Monday, March 30, 2009

Responding to "You're not my REAL mom!"

In the February 2009 C.A.S.E. eNewsletter, there's this letter and response from social worker Ellen Singer:
Dear Ellen,
The other day, my 10 year old son was angry at me because I set a limit on his screen time. He said to me, "I don't have to listen to you. You’re not my real mother." I was devastated and didn't know what to do."

Ah, what a clever ten year old boy that is. He figured out a “button” that most adoptive parents have and pushed it. Most adoptive parents fear the time that their child will say, “You are not my REAL mother/father.” It is such a loaded statement.

It embodies adoptive parents’ often unspoken worries about whether their adopted child will somehow feel less authentically connected to them, attached to them, love them once they begin to understand what it means to being raised by parents who did not give birth to them.

The fact is, in most situations, while the statement may certainly reflect something related to an adopted child’s making sense of what it means to be adopted, it almost NEVER reflects an adopted child’s sense
of love and attachment to their adoptive parent(s).

Instead, said in anger, it is meant to convey just that – anger – and is likely intended to be hurtful in order for the child/teen to thwart a parent’s directive, win an argument, or gain power. It is therefore a powerful statement, meant to distract the parent from the content of the interaction – in this case, limit setting around screen time. Understanding this, adoptive parents are advised to respond by saying, “We are not talking about adoption right now. We are talking about screen time privileges (or (your room being cleaned, use of the car, etc.). If you want to talk about our relationship or adoption, we can do that at another time.”

To find out what feelings may be behind your son’s statement and to initiate a dialogue, parents are advised to approach their child at some later point in time, when there is calm – not during the moment of conflict – and ask, “When you said …. was there something you are wanting to say about adoption, about your birth parents, about our relationship, etc.?”

Zoe has said, "You're not my real mom," but not in anger (actually, it's Maya, with all her sweetness and empathy who is most likely to say it in anger -- she was mad at me the other day and said I was "too fat!" She definitely has a tendency to lash out when she's mad). But I've always thought that if it was said in anger, I'd answer exactly as suggested here! One day I suppose I'll see if I can maintain that cool in the heat of battle.

The same way role-play helps my girls respond to comments others make about race or adoption, etc., role-play helps me, too. That's why I'm obsessed with digging out every snippet of "adoption talk" I can find! That way, I can be ready for future scenarios and practice responses -- how anal is that?!

Actually, I don't really think the "not my real mom" statement would be a problem, even in "the heat of battle." The REAL mom thing is only a loaded statement if you haven't already "unloaded" it! By acknowledging that my kids have two real moms, by "dropping out" of the competition to be the only mom, there's little sting in the statement. I guess my kids will have to come up with something else to push my buttons!

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Paula at Heart, Mind & Seoul posted about people in a restaurant mistaking her for Kristie Yamaguchi and/or Margaret Cho:

Aside from the black hair, I think I resemble Kristi Yamaguchi and Margaret Cho about as much I resemble my adoptive parents. It's not that I'm offended because I think I'm better looking than either one of them - quite the contrary. It's offensive because in reality, I think we resemble each other so little that it tells me that those who state these opinions as virtual facts are not taking the time or making the effort to look at us as individuals, but rather see me and other Asians as a "you people all look the same" kind of mentality. I'm Asian. I'm in my thirties. I have long black hair. I wear make-up. Yes - of course! I must be Kristi Yamaguchi!!! Silly me for not recognizing it sooner.

I can't help but think. . . if this same server (and her other customers) happened to see a sixty-something year-old White woman in a striking tailored pantsuit with perfectly coiffed hair, expensive looking shoes and a few wrinkles on her face, would she even consider going up to her and asking her if she was H1llary Rodh@m Clint0n?

Somehow I think not.

Well, today, the girls and I go to lunch at Applebee's, and the server tells me how much the girls look like "the twins" from Jon & Kate Plus 8! She said when the girls first walked in she almost rushed up to ask for their autographs. Sheesh. For one thing, my girls are 3 years apart in age and at least 12 inches apart in height!
Here's what I wrote about folks asking if Zoe and Maya are twins when we were in China:

But I'm also amazed that I get LOTS of comments -- especially from the grandmothers on the school playground -- that Zoe and Maya look so much alike. I've always been dismissive of that comment when it's made in the States by non-Chinese. I've figured it was just the black hair, similar haircut, and Asian eyes that was inspiring the look-alike comments. They look COMPLETELY different to me! Zoe's mouth is wider, Maya's nose is just a tiny dot in the middle of her face, and their skin tones are very, very different.

But when I hear from Chinese people that they look alike, I guess I'll have to start believing it! But I still think the "are they twins" question is just plain silly . . . .

I STILL think the girls look nothing at all alike. And I don't think they look AT ALL like the Gosselin twins. And I do think it has something to do with the "they all look alike" attitude that Paula identifies. But our experience in China makes me less certain of that . . . .

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Adoption Don'ts

CNN reports, American Women Held in Egypt For Attempting Illegal Adoptions:
Iris Botros, her husband Luis Andros, Suzanne Hagelof and her husband Medhat dreamed of being parents and decided to adopt Egyptian orphans. One problem: adoption is illegal in Egypt and not allowed under Muslim law.

Hagelof was living with her husband in his native Egypt when they (apparently illegally) adopted a child from the Coptic Christian Church, but she says no money changed hands. Botros, originally Egyptian, flew with her husband to adopt twins from the same orphanage and gave the orphanage nearly $5,000 for expenses and as a donation.

When Hagelof went to the U.S. Embassy get her child a passport to visit the states and Botros went to get passports and entry visas, they both carried documentation claiming to be the birth mothers of the children, despite their ages and, in Botros' case, the fact that she hadn't been living there.

U.S. Embassy officials, concerned that something illegal was going on — which it apparently was — reported them to Egyptian authorities, who arrested both couples, the doctors that forged the birth certificates, the nun that arranged the adoptions and the lawyer that set Botros up with the nun on trafficking charges.
An "adoption don't," huh? That's putting it mildly . . .

Friday, March 27, 2009

I Read It So You Don't Have To

A friend shared this book with me, wrapped in a plain brown wrapper and securely taped so that neither her kid nor mine could see it. And that's just how bad this children's book is!

The book: OwlCat: The Cat Hoo Thought He Was an Owl

The back cover reads:
This is the charming story of OwlCat -- the cat who thinks he is an owl. OwlCat is an orphan cat who has been raised by owls and ventures out to find his long-lost sister. Along the way he meets many interesting animals on this amazing journey of self-discovery.

OK, OwlCat was "raised by owls" -- like the boy raised by wolves? Actually, we discover on the first page of the book that he was actually ADOPTED by an owl family. I'm not sure that "raised by owls" really means adoption in popular vernacular.

The book opens:
It was a lovely day in the forest, yet OwlCat was sad. His little friend HOO Owl asked him what was wrong. OwlCat explained that he had just discovered he was adopted.

