Thursday, April 30, 2009

Movie -- "Eagle Flute"

FYI: Variety reports on the Monaco Charity Film Festival, where this interesting-sounding film was shown: "'Eagle Flute,' from Chinese mainland helmer Tao Jiang, follows a young Chinese girl's adoption by a nomadic Tibetan family, and her quest to find her birth parents." Might be something to watch for when there's a wider release.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Pray For Them

Another busy day, with Zoe doing homework in the car as we drove from one activity to another. When we got in the car after ballet to drive to Maya's end-of-season soccer party, Zoe pulled out her Religion book to review for a test. She decided to test me, reading me the questions, giving her answer, and asking for mine -- and mine couldn't be the same as hers.

The first questions were easy -- what of God's creation do you experience with your five senses? Zoe's answers: eyes, flowers; ears, music; nose, perfume; mouth, spaghetti; touch, smooth rocks. Mine: my kids, my kids, my kids, my kids ("You can't EAT us!" Zoe says; "No, but I can kiss you all over!"), my kids!

The last was tougher -- "Write a prayer of blessing for a friend, a family member, or a member of your parish." -- tough because I'm one of those old-timey Catholics who have a hard time with spontaneous prayer (the Hail Mary? got it; St. Francis of Assisi's prayer? no problem; wanna hear the Our Father, got it covered)! Zoe's prayer was for a friend whose dog had died. Mine was a part of my usual, silent, night-time prayer: "Dear God, please bless Zoe's and Maya's birth families with the peace of knowing that their girls are happy and loved."

I glanced in the rearview mirror, uncertain what the silence from the back seat meant. Zoe was hugging herself and smiling -- glowing, actually. "Didn't you know I pray for your birth family all the time," I asked. Zoe answered, "No! But I'm glad, because I do, too!" That, I knew. But I guess I should have clued her in on my prayers long ago. It really mattered to her. I guess I should have figured that out sooner.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What is a "real" mom?

Cassi at Adoption Truth describes what a mom is, and what an adoptive mom should be:
I don’t fall for the argument I see so often from adoptive parents. The justifications they throw out, repeating themselves and others like an old skipping record. The one that always starts with the same words . . .

“I am my child’s real mom because . . . “

This is always followed by some variation of . . . I changed their diapers . . . stayed up with them at night when they were sick . . . helped them with their homework . . . etc, etc, etc.

My first reaction to this argument is . . .

“So what?”

Those are all actions. Something a nanny or babysitter can, and often, does. Yes, that means you are providing for your child’s basic needs but that, to me, is NOT what makes you a mother. That makes you a good caregiver.

So what is a mother then? What is it that I believe some adoptive moms understand that others don’t?

To me, being a mom is based first, and foremost, on unconditional love. It is the realization that no matter what might have happened to bring a child into your life, the minute you hold your child in your arms, it has NOTHING to do with a need they are fulfilling in you and EVERYTHING to do with their own needs.

* * *

It’s about giving them the capability to love and believe in themselves. To know their feelings will be validated, understood and never discounted. That our own nsecurities or emotional needs do not restrict or hold our children back from finding and being who they truly are.

And, unfortunately, so often in the adoption world, I find adoptive moms who don’t seem to understand the importance of this. They want to find a way, with everything they have, to deny that their child will EVER face issues from being adopted, instead of putting that same fight into giving their child the confidence and trust that they can go to them with their feelings about adoption, no matter what they might be.

* * *

But, as I said, there are others. Those who keep me grounded when I want to lash out at all because I’m hurt or my son is hurt. Those who seem to be rare but do exist.

To me, these are moms. These are the women who offer true unconditional love to their children. Who love them with all their heart and want only what is best for them and their lives. They aren’t digging those holes, burying their heads as far as they can go. They are, instead, doing whatever it takes, fighting whatever battle there is, being everything they can for their children. Because that is truly what it means to be a mom.

I am honored, together with Margie at Third Mom and Dawn at This Woman's Work, to be included on Cassi's short list of adoptive moms whom she thinks meet this ideal! Thank you, Cassi. All I can say is, I try. And your post will encourage me to try harder. Reading what birth moms and adoptees have to say has been a true education for me.

Why Americans Are Adopting Fewer Kids from China

From TIME Magazine this week:

[T]he new laws [tightening requirements for adopting] are only part of the reason that fewer Chinese children are being adopted by American families. While the Chinese government does not release domestic adoption figures, U.S.-based adoption agencies say more Chinese children are also being adopted in China. "You have this cultural shift along with the economic shift, where more and more people can not only afford to adopt a child, but culturally it's more accepted," said Cory Barron, foundation director at Children's Hope International. Historically, adoption was not socially acceptable or a viable economic option for many families in China. But orphanages were getting more crowded, prompting the government to open up to international adoptions in 1992.

Josh Zhong, founder and director of Chinese Children Adoption International in Colorado, remembers what it was like in China just 10 years ago. "You would see hundreds of thousands of children," he said. "Orphanages begging you to come in, saying, 'Please help us, these children need to go home.'"

A slow shift in gender perception may also be playing a role. While girls still make up 95% of children at orphanages, Zhong says that, too, has shifted. "People's attitude toward having girls is changing dramatically," Zhong said. "I have friends [in China]who have girls, and they are just so excited."

With fewer children being put up for adoption but the foreign demand going strong, China can afford to be more selective. "I think they are saying, you know what, we have fewer children now and so we are looking for better parents," Zhong says. His
organization has experienced a drop from 1,152 China adoptions in 2005 to 422 in 2008. And while Beijing's new standards may sound harsh to Americans with their hearts set on a baby, they have little influence in the matter. "These are China's children and they can set the requirement to what they deem is best," says Barron.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I love this story from China Daily, which you would NEVER find in a U.S. newspaper:

Educationally mismatched but amorously sound

Despite public apathy, a woman with a master's degree has married a man with just a high school diploma in Yingyang, Henan province.

Ma Yanxia and her husband Tong Lixiang, a farmer from east China's Zhejiang province, first met online in 2007 and got married last month.

The couple are living a happy and harmonious life despite warnings from people that they were not suited for one another.

In addition to planting and growing rice, they want to raise fish and run a fruit garden.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Another list

2009 Inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
  • Jeff Beck
  • Little Anthony & the Imperials
  • Metallica
  • Bobby Womack
  • Run-D.M.C.
So why am I telling you this? Yes, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland, and yes, I played hooky from the conference to dash down there this morning -- really cool place. But that's not why I'm telling you.

It's because Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C was the keynote speaker at the conference this evening. Why was a famous rap star a speaker at an adoption conference? He is an adoptee, who first found out he was adopted when he was 35. He now does lots of work with foster kids and works on adoption issues like open records. (If you saw his VH1 documentary, you know all of this, right?)

He was an extraordinary speaker-- really funny-- but his opening act almost upstaged him. The evening entertainment started with performances by a group of foster kids that was really fantastic. They read poems they wrote and danced to rousing cheers of the audience. McDaniels was there, and I can only imagine the thrill it was to perform for him. And when he performed at the end, he invited them all up on stage as back-up dancers and you should have seen those faces shine!

The song he performed with Zara Phillips, I'm Legit, is, believe it or not, about open adoption records. It's good, so click the link! (Really! I don't like rap, either, but I like this. I think you will too!)

Lists. . .

. . . from the various conference presentations. I'm a good student -- I always copy down lists. When the teacher says, "There are THREE things . . . " I know to start scribbling!

I'm too tired to flesh out the lists -- maybe later! Or maybe you can have fun fleshing it out yourself by imagining what each item means. Ok, that's a pretty lame parlor game, and I suspect you'd like to hear some whys and wherefores, so I'll definitely work on it later!

