Sunday, November 30, 2008

China adoptee needs bone marrow transplant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book Review: Mommy Far, Mommy Near

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Never Let Go

What do these events have in common?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

"You're not my REAL mother!"

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

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

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

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

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

New Adoption After Disrupted Adoption

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Did I Steal My Daughter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Because we are her family."

"She'd adjust."

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

"We couldn't," Walter said.

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

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

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

What would you have done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Immigrant Visas for Children to be Adopted

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chinese Song From Mulan

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


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Poll Results: We're So Cultured!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This link lists tons of traditional Chinese games.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Natural Disasters and Adoption as a Response

With the slowness of finding permanent families for China's quake orphans, I sometimes hear from people who wish China would make these children available for international adoption. I think this blog post responding to desires to adopt the tsunami orphans in 2004 is apropos:

Since the disaster, adoption agencies around the world have been fielding phone calls from well-meaning families wanting to adopt a child from one of the countries hit.

Adoption experts say the best thing people can do is to donate money to causes that directly help the children. They say it’s wrong to take a traumatized child away from the environment that they have grown up in.“Adoptions, especially inter-country ones, are inappropriate during the emergency phase as children are better placed being cared for by their wider families and the communities they know,” said the charity Save the Children in a statement released Jan. 6, 2005. International Adoption needs to be well planned. “The last thing they need to do is be rushed away to some foreign land,” said Cory Barron of Children’s Hope International, an American adoption agency. “We have to think of the child first.”

It's easy to feel that these children who have suffered so much should be placed in families immediately, wherever these families are, but it may be BECAUSE they have suffered so much that they should stay where they are. I'm glad that most of the quake orphans have been placed with family members, and that China is determined to find homes for the others in China.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lifebook: Birth Parent Pages

I've mentioned before that I'm a huge fan of lifebooks -- essentially a scrapbook that covers the time before your child joined your family, including birth and birth parents, reasons for leaving the birth family, caretakers, and joining the new family. I thought I'd share some of the pages from Zoe's lifebook (I'm a terrible mother -- Maya doesn't have one yet!).

I have to say that putting together Zoe's lifebook was one of the hardest writing projects/scrapbooks I've ever done -- the adoptive moms I scrapbooked with can attest to the fact that I was a grouchy witch the whole time I was working on it! It was hard because it really was my process of trying to explain as best I could in language Zoe as a child could understand all about her birth parents, the one child policy, her abandonment, orphanage care -- all the hard stuff!
Beth O'Malley's book and website were hugely helpful, as was Kids Like Me in China. The Beth O'Malley stuff has step-by-step advice for what to include in a lifebook, including sample language -- a great comfort! Kids Like Me in China, by Ying Ying Fry, a young adoptee, had great kid-appropriate language.

The page above starts out stating the obvious -- you were born. O'Malley advocates very direct language, and covering the basics. Don't leave it to chance that the child will figure out that her life began before she met her adoptive parents, tell her directly that she's just like other kids in that she was born! The page also talks a little about how babies are made -- but just the "it takes a man and a woman" part. I also say that Zoe grew in a special place inside her birth mother. And the birth father is introduced, too,
O'Malley cautions against using generic photos if you don't have any actual photos of the birth parents. Even life-like drawings of generic people can confuse kids -- the photos will get imprinted in their brains as "pictures of my birth parents" even if you say they're not. So that's why I used silhouettes.
Of course, you don't have to do any scrapbooky stuff in a lifebook, but I tried to put something graphic on each page just to keep Zoe's attention.
The next page reminds Zoe that we don't have any specific information about her birth parents, but that they gave Zoe her birthday, her looks and her talents. I embellished the page with little mirrors (that's what those six circles are), and Zoe likes to look into them when we get to this page and imagine what her birth parents might look like.
So there you go, the first installment of "Lifebooks: the Series!" If you have any specific questions or if there are particular parts you're interested in seeing, just let me know.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Long Way Home: A Glimpse at Transnational Adoption

A wonderful essay by Molly McCullough, an adult adoptee -- here's a taste, but read the whole thing:
As a transnational/transracial adoptee, I have come to realize that no amount of scholarly expertise can possibly assuage or help elucidate the convoluted politics of transnational adoption. The research process for this paper has been an arduous journey of selfdiscovery, self-acceptance, and self-preservation. When we consider transnational adoption, we must, inescapably, confront issues that are far more poignant than international politics, far more heart-rending than legal processes; we encounter the profound, emotional and often overwhelmingly painful conditions that
circumscribe the lives of real people. Transnational adoption irrevocably transforms the lived experience of biological parents, adoptive families, and adopted children -- in many ways that are not overtly apparent.

* * *

Would I prohibit transnational adoption? Do I condemn the practice entirely? Does
transnational adoption dismantle the nuclear family model? I don't know. What I do know, however, is that feminist scholars who assume a rigid position on either side of the transnational adoption debate, pro or con, are regressing rather than rogressing. At stake here is a multivocal narrative that encompasses the biological mother, the adoptive family, and the transnational adoptee. While it is fruitful to consider opposing elements, it is a very different matter to espouse one narrative over another, which implies the privileging of one voice over another. This approach is
counterproductive and does not allow us to consider the broad range of perspectives inherent in this issue. Moreover, ethical issues cannot truly be deconstructed if the methods employed by scholars to analyze them are finite. In other words, if the very objective of confronting a multifaceted debate is to unearth definitive, one-sided solutions, the effort becomes futile, paradoxical, even. Scholars must approach this controversy with wisdom and flexibility as they collaborate with those of us who live, every day, the reality about which they theorize. They must look to the ransnational
adoptees whose bodies have become locales for emerging and dominant discourses. We, too, are the experts. It is our time to speak.
It's a really terrific paper from a college student -- I'd probably faint if I got something half this good from one of my law students (and I get some pretty good stuff from my students)! I found the essay at John Raible's invaluable blog.

