of December 24, 2003. I had been waiting to hear from my agency about whether I had a singles slot -- whether I would be one of the lucky 45 out of 500 single applicants to be allowed to submit a dossier to adopt a baby sister for Zoe. By this point, I wasn't very hopeful. They were to let people know by mid-December, and I had not been contacted. Surely no news was bad news.

Then on Christmas Eve a rep. from my agency tracked me down at my parents' house in Tyler -- I had gotten one of the coveted slots!

So that explains the "Noelle" of the title -- not a gross misspelling, but Maya's middle name! She's the first Noelle in the family, the name a remembrance of a special Christmas. And as we sang "The First Noel" at Mass tonight, Maya Noelle BingLi knew the whole congregation was singing about her, not the baby boy in the manger!

I hope your Christmas makes you feel just as special!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Egg and I

OK, I can't say I "remember" this movie, The Egg and I, since it came out in 1947, before I was born! But I love old movies, and remember seeing this one once upon a time. It's about city dwellers who moved to a chicken farm, complete with Ma and Pa Kettle as neighbors, and of course, hilarity ensues.

But why am I telling you this? Well, this is the movie that came to mind when I read this BBC article about a mini-trend (micro-trend?) in China of city-dwellers moving to the country:

It was in December 1978 that former leader Deng Xiaoping declared the country would not just tolerate private enterprise but encourage it. Since then, of course, much of the country has been transformed. Millions of people have moved from the countryside to the cities in search of a better life.

And after three decades of extraordinary economic growth, there are growing numbers of middle class Chinese with good jobs who are well-off relative to the rest of the population. Now some of those who moved to cities like Shanghai for good wages in white collar jobs are starting to tire of the rat race, and in a reversal of past patterns of movement are abandoning the urban sprawl for a quieter life in the country.

Gao Hong and Yang Xiaoling, two advertising executives in their mid-thirties, decided a year ago to give up their lucrative careers to move to a quiet house in the country, eight hours drive from Shanghai in Jiangsi province. They took a 40-year lease on an old house which Yang Xiaoling came across during a business trip.

* * *
The couple admit that it has not all been as easy and straightforward as they would have liked. Their neighbours had to help them establish their vegetable garden because they did not really know what they were doing. They have grown enough to eat, but nowhere near enough to sell to others.

Despite a lack of village facilities, the couple have no regrets. There are rats to deal with and the roof leaks. But they say that compared with the difficulties they faced trying to get used to urban life, these problems are not that significant.

* * *
"We have lived here for more than a year, and never for a moment have we thought, this is too bad, we have got to get back to Shanghai," Gao Hong laughed.

Leaving the front door wide open, the couple go for a stroll around the village. Facilities are very basic. Some of their neighbours are washing their clothes in the stream by hand. It is like going back 50 or 60 years. But the couple are happy. "The dogs don't bark at us now," they said. "They always bark at strangers, so we know we belong."
Of course, as the article notes, these new rural-dwellers have made enough money in Shanghai's rat race to leave it. That's not something many Chinese city-dwellers can manage. Still, an interesting twist on modern life in China. And I think it was the needing-neighbors-to-help-plant-the-vegetable-garden part that made me think of the Egg and I.

My China Workbook

We've already done part of our Christmas -- opening presents with my parents and my brother's family on Saturday. One of the gifts I got for Zoe and Maya was each a copy of Beth O'Malley's My China Workbook: A Lifebook Tool for Kids Adopted From China. It was an instant hit, and they wanted to work on them this morning. (I'm such a mean mom that I hadn't let them bring any of their newly-acquired gifts into the house until they picked up the family room, and wanting to work on the workbooks was finally the motivation they needed to clean up!) I cannot recommend this workbook enough -- the girls LOVED working in it!
I'm especially thrilled that it was something Maya wanted to do. She hasn't been as verbal as Zoe in working through what she knows and what she wants to know about her adoption, but this book was great for her level (age 5) as well as Zoe's level (age 8). Zoe read Maya the text, and Maya did some of the writing with me spelling the words for her, and I did some of the writing, taking dictation from her.
Th book starts with "The Workbook Promise," including a promise not to eat messy pizza while reading the book, which tickled the girls. In the first box after that we put a current picture, and then the next page is an "All About Me" page asking for favorite colors, food, friends, etc. I especially like Zoe's answer to the "what I want to be when I grow up" question -- a lawyer ballerina. Oh, yes, I know tons of lawyer ballerinas! The next box is to draw their baby pictures -- interestingly, neither drew themselves as wee babes, but instead drew gotcha-day pictures that included me and Mimi.
Next, the book introduces birth parents:

Before you were born, you grew in a special place inside a Chinese woman's
tummy. That person is your birthmother.

She was pregnant with you for 9 months before you came into the world. That means you ate the same food she ate. You could even hear the same sounds.

It could be that some of your favorite foods started before you were even born. What are your favorite foods?

There are blanks for listing favorite foods, and a box to draw "your favorite birthday cake." I think that be girls loaded the list with Chinese foods on purpose, though their actual favorites are mostly Chinese!
The book says that no one adopted from China has photos of their birth mother -- "It's not fair but that's the way it is" -- and gives a couple of suggestions for figuring out what she looks like:
1. Since you were born in China and are Chinese, we know that your birth mother didn't have red or blonde curly hair, right?

2. Bet she didn't have blue eyes either.

O.K., so we can figure out some parts of her looks such as brown eyes and black/brown straight hair. You got those from your biological family.

Look in the mirror.
[Yes, there's some variation not accounted for here, but the book goes with the odds -- while some Chinese have green or even blue eyes, or red or curly hair, the vast majority do not.]
So here's Maya drawing a picture of what she thinks her birth mother looks like. The girls quite solemnly looked at themselves in a mirror before drawing.

Zoe decided her birth mother probably has glasses since she does. And Zoe added some interesting details -- her birth mother's shirt reads, "I miss my baby." And there's a legend above her that reads, "Love gives life." Where does she get this stuff? I've never said anything like that! [The influence of Catholic school, perhaps!?]
In Zoe's picture of her birth father (he has glasses too!), he's crying blue tears, and the legend above his head says, "Missing your baby doesn't take you apart." I don't know, the tears suggest that it does. . . .
Oh, the book also has a page for coming up with names to call your birth mother, suggesting that you can pick a Chinese name or an English name you'd like to use. You'll love this, Mei-Ling -- Maya put "Mei-Ling" on the list of things to possibly call her birth mom! And I really don't know where she got that, where she's heard that name!
Anyway, there's lots more in the book to work through, but it looks like it will be a VERY positive experience for both girls. I can't say it fervently enough -- YOU MUST GET THIS BOOK FOR YOUR CHILD!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in China

My first trip to China was in December 1991, and this Chinese Santa was the only touch of Christmas I saw. This Santa graced the lobby of the Beijing Hilton, which was pretty much open only to foreigners at the time.

Ten years later, the Christian Science Monitor reported on the growing popularity of Christmas in China:

Somewhere on the journey to becoming the world's biggest exporter of Christmas toys, China started importing yule for itself. Christmas wreaths and lighted trees, white-foam snowmen and special dinners, as well as an ethos of "jingle-bell cool" are wafting in on the wings of global culture, bringing a holiday atmosphere to Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

At a Beijing noodle shop bedecked with silver and gold plastic bells, cook Yin Li pauses over a beef stew when asked if all the decorations seem like a foreign cultural
invasion. "Honestly, no," she says. "I like it. It makes everything feel more like a holiday." Throughout Asia, in fact, Western holidays have become chic, both for their commercial potential and because new generations think the act of decorating and celebrating is fun and different. Not only Christmas, but Valentine's Day, Father's Day and Mother's Day, Thanksgiving and Halloween, are finding a Pacific niche - where five years ago there was none.

