Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On the Boards

Margie at Third Mom wrote about a recent experience on an adoptive-parent forum, empowered by O Solo Mama's post about her recent adventures AP-Land:
I wasn’t going to tell you about this, because I know you’re sick of how I complain about the forums. But I was reading a really good post at O Solo Mama this morning that talks about the issue of international adoption search where she mentions her forum escapades, so I feel empowered.

Yeah, I got thumped again. . . .

Boy, do I sympathize! I've managed to stay off the adoptive parent boards for quite a long time, but in the past few weeks I've been motivated to look at some of them when someone lets me know there's a conversation about talking to kids about adoption. I feel I might have something to add, so I go look. And at one forum I posted a link to the L.A. Times article about birth planning officials in China confiscating children from parents and turning them over to an orphanage for a share of the fees adoptive parents pay. Seemed the sort of thing adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents from China would be interested in.

Well, in that thread and in others touching on corruption in the China program, I have predictably been accused of being anti-adoption. I'm kind of used to that one -- any criticism of adoption, no matter how mild, no matter how justified, almost inevitably leads to that charge. But I've also been accused of all manner of evil and stupidity. I've gotten personal hate mail from several (and admittedly, some super-supportive personal messages, too), including someone who disagreed with something on this blog, who instead of posting a comment here or using the contact email here, decided to track me down on the forum and contact me there. (Am I crazy to think that's weird?!)

My favorite line from someone who disagreed with me was, "Reading comprehension a struggle for you or something?" Zing! Sorry to sound egotistical, but that isn't very hurtful to someone who is so over-educated as to get the label "perpetual student!" LOL! My reading comprehension skills are just fine, thank you! Do you recognize the rhetorical device of ad hominem attack, the last refuge of scoundrels?!

Well, after that thumping, the moderator stepped in -- to tell me to take my thumped-upon self out of there and stop bleeding on other people and inconveniencing them!

I'm not claiming that all adoptive parent boards are dysfunctional. Here's one of my favorite boards, completely welcoming and open-minded and interested in free discussion: adopttalkcanada. They let me join even though I'm about as far from Canada as I can be and still be on the same continent!

I've posted before Margie's suggestion for how adoptive parents should respond to allegations of adoption corruption, but it seems to bear repeating now:
There is, in my opinion, no other response for an adoptive parent to make to allegations of the existence of intercountry adoption corruption than to agree. We then have a further responsibility to get under what that means, learn to recognize it, speak out against it, and understand our role in it. This neither diminishes our families nor undermines ethical transnational adoptions.

It would do my heart good if one day an article like Graff's could be met by adoptive parents with praise first of all for shedding light on this problem, followed by reasoned critique and dialog on how we collectively can bring intercountry adoption corruption to an end.
If I were to encounter that reaction on most AP forums, I'd know I'd crossed over into an alternate universe!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Some "Talking Adoption" Links

When I started this blog, I was STARVING for real-live examples of talking to kids about adoption. I wasn't finding them in books, I wasn't finding them on the internet. Lots of people explained WHY it was important to talk about our children's stories, but there wasn't so much about HOW. So I started blogging about how.

Now I'm finding more people sharing their conversations, more adoptive parents talking about talking about adoption. It's so nice to hear -- a chance to compare what I'm saying to my kids to what others are saying. An opportunity to look for new language, new explanations, new tactics. A window into how other families are engaging with their children of different ages on the hard parts as well as the happy parts of adoption. And even when I'm not learning anything new, it helps to affirm that I'm "doing it right."

I ran across these two conversations -- two in one day! -- something I would have been stunned to find a year ago:

O Solo Mama: The photo that talked to us, on the photo of foster moms from her daughter's orphanage that opened a conversation with a child who isn't often open to talking about adoption.

Our Little Tongginator: Was I Cute?, on dispelling her daughter's concern that her birth parents chose not to parent her because she wasn't cute.

Thanks for sharing, ladies. I'd love to hear from others -- what are you saying to your kids about adoption today?

Monday, September 28, 2009


I've posted some stories before from Tai Dong Huai (see here and here), adopted from China as a child, now an adult. She writes short fiction, and frequently touches on adoption issues. I've just run across another one, in the Apple Valley Review, a meditation backwards to her birth mother's childhood full of possibilities:
Every April 1st, my middle school has “Backwards Day. . . .” Needless to say, the next day everything is back to normal.

But what if it wasn’t. What if the clocks continued to tick off the future. . . . I’d return to the womb of a Chinese mother who would first abandon me, then ponder her situation, then agree to lie down with the man who is my father. And before that, perhaps, she would be working in a factory making American sneakers. Then in school, studying mathematics and living with her family. She would be young and beautiful and see her life stretched out in front of her like a lake on which possibilities float like lit paper lanterns on a warm summer night.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Poem

For All the Little Girls From China
by Penny Callan Partridge

Whenever I see one
I know there will someday be
this incredible sorority
of women brought here
as babies from China.

And their Great Wall
will always go all the way
through them to split
what happened in China/
what’s happened here.

But they will help each other
over this wall all their lives
until those walls at their
centers are merely their
strong and flexible spines.

Maybe on the basis of
collective cultural hybrid
strength which they’ll
find many ways to cultivate
(the strength of their stories!)

these women of the world’s
first international female diaspora
will inherit the earth.
And do something good with it.

I met Penny at the American Adoption Congress Conference last April, and loved her poetry. She's an adoptee and an adoptive mom.

I was particularly struck by the line, "the world's first international female diaspora." Definitely food for thought.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Cautionary Tale for Adoptive Parents

The story of a search for identity, about Nisha, adopted as an infant from India, now 26 years old and going back to India to search for her birth mother -- a must-read for adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents who think the "same-as" narrative works, that all one need do is raise an adoptive child the same as a child born to you.

For adoptive parents who think “culture-keeping/heritage-teaching” isn’t worth the trouble:

“It used to be, regardless of their original culture or their skin colour, this child is truly yours,” says Kate Emery, the senior India programme coordinator for adoption agency MAPS Worldwide. But now, Nisha’s generation, adopted in the 1980s and 1990s, feels this was a mistake. “They need to know their culture,” says Emery.

It’s a thought that never occurred to Nisha’s parents. “I didn’t know any Indian people,” her father says. “And I guess I probably wouldn’t have known how to approach them even if I did. Would I say, ‘You know, my daughter’s Indian. Would you mind if she hangs out with you?’”

Though she didn’t realize it as a child, it bothered Nisha when she grew up and realized she had never been exposed to her own culture. She resented her parents for never trying to teach her about where she came from. The resentment bore down on her and when it was time to pick a college four years ago, she moved miles away from her family in Sacramento to San Diego. When she finally told her parents how she felt two years ago, they were shocked, unaware of how much pain the adoption had caused her.

. . . for adoptive parents who think color-blind works, that race doesn’t matter to their child, that knowing other "brown girls" isn't important:

Nisha, now a petite 26-year-old with a quick smile, was adopted from Goa by an all-white family at the age of six months and raised in “the white part of America”, as her father Randy puts it. The couple never taught Nisha anything about her birth country or culture, though they did retain her name and abided by one request the birth mother had made: never to cut Nisha’s hair. She didn’t cut it until she went to college. Stephanie says she figured “everyone would love each other” and that would be enough for Nisha to adjust to her adopted life in the US.

It wasn’t, though. . . . When she started searching for her own identity, as all young adults do, she struggled more than most. In her adoptive family she saw no answers, no history, not even a common physical appearance. Was she Indian or American? What tied her family together? What did it mean that she looked so different from her mother and sister and father? The questions left Nisha full of doubts about who she is and where she fits into the world around her. And, in her search to find herself, she pushed away the family that has so much to do with who she is.

* * *

When Nisha was 11, her family moved to a new neighbourhood in Sacramento. On her first day at gym, another student, Reena Ray, spotted her from across the room. “I remember seeing this girl,” Ray says, “and she was the darkest, littlest thing in the room, but she was wearing this T-shirt with strawberries on it and matching socks. And then out of her mouth comes the biggest valley girl voice ever.”

Nisha, who still has that distinct Californian accent, says she was instantly attracted to Ray—another small, dark-skinned girl. . . . Ray’s elder sister, Sharmila, became close to Nisha as well. The girls formed a multicultural group of friends. And suddenly, Nisha’s family — her mother, father and sister — felt left out and different. Randa [Nisha’s sister, biological child of her adoptive parents] says Nisha created her own family. She kept waiting for Nisha to come back to their family, but Nisha never did.

