Friday, January 30, 2009

Warning: Adoption Has Unexpected Side Effects!

Once again, my personal life and my professional life are intersecting! I’m working on a new journal article about international adoption. Neither Family Law nor International Law was my area, but since adopting my kids my work has slowly shifted in that direction. I convinced my law school to host a conference on International Adoption in 2003, I wrote an article about judicial recognition of foreign decrees of adoption, I started teaching Adoption Law, I wrote an article about the constitutional restriction that prevents my children from growing up to be president, I taught at a Chinese law school, I wrote an article about Chinese legal education. . . . I would NEVER have done any of these things if I hadn’t adopted Zoe and Maya. And what about this blogging thing? I don't think I'd be doing that, either!

This new article I'm working on is looking at the mini-trend (micro-trend?) toward increasing openness in international adoption, mirroring somewhat the trend toward openness in domestic adoption in the U.S. I’ve been intrigued by stories I’ve blogged about -- like Arun Dohle’s, where he is seeking information about his birth parents in India; Lydia‘s, where the search for birth parents is a matter of life and death; Flora‘s, where the search is motivated by concern that the child was trafficked, but where a relationship of continuing contact with her birth mother then develops. . . . And, of course, I’m influenced by my own pitiful attempts at searching.

So, I’m looking at international human rights law, including the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Declaration of Human Rights, and other sources, to see if I can develop an argument that supports increased openness in international adoption. As my research progresses and my thesis solidifies, I’ll be sharing it all here (whether you like it or not!).

Has this happened to anyone else, or am I completely abnormal? Have you seen unexpected side-effects of your adoption experience? Is it bleeding over into your professional life? Has it changed you in ways you didn’t expect, in ways beyond the way parenthood would change you? Please share!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I know they miss me

We've had an "ice event" in the North Texas area -- something that would qualify as a non-event in the Great White North. Nonetheless, everything came to a screeching halt. The law school was closed yesterday, and did not reopen until 1 p.m. today. Zoe's and Maya's schools had early dismissal (noon) yesterday, and no school today. We've been very relaxed and lazy, and loving it.

This afternoon, the girls asked to work on their China Workbooks. They happily listed the things they'd want to tell their birth parents about themselves:


1. I am 8 years old (I know and you know that her birth parents likely know this, but Zoe hasn't figured it out!)

2. I have a Chinese sister.

3. I'm the best reader in my class.

4. I got a Chinese book for Christmas.

5. I'm a good speller.
Maya's lists of important facts to share are scanned above -- she's in a love-to-write phase, and I love to show off her newly-acquired handwriting skills!

And then the questions they'd like to ask their birth parents:


1. Where do you live?

2. Do you have another baby?

3. Do you like me?

Zoe (exceeding the number of lines in the book!):

1. Why did you let me go?

2. Do you have glasses?

3. How old are you?

4. When is your birthday?

5. Are you adopted?
At one point, Zoe began writing a question, and then erased it. She told me, "I was going to ask if they miss me, but I know they do." I love that confidence in her own value!
I still love, love, love the China Workbooks. It's more than just filling in the blanks, it's the chance to talk more about what they're obviously thinking about. And since they're eager to write in the books, it never feels forced.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Audrey Magazine

I'm not into fashion, but if you're interested, here's a take on fasion for Asian American women, Audrey. The magazine focuses on Asian designers, profiles of Asian-American women, and beauty tips for Asian women. Consider this beauty product profile:
I'm a waterproof, curling mascara girl through and through. Waterproof helps prevent the raccoon eyes my monolids are prone to create by noon. Curling helps prevent my stubby lashes from stabbing my eyeballs. Thank goodness for Sana Powerstyle Waterproof Mascara Curl and Separate.

I'm not a makeup fan, but I'm sure my girls will reach a stage where they want to play around with it (can I get away with a no-makeup-until-you're-25 rule, do you think?!). What few makeup tips I know aren't necessarily going to work for them, so I'm always interested in collecting info that might help.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chinese New Year in China

Cool stories and photos of the Lunar New Year celebrations across China at China Daily.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chinese New Year -- FCC variety

Chinese New Year officially begins tomorrow, but we've already gotten our celebration under way, with the Families With Children From China CNY dinner last night. The high point for Maya was winning a Chinese-silk bear at the raffle. For Zoe, the highlight was the arts and crafts table. And my favorite part was seeing folks we hadn't seen in a while, and marveling about how our babies have grown into lovely young ladies! A small group of us started Waiting Families Meetings in our area while we waited for our first referrals. We had a better-than-average turnout of those families last night, and it was great to see everyone and take group pictures that we can now compare to the group pictures we took as each child came home.

Each year as the event approaches, I start coming up with excuses -- it's too far away; it costs too much; we'll be going to the Chinese School CNY celebration. . . . But then I think of the value of continued involvement in FCC events, and we go! And we always have a nice time.

Despite the silk dresses and quasi-Chinese food, I don't really see it as a cultural event; what we'll do at Chinese School is likely to be more "authentically Chinese."

At Chinese School, Zoe and Maya get to be "just Chinese" in a way. At FCC events they can hang out with kids who are most like them, Chinese-in-a-Caucasian-family AND adopted. Both groups are important to them, so I'm glad we went last night!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Are you my mother?

Thinking about Zoe's postcard project story, and Xiaoli's visit, reminded me of this story, "Chinaman's Chance," by Tai Dong Huai (remember, I posted about her before -- an adult adoptee from China who writes fiction connected to adoption?):

This is her , I think to myself. A billion-to-one shot, a near impossibility, yet here she stands. In our kitchen. As if hell just froze over.

"This is Mrs. Lim," my adoptive mom says. "Mrs. Lim, my daughter Leah."

Mrs. Lim's is as razor thin as I am. Her hair, like mine, is very dark brown, black by most light. My 13-year-old nose, uncustomarily long for an Asian girl, seems to be reflected in her middle-aged face.

"Ni hao," she says without the trace of a smile.

"Hi," I say back.

* * *

"Do you speak Chinese?" Mrs. Lim finally asks.

"A little," I tell her, which is pretty close to a lie. I'm strictly hello-goodbye-thank-you when it comes to my native language.

"We have much in common," she says.

A glass measuring cup falls from my hand and breaks on the ceramic tile floor. "Shit," I say out loud.

Mrs. Lim keeps her seat as I go for the broom by the side of the refrigerator. "Careful to not cut yourself," she says.

"What do you mean we have much in common?" I ask.

She finally shows her smile, but keeps her teeth hidden. "You speak little Chinese, I speak little English." After I find the dustpan, she says, "So where in China?"

"Taizhou," I say.

