Sunday, August 31, 2008

"I Have a Dream"

Last week I was talking with the girls about the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. They wanted to hear it, so I found it on YouTube.

And then we had again the same conversation we have every January, when the schools celebrate MLK Day:

Q: Where would I sit on the bus, Mama?

A: It would depend, sweetie. In some places, everyone who wasn't white had to sit at the back of the bus. In other places, only those who were African-American had to sit at the back of the bus. But remember that those rules have changed . . . .

Q: I KNOW (in the Duh! tone of voice). That was a bad rule. I'm glad Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped change the rule.

A: Me, too. He and lots of other people worked hard to change those rules. They were very brave.

Q: I like sitting at the back of the bus.

A: Yes, I know, but the problem back then was that people couldn't sit where they wanted to sit on the bus. And you had to stand up and give your seat to a white person if he or she wanted your seat.

Q: So we couldn't sit with you, Mama?

A: I guess not (it doesn't seem to occur to them that I wouldn't have been allowed to adopt them at all in those days!).

Q: I'm glad they changed the rules.

A: Me, too, sweetie.

And through it all, Maya is serenading us with "The Wheels on the Bus!" No, she's not completely indifferent to the civil rights struggles of the '60s -- she's working up to the relevant verse:

The driver on the bus says

Move on back, move on back, move on back

The driver on the bus says

Move on back

All through the town

Rosa Parks says

I won't go, I won't go, I won't go

Rosa Parks says

I won't go

All through the town!

Sydney's Book Review

Book: I Love You Like Crazy Cakes
by Rose Lewis


My book is about a girl who is adopted in China and her story is alot like mine. I think she is a little girl who is loved very much by her Mommy. She is in the orphanage a long time and her Mommy came to get her. She felt very excited and sort of nervous at the same time when she got with her Mommy. She felt really secure and she knew that this was going to be a good start.

What I liked about the book was that it talks about adoptions. Since I was adopted, I really like it. I also think it is sort of part of my life when I read it. Sometimes it makes me feel very comfortable about what happened on that special day.

There's nothing really that I didn't like about the book.

I learned from the book that adoption is a very special thing to happen. That's it.

Thanks, Sydney, for being our first guest reviewer!

Regular Book Reviews

I'd like to make book reviews a regular feature on Adoption Talk, so if your kids want to participate, here's their chance!

Just send me via email (you can find my email address in my profile -- click View My Complete Profile to your right) the book info, the book review, and a photo of your child with or without the book (if you don't want me to put up a photo, that's fine too!). Make sure to include your child's name as you'd like me to use it (if you want first and last, just first, just initials, whatever you are comfortable with) and age.

Using the simple format I used for Maya's and Zoe's review would be great:

  • What the book is about
  • What I liked
  • What I didn't like
  • How the book helped me/what I learned

Any book that touches on China, race/ethnicity/skin color, family differences, family formation, or adoption would be wonderfully on point!

Maya's Book Review

A Mother for Choco
by Keiko Kasza

Review by MAYA (dictated by Maya, typed by mama)

What the Book is About: A little yellow bird who was looking for a mommy. He met a giraffe (that's your favorite animal, Mama!), and asked if she was his mother since she was yellow like him. But she said no, since she didn't have wings. Other animals said they couldn't be his mother since they didn't look like him. Choco was sad and cried. Mrs. Bear heard him and hugged him and kissed him and cheered him up just like a mommy would. But Choco thought Mrs. Bear couldn't be his mom since she didn't have striped feet or puffy cheeks or wings like him, and she wasn't yellow. But when he met her other kids -- Piggy, Ally the alligator, and Hippy the hippo -- he was happy that Mrs. Bear was his new mommy.

What I Liked About the Book: that Choco found a mommy.

What I Didn't Like About the Book: that the other animals didn't want to be Choco's mommy. They're mean, aren't they?

How the Book Helped Me: Choco found a mommy, and it didn't matter that she didn't look like him.

Zoe's Book Review

At Home in This World
by Jean MacLeod
illustrated by Qin Su

Review by ZOE

What the Book is About: A nine -year-old girl's adoption story, and needing pieces of her life that is like a puzzle. She was adopted from China and wonders if her face is like her birthmother. She thinks about her birthmother. Her story is a lot like mine. She loves her parents and wouldn't want another Family, but she thinks she'll always miss her birth family.

What I Like About the Book: That her story is like mine. She was adopted like me and she thinks about her birth family like me.

What I Didn't Like About the Book: Nothing!