. . . for adoptive parents who don’t want to talk about birth family, who believe their children don’t think about birth family:

But Nisha still feels alone; missing a mother she could only imagine all her life, from bits she picked up from her parents’ stories. One particular thing Nisha clings to, a reason she thinks her birth mother would want to be found, is a letter that arrived at the Grayson home on Nisha’s first birthday. “My darling Nisha baby, I will always love you,” it began.

“From time to time over the years, I would find the card around the house, and I would know Nisha had been looking at it,” says Stephanie, who speaks with the wrenching love of a mother who can no longer protect her child from pain. She also speaks with the pain of knowing that no matter how good the intention, she caused some of that hurt. She tells me that Nisha’s birth mother lived at the orphanage before the birth and stayed with Nisha for some time after she was born.

When I ask Nisha about this story over coffee a few days later, she starts crying. “I never knew that!” she says. “Just the thought that she stayed, that she did really care for me, that it was hard for her, means a lot. I know she wouldn’t have done it if she didn’t have to, which is why I don’t hate her for it. But to think that she stayed. . . .”

* * *

She has got her mother’s name tattooed across her hip. “I want it to be a homage,” she says. And, perhaps, in a way, it’s a recognition that even if she never does find her birth mother, she can still answer the question of who she is herself.

Click here to read the whole thing.

This is in no way an indictment of Nisha's parents, who didn't have the advantage we do now of having heard from adult international/transracial adoptees about how these missing things affected them. We have no excuses.

Nor am I suggesting that if we only "do the right things" our children won't feel loss, grief, pain, that our children won't distance themselves from us in their search for identity, that we have somehow "failed" if our children search for birth family. I'm only suggesting that as adoptive parents we can help or we can hinder when our children search for identity, deal with adoption loss, grief, and pain, look for connections to birth family and birth culture/heritage. It is their search, their journey. But we shouldn't be the road blocks.

Who do you look like?

Chinese School has started up again, and Thursday the girls met with a new tutor to help with their homework (to make it especially fun, two other girls from Chinese School are tutored at the same time!).

One of the homework exercises Zoe was working on involved writing the characters for family members. One question was, "Who do you look like, your mother or your father?" I overheard Zoe talking to the tutor about it. . . .

Zoe: "Well, I don't look like my mom."

Maya: "She looks like me!"

Tutor: (glancing over at me) "Just write 'Dad.'"

Zoe: "But I don't have a dad."

Tutor: "That's OK, just write the character for 'Dad.'"

Zoe shrugged and wrote.

Later, she told me that she wrote the character for mom, but she was thinking, "birth mom." She wrote mom instead of dad, because she figures she looks more like her birth mom than her birth dad because she's a girl. She also told me that the exercise made her feel "left out." Because she's sure everyone else in her class will know the answer since none of them are adopted.

You never know where it's going to come from, this reminder that you're adopted and your adoption is as closed as closed can be.

I look like my dad -- same blue eyes, same body style that translates for me into "Mississippi farm woman," perfectly built to pull a plow without the benefit of oxen. I went prematurely gray, just like he did. I bruise easily just like he does. I did not, however, inherit his mechanical ability, I'm sorry to say.

Zoe and Maya don't know. How must that feel, YOUR WHOLE LIFE, not knowing? I can't even imagine it. They live it every day, just waiting for that reminder.

China-Sponsored Homeland Tours

From the Financial Times, Adopted Chinese Daughters Seek Their Roots:
We have all seen them: adorable Chinese girls holding the hands of their usually elderly, often overweight, but definitely doting) Caucasian parents, strolling the streets from New York to New South Wales, growing up in a white, white world, far away from the land and culture where they were born.

In some ways, they are a permanent blot on the image of China: surplus daughters
the country couldn’t care for, unintended consequences of the 30-year-old “one-child” policy that led to the abandonment of hundreds of thousands if not millions of female infants at birth. But now, as the balance of global economic and political power shifts subtly in favour of China, Beijing is reaching out to all these lost daughters – and welcoming them back home.

China has invited thousands of foundlings back to their birthplaces for government-sponsored “homeland tours” which, like last year’s Beijing Olympics or next year’s Shanghai World Expo, give the country a chance to show off to the world. On one level, what the Chinese adoption authorities call “root seeking tours” – filled with extravagant expressions of love and kinship and lavish gifts for the returning orphans – are a transparent public relations exercise aimed at raising money for Chinese orphanages, justifying the decision to export surplus children and countering decades of unfair international criticism that Chinese people “hate girls”.

But for the children involved – one of whom is my nine-year-old daughter, Grace Shu Min, who attended a 20-year reunion at her orphanage in March, along with two of her closest orphanage friends – their hometown trip was more like therapy. China put its best foot forward for the returning children (all girls), treating them like celebrities, showering them with presents, laying on magicians and puppet shows, kindness and warmth. It was the kind of mythical homecoming we all hope for – but few can ever achieve.
Elderly? Overweight? Doting? Oh, well, three out of three it is! I can live for that . . . but not for long, considering I'm elderly!

Still, interesting story of the value of homeland tours, sprinkled with snarky and cynical commentary, for those, like me, who like that sort of thing.

UPDATE: Be sure to read Jae Ran Kim's take on this article at Harlow's Monkey.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Asian-American Women More Likely To Attempt Suicide

Radio link from Tell Me More:

Almost 16 percent of all U.S.-born Asian-American women have contemplated suicide in their lifetimes — compared to 13 percent of all Americans — according to new findings by the University of Washington. The study also finds that U.S. born Asian-American women are more likely to attempt suicide than other groups. Aileen Duldulao, lead author of the research and blogger Jen Wang, offer insight into the disturbing findings.
Click here for more news coverage of the study by Aileen Duldulao, and for more from Jen Wang, look to her blog, Disgrasian (which is great!).

French? Chinese?

Zoe's class is having "Norman Conquest Day" tomorrow. One focus of the day is how some English words came from the French because of the Norman Conquest. Learning through the grapevine that Zoe's grandmother is French, Zoe's teacher contacted me to see if she would be willing to come to class to speak French. Mimi agreed, and Zoe is tickled pink.

Tonight she told me about a conversation at school, when Mrs. P. told the class that Zoe's grandmother is French and is coming to class. One little boy said, "Zoe's grandmother isn't French -- she's Chinese!" Zoe answered, "I'm Chinese -- my grandmother is French." Several other kids expressed disbelief, and Mrs. P. settled it by telling them simply that Zoe's grandmother is, too, French.

How curious! The kids all know me, and know I'm not Chinese. But they still thought Zoe's grandmother must be Chinese.

I asked Zoe what she thought about this -- she thought they were silly to think her grandmother was Chinese instead of French.

But thinking about our blog discussion of ancestry and adoption, I asked Zoe if she was French since her grandmother is French. Zoe's answer was quite definite: "No, I'm Chinese. But I know some French culture."

How do you say, "smart cookie," in French?!

"For reasons of their own they abandoned the baby"

A powerful fictional account, sadly based on a true story, of desperate birth parents relinquishing a child so she can receive the health care she needs to live:
The doctor cleared his throat, and in his most “professional” voice stated, “I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but the procedure that your daughter needs is expensive, and is not covered by your insurance plan. Without this operation, her condition will certainly be fatal, especially as she has been born premature.”

Mr. Smith hugged his wife even tighter, as his wife sobbed. Tears rolled down his own cheeks … he knew that if he stopped hugging her, hewould b e shaking. The shock and trauma of maybe losing their beloved baby girl was almost too much.

“But I have good news for you,” continued the doctor. “There are many well meaning, wealthy people who have been waiting many years for a child of their own. They are on the waiting-list of the “Darling Miracles” adoption agency. This agency has an agreement with our hospital. There will be a contract drawn up between our hospital, the agency, and the adoptive parents. The adoptive parents will cover the cost of your daughter’s procedure, IF you consent to your child being adopted. There is a high demand for newborn girls, and tests have indicated that she has been born free of disease or genetic disorders.”

It was a few more minutes before Mr. and Mrs Smith could stop crying enough to look up at the doctor, when his words sank in, to understand that he was saying that the fees that the prospective adopters would pay from the agency, to obtain their daughter, would be used to pay for the treatment she desperately needed in order to save her life.

