Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gitchi Gotcha Goo Means I Love You?

(If you don't recognize my riff on the song title, click here to watch the video! )

My friend Lisa sent me the link to this post about celebrating “Gotcha Day” at International Mom’s blog:

At the risk of upsetting the adoption experts’ apple cart, I wanted to share this little tidbit. We don’t celebrate Gotcha Day, Family Day, Forever Family Day, Adoption Day, or any other day that focuses on the adoption of our children. We made this decision long before we became adoptive parents. As a family blended by birth and adoption, we felt it was not right to exclude anyone. By celebrating, we would have excluded our child by birth.


My family celebrates family every day, taking joy and pride in what we are – a blended group of human beings that have been brought together, through marriage, birth, and adoption and across oceans from different parts of the world. A family that deeply loves, respects, and is grateful for each member. That, we got. . . .

This post particularly resonated with Lisa since she has a bio child and an adopted child, and it was really timely for me, since Zoe’s “Gotcha Day” is Thursday.

As Lisa and I discussed the post, we discovered that we both had other problems with “Gotcha Day” – one a problem with terminology and one a problem with the celebratory ideal.

I’ve mentioned before that when she was younger, Zoe didn’t like the term “Gotcha” because it made her feel like someone would jump out at her to surprise her – “GOTCHA!” Lisa feels the word is impersonal, and she loved the comment to International Mom’s post by Pam Thomas, who said:

The term that my daughter really hates is “gotcha day”, which she finds supremely offensive. She thinks, and I completely support her, that it has seedy implications of adoptive families snatching children away from birth family, country, and culture. Others may disagree with this, but I feel like the children are the real experts about this, and many of the children I have met share my daughter’s feelings.

The deeper problem for both of us is the celebratory aspect of the day. As I shared with Lisa, when I look at pictures of my shell-shocked kids from that first meeting, it doesn’t really look like something to celebrate. Yes, at the time, I was dumb enough to think that Zoe falling asleep in my arms was a magical moment of trust instead of the desperate inability to deal it was, but now I know better. In fact, I knew better by the time I met Maya, and that scared little voice questioning, “Mama?” still echoes in my ears, because I knew she wasn’t asking about me, but about the only Mama she’d ever known, her foster mom. And then the tears came – for both of us. Even though they are the two best days of my life, how can I celebrate my daughters’ worlds turning upside down in such a traumatic way?

Lisa agrees: “But then I feel like you, my God, that day was beautiful and scary for me, scary for her but she grabbed onto me that day and never let go. I have loved that she needed me and took me in as her mother (I am not worthy) . . . but "celebrate?" It's a day for much discussion and reflection...but "celebrate??" [In deciding initially to celebrate “Gotcha Day”] I feel I submitted to what everyone else thinks is right, heck I was a rookie mom and still am in a lot of ways.”

A day of discussion and reflection sounds about right to me. We don't do bells and whistles or bread or circuses for “Gotcha Day.” We watch the video, look at pictures, and try on the clothes they were wearing on the day we met as a way to record their growth (Zoe's still fits, Maya's not so much!), and then they get a small gift (I bought 18 gifts in China, one for each year until they reach adulthood). As you can see, we don't make it a sad and solemn occasion, that's not really my point. Zoe has even said that Gotcha Day is her favorite holiday.

So how do you feel about Gotcha Day or whatever you call it? How do you acknowledge it? Is it celebratory? Do you have a way to acknowledge the loss as well as the gain in Gotcha Day?

We’ve already deconstructed the must-believe adoptive parent tenets with regard to “adopt-a-whatever” programs and the naturalness of adoption this week. Let’s see what happens when we look closely at Gotcha Day . . . .


Anonymous said...

Feel as you do. We don't celebrate it and I have never called it that. Wince a little when I see it trumpeted on the boards. The explanation seems to be that no one means anything bad by it and to each her own. Yeah, well. It still confirms the image of the child free-falling and the a-parent doing the catching. Lately, any language that makes the first family invisible makes me mad or uncomfortable.

But you've given me a great idea for the post I'm working on about talking adoption to the reluctant idea. Getting out the clothes. Something we've done and I intend to do again. There is this lovely little hand-made polka dot shirt...I'm about to tear up.

For similar reasons, I elected to have no pictures taken at "the moment". Same deal. It's not childbirth.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant "to the reluctant child".

Anonymous said...