"Ah," she says. "In Jiangsu." She pauses a second, then adds, "You lucky to be here. In Jiangsu maybe you be stuck in factory already."

"I was abandoned," I say.

"I know."

* * *

I hear my mom on the front porch and I know my time with Mrs. Lim is almost through. My adoptive dad, were he here to give me advice in this situation, would probably say, "Go for it," or "Swing for the fences." So I do.

"Are you my mother?" I ask.

Mrs. Lim stares at me for a few long seconds, and I'm afraid at first that she doesn't understand. I'm sorry, I'm about to say. Stupid question. But she interrupts my thoughts as the front door opens.

"Your mother," she says, "just came in."

Click here to read the whole thing. I know I say that all the time, but this time I REALLY MEAN IT! Click it!!! Click it, click it, click it!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Letting Me Go/My Two China Mothers

Zoe and Maya wanted to do some arts and crafts after school today, but couldn't do their usual cutting-paper projects (they LOVE to cut paper, evidenced by the tons of teeny-tiny paper pieces littering the entire house!) because Zoe is grounded from scissors (she cut her sister's dress with scissors this week, a kind of on-purpose/accident -- they were supposed to be picking up in the family room, and Maya wasn't working hard enough to satisfy Zoe (Maya NEVER works hard enough -- personal energy conservation is her creed!), so Zoe threatened to cut her dress if she didn't clean. She poised them threateningly with Maya's hem between the blades. . . . and the predictable happened! Oh, and then she LIED about it! Hence, the grounding!)

So we took a crack at the CAL/G2 Girls postcard project, since we wouldn't be using any implement more dangerous than a pencil! We're just at the "sloppy copy" stage, but here's what they've written so far, having chosen the "Love Letters to My Mothers" topic:

Letting Me Go by Zoe:

This is a picture of my birth parents letting me go. I wonder about you and think about how much fun I could've had if you didn't let me go. I'm sorry if I'm hurting your feelings by saying I wish you didn't let me go. I hope you are wondering that, too.

I enjoy TX. I wish that you could come to TX and stay with me for a while.

Your daughter, Zoe

P.S. I (heart) U!

Zoe's writing strikes me as a little angry -- she's sorry she hurts their feelings when she says I wish you didn't let me go, which seems to show that she knows it SHOULD hurt their feelings. Saying that someone did something wrong/bad is what hurts people's feelings. . . . And she added the P.S. I love you after she heard Maya "sign" her card "Love, Maya."

And Xiaoli's visit really has made her wonder if other Chinese people -- including her birth parents -- could come stay with us a while in Texas.

To My China Mothers by Maya:

Thank you Birth Mother for carrying me in your tummy and giving me my black hair and my Chinese eyes and my talents. I wish you didn't let me go.

Thank you Foster Mother for taking care of me so well. I'm glad I got to see you again when I was 3. Even if I didn't remember you.

That's all.

Love, Maya

Maya's postcard is influenced by working on her "My China Workbook," with the pages about looking like birth parents and inheriting certain things from them. And "I whish you didn't let me go" is straight Zoe!

Maya dictated the note to me, and is now laboriously copying it in her own handwriting. I expect that the note will get shorter as we go along (see above, re: personal energy conservation!).

Is anyone else planning to do the project?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chinese Adoptee Links/Global Girls

I've read about Chinese Adoptee Links/Global Girls (G2) at Mei Magazine and at Adoption Today magazine. The group is for older girls/teens who were adopted from China (including Mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong), and is described at their website as follows:

Chinese Adoptee Links (CAL) International is the first global group created by Chinese adoptees of all ages. CAL launched in the summer of 2006 with a penpal program that connected adopted children in Ireland to adopted children in the USA…
We are from Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland China, and from around the world.

CAL’s Mission: to create a multigenerational social network for the 120,000+ Chinese adoptees living in 26 countries worldwide.

CAL’s Vision: to use our social network to give back to the greater community (”bridging”) through “Global Generations, Incorporated.”

We are completely run by volunteers, ages 8 to 84, on four continents.

“CAL International - Linking Generations of Adoptees & Friends Worldwide”

Although the target age is older than my kids, I'm thrilled to know of the organization for the future! And they have a postcard project right now that is open to kids (and adults!) of all ages. Here's a description of this art/writing project:

In the season of sharing, you are invited to create a piece of artwork and a piece of short writing on any of the following topics for future generations of adoptees.

“Dear Sisters”
Your mentorship/advice to younger adoptees, quotes that are inspirational to you: a dream for the world.

“Bullies Not Wanted”
Tactics for girls if they’re bullied. A personal story involving bullying tips for verbal defense, including protection of privacy from intrusive questions.

“Love Letters To Our Mothers”
Letters to your adoptive mother, birth mother, your adoptive family, or birth family.

Click here to get all the details, and note that the submission deadline is March 1, 2009. Postcards might be included in a book to be used for fundraising.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A new day? Maybe not in China . . .


The official Chinese translation of President Barack Obama's inauguration speech omitted his references to communism and dissent, and a live broadcast on state television Wednesday quickly cut away to the anchor when sensitive topics were mentioned.

* * *

At one point, Obama said earlier generations "faced down communism and fascism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions." He later addressed "those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent — know that you are on the wrong side of history."

The Chinese translation of the speech, credited to the Web site of the official China Daily newspaper, was missing the word "communism" in the first sentence. The paragraph with the sentence on dissent had been removed entirely.

The censored version was carried by the state-run Xinhua News Agency and posted on popular online portals Sina and Sohu. Another portal, Netease, used a version without the paragraph mentioning communism, but retaining the part about dissent.

The news channel of state broadcaster China Central Television broadcast the speech live early Wednesday local time, but appeared caught off-guard by the statement about facing down communism.

The translator had no sooner said "fascism and communism" when the audio faded out from Obama's speech and cameras cut back to the studio anchor, who seemed flustered for a second before turning to ask an expert what challenges the president faces in turning around the U.S. economy.

Child? or Adopted Child? Please Check One

There's been a bit of a discussion on an adoptive-parent email list-serv I'm on about adoptive parenting as same-as or different-from parenting unmodified. I thought this New York Times article by Jenni Levy spoke interestingly to this issue:
Is my daughter my child, or my adopted child?

The life insurance form I have to fill out at work wants to know. Choose a beneficiary, and indicate their relationship to you from this drop-down list, it tells me:

Adopted child

I became a mother with two days’ notice. We met our daughter’s birth mother near the very end of her pregnancy, and she chose us to raise her child. We brought our baby home from the hospital, but I didn’t give birth and I wasn’t breastfeeding.

For the first few months, I felt compelled to explain myself to everyone — even to strangers. I felt like an impostor, an interloper into motherhood. I remember thinking that some day it wouldn’t matter any more, that I’d forget I was an adoptive mother and come to be just like everybody else.