The Seven Core Issues in Adoption-- for adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents alike.
by Sharon Roszia
1. Loss
2. Rejection
3. Guilt/Shame
4. Grief
5. Identity
6. Intimacy & Relationships
7. Control

The 4 As
by Nancy Verrier
1. awareness (be aware of your adoption issues)
2. acknowledgment (acknowledge your adoption issues)
3. authenticity (seek your authentic self)
4. accountability (be accountable, be responsible, for your own feelings in relationships)

Ten Commandments of Telling (hard truths about your child's pre-adoption past)
by Betsy Keefer
(gotta be Roman numerals for this list!)

I. Do not lie.
II. Tell information in an age-appropriate way.
III. Allow the child to be angry without joining in.
IV. Share all information by the time the child is 12.
V. Remember the child knows more than you think.
VI. If information is negative, use a third party professional.
VII. Use positive adoption language.
VIII. Don't impose value judgments.
IX. Initiate conversation about adoption.
X. The child should be in control of his story outside the family.

Three Strikes and It's Closed Adoption
by John Sobraske
(how adoption moved from open to closed over time in history)

Strike 1 -- Cut ties to birth families
Strike 2 -- Secrecy to pass off adopted child as biological child
Strike 3 -- Stigmatize premarital sex

Thoughts on Raising Children From Another Race & Culture
by Margie Perscheid

1. Consider the vantage points.
2. Don't fight reality, face it.
3. Accept the existence of racism and work to end it.
4. "For every excuse (to avoid culture, diversity), there is an equal and opposite action."
5. Be sensitive to the ebb and flow of your child's interest.
6. Forge your own path -- there's no roadmap.
7. Welcome living outside your comfort zone.
8. Make the abstract real: Grab every opportunity to bring your child's community to life in your family and home.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Blog Friends

What a treat today! I got to meet Wendy and her husband Jeff, and the always fabulous Madeline. They were gracious enough to drive for 2 hours just to have lunch with me -- I'm honored! I've "known" Wendy since I started the Xiamen Adventure blog in 2007, where I blogged about our 5-month sojourn in China. Wendy was then, and is still, my most indefatigable commenter! (Since I'm embarassing her by posting her photo, I figured it would only be forgiveable if I embarassed myself in the same way).
I don't think anyone seeing us would have realized we had just met for the first time -- the virtual world translated so smoothly into the physical world. I swear I've known Wendy forever, and even her voice sounded exactly as I expected.

Madeline is adorable, and consented to give me a hug since I hadn't had any little-people hugs since Wednesday, and even let me hold her hand. We shared knock-knock jokes, and I told her Zoe's & Maya's current favorite: "Where does the King keep his armies? Up his sleevies!" Madeline in an accomplished ice skater and showed me a truly excellent arabesque. I think she shares my kids' opinion that I'm just a little weird, especially when I said, "I'm going to take a picture of you taking a picture of me!"
I got to meet another blog friend -- Margie of Third Mom. I knew I was going to like her blog the minute I read the explanation for the title: "Let me tell you about all of my mommies!" said my five-year-old son one day as we sat in our kitchen. He began counting: "There's my first mother in Korea, then Mrs. Cho (his foster mother), and then you - you're my third mom!" It so reminded me of Zoe explaining to Maya about their moms: "I have a birth-, a grand-, a god-, and a regular. And you have a birth-, a foster-, a grand-, and a regular." That's me, regular mom. Or if you're counting, I'm Fourth Mom!
I loved that Margie OWNED her title, embraced it, identified with it, instead of the all-too-familiar, loyalty-dividing "I'm the ONLY mom" title. Her blog has helped me alot in understanding adoption issues, and wouldn't you know it, she helped me in person by opening a locked door keeping me out of the hotel (how's that for symbolism!).
I love the internet! Who wants to hold hands and start singing, "It's a small world after all . . ."?

The Conference So Far . . .

. . . has been fabulous! I feel like a bit of a groupie, though, as I'm excited about meeting some of the "names" whose work I've read or viewed. The keynote speaker yesterday morning was Dorothy Roberts, and I've used several of her law review articles in my classes. She's a wonderful writer, and I've been hooked on her since reading her article on prosecution of drug-addicted mothers. She starts with a really powerful illustration of how we divide our concern for the baby from our disdain for the drug-addicted mother: "A former slave named Lizzie Williams recounted the beating of pregnant slave women on a Mississippi cotton plantation: 'I[']s seen n***** women dat was fixin' to be confined do somethin' de white folks didn't like. Dey [the white folks] would dig a hole in de ground just big 'nuff fo' her stomach, make her lie face down an whip her on de back to keep from hurtin' de child.'"

Her talk at the conference was about racial disparities in the foster care system. Black children are 4 times more likely than white children to be placed in foster care, though the figure is higher is some locations. She showed statistics for San Francisco, where black children are 19 times more likely to be removed and placed in foster care. She noted that most services to children, most money spent, is for placing them in foster care, with only a small fraction for services that would improve their situations in their homes. We see parenting as exclusively private, with each family exclusively responsible for their own welfare. So social services are for families who have failed in their child rearing responsibility. That allows the solution to be "blame-the-parents" rather than looking at societal impediments to child rearing – poverty, job discrimination, lack of education, etc., and seeking to alleviate those problems so the conditions that lead to removal don't arise.

The second session I attended was entitled "Identity Paradoxes," and focused on conflicts in adoptees' identity formation. His theme throughout was that we should strive for "both/and" instead of "either/or." Instead of "I'm like my adoptive parents" or "I'm like my birth parents," it becomes "I'm like my adoptive parents in some ways and like my birth parents in some ways." The presenter used very entertaining photos to liven up his points. Not much new there, though.

The third session, entitled "Walking in the Shoes of the Relinquished Child," used experiential exercises to illustrate adopted children's life experiences. When we first started, one of the presenters picked out people to move to a different chair in a different part of the room, leaving all their stuff behind. Takes all of 1 second to see the point of that exercise, right?! In another exercise, we were given little mirrors, asked to look into it and name a feature or personality trait we got from someone else. Then we were asked to turn the mirror over to the blue-painted side. Does anyone not see the symbolism? Adoptees were asked not to participate in this exercise, which I thought was awkward, and then was infuriating when all the non-adopted persons were asked to describe how the blank side of the mirror made us feel, and the adoptees were not allowed to speak to this. So, some interesting exercises that would probably be good for training PAPs, but the presentation ultimately left a sour taste in my mouth.

Fourth, I attended an adoptive parent support group. I was sitting and chatting with "Nancy" before everyone got there, and then when it came to introductions and she said shat she did and that she'd authored two books I realized I was talking to THAT Nancy -- Nancy Verrier of Primal Wound fame! And a nicer, humbler person you'd never meet! I also exchanged blog addresses with another adoptive mom (Hi, Shannon!), and didn't realize until I got back to my room and typed in the address that I'd visited her blog many times before -- Peter's Cross Station.

Most of the adoptive parents attending the support group had older kids, and were disappointed at how little guidance they got about adoption issues at the time they adopted (20 to 30 years ago). Their kids didn't talk about their adoptions, seemed perfectly well-adjusted, and then the teenage years hit and the troubled kid inside came out. One adoptee is currently in prison, another in trouble with the law and in enforced counseling. The parents are here playing catch-up, trying to learn everything they wished they had known 20 years ago. Very sad, and very uplifting to see these adoptive parents are not giving up on their kids. But I'm not sure we're doing any better at training prospective adopters now -- yes, there is TONS of information available, but you have to dig into it on your own, without much guidance from adoption agencies.

Last, but not least, was the evening showing of Adopted. I had a chance to meet Barb Lee, the director, and she gave us a bit of an update on Jennifer, whom she says is doing fine. There's an update on the newer DVDs, but I bought mine early enough not to have that update. It was interesting to watch the film with this audience. When I watched it with my Adoption Law class, that audience didn't understand enough about adoption issues to groan and laugh and commiserate and boo -- THIS audience did! After the showing, several people in the audience said it should be shown to mainstream audiences, and Barb says it's been turned down by everyone -- HBO, PBS, you name it. She said bluntly, "People don't like Jen." That certainly was the reaction of my Adoption Law class, steeped as they are in the adoption myths about being lucky to be adopted, being grateful, etc.