We commemorate my son's arrival, usually calling it either "Arrival Day" or "Homecoming." The more I read about adoption the less I like the term Homecoming. Anyway, I would say we commemorate, not celebrate. We pull out the pictures, the travel clothes, the bottles, etc. There is usually cake. :)

I loathe the term "Gotcha Day." It is at best silly, for such a major life event, and at worst horribly insensitive. I know so many people who do use the term that I am always surprised to read about other families who don't.


Anonymous said...

We celebrate the day and we call it Gotcha day. My three girls were all adopted from China, so there is no issue with excluding a bio child. We started using the Gotcha term before I was aware there was any controversy over it (is there any aspect of adoption over which there is no controversy?). My kids are comfortable with it, so until they decide they don't like it, I think we'll stick with it. On Gotcha day we tell them the story of their adoption (they remind us if we forget any of the details) and they pick the restaurant we go to for dinner. We make the emphasis to be how glad we are to be a family, which I think is important.


Victoria said...

I'm new to your blog and I am enjoying the discussion, thanks. I have a 6 year-old who was adopted from China at 10 months of age. Thanks for bringing up this issue: I have always loathed the term "gotcha day" for how acquisitive it sounds. We did try celebrating and calling it "family day" for awhile but that didn't seem right either. I would say we practice a silent recognition, that is all. She is our only child so there are no issues with "bio" children; in fact, adoption was our first choice. We talk about her story a lot and let her know how happy we are to be a family.

mama d said...

We've never called it Gotcha Day, but refer to it in conversation as the day we met. We say everyone has two them-only days each year: The day we celebrate our birth (stopped calling it an actual birth day) and the day we honor becoming part of this family. Each year, the kids are given the choice of whether to celebrate the day we met with a special dinner or simply ignore their famliversary. This year, at least one child will choose to ignore their famliversary. We ask them about a week out, or right after the last special event (holiday, birth celebration, whatever). No pressure, no commentary.

This year, simply giving the option opened up an hour-long conversation about first families and new ways of honoring all those who have helped us in our lives. As Mr. Rogers would say, "special ones who have loved us into being."

a Tonggu Momma said...

We call it Metcha Day. We started calling it that long before I heard why "Gotcha Day" was so offensive, but for some reason the term "gotcha" calls to mind swatting a bug or something. We call it Metcha Day because it's the day we met our daughter and the day she met us.

As for celebrating... I would say ours is more about commemorating. We watch our adoption trip video. We allow her to pick a restaurant (so far it's always been our favorite Chinese restaurant) if she wants to, but the dinner out is optional. We do give her a present, but it's always one we purchased in China. We pull out the clothes and "stuff" and her lifebook.

Our first Metcha Day anniversary, we did have cake. Because the staff at our local Chinese restaurant learned what the day "was" to us and surprised us with a cake that read "Happy Girl Day."

malinda said...

We tried calling it "Family Day" instead of "Gotcha Day" for a while, but last year Zoe decided that was "confusing," since she has two families. I don't think she meant "confusing" as in we don't know which family we're talking about, but "confusing" since it didn't acknowledge the fact that she has two families. I think she'd probably have the same objection to "Forever" Family Day, since her birth family is her family forever, too. . . .

No easy labels for us, it seems! We'll have to abandon the catchy for the accurate -- the day I met you and the day you met me!

TM: Metcha Day is certainly an improvement over Gotcha Day IMHO!

Lesley said...

We have a bio son that was almost 5 when we went to China. We also bought 18 gifts for our daughter (now almost 5, adopted from Hunan when she was nearly 2), and he helped pick a lot of them out. I think having included him in a lot of the planning, purchasing, and the trip really helped him.

We don't call it Gotcha Day, or really anything, I guess we haven't found a term we are happy with, so we just say we are remember the day that she became a part of our family. This November will only be the third anniversary of that day, we just look at pictures and talk about the gift and China.

My son was a bit jealous last year, but not much (we talked about it a lot and honored his feelings and talked about the sometimes tricky things about families), and he loves trying to figure out which gift is appropriate for her each year.

Anyway, we always felt like a huge celebration just felt odd. We don't want it to be a somber affair, by any means, but more of a big family group hug.

Anonymous said...

Hi Malinda,

I had a feeling the post,Gotcha Day? Not in my family…, would generate a lot of discussion. I see it as needed and healthy. Thanks for linking and keeping it going.

travelmom and more said...