How the Book Helped Me: By helping me understand that adoption is hard, and that it's OK to think about my birth family. Some people are mad that their birthparents let them go and some aren't. Some kids that are adopted don't mind that their birthparents let them go and some what to talk about it with their forever family. Some kids want to forget about how their birthparents let them go and just want to have fun with their forever family.

I don't want people to know . . .

Well, after assuring everyone that Zoe mostly didn't mind sharing her adoption story, she has to prove me wrong. At breakfast yesterday morning we were talking about the blog, and Zoe said, "I don't want people to know that my birthparents couldn't keep me." Zing! That's the heart of it, isn't it? Her birthparents couldn't (wouldn't?) keep her. That hurts, and if other people know that, then they might think there's something wrong with her, right?

I reminded her that her birthparents' decision was probably made before she was even born, that the one child policy, social preference for boys (I'm going to have to make up an acronym for that, I have to say it so often) made it hard for them to keep ANY girl born then. "Really?" she said, hopefully. "Really. You were only one day old -- they didn't really know YOU. You were just a teeny-tiny baby -- you couldn't do anything wrong." Really. We repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, until one day her heart as well as her head can believe it.

How it hurts her. And there's nothing I can do to erase the pain. But we can go to the roller rink with the FCC Older Kids group the very same day, and she can see all these beautiful girls whose story is much the same as hers. And she can laugh and fly around the rink, the embodiment of joy.

Project Implicit

Project Implicit is an on-line attitude assessment research project out of Harvard. You don't answer attitude questions, instead you do sorting tasks that reveal unconscious attitudes. It's kind of fun, and includes a wide array of subjects that are randomly assigned, including racism, sexism, ageism, nationalism, etc. I discovered that I'm a terrible ageist, so I'm working on that. I'm pretty balanced when it comes to race and national origin, but when sorting into categories of "us (undefined)" and "them (undefined)," I have a strong preference for "us." Hmmm. I wonder who "us" is?!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Blast From the Past -- Playacting

If you've clicked on the link for our Xiamen Adventure blog, you know that the girls and I lived in China for 5 months in 2007, while I taught at Xiamen University Law School in Fujian Province. We also had a chance to go back to Guiping and visit the SWI and the girls' finding sites. Zoe was 6 years, 3 months old; Maya was 3 years, 5months old when we arrived in China in February 2007.

Here's what I posted on June 9, 2007, 15 months ago, just before our trip to Guangxi Province, where they were born:

Zoe and Maya are big-time into playacting these days. I’m always hearing one say to the other, “Pretend that I’m . . . ,” and then the game is off and running. Well, we had a surreal game of pretend this evening. I was on the computer reading one of my favorite adoption poems – I bet you can guess why:

Your Chinese Mama

I kiss your pudgy cheek every night when you sleep.
I smell you and breathe you.
My heart and soul ache for her.
I know I am not as courageous as she.
So much love and hope for you,
she swaddled you and placed you in a box.

A manger to me.

I talk to her every night when I kiss your cheek.
I breathe your smell, and her soul.

-- Lynne Curran

I didn’t realize that Zoe was reading over my shoulder until I heard her say, “That’s a pretty poem. Why a box?” (It’s hard having a reader – you can’t spell things over her head any more and she can freely snoop into things she shouldn’t!).

I figured this was my opening to talk more about going to Guiping SWI, and going to her finding place. (I know most people advise that you consider going alone and not taking the child since you’re not quite sure what the finding place will look like. I don’t have that option since we’re not traveling with anyone I can leave the kids with. And from what I do know about their finding places it should be OK.)

We talked about the one child policy (which she’s heard me talk about before), and I told her a little bit more about the “grown-up rules,” including the fact that birthparents can’t just take the baby to the orphanage and hand her to Mr. Gan (all orphanage directors are Mr. Gan to Zoe) because they might get in trouble. So most birthparents try to put the baby somewhere where she will be found quickly and taken to the police station. (Zoe really likes police officers these days, and waves at the guards at the university gate each time we pass. And I wanted to mention the police station in case we get a chance to go there in Guiping.) The police officer then takes the baby to the orphanage, where the nannies take care of her until her forever family comes for her.