My Big Fat Greek Adoption

Harlow's Monkey beat me to it, and gets credit for the great title, though Lisa sent me the link a few days ago:
From People Magazine:

Nia Vardalos, the breakout star of the 2002 hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, has adopted a child. "They are going public now to bring attention to National Adoption Month and the 500,000 children in foster care," according to a statement from Vardalos's rep. "Of these children, 129,000 are 'legally free' for adoption and waiting for a family."

Adoption is Everywhere!

The girls have decided, now that Halloween is over, that it is time for all things Christmas! (We're prepared to ignore Thanksgiving since it doesn't have any good songs!) They're singing Christmas songs, and coming up with their Santa lists. We've pulled out the Christmas videos already, and a few nights ago watched Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

If it's been a while since you've seen it, the movie's premise is to explain the origins of Santa Claus. He's found as a baby on the steps of the Burgermeister's house, with a note asking that some kind soul take care of him. The mean Burgermeister orders his servants to take the baby to an "orphan asylum," but he ends up with a family of elves, the Kringles, instead. The Kringles name him Kris, of course!

Zoe asked at that point, "Did they adopt him?" I did my answer-a-question-with-a-question thiing, and asked, "What do you think?" Zoe decided they had adopted him because "they took care of him and were with him forever." That is a good point in the movie -- the Kringles are with Kris when he's an adult, too. And it's a transracial (trans-species? trans-astral plane?) adoption, since the Kringles are elves, and Kris, towering over them, clearly isn't!

Another interesting point -- the baby is found with a necklace marked "Claus." When he's an adult, Mama Kringle shows it to him when he needs an alias since he's run afoul of the Burgermeister's no-toys law, so he starts to use the name Santa Claus.

Friday, November 14, 2008

One Child Policy, Research Ethics, and the Undoing of a China Scholar

Several readers have pointed me to a fascinating article by Steven Mosher that paints a vivid picture of how China's one child policy impacts lives, apparently updating work he did in a rural Guangdong village in the early 80s. I became increasingly fascinated by the story of Steven Mosher, the scholar, a figure with in ambiguous background. Maybe that's because I'm a scholar. But in digging into it, I learned tidbits about China that I thought were worth passing on.

In any event, the article starts like this:

Li Aihai, happily married and the mother of a 2½-year-old girl, had a problem.
She was four months pregnant with her second child. Sihui county family-planning officials had come to her home and told her what she alreadyknew: She had gotten pregnant too soon. She hadn’t waited until her daughter was four years old, as Chinese law required of rural couples. The officials assured her that, because her first child had been a girl, she would eventually be allowed a second child. But they were equally insistent that she would have to abort this one. It was January 2000.

She pleaded that she had not intended to get pregnant. She was still wearing the IUD that they had implanted in her after the birth of her first child, as the law required. They were unsympathetic. Report to the family-planning clinic tomorrow morning, they told her. We’ll be expecting you.

Aihai had other plans. Leaving her little daughter in the care of her husband, she quietly packed her things and went to stay with relatives in a neighboring county. She would hide until she brought her baby safely into the world. Childbirth-on-the-run, it was called. When the county family-planning officials discovered that Aihai had disappeared, they began arresting her relatives. . . .

The officials descended on the village with a wrecking crew armed with crowbars and jackhammers. These fell upon Aihai’s home like a horde of angry locusts. They shattered her living-room and bedroom furniture. They ripped window frames out of walls and doors off of hinges. Then the jackhammers began to pound, shattering the brick walls, and knocking great holes in the cement roof and floors. . . .

Aihai came back to find her family in prison, her home destroyed, and family-planning officials furious that she had thwarted their will. . . .

If you want your relatives released, they now told Aihai, you must pay a fine of 17,000 Renminbi (about $2,000). . . .

No sooner had she paid one fine than she was told she owed another, if she wanted to regularize her son’s status. He was currently a “black child,” family-planning officials explained to her. Because he was conceived outside of the family-planning law, he did not exist in the eyes of the state.

I've heard similar stories, as I'm sure many of you have as well. I have no reason to doubt the truth of the stories recounted in the article, though they probably don't paint a picture that is universally true, but the kernal of truth is why I'm sharing it. But I feel I have to add a caveat about the author and his research methods.

According to the website of the Population Research Institute, of which he is the president, Mosher "is widely recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on the population question. His writings demonstrate that overpopulation is a myth, and that the efforts of population controllers to reduce human numbers have led to massive human rights abuses and undermined the health of women and children." OK, I absolutely agree that population control policies in China and elsewhere have led to massive human rights abuses (and that seems a remarkably clinical description of some of the cruelties of the policies). Forced abortions, forced birth control, forced sterilizations, even the basic role of government in controlling the reproductive lives of women is anathema to me. But "overpopulation is a myth?" Not sure I buy that. And if his writings do, in fact, demonstrate that, it isn't evident in the writings on the website which I have perused fairly carefully.