"I had started to ask my parents why I was different and they decided it was time to explain the truth. Owl mom and dad had postponed telling me because they were concerned about my feelings. I'm not an owl. I'm a cat! I thought Owl mom and dad were my real parents, but they're not! My real parents disappeared one dark and stormy night near Route 17 when I was just a baby. That explains why I always fall out of our family tree at bedtime."

"Owl mom and dad"?! "Not my real parents"?! "My real parents disappeared"?! How's that for completely ignorant and inappropriate adoption language?! And postponing tell him to protect his feelings? Kind of hard to accept in this day and age, especially with a transracial (trans-species?) adoption!

And I never thought I'd read the line "one dark and stormy night" outside of the Bulwer-Lytton Bad Fiction Writing Contest! When I read the first line, "It was a lovely day in the forest," I kind of snickered, thinking of the infamous "dark and stormy night" line, and then suddenly there it was! What a hoot! [Oops, I can't say hoot with HOO Owl and OwlCat hanging around!]

There is one good point about the book -- it's the first children's book I've seen with a successful search for birth family. [Does anyone know of another?] The searches in adoption-themed books usually result in finding adoptive parents -- like in Little Miss Spider and a Mother for Choco. Here, OwlCat goes in search of his biological sister who was apparently adopted by a cat family "on the other side of the mountain."

They do find each other, and "then Sharma and OwlCat talked about their families and what they should do now that they had been reunited. OwlCat had an idea: why not share each others' adopted families and visit them both."

Despite this one positive point, I don't think I'll be sharing this book with the kids. There's too much on the negative side of the balance.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Best Moms

Zoe has been very affectionate this week, surprisingly so, since she's not really that cuddly. I've been getting lots of hugs and kisses and "I love you's." She doesn't seem particularly needy -- sometimes she needs to be cuddled, but this is more like she wants to give hugs and kisses rather than needing them in return. It might just be that she's missing me since she's been back in school after so much togetherness during spring break. You'd think I'd just accept it gratefully and move on. But no, not me!

I've been thinking something is up and have been giving her lots of opportunities to tell me if there's a problem or if something is upsetting her. She says no. I've asked if her teachers have been saying things about showing appreciation for your parents (that's happened before!). She says no. Oh well, whatever it is, I guess I can just sit back and enjoy the affection, right?!

Then, while we were driving home from gymnastics today, she says in a little voice, "OK, mama, there is something I want to tell you about why I've been giving lots of hugs and kisses." I'm thinking -- at last! I wonder what's wrong?

And then she says in a gleeful voice happy because she's fooled me, "It's because you're the best mom in the whole wide world!"

I'm saying something about how nice that is to hear, when she adds, "and so is my birth mom -- she's the second best mom in the whole wide world!"

One of my basic rules of adoption talk is NEVER COMPETE -- never, ever, try to compete with birth family. I think that's one of the things that make adopted kids feel divided loyalty, when adoptive parents insist they have to be number one in their kids' affections. "Love me best" comes across as "don't love them at all." And the truth is that we each -- adoptive parents and birth parents -- have very real and very important roles in our kids' lives, and that the role of birth parents should be honored, not ignored.

And for another thing, once you engage in competition with birth family, you lose. No way can you compare to the idealized fantasy version of birth family. It's kind of like kids of divorce, where the parent they don't live with is the bestest, nicest, most perfect parent. So I am always accepting of my kids' feelings of love for birth family, I avoid anything that sounds or looks like "what about me?" behavior when Zoe talks about how nice she thinks her birth parents are, how much she misses them, how much she loves them. I NEVER compete.

So while I won't say it to her, I will say it to all of you -- it was nice to be number one tonight! I'm sure the rankings will change the next time she's mad at me, or when she's feeling divided loyalty and a little guilty for loving me best. But tonight I'm the best mom in the whole wide world!

Defining Adoption Reform

Third Mom is applying project management principles to adoption reform -- now there's a worthwhile project to manage! First step -- she's asking for definitions of adoption reform: "Define 'adoption reform.' If possible, include specifics in your answer: laws you believe should be passed or changed, policies you believe should be followed."

Click over there and offer your suggestions!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


As I mentioned, we read Before I Met You last night, and it says, "we can talk about all your feelings and thoughts like . . . Can you look for your birthfamily when you are older?"

I expected Zoe to be interested in that question, but when I asked her what she thought, she did her "Mo-om!" routine: "You know we can't find them! We don't know their phone number or where they live or anything (if I'm this dumb when Zoe is 8, can you imagine how completely stupid I'm going to be when she's a teenager?!).

I acknowledged that it would be really hard to find her birth parents with what little information we had. But I also told her that 30 years ago, people thought it would be impossible for people adopted from Korea to find thier birth families, but that things changed and many are now able to find them. (I didn't want to raise her hopes for what is likely to be at best a remote possibility, but I also wanted to be truthful.)

Given her strong interest in her birth parents, I expected a positive reaction from her, but she seemed ambivalent. She wasn't interested in talking more about that issue, so we moved on to finish reading the book.

I wonder about the ambivalence. She's really invested in her birth parent fantasy these days -- they are nice, kind, perfect. . . . Maybe she's afraid the reality can't live up to her imagination. Or maybe it's anger -- even with the fantasy, she struggles with being angry that they abandoned her.

So, it was an interesting little conversation, and I'm sure we'll be exploring more on the subject.

A Gift for Healing

At the OCDF Great Wolf Lodge Weekend, I bought an adoption book I hadn't seen before, Before I Met You: A Therapeutic Pre-Adoption Narrative Designed for Children Adopted from China. I stuck it on their bookshelf, and Zoe picked it for night-time reading last night. I thought the book was really good -- it explained the one child policy, social preference for boys reason for abandonment, but also talks about other reasons. It addresses explicitly abandonment (without using the word) and is illustrated with a woman kneeling next to a baby in a box on a doorstep. It talks about being in an orphanage or foster family, and the care the baby would receive; but it also says "sometimes there were so many babies that it was very hard for the caretakers to pay attention to each baby like a mother does," which can make a baby not only sad but mad. I don't think I've seen another children's book that addresses that part of the orphanage experience.

I like the realistic approach and the basic message that however you feel about your adoption is OK (a frequent theme of ours around here). The book ends on an encouraging note, reminding the child she's part of her adoptive family forever:

We will stay together, always, when you are happy, sad, and yes, even mad (no matter what you say or do or think or feel!). And, I promise this: you won't ever have to be alone with all those feelings. I am strong and will be here to comfort you and keep you safe, for always.

But I didn't really intend this as a book review! Mostly I wanted to share Zoe's reaction, which moved me and tickled me in equal measure. After the story, Zoe said quite seriously about the author, "She has a gift for healing, the way she explained adoption to kids." Wow!