"There's an appropriation and modification of Western holidays, with a commercial twist, in Asia," says Mark Mullins, a professor of religion and Japanese society at Sophia University in Tokyo. "Each year it increases ... whether or not people are
interested in faith."

And an expat English teacher reports this month about Christmas in China:

“Christmas is about giving gifts,” a student answered recently when I asked about the significance of this holiday in China. “It’s a day to spend time with friends and play,” another student answered. Still, many of my friends and students are vaguely familiar with the story of Christmas. . . . My students also tell me that Christmas is a holiday for the younger generation. “Our parents don’t know anything about Christmas,” explained a student to me today. Her parents probably grew up in a time when celebrating or even acknowledging Christmas in China was frowned upon by the Chinese government. These days, Beijing has no problem with the celebration of Christmas so long as it is devoid of religion and promotes social harmony.

Just a few years ago in China, I had to find my way to the back corner of a local market place to buy a fake Christmas tree and decorations. Now it seems that the
big supermarkets in China offer a large variety of Christmas items for very reasonable prices. It is also easier than ever to ‘catch’ the Christmas spirit in China, as stores - both large and small -play familiar Christmas tunes for their customers. Hearing the words ‘Ding, Ding, Dong’ instead of the words ‘Jingle Bells’ may be a bit strange at first, but it least it sounds like the same song. Many stores also feature their own beautifully decorated Christmas trees as well as special holiday season discounts which help foreigners like me to feel much more at home.

When we arrived in Xiamen in February 2007, we saw some remnants of Christmas, including Santa decorations in the lobby of our guest house -- though that was probably for the benefit of the foreigners staying there. There were, however, still Christmas decorations and Christmas cards for sale at many of the stores we frequented. It was all completely overwhelmed by the left-over decorations for Chinese New Year (Year of the Pig!). And Easter decorations were impossible to come by in Xiamen.

So these days in China, celebrating Western holidays is very much "in," with Christmas probably the most popular. Yes, Chen Xing, there is a Santa Claus!

Update: China Daily published an article on Christmas day titled, Santas Sprout Up to Spread Spirit of Season. Interesting picture of a Santa's life in China.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Big Brother Binky

Several have expressed interest in finding this Arthur episode where Binky's family adopts from China on DVD, so I thought I'd try to track down some online sources.

Check out: -- $8.99 -- $10.43 -- $10.99 -- $11.49 -- $12.99

You can also rent it on NetFlix.

I'm glad so many people are interested in the DVD, but I think part of what my girls thought was so cool was that they saw it on "regular TV!" Amazing how powerful it is to see their story mainstreamed. Your local PBS station website should be able to give the schedule.

BTW, I can't vouch for any of the sources I've listed above (I've bought from Overstock, Amazon & PBS before with good success, but don't know about the others). And check out the shipping, not just the price of the DVD!

Wendy asks how xie-xie should be pronounced, if shay-shay is wrong. Well, I'm certainly not an expert, but the key, I think, is to see each "shay" as a two-syllable word. Each of the two syllables are said fast together, like "she-ey she-ey."

Anyone have a better explanation of how to say it?

First Communion

Another proud mama moment --and a milestone for Zoe -- First Communion today! We're all worn out, so I'm just throwing up some pictures so that friends and relatives can see.
Zoe and Maya before Mass began; when we walked into the church, proud sister Maya said (without seeing another soul!), "Zoe, you're the most beautiful one here today!"

Zoe lights a candle after mass -- included in her prayers is that your arm will feel better soon, Sister Bern!
Zoe loved her dress, all ribbon and pearls. She initially balked at a veil, wanting to wear just the wreath in her hair, and I was all for that. But I also thought she might change her mind (what 8-year-old doesn't want to do the whole bride thing?!) so I bought one just in case. Sure enough, yesterday after talking to her friends she succumbed to peer pressure and wanted the veil.
That's Zoe in the cape her Mimi made her, and thank goodness she did! We had very unusal Texas temps of 22 degrees this morning!

A surprise -- Father Luke is the priest who baptised Zoe 7 years ago! He was not the presiding priest, but he was at the church to prepare for 12:30 Mass, and Zoe was delighted to get a picture with him. She loves then-and-now connections to her as a baby.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Speaking of PBS . . .

. . . the girls got up on time, finished breakfast, and got dressed quickly, so were rewarded with being able to watch "Arthur" before we left for school.

Lo and behold! The episode was:

Arthur #1110

"Big Brother Binky", Parts I&II

In this special two-part episode, Binky's family adopts a baby girl from China. Binky receives the news of getting a baby sister with great excitement, and he delights in helping prepare for her arrival and visiting China. Although at times Binky worries about how his life will change, and more importantly, whether his new sister will even like him! - Binky becomes the proudest big brother in Elwood City.
The girls loved it, and international sophisticates that they are laughed as everyone said "shay-shay" (thank you in Chinese (xie xie)), a gross mispronunciation to them! They are definitely finding validation for their stories by seeing Chinese ballerinas and familiar characters talking about adoption.

Three Stories: Russia, Ukraine, U.S.

Ukraine -- Ukrainian Ombudsman Nina Karpacheva has this to say about international adoption: “The Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption ... contradicts our national interests, clearing the way for masked trafficking of orphans.”

Russia (thanks to Harlow's Monkey and Third Mom for the link) --

A decade ago, authorities in the provincial town of Chelyabinsk were desperate to find homes for the growing number of abandoned children. But for Nadezhda Gertman, the head of child welfare, foreign adoption is no longer the answer. When she talks about sending children out of the country, her voice breaks up.

"I was on a plane to Moscow. There was a foreign couple who had just adopted a child," Gertman says. "I had the feeling they were taking away my child. I told my staff we will only give them away after we have done everything possible to find Russian parents for them or if their medical problems are such we can't handle them here."

U.S. -- Buried in the midst of a happy story about 11 children adopted from foster care, Human Services Manager Pravin Patel says: "There is a recent trend to adopt children from within the United States. The weakened economy has potential parents looking closer to home for children instead of going overseas to places like China, Patel said."

So in other countries, there are moral, cultural, ethical, political reasons for an increase in domestic adoption. In the U.S., it's because the economy has tanked?!

One other "tanking economy" point I've been worried about -- one of the reasons abandonments have decreased in China is the improved economic status of Chinese families. I'm worried that with the global economy tanking there will be an upswing in abandonments in China. So here's another plug for Love Without Boundaries Unity Fund, which aims to fund medical care for children who might otherwise be abandoned because poor families hope orphanages can provide that needed care. So, here's a fund who's aim is to keep Chinese families together. Please consider putting them on your list for holiday giving!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Nutcracker

We just watched the San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker on PBS, and I highly recommend it! Of course, the girls are very much into ballet these days, and showed off their newly-acquired performance knowledge ("Look, it's the finale!" "Nice arabesque!" "I like that lift.")

But their real enjoyment was reserved for two things. First, the Snow Queen enters, and Zoe gets up close to the TV and says, "She looks Chinese!" Indeed, she did. Curiosity struck, so I surfed to the SF Ballet's website and discovered that the Snow Queen was Yuan Yuan Tan, and she is Chinese! Her bio says she was born and trained in Shanghai. Zoe was excited enough to hug the TV when Tan took her bow, and then Maya wanted to list everyone we know from Shanghai. Second exciting moment -- the Chinese dance during the second act. Still hyped on seeing a Chinese prima ballerina, Zoe was excited enough to declare, 'That's China on TV! That's ME on TV!" What a hoot! It was in miniature the excitement of the hispanic students I blogged about who were thrilled that a Spanish dance was included in their field trip ballet excursion.