Their only choice: to lose their daughter due to premature death … or “consent” to lose their daughter. She could either die, or if they “allowed” her to be adopted by the wealthy couple, her life could be saved.

* * *

Twenty-five years later, the young woman opened up the envelope from the agency, containing her adoption papers. Her past was a mystery, hidden in the unknown a world away, born to people she never knew. She unfolded the letter, then read the agency worker’s careful hand-writing: “The child was born premature to a married couple. For reasons of their own they abandoned the baby…”
Click here to read the whole thing from Cedar at On a Little Island in the Pacific.

I'm struck by so much in the story, it's hard to think where to start. I could go off on the need to be providing affordable health care for all. I could rail at the law that would call that relinquishment "voluntary." But I'll limit myself to the topic I've already touched on this week -- not trusting the information given in adoption. I mean, how in the world does the forced relinquishment of a child in order to save her life become "abandoned for reasons of their own?"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Korean Adoptee Reports on Orphanage Visit

From, Reporter Returns to Orphanage in Korea:
There are some adopted children who dream all their lives of meeting their birth families. They have imagined the reunion hundreds of times in remarkable detail: the hugs, the tears, the in-depth explanations of how and why.

I was never one of those kids.

Growing up as a Korean-American adoptee, I honestly can't recall any fairy-tale notions of reconciliation. From early on, I maintained a pragmatic view of my adoption, accepting and even appreciating the circumstances that had allowed me to grow up in the United States.

I knew little about my birthplace, only the details my parents had gleaned from their local adoption agency: that I had been left at a police station in Seoul and later turned over to an orphanage. My childhood, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, was loving and untroubled. I felt little reason to seek out further explanation.

I had, however, long pondered traveling to South Korea. Growing up, I fielded countless questions about my background and my ethnicity, all while knowing very little about Korean culture. I don't speak Korean; I had never visited and knew very little about the country, beyond what I had attempted to learn through books, articles and cuisine.

As a young adult, I decided that I wanted not only to visit South Korea, but to do so in a way that would honor my unique attachment to it. I just wasn't sure how.
Read the whole thing to discover what she (and her sister) found.

Corruption Week?

Wow, this is shaping up as "Corruption Week" in international adoption. We've had corruption stories out of Camaroon, China, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Korea. Here's a new one out of Vietnam:
A baby-selling ring made up of doctors, nurses and welfare workers has gone on trial in northern Vietnam, accused of selling more than 250 children for adoption.

The 16 defendants are charged with "abuse of power and authority" and face up to 10 years in prison.

Among them are the head of two social welfare centers in Nam Dinh province as well as several doctors and nurses at village clinics.

They allegedly solicited infants from unmarried mothers and desperately poor families and falsified documents claiming the babies had been abandoned at village clinics.

This made them eligible for adoption.

It is alleged the ring sent 266 babies for foreign adoption between 2005 and July 2008 — although the nationality of the adoptive parents is not known.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"They're better off with their adoptive parents"

Brian Stuy has an insightful comment on one aspect of the L.A. Times article I posted last week about family planning officials in China confiscating over-quota children from their birth parents:
[T]he article contained a quote that I feel personifies the entire problem in China:

"They're better off with their adoptive parents than their birth parents," argued Wu Benhua, director of Zhenyuan's civil affairs bureau.

To understand the problems found in China's international adoption program, one must understand the racial and economic prejudice that exists in China. Whether it is orphanages offering incentives to buy babies, or Family Planning abusing families by taking unregistered children, the subtext to all of these activities is that most in China's government feel that these birth families are unable to provide a "prosperous and happy future" to their children. A prominent theme in Chinese culture is the belief that if anything can be done to improve a child's future, it should be done. It is this belief that motivates parents to leave their children with grandparents while they work; it is this belief that motivates families to sell their children to orphanages that promise that their child will be adopted by a rich foreign family; and it is this belief that allows a Family Planning official to steal a child from her birth family in order to adopt her internationally.
That's not necessarily an attitude limited to China, is it? We frequently hear the same thing in the U.S. about domestic adoption -- the child would be better off with adoptive parents than with a young, poor, single mother. That's the meme used to convince American expectant mothers to relinquish their children. And we saw in the recent reports from Ethiopia that that line is equally effective on poor mothers there.

Brian calls this attitude a "root of the problem" that leads to corruption in China, the kind of no-big-deal response that allows a government to downplay corruption. I was struck by that attitude in the recently released Unicef report on child trafficking in East and Southeast Asia, expressed in the question from some in charge of combatting trafficking, "Is illegal adoption into loving families exploitative?" Uh. Yes. (Look at that "illegal" part.)

Oftentimes, the assumption that children from China, Ethiopia, India, Guatemala, wherever in the developing world, are better off with white, middle-class, Western, Christian adoptive parents, comes from a toxic mix of classism, racism, misinterpreted conversion theology, and/or xenophobia. That classism is glaringly clear in the statements of the Zhenyuan officials. And yes, a Chinese person can have an internalized racial hatred for all things Chinese. And we saw in the story about "harvesting" children in Ehiopia the emphasis on adoption as a Christian mission, making it not life-saving, but soul-saving, as the objective of adoption.

Make no mistake about it -- children are better off with their biological parents. Adoption is a last resort, a response to a crisis where it is impossible for children to remain with their biological parents. Thinking of adoption any other way is simply wrong. Thinking of adoption in any other way leads to involuntary relinquishments, fraud, coercion and corruption.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Happens When the Story Changes?

We all know how difficult it is in international adoption to piece together our child’s story. We rely on information provided at the time of the adoption by the sending country’s paperwork and representatives. We supplement it with information we learn from other parents about our child’s area or orphanage. If we’re lucky, we have photos and developmental updates from the orphanage, stories from the foster family. We hire services to take photos for us that we couldn’t take ourselves – finding locations, orphanages, etc, and to track down information like finding ads. We research on the internet – what was the weather like on the day my child was born? What did the night sky look like? We read and research to discover likely reasons why children are placed for adoption in that country, in that area. We take a homeland tour and visit orphanages and finding places, ask to see our child's file.

And we put together our child’s story, piece by piece, hoping we have enough pieces to make a clear picture. We sprinkle the story with “I don’t knows” and “This is my best guess.” But we think we’ve got a fairly accurate picture.

What happens when the story changes?

I’ve blogged before about parts of my children’s stories that I wonder about. Maya’s abandonment certificate says she was left in front of the women’s and children’s hospital. I think it’s possible she never left the hospital, that her birth parents walked out and left her there because they could not pay the bills for a preemie's care. Zoe’s story includes a note – a note said to have been left by her birth family. But two other families in our group got very similar notes, including the same kind of red paper. I’ve doubted its genuineness. But now someone who has reason to know suggests it might be genuine, because Zoe’s orphanage looks like one with an incentive program, where birth parents actually come into the orphanage to leave the children in exchange for money. If so, then the orphanage could have supplied the paper and pens. That explains the similarities in the 3 notes. That makes them genuine. And it makes the abandonment certificate a lie. Maybe the parts that mean so much to Zoe – the three layers of clothing, the little hat, the cardboard box – are all lies.

And then there’s the baby-stealing scandals, first reported in July and expanded upon by the L.A. Times articles. Although my children are not from the areas where it is reported that family planning officials confiscated babies, nor are they from the areas where news is just now starting to come out that the same thing has been happening, the scandals further shake my confidence in the information I’ve been given.

How to deal with all of this? If one knows FOR A FACT that the story has changed, I believe one MUST discuss it with the child. But how? Beth O’Malley says:
If your child is still little, then you are the one to make the emotional adjustment. But how do you handle new information when your child is eight or nine? What about conflicting information? Suddenly everything that you (and your child) believed to be true—is either only partially true or completely false. What can your child believe or trust about his story now? Here are some suggestions for handling situations about new or changing information:

• First of all, as the grownup, it’s your job to come to terms with whatever you learn. Deal with your emotions. Even as you read this article, plan on having a crisis occur at some point in your child’s life. Plan for it by expecting your child to seek information and also to question the accuracy of it all—especially if some of it has turned out to be incorrect.

• Predict and prepare accordingly. How might my child handle this? Is this potentially traumatic information? Will these ‘life facts’ have traumatic impact on my child? Follow your gut instincts and remember that you are the expert on your child.
• Separate your feelings from your child’s. Remember that your child has his/her own feelings and reactions. We parents should sort through ours so that we don’t project them onto our children. For example, our children might have anger about something that saddens us and we have to be ready to react to their feelings. Or, they might be much less impacted than we anticipate. We need to honor and validate their feelings and having sorted through our own first will make this much easier.