It’s been almost nine years now, and I can’t forget that my daughter is adopted. I no longer want to forget, and I know I’m a real mother. I drop my third-grader off at school and go for walks with her and sign off on her homework and cuddle her when she’s hurt and try to answer those penetrating philosophical questions that kids ask only at bedtime. And adoption still matters. It’s not either/or. I am an adoptive mother. I am a real mother. I am not my daughter’s only mother, but I am her mommy, and she is my child. My adopted child.

* * *

Most days I feel good about the way we are together. I have become my child’s mother without denying her heritage, without erasing her origins. So why does this insignificant question on this routine insurance form bother me so much? Why can’t I just check “adopted child” and move on?

I can’t choose one because it’s a false dichotomy. My daughter is adopted, and she is my child. Both of those are true. I don’t want to deny any part of our relationship, even if it is just to answer a bureaucrat’s unthinking question.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Poem

OK, you knew I wouldn't let this lovely day pass without a comment! I've already posted on why I think Obama's election is important to our children, regardless of one's partisan position, as a statement about race relations in America. So permit me this small moment! I share this wonderful poem, by Elizabeth Alexander, commissioned for the inauguration.

Praise Song for the Day

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise.
All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky;
A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."
We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce,
built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign;
The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."
Others by first do no harm,
or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national.
Love that casts a widening pool of light.
Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp --
praise song for walking forward in that light.

YOU'RE not adopted!

The girls and I were having a silly conversation in the car yesterday about UFOs and IHOP and other acronyms (ok, we're all completely geeky!), and Maya asks at one point, "What does MS stand for?" I said, "Malinda Seymore!" Maya, who has the same initials as me, claimed it stood for her, of course. I insisted if it was her, it would have to be MNS (middle name Noelle). Zoe corrected me, "No, it would be MNBS" -- including her Chinese middle name. "And," Zoe continued, "I'm ZEYS. And YOU are ML-zero-S because YOU'RE not adopted (Oh, yes, that was the nyah-nyah-na-nyah-nyah tone of voice!)!"

Isn't it sad, that I am so disadvantaged that I wasn't adopted and so didn't get 4 initials. I'll try to cope with the disappointment!

As you can see, yesterday adoption was a good thing!

Monday, January 19, 2009


We started out the day watching Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, and I was amazed that the girls sat still and silent through the whole 17+ minutes. (BTW, I always have to use his full name -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. -- since Zoe won't accept anything less, and has been that way since pre-school!) . Maya colored the picture above at school on Friday.

After watching the speech, Zoe was motivated to write her own "I have a dream" speech:
I have a dream that all people will be equal.
I have a dream that M.L.K. day is special to M.L.K. in heaven.
I have a dream that Barack Obama leads us to good choices.
I have a dream that Joe Biden is a good Vice President.
I have a dream that the Obamas enjoy the new pet.
I have a dream that Mr. Obama does hard work in the White House.
I have a dream that my children will know that their mom is adopted and it is very important to her.
Since I already posted the "I have a dream" speech, I thought I'd do something different today to mark the occasion.

So what are you doing today to make MLK day special?

P.S. That "something special" could be just day-off-from-school specialness, too!

Mei Mei Cover Girl No Longer an Orphan

If you have the book, Mei Mei: Portraits From a Chinese Orphanage, pictured above, you'll love this story (and if you don't have the book, you should buy it!):

Pearl Long's past, half a world away, is never far from the 12-year-old. It peers from the cover of a coffee-table book in the family's Pueblo home, in a child's sweet face that announces, "Here I am; love me if you will." Pearl was the cover girl with the slightly worried brow, photographed eight years ago at an orphanage in Hefei, China.

* * *
[Bob] and his wife Cindy brought Pearl into their family four years ago, rather unexpectedly. Their two daughters were grown and they'd adopted Guoya about 1 year earlier, "just gotten up to speed with her," Cindy says, when the Denver adoption agency called and said they had another little girl for them. Bob remembers saying, "But we aren't on the list . . . OK, I'll have to talk to Cindy."

The couple decided to go forward with the adoption, which was fast-tracked because Pearl had serious medical problems."We got the call in February and went in August. It seems slow, but that was fast. There's just a gauntlet of paperwork you have to go through," Bob says.

The Longs and their three daughters all went to China to get Pearl, spent 10 days there and then came home. Pearl had brain surgery at The Children's Hospital in Denver and spent a good part of her first year in Pueblo recuperating. She doesn't remember coming to her new home.

* * *
One day Cindy was looking at a People magazine in a doctor's-office waiting room and there was Pearl in a story about the orphanage book. Cindy says she was surprised and angry to see her daughter's photo in a nationally syndicated magazine, in a story about a book she knew nothing of. She was sure it was Pearl because she'd repeatedly and carefully studied another photo of the girl at a younger age during the months the Longs waited to go to China for Pearl, while she welcomed the unmet child into her heart.

But she called the book publisher just to be sure and then she called the photographer and said, "I just want you to know that little girl on the cover of your book isn't an orphan anymore."

Cindy says Bowen told her he had photographed only older children whom he was assured wouldn't be adopted, but he was very happy, nonetheless, that Pearl had been adopted.

The article also talks about Pearl's life in China before she was adopted, where she happily resided with foster parents and many other children.
FYI, the photographer is Richard Bowen, husband of Jenny Bowen. Jenny is the director of Half the Sky Foundation, and royalties from the book go to the Foundation. As I'm sure you know, the Foundation provides schooling, nanny training, earthquake relief and scads of other programs for China's orphans. We have three copies of Mei Mei (and my mom has one!), and the girls love to look at the kids in the pictures. The photographs are touching and occasionally sad and occasionally joyful, and always worth seeing.
Click here to read more about Pearl.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cultural Competence of Transracial Adoptive Parents

Have you noticed the plethora of "studies" I've posted lately? I just discovered that the law school's subscription to Adoption Quarterly gives me electronic access to all issues past and present! So I've been enjoying an orgy of reading medical/sociological/psychological studies of adoption. Yes, I'm geeky enough to love this stuff!

Here's another, Factors Related to Transracial Adoptive Parents' Levels of Cultural Competence:

The first component of cultural competence is racial awareness. As defined in the model, racial awareness for TRA parents involves attitudes related to helping children develop positive racial and ethnic identity. These include understanding personal racial and ethnic identity, the role of race and ethnicity in their children's lives, and the potential effects of racism or discrimination on the lives of their children and family. With racial awareness as a foundation, the model describes the second and third aspects of cultural competence for TRA parents.