Anyway, if you're interested in seeing not just a great performance of The Nutcracker this season, but in one including little touches of China, look to your local PBS station for schedules.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Transracial Adoption: It Will Change Your Family Forever

Great article about transracial adoption, and including quotes and advice from John Raible:

Many white pre-adoptive parents believe that they are ready to adopt transracially because they are at ease with people of color. But we must look at life through the children’s eyes. They will be living in a society that is not yet fully comfortable with race nor color blind. People who are black, Latino, or Asian already know this—it’s in the air we all breathe, although the whites among us are often unaware.

Peggy McIntosh, in her article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” says that whites are taught not to recognize their power and privilege. She says, “I have come to see white privilege as an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.” Her article, written in 1989, still resonates today. If you are white you need to recognize that your child of color will not come equipped with this knapsack of privilege.

The article is addressed to prospective adoptive parents, but has great advice for all of us. And good news -- it says this article is the first in a series.

"Black Ties"

Review of a one-woman show by a Korean adoptee, "Black Ties," in Germany:

It was in 1977 that Park Yung Min was found in a cardboard box, standing in front of the city hall of Daegu, South Korea. Terre des Hommes brought the infant to Germany where a family adopted her and expanded name to Miriam Yung Min Stein. The practice of international adoption of children, although common until today, has long been a taboo in Korea. For some years, however, stories of Korean adoptees that were brought to Europe and America and, having grown up, struggle with their "hybrid identity," regularly pop up in newspapers and on the Internet -- there is even a TV show that reunites Korea's "lost children" with their biological parents.

Miriam Yung Min Stein chose another way to deal with her unknown provenance: Using a wired glove to pile up pictures on a screen she presents her research live on stage. "Black Tie," thus the title of the stunning performance lecture, premiered last week at the Berlin theater "Hebbel am Ufer." The evening was very informative, yet deeply touching and at the same time critical towards "easy solutions" like the aforementioned TV reunions.

"Some children come from the belly and some come with the airplane," Stein's adoptive mother once said to her. The feeling of being different accompanied her since early childhood. Browsing through family photos that show the little "Asian" girl between her blond siblings and adoption forms that describe her character as a one-year-old, she vividly remembers an evening at a Chinese restaurant, where "everybody was trying so hard to pretend they like it."

To attain clarity about her past, Stein takes various courses: First, she inscribes her personal story in the history of modern Korea. Her adoption is the last link in a chain of events that includes Japanese colonisation, the Korean War, Harry Holt, who organized the first adoptions of South Korean war orphans, and the dictatorial Park Chung-hee regime during which thousands of homeless babies were sent abroad.

She also imagines an alternative biography that later turns out to belong to her friend Hye-Jin Choi, who appears on stage as a counterpart to the restless Miriam. Choi came to Germany eight years ago to finish her studies. She is working in politics now and has a picture of her family hanging on the wall. She tries to teach Korean to her friend and puts some of her rather stereotypical views on Korea into perspective.

* * *

After her return to Germany [from visiting Korea], she approached her roots by means that appear less random at first sight: She ordered personal DNA analysis from biotech companies in California and Iceland to find out more about the traits her parents passed onto her. But the results are scarce -- besides the fact that she is not genetically related to Bono, Stein learned about a slight risk of prostate cancer as wells as Alzheimer's disease.

In the end, the "black ties" that link Miriam Yung Min Stein to her origin remain in the dark. In the theater, however, the lights turned bright after her last words on memory loss and shyly she accepted much applause from the sold out auditorium.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Debunking Model Minority Myths

The College Board (the lovely folks who bring you the SATs) has a report out seeking to debunk myths about Asian Americans and Pacific Islander students in higher education:
American popular culture is full of claims that Asian American and Pacific Islander students are overrunning college campuses with high enrollment. Asian American and Pacific Islander students are perceived to be so ubiquitous in higher education that regrettable quips like “UCLA really stands for ‘United Caucasians Lost Among Asians’” and “MIT means ‘Made in Taiwan’” are all-too familiar in higher education circles, slighting both the institutions and the students that attend them. Others characterize Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as the “alien student invaders,” as suggested by the title of an article in UC Berkeley’s alumni association magazine, California, “Facing the Asian Invasion.” Indeed, the “Too Many? Not Enough?” graphic was the feature of a 2007 New York Times “Education Life”supplement titled: “The Asian Campus: At 41 percent Asian, Berkeley could be the new face of merit-based admissions. The problem for everybody else: lots less room at elite

Such impressions exaggerate the presence of Asian American and Pacific Islander participation in U.S. higher education.

In addition to addressing myths about AAPI students "taking over" higher education, the report debunks the myth that AAPI students only pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math. While there are a number of AAPIs who do pursue these fields, trends also show that a large proportion of AAPI students obtain degrees in the social sciences and the humanities.

American RadioWorks Documentary About International Adoption

I just ran across this RadioWorks documentary called Finding Home: 50 Years of International Adoption. You can listen to the documentary at the site, or read the transcript, and there are other stories and resources there as well.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Triggers for Thoughts of Birth Parents?

What sorts of things have you seen to trigger your kids' thoughts of their birth parents? Please note, in asking the question, I'm not suggesting that triggering thoughts about birth parents is a bad thing. I'm just interested in hearing what has triggered those thoughts for other kids. It might be helpful for other parents, too, to know what might raise those issues.

Birthdays and Gotcha Days have been triggers for my girls (no surprise!), as have adoption books and movies. As I've posted before, my dad (their grandfather) going into the hospital was a huge trigger for Zoe.

Friday evening, Zoe asked to see her lifebook (she always asks, even though it is on a low shelf where she can get to it any time). She paged through it a little bit, and then wanted to talk about where her birth parents might live, and asked her usual question about why her birth parents couldn't keep her. She "knows" the answers in her head, but it doesn't yet penetrate to her heart.

Well, my dad ended up back in the hospital for another angioplasty this week, and we visited him on Friday afternoon (he's doing fine, and is home as I write this -- it seems the doctors knew there was another blockage that they never bothered to mention; they considered it borderline so didn't address it since he has a myriad of other health problems that motivated them to keep the procedure as brief as possible. When he had chest pains again, they decided they had to deal with it).

Genius that I am, I figured this is what was triggering Zoe's thoughts. I wondered if she was able to make the connection, that worrying about Grandpa's health made her think about her abandonment. So after we talked about her birth parents for a while, I asked her what it was that made her think about them today. Her answer, "I don't know." I prodded gently, trying to see if she saw the connection, but "I don't know" was still the answer, and that was that.

The next morning, Zoe came back to it on her own: "Mama, I do know why I was thinking about my birth parents yesterday. I did so good in the ballet that I wished they could see me. Do you think they'd be proud of me like you are?" Oh, yes, I think they would be!

Interesting -- I hadn't expected that to be a trigger, but I can see why it would be. And I can see the connection between the "why didn't they keep me" question and the "would they be proud of me" question. No matter how often I tell her that it didn't have anything to do with her -- she wasn't bad, she didn't do anything wrong -- I think there remains that seed of doubt. There must have been something unworthy in her -- if only they'd known she'd be such a good dancer things might have been different.

So have you been surprised by some of the things triggering your kids' thoughts of first families, China, abandonment, etc.?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Do you really want to be an adoptive parent?