So what about his educational background? What makes him "one of the world's leading authorities on the population question?" The website says he was "the first American social scientist to live in rural China in 1979-80," but it doesn't say what kind of social scientist he is. In digging into this, I discovered that his field was anthropology. Intriguingly, the website goes on to say, "Steve returned to his studies at Stanford University and wrote about the population control horrors he witnessed in China. Bowing to demands of the Chinese government, Stanford expelled Steve Mosher rather than grant him the PhD he had earned."

Does that sound plausible to you? That a major American university would bow to the demands of China and expell a PhD candidate? I don't think it could happen today, but that was in the early days of research opportunities in China. China could very well pressure a university in those days, and have a pretty good stick to use -- we'll shut you out and no one connected to you will be allowed to do any work in China. It could happen, I suppose, but reading that self-serving blurb, I figured there might be another side to the story.

Mosher was expelled from Stanford, and China was definitely unhappy with Mosher, but was China's unhappiness the reason he was expelled? Proving or disproving that causal link is the hard part. According to TIME, reporting at the time:
Mosher left China for Taiwan in June 1980, and in May 1981 took a step that angered Peking and appalled many anthropologists as well: he published an article
in the Times Weekly magazine in Taipei that described the mandatory birth control program in Chinese villages. The article was illustrated with photographs of women in advanced states of pregnancy who were about to have abortions. Peking saw the article as anti-Chinese propaganda. Zhao Fusan, a top official of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, warned Kenneth Prewitt, president of the Social Science Research Council, that if Mosher were not disciplined, there could be "negative consequences" for scholarly exchanges. In February 1982, Fusan asked Stanford to "deal with this matter sternly."

The university set up a fact-finding committee that looked into all the accusations against Mosher, including those by his exwife, who independently charged that he had acted unethically. After hearing Mosher's side of the case, twelve members of the anthropology department voted unanimously to expel him for "behavior inappropriate for an anthropologist." Mosher, who plans to appeal the decision to the Stanford administration and may take the case to court, insists: "I was expelled because Stanford chose to believe the charges brought against me by the Chinese and chose to believe that by publishing articles and photographs in Taiwan that I gravely endangered innocent villagers."

Mosher now admits that he was foolish to have published the article. Many leading U.S. anthropologists believe that it violated the profession's code of ethics by failing to disguise the women pictured and to protect their privacy. In addition, officials who allowed Mosher to take the photographs were exposed to possible punishment by higher authorities. Says Prewitt: "What Mosher discovered is an important contribution to anthropology. How he reported it is a tragedy for the field."

So, he might be an unethical researcher -- I can easily accept that publishing identifiable photos of those women endangered them and those who cooperated in getting the photos. And I can see that anthropologists are supposed to be neutral observers who follow a non-interference policy. I doubt that was China's concern in seeking to have Mosher disciplined, but I'm sure Stanford was concerned. Expelling him -- the nuclear option -- seems draconian, but Mosher also seems to have been unrepentant, not really recognizing that he violated any ethical obligations. I can understand a scholar becoming caught up and emotionally involved in the plight of his subjects, but I'm afraid that academic truth does not allow for it. He lost his objectivity, an unforgiveable sin for a researcher.

Then there are the questions about the accuracy of his work, which might also be explained by the loss of objectivity. Another social scientist, working in China at the same time as Mosher, questioned even the factual assertions we find in this article, criticizing Mosher's book on the same subject:

[Mosher's] writings on birth control policies seem to [suggest] that both late abortion and female infanticide are sanctioned practices. From my own daily readings of the Chinese press, and my own fieldwork in China in 1979-80 (at the same time Mosher was there), I would have to disagree. At most, I would say that in some localities, including the commune where Mosher was resident, national policies and recommended strategies to implement policy goals were disastrously misinterpreted by orverzealous local cadres. Mosher could easily have compared notes with Jack and Sulamith Potter, who were doing fieldwork in a nearby county at the same time, [The Potters ended up writing a fascinating book about China, China's Peasants: Anatomy of a Revolution] and/or read the national and provincial press to discover that something odd was going on in his area. In Shandong province, where I was working, rural couples were indeed under pressure to have no more than two children. The penalties for going over the recommended number included private payment (rather than collective coverage) for prenatal care, delivery, infant immunization shots, and eventual school fees. It was further stated that a family could not request expanded housing or an increase in private-plot lands to accommodate an additional child. Nor would it receive its additional grain at the brigade-subsidized price of .28 yuan per kilo, a threat that became meaningless within a year when grain production was transferred from the collective to household contracts. The other penalties that Mosher mentions in his book, Broken Earth, were not raised at all. And third-trimester abortions were out of the question.

But I find Mosher's account puzzling on further grounds. In one of his publications, he states that his community of 8,000 persons had a quota of no more than seven births a year. 1 find this totally unbelievable when the stated goal is a 1 percent birthrate, not rapid decimation. The quota in my area was twenty births per thousand population. Moreover, Shunde county, where Mosher worked, has a high percentage of households which are "overseas Chinese," meaning either families that have returned from overseas or that are supported by remittances from kinsmen (including husbands of women in the childbearing age groups) who are working in Hong Kong, Macao, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Until July 1983, overseas Chinese were exempt from the two-child limit. Mosher, married at the time to a Hong Kong resident from the village, could not have been unaware of what the official policies were in regard to overseas Chinese.

