Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Foster Families

An adoption list I'm on has been talking about foster families, and I was reminded of this photo of foster moms at Mother's Love Orphanage. We had adopted Maya 3 days before, and had returned to the orphanage to meet her foster family and tour the orphanage. All the foster moms were kept in one office with a small window in the door. Adoptive families and foster families were brought together one at a time in another office.
I took this picture as we were leaving Mother's Love after our meeting with Maya's foster mom and foster sister -- other foster moms were standing on tip-toe straining for one last glimpse of their babies. through the small window. I can never quite get that sight out of my mind.
You can read about that first visit with Maya's foster family here.

Language and Culture

Mei Ling's challenges with language learning (see here, here, and here) brought to mind this post from last year, as Zoe tried to "be Chinese" while we were in China:
"I wish I was Chinese." This has been Zoe's frequent lament lately. The first time she said it, I replied, " Well, since you were born in China and since your birthparents are Chinese, you are Chinese -- and American, too." But when she said again today, "I wish I was Chinese," this time I was smart enough to ask, "Well, what makes someone Chinese?"

Zoe's answer, "You have to speak Chinese."

"So would I be Chinese," I queried, " if I could speak Chinese?"

Zoe said, "Yes, you would."

So there you have it -- we can ALL be Chinese!

But on a serious note, Zoe's a pretty smart cookie to have figured this out. Maybe ethnicity and birthplace are not not enough to make one Chinese. Here, without language and culture, she is American. And in America, because of her appearance, she is seen as Chinese and perpetually foreign . . . .

Our children adopted from China are really betwixt and between, aren't they? Not fully Chinese to some, not fully American to others. That's really why we're here, to give Zoe and Maya a chance to feel Chinese. I suppose I'll know that the effort has paid off when THEY feel fully Chinese and fully American, no matter how others might choose to label them.

Even at age 6, Zoe understood the centrality of language to culture and identity. And the loss of language is another adoption loss.

Google Trends -- Adoptee Search

Very affecting post about Google Trends at Gershom's blog:

Have you ever used “Google Trends?”
I discovered it this week, and I think its pretty cool. Its this type of search engine that allows you to type in a word or phrase and it will list the top countries, cities, states etc. that search for that term or word the most. It also gives you this map of peak times during our history that the term has been searched for. Of course, I type in “Adoptee.” I was absolutely shocked to see the results but, in reality it makes a lot of sense now that I’ve thought about it.

The Answer is….

Region who searched for “adoptee” the most: South Korea.
City who searched for “adoptee” the most: Seoul
The language its searched most in: Korean

So really I guess its no surprize. You can say that we pretty much know its not adoptive parents searching for the term “adoptee” in the Korean language, in Seoul, S. Korea. Maybe its a few adoptees, but I’d bet that its a lot of natural mothers/
fathers and siblings of the thousands of Korean adoptees residing in the United
States. It looks like its searched for, more than double of that in the United States. I bet if China didn’t censor their internet, they’d be right up there too if not the leading search.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Zoe's Adoption Talk II

Here is Zoe's latest for the blog. She wrote it up in the car on the way to our friends' house. She has lots of questions and some advice to share!

Questions: Why is adoption hard to understand? Why does our birthparents let us go? How come we don't know our birthparents? Do our birthparents wonder about us? How do they know when our birthday is? Are they wondering how old we are? Are they wondering how big we are getting? Does anyone else who is adopted wonder about adoption, too? Do you wonder about adoption, too? Do you know stuff about adoption? Can you tell and help me with adoption whenever I ask you?

Advice: If you wonder about your birthparents then I think they wonder about you, too. They might even think the same things you're thinking. End of Advice.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ranching family has an amazing herd

Yes, that's really the title of this article about a family who has adopted 15 kids from "other lands." It's in our local newspaper. Opening paragraph:

If the State Fair of Texas sets attendance records this year, it can thank Jay and Suzanne Faske.Their entire family will be traveling to Dallas.

No "maximum capacity" signs are posted on the hearts or the home of this
cattle-ranching couple from Burton whose selflessness and generosity led them to orphanages in Kazakhstan, China, India, Russia and Colombia, where they adopted 15 of their 17 children, some with special needs.

Another gem from the article: "Rachel, born with club feet and a dislocated hip, was rescued at age 3 from a Chinese orphanage." And then how about this: "A part of Jay Faske felt compelled to intervene on behalf of this little one — if they didn’t save him, who would?"

OK, I'm not dissing this family. They seem quite amazing. The media, on the other hand? I'll happily diss.

Any advice out there for dealing with the media when interviewed on adoption stories? How to avoid having it come out with the yucky rescue narrative?

UPDATE: Syd's mom asks how to contact the reporter: It's David Casstevens, email address is dcasstevens@star-telegram.com

Learning Chinese Culture

Nice article on the importance of Chinese cultural learning for children adopted from China.


Fungible: being of such a nature that one part or quantity may be replaced by another equal part or quantity in the satisfaction of an obligation; interchangeable.

I’ve been away from the computer for 24 hours – always a challenge for my particular addictions, emaileosis and bloggeritis. We went to visit friends who live in a small town outside of Fort Worth. K., the son of my college roommate, was playing the prince in a community theatre production of The King and I (great examples of colonialism -- I loved it when Anna suggests dressing up the king's wives in western garb for the visiting English, and then agrees with the king's suggestion to paint their faces paler so they'll look more English).

K was really terrific, and we loved our visit there. The girls just love K, and his brother C. The poor boys were completely worn out from the girls’ antics! In fact, C declared he wouldn't last two days if the girls were there permanently! Are all girls this age fascinated by teenage boys? Zoe and Maya are just insatiable with all their teen cousins (K & C count as cousins, too!).

But, of course, the big danger of knowing me is that EVERYTHING is blog-fodder! This visit is no exception!

It was funny when we walked up to buy tickets to the show, and I saw Chinese characters -- longevity, good fortune – decorating the table. For a minute, I couldn’t figure out why they were there – maybe left over from the Autumn Moon Festival? And then it hit me: oh, yeah, Siam! The play is set in Siam (Thailand), so there are Chinese decorations, what could be more obvious!? My friend, who has lived in Taiwan and Singapore, warned me before the play started that the costumes were a weird mix of China and India. Sure enough, the saris outnumbered the qi paos, but NOTHING looked Thai.

It’s not like there was anything unique here, lots of people figure all Asian culture is fungible. I'm sure you've seen it, too -- kimonos called Chinese, for example. Other than the real basics, I’m not sure how good I am at differentiating among Asian cultures. But at least I recognize that the cultures ARE different!

Remember when the on-line “faces” quiz came out, challenging people to differentiate between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean faces? Well, they’ve expanded it to include food, architecture, art, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (the girls won’t stop with the etceteras, since the King said it over, and over again!). Check it out! I’m pretty good at faces and food (their "pretty good" category allows for LOTS of mistakes!), and lousy at everything else.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Poll: Discussing Skin Color

I'm curious about how transracial adoptive parents describe skin color -- their own or their child's. The idea for the poll was spurred by Zoe's choice of dark brown marker to color her skin for her self-portrait. It's been my experience that my kids see their skin as darker than it really is. I wonder what that's about?

Has your child asked what color her skin is? Mine have. Two resources we've used to discuss it is The Color of Us by Karen Katz and Multicultural Crayons from Crayola. What has helped you explain?

Friday, September 26, 2008


After dinner this evening, Zoe came to me very officiously with her legal pad and pencil and asked if we had time "to talk about adoption." Of course! So we talked, and she's working on a blog post about sad things and happy things in adoption. Don't know when she'll finish, Miss Perfectionist that she is, but I'll post when she decides it's ready!

In an attempt to give Maya equal time -- always difficult with dominant-conversationalist Zoe in the mix -- I asked her if she wanted to talk about adoption, too. "No," she said, "It makes me feel . . . (I'm anticipating what the word will be -- sad? mad?) . . . boring!"