When I asked Zoe what "a gift for healing" meant, and where she'd come up with that, she said they'd learned about it in Religion class -- along with the gift of wisdom, the gift of knowledge ("that means being smart!"), the gift of faith, and I can't remember what all else. And then she declared proudly, "I have ALL those gifts!"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fake Birth Certificates

Zoe has a fake birth certificate, issued by the State of Texas, showing that she was born in China on November 6, 2000, to me, her mother.

A complete fake. I don't know what I was doing on November 6, 2000, but I do know where I wasn't -- I wasn't in China giving birth to Zoe.

I have to admit I really hate that document. It makes me feel complicit in how adoption has been practiced -- to create these fake documents to replace real documents, to hide away the real documents, to pretend that the fact of birth to a set of natural parents just didn't happen, to change identity, to erase birth parents, to replace them with another set of parents as if birth and adoption can be equated, as if it doesn't matter who parents a child. [Click here for an overview of sealed original birth certificates of adoptees, and click here if you have time to watch a moving documentary on the subject.]

I know it's not quite the same thing -- after all, Zoe's Chinese birth certificate (such as it is! It's all of 3 lines long and doesn't list birth parents for obvious reasons; heck, since it was created for the purposes of adoption, you might call it a fake, too!) isn't hidden away. We don't pretend the Texas birth certificate is anything other than a fake. But still, it rankles.

I know all the practical reasons to get a state birth certificate -- I teach them in my Adoption Law Class! -- it's convenient for school registration, etc., so that you don't have to explain what the foreign document is and provide a notarized translation; it's easy to replace if lost, unlike the Chinese birth certificate which is irreplaceable; it keeps you from have to produce foreign birth certificate, foreign adoption decree and some American document of name change just to prove you're the parent of your child. But still, it rankles.

It rankles so much that I haven't applied for Maya's Texas birth certificate. I don't want a document that places me in the one place I know I wasn't -- in China, giving birth to Maya, on September 15, 2003. And I just enrolled Maya in kindergarden, using her Chinese birth certificate. The school's reaction? "If you say it's a birth certificate, then we say it's a birth certificate."

Maybe Maya will want one later. I don't know, maybe the practicalities will sway me in time. But for now, it rankles a bit too much.

I'm all for legal documents that tell the truth -- the adoption decrees that announce the sufficient and legal truth that I am Zoe's & Maya's mother, for example. But this legal fiction, that I'm the mother Zoe & Maya were born to, is a ridiculous and unnecessary lie.

As adoptive parents through international adoption, we sometimes think that the way adoption is practiced domestically is not our problem. But do you have a fake birth certificate for your child? If so, maybe it is your problem. And ethical adoption practices are everyone's concern, as Heather at Production, not Reproduction reminds us:

I think framing ethical adoption as a justice issue changes the way we talk about it and expands who can join the conversation. It forces the point that anyone who claims to care about social justice needs to care about the way we practice adoption. We all have a vested interest, even those not directly involved in an adoption. Often ethical adoption--especially open adoption--is approached as a matter of compassion, with the argument that the players involved deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and as little unneccesary pain as possible. Which, yes, absolutely. I am all for compassionate adoption practices. But keeping the conversation at that individual level -- even if it brings about certain needed reforms--doesn't help us address the larger social issues that surround every reliquishment and placement, whether or not we realize it.

Whether we like it or not, the choices we make along the way--especially as adoptive parents--are in some ways political statements. Not blue or red statements, but statements about the definition of family, about the value of single parenting, about the extent to which one's personal moral values should be made universal. It's not that politics should dictate our choices, nor that everyone must make the same choices. It's that we need to see how our individual choices feed into and reflect the larger social landscape. Not everyone who adopts is going to agree with me about that. But I'd argue that once we've put ourselves into the web of interpersonal transactions adoption requires--no matter how many steps removed we may be--we're either reinforcing or challenging the way things are.

I know not everyone will agree, and that's OK! But if that fake birth certificate -- so practical to have -- rankles a little? What can you do? Find out where your state stands on open access to original birth certificates for adult adoptees -- here's a helpful map. Then contact the American Adoption Congress state representative for your area to volunteer in reform efforts. Or get started on your own -- the AAC has some helpful materials here.

And if you have a fake birth certificate for your child? Label it a FAKE, tell your kids it's a fake. It's the same kind of government-authorized fake document almost all adoptees in America get, whether adopted domestically or abroad.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

New Poll: Celebrating Anniversaries

Please vote in the poll to your right -- what adoption-related days does your family celebrate? Please elaborate in the comments here! Has what days you celebrate changed over time? How do you celebrate? How has that changed over time? Do you include birth parents or thoughts of birth parents in any of these celebrations?

Everyone celebrates birthdays, right? Which is bigger, your birthday celebrations or your gotcha day celebrations? How do you handle estimated birthdays, or if you think the paperwork birthday is wrong? Do birthdays trigger thoughts of birth parents for your child? For you?

Given the loss and sadness included in adoption, is it appropriate to celebrate adoption-related days? Why or why not?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Adoptee on talking adoption to her APs

From Joy at Joy's Division, Talking About Adoption to my Adoptive Parents:

I try to keep my family worlds compartmentalized. It isn’t so easy because I am in relationships with both my mothers, they are both geographically close to me, in addition to emotionally.

I don’t like feeling split; duplicitous.

I remember once someone asking why adoptees don’t like to talk about adoption to their adoptive parents, I said I would rather eat glass and Addie chimed in with “pass the glass”

* * *

I know they want to be supportive of me, but to hear that adoption hurt me, I think makes them feel very uncomfortable. If they go that far with it, and I think at least my amom does.

I know they have conflicting feelings about some aspects of my “situation”, I know they feel protective of me, and themselves.

I also don’t feel they will be honest with me. That they will say what they think they should say in order to “protect” me.

Unfortunately, that they aren’t frank with me makes it harder for me to trust them.

* * *

I think adoption failed them, it wasn’t what they were led to believe it was. For them to be open about this with me, they would be afraid of hurting me.

I am supposed to be just as good as a bio kid, but I am not. I am me, I do not reflect them. I am not a descendent, carrying their genetic basket into the future, I am not an expression of their love for each other.

I don’t have their mannerisms, their habits, their way of looking at the world. My a-aunts granddaughter has my amom’s features, my child, their grandchild has mine, has my nfamilies.

* * *

The guilt I feel for not being the bill of goods they were sold is slaying . I don’t feel I can risk it.

I know if I do talk to them about it, they will say the right thing, I also know that I won’t know what unhappy surprise is waiting for me 9 months down the line. Of course I am exquisitely sensitive to it.

This is weighing on my mind tonight. Adoptees have a job, we are meant to fill a role, it is exhausting.

I've heard this from many adult adoptees -- I've commented before that the saddest line for me in Adopted: the Movie, is when Jen says, "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."