Multicultural planning involves the creation of bridges over which children may learn about and participate in the culture of their race or ethnicity. In TRA families, this requires specific efforts on the part of parents who are not themselves personally identified with their child's race and ethnicity. Socialization in the child's racial and ethnic culture may take many forms, but the model suggests that more integrative, experiential participation with people who are part of the child's birth culture are preferred over more static activities such as reading culturally relevant books.

The last component of the model, survival skills refers to the ability of parents to help their children learn skills necessary to cope with discrimination or racism. As with multicultural planning, this may require TRA parents to stretch, seeking help from others who have experienced discrimination in order to learn active coping skills that go beyond “just ignore it.”

Evidence is accumulating to support a direct relationship between aspects of ITRA parents' cultural competence and their children's development of racial and ethnic identity. In three studies on racial identity among Korean adoptees, a positive relationship was found between parents' racial and/or ethnic socialization practices and their children's racial identity and well-being. That is, Korean children of ITRA parents who provided greater cultural exposure and involvement were more likely to have positive racial identity, greater psychological adjustment, and greater understanding of the implications of their Korean status as related to their own identity and relationship with peers.

Similar results were found in a study of Asian adoptees in which parents' support of cultural socialization was associated with children's sense of belongingness and self-esteem. Further, a positive relationship was found between both parents' networking with Chinese adults and the racial composition of their residence with Chinese adoptees' competence in Chinese culture.

In each of these studies, aspects of the multicultural planning component of the model were associated with positive results among the children. Moreover, Thomas and Tessler's 2007 study provides evidence of a positive relationship between the racial awareness component of cultural competence and children's well-being. Their study reports that ITRA parents' attitude toward cultural socialization was directly related to their Chinese children's competence in Chinese culture.

The study identified a number of factors that seemed to determine the level of cultural competence of adoptive parents, including families' participation in postadoption support groups; parent's sex, that is, female; traveling to the child's country of origin for adoption; postadoption contact with adoption professionals; absence of biological children in the family; and families' annual income over $75,000.

More on "Chinese Eyes" and "Ching-Chong" Speech

Thanks, Mei-Ling, for the heads up about this great post by Paula at Heart, Mind and Seoul:

About a month ago, I was subbing for a multi-grade classroom of 2nd and 3rd
grade students. Now I understand that it is not at all uncommon for children of this age to still be especially attached to their teacher. It took all of a nanosecond for the kids to realize that clearly, I was NOT their teacher. Some had faces of disappointment. One boy - who later proved to be a little on the mischievous side - appeared to be amused and almost delighted upon seeing my face. And still others were just caught dead in their tracks. I can't say for certain why they seemed so shocked, but trust me - they were. I found out later from another teacher that this
particular school identifies itself as 97% white, as does the city in which the school is located. Upon learning that fact, I couldn't help but wonder if some of the kids had ever seen an Asian adult before - that may sound preposterous to some, but I honestly don't think it's totally out of the realm of possibility.

As I introduced myself and invited them to come in and start their daily morning writing exercise before our morning meeting, several kids were wandering aimlessly around the room. I went to gather a group of them when I looked over to see a few boys in a semi-circle. One boy had both of his pointer fingers positioned at the outer corner of each of his eyes, pulling the skin around his eyes as taut as could be. He
was doing this while nodding his head slowly and making mock "ching-chong" noises. Another boy was trying to attempt some kind of martial arts move. The other boys were just laughing.

It's amazing how a few actions from a group of 7 and 8 year-old boys can make one feel so vulnerable and small. I think for a few seconds my 37 year-old body reverted back to assuming the same exact physical sensations I used to experience when I was teased as a child. I was seriously surprised by the mini-pangs that shot briefly through my stomach.

Click here to read the wise way Paula, adult Korean adoptee and adoptive parent, handled it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Birth, Adoption, and . . . Yelling?

A friend emailed me this hysterical story, with gracious permission to post it on the blog:

We were driving home last night when I (single mom) overheard my girls (age 5 and 10, adopted from China) discussing how puppies are born:

5-year-old: "I think it comes out the eyeball!"

10-year-old: "No, it doesn't."

Me: "It comes out of the mother's bottom." (Sorry, I know that is not the scientifically correct term!)

5-year-old: "That must hurt!" (As if it wouldn't hurt for a puppy to come out of it's mom's eyeball!)

10-year-old: "Yeah, my friend and I don't want to have babies because we think it will hurt."

Me: "Yeah, it does hurt." (Not that I have any personal experience with such things.)
5-year-old: "How do you keep from having a baby?"

10-year-old: "You don't get married, but if you want to have a baby anyway, you can adopt."

5-year-old: "How do you adopt a baby?"

Me: "You have to go to an adoption agency that will help find a baby to adopt and then you have to prove that you will be a good parent (giving a few examples of the type of evidence that you have to provide) and then you have to promise to take care of the child forever."

5-year-old: "Did you do that?"

Me: "Yes."

5-year-old: "But you do yell at me sometimes."

Me: "Well, they didn't ask me about that." (I really don't yell THAT much!)

5-year-old: (Pauses for a moment.) "Well, they should have!"
This cracked me up so much because it sounds soooooo much like my kids, too! They have decided they are not having children because it hurts. And that means they're not getting married, because that's the only way to keep from getting pregnant!

And, oh yes, the yelling thing struck a nerve! I was telling a friend yesterday that we've reached the dysfunctional point where the kids don't even seem to hear me until I yell, so my New Year's Resolution is to reverse that and yell less. So that friend sent me a link to an article in yesterday's New York Times, entitled Can Yelling at Your Kids Be Good?:

I never lose my temper. I am Zen in the wake of any storm. Sometimes I speak a bit more, um, loudly, than other times, but that’s only because there is background noise and I want to make sure my boys hear my rational and calm explanation that begins with an even-keeled “how many times do I have to tell you…”

If you ever meet them and they start to spin tales about how, once or twice (or whatever) I actually lost my voice from shrieking about the dang clothes left all over the darn floor, well, boys do have active imaginations, now don’t they? And the one about the time Mom threw a full glass of water (the contents, not the actual glass) at one of their heads (she missed, they will tell you) — you don’t have to believe them. (I would never miss.)

You know what to do to read more.

Paradox: Diverse School = Better Racial Identity Formation?