So, that's the conference to date. The mix of attendees is interesting. At the first session, they asked people to stand up in groups -- birth parents, adoptees, adoptive parents, professionals connected to adoption. Birth parents were the largest group, I think, and adoptive parents the smallest.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Keeping Me Company

Zoe and Maya sent me to Cleveland with some items to keep me company. They plucked their favorite portraits from the mantle, and Maya drew a picture of me with my suitcase ready to hop a plane back home! She even shared her lamby with me.

So now the girls can see that I put up my "family shrine" on the bedside table in my room, where I can look at their pictures and be happy. And I can grab the lamb any time I need a cuddle!

Be back soon!

Adoption Goes to the Movies

Last night, the conference had a session about adoption themes in movies. The presenter, a social worker and adoptive mom, showed clips from both kids movies and adult movies. There were quite a few I hadn’t heard of amongst the adult movies, and can’t wait to catch them. Three that the speaker named as the best adoption movies EVER are: Lovely & Amazing, Second Best, and Secrets & Lies.

The clip from Lovely & Amazing showed the white adoptive mom giving a bath to her African-American daughter, explaining why she (the mom) is having cosmetic surgery to be the best she can be, and the daughter says, I want to tear my skin off.” Seems like an interesting movie to explore transracial adoption. Second Best is about a single adoptive dad whose son is traumatized by having seen his birth mother commit suicide. The speaker described the value of the movie for adoptive parents as “showing an adoptive parent who never gives up on his child.” Secrets & Lies tells the story of a black woman who traces her birth mother and discovers she is white.

The children’s movies she clipped were familiar to all of us, I bet: Stuart Little (trans-species adoption, where the presenter says it shows a family willing to change to fit Stuart’s uniqueness, rather than making him change to fit the family), Dumbo (to show the mouse who took Dumbo to see his caged mom as a “resourceful social worker!”), Tarzan (lovely scene between Tarzan and adoptive mom (gorilla), where she shows him a photo of himself with his birth parents and says “I just want you to be happy;” and when he decides to go find them, Tarzan says, “No matter where I go, You will always be my mother.”), Lilo & Stitch (another unconventional social worker).

Blossoms in the Dust was another title shown, and I was surprised that the audience hadn't heard of it, and didn't know who Edna Gladney was. Maybe it's because I live in Gladney country (Gladney Adoption Agency is based in Fort Worth, but I didn't use them for my adoptions), but I thought everyone in adoption knew of her. The clip shown was of a relinquishing birth father, and he's a complete creep. The presenter noted that there were very few positive images of birth fathers in film, and I sure can't think of any.

She didn't have Hercules included her list of adoption-themed films, so I had to share my take on that one!

There's a lengthier list of movies that I'll try to post when I have more time. Now, most of the movies, included the ones I've posted about here, are not really movies ABOUT adoption -- but there are adoption themes and situations in the midst of movies that tell us something about human relationships. And that's as it should be, right?

Tonight, there will be a showing of a movie ABOUT adoption -- Adopted, The Movie. Though I've seen it already, this time Barb Lee, the filmmaker will be there for discussion afterwards. Should be good!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Brush With Greatness

I've just arrived at the AAC Conference in Cleveland, and I've already met someone "famous" -- Jean Strauss, documentarian! We shared a shuttle van to the hotel.

I posted her short film, Vital Records, back in September. She was pleased to hear that I showed the DVD in my Adoption Law class when we talk about open records. There's going to be a "special premiere screening" of her new documentary, For the Life of Me. Should be interesting!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What we've been talking about

Here's a word cloud of what we've been talking about this week -- hmmmm, we seem very, very angry! But there's a smattering of love, so it's OK!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Anger & Adoption Books

When Zoe talks about her birth parents, she's quite willing to talk about how she feels. She'll say candidly that she loves them, that she misses them, that she's sad that she didn't get to stay with them. But she has a hard time saying that she's mad at them, even when she's feeling that anger. The first time she told me she was mad at them for abandoning her, she said immediately, "But don't tell Mimi!" She obviously saw it as an unacceptable emotion. Lately, she only expresses her anger indirectly in the stories she writes (see here, for example).

Anger is the most socially-unacceptable emotion for both men and women, but for women it is even less acceptable. As the report of one study says: "A man who gets angry at work may well be admired for it but a woman who shows anger in the workplace is liable to be seen as 'out of control' and incompetent." And we've seen how the "angry adoptee" label is used to dismiss the concerns of adult adoptees -- we see anger as a disqualifier, as reason to disregard.

More distressing than the reaction of others to women's anger is the reaction of women to their own anger. As Lois P. Frankel put it in Women, Anger and Depression:

Much like other women, Anita was afraid to be angry. She had received the message as a child that if she exhibited her anger, she would somehow be abandoned: physically, emotionally or bothHerein lies the basis of women's difficulty with their anger. We learn early on that anger is not an acceptable emotion. We are given strong verbal and non-verbal messages that teach us to deny our anger.

The author even provides a very interesting checklist of reactions to our childhood attempts to express anger. Did any of these happen to you? Are you avoiding these in reaction to your children's anger?

1. I was sent to my room until I cooled off.
2. I was told that nice girls don't get angry.
3. I was ignored.
4. I was punished (physically, verbally or lost some privilege).
5. I was threatened with religious implications (e.g., not going to heaven or God wouldn't like it).
6. I was told to turn the other cheek.
7. I was made fun of, laughed at or my anger became a family joke.
8. I had love and affection withheld from me.
9. I was told my anger wasn't justified.
10.I was told anger wasn't lady-like.
11.I was treated as if I were out of control.
12.I was told I was weak or somehow less of a person for being angry.
13.I was treated as if I had committed a sin.
14.I was told it was a flaw in my character (e.g., "You're just like your father.")
15.I was told I was ugly or in some other way physically unappealing.

With this litany, is it any wonder that "women begin punishing themselves for even having angry feelings. They internalize the messages so well, they can no longer even identify when they are angry."

We have probably 30-40 kids books about adoption (I know, it's ridiculous, but I can't seem NOT to buy them!). But the list of books that include ANGER as an emotion adoptees experience is much, much shorter, and in most of them, there's only a passing reference to anger:

1. The Mulberry Bird

Adopted bird sometimes "felt confused and angry about being adopted." His anger is related to disbelief that his birth mother's situation was as bad as she claimed in her reason for relinquishing him.

2. All About Adoption

The book relates that sometimes adopted children feel angry at their parents just the way all kids do. But they also "might feel angry that they didn't get to grow up with their birth parents. Kids also get angry at their adoptive parents to see how much their parents love them. They don't even know they are doing this sometimes! . . . But people can feel angry at someone they love."

3. Before I Met You

Being in the orphanage with not enough nannies to care for all the babies like a mom would can make a baby not just sad, but mad. In discussing that adopted kids have lots of different feelings, the mom-narrator says, "We will stay together, always, when you are happy, sad, and yes, even mad."

4. Adoption Is For Always

Celia is sad and mad when she understands what adoption means and that she was adopted. She acts out and says mean things, including, "You're not beautiful like my real mommy!" to her mom, who answers, "I know you're angry, but that doesn't mean that you can say hurtful things. . . . I AM your real mommy. [if you've read much here, you know I'm not fond of the "I'm the real mommy, and your birth mother isn't" answer]

5. We Adopted You, Benjamin Koo

Nine-year-old Benjamin, adopted from Korea, narrates: "I began to feel angry because other kids knew their biological families, and I never would." There's a "not my real mom" scene, with adoptive mom saying, "You have a real mom, and that's me."

6. Lucy's Feet

Lucy acts out her anger at not having grown in her mother's tummy like her younger brother by kicking. She declares at one point, "It's not fair! How come I was adopted and he wasn't? I want to come from in there (pointing at her mom's stomach), too." Mom answers with the "you grew in my heart" theme.