How accurate are these criticisms? Hard to say. The criticism seems to be two-fold: 1) Mosher extrapolated what he saw to make conclusions about general policy throughout China, and 2) Mosher made fundamental errors about the quota numbers, though he was clearly in a position to know the truth. The first criticism doesn't deny what Mosher saw, just the conclusions he drew. But accurate scholarship is more than reporting, it is also making judgments about observed events. The second criticism goes directly to accuracy, and is, therefore, much more troubling. He seems to have either accepted uncritically what he was told about the quota number, without checking with other counties to see if the number made sense, or he was simply mistaken. The first possibility suggests lack of judgment, the second was correctable, but wasn't corrected.

In conclusion (FINALLY!!! I hear you cry!), I find it difficult to rely on Mosher as a researcher. I'd say as narrative the article is very much worth reading. It includes in one place just about every horrible thing I've heard of family-planning officers in China doing to enforce the one child policy. But I don't want anyone to think that my linking to it constitutes an endorsement of any conclusions reached! (There, that's very stuffy and lawyerly, isn't it?!). Take it all with the proverbial grain of salt.

Patron Saint of Adopted Children?!

Who knew? There is actually a patron saint of adopted children. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, since there are patron saints for just about everything --cab drivers, abdominal pain, cake makers, motorcyclists, pawnbrokers, etc.

Zoe told me about the patron saint of adopted children at dinner tonight. Her class has begun studying saints, and each student was to select a saint and do a short report about him or her. They read their reports today, and Zoe said one of her classmates read that his saint was the patron saint of adopted children. I asked Zoe what she thought when she heard the report, and she said, "I looked around the room to see if anyone knew I was adopted, and I looked at Mrs. M [her teacher] and she winked at me!" She wasn't at all disturbed by it; in fact, she seemed pretty happy about the whole thing.

She couldn't remember the name of the saint, so out of curiousity I looked online -- it's Saint William of Rochester. And why is he the patron saint of adopted children? Well, the first biography I found had only one reference of any kind to adoption: "He went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem with his adopted son David who murdered him near Rochester, England." Huh? Being murdered by your adopted child makes you the patron saint of adopted children?! A second biography expanded on it, saying that he found a child on the doorstep of the church when he went to Mass, and he adopted him and taught him his trade (baker). The bio goes on to say, "David wilfully misled his benefactor and, with robbery in view, felled him with a blow on the head and cut his throat." Another charming note, the son was known as "David the Foundling."

So what in this story makes William the patron saint of adopted children? William might have been "touched by adoption," as the cliche goes, but "killing blow by adoption" doesn't seem to have the same uplifting spirit! And "benefactor?!" Ah, yes, adoptive parent as generous savior. And the "rescued" child as quintessentially ungrateful.
Makes it pretty clear what his story is supposed to be -- an object lesson in gratitude. There's a real "don't bite the hand that feeds you" vibe here. I don't think we'll be emphasizing him in any way in our household. And I'm happy that the school report didn't share the whole of the story.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Update on quake orphans in China

The BBC reports:

Only 12 children orphaned by the earthquake that struck China's Sichuan province six months ago have been formally adopted.

More than 600 children lost both parents in the magnitude-8.0 earthquake that left about 88,000 people dead or missing. But only a handful of these have completed official adoption procedures. Six months after the devastating earthquake, people in
Sichuan are still trying to rebuild their lives.

Quoting a senior official from Sichuan, the Beijing News said most of the orphans would be housed with relatives that were not killed in the quake. Other children will be adopted by non-relatives or live in orphanages.

Each child will receive 600 yuan ($88; £57) a month from the government until they are formally adopted or reach 18, the newspaper said.

The last report I posted about had only 1 or 2 of China's quake orphans adopted, so 12 is an improvement. And I don't see a problem with placing the children with family members, seems ideal, in fact. Previous reports said there were 88 children who were available for adoption with no relatives who could take them.

Baby Farms in Nigeria

Reuters reports:

Nigerian police said on Thursday they had broken a major baby trafficking ring, arresting a doctor believed to have bought infants from pregnant women and sold them at a profit for more than 20 years.

Police in the southeastern city of Enugu arrested Kenneth Akunne along with 20 pregnant women aged 18-20 during a raid last week on his Uzuoma Clinic. "The doctor is notorious and has been in the trade of selling babies for over 20 years now," Desmond Agwu, Enugu state commandant of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps, told Reuters.

The arrests were made after officers stopped a taxi during a routine search and found a woman with a day-old baby she said she had bought for 340,000 naira ($2,885) from Akunne's clinic.

Uzuoma Clinic is one of scores of illegal "baby farms" in southeastern Nigeria, where infants are sold to people desperate for children and ready to pay to avoid the red-tape of the country's adoption laws.

Despite being the world's eighth-biggest exporter of crude, most people in Nigeria live on less than $2 a day. Apart from the illicit trade in babies, Nigeria also faces the problem of domestic and international trafficking in women and children.

Many in Africa's most populous country see childlessness as a curse, boosting demand for the illicit baby trade.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Old & New in China

I heard two cool segments on NPR this week about music in China. One was about ancient Chinese opera experimenting with jazz fusion, the other about a Chinese punk rocker exploring ancient Chinese music forms.