• Do your homework. Find out if the information you do have is absolutely accurate. What is the proof? If there is a possible nuance due to translation? If so, proceed cautiously and conservatively. Discuss the impact of translation and explain why new or changed information has emerged. Possible phrases to use are “According to the papers” or “Sometimes the words in one language don’t mean the same in another language….”

Expect all involved to go through a grieving process when new information emerges or previous information proves to be untrue. Your child has just ‘lost’ a chunk of their life foundation and a belief and a piece of identity they have had.
Excellent suggestions. But what if you don’t KNOW, but only SUSPECT that the information is false? Do you disclose?

I believe that I do have to tell my kids about my concerns. I don’t want them to find out on their own, even as adults. I’m quite convinced that they will, as adults, seek additional information. What would I say, then, about why I didn’t mention the birth parent note might be a fake? Or that the orphanage might have had an incentive program? Or that the abandonment certificate might be falsified?

When to tell? Depends on the child. But I think the Ten Commandments of Telling apply here, too, and that requires disclosing all of their story by age 12. Doubt is part of their story. It should be disclosed.

The Great [Adoption] Back-To-School Kit

From Adoptive Families, 17 simple and effective ways to bring adoption into the classroom:
1 Write a letter to your child’s teacher [about adoption].
2 Read an adoption storybook to the class during story time.
3 Give an adoption presentation in first or second grade.
4 Educate other parents.
5 Suggest a community service project around National Adoption Day.
6 Parental involvement is often the key to a successful school year.
7 Introduce the topic of racial differences in people around the world.
8 Help teachers rethink sticky assignments.
9 Arm your child with answers to questions she may be asked in class or on the playground.
10 Celebrate your child’s adoption day at school.
11 Place adoption in the broader context of nontraditional families.
12 Teach the teachers.
13 [P]resenting adoption to 10-year-olds. . . .
14 Help the teacher blend adoption into the curriculum.
15 Give the teacher ready-made answers for common classroom adoption questions.
16 Donate a packet of educator materials to the school.
17 Celebrate the many cultures of the world.
Some great points, more details under each number, and links to even more in some of the 17 categories. I've done some of these, might do others, wouldn't do some on a bet (!). Still, great food for thought.

Even though school has already started for us, it's not too late to talk to teachers about ways to deal with adoption at school.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"The Importance of Telling the Story"

From La Bicicleta blog (via Tongu Momma's Sunday Linkage (if you don't check out TM's blog every day like I do, you MUST check on Sundays for her fascinating links to adoption posts throughout the blogosphere)), explaining the importance of telling our children their story -- their WHOLE story -- early and often:

I was talking with some ladies last night about our girls. We were talking about their complex beginnings, who has a lifebook, what's in it, how to talk with your child about where she came from and how she got here, you know, their stories. One lady in the group stated that she has a real tough time talking to her child about these things. She said Our kids are so little right now, they're happy, they're in a sort of honeymoon period. I don't want to lose that yet, I don't want to talk to her about all that bad stuff. I don't want one of those angry adoptees. (I'm paraphrasing, of course, but that's the gist of it)

And here I jumped in. I compared our telling our children about theirstories to the sex talk. I told her she has to get comfortable with her daughter's story. She has to be logical and matter of fact about it. This is where you were born. This is what happened next. This is where you went from there. And this is how you ended up with us. We, as their Mothers, have to understand that we didn't create this past, we didn't choose this past, this is how it went and our duty is to tell it honestly to our girls and help them make sense of it.

Nothing can be solved by sweeping it under the rug and hoping they don't think about it. Some of these women, my friends, can't bear to think of the details of their daughter's stories. The idea of their child being left by the side of the road in a box hurts their hearts so much that they can't bear to talk about it with their children. Which is understandable. But wrong.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Chinese Parents Say Their Babies Were Stolen For Adoption

In July, I posted about a scandal reported in the Chinese press about family planning officials forcibly taking babies from families with over-quota children, and sending them to orphanages. Today, The L.A. Times has published a lengthy story on the scandals:

In much of China, villagers live in dread of surprise visits from family planning officials. It was certainly the case for the residents of Tianxi, a mist-shrouded village of 1,800 people tucked high in lush mountains near Zhenyuan.

No matter that the village is a two-hour drive down a rutted dirt road and then a 30-minute hike uphill, family planning officials make inspections as often as twice a week. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, when families were too poor to pay, the officials would punish them by ransacking their homes or confiscating cows and pigs, residents say.

Then, in 2003, things changed. The year after the Social Welfare Institute in Zhenyuan was approved to participate in the burgeoning foreign adoption program, family planning officials stopped confiscating farm animals. They started taking babies instead.

"If people couldn't pay their fines, they'd take away their babies," said a retired municipal employee from Zhenyuan who used to work as a foster parent for the orphanage.

"We were always terrified of them,"said Yang Shuiying, the 34-year-old mother whose daughter was taken away.

* * *

The villagers resent the suggestion by some that they don't love their daughters and readily abandon them.

"People around here don't dump their kids. They don't sell their kids. Boy or girl, they're our flesh and blood," said Li Zeji, 32, a farmer who says his third daughter was taken in 2004.

* * *

Zhenyuan officials angrily defended their conduct.

"It's a lie that they took babies away without their parents' permission. That's impossible," said Peng Qiuping, a party official and propaganda chief for Zhenyuan. "These parents agreed that the children should be put up for adoption. They understood that they were greedy and had more children than they could afford."

"They're better off with their adoptive parents than their birth parents," argued Wu Benhua, director of Zhenyuan's civil affairs bureau.

* * *

Adoption experts say that China's system is badly in need of repair.

Deng Fei, an investigative journalist based in Beijing who has written frequently about the issue, believes there should be more scrutiny of the cash paid by foreign parents.

"That money is a windfall for the orphanages and local officials," Deng said. "It seduced them into going to look for babies to send abroad."

In Philadelphia, [adoptive parent Wendy] Mailman wonders what she would do if she discovered that her daughter was one of the stolen babies. She knows she could never return the Americanized 6-year-old, who is obsessed with "SpongeBob" and hates the Chinese culture classes her mother enrolled her in. But she said, "I would certainly want to tell the birth family that your daughter is alive and happy and maybe send a picture."

"It would be up to my daughter later if she wanted to build a relationship," she said.

For many birth families, that would be enough.

"We'd never make her come back, because a girl raised in the West wouldn't want to live in a poor village like this," said Yang Shuiying's mother-in-law, Yang Jinxiu.

"But we'd like to know where she is. We'd like to see a picture. And we'd like her to know that we miss her and that we didn't throw her away."

Also in the L.A. Times on this topic: A Young Chinese Girl Pines For Her Twin.

Asian-American Stereotyping in Annie Le Murder?

Not the best written post I've ever seen, but the perspective on this tragic murder is worth sharing:

With the gruesome murder of Yale Graduate student, Annie Le, in recent days, the way that she is being described by many “Crime Experts,” and other “Talking Heads,” clearly shows how some people view Asian-Americans in this country. With Raymond Clark, a lab technician in police custody, the “Crime experts,” and other “Talking heads,” continue to try and figure out the motive for the murder.

They describe Annie Le as an “Asian,” instead of “Asian-American.” Would you describe someone of African-American descent as being “African?” No. Didn’t think so.

Here is an example of Pat Brown, a Criminal Profiler on the Today Show describing Raymond Clark’s possible motive:

[go to the website to see the video, transcribed as follows:]

“She didn’t give him the time of day, and now she’s gonna pick some other White guy. This Asian girl that he thought he could control. He was part of the Asian Awareness club, maybe he thought he could get himself a girlfriend..Asian women…that they’re easy to control than American women.”

Yet, Annie Le was remembered by her family and friends for her “humor and intelligence.” She was not the “submissive, stereotypical, weak,” Asian female stereotype that is so prevalent amongst Western society. Instead, Monte, a friend of Le’s recalls that Le was “really little, but she always spoke out and held her own. She was street-smart and book-smart at the same time, which is very rare when you come across someone with the same IQ she had.”