7. Allison

Allison realizes that she looks more like her MeiMei doll than like her parents. When she's told she's adopted, she reacts with anger, and destroys an old doll of her mother's and her father's old baseball mitt. She yells, "You're not my mommy! You're not my daddy!" [The book is culturally confused, MeiMei (Chinese for "little sister") wears a kimono!]

Anyone have any other suggestions of books that deal with adoption and anger, or just with anger itself? What do you do to encourage your child to express all emotions, even anger?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Name Game

I've posted before about naming adopted children -- in particular, changing the adopted child's name. AdoptionParenting, an excellent yahoogroup I read, has naming as its topic for the next two weeks. That gives me the opportunity to link to two thought-provoking posts about naming in adoption.

The first, from 8Asians, is Say My Name: Changing My Adoptive Name :

People have always had their own names for me: Mary, Mao, Pumpkin, Slowpoke. Identity, for an adoptee, is the feeling that nothing is yours by birthright. At times there is a freedom to this, an untethered-ness that is nice; mostly, though, it just feels weird. My adoptive parents saved my life, and they did it with Christian love in their hearts. They even retained my “temporary Korean name”, Chun-Soon, as my middle name. Six months ago, I reclaimed it. This one piece of my mother’s land that I do have. I chose the family name Li (Yi, Rhee, Lee)…an ordinary, commonplace name. A typical Korean name. Confucius be damned, I am now the beginning of my bloodline in this country.

The second, from The Land of the Not-So-Calm, is My Real Name:

No, I’m not going to tell you my real name — not my real Korean name, and certainly not my real American name.

But I will tell you that my real Korean name, which also happens to be an “orphanage” name, is just as real, just as important, and just as legitimate as a name that was picked out for me and given to me by Korean first parents.

* * *

I’ve read several articles/posts/comments recently suggesting that names given by orphanages and social workers are not as meaningful as names that were given by first parents. . . .

The truth is, many adoptees feel quite connected to ANY scrap of information that someone doles out to them about their past — including the city or province where they were born, the street where they were found, or where their old orphanage was located. I mean, I’ve written previously about the connection I felt to the piece of road where I was abandoned… yeah, I know how pathetic that sounds, but it is all that I have.

So many people don’t understand that simple fact, one that I feel like I’ve been repeating here like a broken record: For so many of us, THIS. IS. ALL. WE. HAVE. These orphanage names, these street names and other locations — these facts are part of the thread (no, not a red thread, but nice try!) that tie us back to the countries where we were born. This thread is incredibly thin and fragile already; shouldn’t it be celebrated and nurtured, rather than shamed and destroyed?

I've also put up a poll about what you've done with your child's name. Please comment here!

Friday, April 17, 2009

"Meant to Be" II

I understand that everyone comes to adoption with a different world view. Some earnestly believe that their adopted child was "meant to be" with them, whether they express it as God's will, karma, purim (the Casting of Fate), the red thread, or destiny. I appreciate the thoughtful comments to the previous "meant to be" post, and parents' careful distinction between "meant to be abandoned" or "meant to lose his/her first family" and "meant to be with us" after the tragedy of being unable to stay with birth family. Not all adoptive parents are that careful -- consider this quote from an adoptive mom: "It is destiny that her parents deserted her so she could meet me," Ms Thornton said." And do you remember when Rosie O'Donald told an interviewer how she explained adoption to her son -- "you grew in the wrong tummy, but God fixed that?" ICK! Obviously, our commenters wouldn't express it that way.

But one of my concerns is that even when we're careful, our children won't get the distinction, especially when they're young. And then when they are old enough for that level of abstract thought, we've already red-threaded them into silence. After all, if it was all "meant to be," doesn't it remove the ability to be sad or angry or confused or ambivalent, to express any less-than-happy emotion? You were meant to be mine, God chose you for our family, there's a special reason you're in our family, your adoption is part of God's plan -- all of these strike me as ways to make adoption inarguably positive -- and when it's inarguably positive, no dissenting views are allowed! A child may internalize that view, and then feel unable to work through the dissonance it causes when they also have feelings of pain and loss. And they may feel they can't talk about that dissonance with their parents, making it even more difficult to work through it.

I think many parents see the "God's plan" theme as comforting, giving children a sense of belonging, of certainty that they are where they belong -- in their forever families. I get that. But I've also heard from many adult adoptees that the God's will/destiny/karma/red thread justification is painful, not comforting (see, for example, here and here ("One doesn't have to say God spent a lot of time getting rid of one set of parents just so another could benefit.")and here ("Saying that adoption is God’s plan is like saying that amputation is God’s plan.")). Of course, not all adoptees are alike, so this reaction is not universal. Sherrie Eldridge, of Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, has a new adoption book (published January 2009) out that is completely God focused: Questions Adoptees Are Asking. The title of the book made it seem right up my alley, but turned out not to be! There's a poem at the front called "The Beautiful Braid of Adoption," that says that God created the beautiful braid called adoption, and then describes the adoptive family as "chosen to nurture that God-given gift passed on from the birth family." That gets another "ick" from me! (And I'm kind of tickled at the idea of APs who've HATED Sherrie Eldridge because they didn't want to acknowledge the pain and loss of adoption suddenly LOVING her because she talks about adoption as God's plan!)

In a comment to a post about adoption as God's plan at Third Mom's blog, I said:
We "credit" God with adoptions in ways we simply wouldn't tolerate in another context. Imagine someone telling a widow, "God [fate, karma, etc.] intended your husband to die and for your children to lose their father so that you could meet this NEW man and marry him, and so he can father these children now." I think the widow and her children would have every reason to punch that someone in the face. But tell an adoptee that, and they're supposed to be overwhelmed by the love of God?! I don't think so.

So to sum up my problems with the karmic argument -- it has great potential to mask the pain and loss of both birth families and adoptees, to silence the expression of that pain and loss, and actually distance children from the God who would allow such pain and loss. I understand those who see God's hand or fate or destiny or karma or purim in all things, who see this as just another why-do-bad-things-happen-to-good-people problem that adopted kids will just have to deal with. I'm not trying to change anyone's mind on the issue. This is just a head's up to enter the issue with eyes wide open.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

China's Stolen Boys

From NBC Nightly News tonight:

"Meant to be"

Maya went to Chick-fil-a with a ballet friend after their class yesterday, and then Zoe and I went there after Zoe's class ended. Maya became jealous that Zoe played with HER friend, and wouldn't play with Maya. As we were driving home, Maya said she wished she were in a different family -- her preschool friend, G's family.

Zoe tried to talk her out of the wish --

--that other mom might not buy her nice things. Maya says, "I don't care."

--that other mom might have different rules. Maya says, "I don't care."

--that other family might not have as nice a Mimi and Grandpa. Maya says, "I don't care."

--that other family will have other cousins, and they may play XBox all the time and not let the girls play it like cousin Patrick does. Maya says, "I don't care. And cousin William doesn't let us play XBox when he's playing."

So Zoe changed tactics, and said, "Well, that's not how adoption works. Mama promised to love you and take care of you forever. Adoption is PERMANENT, so you can't be in another family."

Maya says, "I don't care."

With increasing frustration that her persuasive powers weren't making a dent, Zoe declares plaintively, "But, Maya, we were MEANT to be together!"

Now, I've never used the "meant to be together" theme with my kids. I don't like it because it suggests that their abandonment was inevitable, ordained, predestined; that the pain and loss of their birth families was part of a karmic plan to make me a mother; that being institutionalized with the inevitable poor care that that brings was a necessary step in God's ultimate plan for them. I don't want my girls to think that their grief and loss matter not, because we were, after all, "meant to be together," and that seems to be the subtext to that theme. So I was surprised to hear Zoe make that argument to her sister.

I asked Zoe, "Why do you think we were meant to be together?" Zoe's very pragmatic answer, "Because we're smart, so they matched us all together!"