How do we, as adoptive parents, make it easier for our children to talk to us about their adoption? Is it possible?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring Break Adventures

We didn't take any big trip for Spring Break this year; we did a few day trips, instead. On Tuesday, we went to Fossil Rim Wildlife Park. The drive-through park was a disaster, since everyone else had the same bright idea we had -- bumper-to-bumper traffic the whole way through the park. We love Fossil Rim, but no way am I going back on any holiday! The petting zoo was a success, and the picnic lunch my mom packed was great! Zoe brought a friend along, also a China adoptee. During lunch they talked about how close they were in age (24 days!), and her friend said, "Maybe our birth mothers knew each other!" LOL! Yes, indeed, 1.3 billion people, a land mass that makes it the 3rd largest country in the world, and all Chinese mothers (at least when their children are born close together in time (but not distance!) know each other! Very cute!

On Wednesday, we took the train from Downtown Fort Worth to Downtown Dallas. That would have been enough of an outing for Zoe and Maya, who later named the train trip as the highlight of the day. A short bus ride (No. 8 Uptown) from Union Station in Dallas took us to our real destination, the Crow Collection of Asian Art. The girls were delighted the minute we stepped into the first gallery because the background music was THEIR sleepy-time music, the CD we've listened to every night before going to bed since that first night in Nanning with Zoe in 2001 -- Beijing Angelic Chorus Lullabies!
These origami butterflies were another hit (we thought of you, Maggie!). The exhibit of tomb art was interesting, too, and the girls easily made the connection between these small statues and the terracotta warriors they saw in Xi'an. Though we skipped the King Tut exhibit next door at the Dallas Museum of Art (too crowded!), the huge signs for it gave me a chance to talk to the girls later about the universality of burying objects with the deceased so as to provide a comfortable afterlife.
My favorite part of the Crow Collection (and my mom's too) was the exhibition of comtemporary Japanese quilts. I collect antique quilts, and my mom actually quilts (she's working on Maya's 100 Good Wishes Quilt right now (she did Zoe's, too)), so this exhibit was right up our alley. There really was something different in the aesthetic of these Japanese-made quilts -- more connected to nature, more organic. Very cool!

OK, the photo below gives me a chance to talk about the Great Penis Incident of 2009, a temptation I have so far resisted, but can no longer! (Can't wait to see what searches SiteMeter tells me lead folks to THIS post!)
A few weeks ago, I go to pick up Maya at preschool and the manager calls me aside to show me a picture Maya drew. It was a fully-clothed male figure, but in the appropriate area there was clearly a penis (pointing downward!) between two circular objects (don't jump to conclusions!) surrounded by some frame-like drawing. It seems that Maya and two other children in her class executed fine drawings of penises in class that day! The school wanted to make a big deal about it, but I thought it was hysterically funny and completely age appropriate.
My only question was where Maya has seen such an object. Being a penis-free household, I had to wonder. It took me forever to calm Maya down enough to tell me about her picture -- her teacher told her she was in trouble and that she was going to call her mother! Maya, never having been in trouble before, was terrified. She told me, "All during nap, I worried what you'd say. I thought you'd say, 'Maya, you're 5 years old. You know better than that!'" Poor thing!
Finally, I got out of her that the circular objects on either side of wee willie winkie were the boy's bottom, not what we all assumed! And the frame-like thing drawn around his privates was the toilet (she even drew the flush handle and the toilet paper holder!). Still, the ultimate question was where she'd seen a penis. Easy answer, a little boy in her class showed her his! I admit to being a bit gleeful in telling the school this, since their approach seemed so accusatory -- guess what, Maya saw a penis under YOUR watch, not mine!
So now we have a new rule -- feel free to draw penises anytime you want to at home, but don't draw them at school!
So what does that have to do with the photo below? Well, Zoe and Maya seem to know all about penises in theory, not in reality. They never even blinked in seeing all the penii on display in the various works of art we saw!!!! I mean, there it is, right at eye level, and nary a comment!
Next to the Crow Collection is the Nasher Sculpture Garden, and we had truly lovely weather to enjoy it. The girls were really tickled by some of the art -- the Miro sculpture where the buttocks were two brightly colored soccer balls, for instance -- and really tickled me by their reaction to others. There was a lifesize nude, La Nuit (the Night) of a sitting woman, knees raised, arms resting on knees, head bowed on top of arms. The girls mimicked her posture, and then I asked them what the woman was feeling, what she was doing. Zoe suggested she was sad or lonely. Maya said, "She's looking at her bottom!" What do you expect from the primary figure in the Great Penis Incident of 2009!
Today we went to the new Hong Kong Market in Grand Prairie, in a shopping center called Asia Times Square. We frequently go to the one in Arlington, but decided to check out the new one. The girls love going to the Asian grocery store and grabbing all the snack foods they adored in China -- truly foul-smelling shrimp-flavored chips, panda cookies with fake-strawberry cream inside, lychee-flavored jello cups -- you know, all that Asian health food! I always buy one new sauce, and this time picked up shrimp paste -- can't wait to try it in cooking! We also had lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant next to the market (not the best pho I've ever had, but the salted & toasted shrimp was almost like what we got in China), bought grapefruit candy at the little candy shop, and checked out the bakery (I'm still looking for egg tarts like we had in China).
No big plans this weekend (except for Maya's first soccer game!), so we can relax this weekend to recover from a fun-filled spring break!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Et tu, Jonas Brothers?

Looks like Joe Jonas is playing "keeping up with Miley Cyrus."

Growing Up in China

From USA Today:

GUANGZHOU, China — The White Swan is empty. The five-star hotel here that
historically has housed American couples looking to adopt Chinese babies now only sees a slow trickle of would-be foster [sic] parents after the Chinese adopted a raft of stricter rules a few years back. The cribs and baby strollers the hotel lends out sit idle. The tables in its 1980s-era lounge overlooking the Pearl River are gloomily vacant.

None of this bodes well for American couples looking to adopt here, but it highlights the progress China has made as social mores here shift for the better.

Since 1989, China has sent more orphans — over 70,000 — to the United States than any other country. American couples flock here because its system is far smoother and more transparent than most. And China's one-child policy has resulted in millions of baby girls left abandoned, not to mention millions more aborted. The likelihood that your adopted girl is an actual orphan and does not suffer from, say, prenatal alcohol syndrome, is greater in China than most places. And let's face it, Chinese babies are cute — something the authorities here play up. (Why else would they pick a cute girl to lip-sync the Chinese national anthem at the Olympics?) But adoptions are down dramatically, as a result of the restrictions imposed in 2007: just fewer than 4,000 Chinese babies were adopted by American couples last year, about half the total in 2005.

Much is fair game to disqualify prospective parents: Age (nobody under 30), marital history and sexual orientation all matter now. Even issues of health — being overweight or taking antidepressants — can nix a couple's application. That has Americans frustrated.

* * *

But China's new adoption rules, while onerous, simply reflect its evolution into a more modern society. After all, Beijing is well within its right to decide its own rules and weed out unhealthy parents. Why shouldn't it try to prevent its orphans from inhaling secondhand smoke? China also appears to be relaxing its laws on the number of children Chinese families can have. . .