I especially loved these radio segments because I always need a reminder of "modern" culture in China. I think our vision of Chinese culture is stuck somewhere long before "The Last Emperor," in silk qi paos and bound feet. This is what I wrote about that tendency when we were in China last year and Zoe's class performed for Children's Day:
Zoe had to be at the kindergarten at 7:30 a.m., in costume, for makeup. I admit to being a little surprised by her costume (denim skirt and pink t-shirt) – silly me, I expected it to be some Chinese-esque outfit or something dance-recitally. (It’s really silly of me to keep expecting dance performances in China to be some kind of “culturally Chinese” experience. It’s not like every dance performance in the U.S. is square dancing or clogging or something else “typically American.” It’s part of my tendency to exoticize China, I think. Somehow it’s more natural to think of China as it was centuries ago (maybe we should call it “Mulan Syndrome!”) rather than as it is today).
So I'm trying to do better, and radio blurbs like these help!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Birthday To Me!!!!

Yep, today's my birthday -- something I'm trying to ignore since I'm getting so old (midlife crisis, anyone? I'm thinking of going back to coloring my hair . . . )! Still, any birthday that starts with your kids singing you "Happy Birthday" is a good one!

So is this pure narcissism, or is there some adoption connection to this post? Actually, yes!

Think about what you, who's not adopted, know about your birth. You know the day, maybe the time (9:05 a.m.), the town you were born in, the hospital where you were born, the family story about your birth (rush to the hospital? dad passing out in the waiting room or passing out cigars? 72 hours of the most painful labor any woman has endured?). You know your birth weight. You have a newborn picture of you in the hospital bassinet with "Baby Girl ____________" or "Baby Boy ____________ " above you. You know your mom held you. You know your mom loved you the minute she saw you, because she told you so. You know you look like your dad. You have your birth certificate with your parents' names, and all the vital stats about your birth.

How wonderful to have that information! What a comforting foundation! It is so naturally a part of my life I rarely think about it at all. But what would it be like not to have that information? That's hard to imagine. Would it mean nothing to me, to have that piece of my history missing? Would it feel like an empty space in me?

Now think about what your adopted child knows about his or her birth. . . .


No, it's not what you think, a tribute to veterans, though they are all deserving of tribute today.

This song is a "tribute" to everyday heroes, by country/bluegrass/gospel group the Isaacs. Consider these lyrics:
They tried for many years to have a baby of their own
But God knew a little girl who didn't have a home
Someone else's burden was their blessing in disguise
And now she's got a Mom and Daddy there to hold her when she cries

He's a hero and she's a hero
It doesn't matter that nobody knows their name
They keep on giving to make life worth living
Might go unnoticed but they're heroes just the same

Every single parent who must carry twice the load
And those who sacrifice to raise a child that's not their own
They dedicate their time to make a difference in someone else's life

Arrghhhhh! I'm sure the songwriters thought they were including a sweet paean to adoption in their song about heroes, but what ignorance of adoption and what awful adoption language. "Baby of their own?" "Someone else's burden?!" "Sacrifice?!" "Raise a child not their own?" And the song came out in 2004, not decades ago as the language might suggest.

Even with well-intentioned people, we have a long way to go to educate the public about adoption, don't we?

UPDATE: If you want to hear the song performed, you can find it here at YouTube.

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Poll: How do you incorporate your child's birth culture in your lives?

I've taken the suggestions from 14 Ways to Focus on Culture to ask how you bring homeland culture alive for your kids. Notice I'm presuming that you do SOMETHING! Use the comments to discuss whether it really is important to make the effort, and to give suggestions for what you do that's not on the list.

New York City?!??!???

In Zoe's latest version of her birth parent dream sequence, the angel put a dream in her head that her birth parents are going to New York City!

Where did that come from? Well, our friend from Xiamen, SiBo's mom, is in New York City doing post-graduate work at New York University Law School. Aha! If SHE can come to NYC, then maybe Zoe's birth parents can, too, is how the reasoning goes in Zoe's mind. When I asked her if she thought her birth parents could come to NYC because SiBo's mom did, Zoe's answer, "Maybe . . . ."

I never know whether to inject a dose of realism into Zoe's more extreme fantasies. Most of the time I can just say that I don't know if it did/could happen that way, and that's what I said about the NYC fantasy. But the reality, of course, is that there's a vast difference between a China scholar and law professor getting a student visa and having the Chinese pay for her studies and the likely situation of Zoe's birth family -- poor farmers in rural China. So, should I explain that difference to her? I don't know . . . .
*fyi, the photo is of Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, NYC

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Children's Books From the Birth Family's Perspective?

[My original post title was "Children's Books From the First Family's Perspective," but I was afraid saying "First Family" would make folks think this was another "political" post! LOL!!!]

Check out this review of the children's book, Did My First Mother Love Me?, from the blog Production Not Reproduction:
When little Morgan asks her adoptive mother the book's titular question, her mom pulls out a well-read letter from Morgan's first mom. . . . The love Morgan's first mom has for her daughter is apparent throughout. The book closes with Morgan secure in the knowledge that both her moms care for her and that each validates the love of the other. . . .

The book's simple language will be easily understood by young children. I appreciated the change from the ubiquitous "birth mother" in adoption literature. Morgan's first mom is sometimes called "her other mother" and Morgan calls her "my first mother." (We do use "birth mom" in our home, but also other terms.) I also liked finding a book written from a first mom's point of view and by a real-life first mom.