Heather at Production, Not Reproduction nailed it:

When you say...
  • you don't think you should have to deal with birth parents after the adoption is done;
  • you're sometimes grateful your child was abandoned with no information, because that way it's like his history starts with you;
  • you don't believe in openness because it is uncomfortable;
  • that birth parents should be able move on with their lives, knowing that their child is loved and safe with you;
  • that speaking ill of your daughter's first parents has no effect on her, since they're not her family anymore;
  • you know your child is fine with her adoption because she never brings it up;
  • you never talk about adoption in your family because it's an event that's done and in the past...

what I hear is that you became a parent through adoption, but you don't really want to be an adoptive parent.

Wish I'd said it!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mama Bragging Rights!

Zoe and Maya have been performing in a holiday ballet (don't call out the "War on Christmas" folks -- it really is a holiday performance, including Hanukkah Flamenco and O Holy Night!). Today and yesterday have been morning performances attended for free by public school children, and tomorrow evening is the money-maker for the general public. The Holiday Special is put on by a professional company, Ballet Concerto, whose director is also the owner of the ballet school where they take lessons. When Margo Dean needs kids for Ballet Concerto performances, she uses the kids from her school. That's one of the advantages of going there for ballet (or one of the drawbacks, if you, like me, can't say no!).

I sat in the audience for parts of today's performance and managed to get a couple of pictures -- bad ones, but better than nothing! (Can't use flash photography, throws the dancers off when they're trying to pirouette!). As you can see above, Zoe is a shepherd in O Holy Night. Look below to see Maya as a Frosty girl in Memories of Frosty.

At one point, Margo (who is in her 70s) came to sit in the audience to check how it looked, and it tickled me a little, because her son was dancing right then -- her late-40s son! I wondered if her heart stilled swelled with pride when she saw him dance, like mine does when my babies dance!

I was definitely proud watching Zoe and Maya dance, especially since they've been working so hard -- not just ballet classes, but weekend rehearsals and evening rehearsals for the past month. They both did great! Zoe's dance was far more complex, as one would expect since she's older, but Maya was on stage for longer and was the youngest dancer out there. She and Lucy (in pink) were the only girls chosen from their class to perform, and Lucy is a first-grader!
It was interesting having an audience of grade-schoolers -- about 800 each day. They were remarkably well-behaved for kids that age watching a ballet, and oohed and ahhed at each lift, each jump, each turn. They were beside themselves with joy when the fake snow came down. They also oohed and ahhed over all lighting effects and the curtain going up and down, so they weren't that discriminating!
One other audience thing struck me -- when the announcer explained that the next dance would be Hanukkah Flamenco, a Spanish dance, there was a real wave of oohs, with hispanic students obviously excited and kind of proud that a Spanish dance was included in the program.
So only one more performance to go -- thank goodness! The girls are exhausted and stressed (and so am I!) and I can't wait to get back onto a more normal schedule for us all.
And BTW, if you're in Fort Worth and looking for a fun holiday experience, come to Will Rogers Auditorium tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m.!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A fellow traveler lost and found!

Akindofmagick (thank you!) posted a link to an article in the comments, and I found an old friend! The author and I adopted our oldest girls at the same time, and were on the same August 2000 DTC list! How amazing to see this article and see that she's been making the same journey as I have:

Adopting from China seemed the perfect solution to our desire for a family. I longed for daughters, and 95 percent of the babies in Chinese orphanages were girls. While I never wanted my daughters to feel grateful for being "rescued" by us, I did feel that a family is a better place for a child than an orphanage. I still feel that way. But as I leaned my forehead against the cold glass of the plane's window and watched China disappear, I cried a little for the giggling baby who was leaving her homeland for a new life across the world. She needs a family, and we love her. Why am I crying? I thought.

Once home, I was intoxicated by the rush of finally being a mommy and the entrancing little girl who was now my daughter. I was the forever mother. It was a while before I continued the thoughts I'd had on the plane. More and more, I began to think about what my girls left behind when they became our daughters.

As they say, read the whole thing!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The nature and quality of love in adoptive families

I’ve been brooding for a couple of week about a conversation I had with another adoptive mom. She had two hard questions for me.

1) “Do you think an adopted child can love the adoptive mom like a biological child can?”

2) “If you had known then what you know now about pain, loss, primal wound, ‘angry’ adoptees, yearning for birth parents, etc., would you have adopted?”

I’ll address the first question now, and blog about the second one later. These are tough questions, and I guess I’m still brooding because I don’t think I did a very good job of answering them in talking to my friend. I’d really appreciate comments, since she reads the blog, and y’all are bound to do a better job than I did!

That first question is a real turn-around of the question I’m more accustomed to hear people ask -- whether PARENTS can love an adopted child as much as/the same way as a biological child. But can an adopted child feel the same love for the mother as a biological child can? Ah, those metaphysical questions about the nature and quality of love!

First of all, I want to clarify the question my friend asked. She was NOT asking whether an adopted child can love the adoptive parents like she loves her biological parents. That’s not the comparison she was seeking to explore, because while a child might love birth parents she doesn’t know, hasn’t met, hasn’t lived with, doesn’t have a history with, that’s very different from the relationship of biological children who live for a lifetime with biological parents. She was making another comparison – let’s suppose a 5-year-old who has lived for the past 5 years with the mother who gave her birth, and another 5-year-old who has lived for the past 5 years with an adoptive mom who did not give birth to her. Is the love the same?

My friend has been reading Nancy Verrier’s Primal Wound, a notoriously difficult read for adoptive parents. Verrier talks about the bond between mother and child, built in the womb, as “primal, mystical, mysterious, and everlasting.” And she argues that breaking this bond is the source of the primal wound. From this she argues that the adoptive mom and adoptive child can never have this magical, mystical bond (of course not, as a definitional matter, if you define the bond as something that starts in utero!).

Verrier writes: “I don’t believe it is possible to sever the tie with the biological mother and replace her with another primary caregiver, no matter how warm, caring, and motivated she may be, without psychological consequences for the child (and the mother). An infant or child can certainly attach to another caregiver, but the quality of that attachment may be different from that with the first mother, and bonding may be difficult or, as many adoptees have told me, impossible.” She goes on to say, “I believe it would be safe to say that most adopted children form attachments to their adoptive mothers. . . . Bonding, on the other hand, may not be so easily achieved. It implies a profound connection, which is experienced at all levels of human awareness.” At a later point, in summarizing her conclusions, Verrier warns, “We know that love is good for children, but in the case of adopted children, parents need to be realistic in their expectations of the adoptee’s ability to accept love freely or to return it.”

Is it any wonder that my friend asked whether there can be the same love between adoptive parents and the child they raise as there is between biological parents and the child they raise?

I think there’s a lot of value in Verrier’s book. But I think she isn’t terribly nuanced. She advances her premise as if it affects ALL adoptees in the same way and to the most EXTREME degree possible. I don’t think I’m in adoptive-parent-denial to say that different adoptees feel the loss of their birth parents in different ways! And while there might well be a “primal wound,” not all wounds are mortal as she might be read to suggest.

I know that the pain and loss and yearning exist and are real – I’ve seen Zoe experiencing it. I don’t know if it’s a “memory” of her abandonment at one day old, or a growing realization of her abandonment as she understands that she had to lose her first family to gain her current family. I’m also not sure whether it matters, so long as I acknowledge the loss as she experiences it.

And I believe that my kids love me, just like I love them. I don’t know if it’s the same or different from the love that starts with a biological link, but I know it is love and it’s enough. I think love is not a biological imperative, but a mutual, reciprocal process of giving and receiving care. Maybe the analogy is to an arranged marriage – you grow into love rather than fall into love?