Now, we’ve talked about parts of this many times before, but I hadn’t really emphasized the finding part. I wondered what Zoe’s reaction would be, and then she said spritely, “I know, pretend I’m the birthmother . . .” and she was off and running to wrap one of her baby dolls in three layers of clothing and a little hat (this is part of her story we know) and put her in a cardboard shoebox. Maya got to play the part of the finder AND the police officer, and Zoe was also Mr. Gan, who took the baby and said, in a solemn voice, “I will name you Jin Yi Ling.” They were also the nannies who took care of the baby. I was instructed to write a letter to China, so I wrote, “Dear China, May I please adopt one of the babies who lives in the baby room? I promise to love her and take care of her forever.” Zoe, a.k.a. Mr. Gan, then answered the letter (we haven’t covered the CCAA part of this yet!), “OK, only if you take good care of her.” Then Mr. Gan knocked on my hotel room door (Maya was the door!) and handed me the baby. Big-girl Zoe then acted out the part of baby Zoe, by climbing in my lap and putting her head on my chest and falling asleep, as she knows she did on Gotcha Day.

And then we had to do it all over again, with each of us assigned different roles this time. I got to be the birthmother. Zoe was Mr. Gan again (I really hope we get to see him in Guiping, I think Zoe will be very disappointed if we don’t). Maya refused to be the door because she didn’t like being knocked on!

I’ve found that the hardest thing about being a parent is always questioning whether you’re doing the right things. I never expected to be so uncertain – I feel completely competent in my professional life, so why would I feel like such a dope when it came to child-rearing?! Well, this was definitely one of those moments. I’ve probably scarred them both for life. But it felt right, especially since Zoe was directing all of the action. But who knows. . . .

So after all this theatre, I asked Zoe what she thought about going back to Guiping. She answered, “It’ll be like going back to the very beginning.” Indeed.

How very much like scaffolding is "adoption talk." We lay a foundation, we build one story, we put up another layer, more solid than the first, always going higher, stronger.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Great Post From Adult Adoptee from Vietnam

One of my favorite adoptee blogs is Ethnically Incorrect Daughter, and she has a great post called Seeing Eye to Eye:

More than 30 years slipped away before my mother and I really discussed my
adoption. My earlier attempts were delivered in the form of sporadic, cautious hints. I would mention Vietnam or one of my writing projects in the hope it would develop into further discussion. However, only silence resulted, followed by her strategically changing the topic. Why did this have to be so difficult?

Baffled and infuriated by her continued reluctance, I had to accept that dancing on eggshells would get me nowhere. Direct confrontation would eventually be my only option. So during a recent phone conversation, I told her that I’d been researching my adoption history. She asked if I’d spoken to my father to which I replied, “Yes but I need to know what you have to say.”


“You know that’s all water under the bridge…” she began before I cut her off. My frustration had reached its peak, “Mom, I don’t want to do this anymore. Whatever it is, all I’m asking for is your side of the story.”

It really was that simple, which left me wondering why it had been so difficult in the first place. I’ve yet to fully understand why we never talked about my adoption in depth and still look back with great sadness. Establishing honest communication
lines between us might have prevented years of misunderstanding and offered
a more solid foundation on which to build our relationship. The silence fostered only presumption, frustration, and mistrust and led to more silence.

Click here to read more. Also check out her list of adoptee blogs.

Sharing/Not Sharing

A commenter (I know who you are!) posted: "Just on the way to school this AM Sydney said "there was a boy at school that asked me who my REAL Momma was." I said "What did you say?" She said "I told him she lives at my house." I replied to her that was true, and perhaps she could ask, in addition, "are you speaking of my birth mother?" She said "I am SO TIRED of people asking me that! If I tell him that, then I'll have to tell the whole story." As a parent the non-sharing concept has been difficult for me to grasp on my end, because I LOVE the "whole story." I want to shout out the "whole story!" But at Sydney and Zoe's age, they want a sense of alikeness and harmony - so I can see how developmentally she would find this classic non-adoptive person's question annoying. "

I couldn't agree more! As you can tell, I'm a "sharer!" Zoe definitely goes through phases with the sharing/not sharing thing, but tends to be more willing to share than I know Sydney is. Not only do different kids have different reactions to it, but even ONE kid can have different reactions to it! We talked about this blog, and whether it was OK for me to share her story, and she approved it. But she will also say sometimes that she doesn't want to share something, so I don't!

A great book to help empower both sharing and not sharing is WISE UP. It tells kids they have a choice about how to respond to questions they might find intrusive. They can:

  • Walk away
  • Ignore it
  • Share about their adoption story
  • Educate with true facts about adoption

Zoe and Maya attended a Chinese Heritage Camp this summer, and the curriculum included a WISE UP session. Zoe was telling me all about it afterwards, and I asked, "So what would you say if someone said -- 'That's not your real mom, she doesn't look like you'?"