Ah, now that sounds familiar. I don't say "meant to be" in any karmic way, but I have talked about the CCAA matching process, and there are pictures of the CCAA matching room in Zoe's lifebook. I've said I don't know exactly how they matched us, but I thought they did a pretty good job. I've told them that the folks in China saw that I was a professor, and figured education was important to me, so they matched me with the two smartest girls in China. And I've said that in her referral picture, Zoe had a very round face, reddish hair and a double chin -- and so did I in my dossier pictures, so that must be why they matched us!

And that translated for Zoe into "we were meant to be together." It's a powerful and pervasive concept in adoption-speak, so I'm sure she must have heard it phrased that way at some point, and/or read books that phrase it that way. Looks like I need to do some de-programming on this point.

The argument didn't, however, sway Maya -- she says, "I don't care." She still wants to be in G's family, where there's no turn-coat sister who'll play with Maya's friend instead of Maya!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"China's Excess Males"

The British Medical Journal has published the results of a study done by two Chinese scholars. The study confirmed the widely-reported fact that there are more males than females in China, and analyzed the disparity among various age cohorts.

One of the most interesting facts reported was on the gender skew based on birth order:
The sex ratio at birth for first order births was slightly high in cities and towns but was within normal limits in rural areas. However, the ratio rose very steeply for second and higher order births in cities 138 (132 to 144), towns 137 (131 to 143), and rural areas 146 (143 to 149), although the numbers of second order births in cities were low. These rises were consistent across all provinces, except Tibet, with very high figures for second births in Anhui (190, 176 to 205) and Jiangsu (192, 174 to 212). For third births, the sex ratio rose to over 200 in four provinces, although third births accounted for only 4.3% of the total.

The researchers have concluded tentatively that sex-selective abortion, though illegal in China, is likely the cause of the sex imbalance. They think that it is sex-selective abortion, rather than unregistered girls, that skew the figures, and that sex-selective abortion is also the culprit in the skew in second births:

[T]he dramatic increase in sex ratio with second births that our data document, shows that couples are selecting to ensure a boy, the so called "at least one son practice." In urban areas where few couples are allowed a second child, the high sex ratio for first order births (110, 95% confidence interval 107 to 113) suggests some sex selection occurring with the only child. This pattern of dramatic increases in sex ratios for second children is not unique to China. In both South Korea and parts of India, where overall sex ratios are high, the sex ratio increases dramatically for second and higher order births, which has been attributed to sex selective abortion, as couples try to ensure the birth of male offspring while limiting their family size.

The researchers also conclude that provinces which allow couples a second child after a girl -- rather than provinces that strictly limit families to one child or provinces that don't enforce the one child policy -- result in the highest sex ratios for second order births and the overall highest sex ratios.

Interesting to see hard figures to support what many have reported anecdotally. And it's an important part of the story for abandoned Chinese girls, since second daughters are more likely to be abandoned than are first daughters. It looks like they are far less likely to be born in the first place.

I've long wondered whether the reported gender skews in China were taking into account unregistered girls, so it was good to see a study that corrected for that phenomenon, but it's still unclear whether children in SWIs are counted in census surveys. Are they "unregistered?" Anyone have any specific information about whether they are being counted?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Don't Want to be Born a Rural Child

Interesting opinion piece in China Daily, highlighting the economic divide between rural and urban families in China, recounting a trip to Fujian Province with the author's young daughter:

The elementary school in the village was built with donations from an overseas Chinese originally from the area, with only three teachers and 25 first and second graders. Other graders have to attend schools in another village or town.

Though tuition is only a couple of hundred yuan, most village children have to drop out either after elementary school or junior middle school because of poor academic performance or because their families are too poor to support several children in school at the same time.

In the villages we visited, many 15- and 16-year-olds have already left home to work in cities. Many women in their early 20s have already become mothers, some to two or three babies.

The village has no Internet access, making us urban folks addicted to life in cyber
space feeling totally isolated from the rest of the world.

After doing a bit of calculation, both of us believe that an urban child, like my daughter, would spend more in a day than what a rural family of three earns by picking tealeaves for 12 hours.

And the entire sum of money spent on 50 village students would be much less than the amount earmarked for a student in a top middle school in Shanghai.

A lack of education and other resources simply means that rural children are left behind since the day they are born.

Family Tree Projects

Article from the Boston Globe about the difficulty of family tree projects for adopted kids:

The family tree project, the bring-in-your-baby-pictures assignment, and the mini-autobiography project - all staples of the elementary school curriculum - are well-meaning attempts to get children to consider their family history and life story. But such projects can be emotionally loaded for adopted children and other children of nontraditional families.

* * *
To avoid the complications of a family tree, some adoption advocates who conduct workshops in schools suggest that teachers employ the concept of an orchard instead. During her visit to Pembroke, Clark suggested that teachers try the motif of a house. The child can write names in each room of the house, and then draw paths leading from the house to other people or places special to him or her.

Many teachers are already sensitized to the ramifications of family-tree projects. Rita Cheresnowsky, Ruby's adoptive mother, got a call several years ago from Ruby's second-grade teacher, who was about to assign a family-tree project. "She wanted my input," Cheresnowsky said. "She said, 'This may be something a little difficult and challenging for your child.'
Cheresnowsky suggested that the class be given three choices: a river, a garden, or the traditional tree.

Ruby drew a river with tributaries feeding into it. The tributaries included Cheresnowsky as well as Ruby's birth mother, the foster mother who cared for her in Guatemala, her child-care provider, her kindergarten teacher, and Cheresnowsky's parents and brothers.

"A tree is just based on your family and your ancestors and stuff," Ruby said. "But the river shows the people who came into my life. It's a better way of showing your family. You can put more in that river than you could in a tree."

I like Ruby's idea of a family river instead of a family tree! A GREAT children's book about an adoptee struggling with the family tree project at school is Lucy's Family Tree.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hercules -- Adoptee

The Easter Bunny placed a Hercules DVD in Maya's basket (she likes the "Zero to Hero" song that appears on a compilation DVD we have and Hercules was on sale at Target for $4.75!), and the girls and I watched it last evening before bed (why I didn't get to see Extreme Makeover: Home Edition).

I took my nephew to see it when it first came out, but I'd forgotten the plot details and certainly don't remember much of my Greek mythology from middle school (assuming the Disney version bears any resemblance to actual Greek mythology). In a nutshell, Hercules is the son of Zeus and Hera, but is stolen from them and turned into a mortal. He can't return to Mt. Olympus because of his non-god status, so Zeus and Hera leave him with the family who found him abandoned on their doorstep (Disney's synopsis calls them his adoptive parents, and IMdB calls them his foster parents; at Anti-Racist Parent, Jae Ran Kim of Harlow's Monkey lists him as "son of gods transracially adopted by humans!").

As a teen, Hercules feels that he doesn't fit in, doesn't belong. He sings that he'll go anywhere to find where he belongs. When his adoptive parents tell him he is not their biological son ("Your mom and I have been meaning to tell you . . . " sheesh!), he goes off in search of answers ("You're the greatest parents anyone could ever have, but I gotta know . . . ").

Lots to say about the adoption themes, searching for self, reunion (maybe one of the worst reunions in adoption history!), but I really just wanted to share what Zoe had to say about it all and wanted to fill in the back-story for the 3 people in the world who haven't seen or don't remember the movie!

Just after his adoptive parents give Hercules the necklace with the symbol of the gods found with him as a baby, and he says he'll go to the Temple of Zeus where there will surely be answers, Zoe pops up to say, "That's not fair! He can find his birth parents and I can't!"

Wow, how quickly she related it to her life! Of course, we had to stop the movie and talk about searching, what we know and don't know about her and Maya's birth parents, how it helped that Hercules had a clue to start with, what was found with her (we have no information about what Maya was found with). But what she DIDN'T want to talk about were emotions -- feelings of not belonging, of being different . . . . When we veered into that territory, she zapped the movie back on as fast as she had zapped it off.

And through the whole thing, poor Maya just wanted to get back to her movie!