OK, so what DO you want to talk about? "Birthdays!" And that means all her past birthday parties, not her actual BIRTH DAY!
Here's her favorite birthday picture -- her first birthday in China. She calls it her "balloon birthday." We know it's her first birthday from the date on the photo -- but I don't know if the balloons were for her, or if they are decorating a car for a wedding. I don't tell her that, though!)We don't know who the other girl is -- her foster mom just said "a neighborhood girl."

Parent-Teacher Conference

Today was Zoe's school's mandatory 15-minute Parent-Teacher conference -- as usual, 15 minutes wasn't near enough time to discuss ANYTHING! Zoe's teacher had nothing but positives to say about her (even the negatives were positive -- she works too quickly and is TOO helpful! Oh, do we know about those tendencies!), and I appreciated a chance to find out a little more of what's going on in the classroom. No surprise, Zoe's talking adoption there, too!

Even before going in the classroom, I had a chance to see some of the kids' work displayed in the halls. Zoe's autobiography included her birth in Guangxi "Profince," and the fact that she thinks of her birth parents every day (she told me when the class started working on the autobiographies that she wasn't going to say anything about adoption, because she didn't want everyone to see that hanging in the hall; it seems she changed her mind). Her self-portait was interesting, too -- she used dark brown marker for her skin. But then again, so did W.H., a little boy 100% Caucasian.

The other work up on the wall was based on a book the class had read about an English family emigrating to America "back in the day." The kids wrote pretending they were emigrating, with great descriptions of their voyage. Most of the kids followed the book, and came from England. Zoe's voyage began in China!

Zoe's teacher shared with me the few times Zoe talked about her adoption and her different family. At the very beginning of the year, when the teacher was trying to get to know the students, she asked them to share something she didn't know about them, and Zoe popped her hand up to share with the class, "I don't have a dad." I was surprised to hear that -- she has said before that she doesn't want her friends to know that. Zoe has also written prayers about her birth parents several times (this is Catholic school, so they write out prayers in Religion class.)

It was also funny to hear from another mom what HER daughter has heard/understood from Zoe about her adoption. M. tells her mom that I'm not Zoe's REAL mom, I'm her step-mom, and that Zoe's mom left her and Zoe is going to go back to China to find her. Mom had a time trying to explain that I'm not Zoe's step-mom!

I was happy to hear the teacher's opinion that Zoe seems really grounded when it came to her adoption, and that her current interest in her birth parents isn't interfering with her school work or her relationships at school. I've felt the same thing, but it's good to hear from an objective observer! Zoe's teacher was also very receptive to receiveing more information about dealing with adoption in the classroom, which pleases me. So I'll be putting together a packet for her -- probably more information than she ever imagined!

And I've used this post as an excuse to share Zoe's school picture from this year. She's getting so big! I always have to tell myself she photographs older than she is -- would you guess she's only 7?!

Blech! How Did I Miss This the First TIme Around?

A "retro review" of a 2005 episode of "The Simpsons," called Goo Goo Gai Pan, where Selma adopts a baby from China. Sounds like they trotted out every known stereotype about China and adoption.

I don't watch the Simpsons, but I can't believe there wasn't some outcry from China adoptive parents about this episode. How did I miss that?! What was I doing in 2005? Oh, yeah, adopting Maya. . . . I missed a lot that year!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Letters to Santa

Now THIS appeals to me! Though the open records issue does not impact me as an international adopter, I heartily support legislation in the American states to provide original birth certificates to adoptees. If you watched the "Vital Records" video (and even if you haven't) and are ready for a bit of activism, here's a very, very simple way to help:

WANTED: Letters to Santa

Adoption Reform Illinois wants to raise public awareness that adult adoptees cannot legally obtain an original birth certificate in Illinois.Those who should write letters are:


birth parents

adoptive parents

relatives, i.e. spouses, children, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and those who have found an adoptee on their family tree

friends who are aware of the need someone is feeling to have an original birth certificate

Letters should be addressed to:

Santa Claus
% Mary Lynn Fuller
109 W. Illinois St., Apt. 506
Urbana, IL 61801

Letters can be signed with just a first name or your full name. Just keep in mind that your letter could be selected to submit to the news media.

Although Christmas is a few weeks away, write now. "Santa" will deliver the letters to Vital Records in Springfield before Christmas.The more letters, the better!

Example letters but please use your own words:

1)Dear Santa,All I want for Christmas is my original birth certificate. 50 years ago when my adoption was finalized, it was sealed. I have family and friends who were not adopted and they have their OBC.Sincerely,Mary (last name optional)

2)Dear Santa,All I want for Christmas is for my wife/husband/ sister/brother/ daughter/ son/ niece/nephew/granddaughter/grandson to have their original birth certifcate. Thank you,Mary (last name optional)

3)Dear Santa,While tracing my family history I've discovered that my great-grandmother was adopted. All I want for Christmas is her original birth certificate so that I can prove lineage to join societies.Thank you,Mary (last name optional)

4)Dear Santa,My friend Sandy is adopted and has been denied her original birth certificate. All I want for Christmas is for Sandy to have it.SincerelyMary (last name optional)

Vital Records

I show this video in my Adoption Law class, and students find it very moving. The lack of information in China adoption makes me very sympathetic to American domestic adoptees who want their original birth certificates. I'll post later about a simple way to get involved in the campaign for open records, but wanted to give you some background about it first! The actual documentary starts right at the 5 minute mark in the first YouTube video.

Books, books, books for kids!

Cool website with bibliography of Chinese and Chinese-American books for kids and a bibliography of books with adoption themes.

Info about lots of other cool children's books, so look around!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Birth Siblings Searching?

At Jane's Blog, she is translating into English Korean-language posts to GAIPS (Global Adoption Information & Post Service) board of first families looking for adoptees. I clicked today and read:

148. Looking for my younger sister
I’m looking for my younger sister who was adopted right from the hospital. I assume that in the spring of 1981 or 1982 she was born in in Kyongnam Province, Jinju City at “Yang Maternity Home.” I don’t know which agency she went through or where she was adopted. I want to know.Father’s name is Jin Wi-chang, mother’s name is Kim Gap-yoon.
Please do a favor and help me.

This is how I always thought it would work for finding families in China -- it would come from siblings. The older sister who remembers when her baby sister disappeared. The younger brother whose birth was permitted because his sister was abandoned. This is the generation that will leave the countryside, the small villages, the farms, and head for the bigcity. They will go to college and trade school, they'll learn about computers, they will learn English, they will have some disposable income. And they will wonder about those family stories of the disappeared. And they'll post on a family searchboard:

1357. Looking for my younger sister.
I'm looking for younger sister, born 2000.11.06.Parents placed her that day near Beijiang Bridge in Guiping.They put her in a cardboard box, wrapped in three layers of clothing, with little hat. They left note with birth date.I don't know which SWI she went through or where she was adopted.
I want to know.
Please do a favor and help me.

1587. Looking for middle sister.
Eldest sister and I, youngest brother, look for our sister. She was born 2003.09.15 at Guiping Women & Children Hospital. Parents were unable to pay hospital fees for sick baby. I don't know which SWI she went through or where she was adopted.
I want to know.
Please do a favor and help us.
DiDi & JieJie

How long did it take in Korea? Thirty years? If nothing else works, maybe my kids will have this. . . .

`Little Emperors' Surprise China Elders With Work at Olympics

Interesting article, made more interesting by the inclusion of only girls as well as only boys in the discussion of "Little Emperor" syndrome:

China's pampered, 20-something "little emperors'' surprised the nation with their hard work during the Beijing Olympics and the May earthquake that killed an estimated 87,500 people --showing that they may, after all, be capable of leading China to superpower status instead of just to the mall.

Since the 1980s, China's rapidly developing economy and policies limiting many families to one child created a generation of 200 million young men and women with unprecedented wealth and opportunities. In a nation with a tradition of conformity and a recent history of political radicalism, the "balinghou'' broke with both, spawning visions of adults obsessed with money, unable to stay married and negligent in caring for aging parents.

"Given another 10 to 15 years, the country will be in their hands,'' says Chen Xingdong, chief China economist at BNP Paribas SA in Beijing. "Are they perfect? No, but actually they are far better than people's original perspective.''