Even Verrier isn’t quite as hopeless as it might first seem. In the preface, she talks about her adopted daughter and their relationship. She concludes, “Are we bonded? I don’t think that I would be able to write this work if we were not.” So she acknowledges the existence of that primal, mystical, mysterious, and everlasting bond between mother and child in her relationship, while also acknowledging that she can never take the place of her daughter’s birth mother.

I’ve never wanted to “take the place of” my children’s birth mothers. We each have a place in their lives, and those places needn’t be the same. I wouldn’t want to erase the bond they have with their birth mothers – why would I? I have the better part of the deal, since I get to see them every day, watch them grow and develop, enjoy their hugs and kisses, and listen to their “I love you’s.”

So how do you answer the the question? Can an adopted child love the adoptive mom like a biological child can?

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Fake" adoptions so Korean kids can attend American school

Interesting article:
An increasing number of Korean parents have their children adopted by Americans working for the U.S. military to enroll them at American schools on army bases, according to parents and school staff. They say the number of adopted Korean students has recently risen at the Seoul American High School (SAHS), a Department of Defense (DoD) Dependent School at Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul. "Recently, I saw a sharp rise in the number of adopted Korean students coming to this school. Korean people are very clever, so they do whatever is necessary for the education of their children,'' said a 40-year-old mother of two children in the 9th and 10th grades at the school. "If you visit immigration agencies in Itaewon, you can find many Koreans trying to have their children adopted by foreigners for education,'' added the woman, who declined to be named. The school's students and teachers also admitted to the rise in the number of adopted students.

* * *

Some immigration agents in Itaewon work as brokers between Korean parents and Americans.An immigration agent who has worked in the business since 1974 said many Koreans who have foreign relatives usually have their children adopted by uncles and aunts who hold foreign passports.``More than 90 percent of my customers wish to send their children to English-speaking schools. I handle three to nine cases per month,'' the agent said. He says he charges some two million won per case as commission.

He said fees parents pay to guardians differ widely. ``When not related to the guardian, the fee depends on how much the guardian requests. Usually, you need to pay step by step when you obtain either U.S. residency or citizenship.'' He said it could easily exceed 200 million won ($150,000).

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Book Review: A Dragon's Tale

Book: A Dragon's Tale and Other Animal Fables of the Chinese Zodiac
by Demi

Review by Maya

What this book is about: The book has stories about all the animals in the Chinese Zodiac. I'm a sheep, but the book calls it a goat. Zoe's a dragon. Mama's a rat.

What I liked about the book: I liked the stories about my animal and Mama's animal and Zoe's animal.

What I didn't like about the book: I didn't like the part where the frog was stuck in the well [The frog thinks his world is perfect, because he's only seen the small fraction visible from the well]. And there are too many stories, it got boring!

What I learned/How it helped me: I liked learning about all the animals in the Zodiac.

[Grown-up note: I'd suggest reading only a few stories at a time for the younger crowd. And I did some paraphrasing/shortcutting to keep Maya's interest even that long! She did like flipping through the book and looking at the pictures and just finding out about the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac.]

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Share YOUR adoption talks, please!

I’d like to hear more about the conversations you’re having with your kids about adoption, birth parents, race, etc., so I can share them on the blog. For example, an adoptive mom told me about this very interesting “adoption talk:”

It was on her birthday (turning 8). One of her friends is adopted from Korea, and has information about her birth parents. She told me it “isn’t fair” that her friend knows who her birth parents are and she doesn’t have the same information. I sympathized, and we talked about why it is hard to have that information from China. I told her a little about Lydia’s situation, and how they found her birth family. She asked if we could put her picture in the paper in China and try to find her birth parents because she wants to meet them. Isn’t that AMAZING? She hasn’t talked so openly with me about her birth parents before.
Again, it seems that a birthday served as a catalyst for thinking about/talking about birth parents. And Lydia’s story opens up possibilities that allow an 8-year-old to express her wish to meet her birth parents.

Email me your stories – I’m happy to post anonymously, or give credit, as you desire.

Thanks in advance!

Friday, December 5, 2008


I had a parent-teacher conference with Maya's pre-school teacher today, and wasn't at all surprised to hear how well Maya is doing. Maya is so laid-back that she often crosses the border into the L-A-Z-Y territory, but she's been doing great the last few months at actually FINISHING her work at school (I still can't get her to finish much of anything at home, though, and she has the most interesting-functioning bladder, that requires her to go potty any time I say it's time to clean up!)

But I was especially tickled to hear her teacher's description of Maya making Playdough dumplings. Maya explained to her that she made REAL dumplings at her kindergarten in China -- how remarkable that she remembered. Ms. Christie described Maya working intently to make small balls to put inside the Playdough "crust," and then carefully crimping the edges together for her crescent-shaped dumplings. Amazing!

I guess we'll have to take a stab at making REAL dumplings -- maybe over Christmas break.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Adopted: The Movie Now Available!

I just got my email notification that Adopted: The Movie has been released. I've posted several clips from the movie here, here, and here. And here's the trailer:

You can purchase it at this website. I can't wait to see the whole thing!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wish List: Adoption and Chinese Books

Zoe and Maya wrote their Christmas wish lists over the weekend, and put them in their stockings (this is what we do instead of letters to Santa -- mostly so I can keep them since Santa leaves them behind!). Maya's list includes dinosaurs, Transformers and "boy stuff." Zoe's list includes roller blades, ALL Webkins, and "more adoption and Chinese books." Like we don't have enough already!

The other night Zoe picked an adoption book for us to read for bedtime stories, and I teased her, saying, "Do we HAVE to read adoption books all the time?!" Her ready reply, "Mo-om (yes, the two-syllable Mom we're all so familiar with!), you KNOW how much these books help me!"

She cracks me up! Yes, I know how much these books help, but I wasn't quite aware that SHE knew. Of course, writing book reviews that include a "What I learned/How it helped" category probably has something to do with it!

So now I need a wish list -- what are your favorite children's books about adoption? I'd be especially interested in those published in the last few years, and those for the 9-12 age group.

German Priest Finds Live Baby in Manger

How's this for a safe haven?

BERLIN - A baby boy whose troubled mother laid him in the manger of a church
nativity in hopes that someone would find and care for him is doing well, police say.

Authorities in Augsburg said a priest was startled to find the newborn in the nativity scene on the altar of the Peter and Paul Church in the village of Poettmes on Tuesday. He immediately called an ambulance.

Police have found the 38-year-old mother. She said she gave up the child because she was in a "difficult personal situation," but hoped someone would quickly find the child and care for him.

The article goes on to say that the priest told a local newspaper that the church hopes to gather donations to help the woman care for her son, whom she has named Christian.

Monday, December 1, 2008

English Language Acquisition in Children Adopted From China

Way back in 2001, I participated in a study about speech and English language development in China adoptees. The results of that study, and some other studies as well, can be found at this website. Yesterday, I got an email from the researchers about a follow-up study: "The majority of children who took part in the longitudinal study are now in school, and we have designed a follow-up study to investigate more complex language and academic skills. Little research currently exists concerning longer-term outcomes for our children. Because of the data you provided as part of the longitudinal study, we have a unique opportunity to directly examine the relationship between early speech-language skills and later school-age language and academic abilities."

Too cool! We'll happily participate -- it will be interesting to see the results in the near future.

Another Adoption Corruption Story -- Vietnam

This article from Feb. 2008 reports on a baby trafficking network in Vietnam that bought and sold babies for adoption. The article then notes another network that allegedly sold babies from Vietnam in China:

According to Thanh Nien sources, some net-works are selling babies to China through the border near Mong Cai Town in Quang Ninh Province.