As income levels in China rise, more couples are just breaking the one-child policy and paying the fine (about $5,000). Adoptions by Chinese couples are up. And social attitudes are evolving, too, resulting in fewer parents discarding their daughters. Half the Sky Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit, reports that fewer healthy babies are entering its orphanages in China.

Of course, data are difficult to verify, but these anecdotal trends are positive. What's more, the notion of American foster [sic] parents rescuing abandoned orphans from Dickensian state-run institutions, while romantic, may be somewhat overblown. "Unfortunately, this story is largely fiction," E.J. Graff of Brandeis University wrote recently in Foreign Policy.

Most orphans are older than 5, sick or disfigured — not the kind most Westerners want. Think of the baby in the newspaper staring up at readers with a cleft lip.

Even so, it seems unfair: At a time when a California woman makes headlines for giving birth to octuplets, there are thousands of infertile American couples for whom foreign adoption remains their best — and least costly — option for parenthood. Their prospects are only exacerbated by China's tougher regulations.

But it signals good news for Chinese society, which is becoming more welcoming toward its newborn daughters and domestic adoption. Were the White Swan to close, nobody in China would probably mind.

It would be harder to find a more offensive piece highlighting a positive trend, I'd think. Can't wait for this guy to get inundated with hate mail from the parents of cleft-affected children, for example!

Add the internal inconsistencies -- there are fewer children in orphanages, but the reason adoptions are down are because of stricter standards imposed on adoptive parents? Huh? And China is imposing draconian rules to weed out adoptive parents but enticing them with cute girls lip-synching at the Olympics?! Then there are the inaccuracies -- the references to adoptive parents as "foster parents" suggest the author knows little about adoption -- that's pretty basic terminology to screw up.

Then there's the stuff glossed over or deliberately obfuscated -- yes, the Graff article in Foreign Policy debunks the myth of millions of healthy orphan infants waiting for rescue, but she says barely anything about China! Indeed, in talking about this myth, she says quite clearly, "The exception is China." We have a mention here that Half the Sky has seen the numbers decline in its orphanages -- how many orphanages is that exactly?!

I can be pretty hard on adoptive parents with a rescue mentality, or who feel entitled to adopt from China; and I've said before that I'm pleased that trends suggest fewer abandonments and increased domestic adoption in China. Nonetheless, THIS opinion piece is just awful! It's so easy to poke holes in the piece that it does more harm than good to his message that fewer international adoptions from China is a good thing (a sentiment I largely agree with!).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Great Wolf Lodge with OCDF

What a fun weekend we had! Our Chinese Daughters Foundation (OCDF) is doing Great Wolf Lodge Weekends, where there are seminars for the parents and arts and crafts for the kids, at Great Wolf Lodges around the country. In case you haven't heard of them, Great Wolf Lodges have indoor water parks as their highlight.
The girls had a ball. In addition to arts and crafts, they attended a seminar session, Ask Emily, where they could ask 15-year-old Emily what it was like to live in China for the past 8 years. (Emily is Jane Liedtke's daughter, and Jane is the head of OCDF.)
The adult seminars were interesting, about living & working in China, general Chinese culture, and orphan care in China. Not much was new to me, but here're a few tidbits I hadn't heard before:

* There are more birth defects like spina bifida and cleft lip/palate in Northern China than in Southern China because of lower levels of folic acid in the diet in Northern China. Also, people in Northern China eat more corn, which is susceptible to a mold that, when ingested, inhibits the body's absorption of folic acid. The Chinese government is now requiring a pre-marital health check and are providing about-to-be-married couples with folic acid tablets.

* Requirements to get a Chinese visa have changed for English teachers. You now need a college degree related to teaching or English or have an ESL certificate (makes sense, but used to be you just needed ANY college degree and be a native English speaker).

* Children in China may end up in orphanages because parents have died in car accidents, because Chinese are superstitious, and the child might be considered "bad luck," so extended family won't be willing to take the child in. Jane thinks this may also be the reason adoption of the quake orphans is so slow.

* When children adopted from China turn 18, CCAA will let them see their adoption file -- wow, this is a big deal! I had never heard that before. Jane says she doesn't know what's in the file, but figures it's probably the orphanage file, plus the adoptive parents' dossier, but who knows!

Jane also told us about some situations where people visiting China unexpectedly found birth family. She says she knows of 11 cases. One of the first stories she told us about was a family on an OCDF tour. When they visited the orphanage, the director told their guide NOT to take them to the vilalge where the child was found. That made them curious to go, and they did find the finding place on the doorstep of the first house in the village. The homeowner was not home, but the neighbor told them about her neighbor finding the baby. They took pictures, and later lost their camera. They decided to go back the next morning to re-take the pictures.
In the meantime, the homeowner returned, and the neighbor told her about the family coming. The homeowner CALLED THE BIRTHPARENTS! She knew who they were, because after abandoning the child, the birth family came into some money, and came back to the house to reclaim the child several years later. They had left the child there, because they knew the family didn't have children and thought they would keep the child to raise her. But the grandparents put pressure on them to take the child to the orphanage so they could have children "of their own." When the homeowner told the BPs the child was taken to the orphanage, they went to the orphanage to reclaim her, but the orphanage director said the child had been adopted internationally. So THAT'S why the orphanage director didn't want the adoptive family to go to the village -- he knew the woman at the finding spot knew the birth family.
Well, the birth parents made arrangements to come to the homeowner's house to talk to the neighbor about the adoptive family's visit the next morning. Sure enough, when the adoptive family came back to retake the pictures, the birth family was there! Wow.
Jane also told us two stories of adoptive parents who found birth parents but decided not to make any kind of contact, even through an intermediary -- including one family where the child had a heart defect and family medical history would have been helpful to have. Jane was with that family, and tried to get them to let her act as intermediary, told them they'd regret it, and sure enough, a month later she heard from them asking if they thought it was possible to make contact now.
Then she told us about a Swiss family who found birth family, and discoverd that their now-9-year-old son had been stolen from his birth family by vengeful neighbors and abandoned. The Swiss family decided to RETURN THEIR CHILD TO HIS BIRTH FAMILY. Six months later, seeing how miserable the child was, the birth family RETURNED THE CHILD TO HIS ADOPTIVE FAMILY. Arrrgghhhhhh! I can't think ANY of this was in the best interest of the child. Certainly, when a child is stolen, the equities on the birth family's side of the equation are great, and there are strong reasons for having lengthier contact with birth family -- maybe yearly visits and then spending the summers there, etc. But returning the child after 8 years?! Without any kind of transition?! Poor kid!
All in all, a fascinating weekend. I'll post more about it in the next few days.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Adoption Comes Home to China

From the Wall Street Journal:
In a small coastal town in Guangdong province, a baby was found at a hospital identified only by a birth date -- April 22, 2005 -- written in ballpoint pen on her stomach. She was 3 months old.