The balinghou -- literally "post-80s'' -- were born between 1980 and 1989 at the confluence of two massive social changes: the government's decision in 1978 to abandon isolationism and develop a market economy after the Cultural Revolution, and the adoption in 1979 of restrictions that reduced the average family from 2.9 children to 1.3 in urban areas by 2004.

Click here for more.

Comments on Poll Results: What parts of the adoption story have you discussed with your child?

Wow, I thought the poll results were really interesting! Here are some thoughts:

Only 23 people voted – the last poll had over 70 voters. Why is that? Non-voters might not be adoptive parents, or they might be adoptive parents who haven’t talked about any of these things. I hope it’s the first option.

Not surprisingly, all but one of us have talked to our children about the “gotcha” moment. Of course! That’s the really fun part of the story to tell, and it’s the part our young children love to hear. FYI, I used “gotcha” on the poll because it’s such a well-known term, but we don’t really use it. Zoe objected to “gotcha” because it made her think of monsters lurking in closets, waiting to jump out at you and say “GOTCHA!” So we celebrate Family Day – the day we became a family. Because of the way it happens in China, that just means it's the next day, because that's when the adoption is finalized. What does your family do?

Eighteen people – 78% -- have talked to your kids about birth parents; I think that’s great, but I’d have loved to see 100%! Even if you think your kids are too young, I think it’s a good idea to start talking about birth parents, China families, first family, whatever you decide to call them, really early. It gives you practice before your children get what you’re talking about, and then you’ve opened the door in case your child IS thinking about them long before she/he says anything to you, or long before you think they’re at that developmental mark. I’m continually surprised at how early my kids reached all the big WHY questions – why don’t I have a daddy, why doesn’t our skin match, why didn’t I grow in your tummy, why didn’t my birth parents keep me – LONG before the books said they would! You can introduce birth parents really early and really simply, even if you don't have much information about them. Our story starts like this: "You grew like a flower in your birth mother's tummy until you were ready to be born. Your birth parents gave you your beautiful golden skin and your beautiful dark hair, and your beautiful dark eyes." How have you incorporated birth parent information in even early conversations with your kids?

I was a little surprised that less than half of the respondents had talked to their kids about their birth. I’d really encourage parents to include this part of their child’s story when they tell the adoption story. Adopted kids who don’t hear that they were born might feel that there is something abnormal about them, and might see us as ignoring their life before we met. I started out simply when my kids were very young, saying, as I said above, “You grew in your birth mother’s tummy until it was time for you to be born.” In their lifebook, I've written, "It takes a man and a woman to make a baby. Your birth mother and your birth father were the man and lady who made you! Every child is born, so you were born!" What does your "birth" conversation sound like? If you're not talking about birth, why not?

Less than half have talked about China’s one child policy, and less than one-third have talked about the social preference for boys. Why is that? It might be that you think your children are too young; I first talked about it with Zoe when she was 4, and that was only because we were going to China to adopt her sister, and I wanted her to hear something about it from me in case someone else decided to talk about it in front of her. Our first in-depth conversation was when she was 6, and we were about to visit her finding place in China. And then this summer, we’ve talked about it a LOT. Maya has been hearing about it since age 3, but I’m not sure how much she gets. Or maybe you’ve adopted from some country other than China – amazing how China-centered the poll turned out when I really didn’t mean to! But then, less than half talk about other reasons birth parents might have for placing a child, and that would give non-China adoptive parents to chime in, and not many did!

Less than half have talked about citizenship; one of the reasons we have is because of our return trips to China. My kids know about their American passports, and we have pictures in their albums of us standing before a U.S. flag conveniently placed outside the door of customs and immigration at LAX, and we say, “And THAT’S when you became an AMERICAN citizen!” I’m glad we’ve had that conversation, because they are talking about citizenship in Social Studies in Zoe’s second grade class this year, and I know another child in the class who was born abroad asked about whether she was an American.

So, did the poll responses surprise you? Are you doing the same thing others are doing in telling the adoption story? What are you doing differently? I’d love to hear from the 11 who talk about things not on the list!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

China issues new rule to better protect rights of illegally adopted children

News article about new CCAA rules to mitigate negative effects of illegal domestic adoptions in China.

China has issued a new policy guideline that will ease the law on illegal adoption and better protect rights of the adopted children, China Daily reported Wednesday.

The legal rights of these children are currently not guaranteed such as permanent residence of a city, schooling and inheritance.

The guideline, jointly issued by five ministries and made public on Monday, allows people to register their illegally adopted children without fear of punishment.

UPDATE: Brian Stuy at Research-China.org offers his perspective on this article.

Which is the spoof?

This or this?
I know which one is supposed to be the spoof, but "Angels of Adoption?" I thought my head would explode reading it! Their story seems to be "we paid a lot of money and were guaranteed a child. How dare CIS look at our fitness and think that a VERY RECENT DUI of which we are not at all guilty or embarassed or feel we need to explain makes us questionable to adopt. So we called up politicians who got the CIS person fired, and that has now given hope to other adoptive parents who figure that connections matter more than fitness. That makes us ANGELS!"

Sorry for the snark, but I know which of the two stories makes international adoptive parents look worse, and which one will do the most damage long term.

What if we got a divorce?

Last night at dinner, Zoe says, "Did you know M's parents are getting a divorce?" M is a school friend, and yes, I knew. "Why do people get divorced," Zoe asks. I explain the best I can and finish up by saying, "Getting a divorce is a grown-up problem, and it doesn't have anything to do with what kids do. Even though M's parents are getting divorced, they still love her and will always be her parents." Zoe immediately made the connection: "Like my birth parents couldn't keep me for grown-up reasons but they're still my parents." Right! And here I thought we WEREN'T talking about adoption!

Then this morning, after dropping Zoe at school, I'm driving Maya to school. She's talking about "Bambi," the book she decided to take to school for her teacher to read (My kids laugh at me because I won't watch "Bambi" or read the book because it makes me cry! The little savages.). We veer between Bambi's mother's death, to Little Foot in the "Land Before Time," whose mother dies, "but his grandparents take care of him." I'm kind of gearing up for a "what if YOU die" question that never comes.

Instead, Maya asks, "What if we get a divorce?"

"I'm not married, sweetie, so there isn't any divorce," I say.

"NO! WHAT IF??? [Maya hates it when I fight the hypothetical -- you'd think I'd be more sympathetic about it, since I hate it when my students fight the hypothetical!] One conversation I distinctly recall -- "What if God was dead?" she asks. I respond, "But God isn't dead." Immediate response from Maya: "NO! WHAT IF????" I'm trying to figure out a response to that theological/metaphysical conundrum when Zoe, thankfully, answers for me: "Jesus would be very sad because God is his father." Whew, that satisfies Maya, so I dodged a bullet that time!]

Maybe I can get away with a clarifying question: "What if WHO gets a divorce -- you and me?"

"YES! What if we get a divorce?"

Ohhhhhh! Now I think I know what this is about. "Moms and kids don't get a divorce! I'm your mama forever and you're my daughter forever."

Next question: "Will we always love?" Shoot, I did say maybe people get a divorce because they don't love each other any more.

"Oh, yes," I say. "I will always love you forever and ever. Even if I'm mad, even if I'm sad, I'll always love you (these are familiar words to her, I always say them when they've gotten into trouble somehow!)" By this time we're at school, so I tickle her and say, "You can't get rid of me that easily -- I'm yours forever and you're mine forever. You're STUCK with me, so there!" She laughs and laughs, and into school we go. She happily settles in for the day, and barely glances back at me as she waves goodbye, our special wave with a sign-language "I love you."

See, it's not just hard stuff like adoption we talk about. Sometimes we talk about divorce and the death of God. ARRRRGGGHHHHH!

Comments for "It's Not Fair"

Blogger won't allow comments when I embed a video -- don't know why! So if you want to comment on the "It's Not Fair" clip, do so here!

"It's Not Fair"

From Adopted: The Movie

Monday, September 22, 2008

ADOPTIVE parenting -- a balancing act

All parenting is a balancing act, but adoptive parenting is just that much more challenging, isn't it? Or at least it's challenging when it comes to adoption talk! I just came across this great post, Lies and truth both hurt, so tell the truth (click, then scroll down to last post, dated August 02, 2008) from Margie at Third Mom -- here's a taste, but read the whole thing:

It’s complicated, isn’t it? Navigating these waters is challenging - more challenging than pretty much anything I've faced so far.