After three baby traffickers were seized by Hanoi police on Monday while transporting two babies and a pregnant woman to a northern province bordering China, another suspect was arrested on Tuesday, announced senior Lieutenant-Colonel Nguyen Manh Hung.

One of the detainees, 27-yearold Trinh Thi Nga, admitted guilt in receiving VND3 million by the leaders of a network to transport and sell babies at the border.

These networks usually approach young girls, mostly residing in the provinces of Ha Tay, Hoa Binh, Bac Lieu and Ho Chi Minh City, and offer to purchase babies at prices ranging from VND8 million to VND15 million.Babies can be sold in China at a price of VND15 million per female baby, and between VND25 million to VND30 million per male baby, reported Thanh Nien sources.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

China adoptee needs bone marrow transplant

Every time I hear a story like this, it strikes a chord of fear. When you have no information about birth family, no way to contact them, you have to worry about what would happen if your child needed a transplant. It's impossible not to personalize the story and feel overwhelming sympathy. Lydia's story also offers hope of finding birth family in China.

Five-year-old Lydia has leukemia and her American adoptive parents are looking for her biological family in China for a bone marrow transplant to save her life:
''We all knew that the chances of getting hit by lightning were probably greater,'' Mark said. ''It would be very unlikely for a child and a birth family to reconnect,'' Monica agreed. ''Very unlikely. Pretty much everyone said, 'It will never happen.'''

Everyone, it seems, except for one doctor-turned-detective at Akron Children's Hospital, who just happened to be from the same Chinese province as Lydia. Dr. Xiaxin Li, the new director of the bone-marrow transplant program at Akron Children's, was determined to find Lydia's birth family back in his homeland — and, in the process, to find a possible cure for his young patient.

''If they're a local family,'' he told Lydia's parents, ''they'll come forward.''

And now it appears possible that some of them might soon be coming to America to save her.
Read more here.

P.S. Here's a link to the family's blog.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's wishing you and yours Happy Thanksgiving and a life full of things to give thanks for! And as my Aunt Pat used to say, "I feel sorry for anyone who isn't us today!"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book Review: Mommy Far, Mommy Near

Book: Mommy Far, Mommy Near: An Adoption Story
Written by: Carol Antoinette Peacock
Illustrated by: Shawn Costello Brownell

Book Review by: Zoe (yes, that's Zoe writing out her book review!)

What this book is about: This book is about how a little girl named Elisabeth wondered about her birth family. Her mom explained about it [why her birth family couldn’t keep her], but she was still sad and frustrated. She made pretend phone calls and called her “far” mother. When she was at the park she saw a Chinese mother and her daughter, and it made her sad because it reminded her about her birth mother.

What I like about the book: I liked that you can dream about your birth family.

What I didn’t like about the book: I didn’t like when she saw the Chinese mother and daughter because it reminded me of mine. [In fact, Zoe had been reading the book to us, and at this point she asked me to read it, because it made her sad.]

How this book helped me: It helped me understand a little bit more about adoption. Like knowing it’s okay to be sad about adoption, because it’s hard to understand. And you can go over it more than one time.


Grown-up notes: When I first joined APC, the big internet discussion group for prospective adoptive parents, before I adopted Zoe, this book was being discussed. A lot of parents panned it because of the “two mommies” concept – some arguing that “mommy” should be reserved for the adoptive mom and some other term used for the birth mom. Others complained that talking about the sad parts of adoption would plant ideas in the child’s head. Some thought the comparison of the child’s adoption to the family’s adoption of a dog was inappropriate.

I bought the book anyway, because I bought EVERY children’s book about China adoption! But I put it up on my bookshelf instead of Zoe’s, because I was unsure after all that criticism. How dumb was I?! But in my defense, I will say it was in the early days of MY adoption journey. Now, I really like this book, and find none of the APC criticisms valid.

It’s not perfect – the adoptive mom says she was “too old” to have babies, for example. And the birth mother’s love for the child is presented as undisputed fact; I BELIEVE my kids’ birth mothers loved them, because I don’t know how you carry a child for 9 months and not love her, and because I believe they made loving choices in making sure the girls would be found. But I make a clear distinction when I tell my girls their stories between what I KNOW and what I BELIEVE, and this book doesn’t do that.

Still, I think the book does a good job of explaining the one child policy in terms a child can grasp. [Warning: it explains that the girl was the second child, and that the family had another baby before her.] And it gives great tools to use with a child struggling to come to grips with many aspects of adoption, both happy and sad. I like the pretend phone calls, for example, and role-playing adoption with stuffed animals.

In some ways the book seems a little scatter-shot, since it covers so much:

· mom and daughter have different eyes
· parents’ infertility
· adoption trip
· everyone’s happiness
· one child policy
· abandonment
· child asking mom to “adopt me”
· child adopting her stuffed animals
· family adopting dog
· child lying on mom’s tummy
· sadness & loss about birth family

Whew! If you’re looking for something comprehensive, this is book for you, but if you want to focus on one issue per book, look elsewhere!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Never Let Go

What do these events have in common?

1. Grandpa (my dad) ended up in the hospital on Thursday – he failed spectacularly at his scheduled cardiac stress test, leading to a jolly trip by ambulance to the hospital, an angiogram finding two arterial blockages in the heart, a successful angioplasty, and a three-night stay at Chez Plaza Hospital. Zoe was naturally very upset, worried that Grandpa might die. At one point she said, “The heart is really serious – it’s not like brain surgery!” (Apparently I was quite successful in playing down my brain surgery, and Zoe puts it on the same level as having a hangnail removed!)

2. Zoe tells me Monday that she had a bad dream the night before. She dreamed that I was driving and sideswiped a car and the police came and took me to jail.

3. Zoe tells me I’m not her real mother, as I blogged about before.

4. I dyed my hair, after 5 years of gracefully going gray. I used to color my hair regularly – I started going gray when I was 18! I had reddish hair when I adopted Zoe, and now I’ve gone back to that color (I can’t say my natural color since I have no idea what it is anymore!). Anyway, Zoe says the new hair color makes me “stranger mom.” [“Stranger mom” = “not-real mom”?] She also said, after I reminded her that my hair is the same color as when we met, that it makes me look eight years younger!

5. After our “you’re not my real mom” dinner, Zoe said, “Can I ask you a question about adoption?” Of course, I said. She started crying and asked, “Will I ever understand why my first family gave me away?”

Wow! That fear of abandonment is always there, and all it takes is an event like Grandpa being in the hospital to move it from background noise to the forefront, from chronic to acute. The dream, the real/not-real/stranger mom talk, the perennial why question, say the same thing: "Never leave me. Never let go. Even when I push you away (you're not my real mom), never let go." I can't promise not to die, but I can promise to never let go.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"You're not my REAL mother!"

Today we reached a milestone – Zoe said “You’re not my REAL mother!” She wasn’t angry; in fact, we were playing around at dinner. We went to Purple Cow Diner, and, as usual, Zoe and Maya wanted my French fries AND the leftover mayo from my hamburger to dip them in (yuck!). They were pretending that I was "mean mom" and wouldn't give them the food. I said something about what a nice mother I was to share my food, and Zoe said matter-of-factly, “But you’re not my real mother.”

I answered, “Is that so? Then who am I?” Zoe’s answer: “You’re not my birth mother.” “That’s true,” I said. “Is that what it takes to be a real mother – you have to grow in her tummy?”