Apropos of Lisa's comment that diversity in Zoe's school was the reason there was little racialized teasing, I've always thought that was why, and that diversity was one of the reasons I chose that school. But here's the abstract for an interesting study on a similar issue -- Chinese adoptees' racial identity formation and school diversity -- that shows a quite paradoxical result:

This article examines the formation of ethnic attitudes among 266 school-age children who were born in China and adopted by Americans and, at the time of the
study, were attending 254 different elementary schools across the country. The authors hypothesised that a disposition to associate socially desirable traits with being Chinese would be fostered by a school environment that was itself racially and ethnically diverse. In order to test this hypothesis, they linked attitudinal data from a photo preference task with archival data quantifying the number and distribution of students of different 'races' and ethnicities in each child's school and other relevant data elements from a parents' questionnaire. The results do not support the assumption that diversity at school encourages children adopted from China to associate socially desirable traits with being Chinese. On the contrary, children attending schools with greater diversity were less likely to show a Chinese preference and more likely to show a white preference. Further analysis suggested that such paradoxical results may be explained by the privileged economic status of the adoptive children which gave them more in common with white than with other minority classmates.

This one surprised me, and yet the ultimate conclusion about socio-economic status made sense to me. What's your reaction?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Classroom Presentation for Chinese New Year?

How many of y'all make some kind of presentation about Chinese New Year in your child's classroom? I've been doing it since Zoe was 3 and in preschool. In fact, the picture above is the dragon the students made when Zoe was in the 3 to 5-year-old class. We were really lucky to have a great teacher who embraced the opportunity to teach the kids about another culture!

I keep expecting Zoe to say she doesn't want me to do it anymore, but so far she really wants me to -- she actually suggested it this year, and insisted I talk to her teacher about doing it. Maya is also looking forward to having me come to her class (same school as Zoe's preschool, but unfortunately the dragon disappeared when Zoe's teacher left for another school).

If you do something for your child's class, what do you do? I'm trying to come up with some new ideas for Zoe's class, since we did something for all the first grade classes last year, and most of them will be hearing about it for the second time this year.
Our usual routine is to take the kids through some of the traditions of Chinese New Year, like cleaning house -- I give out a few feather dusters, and some kids "clean" the classroom. We talk about wearing new clothes, and I bring silk pajamas and qi paos in larger sizes, and kids take turns slipping them on over their regular clothes. We talk about the special foods for CNY, and then we bring chopsticks and teach the kids how to use them (popcorn isn't Chinese, but it's a great thing to practice picking up with the chopsticks!) These days, since I am sans dragon, we use our a loong stuffed snake-like dragon (bought at IKEA!), and the kids take turns parading around with it, while other kids make loud noises on drums, etc., to chase away evil spirits. We talk about the Chinese zodiac and figure out what year each child was born in (not too hard since you've got only a couple of years in any given class!). And of course we give out lucky red envelopes -- we give one to each child, with chocolate coins inside.
So please share what you do -- I need new ideas!

Chinese Break Up Child Trafficking Gang

Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, reports on arrests for a child kidnapping gang in Hunan province:

A four-month investigation helped police rescue five kidnapped children and
apprehend 13 suspects in their abductions, the Yueyang Public Security Bureau
said Tuesday. All five, including one girl, are from migrant workers' families. The exact dates of all the rescues weren't given, but the final child was freed Jan. 10, police said.

The five were among several children aged two to three years who were kidnapped in broad daylight by motorcyclists in September, causing fear among local people, especially migrant workers with very young children. Police said they don't know exactly how many children were kidnapped.

The Yueyang police set up three special investigation teams headed by the public
security bureau director. The officers crossed seven provinces, including Sichuan, Hubei, Fujian and Yunnan, in the effort to rescue the children.

The BBC puts the story in the context of the larger problem of child trafficking in China:

Child trafficking is seen as a growing problem in China, despite government attempts to crack down on it. Facts and figures are not publicly available but there is evidence that abductions take place on a huge scale, says the BBC's Jill McGivering. One official estimate by the US government said between 10,000 and 20,000 people are trafficked within China every year, and that the vast majority are women and children.

The problem is exacerbated by strict birth control policies, which limit many couples to only one child. Some families want a boy - one of the children seized in Yueyang was abandoned when she was found to be a girl, the Beijing News said. Families may also buy trafficked women and children to use as extra labour and household servants.

Update: ShanghaiDaily reports recently on arrests in another child-trafficking ring:

Henan Province railway police caught 11 suspects of an alleged baby-trafficking ring after finding seven infants less than one month old taken onto a train. The seven infants were girls. They were saved by police at Zhengzhou Railway Station in Henan. The girls are now at a social welfare home in the city, Xinhua news agency reported today. Two more suspects are still at large, police said.

Police were suspicious of eight women with infants at the railway station on October 21, Xinhua said. Police couldn't understand their dialect so they stopped them for questioning.They soon confessed the infants were not their babies and they were taking them to Shandong Province for sale.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

That Time of Year!

It's that time of year again -- around MLK's birthday -- when we have lots of conversations about race at our house. Now, it's not the only time we talk about race, but the girls always have lots of questions about Jim Crow (they don't know to call it that particularly, but that's what the questions are about), civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, etc.

Zoe came home from school yesterday singing a very cool new song:

1. If you miss me from the back of the bus
And you can’t find me nowhere
Come on up to the front of the bus
I’ll be riding up there (3x)

2. If you miss me from Jackson State
And you can’t find me nowhere
Come on over to Ole Miss
I’ll be studying over there (3x)

3. If you miss me from the cotton fields
And you can’t find me nowhere
Come on down to the courthouse
I’ll be voting right there (3x)

Click here for the full lyrics.

All this led to a really interesting discussion about racial teasing, and both girls tell me they haven't experienced it at all (I know that kids don't always tell their parents about it, but I asked it enough different ways that I'm pretty sure they're telling it to me straight.)

We were talking about what they could do if there was such teasing, with lots of role-play -- "what would you do if someone did/said . . . ." Zoe just blew me away with one of her answers. I asked, "What would you do if someone was speaking in fake-Chinese [you know the funny sounds to insert here, I'm sure] to tease you?"

Zoe responded, "I'd say, [and then all in Chinese] 'Hello, My name is Zoe and I'm 8 years old. How are you? Do you like school? I have a mother, a younger sister and a grandmother (maternal) and grandfather (maternal). How about you?' And then when they asked me what I said, I'd answer, 'You must know -- you DO speak Chinese, don't you?!'"

Smart cookie!

Korean Adoptee Reunion Videos

Thanks to Mei-Ling for this link to a series of videos of Korean adoptees' reunions with birth mothers.

About 2:20 minutes into this one (there are 5 others), mother and son are reunited. Whew, very emotional!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux

Sheri at akindofmagick points out an unpleasant adoption theme in The Tale of Despereaux:

SPOILER ALERT:"Miggiry Sow"?? Gimme a break!! That girl was truly painful to look at. No way would she have been chosen to serve the princess. And, oh yeah - the wonderful scene where the father gives away the baby Miggiry to the mean
couple who later sold her for the same price as a pig - the former scene was
replayed several times, the latter thankfully only once - both were just lovely.
NOT. I think - I HOPE - that both scenes went over my girls' heads... but I don't know.