Perhaps the fact that Le was not the weak, submissive Asian female that Clark had envisioned, angered him so much to have committed such a foul deed? Until we find out the real truth about what happened to Annie Le, we’ll continue to hear the “Talking heads,” spouting off about how Annie’s “Asian-ness” may have played into this tragedy.
The author seems to be identifying two different stereotyping issues. First, there's the stereotyping in the media coverage. Second, is the stereotyping that might have provided the motive for the killer. And it all gets tangled together when, with no motive for the murder yet evident, the media creates one out of stereotypes of Asian-American women.

Click here to see the "Talking head's" video, and read the whole thing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Update: Lessons Learned

Thanks, everyone, for the many helpful suggestions for dealing with the "Chinese eyes" incident and the school administration's mishandling thereof. I really appreciate the concern.

I met with the principal this afternoon; he had the counselor join us. It was a cordial meeting; I started by saying that I appreciated that the school was taking the matter seriously. That was a sincere opening salvo, not just a tactical one, because I do realize that at some schools they would consider racial teasing to be no big deal.

They were a little defensive at first, but were willing to concede that they could have done a better job of communication. The principal said he had learned of the problem, but not that the parents had anticipated that we'd meet with the teachers before anything else was done. When he heard about the racial teasing, he wanted to handle it immediately because he saw it as behavior that could not be tolerated and had to be addressed. He conceded that his reaction may be been influenced from his experiences as a child being teased for being American Indian.

He was the one who directed the counselor to talk to the girls to find out what happened and who the boys were. He spoke to the boys, but did not "punish" them, in his view (yeah, like being called to the principal's office is a reward, not a punishment!). He informed their parents because he felt it was something the parents needed to know so that they could work with their children to understand the need for tolerance. He conceded that communication with the girls' parents probably should have happened as well. But neither he nor the counselor thought that we should have been informed before the counselor talked to the girls.

He and the counselor were convinced that the boys knew the conduct was wrong, and would not concede that they needed any particular education on the subject before they could be held culpable. But they were open to trying to go further to teach racial tolerance. Pretty much anything we can get the teachers to agree to is fine -- reading books to the class, doing activities, etc. And, we're going to take it to the Positive Learning Environment Committee (a parent committee) to look at how to deal with it as a systemic issue. I know the chair of the committee and one of the members (hi, Lisa!) pretty well, so I kind of directed this outcome!

I'm not sure that they ever got how outrageous it was to go off half-cocked the way they did, without collecting all the data and without consulting with the parents. But I got what I wanted most out of the meeting -- assurance that the school did not consider the problem solved, and permission to take it further.

Zoe is feeling okay about it all. I asked her yesterday whether she still thought we needed to talk to the whole class about racial tolerance, and she said it depended. She'd gotten apologies from two of the boys, but not the third. If he didn't apologize, she thought we needed to talk to the class. But if he did, she would consider over.

Again, thanks for the support!

What No One Told Me . . .

. . . about adoption. Grown in My Heart (love the blog, hate the name (sorry!)!) is doing a blog carnival on the topic of "What No One Told Me About Adoption." They've asked bloggers to address the topic and link it to their blog.

HUGE topic! I could write reams about it, but no one wants to slog through that. I finally decided that I'd do a list with embedded links, kind of an index to previous posts (so self-referential, so egotistical!). That way, you can easily read as much or as little as you like. Not only is this my "no one told me" list, it's also my "what I've learned since adopting my two children from China" list. And it's my "what I hope all prospective adoptive parents learn before they adopt" list.

No one told me . . .

. . . that adoption corruption, from which I smugly thought China was immune, infects China, too.

. . . that the birth parents I tried so hard to avoid are now (even in absentia) in the very center of our lives, and that I'd be OK with that.

. . . that adoption would become a large part of my professional life, or that I'd be blogging about it (or how therapeutic blogging would be!).

. . . that my children would question, wonder, experience and understand the loss and grief surrounding adoption, far earlier than I expected.

. . . that birth mothers are NOT the "exotic Other," but instead, women just like me.

. . . that anyone could own so many books about adoption!

. . . that adoption is not a one-time event, but a life-long event for adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth families.

. . . that racial identity formation and Chinese heritage would become important enough for our family to move to China for five months.

. . . that I'd learn so much that would help my kids from "angry adoptees," who weren't angry at all (and when they were, had a right to be!), but simply speaking their truths. And what's wrong with anger, anyway?!

. . . that for adopted kids, talking about it helps, but nothing "cures" adoption loss.

. . . that children are not "meant to be" adopted, they do not grow in the "wrong tummy" as a way-station to adoptive parents' homes. My loving God did not want my children's birth parents or my children to suffer pain and loss just so I could be a mommy.

. . . that what you feel when you look at a referral picture isn't love, that love grows as your child becomes a real person to you, not an abstract idea, and that love means accepting unconditionally all parts of your child -- their birth parents, their life before you met, their loss, their pain, their anger, their joy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Call Me Sensitive. . .

OK, I'm reading here that Katherine Heigl, who has adopted a child from Korea and whom I blogged about here, "and husband Josh Kelley unveiled [the COMPLETELY adorable!] Naleigh on their charity Web site."

I click on the website -- "Heigl's Hounds of Hope." I'm getting a bad feeling about this . . . .

And sure enough, under more COMPLETELY adorable pictures is this:

Come meet some GREAT ADOPTABLE ANIMALS this Saturday, September 19th from 12 noon-3pm at Encino Park!
Wonderful juxtaposition, huh? Adopt a baby, adopt a pet, your choice, same diff?!


School Pictures 2009

School pictures -- what can I say? Zoe looks lovely. Yep, that's a black eye on Maya (She poked herself near the eye with a pencil while doing homework. I didn't see it happen, and she really can't quite account for it. She said she was writing, I said, "What?! On your FACE?!" FYI, I think lovely-looking Zoe had something to do with it -- she was "helping" Maya with her homework, and how much you want to bet there was a struggle over that $#@! sharp pencel?!).

Maya had the black eye when she went to school. The headband, however, didn't quite look that way! It wasn't backwards, for one thing, with the bow flush against her forehead on the INSIDE of the band! The band was UNDER her hair. The bow was demurely TILTED to the side opposite the black eye, to draw attention from the black eye, not sqare in the middle of her forehead. And it was pushed just a WEE little bit further back on her head!

When I opened Maya's envelope to see the picture, my first reaction was, "When's picture make-up day?!" But now I think I'll just have to keep them; they're just so Maya, fake smile, black eye, wonky headband and all!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lessons Learned

Remember the "Chinese eyes" incident from earlier this school year? I'd told Zoe we'd talk about whether we wanted to say something to her teacher, and needed to decide before parent-teacher conference (which was last Friday).

After our first conversation, I talked to the parents of two other Asian adoptees who are also in 3d grade at Zoe's school. Turns out both girls had also been teased with "Chinese eyes." When the mom asked one girl how it made her feel to be teased that way, she said, "Ashamed." Doesn't that just break your heart?

So we three moms emailed amongst ourselves to come up with a strategy, and we decided that each of us would talk to our own child's teacher at parent-teacher conference (interestingly enough, there are three 3d grade classes and each class had one of our girls). Zoe was consulted, and agreed whole-heartedly with the suggestion. Each mom went in with the same message, that we didn't want any particular child to be reprimanded about this (in fact, we each declined to give the names of the teasers when asked), that we didn't want our girls to be singled out in any kind of group reprimand. We wanted to get together with all the 3d grade teachers and maybe the school counselor to talk about some ways to turn it into a "teachable moment" for the 3d grade. We each expressed concern that our kids knew that bullying was bad, but didn't know what bullying was, and suggested that this lesson might be a way to expand on the bullying curriculum.

Good news! Each of the third grade teachers was very receptive to this approach!

Bad news! Somehow, unbeknownst to ANY of us parents, the approach changed.

Yesterday in the midst of our Maya-birthday-celebration, Zoe told me that she and the other two girls were pulled out of recess by the counselor. Zoe said she was scared because she thought she was in trouble (I'm sure all the other students watching this thought she was in trouble, too). The counselor asked them about the "Chinese eyes" teasing, and asked for the names of the teasers. Being good girls who obey adults, they told the counselor.

Could it get any worse? How about the teasers were then pulled out of class and sent to the principal's office?! EXACTLY what we said we didn't want to have happen HAPPENED.

AND, the only reason I know about this is because Zoe told me. No one from the school has contacted me to talk about it. No one warned me ahead of time. No one asked for permission to interrogate Zoe about it. I would have at least liked to be told about it after the fact so I could the teasers' parents that that's NOT the way I operate. If I had a problem with their child's behavior, I would talk to them directly! I saw this as a systemic issue requiring a systemic response, not about any individual bad actors.