Zoe's answer, "I'd say, yes she is my mother. But I also have another mother in China but she couldn't take care of me the way she wanted to, so she put me in a box so I wouldn't have to marry a boy and work for him." Huh?! (When I explained about the 1 child policy, social preference for boys thing, I explained that boys take care of their parents in their old age, but girls are expected to take care of their husbands' parents. I think she got it kind of mixed up with a book I got her to read for Women's History Month called, "If You Lived When Women Got Their Rights (yes, I'm raising a feminist!)." She was pretty incensed about the idea of a wife having to work for her husband and not having her own money. In fact, she asked me if Mimi had to work for Grandpa -- I explained that the book was talking about a long, long. time ago -- so when her great-grandfather died she asked if it meant that Alice, his wife who died before him, would now have to go back to working for him now that they were both in heaven!)

So Zoe's WISE UP answer was definitely SHARE! And maybe sharing more than the questioner expected! She shared the circumstances of her finding with a non-adopted friend (the put-in-a-box thing, which is for some reason a resonant fact for Zoe), who then shared it with her mother. Sure enough, I got a phone call from that mom! She was OK with her daughter getting a dose of the real world, but her husband wasn't thrilled.

I'm actually the one who introduced the idea that her adoption story was private, not Zoe! In kindergarten, she took the photo album from Maya's adoption trip to school for show-and-tell. We carefully marked with post-its the photos to show -- Zoe at the Great Wall, meeting her sister for the first time, etc. Zoe decided to share ALL of it: "And here's Maya's foster mom. . ." and then explained to the whole class the difference between a birthmom, a foster mom, and a forever mom (yes, I definitely heard about it from her teacher!). I could just imagine the dinner table conversations that night, and all these parents trying to untangle all of this for their kindergartners, and going, "Gee, thanks, lady!"

The Daddy Question

OK, if you've been reading the blog, you've probably figured out I'm a little anal and have an obsessive-compulsive research gene! I even cheated on my homestudy, researching answers to the autobiography ("How would you discipline your child?" I don't know, I haven't met her yet! So let's hit the books and learn everything there is to know about child discipline). Before I adopted Zoe, I had probably researched just about every adoption question a child could ask. I could talk glibly about the one child policy, intelligently explain the social preference for boys, expound on socio-economic issues in China that led to child abandonment, give a dissertation on racial identity formation, you name it!

But somehow or other, I didn't really look into issues surrounding single adoption. It seemed such a non-issue to me. But what was the first thing a child would notice? Duh! Maybe that our family didn't have a daddy like her friends' families did?!

The first time Zoe asked why she didn't have a daddy, I wanted to say, "Could we hold off on that for about 3 weeks? I need to order some books from" LOL! Somehow I didn't think that would work, so I had to wing it.

My answer: "Because I'm not married." It seemed to me that it made it about me and not about her. And at almost 3, that answer satisfied Zoe.

Around age 4, Zoe had a friend a little older than her who would pat her and say "no daddy,"in a sympathetic voice, every time she saw Zoe. So I'd answer, "Right. Every family is different. Zoe doesn't have a daddy, but she has a mommy and a Mimi and a Grandpa, and an Aunt Kim and an Uncle Phillip . . . . " Soon Zoe was answering that way herself when asked about a daddy.

By age 5, Zoe had come up with a "daddy substitute" answer. She said to me, "You know, I don't have a daddy. But Grandpa is LIKE a daddy, and sometimes Mimi calls him Daddy. . . ." That worked for her for a couple of years. The daddy issue became a non-issue for her.

Then last year when I had brain surgery and couldn't drive for 6 months, the daddy question resurfaced. Obviously, it was a scary time for the girls, and they were worried about what would happen to them if their mama died. And they weren't happy that I couldn't take them anywhere they wanted to go, and that we were walking to school instead of driving like their friends did (now that I'm driving again, Zoe is asking whether we can walk to school -- go figure!)

Zoe said to me, "If we had a daddy, he could take care of you when you're sick." Aww, isn't that sweet? She's concerned about ME! Hah! Next statement: "And he could drive us so we wouldn't have to walk." Aha! That's more like it, center-of-the-universe girl! I explain (again!) that it isn't that easy to get a daddy, that I'd have to get married, and it was hard to find someone to marry.