To start with, there’s the challenge of finding the truth. . . .

Then there’s the challenge of knowing what to do with the truth if you can find it. There are certainly adoptive parents, probably even adoption professionals, who still ascribe to the notion that we should protect our children from painful truths. I hope that these are few and far between, but my guess is there are more out there than I’d like to think. . . .

One of the things that’s completely absent in the information my family has about our children’s first parents is what they want our children to know about them. The information we have is delivered entirely in the third person, and was certainly not written by our children's parents. I know now that much of it is pure boilerplate: the same awkward translations appear in the files of many children adopted at the same time. Meaningless statements based on meaningless information make it far too easy for adoptive parents to fill in the gaps. I honestly think it’s impossible for APs not to spin the information we share, positively or negatively. Much as we may try to keep to the plain, simple, truth, the risk of filling in blanks in an effort to assuage our children’s sadness or to bind them closer to us is always present. . . .

It’s like walking a tightrope, blindfolded, with my children balanced on my shoulders. I’ve taken steps I hope are sound, and so far we’re still standing. But if I go down, they come with me - and they deserve much, much better.

Is that ALL you talk about?!!?

Did you notice that I added a few words to the header? After saying we'll be talking adoption here, I added: "That's not all we talk about -- but reading this blog, you'll think it's all we do!!!!!"

I suspect we are pretty ordinary in what we usually talk about. With Zoe this morning, for example, it was whether she wanted to wear a jumper (her usual school uniform) or just uniform shorts so she wouldn't have to change for PE, how to spell reconciliation (Zoe's first reconciliation workshop (first confession for you non-Catholics out there, was yesterday), whether school would be more fun this week since achievement tests were over, and whether her ribs still hurt (ribs?! Zoe woke up at 5 this morning to tell me her ribs hurt -- not her tummy, not her uterus this time(!), her ribs). With Maya, the morning's conversation was about what she wanted to bring for show-and-tell (a bag of "crystals" Aunt Kim gave her for Christmas), what I should pack her for lunch, why Zoe wasn't wearing a jumper, and when Alia could come over to play. Any different from your morning conversation?

Admittedly, it could have been a morning where Zoe told me a dream about her birth parents or where Maya asked whether "those people we met in China" were her birth parents or her foster parents (I'm never sure if she's trying to get the words straight or trying to get the concepts straight). But it wasn't, so the "A" word was never mentioned!

So, here's to assure you that I don't bombard my kids with adoption talk all the time! Nor do they bombard ME with adoption talk all the time! Think about how much time you spend reading about what my kids are saying on this blog (as opposed to what I'm thinking/writing about!). Maybe 20 minutes? Now spread that out over a day/week/month. Not that much adoption talk, huh? Consider the three weeks between adoption book reviews from my kids -- in between, we've read MANY more books NOT about adoption than books about adoption!

I'm trying to keep the blog focused pretty narrowly on "adoption talk," because I don't see too many other blogs out there doing so. I'm not going to share generally the cute things my kids say (though they say some amazingly cute things!), our incredibly boring (to anyone but us!) activities (ballet, gymnastics, ballet again, birthday parties, sleepovers, school drop-off, school pickup, anything school-related in between), my incredibly boring work activities (talk, talk some more, read, talk, talk some more), because there are a gazillion blogs out there doing it better than I could!

Hmmm, I'm sounding pretty defensive. Maybe the next poll should be "Do you think Malinda and her kids talk about adoption: a) too much; b) not enough; or c) just enough?!" But that'll only work if you tell me what I want to hear! LOL! In any event, stay tuned, same Bat-time, same Bat-station, for more adoption talk -- but first, the joke Maya told me yesterday:
Knock, Knock
Who's there?
Ya who?
I didn't know you were a cowgirl!
(Gales of laughter -- from Maya, not me!)
Imagine, not one word about adoption!

I've searched . . .

. . . with no success. When we were in Guiping in June 2007, we visited Maya's finding site -- the Women's and Children's Hospital of Guiping. That's the gate above, and according to Maya's abandonment certificate, she was found at the gate.

I've never fully accepted that, and I'm not exactly sure why. I had random pieces of information around which I built an alternative scenario. 1. She was found on the third day after her birth -- the day women and babies are released from the hospital following a birth in China. 2. At age 2 months, she was only 6 pounds and "not doing well." 3. She might have been a preemie. 4. If parents can't pay hospital fees, or are unwilling to pay fees for a girl child, they sometimes walk out and leave the baby behind. 5. [I didn't know this at the time -- I discovered it only after getting a copy of Maya's orphanage file -- but it supports my theory!] Maya was only 4 pounds when she was found.
I think it's possible that Maya was born in this hospital, in the labor and delivery unit pictured above. I think it's possible she never actually left the hospital. She might have been a preemie, or sick, or both, requiring expensive care beyond the means of her parents. Or, it could be she did leave with her parents, but was abandoned at the gate.
So when we visited, I asked our guide to help me track down any information about girls born at the hospital at or around the date we have for Maya's birth. I said he should tell them that since Maya was now my daughter, I felt responsible for paying any medical bills she incurred at the hospital, and that I would pay them if given proof that she was born there and cared for there.
Well, we got shuttled around to three or four different offices, each seeming to be higher in the hierarchy. But the answer was the same at each office -- that information was private, and could not be released without an order from the police department or a judge. One of the higher-ups, though, did say that finding a child at their gate did not mean they were born there. He said many people abandon children there because they know the child will receive good care. So my theory might be just that -- theoretical.
And that was that. No more information than there is water in this fountain! I didn't try for a court order or a police order. Maybe that will be my next step.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Should you search?

Adoptive Families Magazine has two articles on-line about birth parent searches in international adoption

In Searching Questions by Skila Brown, the new trend in openness in international adoption is examined:

It's the same old story. Told time and time again. Parents often choose to adopt internationally because of a desire for distance between the birth family and their own. And then the child comes home. And they find themselves desperately seeking the people of whom they were once afraid.

Having an open adoption is one thing. But trying to open one that was originally slosed is another. Add in differences in languages and customs across international
borders, and the situation becomes extraordinarily complex. And yet, growing numbers of U.S. families are making contact with their children's birth families.

In Searching for Birth Parents by Carrie Howard, she cautions:

The decision to search for birth family should not be made lightly. Often family
members, including spouses, question an adoptive parent’s desire to search. A
search may be difficult or unsuccessful, and a successful search may uncover
painful information. . . .

Initiating contact with the birthparents of a minor is also somewhat controversial. Many adult adoptees feel that initiating contact with birthparents is the child’s prerogative, not their parents’ decision. They note that the decision to search, and the searching itself, can be important to a child’s quest for identity. . . . “Not every
adoptee wants to search.”

At the same time, parents must consider that the window for a search may be open for only a short while. “The risk in not searching is that the trail will be cold when the child has a need to know one or two decades later,” says [an adoptive mom who searched]. “Dire poverty leads to transience. Both of my daughters’ birthmothers have moved several times in the last decade.”
So what do you think? Would you search if circumstances suggested some likelihood of success? What should be considered before making the decision? Would you hold off until your child is an adult and can make the decision himself or herself? What would you do if you thought it possible to find information for one sibling but not for another?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Is it possible?

Is it possible to find birth parents in China? Brian Stuy says yes:
In summary, locating birth parents in China is possible if the circumstances are right. Private finding locations such as residences and small stores have a high degree of success. Finding locations in small villages also bring a good degree of success. Seeking local hospital records might provide information, but these inquiries must be made quickly before records are archived or destroyed. But adoptive families must also remember that even when the search proves successful, the birth parents might leave the discovered door closed and locked, unwilling to allow the connection to be made.

Jane Leidtke says yes:

I have watched the faces of the parents who attend my talks about “What’s in an
Orphanage File” as they listen to what information is inside (and sometimes not inside) the file. I see interest and agony as we discuss how information in the file can lead to finding the abandonment site. We sigh a collective sigh of grief when we discuss the notes and messages found within the files. And, I see huge tears fall from both moms and dads as I share the story of one family who followed the trail and how that trail led them down a special village path, to the door of their daughter’s abandonment site, to the people who found her and that those people know her birthparents.