The term Gottcha didn't seem right to me, but when I speak to others in the adoption community about when we got our daughter "gottcha" is the universal term everyone knows. As for celebrating we try to get together with the two other families from our adoption group, who live in our area. We call them our YangXi sisters and we have a day together. We eat, share photos, watch our videos and let the girls play. I give my daughter a book every year either about adoption, family love or Chinese children's stories.

Wendy said...

We have never used "Gotcha", loathe the term as well, my daughter is not a possession.
Family Day has worked for us in that we only have one child, we honor all of her family on that day (first and second, as well as us), and do make a party of it. She gets to pick the restaurant or dinner and activity for the day--if we are off work and we give her something related to adoption, China, or being Asian American.
I am in agreement with many others here, it is not a celebration as would be a birthday party, but a time to remember that is the day we became a family--one large extended family.

Rhonda said...

I have gone back and forth about what to call the day we held our daughter the first time. I certainly like "Metcha Day" better than the other options I've heard as I often talk about "the day we met you" or "the day we held you in her arms for the first time". I also talk about how we (DH, Me, Nana) were happy and crying and that she was "a bit scared" and crying. Then we talk about why she was scared and we were happy. Then we talk about why she is happy now.

I like to be realistic with our daughter about the day she was found and the day she joined our family. But I do keep it age appropriate because she is only 4 yo at this point in the journey.

Right now she really enjoys the family activities we do on both days. The day we met is celebrated with all the family because we feel that is the day that she joined our family and she is part of a bigger family than just DH & I. On the day we signed all the legal paperwork we spend time together as a nuclear family because that is the day we legally became a family.

They are pretty much low key. The last two have been to the local zoo and the local wildlife park. One year we ate out and one year we ate in. She always gets a family oriented gift which has been books the last two years. We try to stay family oriented and focus on being a family.

We do this every day, yes, but I think it's good to take a day(s) to really focus on what it means to be a family. It's a good open door to talk about adoption and what it means to our family. I imagine things will evolve as she grows up and has opinions and feelings of her own and we'll certainly take her lead.

A Beautiful Mess said...

anniversaries are for grown ups....children have birthdays. The day we met our daughter for the first time will always be a special day to me...to her it may turn out to remind her of something else entirely. I read once that a little boy once old enough shared that he hated celebrating gotcha day because it just reminded him that he was different...that unlike his siblings he was adopted.
It seems to be a recurring theme with many children of IA. They feel different...from their family, peers etc. I for one will not contribute to my daughter feeling "odd" just because it was the day that she was put in my arms.
Yeah...so no gotcha days at our house either...but we know how to rock a birthday party!

Ann BF said...

How interesting to read all your reactions!! We have never emphasized the day, but for our daughter adopted from China it was Easter Sundy, and on Easter it always seem to come up (though no special presents or anything beyond the usual Easter fare). Sometimes we have looked at keepsake books about the trip, lately the life book or general memories of our year in China 2 years ago (hard time finding jelly beans at Easter that year.) What we have tried to do nearly every year is get toghter with the other families we travelled with and their daughters, who are all from the same orphanage. We are blessed that all 6 live in New York state and at least 2-3 families usually make it to a play date at a musuem which is centrally located for us, or at someone's house for a meal and celebrating how much they have all grown. With our other adopted daughter(domestic adoption), it never even occured to mark it because it was only a few days after her birth. Maybe its a function of the drama of international adoption -- the long trip around the world, the dislocation and relief that the adotptive parents feel that contributes to its significance for them -- I agree with the commentator who said -- birthdays are what children care about. But if "Gotcha Day" is the only time some families voluntarily acknowledge adoption -- and sometimes I think it is -- then I guess it serves a purpose.

Anonymous said...

We call it Adoption Day and we celebrate it like a mini-birthday, with a few small presents, usually including new adoption-related books and a cake (no party, just the 3 of us). The way I see it, most people's birthdays are the day they joined their forever family. My kids joined their forever family on a different date than their birthday, so we celebrate both days. Both my children were adopted at the end of May (5 years apart), so we celebrate the two Adoption Days at the same time, which is not necessarily the exact day that either was adopted. I asked my 6-year-old if she thought we should celebrate her adoption day and she said "yes." Asked why, she answered "because we get presents." Asked why she gets presents, she said because it was a special day. Asked why it was a special day, she said, "because we get presents!" Kids minds can work a lot more simply than adults sometimes! I'm pretty sure they want to celebrate it, but if they ever change their mind, it's fine with me. Every year we discuss what day we want to celebrate and what they'd like to do. It's a pretty low key affair.