We went to see it, and I wish I'd had a heads-up about it! I agree that the scene where the father gives the baby away is painful from an adoption perspective, but in talking about it with the girls afterwards, I focused on how happy the father was when he and his daughter were reunited and how sad he was that he couldn't care for her. Even bad media -- maybe even especially bad media -- can provide a teaching moment!

Adoption Treaty With Russia Sought

Remember the article I posted about saying that Russian attitudes toward domestic adoption were changing? Looks like this might also increase Russian interest in domestic adoption:

The U.S. State Department is seeking a treaty on adoption with Russia, reacting to a threat from Moscow earlier this month not to permit children to be adopted into the United States in response to the death of a Russian infant in Virginia. The dispute over adoptions has become heated since a Fairfax County judge acquitted Miles Harrison, 49, of involuntary manslaughter charges in December. The Purcellville father discovered his Russian-born adopted infant son dead in his car after leaving him there for more than nine hours on a hot July day.

Russian news outlets have been aggressively covering the story of Chase Harrison’s death, raising questions about adoption policies and at times questioning Americans’ priorities when they adopt foreign-born children. Meanwhile, relations between the U.S. and Russia have soured, particularly since Russia’s August invasion of Georgia.

With the threat to end adoptions on the table, the State Department said in a statement provided to The Examiner on Friday, “We strongly encourage the Government of the Russian Federation to move forward with ratifying the Hague Convention on Inter-County Adoption, which we believe is the best means to further our mutual goals for increasing protections for children.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Poll Results: Noticing We Don't Match

I wasn't very surprised by the poll results -- were you? -- showing that 44% of our children were aware that members of the family didn't "match" between the ages of 2 and 3. The next largest group, 23%, first seemed to realize this between 3 and 4. Eighty-four percent of our kids had realized the differences in our families before age 6.

I distinctly remember when I first realized that Zoe knew we didn't match -- we were reading an alphabet book called Zoe and Her Zebra (cute illustrations, multi-racial kids, multicultural names, unusual animals, great ABC book!), and on the title page (pictured above) was a drawing of a dark-skinned, dark-haired girl holding hands with a light-skinned, light-headed boy (at the time I had short, light reddish hair). Zoe pointed to the girl and said "Zoe," and pointed to the boy and said "Mama." She hadn't done anything like that before, so I knew it wasn't simply about two people holding hands. (BTW, no cracks about me being the boy -- or being the zebra!) She was about 20 months old.

We also had a poll about how we describe skin color to our kids (see here and here), and I wanted to share what one of my Adoption Law students said. She has 5 adopted kids, including African-American twins. Her kids say her skin is "polkadot!" Mine is too, between freckles and age spots!
I thought this article from Allison Briscoe-Smith, a psychologist, was informative about when and how children notice racial differences (a slightly different issue than the one in the poll, but at least related!):

Let's start from the beginning: Do kids even see or notice race? The answer is yes, they see and notice racial differences from a very young age, even in infancy. In fact, several studies by psychologists Phyllis Katz and Jennifer Kofkin have found that infants and very young children (from six to 18 months) will gaze at the faces of people of a different race longer than they look at faces from their own racial group. A prolonged gaze is how infants and toddlers commonly react to new information, and here it suggests racial difference is visually salient to them. This means that kids are able to notice and pay attention to racial differences even before they can speak about them. Katz and Kofkin also found that, by the age of three, children will start choosing to play with people of their own race more than people of a different race.

While they may notice racial differences and even prefer members of their own race, this doesn't mean that kids this young understand race in the same ways adults do, nor does it mean they're burgeoning racists. For children under the age of seven, race—or, rather, physical traits like skin color, language, and hair texture—are just signs that someone is in some way different from themselves, similar to gender or weight. It's not unusual or unhealthy for kids to gravitate toward the familiar so early in life. Kids' views only become prejudiced when they start linking these physical traits to flaws in character or behavior. We adults are the ones who ascribe malice to simply noticing racial differences.

So in and of itself, recognizing racial difference is not a cause for alarm—quite the opposite, in fact. For years, studies have found that children who recognize these kinds of differences from an early age show a stronger general ability to identify subtle differences between categories like color, shape, and size—which, in turn, has been linked to higher performance on intelligence tests. Researcher Francis Aboud has found that children between the ages of four and seven who show this advanced ability to identify and categorize differences are actually less prejudiced. So parents, rest assured: When children notice and ask about racial differences, it's a normal and healthy stage of development.

Now comes the tricky part: How do you answer those questions?

Click here for more.

A German Adoptee Searches for Birth Family in India

From the Times of India:
NEW DELHI: Arun Dohle is a German whose roots lie in India. He is fighting for child rights by highlighting how adoption norms, and the sheer absence of them in many spheres, are leading to trafficking of babies, particularly with growing inter-country adoptions. Through this, the young activist in Dohle is in search of his own family. He is among the many activists and NGOs who came together from across the country at the two-day National Consultation on `Countering Challenges in Adoption: Combating Child Trafficking', which began on Saturday in Delhi. As tales of trafficking and lack of adequate checks unfolded, Dohle's own story revealed how the child in every adoptee yearns to know about his family history.

Dohle was legally adopted by an affluent German couple from an institution in Pune. When he learnt about his adoption, the quest to know his biological parents followed him. After completing his schooling, Dohle came down to Pune with the few details his parents could provide about the institution they had adopted him from. However, he was left shocked when the institution refused to share any details.

Dohle says he loves his parents who adopted him, but still is eager to find his biological parents to know why they had to abandon him. While he claimed to have traced his biological father, he was unable to locate his mother. Dohle then approached the Supreme Court of India raising the question that a child had the right to know where he came from and that no institution or agency can deny this. He demanded all institutions should have the records to reveal the trail. The last hearing of the case was in 2006 and it is still pending with the court.
Interesting idea for a lawsuit, claiming a right to identifying information about birth parents. These lawsuits are distressingly unsuccessful in American courts. Most American courts require a showing of "good cause," like the need for a transplant. I wonder what would happen if one claimed an informational right founded on international law. . . . U.S. courts are not usually enamoured of the idea, I'm afraid. Click here for more from this article.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Crazy Week

Last week was completely crazy, between teaching Adoption Law six hours a day and the girls going back to school and Xiaoli visiting. Don't get me wrong, it was all good, just a struggle to manage!

Xiaoli's visit was wonderful, though I wish we had had more time to entertain her. She, too, was teaching 6 hours a day. We took her to the airport this morning, and the kids already say they miss her.