I remember talking to Adam Pertman, author of Adoption Nation and director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a few years ago, and bemoaning the fact that it just wasn't possible in China to find birth parents. I can still hear his answer echoing in my ears: "That's what they told Korean adoptees thirty years ago. You want to bet that in thirty years we'll find out that the government of China knows much more about birth parents than they're letting on?" What an intriguing thought!

So, perhaps it could be done. But should it be done? How does one decide? I'll post more later, but your thoughts right now?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Book Review: We See the Moon

Book: We See the Moon
by Carrie A. Kitze

Review by Zoe

What this book is about: This story is alot like mine because someone asks the same questions like me. Like why did you leave me? Do you remember me? Do you think of me? It is also like mine because the person who wrote it [actually, the narrator] is adopted from China like me, and wonders the same things I wonder.

What I liked about the book: I liked it because the person who wrote it feels the same way I feel. I liked the part about birth parents looking at the same moon as me.

What I didn't like about the book: NOTHING! I wish it had asked one more question I wonder about: do you have a picture of me?

What I learned/How the book helped me: The questions helped me because then I know that someone else wonders about adoption.

Sad, Sad, Sad

Parents Put Baby Girl Up For Sale
A COUPLE in Henan Province allegedly put their newborn daughter up for sale online for 55,000 yuan (US$8,088) because they were not married when she was born, the provincial Dahe Daily reported yesterday.The pair were held Thursday by police when they arrived on a campus in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou to exchange the baby for cash, the newspaper said.

Police detained them for nvestigation and sent blood samples for DNA testing to determine biological parentage. Under Chinese law, trafficking in women and children carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison. The presumed father was identified as Zhuang Zuoxian, 26, and the mother was his girlfriend and former classmate Zhang Huihui, the newspaper said. They graduated from Zhengzhou University in 2005.

The baby was born 46 days ago.

Police said the couple alleged their parents had not permitted them to marry. Children born out of wedlock in China do not automatically get a hukou - a kind of residence permit that entitles a person to schooling, health care and other benefits. The father allegedly told police that without a hukou the child would have many problems and would face strong social disapproval, so he decided to sell her.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Zoe Talks Adoption

Adoption is hard to understand because you don't know who your birth parents are and you don't know why they let you go and where they live and their phone number and address. Ex: You might be wondering about adoption and what adoption is, well adoption is when you get born and your first parents give you away. End of example.

I think about my birth parents like every day. You too might be wondering about your first parents, too, just like me. If you do, here is some advice, some things that help me:

1. Talk about your feelings, like

  • Talking to my mom about adoption so I can understand more about it.
  • Thinking about my first parents in my dreams at night and then I can explain to my mom on the way to school the next morning so she knows.
  • Explaining to my mom about how sad I am so she can understand how I feel.
  • My mom telling me it's okay to be mad and sad about being adopted. I don't have to be happy about it all the time.

2. Go to live in China like a real Chinese girl, going to school and walking everywhere. You can even go visit your orphanage and see how they loved you and took care of you.

3. Even if you don't go live in China, you can learn about China so you can understand more about your China family and why they couldn't keep you.

4. Reading stories about adoption helps, and reading my own lifebook helps too. I liked making my own book about my first parents and my adoption, and writing about my feelings in it. You can use your imagination to draw pictures of your first parents.

5. I like being with kids like me, adopted kids and Chinese kids, because they might have the same feelings I have. But they might not, too.

[OMG -- I promise, every word is Zoe's! She wrote this out yesterday while waiting for her ballet class to start, and I had no idea she'd written it until she showed it to me today and asked if I could post it on the blog. Yes, she did it as a numbered list, I just reorganized it a bit and combined a few things for ease of reading. I'm in awe -- Zoe, Born Blogger!]

Book Review: Little Miss Spider

Book: Little Miss Spider
by David Kirk

Review by Maya

What this book is about: Little Miss Spider is born and her mother isn't around. She is trying to find her mother, who she thought looked like her only bigger. Betty the Beetle helped her look. Miss Spider decided Betty was her mom because she loved her and took care of her.

What I liked about the book: That Little Miss Spider found a mom.

What I didn't like about the book: That the bird was about to eat Little Miss Spider. But it was okay because Betty saved her.

How this book helped me/What I learned: A good mom is one who takes care of you forever.

Remember, we are always on the lookout for guest reviewers! Send a photo (optional!) and the review via email and I will happily post it!

Is it Really That Simple?

Great blog post at Shadow Between Two Worlds, an adult Asian adoptee who is blogging to help educate adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents. MeiLing also blogs at The Original Heping.

During a summer ago, I used to baby-sit my neighbour’s kids. . . . S and her brother J often remind me of the innocence and natural curiousity of kids (although I was never into Barbies), and so we don’t really have any ’serious’ discussions.Until one night, when I was tucking her into bed and she was telling me about her family portraits and fun events. . . .

S:Hey, ML, do you know what skin colour we are?
ML: Hmmm? O.o
S: What colour am I?
ML: White.
S: Oh. And Mommy and Daddy?
ML: White.
S: E’s white too, and so is J, right?
ML: Yeah.
S: *sits up in bed and looks at me, slightly puzzled* You’re not white, are you? What colour are you?
ML: I’m brown.
S: Oh. *pause* Then what colour are your mommy and daddy?
ML: They’re white. But they’re my parents and they love me too. *is debating on whether or not to mention adoption*
S: *smiles* Why are they white and you’re brown?
ML: *hesitates* Because… I had another set of parents but they couldn’t take care of me. So my mommy and daddy are my parents and they take care of me.

I find that what I said - in order to keep it age-appropriate, especially for a child who hasn’t been adopted - tends to echo the view by so many (prospective) adoptive parents, even today - before they’ve adopted.

This post isn’t meant to target parents; rather, I dwelled on it for a long time before actually writing it out, as it has been something that nagged at me for several weeks and questioned me to think, “If adoption is so complex, when we simplify it, are we minimizing our own emotions and thoughts involving it because we are afraid to go any deeper and face the truth?”

* * *

Isn’t that what the average adoptive parent tells their child - that their mother loved them so much but couldn’t take care of them, so another set of parents stepped in to take care of that child? Which of course may very well be the closest to the truth that a child can understand.
But is it really the final truth?

* * *
But when an adoptive parent tells their child “she loved you so much she gave you up”, of course they need to keep it simple and direct for their child’s understanding, but are they persuading themselves to think like that as well?

* * *
In a way, when I told S that my parents “loved me but couldn’t keep me”, a part of me felt stifled, as though that child (in me) that had been told “Your mother loved you so much she gave you up” yet again - as if I was internally telling myself to “be quiet and stop making this more of an issue of an internalized issue than you have to.”

It is not that simple, and as I approach adulthood, it has grown far more complex than I ever imagined.

Read more here. Very thought-provoking, isn't it? Adoptive parents of our era are so lucky to be able to hear the voices of adult adoptees, to learn from them what our children may experience as they grow older.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Child Savers

Adoption grew and spread in the U.S. during the nineteenth century as an outgrowth of benevolent societies established to care for poor and neglected children. "Saving children" often meant removing them from poor birth parents so they could live with parents of a higher class. There's a great documentary on one of the most ambitious projects -- the Orphan Trains -- where the New York Children's Aid Society, headed by chief child saver Charles Loring Brace, loaded trains headed west with poor children (not all of whom were actually orphans) to be adopted by midwest farmers needing an extra field hand.

I hate it when I'm seen as a "child saver." I'm sure you've all had the experience, the people who say, usually within earshot of your child, how LUCKY the child is to be adopted. You probably have the same pat answer that I have -- "I'm the lucky one!" There used to be a dean at the law school where I teach who always mentioned I'm an adoptive mom to HUGE groups of people -- graduations, student orientations. He'd list my degrees, scholarly interests, etc., just like he'd do for all faculty members, and then he'd say how wonderful I was to have adopted a child from China. ARGHHHH! Yes, I'm far more noble than my faculty colleagues who merely gave birth to their children!