And I think the school figures they've "solved" the problem. No systemic issue, no need to address it further. We punished the wrong-doers, case closed.

My first instinct is to go talk to the principal about all of this, to express my dissatisfaction with how the school handled it (won't that be a surprise to them! It isn't usually the so-called "victim's" parent who complains about the transgressors being punished!). I still want to press of a systemic approach that integrates racial teasing in the bullying curriculum.

But maybe I should drop it. Maybe the lesson I should take from this is that if I tell the school about a problem, the way they handle it is completely out of my control. It is possible that they COULD make this all worse -- though for the life of me I can't quite see how it could be any worse.

And the lesson Zoe has learned from this? I better not tell my mom about racial teasing, because once she tells the teacher I get hauled before the counselor, my friends get in trouble, and maybe they won't be my friend anymore and maybe the teasing will get worse?

I sure hope not. But I really feel I've breached a trust with Zoe, and will have to work hard to earn it back. And I really feel the school has breached a trust with me.

Adoption Corruption/Trafficking in the News

Lots of frightful stories in the news the past week about adoption corruption and trafficking around the world:

Camaroon: Orphanages with Hidden Faces

Normally, orphanages are supposed to prepare children for adoption but instead fake orphanages are involved in children trafficking and other mischievous practices.

In most, cases the children are given out for adoption without informing the relatives or they just disappear. Apart from that, creating an orphanage has become a means of obtaining money and other material support from the government and international donors. The proceeds are rather used to enrich themselves and their families rather than the orphans.
Korea: Baby Trade

It is more than a shock that a couple in their 20s sold their newborn baby for 2 million won ($1,600) through the Internet. The reason behind what should not have taken place was that the young, unmarried couple could not raise the baby due to financial difficulties. What a pity and a surprise! It is hard to imagine how people can buy and sell babies.

Poverty may be to blame. The incident took place in Daegu in May when a 28-year old identified as Ryu gave birth to a baby girl. She and her husband decided to give up the infant because they could not afford to take care of it. First they searched for information about how to send the baby to an adoption agency. But, they soon found out that a woman, who is now being seen as a broker, was looking for a baby. Then, the jobless couple handed over the three-day-old infant to her in return for the money.

Only an hour later, the suspected broker sold the baby to a 34-year-old identified as Baek whom she also came to know through the Internet. This time, the price more than doubled to 4.6 million won. It seems that Baek, who is sterile, bought the baby in a bid to avoid a complex adoption procedure. She also apparently tried to deceive others into believing that the baby was really born to her.

Guatemala: Guatemalan army stole children for adoption

The Guatemalan army stole at least 333 children and sold them for adoption in other countries during the Central American nation's 36-year civil war, a government report has concluded.

Around 45,000 people are believed to have disappeared during Guatemala's civil war, 5,000 of them children. Many of those children ended up in the United States, as well as Sweden, Italy and France, said the report's author and lead investigator, Marco Tulio Alvarez.

In some cases, the report said, parents were killed so the children could be taken and given to government-operated agencies to be adopted abroad. In other instances, the children were abducted without physical harm to the parents.
Ethiopia: Heartbreak in Ethiopia

Almost half the agencies in Ethiopia are unregistered, some doing whatever they can to find children to satisfy the foreign market.

While there are more than 5 million legitimate orphans in Ethiopia, a large proportion of these will never be considered for international adoptions.

Foreigners prefer younger children - babies to five-year-olds. Older children or those with health problems are more difficult to pitch. So while many children languish in underfunded and overcrowded orphanages, some international adoption agencies are out spruiking in villages asking families to relinquish their children for adoption.

Parents are often unaware of what they're doing when they offer their children for adoption. They're led to believe they'll hear from their children regularly and their children will be well educated and eventually bring the family wealth.

But in reality, the parents and families never hear from their children and receive little information about where their children have gone. We filmed a room full of grieving mothers who gave their children for adoption after agencies promised they'd be given regular updates.

Some were even told the agency would help support their remaining children. Their stories are gut-wrenching. [Click on Fly Away Children to see video]

The conclusion to the Ethiopian story applies equally to all the international adoption stories: No one disputes there is a real need for international adoptions, but for the sake of the children and adoptive parents there needs to be some protection from unscrupulous agencies who purport to be driven by humanitarian interests, but in reality are stuffing their pockets with dirty cash.

Beijing's Pets Are Beijing's Children

From China Daily:

Today, China’s capital is a city bustling with domesticated life, whatever shape or form it may take.

The “pet craze” in China’s major cities harkens back to the nineties, when pets became more popular among an increasingly affluent Chinese middle class. The once ubiquitous Pekingese dogs on city streets have been replaced by many exotic breeds, and species.

Among these pets on walks is Laifu, a big pot-bellied pig that lives in a high end district of Beijing.

[Li: His given name is “Laifu”, his nickname is “Handsome”, his courtesy name is “Smelly”.]

To his owner, he is a pampered and perfect child, and to him, his owner is his mother. For her child, his mother wants only the best. She hired a couple from Henan who had experience raising pigs to be Laifu’s nannies, who feed him as much as he wants to eat.

* * *

The booming pet industry in China is attributed to many social changes including the everyday stress in an increasingly competitive urban environment, the one-child family planning policy, a growing aging population, and improved living standards.

Click to watch the video. It's a hoot!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Why is it called 'birthday?'"

Maya turned 6 today, and today was all "Happy Birthday" all the time! When I went into her room to wake her up this morning, before I could say a word, she announced, "I'm 6! I didn't sleep all night waiting to be six!" She celebrated at school with Mama coming to have lunch with her and bringing a yummy cookie cake to share with her class, and with Mimi & Grandpa by opening presents at their house and then going out to dinner, where the wait staff brought her cake and sang her "Happy Birthday. "

Driving home, Maya asked, "Why is it called 'birthday?'" I was surprised, since she'd asked the same question yesterday, and I explained it was the day she was born, and that another word for being born is "birth." (In fact, she and Zoe decided birthday should be renamed Born-Day!) I repeated the same explanation tonight.

"Oh," she said, "I thought it had somthing to do with 'birth mother.'"

LOL!! "Well, yes, birthday and birth mother both have the word 'birth' in them because you were born on that day and you were born from your birth mother, remember?"

Maya mumbled something I didn't catch from the back of the van, so I ventured a question: "Are you thinking about your birth mother today, sweetie?"

Maya replied, "Sort of . . . ."

"What are you thinking about," I ask?

Maya: "That she's happy I have a mom."

Awwww! I'm amazed at how different my kids are when it comes to adoption (when it comes to most things, actually!). Unlike Zoe, Maya doesn't really think much about her birth parents -- or at least she denies that she does. And when she does talk about them, she almost always turns it to emphasize her forever family. But I wasn't surprised to hear she was thinking about her birth mom today -- after all, birthdays are frequently a trigger for adoptees to do so.

And after all, I also think about my kids' birth moms on their birthdays. (Click here to read what I had to say to Maya's birth mom and foster mom on this day last year.)

Monday, September 14, 2009


I joined Twitter recently (click for my profile!), and I'm semi-enjoying following tweets for #adoption. It's pretty adoptive-parent centered. Take this tweet:
Cried watching #adoption stories on WeTV. Perfect world: baby is born, the first mom & gran decided & papers are signed before I'm called!

Perfect world for whom?! Adoptive mom, sure. But first mom? Baby? Not so much . . . .

I'm new at all this tweeting stuff, and I'm trying not to be too snarky, but I had to respond to that one with:
adoptiontalk: RT:Perfect world: baby born, firstmom decides, papers signed b4 I'm called! No,Perfect world, firstmom is able to parent her child.
I think we could use some different perspectives here. Come tweet along!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Being EXPLICIT About Race & Racism

I'm sure most of you have read See Baby Discriminate in Newsweek by now. If not, go read it and come back!

It's a fantastic article about how children perceive race, how they form opinions about race, and how to change children's opinions about race. Probably the most ballyhooed fact in the article is that children as young as 6 months old judge others by skin color.

But the thing that struck me in the article, proven over and over in many of the studies discussed, is how important it is to speak to kids EXPLICITLY about race and racism. Nothing short of that makes an impression. Neither a multicultural curriculum, nor "background" diversity, nor aphorisms of color-blindness, nor silence about race, will lead a child to positive attitudes about race. Only explicit discussion of race and racism will do it.