Friday was only 4 hours of teaching, so we spent a few hours in the afternoon introducing her a bit to Fort Worth's cowboy culture. We toured downtown Fort Worth, with its great old buildings and statutory tributes to cowboys and long-horn cattle. And I showed her Log Cabin Village, with cabins and a school house and an Indian tipi, all from the mid-to-late 1800s. She was amazed at some of the similarities from the inside of the cabins -- like the iron stove in the school house. She said when she was in primary school in northern China, it looked very like the one-room school house, complete with stove in the middle. What amazed her were the wood cabins on the outside. They didn't build log cabins like that in China.

Between restaurants and dinners at my parents' house, and at a friend's house, and even my puny attempts at cooking, we introduced her to a variety of "American" foods (she's been living in a predominantly Chinese part of Queens, and hasn't eaten much non-Chinese food in the U.S.). I have to put "American" in quotes, of course, since the meals included Italian and French and Mexican cooking! She's also experienced the joys of "Southern" cooking, and is a new convert to biscuits.

We had a number of great conversations about the differences and similarities of American and Chinese families, and I'll try to post about some of them in the next few weeks as I remember them!

The Adoption Law class was also wonderful, though completely exhausting. I'll also try to post about some of the most interesting parts. For me, the most interesting parts tend to be my students' reactions. Most of them come into the class knowing little more than the "happy-happy-joy-joy" script about adoption, and really surprised to hear other perspectives.

So, we've survived what I hope will be the craziest week of the new year -- yippee!!!! It'll all be downhill from here!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Birth Mother, Myself

Our friend from China is still visiting, and I wondered whether Zoe would talk with her at all about her adoption. Well, she did. Zoe was giving XiaoLi a tour of the artwork (drawn, of course, by Zoe and Maya) on the walls of the playroom (which is also the spare room where X is staying). X asked about one of the pictures of a woman, and Zoe explained that it was her birth mother. When X asked about the tears on her face, Zoe explained that her birth mother was sad that she couldn't keep her.

It's funny, because when Zoe first drew the picture, it wasn't her birth mother, it was a self-portrait! I think Zoe was just looking for an opening to talk about her birth mother with X.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Review of Adopted: The Movie

Adopted: the Movie
a film by Barb Lee
Review by malinda
What this film is about: OK, I think most of you know what this is about! I've posted about it here, and here, and here. But as the synopsis at the website explains, "one family is just beginning the process of adopting a baby from China and is filled with hope and possibility. The other family’s adopted Korean daughter is now 32 years old. Prompted by her adoptive mother’s terminal illness, she tries to create the bond they never had. The results are riveting, unpredictable and telling. While the two families are at opposite ends of the journey, their stories converge to show us that love isn’t always enough."
The stories are gripping and heartbreaking, and more than a little depressing. In some ways, it showed that new adopters are learning from mistakes of the past -- the family just adopting from China are shown watching a Mei Mei Chinese video with their daughter, for example. But then the new adoptive mother explains how her daughter has done all her grieving in China and attached to them after a few days; juxtaposed with that is 32-year-old Jennifer who is still grieving and who is still trying to build a bond with her adoptive mother after all these years.
It is painful to watch Jennifer struggle with trying to get her family to see her for who she is, in the face of what seems at times like wilful ignorance. She takes her dad to the Sons of the American Revolution building, where she explains that one of his relatives fought in the Revolutionary War so that he is entitled to membership. A worker there says female relatives are eligible for membership in Daughters of the American Revolution -- but only biological descendents. She clearly wants him to stand up for her in some way, maybe by refusing membership, but his response is almost flippant, a "too bad, we love you anyway, kid" kind of response. It is even more painful to hear her adoptive mother say that she feels nothing for her daughter's birth mother, and can't understand why she should be expected to, even as Jennifer explains that it feels like a rejection of her -- her eyes, her face, her skin. And most painful of all is to see Jennifer losing the struggle to cope by slipping into self-destructive behavior.
And then the two most painful lines in the movie for me:
"You only got her because she was abandoned. And she knows that, at a younger age than you can ever imagine.”
"To this point the most dangerous thing I've ever done in my life is bringing up the topic of my adoption with my family."
None of this, however, is pain to be avoided. This film is something that every adult member of a transracial adoptive family should see. I highly recommend it.
What I liked about the movie: The honesty.
It was also fun for me to see scenes of Nanning -- the daughter of the newly adopting family in China is from Guangxi Province, and I'm pretty sure I recognized those headboards as from the Majestic Hotel.
And a real positive in the movie was how supportive Jennifer's older brother -- biological child of her adoptive parents -- was of her search for identity.
What I didn't like about the movie: Jennifer is not a wholly sympathetic character -- but that, of course, is that honesty part! Those who are of a mind to dismiss what she has to say will find plenty of reasons to do so. But then, the movie would have been too pat and unrealistic if she had been portrayed as a saintly sufferer. It's just that I want everyone who sees the film to "get it," and to have no excuses to avoid understanding.
What I learned/How this film helped me: I learned that we've come a long way, and have a long, long way to go.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Racial Identity Formation in Chinese Adoptees

After 6 hours of teaching Adoption Law today, I'm too tired to compose a post! So I'll just give you a reading assignment:

Here's the abstract of a 2004 paper by sociologists at UMass and Anhui Agricultural University examining racial attitudes of Chinese adoptees:

Many American parents who have adopted Chinese children are concerned that their children will incorporate derogatory beliefs from the dominant culture into their developing ethnic minority identities, and consequently come to view themselves as inferior to the white majority. One way to test whether American culture is causing adoptees to incorporate derogatory beliefs into their identities is to compare them with Chinese children for whom being Chinese puts them in the ethnic majority. The current study used a photo preference task to compare the racial and ethnic attitudes of 84 adopted Chinese girls in America, ages 8-11, with the attitudes of 73 of their age and gender peers in China. The results indicate that Chinese adoptees in America are just as comfortable in their ethnic minority identities as children in China are in their ethnic majority identities. In addition, the adoptees are more comfortable with members of other ethnic minority groups. The only point of concern came from within-group analyses indicating that the frequency of Chinese preferences declined as a function of child age. A more critical test of the idea that
Chinese adoptees in America will incorporate derogatory beliefs into their ethnic minority identities will come in adolescence, when peer influence and self-identity are paramount.
Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A friend from China

We're just about to leave for the airport to pick up Xiaoli, a friend of ours from China. She's a professor at Xiamen University, where I taught in 2007. She's doing a post-doc year at NYU, and when I learned she'd be in the States, I arranged for her to teach a short course in Chinese Business Law at our law school. So next week I teach an intensive Adoption Law class, and she teaches Chinese Business Law.

The girls are excited that she's coming, though they wish she was bringing Si Bo, her son who is a few years older than Zoe. They had great fun playing together when we were in China. You can read some more about them and see pictures by clicking here and here.