And I know when a Child Saver gets media attention that I'll get more comments about what a hero/saint I am. That's why I hated to hear Cindy McCain's speech at the Republican National Convention:

It was after that I was walking through the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh,
surrounded by terrible poverty and the devastation of a cyclone. All around me
were the children and the desperate faces of their mothers. The pain was
overwhelming, and I felt helpless.

But then I visited an orphanage begun by Mother Teresa, and two very sick little girls captured my heart. There was something I could do. I could take them home, and so I did.

Today, both of those little girls are healthy and happy. And one of them you just met
tonight: our beautiful daughter, Bridget.

Much is expected of a country as blessed as America, and our people are at work all over the globe making it a better planet, doing their part.

I can't count the number of people who have talked to me after that speech, telling me about how Cindy McCain saved Bridget, eager for details of how I saved my children. I got a little irritated with someone yesterday (it always works that way -- it isn't what this one person said, it's what the dozens before him said) who compared me to Cindy McCain. My response: ''Look, I was interested in becoming a mom. If I'd been interested in saving a child I'd have just sent 30 cents a day and settled for the letter and picture."

Probably not the best way to handle it! At least my kids weren't around. . . .

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Belly Buttons and Birth Parents

I loved Carol's idea of incorporating the belly button in the adoption story, how your belly button connected you to your birth mother, and how you can remember that every time you look at your belly button. So when Maya asked last night at dinner (we went out to celebrate her birthday) for me to tell her "about all my birthdays," I thought I'd work that in. I didn't get very far, though. I said, "Five years ago today you were born in China, and that's what make's today your birthday. You were connected to your birth mother in her tummy until it was time for you to be born." Maya interrupted, "NO! Not about THAT! Tell me about the balloon birthday!" (We have a picture of her first birthday in China (she was with her foster family then), and she's standing next to a bunch of balloons). Hmm, not willing to go there, it seems. So we talked about her first birthday party (balloons is all I know), her second birthday party (teddy bear picnic in the park), etc. Just the parties, ma'am!
While we were talking, Zoe was scribbling on a napkin. She drew a picture of a birthday cake and wrote "Happy Birthday" -- a card for Maya. I was pleased to see that, since Zoe had been pretty rotten to Maya all day, since Maya was getting all the attention. Then Zoe wrote out the questions, above. I'm sure my mention of Maya's birth mother spurred the note, but I'm enough of a cynical mommy to think she was also yanking my chain to get her fair share of attention!

New Poll!

When you talk adoption, what are you talking about? That's the idea behind the new poll. Please check all that apply, and use the comments to this post to explain more!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Poll Results: How often do you talk about adoption?

So, what do y'all think about the poll results? A majority of visitors (53%) talk about adoption with their kids nearly every day, while the next largest segment talk about adoption every few weeks (33%). Seven percent hardly ever talk about adoption with their kids.

So how do you rate yourself? Do you talk about it enough? too much? not enough?

If you feel you're not talking about it enough, what is keeping you from talking about it? Some reasons I've heard through the years:

  • my child isn't interested or gets upset
  • I'm nervous about what to say
  • I'm afraid to say the wrong thing
  • I don't want to plant ideas in my child's head
  • I guess I'm still dealing with infertility issues
  • I'm waiting for her to ask
Anything else keeping you from talking adoption with your kids?

I know a poll like this is pretty artificial, because for most of us the answer is probably "it depends" -- sometimes it's all the time, sometimes it's hardly ever.

Anyone surprised by the results of the poll? If so, what surprised you?

I'll be getting another poll up in the next few days. If you have some ideas you'd like to see polled, let me know!

Dear Birth Mother, Dear Foster Mother

They tell us Maya was born today; you know for sure, her birth mother. Is today the day you think of her? Are there any days you don’t think of her? She was only 4 pounds when she was found. Was she born early? Had she been sick? Is that why she was taken to the Women & Children’s Hospital and placed at the gate? Did you have a hand in that? I think that decision saved her life.

She struggled in her first two months, gaining only 2 pounds. Was she grieving? Was she sick? Was she over-looked? Were the nannies overwhelmed? The people at Guiping SWI were worried about her, it seems – they sent her to Mother’s Love Orphanage, because they had doctors and better food and more nannies. They saved her life. And odd how things happen, it was on my birthday that Guiping SWI gave Maya her second chance at life by transferring her to Mother's Love.
She grew and thrived at Mother’s Love, and when she was healthy enough, at age 8 months, Mother’s Love found a foster family to take care of Jin Bing Li, our Maya. Foster mom, I always think about the letter you wrote me, telling me of the first time you saw Maya. She was in her crib, and her hair had worn off in the back because she spent so much time lying down. You cried, and whispered to her, “Mama is here to take you home.” You took her home and taught her what a family is, what hugs and kisses are. You showed her, with your love, that life is worth living.

You asked me if she cried the first night I put her to bed. I told you yes, but only for a few minutes. She let me comfort her in her grief, and let me rock her to sleep. The next morning I woke up to her patting me on the cheek, wanting a hug.
We thank you, foster mama, for your loving care. And for sending Maya a birthday gift each year. Thank you so much for keeping in touch. I’m glad we got to see you again when Maya was 3; she often asks if we can go back to China and see you. I tell her we will. I know you are thinking of her today.
Today, Maya turns 5. She is a miraculously happy child. I was worried when I got her referral – 3 days with her birth family, 2 months at Guiping SWI, 6 months at Mother’s Love, 10 months with her foster family – how does any child handle so many changes? We’d be her 5th placement. Would she be broken? She was, miraculously, whole.

She was and is so strong, so loving, so laid-back, so smart, so funny! She loves to play dress-up, to spin and spin until she falls down, to draw, to dance. She's working hard to do a headstand and a cartwheel. She hates to clean up, and always needs to go potty when it's clean-up time -- what a coincidence! She’s my cuddlebug, and always ready to snuggle. She’s decided she only likes “boy things,” and is having a dinosaur party today. But she still wanted to wear a flower dress! She says “I love you, Mama” three or four times a day, and my heart swells each time. She and Zoe love each other so much. She completes us as a family. She fills our lives with love and laughter.
I can hardly remember a time when Maya wasn’t a part of us. But I know she was once part of your families as well. We all share in what she has become, each in our own way. Today is a day for all of us to remember, to cry, and to rejoice in this child.

regular mother

Is today really my REAL birthday?

Today is the day we celebrate Maya's 5th birthday! She has been so excited about turning 5; last night when I was trying to get the girls ready for bed, I told Maya she needed to go to sleep quickly because she'd be waking up in the morning as a 5-year-old. She closed her eyes and laid down on the floor and said, "I'm asleep!" I said, "So you want to skip your night-time video and go straight to bed?" (I pretty much knew the answer to that one!) No, Maya said, "I'll just fall asleep watching the video and you can carry me to bed!" (She didn't, and then the girls stayed awake in their beds for 2 hours, too wound up to sleep!) Today at her school we'll have pizza and cupcakes and juice (and apple slices, since mama wants to offer something healthy!). What a joyous day!

Then this morning at breakfast, Maya asked, "Is today really my REAL birthday?" Hmm, how to answer? We don't really know her REAL birthday. She was estimated to be born today and found three days later (we're luckier than many -- it's likely that her birthday is really right around the 15th, probably only off by a few days, since you can pretty much gauge age by umbilical cord when they're that little. Kids found when they are older can't even know if they are in the ballpark.)

TELL THE TRUTH. Isn't that what I advocated in an earlier post? OK. But how about figuring out exactly what she's asking? "What do you mean, Maya? Are you asking if this is like Saturday when we celebrated with Uncle Phillip and the boys since they wouldn't be in town today?" Maya: "Yes! Is today my REAL birthday?" Mama: "Today is really your OFFICIAL birthday!"

It's the truth. Not the whole truth, but the truth. And, I think, truth enough for today.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What to Wear?!?????

OK, every year when Culture Day rolls around, I worry about what to wear. I always give Zoe and Maya a choice, and so far, the girls have wanted to wear their Chinese silks. That'll probably change as they get older, but not so far.