Book Notes

* At Resist Racism, a critical comment on Grace Lin's The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale.

* From, Sun Yung Shin is "Seeking Out True Reflections of Race and Culture in Children's Books:"
As an adoptee author, I very much want to write a children’s book about an adoptee protagonist in which she or he struggles with the facts and nature of her or his adoption. It’s a topic - or network of topics - that does not lend itself to simple plotlines or, for me, at least, happy endings. Adoption is a not an issue that the adoptee can "solve." There are sub-issues that can be better and more directly addressed by the adoptee him/herself - ways that the he/she can take charge and transform situations, to some degree. However, as parents are the main purchasers of books, it follows that most adoptive parents don’t want to read a book that focuses on the grief of the adoptee, the grief of the birth parent, the imbalance of power and resources that is often the case between birth parent(s) and adoptive parents - especially in the case of transnational adoptions, and often in the case of transracial adoptions.

Most children’s books about adoption that I have read focus on the choice of the adoptive mother, and how the adoptee and the adoptive parents are “meant to be together,” which implies that the child and the birth family are not meant to be together. This logic, while soothing to adoptive families and to the child as a young one, grows thin and problematic as the child moves into adulthood.
*Here's a video snippet about Mei-Ling Hopgood's Lucky Girl -- my copy is on order!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

Tonight's episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition features a family with special needs kids adopted from China. Could be good, could be awful -- some of the local media reports are pretty heavy on the child-saver theme. It'll be interesting to see how the show handles it.

Happy Easter to those who celebrate it, happiness to all!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Perpetual Foreigners"

I'm so proud to be a Texan -- not:
A North Texas legislator during House testimony on voter identification legislation said Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.”

The comments caused the Texas Democratic Party on Wednesday to demand an apology from state Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell. But a spokesman for Brown said her comments were only an attempt to overcome problems with identifying Asian names for voting purposes.

The exchange occurred late Tuesday as the House Elections Committee heard testimony from Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans. Ko told the committee that people of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent often have problems voting and other forms of identification because they may have a legal transliterated name and then a common English name that is used on their driver’s license on school registrations.

Brown suggested that Asian-Americans should find a way to make their names more accessible. “Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.

Brown later told Ko: “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”
The telling comments from Brown for me are"you and your citizens," "we could deal with here."easier for Americans to deal with," She doesn't see people with 'foreign-sounding' names as our citizens, American citizens, people who belong here, even though we are clearly talking about American citizens here since only American citizens can vote!

Here's what I wrote about naturalized citizens as "perpetual foreigners," when analyzing the natural born citizen clause that prevents the foregin-born from becoming President:

Kenneth Karst focuses on the concept of citizenship as “belonging.” For him, the importance of citizenship starts “in the formal recognition of membership in the community.” He argues, however, that formal recognition alone is insufficient. The principle of equal citizenship means that “[e]ach individual is presumptively entitled to be treated by the organized society as a respected, responsible, and participating member.” Naturalized citizens have achieved the legal status of “citizen.” It is less clear, however, that they have been accorded the sense of belonging that goes beyond formal recognition of membership in the community. “Membership . . . is only meaningful when accompanied by rituals of entry, access, belonging and privilege.”

Being “foreign” seems to trump “citizenship” for naturalized citizens. Many naturalized citizens, especially when non-White, are seen as “permanently foreign.” Robert Chang argues that the figure of “perpetual internal foreigners” has been necessary to construct America’s sense of identity, because immigration and naturalization restrictions “were based on a sense of who properly belonged in the national community.” Without restrictions on who could be a citizen, there would be no “them” to compare “us” to. Once the foreign-born become citizens through naturalization, the “myth of a historically homogeneous American identity” must be preserved by devaluing naturalized citizens. One might argue that it is different today, where immigration laws are no longer based on race, where, as Nathan Glazer puts it, “a strong accent, a distant culture, is no bar to citizenship.”

But Professor Glazer must concede, “whatever we mean by the American nation, the new citizen may not yet be considered a full member of it by many of his fellow citizens, because of race or accent.” He continues: "Many of us, perhaps most of us, have a mind-set in which certain races and nationalities, despite their formal equality in American law, despite the fact that distinctions of race are not recognized in immigration or naturalization law, have a greater claim to becoming American and are accepted as more legitimately American than others.

In America, it seems, some citizens are more equal than others.

Marks of "foreignness" -- a strong accent, being non-Caucasian and non-African-American, a name indicative of non-Western culture -- are perpetual. You can be a U.S. citizen by birth or be a naturalized U.S. citizen for longer than you were ever a citizen of another country, and, as Representative Brown reminds us, your "foreignness" will trump your citizenship every time.

And if you want to belong -- to participate -- you better change your identity!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Same Story, 30 Years Later

John Raible posts after hearing a 17-year-old transracial adoptee talking on a panel about his experiences as the only person of color in his school and community:

As I listened to the panelist with the darkest skin-color speak about his ugly experiences with racism, I found myself becoming both saddened and angry. This outspoken 17 year old articulated a crystal clear perspective about his isolation as one of the only Latinos in his school. To me, he sounded resigned to feeling powerless and outnumbered as a young Latino male. I was struck by how hurt, angry, and disappointed he sounded, very similar to how I must have come across as a teen panelist, when I was invited to speak about my personal experiences growing up in a largely white environment– and that was thirty years ago.

In the three decades since I went through my own tumultuous adolescence, we have learned enough about race and the persistence of racism, that we should be able to anticipate, if not predict outright, how this young man’s white classmates and neighbors will respond to his presence in their otherwise all-white social environment. In short, we know that racism persists, and that there are steps we can (and must) take to protect and support children of color who live in these hostile, unwelcoming environments where miseducated whiteness is the norm. We also have learned enough about adoption and its lifelong consequences to be in a position to better prepare families like his for the questions, concerns, and predictable developmental milestones experienced by many adoptees.

Yet, even with all this compiled research and information about race and adoption, parents still have not received the message. Too many families still think it is acceptable in 2009 to raise children of color in oppressive white environments as the only brown person for miles around. How many more panels must we sit through where adopted teens tell their heart-wrenching stories before agencies will stop approving the social isolation of adoptees of color? How many more adoptees must sit on panels to share with audiences their stories of single-handedly integrating their otherwise all-white communities?

Click here to read more of this powerful post.

2009 Newsletter from UMinn International Adoption Project

The 2009 newsletter from the University of Minnisota's various research projects on the development of internationally adopted children reports several fascinating studies:

*Korean adoptees aged 13-18, cultural development, where both the adoptees and adoptive parents were surveyed about: 1) Cultural Socialization/Pluralism: Teaching about the history of Koreans and other minority groups; celebrating Korean culture and holidays; fostering relationships with other Asian or Korean children; 2) Preparation for Bias: Teaching about discrimination, stereotypes, and racism against Koreans and other ethnic groups and races; how child’s life may be affected by discrimination or racism; 3) Promotion for Mistrust: Teaching a child to avoid others who might take advantage of him/her due to race. One interesting point -- parents report more frequently engaging in these than do the surveyed teens!

*International adoptees, aged 8-11, emotional and behavioral development, where both children and parents were surveyed. The report distinguishes between children from orphanages and from foster care, and compares to nonadopted children.

*Social Communications study, started with internationally adopted children at 18 months, 3 years, and 5.5 years. One interesting point -- "overly friendly" children who might go off with a stranger have been thought to be experiencing attachment problems, but the study says that may not be the case.

The project home page is here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Everyone Else Gets A Fake Birth Certificate, Why Can't We?

Apropos our previous discussion of fake birth certificates, this article from the Sydney Morning Herald:

A couple has launched legal action to obtain a NSW birth certificate for the daughter they adopted in China so she will not have to use Chinese documents, including a "certificate of abandonment", as identity papers in Australia.

The NSW Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages, which issues birth certificates, has opposed the application in the District Court of NSW. The office is a division of the Attorney-General's Department.