Like most abandoned babies in China, she wasn't well: cherry angioma, benign skin tumors made up of blood vessels, were spreading on her groin. Her parents had most likely left her because they feared her medical bills would crush them, a common cause of financial ruin in China. And she was a girl.

By chance, a month later, Mui Koh, an unmarried Guangdong native who teaches English at a vocational school, started to volunteer her time at the orphanage where the baby had been sent. "The baby was crying so hard and I felt so bad for her," says Ms. Koh, now 38 years old. "I was told she cried like this each time she urinated because it caused the (pain) to flare up."

Back home in the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her parents, Ms. Koh couldn't stop thinking about the baby. The next day she went back to the orphanage and took the baby to see a doctor at a public hospital nearby. For 300 yuan (about $44), he removed the tumors.

Every evening after that, Ms. Koh visited the orphanage after work to care for the baby. She called her Portia, after the heroine in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice." In Chinese, she was Bao-sha -- bao for treasure and sha for the first character in Shakespeare's Chinese name.

Two months went by and Ms. Koh's love for the baby grew. Then the orphanage warned her that unless she adopted Portia -- now perfectly healthy -- the baby would be adopted by someone else.

Ms. Koh was stumped: "I didn't even know the concept of adoption at the time," she says.

No wonder. While China is known overseas as a place many go to adopt babies, until recently adoption was uncommon among Chinese families themselves. That's partly because of limited financial resources, and partly because the country's Confucian culture emphasizes family and filial piety.

"In China, society operates on blood relationships," says Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. "So if families can have their own children, they aren't going to adopt."

But change is afoot. Local adoptions are on the rise, thanks to economic progress and evolving social attitudes. Adoption also provides a way around China's family-planning policies, which aim to limit most urban couples to one child.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Polish Immigrant

Zoe's second-grade class is participating in an Ellis Island project today. Each child was assigned to a family from a particular country -- Zoe was Sonia Witeski from Poland. I went this morning to hear each family group present the poster it made for their country, the kids wearing "native" dress or traveling clothes. This afternoon, the groups will "immigrate" through Ellis Island, going to different stations and having to answer questions about whether they've committed crimes or if they have a job in America, getting a medical exam, taking a citizenship test.

The presentations this morning were a hoot. I learned about "Monsterella" cheese from Italy, the "Patriot" Saint of Ireland, and quite a bit about "Chesterlosakia!" And then the reasons for leaving their home countries: "we are leaving because of World War I," from the German family; "we want freedom," from the oppressed family from Norway (!); and my favorite, the Italian family leaving because of the Punic Wars?! (which were fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 to 146 BC!).

Zoe didn't want to be a Polish immigrant at first -- "Why can't I be from China?" I simply explained that people immigrating from China didn't go through Ellis Island, but through Los Angeles. I didn't explain about the Chinese Exclusion Act that prevent most Chinese immigration. When we were looking for a head scarf for her to wear, I was complaining that all the ones we had were silk, and not suitable, and Zoe said, "If I was coming from China I could wear a silk scarf." Hmm, not ready to let that one go, it seems!

Last night, Zoe wanted to talk about everyone she knew who was an immigrant -- Mimi (France), Uncle Jacques )France), Aunt Vickie (Panama), and of course, Maya (China!). Then there's cousin Pascale from France and her son Peter from Sierra Leone, not her son Julian whose from Houston. After we listed them all and located them all on the globe, Zoe asked disgustedly, "Don't we know ANYONE from Australia?" So we're now in the market for an Australian friend, it seems!

I love this project! So much current discussion of immigration is extremely negative and dehumanizing. I love that Zoe is learning about it with a positive cast. And I'm glad we got to talk about immigration and her position as an immigrant -- I think many people don't consider international adoption to be immigration and so don't think the immigrant experience is relevant to our children.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Menstruation Talk Becomes Adoption Talk

Another great conversation from an adoptive mom friend:

This weekend I had the most interesting discussion with my 10-year-old daughter. (The same child who previously informed her younger sister that newborn puppies do NOT come out through the mother's eyeball! See Birth, Adoption, and . . . Yelling?) Though she has known basic facts about reproduction for some time, I haven't gone into detail about how female bodies operate. Given that she's showing signs of approaching puberty, I thought it was about time we had THE TALK. Our conversation turned into a totally unanticipated discussion about birth, heredity, adoption, abandonment, and choice.

I began the talk by explaining how as girls grow up, their bodies become able to have a baby. Her immediate reaction was "I don't want to have a baby!" I continued explaining the facts about a woman's monthly cycle (ovaries, uterus, eggs, blood, etc.) This part did not seem to gross her out her like I thought it would. However, it brought up a lot of other topics including:

Abandonment and adoption in China vs. the U.S. - "If I have a baby I will have to do what my birth parents did" (abandon her). This led to a discussion of that scenario, followed by a discussion of what many birth parents do in the U.S. (make an adoption plan, choose adoptive parents, maintain contact with their child, etc.).

Adopting, giving birth, heredity - "I don't want to have a baby because it will hurt. I want to adopt instead." I suggested that she may change her mind about that and eventually mentioned that she might want to consider it, because it would probably be the only time she would have a relative that looked like her. This led into a discussion about heredity and how many children look like their parents, but not always.

The birds and the bees - "How do you get pregnant?" "How do you avoid having a baby?" I provided basic info about how the sperm and egg get together and a few ideas about how to prevent that from happening. We talked about how when boys get older, they'll want to do that because it feels good and that she can say no. I also suggested that woman can take medicine or do other things to keep the sperm and egg from making a baby. I never mentioned abortion (didn't occur to me, as I was focusing on abstinence and contraception), but it was a very "pro choice" discussion. I told her that if she did not want to have a baby, she didn't have to... that it was HER choice (though I think that God is also involved). It seemed important to say that to her, to alleviate her fears. I am very glad to live in a day and age when I can say that to my daughter!

So, if you haven't had this particular discussion yet, beware that it might turn into much more than a discussion of feminine hygiene. (We did cover that too.) It was a very interesting discussion for both of us and not anything like I imagined it would be! It was also interesting that she approached the subject mostly from the point of view of a (potential) birth parent who does not want to have a child. Other children might take the position of desiring a child someday and vowing to keep it no matter what!

Something else to look forward to -- thanks for the warning! Best to be prepared . . . .

Dealing With Stereotypes

A timely article from Adoptive Families magazine about dealing with racial stereotypes:

At a recent workshop for adoptees, there was a discussion on the subject of stereotypes. Many of the 10- to 14-year-olds in attendance were unfamiliar with
the term. But when examples of Asian stereotypes were listed—math club geek, China doll, kung-fu fighter, laundry worker, rice eater, and so on—they all began to giggle with recognition.

Old martial arts movies, as well as today's mainstream media, had filled their minds — and those of their schoolmates — with a narrow array of characters that defined Asians. The kids knew all too well the nicknames, assumptions, and expectations that were put on them based on their physical and racial features.

As parents, we want our children to be aware of racial stereotypes, but not feel defined or restricted by them. We want to encourage their individuality. Here are some ways to begin.