We've been cleaning non-stop for several days now, since things got a little out of hand over the holidays. And we wanted to make a good impression on our guest, of course -- especially since Xiaoli is Zoe's future mother-in-law (Zoe still says that she'll be marrying Si Bo when they grow up!)

Time to go!

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Poll: Matching Families

Finally, a new poll! Joanne inspired this one in her comment to the Not My Family post. She asks: "Just curious, Mia will be 3 yrs old in Feb (wow!); at what age do these questions and statements:) begin?!!"

So vote, and then comment here to explain your vote! Comments are especially helpful, particularly when you can describe how your child conveyed that impression -- how she/he acted, what he/she said.

Oh, and if you have more than one child, vote based on the one who had the earliest reaction!

The next poll will ask when your child first seemed to realize the sad part of adoption as well as the happy part.

The Lie We Love II

I wanted to comment on another portion of the Foreign Policy article:
In the United States, a motive [in choosing IA] is the notion that international
adoption is somehow “safer”—more predictable and more likely to end in success — than many domestic adoptions, where there’s an outsized fear of a birth mother’s last-minute change of heart. Add an ocean of distance, and the idea that needy children abound in poor countries, and that risk seems to disappear.

But international adoptions are no less risky; they’re simply less regulated. Just as companies outsource industry to countries with lax labor laws and low wages, adoptions have moved to states with few laws about the process. Poor, illiterate birthparents in the developing world simply have fewer protections than their counterparts in the United States, especially in countries where human trafficking and corruption are rampant. And too often, these imbalances are overlooked on the adopting end. After all, one country after another has continued to supply what adoptive parents want most.
Another “OUCH” moment for me – comparing international adoption to the outsourcing of jobs to places less regulated. Has a different ring to it to talk about "off-shore adoption" instead of "international adoption." Any adoptive parent in the U.S. knows that our end of things is regulated out the wazoo (a technical legal term!). But at the sending end? This has been one of the issues troubling me lately – most sending countries are about 40 years behind where we are when it comes to "voluntary" relinquishments, I think.

I've been meaning to post a book review of The Girls Who Went Away, which I read a few months ago, but haven't gotten around to it (I HIGHLY recommend it, BTW). The book is about the era between World War II and legalized abortion, when so many young girls and women relinquished (were coerced into relinquishing ?) their children for adoption amidst a vicious stew of stigma, powerlessness, and poverty. We may do better than that now (or maybe not – it always amazes me that many states (including my home state of Texas) allow minor girls to consent to adoptions without any oversight at all, while preventing minors from having abortions without parental consent/notification or judicial review, and even requiring adult women to listen to all the services available to them if they choose to go to term (paternity determinations, child support, WIC, welfare, etc.). No statute requires agencies to give this information to relinquishing mothers! But I digress . . . . ).

Still, in the U.S., there are currently at least attempts to ensure that relinquishments are voluntary. There are also regulations about what money can change hands in an adoption, in an effort to prevent baby selling. Those regulations often don't exist in other sending countries.So all in all, there is little guarantee that relinquishments in sending countries are truly voluntary.

I know, easy enough for me to say, since China, because of the one child policy, gets a "pass" on this issue. But I'm not exempt from concern even about China -- I worry about how "voluntary" abandonments are, especially for birth mothers. Oftentimes the decision is made by in-laws, after all.

And to place it all in the context of "adoption talk," how does all of this affect our kids when they become old enough to understand it? How can we explain it?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Lie We Love

Finally! This article in Foreign Policy magazine is no longer behind the subscription wall. I read it on another blog last month, but didn't want to post an illicit copy here (problem with being a lawyer, I suppose!)

Anyway, here's a taste:

We all know the story of international adoption: Millions of infants and toddlers have been abandoned or orphaned—placed on the side of a road or on the doorstep of a church, or left parentless due to AIDS, destitution, or war. These little ones find themselves forgotten, living in crowded orphanages or ending up on the streets, facing an uncertain future of misery and neglect. But, if they are lucky, adoring new moms and dads from faraway lands whisk them away for a chance at a better life.

Unfortunately, this story is largely fiction.

* * *

In reality, there are very few young, healthy orphans available for adoption around
the world. Orphans are rarely healthy babies; healthy babies are rarely orphaned. “It’s not really true,” says Alexandra Yuster, a senior advisor on child protection with UNICEF, “that there are large numbers of infants with no homes who either will be in institutions or who need intercountry adoption.” That assertion runs counter to the story line that has long been marketed to Americans and other Westerners, who have been trained by images of destitution in developing countries and the seemingly endless flow of daughters from China to believe that millions of orphaned babies around the world desperately need homes.

UNICEF itself is partly responsible for this erroneous assumption. The organization’s statistics on orphans and institutionalized children are widely quoted to justify the need for international adoption. In 2006, UNICEF reported an estimated 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. But the organization’s definition of “orphan” includes children who have lost just one parent, either to desertion or death. Just 10 percent of the total—13 million children—have lost both parents, and most of these live with extended family. They are also older: By UNICEF’s own estimate, 95 percent of orphans are older than 5. In other words, UNICEF’s “millions of orphans” are not healthy babies doomed to institutional misery unless Westerners adopt and save them. Rather, they are mostly older children living with extended families who need financial support.

The exception is China, where the country’s three-decades-old one-child policy, now being loosened, has created an unprecedented number of girls available for adoption. But even this flow of daughters is finite; China has far more hopeful foreigners looking to adopt a child than it has orphans it is willing to send overseas.

Lots to think about in the article. Please read and comment!

Happy New Year!

Hope you had a good time ringing in 2009! We rang in the new year with a group of our adoption friends -- our 8th annual Pajama Party New Year's Eve. Our first party was right after most of us returned from China with our first children. We had all waited together, and traveled between October and December 2001, so we all had teeny-tinies at New Year's Eve.

That first year, most of our conversations were little different from other first-time parents -- the incredible things our kids did, sleep issues (for us and the kids!), bottles and diapers and what's on sale at BabiesRUs. In following years, the talk was the same as most parents, but might include the cute Chinese ornaments at Kohl's and the cute Asian doll found at Tuesday Morning. And for most of us, the talk reverted to baby talk as we were seeking to adopt child two or three (or four!) from China.

Now in year 8, the conversations were a little different.

What should I do about the little boy in her class who makes her cry by saying China is bad? Has your child asked about siblings in China, because mine has? Mine says she misses her birth parents -- is that normal? Mine has never mentioned her birth parents -- is that normal? A little girl in her class asked why her birth parents gave her up, and she said, "I don't know, I guess they wanted me to have a better life."

New years, new stages, hoping all will be good!