The couple is part of a group of adoptive parents angry that children from China are treated differently from other children adopted from overseas who can obtain a NSW birth certificate.

The different treatment arises from China's insistence on the adoption process being completed in China. For other children the adoption process is finalised in the NSW Supreme Court, giving them rights to obtain a NSW birth certificate with the adoptive parents listed as the parents.

The Chinese children arrive with identification papers translated into English that usually include a birth certificate listing the child's Chinese name and stating "natural parents unknown"; a "certificate of abandonment", and an adoption certificate confirming the legality of the adoption.

* * *

Another couple, Linda Morrison and Leo De Luca, parents of Scarlett, 3, said they also wanted a NSW birth certificate so their child would not be different from her peers. "Each time she produces her documents she will be reminded she was abandoned. I want one document saying she was born in China and that we are her parents," Ms Morrison said.

How bizarre that a person in Australia would ever have to present the abandonment certificate. I've NEVER had to produce it here, even to get my kids' passports. Anyone else?

Even to prove that "she was born in China and that we are her parents," as Ms. Morrison desires to prove in one document, would only require TWO -- the Chinese birth certificate and the Chinese adoption decree. Why would the abandonment certificate come into it?

Would my attitude toward the fake birth certificates I railed against change if I had to produce my kids' abandonment certificates to enroll them in kindergarden? I don't know. No doubt it would make it harder. . . . a lot harder!

But I'm not persuaded by the argument that "one document" is a laudable goal -- mere convenience isn't enough for me, as I said before. And I'm not sure I'm persuaded by the idea that each time she produces the abandonment certificate that she'll be reminded she was abandoned -- from reading what adult adoptees have to say, it's not something that people who were abandoned ever forget.

The "be like her peers" argument is really interesting in this Australian context -- who are her peers? Adoptees? in which case she gets the same fake birth certificate as other adoptees? I have a feeling that's not really what adoptive parents are looking for! The fake birth certificate is to make an adopted child just like non-adopted children in having a state-issued birth certificate. But again, reading what some adult adoptees have to say about these fake birth certificates colors my reaction to this argument (see here, here, and here, for example).

Well, I didn't really mean to get into all of this again (I know, I know, you're saying to yourself, "I KNEW she couldn't let it go!"). I really didn't intend to revisit the issue (so soon!), but I thought those defending the practice would want to see this article supportive of their arguments (see? I do try to be fair-minded!), and then I got all wound up again. Well, as so many of you generously remind me, it's my blog, I can rant if I want to!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Two NPR Stories on International Adoption

I heard one of the stories on the drive home today (from Tell Me More, which I love, BTW!), and listened to the other online because Harlow's Monkey posted the link.

Tell Me More, April 7, 2009 · Recent news that music icon Madonna was denied her request to adopt a second child from the African country of Malawi sparked a larger discussion about overseas adoptions. Tracey Neale, a former TV news anchor who adopted twins from Ethiopia, and Deborah George, a radio producer and mother of an adopted daughter from Sierra Leone, discuss the difficulties of adopting children from overseas.

Talk of the Nation, April 7, 2009 · Americans adopt thousands of children from other countries every year. The process can be tricky, and would-be adoptive parents often face the question "Why not adopt an American kid?"

Isolde Motley, co-author of You Can Adopt, and mother of one biological child and two adopted children

Susan Soon-Keum Cox, vice president of public policy and external affairs for Holt International

Both are thoughtful explorations of issues in international adoption, in about the depth you'd expect in 15 to 30 minutes.

I Read It So You Don't Have To III

OK, I'm trying to reserve these posts to the worst of the worst, the creme de la crapper, the truly poisonous children's books about adoption. So not every book with demerits will make the list. Some books might have a narrower focus than I'd like (not mentioning birth parents, for example), or might go in a different direction from a promising start (like ignoring racial teasing to sing the "we're all the same" song). But if it's something not completely poisonous, I put it in the "I can work with this" category, and know that I won't let my kids read it on their own and when I do read it with my kids I'll have to point out different ways to look at things. And as always, your mileage may vary! If I'm trashing your all-time, very favorite, BEST book about adoption, sorry!

With that caveat, I introduce another best-avoided book: Made in China: A Story of Adoption.

First off, the book isn't as horrible as I first feared based on the title. The title reminded me of that awful "Made in China, Loved in America" tshirt that was all the vogue for adopted girls from China -- very high yuck factor in terms of objectification/commodification, with the added assumption that no one loved these girls in China (you can read a lot of APs defending these shirts after an AP suggested they were problematic by clicking here). The book is pretty awful, though.

The premise: The older sister (Caucasian, blonde, presumably biological child of APs, but not necessarily) teases her younger sister adopted from China for being "Made in China," just like her toys: "It's just like you," my big sister said, "You're Made in China. It's stamped right on your head." The girl says, "that really hurt," and goes to talk to her father, expecting a denial. He answers, "Sweetheart, you're not made like a toy. You were 'Made in China' to bring us joy."

Arrgggghhhhhhh! Could you come up with a worse answer?! Mei mei goes expecting a denial, and Dad AGREES with big sis! He does eventually explain that she was BORN in China "to a wonderful woman who really loved you." If he'd said that -- no, you weren't made in China, you were BORN like all other kids, and you were BORN in China -- right away, I'd have less trouble with the book.

But even if he had said that, I'd have a problem with the suggestion that the child was made/born "to bring us joy." And then he also says, "You were 'Made in China' so I'd be your dad."

"Made in China" to bring us joy? "Made in China" so I'd be your dad? And this in a book that acknowledges that the birth mother "really loved" the child, that she "did a hard thing when she let you go." Overall message? Your birth mother was an incubator destined for pain and loss just so we could have a child. Sheesh.

Sure, there are some potentially helpful themes in the book -- it's one of the few where it's adoptive dad, not adoptive mom, talking about adoption, so it's even suitable for single-dad families (and great for families where adoptive dad never addresses adoption, so maybe this could propel him to do so?!). It's a family with Caucasian and Chinese children in the home, and shows racial teasing can happen even in your own family (yikes! do we want to send that message?! and why isn't the dad talking to blondie about what she said, explaining that racial teasing is bad, even (especially?) when it's your sister; why harangue the victim about how she should think of the slur differently?). And, sure, the "Made in China" thing needs to be addressed with Chinese adoptees, because they WILL hear it in reference to themselves, from well-meaning adults trying to be cute and from kids trying to sting.

But in my opinion, the whole discussion of "Made in China" is seriously botched here. Yes, the dad says "you're not made like a toy (rhymes with joy -- ugh)," nor like a "shoe," not made of "plastic or cloth," but the story barely touches the born-not-made distinction. And the overall message -- "Made in China" for US -- so we can have JOY -- so I can be a DAD -- makes the child an instrument, a tool, an object made for the sake of others.

An adoption book celebrating the objectification and commodification of children -- though it seems to think it is rejecting it. How sad is that?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Eating Glass: Adoptees & APs Talking Adoption

A few weeks ago, I linked to this thought-provoking post from Joy, where she wrote about her reluctance to talk about her adoption with her adoptive parents, even though "I know if I do talk to them about it, they will say the right thing." She said she'd rather eat glass, and in the comments, Mei-Ling concurred.

Since the whole point of this blog, "Adoption Talk," is adoptees and adoptive parents talking adoption, I asked a series of questions in the comments:

Is openness in talking about adoption enough? Joy says (and Mei-Ling agrees). "I know if I do talk to them about it, they will say the right thing."

So what's the problem with "saying the right thing?" Is it lack of sincerity? They'll say the right thing, but I know they don't mean it?

Or is it ineffectiveness? Even when they say the right thing, it doesn't help me? What they say is something I know in my head, but it doesn't reach my heart?

Mei-Ling has provided thoughtful answers to those questions at her blog Shadow Between Two Worlds:

Why have I not once mentioned my feelings of being replaced? of not being “worthy” enough? of not being “good” enough? of not “mattering” enough? (and a bunch of other adjectives that I’m sure you’re all sick of reading ad nauseum by now).