So for about six months, Zoe and Maya decided to play "let's find mama a husband." Her choices were inspired -- "you could marry Grandpa." Sorry, he's already married. "How about Uncle Phillip?" No, he's my brother. "Cousin Patrick?" Uh, he's 14 and he's my nephew?!

Now that I'm healthy and driving, the daddy thing has returned to the back burner. Wonder what will bring it to a boil next time?!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Don't Forget Earthquake Victims

It's been a little over 3 months since the devastating earthquakes in Sichuan Province, and I think it's started to pass off our radar just a little. We made donations when it first happened. For weeks afterward, Maya would bring me any change she found (she was so proud of herself when she "found" all this change in the car -- right in the place where I put all my change for tolls, etc!) and say it was "for the earthquake." Zoe got a little frustrated with Maya stealing her change, too, and yelled at her, "Maya, the earthquake is OVER! They don't NEED your money!" I had to explain that it was because the earthquake was over that money was needed!

But like many humanitarian crises, I hadn't thought to do anything about it lately. But then I got an email from Half the Sky Foundation reminding me that help is still needed.

Click here to nominate Half the Sky for a donation from American Express. It doesn't cost you a penny, and if Half the Sky is in the top 25, they will be able to help kids in refugee camps in Sichuan Province, kids orphaned by the earthquake. There are only 4 days left to try to move Half the Sky into the top 25

Or go to Half the Sky to make your own donation.

If you know of other organizations soliciting donations for earthquake relief, tell us about them in the comments.


One Child Policy Warning

When we were in Guilin in 2007, I saw this sign written on the wall of a small village outside Guilin. When I asked our guide what it said, she said casually, "Oh, it's just a warning to follow the one child policy or pay a big fine." Wow. The most surprising thing is how casual she was about it -- like that's just how things are, no big deal. But by the same token, she didn't point it out to us, a group of adoptive parents and children on a homeland tour. Surely she would have realized we'd be interested. Was it face saving not to point it out? A puzzle. . . .

Anyway, I knew THIS group of adoptive parents would be interested!

Adoption is Hard to Understand

A couple of weeks ago, we were eating breakfast at Whataburger. Maya was cadging bites of my biscuit smothered in sausage gravy (how very Southern of us!), and Zoe was rummaging in my purse for a pen and something to write on (she finds the cardboard-thingy they put in a package of tights, don't ask what it was doing in my purse!) A typical weekend morning for our clan.

Zoe is scribbling away, and I'm trying to get my fork back from Maya, and then Zoe passes me a note: "Adoption is hard to understand." Too many people around to talk about it, so I write back: "Yes, but it helps when you talk about your feelings." Zoe jots a short answer: "True Mama." I like that: is it "True, Mama" or is it "True Mama"?!

When we were at second-grade orientation last week, the school counselor was introduced. Zoe asked me later what a counselor was, and I was explaining that it was someone you could talk to about your feelings. "Ohhhh, like talking about my birthparents." Right!

I also reminded Zoe that her Mimi was a counselor (she worked with terminal cancer patients, not school children). Zoe's response: "So that's what makes her a great grandmother!"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Adopted: The Movie

Someone just posted about this new documentary on one of the adoption lists. It follows a 32-year-old Korean adoptee as she tries to connect with her adoptive family. One of the quotes from her is something like "the most dangerous thing I've ever done is raise the issue of my adoption with my family." Wow. The film also follows a family's wait to adopt from China. The DVD isn't available for sale yet, it seems. But it looks really informative and thought-provoking. I can't wait to see it! Check it out by clicking here.

Be sure to check out the Learn More section. There are great videos about racism, Asian-American stereotypes, being Chinese in America, transracial adoption. . . . Just really great stuff! Here's a really thought-provoking one:

"The truth is, she doesn't have to choose"

OK, the conversation is between mom and stepmom, but doesn't it speak to us -- adoptive moms and birthmoms?

I've worked really hard to make sure my kids know that there is room in their lives for mom and birthmom, they don't have to choose. Zoe has definitely taken it to heart. Shortly after we came home from China with Maya, we were driving in the car while Zoe earnestly explained to her sister, "I have lots of moms -- a birth, a grand, a god, and a regular. And you have a birth, a foster, a grand, and a regular. You'll get a godmom when you're baptised." LOL! I'm regular!!!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Olympics

We all had a great time watching the Olympics, especially so with the games in China. The girls loved it when the TV showed places in China that we'd been to.