And then the other side of the coin revealed in the article -- how reluctant parents are to talk to their children explicitly about race. Why? According to one article, some parents won't talk about race because they ascribe to the color-blind myth that silence about race equals acceptance of all races. For white parents with white children, the subject just doesn't come up because of the invisibility of white privilege. Some lack a sound understanding of what race means. Some believe that the work of the Civil Rights Movement has eradicated racism, so there's nothing to talk about. And the number one reason parents don't talk about race or racism with their children -- FEAR! That would be fear of saying the wrong thing, of course.

The MultiracialSky website has some tips, a starting point, for talking about race:

The key to talking with your child—or anyone—about race is the same key to discussing any complex subject: openness. Start an open dialog with your child about race early in their life. Make it a comfortable subject of conversation—for you, and for your child.


Find descriptive words you are comfortable using. Check out the MultiracialSky Glossary for expanded definitions of 60 race-related terms, including 30 heritage-affirming words used today to describe people with a variety of racial and ethnic


Start with words describing color such as brown or tan, or the colors of foods. The Colors of Us [below] has wonderful descriptive color words.


Teach your children words they can use to identify themselves, and terms people with other heritages use to identify themselves. (Examples: multiracial, Amerasian, Latina.)


Talk with your child about names for different racial and ethnic heritages. The descriptions and words you use may evolve and change over time, or as the socially predominant terms evolve. (Examples: African American, Black American, Native American, European American, Asian American, Mexican, White, Black, Cuban, Irish)


When talking about race in scientific terms, the fact remains that there is only one human race. This is a fact and statement we should equip our children with. However, especially as parents, we must also recognize that the societal construct of different and distinct races affects everyone.
I think it's important to give children this vocabulary. And I second the recommendation of The Colors of Us. But beyond vocabulary, how do we talk about racism, bias, stereotyping, bigotry?

Here are some general guidelines from

1 Our own feelings about the questions children ask can have as much impact as the words we choose to answer them. We may have to conquer some hurdles of our own before we can discuss racism comfortably with our children.

2 In the long run, our most helpful responses are those that show respect for our children's curiosity and encourage them to keep actively grappling with our complicated world. One useful way of thinking about our children's difficult questions is to view them as "teachable moments."

3 Understanding as much as we can about what prompts our children's questions is a good beginning. The more we know about why our children ask particular questions, the more likely it will be that we will help them find meaningful answers.

4 "I don't know" or "Let me think about that for a while" are valid answers. Racism is a complicated and persistent problem. Sometimes we need time to clarify our own thoughts and feelings before we can be of help to our children. Sometimes children's concerns are pressing. Hurt feelings, anger, and worries all need immediate attention.

5 When our children ask hard questions, we are given an opportunity to glimpse how they experience the world. In turn, we can use these opportunities to sort through complicated or confusing issues together.

(Sounds like good advice for talking about adoption, too!) But beyond answering questions, what can we do?

Here are som things we do, and I hope you'll share what you do, too. We do talk explicitly about racism, both historical racism and racism today. When you talk about MLK and the Civil Rights Movement, explicitly define the problem of the day as racism. But history isn't enough, in my opinion. You have to talk about what happens in current events, too. Remember the news story this summer about the black kids who kicked out of a private pool? Great opportunity to talk about prejudice, and how the kids must have felt. Unfortunately, there are many such reported events that provide a springboard for discussion.

As usual, I love using books to start conversations -- yes, books with multicultural characters are important, but it's also important to look for books that talk explicitly about racism (like The Skin I'm In) or show characters dealing with racism (like Chinese Eyes. (even imperfect books can do this -- I don't much like the way the mom dealt with it, but the book gives a good description of a child's feelings when confronting the eye-pulling gesture that accompanies the "Chinese Eyes" chant)).

We also talk specifically about the kinds of stereotyping Asian-Americans face, some that my children have already faced -- "Chinese eyes," ching-chong speech, fake karate moves in front of them, racial slurs. We role-play responses, including telling a grownup about it.

I think sums it up nicely:

We can choose to actively influence our children's attitudes. With our encouragement children will test and think through their beliefs about race, ethnicity, and religion. They are unlikely to ask the necessary hard questions without our help. It is up to us to take the initiative!

Children care about justice, respect, and fairness. Squabbles about sharing, concerns about cliques, and problems with playmates -- the daily trials of childhood -- reflect their active interest in these social issues. So do the questions children ask, when they feel safe enough to ask them.

One important gift we can give ourc hildren is to create a family in which difficult issues like racism are openly discussed. By talking openly and listening without censure, we can learn about our children's concerns and help them find connections between larger social issues and their own life experiences.
I was reading a blog not too long ago where a person of color said that as white parents, we can't teach our minority children about racism. I agree, that not having the lived experience of the racism our children will face, we can't teach by example, by reference to our lives. But that's why I believe we have to substitute VERY EXPLICIT messages instead. It may not be an every-day topic of discussion, but it is, unfortunately, going to be a lifelong one.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Zoe's Newest Favorite Blog

Zoe loves a new blog for moms and tweens, Eden's Garden. The tween is Eden, sixth grader adopted from China. The mom is Darlene Friedman, author of Star of the Week, A Story of Love, Adoption and Brownies With Sprinkles. (Dad is Richard Roth, illustrator, but he doesn't seem to be blogging!).

Looks like it will be interesting for elementary/middle school girls adopted from China.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Gift From Foster Family!!!

Maya received her annual package from her Chinese foster family today. Every year for her birthday (coming up Tuesday, Sept. 15), her foster family sends something. Maya is usually the queen of the fake smile picture, but you can see she couldn't contain her joy in this picture -- it just had to spill out in a genuine smile! Maya tells me it makes her feel special that they still remember her. She doesn't really remember them, even though we visited them in 2007 when she was 3, but she loves to look at the pictures,

This year's present was a box full of hair pretties (they were so impressed at how long the girls' hair was when we saw them in 2007). And as usual, they included things for Zoe, too. That has been a real bonus, since Zoe is quite jealous that Maya has a foster family and she does not, that they always include Zoe in the gift.
The first year, they sent two beautifully embroidered and beaded qi paos, one for each girl. The next year, it was two jade pendants. The third year, it was two outfits in the distinctive Miao style. The fourth year, it was a box full of papercuts, enough for a dozen children! (I laminated Maya's favorites -- the Olypic Friendlies -- so she could carry them around, and boy, did she!). And this year, the hair pretties!
They've also included a note, which we'll take to Chinese School tomorrow, and ask someone to translate. There was a picture of a baby in the envelope, too, and I bet it's a child they fostered who has been adopted to the United States. They are probably asking me to help them make contact with her new family. They've done that before, but I didn't have any luck in posting to the relevant lists. Hopefully I'll have better luck this time!
The girls spent all evening playing with their hair -- or more accurately, with each other's hair. What a great gift! And the best gift of all, for Maya, is knowing she was and is loved by her Chinese foster family.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Katherine Heigl Doesn't Want "My Own Children"

. . . so of course she's adopting from Korea:

RadarOnline, which first broke the news of Heigl's impending adoption, said it had been in the works for about six months. Heigl and Kelley were married in December 2007.

But the idea of adopting was planted long ago. The "Grey's Anatomy" star told USA Today two years ago that it was "always planned."

"I'm done with the whole idea of having my own children," Heigl told the newspaper.

Sigh. Typical rookie mistake of a prospective adoptive parent, using "my own" as a substitute for "biological." I would have expected a bit better of Katherin Heigl, though -- she has a sister adopted from Korea.

I'm not really the "adoption language" police, despite this post! This is just symptomatic of a particular way of thinking about adoption.

Being an Asian-American Student is Dangerous

Two reports about problems Asian-American students face in school:

From the Philadelphia Weekly, Asian Students Under Assault:
Wei Chen sits at the table, opens his backpack and unloads folders full of paperwork documenting alleged abuses against Asian immigrant students at South Philly High.

“Sometimes it’s the same student in many fights,” says Chen, pointing to a day planner that is full of Chinese writing, listing the troubles of each particular day. “Some kids get picked on a lot.”