Two things give me pause, however. First, the description of the adopted child as a gift from the first mother to the adoptive family makes me uncomfortable, and is one we try to avoid in our family. Second, the first mom's experience and reasons for placing are very specific and, in many ways, represent an idealized placement experience. It plays into the common assumption that being single and a little less financially secure than the adoptive family are sufficient reasons to place in and of themselves. Particularly in a situations in which little or nothing is known about a child's placement/abandonment or which are more complicated, this book may not be appropriate. . . .

We don't have this book, and I'm not sure it would work for us as a single-mom family, and not having any information about birth parents. Anyone here have experience with this book? Do you know of any other children's books written from the birth family's perspective? Does anyone know anything about Never Never Never Will She Stop Loving You ?

For anyone interested in writing children's books, this might be a niche market -- something from a Chinese birth mom's perspective.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ideas for Polls

You've probably noticed it's been a while since I posted a poll -- I've run out of ideas! Please email me if you have something you think would make a good poll topic. I'd especially appreciate it if you'd draft the question and choices!

What's this blog about?

I understand that people don't come here to read about politics. I've tried to be VERY careful about keeping on topic, even when people tell me they'd like me to post general cute stories about my kids or post about our general activities. I've said there are other blogs out there that do that far better than I can, and Lord knows there are tons of blogs out there that talk politics.

But I have to say I think current events that are relevant to adoption, birthparents, abandonment, race, and China (the things I list in the header as what this blog is about) are fair game. So I post about Angelina Jolie looking to adopt again. I post about a Dutch family looking for their child's birth parents in Nepal. I post that South Korea and Guatemala are encouraging domestic adoption. I post about the alien land laws in Florida, a remnant of America's history of discrimination against Asians. I post about China's reaction (the reaction of my daughters' country of origin) to the presidential election in the U.S. And I post about what I see as a historical landmark in race relations in the country where my Chinese children will grow up as a minority race.

And I don't see any of these things as posts about "politics." If readers think some of these topics are political, I'll ask you to read what I have written. I think you'll see that I've left policy and partisan arguments carefully to the side. And note that I have not said WORD ONE before the election to encourage anyone to vote for "my" candidate. And EVERY "political" post I've made here has been NARROWLY TAILORED to be relevant to adoption, birthparents, abandonment, race, and China.

I have no intention to post generally about politics, though I can't control what happens in the comments. In fact, I have no interest in controlling what happens in the comments. I hope people will comment freely about whatever they want to talk about. The blog is called Adoption TALK for a reason! I want this to be a dialogue. I even appreciate very much comments telling me to shut up about politics now! But appreciating it doesn't necessarily mean I'll comply.

If I think a topic is relevant to adoption, birthparents, abandonment, race, and China, I'll be talking about it here. I hope y'all will keep coming to read about adoption, birthparents, abandonment, race, and China. If you don't like what you read, say so in the comments! I've been assuming all along that not everyone is interested in everything I say (how egotistical to think readers would be!), and are skipping over the posts that they don't care about. Feel free to do that, if it hadn't occurred to you before. But again, I'd much rather you read everything, and talk about what you don't like or don't agree with in the comments.

We now return to our regularly scheduled program . . . .

Prettiest, Smartest, Most Talented Kids in the World!

A snippet from an article about a family with two boys from Guatemala:

The best part, said both parents, is celebrating each child for their own unique
qualities and characteristics.

"The thing for me is that I know they’re not miniature Danas," said Mom. "I’m not watching for my own qualities. I’m not looking for that natural ability in what I’m good at. And I’m not trying to foster or bring that into who they are."

"You can be an unbiased cheerleader!" added Paul, laughing. "If they’re good looking, I had nothing to do with it."

I've always felt this way, that having children without a genetic connection is liberating somehow. Of coures, ALL PARENTS should see their children for their own unique qualities and characteristics, and I hope I would have done that with biological children as well. But I think it's easier with adopted kids -- I can't expect them to be mini-me (thank goodness!). Not knowing Maya until she was 18 months old was also liberating in this way -- her personality was so obviously already formed that I could just sit back and enjoy discovering her without feeling a need to mold her.
Naturally, I'm passing on certain values and modeling certain behaviors, so I see "me" in my kids. Zoe loves to read and to write -- gee, I wonder where she gets that?! Maya loves to laugh and be lazy and loll about the house -- yep, that's me, too!
And yes, the cheerleading is fun. I can brag on them without feeling egotistical -- I can't take credit for the fact that my kids are the prettiest, smartest, most talented kids in the world! And they ARE, you know (OK, all of your kids are, too!)!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Happy Birthday, Zoe!

Today is Zoe's 8th birthday! I can hardly believe my baby has been on this earth for EIGHT YEARS! She is so amazing -- smart, beautiful, purposeful, kind, creative, energetic, funny, articulate, intense, imaginative, strong, thoughtful. As I told her first thing this morning, I'm so lucky to be her mom.

We'd already had our big celebration last weekend since my brother and his kids were in town. Still, we had to make a big deal of today, too! She brought cupcakes to share at school today, we had a family dinner with Mimi & GP this evening, and though she already got her "official" presents, she got little presents today, too -- a harmonica from her grandparents, a journal and fancy pens from me, a card that plays "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" when you open it from Maya.