Maya surprised me by answering, “No! You live with her and she takes care of you forever!” (How about that! She’s been listening!) Zoe then said, “But I didn’t live with you first and I won’t live with you forever, and when I’m a grown-up I’ll take care of myself.” I reminded her that even when I was a grown-up, Mimi took care of me after I had brain surgery, and then conversation became more general (they pretty much let you know when they're finished talking about something.)

A little later I held my hand out to Zoe and said, “Feel.” She felt my hand questioningly, and I said, “Feels pretty real, huh? Looks like you have two real mothers.” She laughed at that.

So it was a first, but I’m sure it wasn’t the last. And I suppose I still have the angry “you’re not my mother” to look forward to!

New Adoption After Disrupted Adoption

Last month when I posted about Jade getting a new family, I also posted a link to the blog of a family looking to adopt a Chinese girl whose original adoptive parents were relinquishing her. She's been with her new family for a week now if you're interested in following their story.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Did I Steal My Daughter?

That's the title of another provocative article about possible fraud in a Guatemalan adoption, and exploring concerns about coercion in relinquishments. An adoptive family seeks for their daughter's birth mother to assuage concerns that her relinquishment was not voluntary.

That night I was changing Flora's diaper. "Who's my girl?" I sang as I pulled the tab taut across her stomach. She pointed at her chest and laughed, her dimples creasing into pinholes. Then she reached up to tickle my chin. "Flora Beatriz," I cooed. "You are one beautiful kid." Hearing myself say her middle name took me aback. Beatriz [birth mother], I suddenly realized, had chosen it, the only connection to their brief life together.

And that's when it finally sank in: Beatriz hadn't made a "choice" in the liberating way that our post-Roe culture thinks about reproductive options. Like any woman in the developing world placing a child for adoption, she'd buckled under crushing financial or social pressure—perhaps even coercion. I'd considered this before, but had always batted the thought away by telling myself that Flora was going to be adopted, whether it was we who stepped forward or someone else.

Walter walked in, flushed and sweating from wrestling with the boys, who were now happily digging into bowls of applesauce. "She's getting so big," he said. "She'll be talking soon."

His smile fell as he saw me crying. "Did something happen today?" I nodded. "I think Beatriz wants us to find her," was all I could say.
* * *
i was working on deadline the afternoon Susi's email flashed on my screen, a month after we had hired her to find Beatriz. . . . Her email relieved us of two worries: Beatriz had been hoping we would find her, and she had not been coerced into placing Flora for adoption. She thanked us for making it possible to watch her child grow up. She missed her, prayed for her, and wanted Flora to know that not a day passed when she didn't think about her. She said that before the adoption she was a bubbly person. Now she kept mostly to herself.

I'd nurtured a vague notion of a faraway woman grieving for her lost child. But as soon as an image of Beatriz sobbing into her pillow materialized, my brain concocted a counter-narrative, a story in which she was healing from her loss. A story in which not having to raise the child I tucked into bed every night freed Beatriz in some way.

Then one evening not long after the email arrived, Walter and I spent our date night at a reading of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, an anthology that is a stirring and stern rebuke to the standard heartwarming adoption narrative.

Back in our car, Walter bowed his head. "We should give her back," he said.

I'd harbored the same thought, but the anguish on his face threatened me enough to push back. "We can't," I answered.

"Why not?" he countered. "It wouldn't take much money to support them."

"Because we are her family."

"She'd adjust."

"How do you know that?" It was an unconvincing dodge. We were friends with several families who had adopted toddlers; their kids were thriving. "How could we do that to the boys?" I insisted.

"We couldn't," Walter said.

"And how could we do that to us? I couldn't live with that pain."

"But why should Beatriz have to?" he asked.

So this presents another "what would you do" moment . . . .

What would you have done?

Here's the story of a brave woman who stopped a Guatemalan adoption when she became concerned that it was fraudulent:

Jennifer and Todd Hemsley had to give up their child to save her. Like thousands of other would-be parents, the California couple made a $15,500 down payment to a U.S. agency that guaranteed quick, hassle-free adoptions of Guatemalan babies. And like the others, they were caught in a bureaucratic limbo after Guatemala began cracking down on systemic fraud last year.

Many Americans with pending adoptions lobbied hard for quick approval of their cases, trying to bypass a new system designed to prevent identity fraud and the sale or even theft of children to feed Guatemala's $100 million adoption business. But Jennifer Hemsley did what Guatemala's new National Adoptions Council says no other American has done this year: She refused to look the other way when she suspected her would-be daughter's identity and DNA samples were faked.

She halted the adoption of Maria Eugenia Cua Yax, whom the couple named Hazel. And she stayed in Guatemala for months, spending thousands of dollars, until she could safely deliver the girl into state custody. Her decision could mean the Hemsleys — Jennifer is a freelance designer and Todd creates visual effects in the film industry — may never be able to adopt the little girl they nicknamed "la boca," or mouth in Spanish, in honor of her outsized spirit.

"It's so crazy. None of this makes any sense," Hemsley told The Associated Press. "I miss her deeply. There are no words." But she says it was the only thing she could have done, morally. "It wasn't even a choice. We did what I hope any parent would do: put their child first."

The Hemsleys say they had many reasons for suspicion. But the final straw was a doctor's statement that said DNA samples were taken from the baby and birth mother on a date when Hazel was with Jennifer Hemsley. She said her Guatemalan attorney told her, "Don't worry about it, you want the adoption to go through, don't
* * *
Prompted by the Hemsleys, Guatemalan investigators are trying to determine Hazel's true identity and have opened a criminal investigation into the people who vouched for her paperwork — from the U.S. adoption agency to Guatemalan notaries, foster parents, a doctor and the laboratory that said it collected the girl's DNA.
* * *
Guatemala's old, fraud-plagued adoption industry was still going full speed in June 2007 when the Hemsleys first held the 4-month-old girl. "It was magical and a gift, and a feeling beyond description," Jennifer Hemsley said.

But even before their case was turned over to the adoptions council, the Hemsleys were suspicious. The supposed birth mother disappeared after a brief meeting where she "had no visible reaction at all to the child," Hemsley said. Medical reports seemed obvious forgeries, without letterhead or doctor's signature. And during a critical hearing, Hemsley said, her Guatemalan advisers tried to pay a stranger to pose as Hazel's foster mother.

"Todd and I felt a lot like, 'Gee, is this really happening?' Maybe we should just look the other way and keep plodding along, because every time I tried to tell someone, nobody cared," Hemsley said. "I couldn't look the other way. I just couldn't turn my head."
* * *
If the Hemsleys had walked away, as hundreds of other Americans did after problems surfaced, Hazel would likely have been abandoned or reoffered for adoption under another false identity, Tecu [a fraud prosecutor investigating the case] said. Instead, Jennifer Hemsley stayed with Hazel for months, draining more than $70,000 from a second mortgage on their home and paying for a trusted nanny.
Finally, as a colleague of Ordonez threatened to take the girl away, she asked the adoptions council for a "rescue."

The new rules require authorities to consider Guatemalan citizens before Americans, and several dozen Guatemalan couples are in line ahead of the Hemsleys. But they aren't giving up yet. Jennifer Hemsley returned this month to Guatemala City, where she briefly held Hazel — now more than 19 months old — at a crowded orphanage. She emerged devastated. Crying and shaking, she said Hazel had open sores on her face and a cut on her head. Within hours, she managed to persuade authorities to transfer the girl to a better nursery while the case is resolved.

"I think about her every day," Hemsley said. "It's horrifying on many levels. It's
horrifying for Guatemalan women who may have missing children. It's horrifying
for adoptive families in the U.S. My parents are devastated over this. This affects our whole entire family, our friends, our neighbors."