My kids are well aware of the fact that the day we met was not the happiest day for them, but I think that they like the idea that I was very excited about meeting them. (Though I was also very sensitive about how difficult that time would be for them.) My older daughter actually smiled at me when she was handed to me. I have photos, but no video of that moment. She did cry later, but she was not nearly as distraught as my younger daughter, who was quite upset. I have video of that and so we have talked about why she was upset, etc. I walked her around for almost 7 hours straight... it was actually a great bonding experience, but also very exhausting day for all. So, we don't pretend that was a purely happy time. Nevertheless, we like to celebrate the fact that those events allowed us to become the generally happy family we are now.
Sue (aka anonymous)

Anonymous said...

Oh, and after re-reading Lisa's comments about "celebrate" vs. "acknowledge," I agree that acknowledge is a better term. I use the term "celebrate" loosely... I think what we do is closer to acknowlege than celebrate.
Sue (aka anonymous)

J said...

I don't know how I never found your blog before yesterday! The thread on RQ about child trafficking in China brought me here. I agreed with just about everything you had to say, so I thought I'd better come to your blog & find out who you are. I'm so glad I did!

We don't use "Gotcha Day" either. I find it offensive. It's a very flippant-sounding term for an incredibly important event. We call it Z-Day (Z is what I call my daughter on my blog; we use her actual name when we say "Z-Day"). We've only had one so far -- she's been home with us for just over a year & a half. We didn't treat it as a celebration either, more of an observance. Afterall, that day was a life-changing event for all of us, right? It seems important that we observe it and reflect on its importance.

Like you, I bought gifts for future years while we were in China & intend to give her one each year on this day. This year, we went out to dinner, then came home & looked at pictures and videos. There was cake. I expect it will be similar in future years; we will follow her lead.

We also have a bio son who is almost 6. His birthday happens to be on Christmas Eve, so we have had half-birthdays for him in the summer. This works out nicely b/c we can tell the kids that they each get two special days each year.

Lisa said...

Just discovered your blog. Its wonderful and I will add it to my own growing blog list.

I never liked the term "Gotcha" for all the reasons you and your readers so accurately describe. Frankly, I sensed it was a whole lot more about the parents' sense of arrival in my becoming parents, than it was about the child. Its an incredibly hard day for the child and it only gets better gradually.

As my own daughter matured and came to wrestle with her abandonment and the loss of her birth parents, I took her to a counselor who said, whatever you do, don't make a big fuss over adoption day. She already knows you love and cherish her. Making a big to do over that particular day only serves to remind her she was once abandoned and, for a time, lay alone and unclaimed.

Lisa @ Pack of Three

Mahmee said...

We adopted in late 2006. I recall posting about a 'gotchya day' because quite frankly...that's what everyone else was calling it. R was our first child...period. Everything has been a learning experience since. We have celebrated 2 family days thus far...about to embark on our 3rd. I like the idea of having a family day...a day where we all take off from work/school to do something together...as a family...regardless of what day of the week it is. It's like a special holiday where we can celebrate our love as a family. How can that be a 'bad' thing?

Raina said...

As a child adopted from Korea, I would have been horrified by a "Gotcha Day" celebration. Just one more thing to make me different from all the other Southern white kids. Plus it would have seemed very superficial and forced. I think gotcha sounds like something you do on a shopping trip. In fact, I'm repulsed by the vast amounts of souvenir shopping so many parents seem to do on their adoption trips. We picked up some jade, pearls, and a kid. No thanks. I'll be traveling to our daughter in China soon, so now I get to figure out the parenting side of adoption. I'm adding your blog to my list! ~Raina

Anonymous said...

I just wrote a post about this topic on my blog. We DO use the term gotcha - it was what I crooned to my weeping child that first night "it's alright, I gotcha, you are safe". It is also what I tell her when she is trembling in terror from a thunder storm, or as I get her down from the monkey bars when she gets stuck, or when she has her night terrors. And we do celebrate it, as I describe in my blog - our whole travel group gets together to celebrate relationships and remember those people that were important in their lives in China. We will continue to take our cues from our girls, but right now they love the name and they adore the get together time. I know I am in the minority in this group, but just wanted to give you our take on it.