As usual, Zoe's birth mother has been much on my mind today (all week, really). And she's obviously been on Zoe's mind, too. Zoe took her new journal to school today, and during free time she wrote a story:
Once upon a time there was a girl named Zoe who wondered about adoption. Her mother talked to her, and that made her cry, but her mom said, "It's okay if you cry. I understand." Zoe answered, "I just wonder about my other family." She knew that her other family would be thinking about her and be thinking how old she was getting. One night at midnight an angel came and put a dream into her head so she could dream about her birthparents. In the morning she told her mom what happened in her dream last night. Her mom was happy and said, "Do you understand adoption now?" She answered, "Yes. I think I understand now." And she really did. One night she wondered again about her birth family, and it happened again, and again, and again. The End.
It's been a while since Zoe wrote an adoption story, but I was kind of expecting one today on her birthday since it is such a common thing for adoptees to focus on birth families on the day of their birth. My focus on Zoe's birth mom right now is because of a coincidence of several things, and yes, one of them is Zoe's birthday. How could I not think of her today of all days?

But I'm also reading The Girls Who Went Away, an emotionally wrenching book about girls sent away to maternity homes in the time between WWII and legalized abortion, forced to relinquish their babies because they were not married. Reading their stories in their own voices has so highlighted the pain of relinquishment, that it bleeds over into Zoe's birth mother's very different story. I'm seeing the universality of the loss of a child, even if the birth mother made a free and unfettered choice, and I'm seeing little meaningful choice for most.

And I can't get my mind off that pain of loss because of another very different situation. I've gotten to know one of the other moms at the girls' gymnastics studio. We've talked a lot as she has been getting certified to foster children, and is looking to adopt, too. Last week she suddenly walks in with a baby -- a foster baby, not foster to adopt. CPS called her to take a 6-month-old baby with very little notice. She was given little information, just that the parents were young, under 18, that CPS suspected neglect but not abuse, and that the mother "wasn't making good choices" because she would not leave the father who beat her but not the child.

Yes, I felt sympathy for this child -- quite obviously her world has been turned upside down, in ways quite similar to our children's. Foster mom was understandably frazzled, since the baby wasn't sleeping, was crying most of the time, foster mom didn't know her schedule, whether she had a lovey or used a pacifier (starting to sound familiar, huh?!) And this African-American baby was thrust into a new world of Caucasian faces -- the first genuine smile we saw was when the baby spotted an African-American woman on a nearby bench! Sounds VERY familiar!
But I surprised myself with the pain I felt for that poor mother who had lost her child. Maybe it was because the baby probably wasn't really that neglected -- she's plump, with perfect skin, completely healthy, 50th percentile on height and weight, chubby little legs she'd bounce on when held upright. It's likely a case of an overwhelmed young mother who doesn't know a lot about caring for a child, but most importantly who needs to make a break with the father. I couldn't put her in the "bad mother" category that a CPS removal would usually conjure up. So all I could think about was how painful it must have been when they came for that child, and how much I hoped she'd do the right things so she could get her child back.

So, another birthday for Zoe, a day of sadness and joy for her and for her first family and for me. We concentrate on the joy, cakes and candles and cards and presents and friends and family. But there's always that touch of sadness. I can't imagine how it could be any other way.
Not a cheery birthday post, huh?! Don't worry, it wasn't a day of wretched crying and hair shirts and ashes! It reads more depressed than it was. But it does say it's time for me to put my exhausted mind and body to bed.
But first, a funny story to lighten the mood. Zoe was telling Mimi that "Ms. Charlotte (gymnastics coach) says I'm the best hand-stand-back-flopper in the class!" I'm trying to figure out if this is a good thing -- "Do you mean back-FLIP?" No, Zoe describes this maneuver where they end up falling on their backs -- a back FLOP. So I ask, "You fall on your back on PURPOSE?" Zoe's immediate response, "No, on the MAT!"

China -- Wishing Obama Well

From China Daily:

Like American people on the other side of the Pacific, we are excited, too, at the landslide win of Democrat Barack Obama, who will become the 44th President of the United States of America on January 20 next year.

We wish him all the best in bringing America out of the present financial quagmire as soon as possible, and re-energize the world's largest economy with his brand-new ideas and vision. A strong US economy is in the interest of China and all other countries that trade with it.

We also hope the good momentum of a relatively amicable and constructive bilateral relationship between China and the US will sustain and extend during the incoming four years of the Obama presidency.

China Daily's English edition is usually pretty good with the English language, but this commentary has some hysterical phrases: "crushingly dreadful economic contraction;" "talk-savvy new America;" "persuaded many voters to alienate the incumbent Republican Party candidate." And how about this -- "ratcheting up investment in infrastructure and small and medium businesses in the US will yield precious jobs, and prevent its economy from jumping off the cliff!" None of it necessarily BAD English, but funny usage nonetheless!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

One step forward, one back

Remember last month I posted about Florida's remaining Jim Crow law in its Constitution:

Florida is the last state in the nation still to have a constitution marked with one remnant of the Jim Crow era: a rule allowing legislators to ban Asian immigrants from owning land. This November, voters have a chance to remove the so-called "alien land law" of 1926 from Florida's Constitution. That would complete a nationwide purging of the rules once in force in more than a dozen states."What it does is eliminate the unfortunate vestiges of racial discrimination," said Sen. Steve Geller, D-Cooper City, who persuaded legislators to put it on the fall ballot after years of lobbying his colleagues.