Dozens of the alleged incidents are relatively minor—name-calling, verbal threats, petty robberies, random punches in the head while walking down stairwells, and general intimidation. But according to Chen, at least six times last school year those minor incidents escalated into massive rumbles where outnumbered Asian students were pummeled by packs of teens, sending several of the victims to hospitals. Like the day last October when a group of around 30 kids allegedly attacked five Chinese students after school in the Snyder Avenue subway station, one block from school. That incident started when a black student walked up to a Chinese kid in the cafeteria, touched his hair and allegedly threw a carton of milk at him. Rumors of threats filtered through the school on the day after the subway rumble, and the notion of continued violence froze Asian students.
From WNYC, Brian Lehrer Show, Asian American Students at Risk?:
Andrew Lam, editor at New America Media and the author of Perfume Dreams:
Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, and Peter Yee, president of NY Coalition for Asian Mental Health and assistant executive director of Behavioral Health Services at Hamilton Madison House in Manhattan, discuss whether cultural pressures for extreme achievement played a role in the suicides of three Asian American Cal Tech students in recent months.
Two very different stories, but both, unfortunately, part of the Asian-American experience.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Heal Us, Fill Us, Make Us Happy

Where to start, where to start? It's a simple heartwarming article about a person who started a program, "Bringing Little Hearts Home," to help prospective adoptive families raise money for adoption. Why did he do it? He explains:

Meade learned first hand the cost of adoption when he and his wife began the process several years ago. Meade’s wife got pregnant 18 months into the process, but not before the Meades had spent about $10,000.
Excuse me? Meade's wife got pregnant -- what a shame they'd already wasted all that money on an adoption they no longer cared about?! They ended their quest to adopt after she became pregnant. Adoption as second best, anyone? What a heartwarming tale . . . .

And then there's the family who is benefiting from this year's fundraiser:

The Morrises are still early in the process to adopt. A home study will be completed this week and more paper work will follow. But, for Kaywood and Debbie, meeting their daughter for the first time will make it worth the wait and the work to bring her here.

Kaywood and Debbie said they’ve decided to adopt a little girl from China, a little girl that Kaywood says already has an identity. Their daughter will be named Mya Grace, and she could range anywhere from 12 to 24 months old.

“She’s going to help heal us,” Kaywood said. “She’ll fill a void.” The Morrises say they’ve always wanted a little girl, and their 9-year-old son, Dalton Morris, is also ready to have a little sister.
How wrong-headed is this? Let me count the ways . . . .

1. The prospective adoptee from China "already has an identity." Well, not exactly. She's not born yet, if you expect her to be no older than 24 months and there are 3+ years wait time and you haven't even finished your homestudy yet. But when she is born, they're right -- she will have an identity. One unrelated to adoption. I don't mind so much that they've already named her, but to act like giving her that name is the beginning of her identity is wrong, wrong, wrong.

2. "She's going to help heal us." Who's sick? What are they being healed from? Infertility? Hate to break it to you, but after you adopt, you'll still be infertile. If they are seeing the child as a bandaid, this adoption will fail. They need to heal themselves before even contemplating adoption. And wouldn't it be nice to actually think of the child's needs, instead of what she can do for you?!

3. "She'll fill a void." So far, this adoption is all about what YOU want, what YOU need, and how she'll give it to you. A child is not a peg to pound into your empty hole. What an enormous amount of pressure to put on a child -- heal us, fill us, make us happy. And if at any point after the adoption they feel sick, empty, unhappy, who will get the blame, do you think? Poor kid.

I'm not so much picking on this poor, ignorant family. They are just representative of some of the attitudes we hear from many prospective adoptive parents. Here's hoping their social worker does some more educating before that homestudy gets finished. Maybe those long wait times for China are a good thing here -- they have YEARS to learn, if they are of a mind to. Let's hope they are.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Wrong Babies

Last night Maya said before bed, “Can we talk some more about ‘Chinese eyes’?” By that I thought she meant the eye-pulling gesture, of course. I asked her if she had been teased like that, too, and she said no. I didn’t know exactly what she wanted to talk about, so I asked. She said, “Why do people do that?” I turned the question around to her: “Why do you think people do it?”

Maya answered promptly, “Because we’re different.” We talked awhile about being different, and how it makes her feel (with Zoe chiming in on how great it is to be different, and Maya not so sure).

Then Maya threw out the real issue on her mind: “Some people might think you got the wrong babies.” After establishing that no one had said that to her, I started to probe at why “some people” might think that and whether MAYA thought that.

She talked about the fact that we didn’t match, that I didn’t have Chinese eyes, and then deviated into what “some people” might be thinking – “Maybe they think we had a Dad and he died, and we grew in your tummy but someone gave you the wrong babies.”

Lots of threads to pull there (the “grow in your tummy” thing, the “no daddy” thing), but the one I wanted to deal with immediately was debunking the “wrong babies” thing. No way do I want Maya thinking she’s somehow the wrong baby because we don’t match.

I’ve never done the “chosen child” thing. For one thing, it’s not true in the sense that I did not PICK my children, the CCAA matched us and offered their referrals. My only choice at that time was to accept or reject. And I agree with the authors of Talking With Young Children About Adoption: “this story line about specialness could become a burden for a child. What is chosen can be unchosen. If one was so special as to be chosen, what will happen if one is ‘bad’ or even ‘average’?”

But when I was thinking my way through how to refute the “wrong babies” idea, I started down the “I chose you” path, until Zoe pulled me up short. “But you didn’t pick us,” Zoe said, “they matched our files in China.”

True enough. But it certainly was my choice to adopt from China. So I started again:

“When I decided I wanted to have children, I chose to adopt, and I chose to adopt from China. I did that knowing that my children would look just the way YOU look, with beautiful Chinese eyes, and gorgeous black hair, and wonderful golden skin. I KNEW we wouldn’t match. I know that sometimes you wish we did match, and that’s OK. But you and Zoe are exactly the right babies for me.”

Then Maya, with her usual want-to-make-everyone-feel-better way, said, “And you’re the exactly right Mama for me!”

Still lots more to talk about, but it seemed a suitable note to go to bed on.

P.S. It just struck me that the catalyst for this discusion might have been Dinosaur Train -- the "wrong egg" in the nest? Hmmmm. If so, I love the show even more! ANYTHING that serves as a springboard for discussing difficult issues is worth viewing!

Monday, September 7, 2009

DNA Project to Identify Trafficked Children

From the Fort Worth Business Press:
A child living on the streets in a developing country may have no idea how he ended up there. He may not remember or know who his parents are or where he was born. The same applies to many children who are caught up in various types of human trafficking, forced into prostitution, forced labor, military activities or adoptions.

Dr. Jose Lorente, director of the Lab of Genetic Identification at the University of Granada in Spain, would frequently see children living on their own during his travels and ask about where they came from.

“I was many times told that there was no way to connect them back to the families,” he said. “Then I thought that DNA could help.”

Using DNA to match children back to their parents is the central focus of a new project that is being lead by Lorente and by Arthur Eisenberg, co-director of the[University of North Texas] Center for Human Identification and professor and chairman of the department of forensic and investigative genetics. Lorente and Eisenberg have long had a professional relationship and close friendship, they
say, and the new project — the DNA Program for Kids Identification with DNA Systems, or DNA-PROKIDS — just received a major grant to continue international
efforts to put children back with their families.

Lorente first thought of using DNA to identify children and parents back in 2000, he said, and in 2004 started DNA-PROKIDS. . . . The pilot work was done in 2006, primarily in Mexico and Guatemala. Eisenberg said children from orphanages and adoption centers were tested, and Lorente said 200 matches were made—the children had been kidnapped or somehow smuggled away from their parents into these institutions. [emphasis added]

* * *

Working with individual countries as well as with international agencies, like Interpol, is essential to make sure everything adheres to laws and standards in various parts of the world, Eisenberg said. But he said what is equally important is educating the public at large, letting parents know that if their child is missing, there is something they can do by sending in a DNA sample — usually gathered from a cheek swab or finger prick.

Public education, like posters or public announcements, may also act as some kind of a deterrent to dissuade criminals from trafficking children, but “this is too big of a business to think you’ll ever stop it,” he said.

* * *

In late October, representatives from various countries will gather in Granada to learn more about how to develop and international database of children and parents . . . . Lorente said Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Philippines are expected to be represented at the meeting; other large countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil and China are also expected toparticipate, Eisenberg said.

The story reports that the project has just received a $500,000 grant -- well-deserved for such a worthwhile project. Prior to this grant, most of the funding for the project came from the government of Spain.