The article gives a number of good suggestions for dealing with stereotyping, and includes some responses kids can give when asked questions based on stereotype, like "Does your family eat rice every night?"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not Funny

Usually, the Onion is a hoot, but this story isn't funny at all -- it actually makes me cry:

Son, It's Time We Have A Talk About Where Babies Go

Now, Xiu, you're getting to be a really big boy, and I know you've been asking a lot of questions about Mommy and why she's been so sad lately. Well, your mom and I have been talking and we think you're finally old enough to learn where babies—where babies go.

No, the stork doesn't take them away, Xiu. Please, son, just listen to Daddy, okay? Do you remember when Mommy had a big tummy? Yes, you put your ear next to it, that's right. Now, do you also remember around that time, when that letter came in the mail? The one Daddy ripped up and threw all over the ground? And Xiu, a few months after that, do you remember that man—that tall man in the shiny coat? He came to our door and there was all that screaming?

No, he's not where the babies go, either. Not exactly. Please Xiu, just wait a second…. It's a little more complicated than that.

You see, when a mommy and daddy love each other very much, but they're being pressured by the People's Republic of China and they have nowhere else to turn, sometimes they will walk miles away to a place where nobody knows who they are, and they'll—wait, no. Hold on. Let's start over. Can Daddy just think for a moment here?

Play with your toys for a bit. Why don't you take out Mr. Bear and Mrs. Giraffe and play with them for a little while? It's all right, Daddy's okay. He just needs to go splash some cold water on his face.

Okay, this might make more sense. You know how sometimes I complain about there being too many toys in your room, and how I say that they're making a mess, and in order to not make such a mess, you might need to throw some of your toys out? Well, China is kind of like that, too. What's that? You're right, I've never told you to throw any of your toys away. Because that would be very mean—yes—you're right. Xiu, my son, please don't cry. None of your toys will have to be thrown out.
Nobody should have to get rid of anything they love.

* * *

How can I—you're so young and so ...You know what? It's the stork. The babies go with the stork, Xiu. Giant storks come and take the babies away and that's where they go. Make sense? Good.

I'm not even sure it was intended to be funny -- it strikes me instead as one of the most trenchant criticisms of the one child policy I've heard in years.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Chinese Eyes" Gesture Comes Home

Maybe it was inevitable, but I had hoped not. Zoe came home from school today with a story of two boys making the infamous eye-pulling gesture. They were in the gym waiting for the 1-mile run, Zoe tells me, when the two boys did it in front of her. Boy 1 was laughing and said, "I'm Chinese," to Boy 2. Boy 2 then did it back, also laughing.

Zoe said to them, "Hey guys, do you know you're making fun of ME? You're hurting my feelings." Boy 2 said sorry, and stopped doing it. Boy 1 didn't say anything and kept doing the eye-pulling thing and laughing.

Zoe was pretty satisfied with how she handled it. She doesn't think the gesture was directed at her in particular, but she's sure they were making fun of Chinese people and maybe didn't realize how a Chinese person would feel about it. She was particularly worried about how it would have been for two of her friends, from China and Korea, if they had been there, too. She was glad that Boy 2 listened to her and stopped, and unhappy that Boy 1 didn't -- but isn't completely sure he heard her complain.

She needed to go through it all over and over this evening, but was more focused on why they would do it rather than on how it made her feel. "Why do people make fun of other people? Why won't people say they're sorry? Don't they know it hurts people's feelings? Did that ever happen to you? What did you do about it? Did you ever stand up for other people?"

Other than saying it hurt her feelings, Zoe wouldn't say much about how she felt about the incident. She needed lots of cuddling this evening before bed, though. (In fact, as I said in my "talking adoption tips," she told me about it in the car (!). I told her I wished I could give her a hug right then, and as soon as we pulled into a parking space, she ripped off her seatbelt and leapt at me for a hug.)

My side of the conversation was pretty basic during all of this. I agreed with Zoe that what the boys did was wrong. I encouraged her to talk about it. I told her I was sorry she was hurt. I asked her if she wanted me to say something to her teacher (she said no, and I'll honor it at this time). I thanked her for telling me and asked her to tell me if it happened again. She promised she would. I told her I was so proud of how she used her words to tell the boys how she felt. And what I didn't say -- "What about kids who hold up their fingers and do bunny ears in photos? Should rabbits start holding town meetings to cry racism??"

I am so glad we've been pro-active about the possibility of racial teasing and negative adoption comments and the like. (We've role-played these kinds of situations several times.) Zoe told me she was glad we'd read the book "Chinese Eyes," because she felt ready to handle it when the boys did to her what boys had done to the girl in the book. (That's not really the point of the book, it's more about why the boys said that to a Korean girl, and about celebrating differences, but the book gave us a chance to talk about the eye-pulling gesture.) And she wanted to read the book again tonight.

I really am proud of how Zoe handled it. And I'm thrilled that she feels empowered to stand up for herself (and for all Asian peoples, apparently!). I'm not claiming it to be the worst incident ever; I think Zoe also did a good job of understanding just what the conduct was about and how it related to her and how it didn't (she knew, for example, that it wasn't directed AT her). And I think her response was nicely calibrated to the seriousness of the offense.

A milestone of a sort passed . . . .

Switched at Birth

Here's an interesting story:
As a child, Fred George never fit in. His Lebanese family was a dark-haired, outgoing bunch, while he was a shy blond. Across town, another boy, Jim Churchman -- the only brunette in his fair Scottish family -- felt the same way. "People teased me when I was younger," says George. "They said: 'You're a Churchman' ... but I didn't want to know."

What was suspicion became truth. At the age of 57, long after George had moved to the U.S., the two men finally had a DNA test and discovered they'd been switched at birth. Born just two hours apart on Christmas Eve in 1946 in Dunedin, New Zealand, they'd been placed in the wrong bassinets at the hospital. This week George flew back to New Zealand to surprise the mother who never had a chance to raise him, Helen Churchman, on her 82nd birthday. "I feel I've two families," George said. "And I've been so lucky to have had two mothers."
Click here to read more. The article also references another story about Czechoslovakian parents who decided to keep thier "switched" babies after the mistake was revealed 10 months after birth.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Connection and Rivalry

I found a thought-provoking quote in the review of a book I have yet to read, Cultures of Transnational Adoption, edited by Toby Alice Volkman. I recognize the names of several contributors to the book, so I'm putting it on my reading list (which is so long now that I will die before I complete it!).

Here's the quote:
Adoptive families find themselves simultaneously asserting the possibility and indeed the daily reality of forming deep and meaningful parent-child relationships with a child who comes not just from another woman's body, but from another country, and at the same time recognising the prior and continuing umbilical pull that links their child physically and psychologically with another person and place. The need to understand and come to terms with this, often unknown, woman, seems to be as great for many adoptive mothers as it is for their children (contrary to the social work script that usually assumes adoptive parents will seek to deny this rival presence).