About the third day of the games, Zoe had a question for me: "Mama, when the U.S. and France are competing, who will you cheer for?" (My mom is from France). She didn't ask who she should cheer for when China and the U.S. competed, but I figured that was really the gist of her question.

The question is really difficult in many ways. I remember attending a lecture by Iris Chang, the author of The Chinese in America and The Rape of Nanking, not long before her tragic suicide (I feel fortunate to have met her and to have her autograph The Chinese in America for Zoe). One of the things she talked about was growing up Chinese in America. She specifically mentioned being asked the question -- "Will you cheer for the U.S. or China in the Olympics?" -- and her feeling that people never saw her as American enough. (BTW, I recommend highly The Chinese in America -- very informative and very well written. I think China adoptive parents sometime emphasize culture in China to the detriment of teaching our kids about the Chinese immigrant experience and the history of Chinese in America.)

Still, in answering Zoe's question, I went for diplomacy: "Well, I think I'll cheer for both of them to do their best, and then cheer loudly for whoever wins."

That seemed to satisfy her, and she cheered lustily for the U.S. and for China throughout the Olympics. She was especially thrilled with Nastia Liukin's all-around gold medal in gymnastics, and wants to go to the parade to be held in Liukin's honor this weekend (oh, joy!).

Monday, August 25, 2008


I've added a poll to the right, asking about how often you and your child(ren) talk about adoption and adoption related issues. I know the choices might be a little limited, but feel free to expand on your answer in the comments to this post! I'll do other polls from time to time, and if there's anything in particular you'd like me to ask about, let me know!

Too Many Secrets -- No More Secrets

Anyone remember the movie, Sneakers, about hackers looking for the ultimate code-breaker? I always think of those lines from the movie -- "TOO MANY SECRETS" pre-code-breaker and "No more secrets" post-code-breaker -- when I think about old and new advice about adoption.

Up until the 1950s, the standard advice given to adoptive parents from social workers was to keep the adoption secret. SWs used matching rules -- creating great similarity between the adopted child and adoptive parents -- to make it easier to keep the secret. Race, ethnicity, hair color & texture, skin tone, eye color all had to match. More incredibly, it was thought important to match religion (yes, many newborns have a religion!) and social class (poor children to poor families, middle class children to middle class families, etc.). Adoptive families were advised to move after adopting a new baby so that new neighbors would easily accept the child as a birth child. Mothers were told to pretend to be pregnant prior to the adoption, or to leave town for a time and return claiming to have given birth to the adopted child. All of this was thought to protect the child from the stigma of adoption and illegitimacy.

The "Too Many Secrets" school of thought seems pretty silly and quaint to us these days; the new advice is to be open and truthful about adoption. It doesn't always happen that way, though. I teach an Adoption Law class in law school, my students mostly in their 20s and 30s, and I am always being approached by them and told about the secrets and lies in their adoption stories. One student wasn't told she was adopted until she was 16, another not until she was about to get married. One student was adopted by his biological aunt, and not told she was not his birthmother until his birthmother (whom he thought was his aunt) died. One student described suspicious behavior by her mother -- including but not limited to refusing to give her her birth certificate for a passport application and insisting on sending it in herself -- that made her wonder if she was adopted. She wanted to know how to look up records, and I suggested she talk to her mom first. Sure enough, when confronted, her mother confessed she was adopted.

And then there are the lies. One student was told she was born in Houston, TX, and adopted there. When she was an adult, her parents told her she was actually born in their small Louisiana town; they told her the Houston story so she wouldn't always wonder whether she was seeing her birthparents in their small town. One student was told her birthparents were married, but too poor to raise her. She later found out her birthmother was young and unmarried; the adoption agency was the one who lied, saying they were trying to protect her from the stigma of illegitimacy.

We're talking here about adoption in the 1970s and 1980s! Unbelievable!

The students who shared with me uniformly expressed anger at their adoptive parents, confusion, and love for their adoptive parents. Most described their feelings using the word "betrayal." Happily, all of them were able to forgive their adoptive parents. A few, though, said they still had trust issues involving their parents. (Duh!)

No possibility of secrecy with transracial adoption, huh?! I consider that a really good thing! (Though I am always surprised by the folks who ask, in front of my kids, "Do they know they're adopted?" I'm playing with a variety of answers, none of which I've had the nerve to give yet: "They do NOW -- thanks a lot!" or "No, they're STUPID!")