But what about me? From the beginning, it felt a little silly dressing the girls up and then doing nothing Chinese myself, like Chinese culture was only important for them, not me. But wearing Chinese outfits feels a little like trying to co-opt Chinese culture. Wearing the dress doesn't make you Chinese!

I've also heard adult Asian adoptees laugh about adoptive (white) parents dressing up in Asian costumes. But when I've worn a qi pao to Chinese New Year celebrations at the Chinese Baptist Church (done in conjunction with Chinese School), I always get very positive remarks from Chinese people (including slightly-large Chinese women asking where they can find a qi pao to fit -- I found mine on eBay!).

For the past two years, I've worn this "Chinese bird" shirt, as Maya calls it (she forgets the word phoenix!) to Culture Day. It seems to be a middle-ground for me -- not the qi pao, and something I can legitimately wear other places, but still with a Chinese flavor that makes Chinese culture something important to the whole family. But each year it seems like making the decision over again (I know, I know, I'm always over-thinking things!)

So what do you do?

Jane Brown Playshops

At Culture Day, they displayed the quilt made by kids who attended Jane Brown's Adoption Playshop in the DFW area in February. You'll notice several articles from Jane in the On-line Resources list. She is a social worker, and adoptive mom, and she does these playshops throughout the country. Zoe attended her first one when she was 5, and then again at age 7. Both were very positive experiences for her.

This year, her group made quilt squares that were later put together in the quilt, above. Jane let them make whatever square they wanted related to adoption. Some of the squares show the hotel their parents met them in, the actual meeting, the orphanage, a map of China, etc. Zoe did two squares. The first is Zoe being born.
Everyone is saying "Welcome Zoe! Zoe is here!" Notice that most of the faces are happy, but there are a few frowny faces. I wonder what that's about . . . .
Her second square is saying goodbye to her birth parents -- or maybe goodbye from her birth parents? The birth parents are crying. The black square on the left is "the box." Remember, I've mentioned that Zoe focuses a lot on the box she was found in, so of course it makes it into this picture.

In one square, Jane recorded the statements/questions the girls had about their birth families. I bet you can tell which question was Zoe's!

I'm a huge fan of the Jane Brown Playshops. They have been an extraordinarily powerful experience for Zoe (Maya has been too young to go, darn it!). How wonderful to have a safe space to explore adoption issues and race issues with children JUST LIKE HER and with an experienced, knowledgeable, compassionate facilitator! If I had to use just one word to describe what Zoe got out of the playshops I would use EMPOWERMENT. With role-playing, stories and crafts in a secure environment, Jane gave Zoe permission to feel however she wanted to feel about being adopted, gave her language to describe those feelings, and gave her practical suggestions about how to deal with others who don't understand adoption and are insensitive to issues of race.

One of the most meaningful craft projects Zoe came home with after her first Jane Brown Playshop was a braided necklace – one strand representing her, one her birthfamily and one her adoptive family. What a wonderful way to honor the role her birth family played in her life! She can still tell you that the three strands together are stronger and more beautiful than any one strand by itself. This time, making her quilt squares was very freeing for Zoe -- I'm not sure she would be talking so comfortably about her birth parents now if it hadn't been for the playshop.
If your FCC or FCV or FRUA group brings Jane Brown to town, I highly recommend attending. If they haven't invited her, maybe you could suggest it. (Just to make clear, I don't know Jane personally, I don't have any financial incentive to recommend her!).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Crafting Your Adoption Story

We went to FCC Chinese Culture Day today, which was great fun. The girls listened to live Chinese music, learned about famous Chinese inventions, watched a Chinese tea ceremony, made a Chinese flag, learned about Chinese embroidery, colored a panda mask, listened to Chinese stories, watched a kung fu demonstration and lion dances. A fun time was had by all!

I met some waiting families there, and we chatted a little about adoption talk. They are in the how-to-tell-the story phase, and I thought it might be helpful if we all gave them advice! Here are some initial questions that I hope will help newbies craft their stories, and I hope y'all will add more advice in the comments.

1. Where do you start?
I say start with birth. It's tempted to start with "I/We wanted a child sooooo much . . . ," but that makes the story about you, not your child. Sure, you should talk about your side of it, including how much you wanted a child, how you loved her before you met, etc., but if you start with birth, it seems to me that the story stays more focused on your child. And you HAVE to include birth, so your child doesn't figure she was hatched from an egg, so why not put it at the beginning?
2. What will you name the characters in your tale?
You need to think about what you're going to call the biological family and its members. We use birth family, birth parents, birth mother, birth father, but I hear lots of variations out there: first family, first mother, etc. (one concern I have with this nomenclature is that it suggests there can be third and fourth and fifth families); China family; tummy lady for birth mother (then what do you call birth father?).
What are you going to call yourselves? Some people feel more comfortable using the formal "mother" and "father" for birth parents, and reserving mommy and daddy for the adoptive parents. We use mom, mommy, mother for birth mother; my kids call me mama, and though we haven't deliberately chosen to, I don't think any of us, including the kids, have said birth mama.
3. What should you include in the story?
That, of course, depends on the age/attention span of the kids, and how much time you've got! We have long versions we use when we have plenty of time, and short ones for its-late-you-need-to-be-in-bed times. We've added things as the girls have been more or less interested in parts of the story -- at first, it was just the you were born, we met, we lived happily ever after story. When we were about to visit their finding spots, we included the part where they were found. When Zoe started asking tough questions, we included the OCPSPFB part (ok, I'm not sure the acronym will work -- that's one child policy, social preference for boys!).
Our basic story includes: a) you grew in your birth mother's tummy and were born in China; b) your birthparents couldn't take care of you as parents would want to, so they made sure you were safely found; c) the nannies took good care of you; d) meanwhile, mama wrote China and asked if she could be the mama for a baby; e) referral (woohoo!); f) mama packed (long list of things -- bottles, diapers, tiny clothes, toys, etc. etc. etc. (they really love this part)); g) mama and mimi flew on a big airplane to China; h) first meeting (how pretty, how sweet, how little, how brave baby was!); i) fly home in big airplane; j) everyone so happy to meet you; k) mama so happy when you fell asleep in your new crib in your new home. THE END! (As you can tell, I've borrowed heavily from several kids' books about adoption. Don't call in plagiarism, call it research!)
4) How do you deal with no information, hard information?
TELL THE TRUTH! If you don't know, say so. If you speculate, make sure you say so: "I don't really know, but I think/I believe/I feel that they wanted you to be safe and warm, and that's why they wrapped you in 3 layers of clothing." "I believe they loved you very much and did the best they could to take care of you."
So, what other advice should we give to those working out the story they will tell? What of my advice is off-base? How do you tell your story? Please comment!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Yikes! Not a good story for the adoption-conscious!

Last night, Maya picked The Jungle Book for our night-time read, which was a new one for us (it's not a new book, copyright 1967, one of the original Little Golden Books that we picked up used, probably at a garage sale!).

I'm sure I saw the Disney movie as a kid, but I don't remember it, and I haven't read the Rudyard Kipling original, so I went into this story blind.

And I'm reading along: Mowgli, the man-cub, is "left all alone in the jungle," and then found by the panther, Basheera, and taken to a wolf family "with young cubs of their own. That is how it happened that Mowgli was raised among the wolves." OK, I'm starting to get worried! The picture shows the baby all bundled up, so it sure looks like infant abandonment to me. And I'm not quite sure how to gauge the look on the wolf mom's face -- startled? dismayed? Happily surprised?!

Now ten years have passed, and danger returns to the wolf pack's land, in the form of the tiger, Shere Khan, who hates all men. If he learns that the wolf pack is "harboring a man-cub," the wolves will be in danger. So they all agree that "the man-cub must go." Ouch!

Basheera says he'll take Mowgli to a nearby man-village where he'll be well cared for. After some resistance, Mowgli makes his way back to the village. And Basheera says approvingly of this happy ending, "It is just as it should be. . . . He has found his true home." So much for A-Mother-For-Choco themed transracial adoption story! (Yes, yes, I know. It's really trans-species, not the same thing!).