Because seriously, if I mentioned it, what could anyone really do about it?

“I know if I do talk to them about it, they will say the right thing” - from Joy’s Division.

Of course people are going to tell me I haven’t been ‘replaced’, that I am ‘worthy enough’, that I am ‘good enough’, and that I do ‘matter.’ It’s not that I don’t want to hear those words. It’s not that I don’t want to believe them, and that my mind is
desperately trying to believe them for the sake of an emotional survival response, to be able to get through this. It is not so much that I am determined to have people pity me, or that I’m doing this for attention. It isn’t that I want to believe I am replaced.

* * *

As Malinda questions: Is it lack of sincerity? They’ll say the right thing, but I know they don’t mean it? Or is it ineffectiveness? Even when they say the right thing, it doesn’t help me?

I’ll tell you why.

Because I was still relinquished.

* * *

Having people tell me - what I know my own mom would tell me - doesn’t change the fact that my sister was born, it doesn’t change that my mother had her to “heal” her loss of me. It doesn’t change that she relinquished me. It doesn’t change that she took my “role.” It doesn’t change that she was born to do my “job.”

I do not underestimate the importance of honesty, as that is what builds real relationships on a solid foundation of trust. But what I am saying (and trying to convey) is that honesty doesn’t really “fix” anything. It doesn’t change anything. Neither does reunion, for that matter.

To a child, abandonment is abandonment is abandonment. You can’t go back in time and erase that. You can certainly talk about it, provide comfort, say all the right things (I’m not saying you shouldn’t, either) - but you can’t change it. You can’t fix it. You just learn to deal with it and live with it.

As always, Mei-Ling, thanks for sharing your experiences and your emotions. I accept that talking can't fix the hurt of adoption, but I hold out hope that acknowledging that hurt early and often with my kids will help them, as you wisely say, "learn to deal with it."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Best Forever Mom, Best Birth Mom

Remember my post about Zoe saying I was the best mom in the world, and then adding that her birth mom was the second best mom in the world? In the comments, Sang-Shil suggested that maybe I could be the best mom in America and her birth mom could be the best mom in China, so that Zoe wouldn't feel she needed to choose between us. I wished I had thought of that when Zoe ranked us.

The subject hadn't come up again, until last night. We took my parents out to dinner to celebrate my dad's birthday, and I said something to them about Zoe being more affectionate lately.

Zoe said, "Tell them what I told you about why!"

I replied, "You mean about me being the best mom in the world?" (My mind started whirling, strategizing how to reframe the discussion to make both me and birth mom best, and then . . . )

Zoe said, "Right, the best forever mom. And my birth mom is the best birth mom!" And from her intonation, birth moms and forever moms were equally important!

Well, how about that? She figured it out on her own, a way to give us each primacy in our particular role, with no one being second-best. Smart cookie!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dutch Documentary About Finding Birth Parents

I'm sure many of you have heard about the Dutch family who found their daughter's birth parents in China, with a documentary film crew doing the search and filming the results. I've been procrastinating about posting the link, describing how to find the portion of the video devoted to the birth parent search, providing the lengthy English translation . . . .

. . . . and once again, procrastination pays off! I'm amazed and gratified at how my life philosophy of "putting off until tomorrow whatever possible" keeps getting little reinforcements!

I was playing around online, and discovered that Lara at Strange Journey . . . My Journey has already done the heavy lifting! Follow her link to the documentary and read along with the English translation she provides, and be amazed. Thanks, Lara!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Have Mercy

It seems that Madonna won't -- have Mercy James as her child, that is. MSNBC reports that a Malawian judge rejected her application to adopt because Malawian law requires adoptive parents to be residents of Malawi for 18 to 24 months prior to an adoption:
In a lengthy ruling, Judge Esme Chombo sided with critics who have said exceptions should not be made for pop superstar, who has set up a major development project for this impoverished, AIDS-stricken southern African country.

Noting that Madonna had last visited Malawi in 2008, the judge said the pop star “jetted into the country during the weekend just days prior to the hearing of this application.”

“In my opinion, this would completely remove (Madonna) from the definition of ‘resident,”’ the judge said.

Malawi requires prospective parents to live in the country for 18 to 24 months while child welfare authorities assess their suitability — a rule that was bent when Madonna was allowed to take her now 3-year-old son David to London in 2006 before his adoption was finalized two years later. Madonna has two other children, Lourdes, 12, and Rocco, 8.

Chombo said other foreigners have adopted in Malawi, but Madonna’s was the only case in which residency was waived, and she indicated concern that doing so again could set a precedent that might jeopardize children.

“It is necessary that we look beyond the petitioner ... and consider the consequences of opening the doors too wide,” the judge said. “By removing the very safeguard that is supposed to protect our children, the courts ... could actually facilitate trafficking of children by some unscrupulous individuals.”

Madonna's attorney has filed notice of appeal.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I Read It So You Don't Have To II

OK, here's another in our continuing series of children's books about adoption that are best avoided! If you're like me, you've probably bought a lot of your adoption-themed books sight unseen -- bookstores don't necessarily have a large selection in this category, so you go on-line. And sometimes you hit a real clinker.

This book falls into this category for me. I bought it without an opportunity to read it, but it's a Little Golden Book and ranked #5 on for children's books about adoption. How bad could it be?! How about completely TERRIBLE?!

The book: A Blessing From Above

Momma-Roo is a kangaroo with an empty pouch, and she prays for a child. One day as she rests under a willow tree she notices a nest crowded with eggs. The birds hatch, and the nest gets even more crowded. Then, as the "last and littlest" bluebird hatches, he was "bumped from the nest and falling down, down, down, straight into Momma-Roo's pouch!"

So, baby bird falls from nest -- how does mama bird react?
The mother bluebird looked down and saw her littlest one. She knew her nest was not big enough for all her chicks. It made her happy to see her baby bluebird in such a warm, cuddly place.
Aackk!! Well, that's completely dismissive of birth parents, isn't it? Mama bird comes across as negligent and uncaring, experiencing no pain at the loss of her child. And this, despite a dedication to all birth mothers (OK, the dedication is another problem, filled with gift imagery, and saying birth mothers are "an instrument of God's love.") Mama bird isn't even important enough to the story to be given a name, and isn't mentioned again after her "gift" is received by Momma-Roo (who, btw, is Momma-Roo even when she has no kids!).

The book is clearly written from the point of view of the adoptive parent; there's nothing that addresses the feelings of the adoptee. In fact, the adoptee is merely a passive object, dropped from above, who happily chirps, "Hello, Mommy," when he finds himself in Momma-Roo's pouch (yeah, that's how gotcha moment was with each of my kids!). Baby bird is barely important enough to be given a name -- Momma-Roo calls her "Little One."

I suppose there's one plus for the book -- it illustrates a single-parent adoption. But there are many others that do this, and don't have the baggage this book has. And if my child came across the book, I'd talk about the lack of choice on the part of baby bird and use it as a transition to "how do you think that would make the bird feel? how does it make you feel?" (You can sometimes find a teachable moment even in a bad book!).

FYI the book clearly has a religious cast, opening with a passage from Psalm 127: "Children are a gift from God; they are His reward." The final passage from Ephesians 1:5 reads, "In love he destined us for adoption to himself [dot dot dot]. The dot-dot-dot made me curious, so I went looking for the omission -- "through Jesus Christ." So not just a religious cast, but a specifically Christian cast. (We'll leave aside the discussion about how every reference to adoption in the Bible isn't necessarily a reference to adoption as humans practice it, and the discussion about the controverted meaning of God's will in the adoption triad -- each of those topics is deserving of a post of its own!).

A Blessing From Above is not a blessing, it's a curse! It gets two thumbs down.

So does anyone want to contributae to the "I Read It So You Don't Have To" series? Email me the title of other adoption books for kids that strike you as problematic. If it's not something I have or can get, I might ask you for more details, but I won't make you write the bad review unless you want to!