I'm sure some people think we talk about adoption TOO MUCH in our family. It's hard for me to believe that one could talk TOO MUCH about adoption when it is such a central part of my kids' identities. No, it isn't the sum total of their identities, but it is formative. I have no control over what the girls will think or how they will feel about their adoptions in the future. But I do have some control over how we lay the foundation for that future.

So here's the new rallying cry: "NO MORE SECRETS!"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Sibling Question

In the comments, Wendy mentioned that her daughter is sure she doesn't have any siblings in China. That was one of the things we had to deal with recently.

We all know that the one-child policy is really a two-child policy in many parts of China. And we know that the mostly likely children to be abandoned are second daughters -- a family that has one daughter can try again for a boy, but if that second child is a daughter they have met the quota and can't try again for a boy. Unless, of course, that second daughter disappears . . . .

(BTW, Kay Johnson's book, Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son, is great, in explaining the second daughter phenomenon and Chinese public opinion about abandonment and adoption. It isn't terribly well-written -- it reads like a string of articles in Population Control journals (which is what it is!), without any editing. So there is considerable redundancy. But the information is priceless, and well worth slogging through the poor editing. I hate saying anything at all bad about the book, because I hope ALL China adoptive parents will read it, but the truth is the truth!)

Anyway, when we started talking about why Zoe's birthparents weren't able to parent her, or any child, I started searching the internet for new books suitable for an older Zoe. (I swear I have every children's book about adoption, but most Zoe has kind of grown out of). I found a terrific one: At Home in this World, by Jean MacLeod. It has a great age-appropriate (age 7-11, I'd say) explanation of the one child policy and the social preference for boys. And then it says: "I might have been born a second daughter and my birthparents might have felt they needed a boy."

Zoe was reading the book, and when she came to this line, she asked what they meant, "second daughter." So I explained about the two-child-policy-if-the-first-is-a-girl, reiterating what we've already talked about the social preference for boys. I said, "The girl in the book is wondering if she might have a sister in China. Zoe said immediately, "I already have a sister -- Maya." I agreed, and then I said, "We don't know for sure, but a lot of girls who get adopted from China might have older birthsisters in China. So you might have an older birthsister in China."

Zoe SLAMMED that book shut and thrust it away from her, clearly rejecting the idea that there might be a sibling in China. She definitely wasn't able to deal with that idea.

We've talked more about it since then, and she's gone back to read the book all the way through. But the possibility of siblings in China is still bothering her, I think. Part of it is that feeling of rejection -- why would they keep that baby and not me. And part of it is that the list of what we don't know about her birthfamily keeps getting longer. I'm sure we'll be talking more and more about it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fiction or Non-Fiction

My mom gave Zoe a spiral notebook yesterday, and last night Zoe asks if I could help her write a story in it. "Well, what do you want the story to be about?" I ask. "I don't know," is her response. "Do you want it to be fiction or non-fiction?" They learned the difference in first grade and Zoe loves that she knows the difference.

Zoe says, "I want it to be about my birthparents, but I don't know what to write since I don't know their names or where they live or what they look like. So that makes it hard to write non-fiction." "I can see how that makes it hard. How does that make you feel?" "FRUSTRATED!"

(I almost expected to hear a "damnit!" after that word -- a close family member who will remain nameless has a tendency to say "damnit," and Zoe picked up on it when she was around 3, and I'm trying to explain to her why she can't say it without saying this beloved family member was saying a bad word. At one point I say, " So-and-So says this word when she's frustrated." Zoe looks me dead in the eye, and says completely dead-pan, "I'm frustrated. Damnit." So much for explanations! Next I said flatly, "It's a bad word -- you can't say it EVER!" But I digress . . .)

She doesn't want to talk any more about her feelings. She's hunched over, the perfect posture of cold shoulder. I suggest, "We could make a list of what we do know about your birthparents. We know they lived in China, for example." "That won't work," Zoe says in disgust, "the list will be too short." She doesn't even want to try. She doesn't like my suggestion that she could write a fiction story, using her imagination to write about her birthparents.

Finally, she decides the story will be titled, "The Year I Was Born," and she's going to tell it in pictures instead of words. She draws a baby and a dragon -- "I was born in the year of the Dragon." She says she doesn't know how to draw a person holding a baby "like this," with her arms in an oval in front of her -- her birthmother carrying her. She's definitely losing interest in this topic.

She's off to other things, and the story goes unfinished. . . .