Friday, March 6, 2009

DAR and Adoption

In my review of Adopted: The Movie, I mentioned that Korean adoptee Jennifer is told that she cannot join Daughters of the American Revolution even though her adopted father is eligible for Sons of the American Revolution. Only blood related lineal descendants are eligible.

I was curious enough to go to the DAR website to see what they said about adoption and membership, if anything. The membership requirements are pretty clear:
Any woman is eligible for membership who is no less than eighteen years of age and can prove lineal, blood line descent from an ancestor who aided in achieving American independence. She must provide documentation for each statement of birth, marriage, and death.

And then in the FAQs, there's this:

Q. I'm adopted can I still become a member?

A. Yes, but only through your birth parents' lineage, not that of your adopted family. All lineage for DAR membership must be bloodline descent.

The FAQs seem like deliberate cruelty -- prove your lineage through your birth parents in the U.S. where we seal original birth certificates of adoptees. That'll happen, right?! (But on the other hand, I know of a case where a court found "good cause" to unseal an adult adoptee's birth certificate because the adoptee had reason to believe he was of American Indian ancestry and wanted tribal membership. Putting aside the fact that adoptees should be able to access their birth certificates any time they want, for good reason or no reason at all, maybe adoptees can petition to unseal birth records to prove eligibility for DAR?)

This isn't an issue that will affect us. Not only am I not a lineal, blood relative of a Revolutionary hero, I'd be completely uninterested in joining even if I were. But if you know adoptive parents who are members of DAR or organizations like it that disallow membership by adopted descendants, maybe you could pass this information on to them. I'd like to think that any AP would immediately end thier relationship with the DAR on receipt of this information.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Talking adoption -- lead or follow?

A recent post at Anti-Racist Parent is relevant to a discussion in the comments of my post on talking adoption tips. I agree with what both Mei-Ling and Lisa have said in the comments, especially the need for striking a balance between initiating adoption talk and not pushing issues the child isn't ready to hear. I thought I'd share another perspective on striking the right balance -- it's from Paula, adoptee and adoptive mom, who also blogs at Heart, Mind and Seoul:

I must admit, I cringe just a little bit every time I hear an adoptive parent say they plan to follow their child’s lead when it comes to addressing the different aspects in adoption. Whether it’s talking about their child’s first family, integrating their child’s ethnic culture, addressing the subject of race and race consciousness, identity, loss, grief, feelings of rejection, fear of abandonment or resistance to trust, I can’t help but think what a tremendous burden it possibly might be on the child to have to be responsible to initiate and direct these kinds of conversations with their parents . . . the people a child looks up to, the authority figures and the ones who I believe should be behind the wheel.

* * *

Imagine being a child of 5, 8 or 12 years old and never having your parents approach the topic of your adoption other than saying things like “Be proud of the fact that you’re adopted”, “Being adopted makes you special” or “Other kids sure must be jealous of how lucky you are” without so much as an opening or opportunity to talk about the more complex and often times confusing aspects that accompany one’s status as an adoptee. Imagine how nervous, anxious and even frightened a child might be to ask their adoptive parents about his/her desire to know more about his/her first family, when it’s never been genuinely brought forth as a legitimate topic of discussion before. I personally believe that there are already so many responsibilities that many adoptees automatically take on and internalize when it comes to their relationship with their adoptive parents, that to ask an adopted child to be the facilitator of his/her own family adoption-related discussions is just too much of an unfair and unnecessary onus to place upon any adoptee.

Just today my son and I talked about his Korean family. I strive to find that balance in giving him the security of knowing that he is our son and that my husband nd I are the mom and dad who are raising him while still honoring his beginnings including acknowledging the parents of whom he was born; the family who will always be a part of his identity and a part of who he is at his core. We don’t talk about adoption everyday, but we have authentic and unprompted conversations several times a week - it’s just something I feel very passionately about discussing frequently and openly in our everyday lives. Some days he says very little and shows hardly any interest and sometimes he has a host of questions about his Korean family, foster family or the differences in appearances between him and many of his peers. But I make it a point to provide numerous opportunities to talk about the myriad of different aspects pertinent to his adoption and allow him to share as little or as much as he chooses. And that is where I follow his lead.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Sorry I've been so delinquent in blogging -- it seems I can handle only one obsession at a time, and right now I'm working on Maya's travel scrapbook. Yes, with the fourth anniversary of our adoption trip for Maya imminent, I'm finally getting around to working on her scrapbook! Two weekends ago I did an all-weekend crop, and managed to get through referral, travel, Beijing, gotcha moment, first day together, and finalization of adoption -- about 15 pages.
Maya is thrilled, and each morning she asks me if I've done any more pages while she was sleeping! That's motivated me to another 15 pages, and I've gotten us all the way through our stay in Nanning, and we're heading into Guangzhou. Of course, the most meaningful moments in Nanning were getting Maya and finalizing her adoption. Second comes visiting Mother's Love Orphanage and meeting Maya's foster mother and foster sister.

I promise to be a more diligent blogger in the future! But I have enjoyed getting back into scrapbooking after a hiatus of about 4 years, and also enjoyed revisiting that special trip to China.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Talking Adoption Tips

An adoptive parent stopped me at Chinese School to pick my brain about some questions her daughters – a few years younger than my two – have been asking about their birth parents. It made me think it would be worthwhile to put some of my “tips for talking adoption” in one place, and to solicit your advice for the list, too. So here’s a starter list. What would you add?

1. Be honest. If you don’t know, say “I don’t know.” It’s okay to speculate or guess, but always label it as such. “I don’t know what your birth mother looks like, but I think she might have the same beautiful smile that you have.”

2. Keep it cool, matter-of-fact, natural. You want your kids to feel comfortable talking to you about any aspect of adoption, so you have to show that you’re comfortable talking about it. If you’re not comfortable talking about it, start practicing now.

3. They’re likely to ask questions when you’re driving – no eye contact seems to make it feel safer for them to raise questions. If it’s not driving, it’ll be something else that has you a bit distracted from them. Just go with the flow!

4. Ask clarifying questions if you’re not sure what they’re asking or sharing with you. That’ll keep you from answering a question they’re not asking! And that makes it a conversation, instead of just you talking TO them.

5. Books about adoption are a great way to jump-start conversations and to bring a different perspective to the issue. Better have a few on hand, though, because they’ll come up with questions before you’re ready and you won’t have time to order from!

6. Don’t hesitate to ask them what they think, suggest role-plays, have them draw pictures or write stories or otherwise exercise their imaginations. “We can’t call your birth mother because we don’t know her phone number. Would you like to make a pretend phone call to her?”

7. Talking adoption isn’t a one-time deal -- you always have the opportunity for a do-over. If you don’t like how you handled a particular conversation, raise the issue again: “Remember yesterday when you asked if I knew your ‘real’ mom’s name? I wanted to talk more about that . . . .”

8. If your kids are talking adoption and asking questions, you know you’ve done something right!