Well, it lost. Florida voters voted NO to a constitutional amendment to remove the alien land law from its constitution, 52% to 48%. That means 3,728,731 people voted to RETAIN a constitutional provision that allows Asians to be stripped of the right to own property by the Legislature.

Of course, the provision in Florida's constitution is completely inoperative. The U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause trumps state constitutions. So the Florida law is "merely" symbolic. But what a horrible symbol of racism, intolerance, and xenophobia.

America's First Black President

Not just America's first black president -- America's first biracial president, America's first president raised in a transracial family! I doubt any reader is surprised to discover I'm giddy with delight this morning! Even if you disagree with him politically, I hope you can see Obama's election as a powerful symbol today, one that is likely to benefit our transracially adopted children.

As the NYT reports: "[His election] was just as much a strikingly symbolic moment in the evolution of the nation’s fraught racial history, a breakthrough that would have seemed unthinkable just two years ago." I'm a baby compared to some, like Congressman John Lewis, who have noted the changes in race relations during their lifetimes. But I was alive during the end of Jim Crow. I lived in Texas and Mississippi while America's South was dragged kicking and screaming into LEGALLY doing the right thing, while still resisting integration as lived reality. Ten years after Brown v. Bd. of Education tore down barriers to schooling for non-white children, I was bussed to the all-white school, away from the closer all-Black school in Mississippi. I was in junior high school -- almost twenty years after Brown -- before the first black child attended a white school in my Texas hometown. If you had told me as a child of Obama's election in my lifetime, I would have said, "Nice idea -- never gonna happen!" How wonderful to be proved wrong!
Zoe and Maya are excited today, too, though I'm sure they don't fully understand the significance. Zoe went to vote with me yesterday, and declared the experience "booorrrringggg! But the first thing she said when she woke up this morning was "Did Obama win?!" And we talked about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and what he meant when he prophesized a future where each person would be judged on character and not color.
But for them, I think, today is mostly about the winning. It was funny when we got to school today -- Zoe and her blue-eyed, blond-haired friend Rafael ran to embrace each other, saying at the same time, "OBAMA WON!!!!!" In the election held among students at her school, McCain beat Obama 4 to 1 (what can I say? It's Catholic school in Texas!), which was a bit of a downer for her. She and Rafael campaigned hard for an Obama victory in their second-grade class to no avail. Of course, Rafael's big plan was to tell everyone that McCain kidnapped people (!) and was righly slapped down hard for it! (Don't worry, I was very fair-minded about the whole election thing -- Zoe told me she was going to vote for Obama because I was, and I told her "no way!" and made her learn about both candidates, including asking her grandpa why he was voting for McCain.) On the way to her school after dropping off Zoe, Maya chanted, "Go-Bama! Go-Bama!" and thought herself very clever for thinking of it.
What does Barack Obama's election mean for our children -- and I'm not asking about taxes or terrorism! Does this change anything for them in terms of race relations? As racial minorities raised in transracial families? What are you saying in your families today about the president-elect?

Monday, November 3, 2008

VOTE -- November 4

If you haven't already cast your ballot, don't forget! Tomorrow is election day!

I always tell my students that I don't care who they vote for, just that they vote --and I really, really, mean it! I'm actually one of those patriotic, gushy, love to vote, wouldn't dream of trying to get out of jury duty, democracy-loving Americans. If you are, too, then vote!

Bio Kids and Adopted Kids in the Family

A reader asks me to post her dilemma to the blog in the hopes of getting suggestions and advice:

I have a lovely almost 8 year old girl adopted from China. I have an 8 month old little cutie, biological boy. I have dark hair and eyes, as does my daughter. My son has traits of my father (the grandfather) and my husband - light hair/blue yes. The recurring question is "WOW, he looks JUST LIKE your husband." In front of my daughter, of course. Now, having read numerous books/blogs from adoptees on the insensitivity of others' comments - I give my answer in a relaxed manner as I ponder. Lately it has been in the form of a compliment for my baby boy:


Me: "Yes, he is cute, isn't he?" (But that's not enough info for them.)

Inquirer: "Oh but can't you see it? (voice gets dramatic.) He is a carbon COPY of your husband!"

Me: "Oh, he IS adorable." (puzzled look, as if I don't hear what they are saying. I
can almost see their thoughts clicking that I lost a few neurons in pregnancy....)

Here's another one:

Me: "The guys in our family have blue eyes, the girls in our family have brown eyes."

Here's one I have thought but didn't use:

Me: Turns the other way and has a different conversation with someone else. Problem is, sometimes we aren't in a crowd!

Then I think - get real !! My daughter is much more observant than I. What makes me think that she won't catch on to my own shenanigans in time?

OK, do I just agree? Or do I tell them the truth - his face is a carbon copy of mine, it's just that they only see the coloring of the child? It's neither here nor there to me. We told our extended families before I delivered that we were going to remove the genetic focus from our family. Sure, heredity is a lovely thing and I am not minimizing it. Our daughter came to us from a larger tribe than our own. But, it's the "insensitivity" of others as it relates to genetic conversations. They aren't being mean, and I am sure I was one of those folks before I adopted. So, how do I answer?

I hope we can offer tons of suggestions to help out this mom! And if anyone else has questions you'd like me to post to the readership, I'd be happy to do so.