UPDATE: In the comments, Sue suggests an approach I like a lot:

Well,maybe it's too subtle for a 7-year-old, but there is something
in-between fiction and non-fiction that could be the basis for a story someday.
You could start out making a list of things you know, some things that could be
true (birth family members probably have similar appearance, abilities, etc.),
and then some things you wish were true that could become the fictional part of
the story. It might show that there is more known than you think. For example,
both my kinds can curl their tongues, so we know that someone in their
birthfamily must be able to do that too (as I think that is inherited). Trivial
detail, but it is something we know to be true, even though we don't know their

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Birthdays and Birthparents

Zoe started making her own lifebook -- she picked out the pictures and wrote the captions -- this summer as we talked more about her birthparents. She says in her book: " On my birthday I think about my birthparents and how they are wondering how old, tall, and big I'm getting."
Birthdays have long caused Zoe to think about her birthparents. Just before she turned 3, she said to my mom, "On my birthday, my birthmom puts candles on a cake and sings me happy birthday." I had never said anything like that to her, so it was definitely her own idea. And she shared that with my mom completely out of the blue - -they weren't talking about BPs or adoption or China or even birthdays!

Birthdays are a pretty common time to think about birthparents, I imagine. I know I think about Zoe's and Maya's birthparents on their birthdays; like Zoe, i'd like to think they are remembering these girls. I find myself trying to send vibes to them to let them know how wonderful and happy their birthchildren are in their new family.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The adoption story

The adoption story we tell always starts like this: "You grew like a flower in your birthmother's tummy until it was time to be born. Your birthparents couldn't take care of you, so . . . . " (I can't take credit for the "you grew like a flower" line -- it comes from one of our favorite books,
Over the Moon, by Karen Katz. I love to use stories to discuss "issues" with my kids!).

Well, for the first time, in June, Zoe asked WHY -- "WHY couldn't my birth parents take care of me?"

Like most of these things, the question came out of the blue -- we had just come home from somewhere, and Zoe and Maya had immediately fallen to the floor of the family room to play "Warriors," a game involving a cadre of knights and Polly Pockets standing in for the princesses. I followed into the family room a bit more slowly, and Zoe looked up at me and asked the WHY question.

I admit, I was surprised. We talk about her birthparents fairly often, she is sad that we don't know who they are, but she's accepted the "couldn't take care of you" line for years without question. But I guess it was about time. From what I've read, age 7 is a pretty common age for that big question.

I answered, "Well, sweetie, since we can't ask your birthparents, we really can't know exactly why they weren't able to take care of you the way a parent would want to. We can only make some guesses based on what we know about China. Do you want to look at your lifebook, and talk about what some of the reasons might be?"

(I'm a HUGE proponent of lifebooks -- more about them later, but look at Beth O'Malley's site for the BEST info about lifebooks.)

Zoe said yes, so we pulled out her lifebook and talked about China's one child policy and the social preference for boys. Zoe didn't have much reaction, but I knew we were no where near finished talking about this!

Who are we?

I'm Malinda, and I'm a single mom. Zoe was adopted at age 11 months from Guiping SWI in Guangxi Province. Our forever family day is October 9, 2001. Maya was adopted at age 18 months from Mother's Love Orphanage in Nanning, Guangxi Province. She was originally from Guiping SWI, which is a very cool thing for the girls to have in common. Maya was transferred to Mother's Love when she was 2 months old because she was not doing well, weighing less than 7 pounds at 2 months of age. She spent 8 months at Mother's Love and then 10 months iwith a loving foster family. Our forever family day is March 15, 2005.

Zoe is now in second grade, loves to read and swim. She takes ballet and gymnastics. Maya is in her last year of preschool, loves to play pretend and do anything big sister does. She also takes ballet and gymnastics. They both attend Chinese School on Saturday afternoons.

Why? Why? Why?

First, why this blog? Our family talks about adoption A LOT! It seems that almost every day my girls or I mention something about their adoptions, their birthfamilies, their caregivers in China. My oldest, Zoe, aged 7, began asking questions almost as soon as she could talk, and this summer has really grappled with the loss of her birthparents. My youngest, Maya, aged 4 (turning 5 in less than 30 days now!), has not asked as many questions -- part of that is that she hears Zoe's questions and my answers, part of that is her laid-back personality.

I process things by writing about them, so I thought I'd get back to blogging (I blogged about our 5-month sojourn in China last year -- see Xiamen Adventure) to help me examine how we do adoption talk and how to do it better. I'm hoping for lots of comments about how other adoptive families are talking about adoption, too.

So, if you want to listen in on our adoption talks and share your adoption talks, too, keep reading!