It must have been an incredibly difficult decision. Do you think the family made the right choice? I do, despite the fact that it means the baby has been in limbo for so long. Any other decision would have condoned the fraud. But I don't know if I would have been as brave as the Hemsley family. I could only hope to have the courage to do the right thing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Immigrant Visas for Children to be Adopted

FYI, this article talks about U.S. visa rules for immigrating adopted children, as affected by the Hague Convention. It's on an attorney website, so consider the source -- they're trolling for clients! One interesting aspect of the Hague Convention, according to the article, is an expansion of the definition of "orphan" for visa purposes:
Under the old laws, an orphan was defined as a child who has suffered from the death or disappearance of both parents, or for whom the sole surviving parent is unable to provide proper care. Additionally, the traditional rules only allowed single mothers to be considered the sole surviving parent. Unmarried fathers would not be allowed to release the child for adoption.

The Convention definition of an adoptable child is much broader. Both parents or the sole surviving parent may consent to terminate their parental rights and allow the child to emigrate. The child’s birth parents may still be alive, but they must be incapable of providing care for their child. In considering whether the birth parents were “incapable of providing proper care,” all relevant circumstances would be examined based on local standards. This will include financial concerns, poverty, medical, mental, or emotional difficulties, or long term incarceration.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chinese Song From Mulan

Mei-Ling mentioned liking to hear Chinese nursery songs and the like, and I went to YouTube looking for some. The first thing that came up when I searched for "Chinese children songs" was this song from Mulan, in Chinese, with pinyin and English translation.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Poll Results: We're So Cultured!

I created the poll from 14 Ways to Focus on Culture, and wow, we seem to focus on culture! I've sprinkled some comments below, most of them China-centric, with apologies to children from other cultures. I'm including lots of links; if your child is from another country, please share your links in the comments!

1. Have a special meal from your child's culture once a month 10 (66%)

Several mentioned in the comments that they make Chinese food a more regular part of their family's life, and don't really focus on a "special" meal. That's what we do, though I am very admiring of Lesley who makes her own dumplings! The best I can do is find frozen ones at the Asian grocery store. If you're feeling adventurous, here's a list of Chinese recipes I've had bookmarked for a while!

I wonder, though, if we should add a once-a-month special meal from China. There might be some value in specialness, in terms of respecting Chinese culture and teaching about China. Maybe I'll get adventurous and try out some of those recipes . . . .

2. Celebrate holidays for your child's birth country 14 (93%)

Yes, we almost all do it -- mostly Chinese New Year and Autumn Moon Festival., I suspect And those are the most important holidays in China., so it is appropriate to focus on these. But there are others that are fun, too, like the Lantern Festival and Tomb Sweeping Day and Dragon Boat Festival.

3. Learn the language of your child's home country 12 (80%)

Wow! Eighty percent! That's great. I've learned a few words, but I don't think I'll ever be fluent. We had to get a tutor for Zoe since she's moved far beyond what I can help her with in Chinese School. In fact, while I'm typing I can hear Zoe and Daphne practicing in the dining room!

4. Display maps/flags/artwork from your child's culture 14 (93%)

Another thing we (almost) all do. I think we've got something Chinese hanging on the wall in every room in our house. It helps that I've been collecting Chinese stuff since my first visit in 1991. I think it's important to make sure it's in all parts of the house, not just in the child's room. After all, we display art from China in part to show that we like and respect Chinese culture, too.

5. Visit cultural websites to learn more about the home country 7 (46%)

Please share your favorite websites in the comments! TIME for Kids has a great China section, and China Daily has a "classroom" section for kids.

6. Play games from your child's culture 3 (20%)

Hmm, this one is pretty low -- why? I bet it's because we don't know many games from China. Here's a quick one -- everyone knows Rock, Paper, Scissors, right? Some say it was invented in China (at least, we couldn't play it without the Chinese since they invented scissors!). Anyway, in Chinese, you say "jen dow, shurr toe, bu." Pound your fist in the other hand 4 times -- jen dow shurr toe, and then reveal your rock/paper/scissors on "bu!" (That's my phonetic spelling, not pinyin!). Zoe learned this in China, and it really tickled me to see how universal Rock, Paper, Scissors is.

This link lists tons of traditional Chinese games.

7. Create crafts symbolic of your child's home country 10 (66%)

Another big group -- two-thirds of us do this. One of Zoe's favorite things is to make lanterns out of lucky red envelopes. Here are some links: Enchanged Learning, Artists Helping Children,
Chinese Childbook.

8. Read folk tales from the homeland 11 (73%)

There are so many GREAT stories from China! If I started listing what we have/read, I'd never finish this post! I'll content myself with two collections that may not be as familiar as others: Why Snails Have Shells and Tales From Within the Clouds. I like these because they include tales from the various minority groups in China. The Clouds book are all tales of the Nakhi minority group -- a group that is matriarchal, whose members do not marry, and which has no word for father! Hmmm, I wonder why that appeals?! OK, one more -- a modern folk tale from Kathy Tucker and Grace Lin (our favorite author/illustrator), The Seven Chinese Sisters.

9. Sing songs from your child's home country 11 (73%)

My girls have learned quite a few songs between Chinese School in the U.S., kindergarten in Xiamen, and TV in Xiamen. But sometimes I wonder about the authenticity. I remember watching someone's adoption trip video before I got Zoe; the guides said in English that they were going to sing an ancient Chinese folk song about two tigers. They start singing in Chinese, and it's obviously the tune to Frere Jacques! I had to laugh -- it reminded me of my French grandfather who heard "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and declared that it was a French song! If we stole Yankee Doodle Dandy from the French, I suppose the French could have stolen Frere Jacques from the Chinese! And sure enough, my kids have learned this song at Chinese School.

10. Learn about animals indiginous to your child's homeland 7 (46%)

One word -- Pandas!!! You can watch a live panda cam from Wolong Panda Preserve in Sichuan Province, and go to our Xiamen Adventure website to see our panda pictures!

11. Make a book about the country of your child's birth 4 (26%)

I'd love to hear from the 4 of you who've done this. I've been planning to do a China-themed ABC scrapbook for years and haven't done a thing but think of words: abacus, bamboo, chopsticks, dan dan noodles, eggrolls, fireworks, Guangxi Province . . . .

We did make a scrapbook of our panda photos -- does that count?

12. Join a group of families who have adopted from the same country 13 (86%)

I think we all see the value of doing this, though there are some limitations in terms of culture. Yes, collectively adoptive parents might be able to marshall more resources than any one of us alone, but we tend not to know that much about our child's culture, do we?

Click here for the National Families With Children From China website, where you can find info about local chapters.

13. Visit museum exhibits relevant to your child's culture 8 (53%)

We're lucky to have an Asian arts museum nearby, the Crow Museum in Dallas, which the girls love to visit. I find their gift shop just too dangerous! They do special camps in summer, but it hasn't yet fit our schedule -- maybe next summer. Their website includes great tips for visiting museums with young children.

14. Go on a homeland tour 5 (33%)

Less than a third have done this yet, but I bet a lot of you are thinking about doing it when your children are older. There's some great info in this article, Returning to China With Your Adopted Child, by Dr. Jane Liedtke, if you're considering it.

I hope these links are helpful; I certainly think it is important to teach our children about their birth culture. It is, of course, no substitute for the very real loss of culture that international adoption usually causes. What I aim for is a basic level of cultural competence so that my kids won't feel out of place in a group of Chinese-Americans. I hope I can achieve at least that minimal standard.