The girls don't seem fazed by the story, it's just mom who's saying, "Gee, thanks, Disney!" We didn't talk about it at all (it was late, the girls were tired (and so was I!) -- they have late gymnastics classes on Thursday). We might, though. It could be a good teaching moment:
How do you think the baby got into the jungle? What do you think about that?

Do you think the wolf family adopted him? It doesn't seem so to me, since they don't keep him forever. What do you think?

Was Basheera right to want him to go to the man-village? Why did Mowgli want to stay in the jungle? Why did he decide to go to the man-village?
Hmmmm, maybe the book wasn't so bad, after all . . . .

Should you talk? Should you wait for questions?

Michelle writes:

My Maya is fascinated with playing house/family these days. She knows that we
don't have a daddy in our home (and has told others!!) and she pretends that she
has a baby in her belly, or paw-paw has a baby in his belly (HA!), but has not yet wondered or asked how the babies come out, if she was in my belly, etc... My question is at what point do you offer that information? I tend to prefer to wait until she asks a specific question before offering up too much information. We do read adoption books and talk about the similarities, but that's about it so far.

Sydney's mom writes:

I was very surprised the other night when Sydney asked me this in rapid speech: "Am I an American? Because it is confusing for me since I was born in China. I mean, I am Chinese." I said "Yes, you are Chinese and you are also an American. Because you are Chinese, you are Chinese American." She said "That is too confusing. Am I REALLY an American?" I said "Yes, you are an American. You are my daughter, and have American Citizenship papers."She said "Do I have to take the test later, since I was a baby when I got the papers?" I said "No, you were automatically an American when you became my daughter."I still have a simmering feeling that I didn't do my job in communicating that most important point to her over the past...6 1/2 years! Mommy guilt - it never ends....
Ah, yes, the Mommy guilt! I still remember my first stab of mommy guilt -- Zoe was 13 months old and had been with me only 2 months, and we went to buy new shoes. I had her in a size 3 shoe, and they measured her feet and said she wore a 4.5. Poor baby! And then to add to the guilt, the friend who was with me said, "Maybe she would have walked sooner if you'd had her in the right size shoe!" Arrgh!

It's so hard to know when and how to introduce specifics, especially the hard-to-understand specifics. But my approach has been the same as yours, Michelle, using story books (our favorite is still Over the Moon: it's not China-specific, but it hits a lot of the thematic points I want), introducing the discussion of adoption, birth, birth parents, as naturally as possible, not making a big deal about it, really. (A friend shared that she had her first birth parent conversation with her daughter while giving her daughter a bath. When she told her husband about it afterward, he was upset that she discussed it with their daughter without him being there. He apparently had some view that they would sit down as a family and have "the talk!" It just doesn't happen that way -- or at least it shouldn't!).

I started working out my basic "talking points" while Zoe was still a baby, practiced, refined, practiced some more, all before she was really able to understand more than it was a happy story about her. As she and Maya have hit developmental stages where they seem to understand more about families and babies and adoption (I read and re-read lists of what kids understand at various stages, and then spend time pondering whether they are really at that stage), I've added more complexity to the story.

I made a decision fairly early on that I would try to bring in spontaneous references to birth parents, as much like what I would do if my kids had been born to me. Example: Zoe and I were at the ice cream shop and eating our cones outside. She was about 3.5 years old. There were birds around and Zoe kept exclaiming at how little they were, and I said maybe they were baby birds. She said, "I wasn't that small when I was a baby. I was NEVER that small." I answered, "Yes, you were! When you were growing in your birth mother's tummy you were that small."

I figured in that way I'd create a comfortable, casual way of talking about birth parents, where they saw me as being comfortable talking about their birth parents, and that would create an atmosphere where they would ask me questions when they had them. I waited until Zoe asked this summer WHY her birth parents didn't keep her before we talked about that. But to hear her tell it, she's been wondering about it for two years. So I don't know, was I right to wait until she asked? Or maybe I should have been talking one child policy, social preference for boys (OCPSPFB?) all along. . . .

And then there are the questions we have NO IDEA they are wondering about! Like Sydney wondering whether she was a U.S. citizen. Like Zoe wondering if she had been buried in the ground at her finding place. (We haven't had the citizenship question -- we had lots of discussions in the "you're Chinese AND you're American" vein when we were in China last year. It's a really smart-cookie question for Sydney to ask!) Even as anal as I've been about preparing to discuss all of this, no way could I anticipate everything they are wondering about. I think I've done my job when they feel comfortable asking the questions! Ahhh, and end to mommy guilt (I wish!).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dutch Report on Corruption in China Adoption

Brian Stuy reports:
Yesterday, the Dutch Ministry of Justice issued their report on their sixth month investigation into baby trafficking in China. The investigation was initiated following the broadcast of Netwerk's "Adoption in China" in which allegations of corruption were leveled against China's international adoption program.

Predictably, the Dutch report is largely exculpatory of the Chinese, but several important points must be emphasized. . . .

Read the rest of Brian's post here. He includes an English translation of the report, so you can read it yourself if you have a mind to.

I always appreciate Brian's opinions, whether I agree with them or not. I suspect the truth is somewhere between Brian's insistence that virtually the entire international adoption program of China is unredeemably tainted (ok, maybe I'm exaggerating his position a tad. . . . actually, probably not!) and the conviction of many adoptive parents and the Dutch report that there isn't any corruption in the IA program in China. The Hunan Province scandal lets us know that at least there and then there was human trafficking.

What if you are concerned that your child was trafficked? What if you were to find out that your child was in fact trafficked? I can't offer any advice, but here are two who can:

The Impact of Illegal Adoption on One Family, by Julia Rollings

Telling About Trafficking, by Sheena Macrae

Helping adopted kids navigate school projects

This article discusses some solutions for school projects that might not be inclusive of nontraditional families and families formed through adoption. I don't think the article says much I haven't heard before, but it is kind of nice to have a refresher here at the beginning of the school year. And how nice to have a newspaper run such an article!

There's one bit of advice I'm not sure I agree with:

Another issue: the notion that all children are born from their mother's stomach. Stigger recommends that parents explain that children either came home from the hospital or by airplane from Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Guatemala and so on.
I don't think that cuts it. Coming home by airplane denies that the child had a life before coming home, and suggests that the kid is somehow abnormal, like he or she was hatched instead of born. I'd be more inclined to say simply that some kids are born into their families and some are adopted into their families after being born.

What do you think?

Advice from Zoe

While I drove her to school, Zoe asked me what I was going to blog about today (she seems really to love that I'm blogging about her!), and I told her I was trying to decide what to write about. I asked her what advice she had for kids like her who were wondering about their birth parents.

Zoe: I'd tell them that they should ask their moms about their birth parents.

Me: But what if they get frustrated like you do, because their moms don't know much about their birth parents?

Zoe: I'd tell them that sometimes parents don't know answers to all the questions, but it's ok to ask anyway.

Me: What advice would you give kids if they got mad or sad when thinking about their birth parents?

Zoe: They should talk to their parents about their feelings. Or maybe to their Mimi or Grandpa.

Me: When did you start thinking and wondering about your birth parents?

Zoe: When I was five. (She said it with such assurance, like she really knew definitively when it was, but I'm not sure she does).

Me: Before we went to live in China? Before we went to get Maya?
Zoe: Before we went to get Maya. (she was 4.5 when we went to get Maya)

Me: What did you first wonder about them?
Zoe: I wondered what they looked like, what their faces looked like.

Me: What do you think they look like?
Zoe: Like my face, I think.
Me: What advice would you give to kids who wonder what their birth parents look like?
Zoe: They could look in a mirror. And then they could use their imagination.
Me: I think you're a really smart cookie.
I'm really astonished by how mature Zoe is becoming! This summer has been a huge growth period for her emotionally. I wonder if the maturity has come from dealing with her adoption issues, or whether the maturity allowed her to deal with her issues. In any event, I'm in awe of how wonderfully she is handling all of this. Yes, she gets angry, and frustrated, and melancholy -- but as long as she's talking, I'm thrilled.
(The picture is from her graduation from Xiada kindergarden (in China). It just seemed appropriate to illustrate my smart cookie's advice column!)